The head of Sky News has stepped down after 17 years running the UK-based news service, marking a new era for the Comcast-owned channel as it grapples with the decline of traditional television.
John Ryley told staff on Sunday night that he would leave the organisation in 2023, paving the way for the first big editorial shake-up at the channel since Comcast bought the Rupert Murdoch-backed Sky group in 2018.
“It has been my great good fortune to have done the job for so long. But I can’t pretend there haven’t been tricksy days,” Ryley said in the staff message. “Leadership of a non-stop news organisation is relentless, in both an enjoyable and, on occasions, an unenviable sense.”
A successor is to be announced in the coming weeks. Insiders said potential candidates within Comcast include Jonathan Levy, Sky News’ director of news gathering; Chris Howard, the editor of news output; and David Rhodes, a group director at Sky who served as president of CBS News from 2011 to 2019.
Sky News, which is free to watch and makes most of its revenue from advertising, has consistently lost tens of millions of pounds a year, according to insiders.
But since 2018 the division has been protected by commitments, made by Comcast prior to its takeover, which maintain the news channel’s funding until 2028. Comcast also pledged to give Ryley, as head of Sky News, “complete editorial control” over all news output.
Speculation on Sky News’ future has grown in recent months as its television audience has declined, rival stations such as GB News have emerged, and the end of its funding guarantee loomed large.
In his note to staff, Ryley said that he informed Sky two years ago that he wanted to leave by the spring of 2023. “I hope my successor believes in the value of eye-witness journalism . . . and remembers Sky News — at its best — is a challenger brand,” Ryley said.
While Sky has built a digital presence on platforms such as TikTok, there remains a question mark over whether both its business model and influence are sustainable as traditional television declines.
In her own note to staff Dana Strong, group chief executive, described Ryley as having left Sky News “in a fantastic position” and noted his call for the organisation to “innovate or perish” by keeping up with technology and change in modern Britain.
Comcast in October took a $8.6bn writedown on Sky, an acknowledgment that the value of its investment had been hit by the economic slowdown and the long-term challenges facing pay-TV. Comcast paid around $40bn for Sky in 2018.