Sky Italia revs up F1 coverage via dedicated channel

F1 racing is returning to Sky Italia this year and for Riccardo Botta, head of sport production and operations, and his team the return also marks a new opportunity to bring Italian racing fans closer than ever to the action. Which is why, fittingly, the new slogan for Sky Italia’s dedicated F1 channel is “A Lot Closer.”

“We will have 30 hours of live programming per weekend and will cover basically everything, from press conferences to the GP2, GP3, and Porsche Super Cup races,” says Botta. “And we won’t have a studio but rather [reporters and ENG crews] walking around to give the feeling of what is like to be there.”

The core of the production will be a 2,000 kilogram flypack built by Italian integrator Videe that will include a Sony vision mixer, two EVS XT3 replay servers, Vizrt graphics, and Hego Aki Paint graphics systems. A A Lawo audio desk will be on hand along with a smaller Mackie backup mixer while a Harris Platinum router with a built in multi-viewer and Reidel Mediornet will handle signal distribution and intercoms.

“It’s completely tapeless and integrated and we can build the rig in about three hours as there are very few cables because of the use of fibre,” says Botta. “It was conceived to be very fast to assemble.”

The equipment will be up and running on the Thursday of each race weekend within two porta-cabins. One will house the production gallery while the other will be home to the editing area and office suites. Those areas will also be connected to the broadcast booth where a Q-ball camera will capture video of talent. The small camera will be controlled from the production gallery and, due to its small size, be able to fit into any size booth.

“It’s much easier to manage than a traditional ENG camera,” adds Botta.

Alongside the talent in the booth will be reporters and ENG crews in the pits and garage areas. With the help of Panasonic AJ-HPX3100 P2 cameras and a Link Wireless system reports will be sent back to the gallery for final production. Content will be recorded onto the EVS servers as well as an Avid Nitris editing system in the AVC Intra format at 100 Mbps.

The whole flypack embodies an engineering philosophy to keep it as light and compact as possible. Mediornet breakout boxes allow different production areas to be connected via fibre. And Botta says having the multi-viewer integrated within the Harris router also saves space and cabling.

“Also using Reidel for the radios makes it easier to integrate with the overall intercom infrastructure because they are massively involved with the F1 operations,” adds Botta.

Transmission of the main feed plus two or more additional channels and data back to Milan will be handled by EBU.

Sky Italia’s Milan-based production facility will also play a role courtesy of a virtual studio that will allow race analysts to pull up graphical representations of each car and track. They will be able to walk around the virtual car and even disassemble it in order to provide more insight for the viewer.

“With a dedicated channel we are saying this is our very top product and we want to give it proper coverage with a 24/7 channel,” says Botta. “RAI will also broadcast the races so we need to differentiate our products.”

The first race is on March 17 when Melbourne, Australia, plays host to the Formula 1 Role Australian Grand Prix and Sky Italia is busy refining a product that will help race fans see the value of a subscription to the service.

“We have to give them more and doing good products is in our DNA,” says Botta. “And we think this will provide a different way of watching Formula One.”

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