Millions of football fans will breathe a sigh of relief this weekend as the 2023-24 season finally kicks off. Much of the summer has been dominated by transfers, with Saudi Arabian teams raiding Europe to secure the services of leading players such as Jordan Henderson, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
It’s also been a summer of transfers for Sky Sports in the UK. On Saturday the broadcaster will unveil a brand new studio for Sky Sports News as well as its much-loved Soccer Saturday programme. Plus, new presenter Simon Thomas will make his debut behind the desk, taking over from Jeff Stelling.
Viewers will see the new 164m² / ~1765 ft² studio for the first time, as well as brand new graphics, with Sky Sports News moving from Chyron as its main graphics engine to Viz in order to align with the rest of the Sky Sports output, as well as the businesses in Italy and Germany.
“It brings further technical alignment by being on the same template platform as Sky News, and allows us to share content and creative across UK and European output quickly and easily,” Ben Wickham director of creative output, tells TVBEurope.
“Our Soccer Saturday L shape has successfully been running on the Unity gaming engine for a number of years now – but we’ve extended its use on our tickers across Sky Sports News. The L-Shape itself will now have a number of different variations throughout the day, to better reflect the news service we want to deliver to our customers.”
The studio space has been opened up to give the directors a bigger range of shooting options provided by movable furniture. With the addition of two new high-res LED screens to create bespoke content and an upgraded main video wall, the team have increased the ways they have to tell all the different stories from across the world of sport.
“The back-end technology has been entirely upgraded, with a purpose-built, state-of-the-art automation gallery, fully HDR, with huge live capabilities and new Avid Fastserve infrastructure getting the journalists instant access to all our content and publishing platforms,” adds Wickham. “Other than remaining on iNews, we have rebuilt the entire technical infrastructure of SSN, after we left Gallery Six overnight when Covid hit, and built a ‘temporary’ facility, that remained in place for over three years.”
The wider technical rebuild and creative refresh of has also given the broadcaster an opportunity to return Soccer Saturday to the studio and newsroom of Sky Sports News, the hub for all of its journalists on a big Saturday of games. “It also allowed us to continue the brand refresh on Soccer Saturday that we started last season, and bring more of this to the individual pundit areas and [former referee] Mike Dean’s position,” says Wickham. “We want the show to be more open and relaxed, so we’ve moved away from a single desk to individual pods for each contributor.”
One of the big technology changes is moving the studio to fully HDR. The main video wall has been upgraded to a brighter projector with half the energy consumption, and a new high-res (1.2mm pitch) video wall for additional content has been included. The screens, set and lighting, are controlled by an automated Ross Overdrive gallery system, with integrated data from the various leagues, allowing the production team to be agile and rapid in its response to matches and longer-term changes in the sports, says Wickham.
In total, the studio has five cameras, including three Sony HDC 4300s on the floor and two Sony P43s on rails (wide-angle lenses for one pedestal and two overhead cameras). The pedestal cameras sit on a Shotoku SmartPed. All of the cameras can be operated from the studio floor remotely by a single operator during Sky Sports News’ regular output, with two additional manual operators during Soccer Saturday.
All of the set is physical, there are no virtual elements. The guests will all have a screen in front of them for their dedicated game, as well as off-camera monitors showing a split of other games. Simon Thomas will have a monitor so that he can select which game he sees, and Mike Dean will have two monitors with a split of all the Premier League matches available. Brand new Riedel panels are in place for talkback to the gallery.
The gallery itself has also undergone a refresh with its set up including:
- Ross Overdrive – latest version 22.01
- Dashboard controlling screens and floor director
- VizRT throughout (except Unity L-Shape for Soccer Saturday)
- One EVS (split into two channels). Facility for scaling up EVS from an external hub for Soccer Saturday (usually three additional EVS seats)
- 20 OS lines
- Fully HDR
- 2 vision mixers (one for content and one for various L-shape states)
- Switch to Avid Fastservers for ingest and output, with hooks into digital platforms for agile publishing.
“The look and feel bring a greater definition to both our appointment to view programming and rolling news coverage across the day,” concludes Wickham.