(Pocket-lint) - We spoke to Sky Sports’ director of content and product Dave Gibbs to get his thoughts on the new innovations that are forming part of Sky’s Premier League coverage. The key features are three-fold; the controversial addition of ground-specific crowd noise (courtesy of the FIFA game) while there’s also Fanzone so you can watch along with others.
The most impressive feature is undoubtedly Sky Sports Recap – a new interface so you can catch up on key highlights during live matches. We saw how this worked during Sky’s first Premier League games. Pressing the red button shows you a timeline so you can watch through all the highlights or instantly leap to the goals.
"All three features were related," says Gibbs. "Some we were working on that we've accelerated, some of which we've had to develop based on the circumstance we find ourselves in".
"Essentially Recap is an automated highlights service with no manual intervention. So what we're doing is using AI and the data feeds that we're bringing in to the game. [So you get] up to speed with all the action, if you come in at 40 minutes, you come in at 60 or you come in at 80…depending on what time you join you will have a different set of highlights."
After experiencing what Recap can do we were surprised to hear it’s completely automatic, but it would make sense given the speed Sky is able to process highlights for social and other media (or on-screen packages at half time). "The machine is creating them so we don't have a human.
"There are 64 games which is almost half a season's worth of football in six weeks. It's brilliant there is so much football for you to enjoy but one of the challenges is how do we keep everybody across that, and how do we keep everybody up to speed and up to date with what's happening."
Gibbs says crowd noise is something that Sky has responded to over the weeks leading up to the season (it's interesting that all broadcasters are adopting it).
"We knew we knew that when football was coming back it was likely to come back behind closed doors. So it was what could we do to augment the experience. We've obviously seen the results of our German colleagues with the Bundesliga and it's been very well received. We've not seen a huge amount of action behind closed doors and we know that the crowd and the noise is clearly part of the live sports experience."
"What is a little bit different so we've been working with, with EA. So actually the feeds that EA use in FIFA [the game] are actually recordings from the live from our live events. So we're bringing those back and playing out team specific audio over the games that will be mixed by one of our sound engineers so it will follow the flow of the game.
"So what we're able to do is match that audio noise to the flow of the game rather than just rely on generic tracks that play out." Gibbs says that while there are new processes involved, sound mixing of a normal crowd goes on anyway, so it is just an extension of that."
The feed on Sky Sports Premier League is without crowd noise, while there is noise on Sky Sports Main event and also the Ultra HD feed.
Finally, Sky is launching Sky Fanzone – enable you to watch selected games with friends in a video room so you can interact with them as you watch the game on TV. This will be available on the website and app.
"[People] can't be part of the crowd, they can't even go down the pub and they can't go around other people's houses to watch. So [we looked at] how we bring them together virtually?"
"[Fanzone] will follow the existing 'watch on' format that we've had during lockdown so there'll be an event, there will be four different sorts of pundits or influencers who will be part of that [and] they'll also then be bringing in predictions and polls. We'll be able to amplify that or represent that visually on screen. At the same time, it doesn't take anything away from those customers who just want to watch the game so there's something for everybody.
We asked why Sky feels this format can be a success now when it has been tried before. "One is that you can't go to the games or physically get together to watch them. And we've spent the last weeks in this kind of virtual world, both socially and professionally. People are more and more used to [video]….I think the elements work really well together and give us a real opportunity - now's the time to create an amazing TV product."