Behind the scenes at Sky Sports News HQ, bringing social, digital and broadcast closer together
For the first time in many years, Sky Sports is to redesign, rebrand and relaunch one of its most loyally viewed channels, Sky Sports News. Launching at 6am on Tuesday 12 August, Sky Sports News HQ will be the new name and new home for all of Sky's up-to-the-minute sports news coverage and Pocket-lint has already been treated to a sneak peek, with a behind-the-scenes tour of the brand new studio.
As well as a lick of paint, robot cameras and new concept behind the main presentation area, the philosophy of the channel has changed. It has always been a collaborative effort by a hard working team that beaver away in the backgrounds, reporters and the news anchors themselves, but now all the external factors have become integral parts of the on-screen experience.
Teams that were originally housed in separate parts of Sky Studios have been brought together in one giant newsroom, all working in dedicated groups, but as one super team. And cameras will not just follow presenters behind their desks, but alongside the off-screen talent as they work.
One example we saw on a rehearsal day - one of several since the team were given the keys to their shiny new kingdom - involved Twitter and viewer's live responses. John Davies, one of the channel's lead anchors, presented tweets he was reading from an iPad while being filmed next to the staff member who curates those tweets during the broadcast.
The newsroom is used as an additional set and Karen Wilmington, head of output for the new channel explained to us that is possible because viewers are used to the workings of a TV studio nowadays. "They are used to seeing lights and cameras now," she said. And, by breaking the fourth wall down completely, citing presenters' pieces to camera in the heart of the open plan office environment, it makes the channel seem more inclusive. Not just to the person watching at home, but to the staff members working there too.
To further the social media story, a team to majorly benefit from being asked to take their seats amongst the throng are those from the digital side of things. Formerly situated elsewhere and working almost autonomously, the staff responsible for maintaining Sky Sports online news presence, through web, app and social networks, will now be sat in the Sky Sports News HQ epicentre. They can therefore be more responsive to details and information being used for television broadcast. The ancillary platforms will no longer be seen as that, but as valid an output source as the channel itself.
This is something we discovered in more tentative form when we visited Sky Sports on a Champions League night last season. Then a member of the digital team had his own seat in the broadcast gallery. This is far more than that, but the seeds were sown.
The multiple platforms for delivery also help enhance the brand's ambition to be far more than a news outlet. Long gone are the days where a news presenter sat behind an oblong desk spouting news for you to listen to. Now you can have your say back, even take part in instance polls thanks to the new Sky Sports News HQ application, and, anyway, the desk is oval this time around.
Much more will be revealed and become apparent when the channel launches for real on Tuesday, but having visited the last studio set-up the new one does indeed feel more involved and cutting edge already. There is a tangible buzz around the Sky Sports News HQ team that they are embarking on something genuinely fresh and exciting. And we're inclined to agree.