Sky Sports ups its game for football, golf and F1 in face of constant competition

Sky Sports is under pressure to innovate. Partly from new competition from BT Sport (particularly for football and rugby), but also from within. “Each of the sports drives each other on” to innovate more, said Steve Smith, director of Sky Sports production. Once a technology such as touchscreen analysis is used to cover one sport, the other sports departments try to adapt it to enhance their sports coverage, leading to a virtuous circle of innovation and internal competition.

This is why Smith proclaims himself unperturbed by the extra competition from BT Sports. “We’ve always had competition, and we treat each competitor the same. We’ve got to really concentrate on what we do and make sure we offer the best we can to subscribers.”

One possible way of doing this is in future through Ultra HD, and Sky will use the Ryder Cup in September to evaluate a wide range of 4K equipment and live workflows. “We are doing extensive 4K testing at the Ryder Cup to enable us to better understand the technology,” said Jason Wessely, executive producer, golf.

“We’ve done some 4K testing so far,” added Smith, “but not much outside broadcast work, so we have to look at the infrastructure and how the OBs work with it. We’d be foolish to flip into 4K without thorough testing.” It did do some football in 4K this time last year, but now wants to examine a wider variety of cameras and technology.

It is also introducing new “virtual player graphics — to bring the players to life,” said Wessely.

There will be a special Ryder Cup channel for two weeks at the end of September, with complete coverage from Gleneagles. Sky now offers more than 2,500 hours of golf per year over 51 weeks and has just signed a seven-year deal with the PGA tour, enabling it to cover many more events, with more continuous coverage. “It means we will be able to iron out all the breaks the US networks give us,” he said.

Because it is now covering so many golf events, it is leaving one of the Sky Cart systems in the US. “We’re trying to turn touch screens from experimental projects to something that is supportable and maintainable, and more of an easily deployable facility,” added Mike Ruddell, head of technology, Sky Sports.

For example, in its new NFL studio it will now have live touchscreen analysis for not only the Coach’s Corner (a popular addition last season), but also during the game, as Sky has far fewer ad breaks than the US networks, so can offer more analysis.

A Formula for youth

With Formula One driven by science and technology, “we want to stay ahead of the technology,” said Oliver Francis, associate producer, Formula One. “We’ve been using the Sky Pad a lot in the F1 paddocks. It’s one thing to have a driver discussing the drive, and another to have him at the touch screen.”

It is now using a new multi-clip analysis tool, which offers every camera feed covering an event, synched, to allow the analyst cut between them. There is also virtual 3D graphics, which can be completely integrated with the camera coverage, allowing the viewer to go the whole way around the cars, and above them to see just how close the wheels are, and also give the driver’s view or zoom in on the view in his mirrors, “to bring an event that happened during the race to life.”

They also want to make the most of social media, particularly to reach younger viewers. “It’s about getting the right balance, and a big part of that is bringing the viewer into the debate,” said Francis.

Indeed, Sky will have an F1 show at Sky Studios, during the October half term break, with only children in the audience. It is also using what fans are asking on Twitter to influence post-race analysis.

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