Sky Sport Summit Italy – Part 2: Storytelling is key to engaging viewers

Riccardo Botta chairing sessions from a virtual studio in Milan

In the second part of our review of the Sky Sport Summit Italy 2021, we look at what panellists at the virtual conference thought about topical issues including technology and storytelling, and fan engagement, and we hear about Sky’s commitment to Carbon Zero.

Moderator Vincenzo Lagattolla, head of creative at Sky, kicked things off with his thoughts on how technology is strengthening storytelling. “Today’s competitiveness is based on the ability to use tools and technologies together for this purpose,” he said. “In recent years, the explosion of graphics and creativity go hand in hand to deepen the sporting event in a totally new way. However, you have to understand how to use these tools to the fullest so as not to confuse the viewer.”

Director Roberto Montoli agreed: “Thanks to new tools in graphics and in directing, the way of telling stories has changed. The way in which information can be conveyed to the viewer has also changed and we have new infographics and statistics; it is very important to reflect on the contents and interact with younger generations who can give great energy and new ideas. Infographics must try to enhance the experience and the interaction.”

Creating new possibilities

Carlo De Marchis, group chief evangelist at Deltatre, believes the way in which graphics integrate with live video is creating many new possibilities, but we are still at the start of this journey. “There is work to be done on how to connect graphics with storytelling… an ocean in which to have fun in the coming years,” he said.

The key is to think about all storytelling as a whole and to consider each channel from the beginning, rather than repurposing content. “When multiple channels are available, there can be many stories that create an alternative story for several different audiences, with multiple interactive modes of use. For example, research indicates that gaming audiences struggle to sit still in front of content; if you give them something to do, they remain longer,” he explained.

For Lagattolla, a differentiating factor is the mobile element, especially with 5G on the horizon and the ability to provide augmented reality data. “The risk, even in augmented reality (AR) that we have been using for years, is to make it repetitive and so no longer a stimulating tool for the story,” he cautioned.

Artificial intelligence (AI), however, can provide opportunities for interaction that younger audiences expect. “Even today, entire stories can be created thanks to machine learning and data scouting where, thanks to AI, the story becomes new and exclusive,” he said.

De Marchis highlighted that Deltatre has invested in AI, machine learning (ML) and mixed reality (MR) by creating a specialised lab dedicated to these issues and developing match facts which utilise AI and ML to make predictions about what can happen in a match. This is helping to create alternative tools for those who want different editorial stories.

“This is having the greatest impact on the media; the ‘predictive’ is helping us to create new storytelling skills to provide the audience with what is most relevant,” he said.

Looking to the future of storytelling, Montoli said he hoped for greater proximity to the playing field and more contact with athletes.

“We still have perspectives that are too far from the unique experience that we could offer to viewers. The problem is the infrastructures that struggle to accommodate new technologies.

“For example, when I see a penalty kick I would love to know the player’s pulse and also the goalkeeper’s.”

Analysing the ecosystem

Taking a more general view of the market, Riccardo Botta, group director, content experience and distribution (CXD) operations at Sky, chaired a session tracing how the production ecosystem is developing as we move towards a post-COVID era.

Carlo Struzzi, sales director of Video Progetti, explained how COVID has accelerated the use of cloud and remote tools and processes. “Today storytelling is multilevel, like distribution,” he said. “It is important to create automatic systems that are useful for designing a story. Customers want to access the best tools the market makes available.

“The enrichment of content today takes place through systems that improve data management, image management and automatic systems with AI, in order to help the publisher tell a story that practically never ends.

“We need various tools, from HD HDR to distribution on secondary channels such as the cloud, to produce more content for multiple platforms.”

Ghezzi: ‘The idea is to find technological solutions to extend the life of a match well beyond 90 minutes’

COVID also impacted OB van manufacturer One TV, as Andrea Gianolli, CEO and CTO, recalled.The stop of all activities for COVID was immediate, total and traumatic, with several production teams blocked without being able to reach their locations. The dead times were used to upgrade equipment and develop proprietary software and hardware systems for low latency and low bandwidth remote control.

Fabio Ghezzi, TV production manager at Lega Serie B, also felt that COVID forced innovation in many areas, including football.

“The pandemic was very serious for the football system and made it impossible to bring cameras into the tunnel, or into changing rooms, we had teams entering separately and so on. There were all kinds of constraints for stadiums to overcome.

“The challenge for football today is how to extend the life of the TV product to be able to tell the story and exploit it in terms of new monetisation opportunities. The idea is to find technological solutions to extend the life of a match well beyond 90 minutes.

“The engagement of the fan base is and will always be decisive in a world that is virtualising even more; the metaverse will come and we are going in a direction that few are familiar with. There will be a disproportionate amount of data to be used to meet various objectives, far beyond the match.”

He continued: Younger generations need interaction, a mechanism that connects the virtual with the live match, where the fan becomes an active part of the event, pre and post match. This aggregation of passion for a club equates to new business opportunities. New technologies radically change the world of sports.”

More fan interaction needed

Struzzi echoed that fact that more interaction with the fan base is key for many and highlighted his role in this process. “The system integrator must be able to create an increasingly efficient and integrated workflow. He must improve the engagement of the fan over a longer period and integrate the work of the OB van with the studio and the cloud platform. It is imperative to create multilayer workflows that help storytelling, triggering automatic processes on available data.”

Varetto: ‘Sports can be a guide, a driving force for greater awareness’

The summit concluded with Sarah Varetto, executive vice president, communications, inclusion and bigger picture at Sky, discussing the groups’s commitment to go net carbon zero by 2030. This involves using renewable energy, investing in a fully electric vehicle fleet and raising awareness among suppliers. The broadcaster also aims to produce zero-impact TV series and sports productions.

“Sky wants to reach important targets and sports can be a guide, a driving force for greater awareness, even in big events,” she said.

The Sky Sport Summit Italy 2021, in collaboration with SVG Europe, took place on 23 November.

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