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24 Hour Party People: The technology behind Sky News’ Election Night Live

UK broadcaster Sky News tells TVBEurope about its election night coverage, which will include augmented reality, BATCAM, LED screens and more

UK broadcasters always knew the country was likely to go to the polls in 2024, it was just a matter of when. Rumours circulated on social media and in Westminster as to a possible date, but almost everyone was surprised when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced on 22nd May that voters would go to the polls on 4th July.

Sky News immediately announced its plans for election night and the following morning. Kay Burley will anchor Election Night Live, the overnight results programme, from a 360-degree immersive studio normally used by Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football.

The broadcaster has spent months working on its plans for the vote, explains Nick Phipps, editor of Election Night Live. “One of the things we’ve learned from elections is that you don’t necessarily know when they’re coming, especially after what happened in 2017 when Theresa May surprised the country,” he says. 

“We’ve had an ongoing election project that has been bubbling away in the background, and we maybe meet once every six weeks. We ramped it up this year because we knew there had to be an election by the end of 2024 or the beginning of 2025.”

Sky News had plans in place for multiple eventualities. The team initially planned for a vote on 2nd May as well as later in the year. “We were already building towards what we were going to deliver for the autumn when the announcement came,” explains Phipps. “It was a coincidence that the team was doing a photo shoot with all of the presenters on 22nd May. Beth Rigby and Sam Coates were getting messages and saying they needed to get to Westminster.”

Election Night Live presenting team

The broadcaster was always going to use the MNF studio even if the election took place during the football season. Most elections take place on a Tuesday or Thursday so it was unlikely to impact Sky Sports’ schedule. “That studio is brilliant, as you’ve seen from the way Sky Sports have used it over the last year,” states Ben Fisher, head of studio output at Sky News, and director of Election Night Live.

“With the tech they’ve got, the storytelling environments and various screens, it is a perfect space for an election in our view. I worked very closely with Ben Wickham, who is the creative director for Sky Sports, and we’ve collaborated pretty much from the get-go.”

Connecting the studio to the gallery

However, there was one big challenge. Sky Sports’ galleries are in use almost continuously for remote productions, which means Sky News will be using its own galleries for Election Night Live. “We do a lot of work remotely anyway with a lot of long cable runs and a lot of stuff happening over IP,” adds Fisher. 

“This is not too much of a physical rejig really, it’s a lot of clever people in the engineering departments and the graphics and data departments and technical supervisors who have figured out various patching and over patching to allow the cameras, the camera chains, the racking, the screen control. We’ve built an entire graphics area in the newsroom, which will control all of the screens. This has been a really impressive piece of work. It’s working really well, and it does mean going forward if we ever want to use the studio again, it is now connected to our gallery.”


The workflow will employ differing levels of automation, which Sky News uses more than its sport counterparts. “If the election had been in October or November, we may have been able to automate a little bit more. But we’re going to use it to drive the screens and the augmented reality,” explains Fisher. “The studio elements are going to be manual, but the rest of the programme, full frame graphics, all of the straps, the ‘vidiprinter’, the furniture, tapes, everything is all going to be through automation. It’s quite exciting because we’ve never done that before in an election.

“This will be our first election without a vision mixer, for example,” he continues. “Before, we’d always have the director, the vision mixer, the DA. Now we’re going to have a team of directors essentially. We’ll have me as the event director, an OverDrive director running the automation, and a studio director who will be in charge of the cameras and the screens.”

In terms of cameras, the broadcast will use a jib, Steadicam and BATCAM, a smaller version of Spidercam, operated by two pilots sitting in a room overlooking the studio, one working the wires, the other pan/tilt. “We’re hoping for a Steadicam for Ed Conway,” adds Fisher. “We’ll have four pedestal cameras, and everything is manually operated for the election night show.”

Covering the counts

Cameras will also be out and about across the country capturing the major events of the night. “Most of the production in a way happens outside of the building because of the number of cameras that we have out and about,” states Phipps. “We’re going to have stringers at every count in the country. We’ll have cameras in about 90 locations, which actually means more constituencies because lots of places count more than one seat. Those will all need to have producers at them and/or correspondents and presenters.”

Each of the stringers will have an app created by Sky News’ development team in Leeds, which allows them to submit numbers from their counts in real-time.

However, no matter how much you plan, there’s always a chance that technology can let you down on the night. In case of any issues, Sky News will be using two galleries, both compatible with the studio. “With the OBs, if we have one of our presenters out with a big truck, we’ll be able to send them lower thirds, full frame graphics, should there be any incidents,” adds Fisher.

Augmented reality

The team at Sky News is particularly excited about their plans to use graphics and augmented reality to tell the story of the election. Work on the graphics part of the broadcast has been an ongoing process as the creative team is constantly looking to improve what they’ve done before, explains Harry Ward, creative director, Sky News. “We’ve never had better-looking graphics. I’m really proud of what the team has achieved.”

The 360-degree studio includes traditional LED screens and an LED floor as well as a canopy above the presenters to cover up the lighting rig. A fourth wall is created by covering up the cameras. “That creates a 360 studio for Ben’s teams to have lots of fun and provide all the opportunity he wants for presentation,” explains Ward. 

“There’s also a big high-resolution screen in the middle just above the LED screen and that will be Ed Conway’s main data presentation point. That’s where the graphics team have really gone to town with maps, charts, dynamic infographics. The floor is going to have a big map which will update throughout the night. It’ll start empty and then as the night goes on, it will be this living, breathing infographic on how far we’ve gone on the election night between the different parties.”

The broadcast will also include an augmented reality Downing Street created in Unreal Engine and connected via Viz with Mo-Sys’ StarTracker in the studio. “For the 2019 election, we put Downing Street in Sky Central, which was the big presentation space that we used last time,” explains Ward. “We took that idea into this studio, albeit we’ve taken it up a few notches and rebuilt quite a bit of the model and re-rendered it with brilliant lighting, so it changes between different times of the day. It offers a great blank canvas really for all of those moments that we want to present. It’s where we’re going to put our showbiz moments, the big moments of the night.”

The LED screens will also offer viewers what Fisherr describes as a “window to the world”. The LED curved screen will include a mosaic of the 90 counts where Sky has cameras which will animate in and out. “The big middle screen, when Ed’s not using it for data, will be where we put a lot of live pictures, live declarations, the party leaders arriving at their counts, things like that. We will probably do guests down that screen like they do on the football as well,” he explains.

All of this gives Sky News a point of difference to other broadcasters covering the counts, believes Phipps. “As an organisation, we have really emphasised in recent years and in recent elections, the level of detail when it comes to different ways of cutting up the election results. This fantastic studio gives Ed Conway this bigger canvas than he’s ever had before to do that analysis.”

Ward adds: “Nick said our USP is brilliant data presentation. I think we’ll go into that detail in a more interesting way than anyone else. We’re really aware you can’t just do that all night. You have to add a bit of showbiz, a little bit of entertainment to really engage our audiences. So to balance that out, we’ve got some really exciting plans for the big moments using AR primarily to make it an exciting night to watch.”

For Fisher, the studio and graphics give him the opportunity to tell the story of the election in new ways. “If the presenters and guests are talking about Scotland, we can put the latest SNP figures in one of the totems but still see Trevor Phillips or whoever talking about it in the background. That is something we just haven’t been able to do before. It’s going to bring the whole thing together, I think.”