Behind the scenes of Sky Sports News HQ
Screens. Lots of screen. That’s the immediate impression you get when you arrive at the new Sky Sports News HQ. The channel has been given its biggest ever revamp ready for the football season with the new look being unveiled 12 August.
Key to this look is a brand-new studio that has been created to free presenters from the shackles of the desk and bring some much-needed hustle and bustle to sports news.
"It is the biggest opportunity we have had for totally rethinking how we do the news," said Karen Wilmington, who is head of output at the re-jigged channel – and TechRadar’s tour guide through the impressive set.
Those familiar with Sky Sports News will also be familiar with the rather static setup – most of the movement is taken up with the constant churn of sports rumour and news from the vidprinter.
Sky Sports News HQ is set to up the ante on the information it will offer.
Social media is much more ingrained in the new setup and presenters will have the freedom of the floor to deliver those all-important breaking stories at a faster pace.
Around the news desk there are four computer-operated cameras that have been given the freedom of the studio floor.
"The four cameras are controlled robotically by a very expensive ‘gaming’ station," says Wilmington, pointing to a mass of more screens and controls.
"They are controlled one at a time and can go anywhere within the blue vinyl area of the floor."
Because the cameras now shoot 360 degrees, their movement has to be choreographed so shots aren’t interrupted by other cameras. And the presenters have to get used to these new movements and the fact there is no one at their helm.
"It’s really disconcerting for the first few times when you are in the newsroom and there is no one beside the camera," notes Wilmington.
"It’s a way of working extensively in the US and is used a lot on rolling news channels as you can get a variety of shots without having to be very labour intensive – and we have used them for the last few years.
"They can still be used manually – so we can get operators in when we have a really busy day."
On our tour, we see John Davies, one of the lead presenters, practicing before the channel launch.
During the dry run, the massive main display is used; sometimes there’s one big image, other times their aggregated Tweets are shown off, with the picture split to an outside broadcast or a press conference. It is clear that Sky is looking to embrace all aspects of the media more than ever when the channel launches and the packed newsroom cum studio reflects this.
"It is busy. We have a dedicated team of reporters sat in front of a TV wall and they can see all of the reports coming in," says Wilmington.
"This is crucial for, say a Saturday, when you have how many dozens of matches and other sports, the entire wall will be filled with sport. It’s an environment where they can be in touch with every bit of information.
"We also have a camera that can shoot right up the entire newsroom. This means that if they are sitting there working the presenter can have a relationship with the reporters. They can do their pieces right here and not have to go up to the set, they will have radio mics on and they can bring breaking news quicker to our viewers. It is a much more flexible environment.
"We have also brought in our digital media staff into the room. They now have allocated space, are sitting with the reporters and the planning team and now have a closer relationship."
Transforming transfer deadline day
Throughout the studio there are touch-screen boards as well, so wherever the presenter ends up they will be able to get access to the information they need to keep any eager sports lover informed. It is the use of these tools that mirrors how we all have started to get our information. Sky knows this and is hoping it can use all of these outlets to broadcast the best sports news.
"We can’t just stay the same. We have got to evolve, we have got to develop," says Wilmington.
"We have to encompass everything now in the newsroom. Television, apps, the web, social media. We have teams now to bring all that information, aggregate what people are talking about and ultimately finding out what is the truth and what isn’t.
"Obviously on deadline day you will be well aware of the number of different rumours. There is loads of chatter. We can go through all of that, find out what everyone is talking about, what is trending and we will investigate it. Once we know what is true, we will tell you.
"Research shows that as soon as things go yellow on the screen people believe it. For us, things will only go yellow when we are absolutely sure that it is correct.
"Breaking news is massively important but for us it has got to be absolutely right. There is a level of trust that people put into Sky Sports News and we have to maintain that within everything we do."