Inside the state-of-the-art Sky Sports studio bringing fans an immersive new experience
For The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, The Media Convergence, we catch up with Sky Creative, the broadcaster’s in-house creative team, to hear about the brand-new studio it just built and how it’s proving a hotbed of storytelling and entertainment.
Sky Sports Studio / Sky
Last month, Sky Sports unveiled an expansive new arena-shaped studio designed by the broadcaster’s in-house creative team. Surrounded by high-resolution screens and immersive AR graphics, the new backdrop blends traditional set design and forward-thinking technologies while keeping its core brand touchpoints clear.
The studio is the result of a brief the team set themselves a year and a half ago to build something that was “ambitious, innovative and distinctive“ says creative director Harry Ward. He admits that the brief was broad, but those keywords were all crucial.
“What it’s built for, really, is to be a home for Sky Sports for the next decade or more. It’s a flexible and versatile studio that can absorb all sorts of program brands.”
The project is based on lessons the broadcaster learned from previous iterations, placing all these findings in one space. There’s a four-point camera that gives a full 360° look, a touchscreen featuring 3D virtual game reconstructions, alongside a massive LED floor that gives presenters a canvas to explain football tactics and team formations.
Jason Landau, the creative director of innovation, says the flexibility and fluidity the new technology gives the presenters and guests is unparalleled: “The work we’ve done in the studios to get to that point where the presenters can quickly go, ‘This is a space, we’ve got the tools, let’s tell the story...’
”There’s something about physicality and space. And while there’s nothing wrong with VR studios – ITV sport, for example, is embracing VR – guests wouldn’t feel as comfortable if they’re surrounded by green.”
Ward says that his team approached the project not like building a news studio but creating an original space that focuses on storytelling. “This is the home of sport. It’s got more of an entertainment feel than we’ve ever gone for before.”
This ambitious theme is prevalent through all of Sky’s creative touchpoints of late. Back in July, the channel took inspiration from The Greatest Showman for a fire-breathing, sword-swallowing circus extravaganza starring Idris Elba.
Of course, this studio isn’t its first circus; the channel did launch over 30 years ago, but previous sets have been at a completely different scale and had their own unique requirements. “In the past, it was OK to sit around a desk and talk about football at halftime,” says Ward. “What’s really exciting is that Sky Sports is being ambitious and telling stories in a much more engaging and visual way.”
It’s all about creating rich and interesting stories for viewers with the studio and beyond. “It was kind of like, when do we stop?” laughs executive producer Sofie Leale. “We tried not to get too overexcited at the beginning. It’s about holding some things back and getting it right from the start so that we can just use that and then build on it.”
With an array of different communication channels, including the upgraded studio, social media and TV ads, plus a huge audience of different sports fans to satisfy, just how tricky is it to keep everything in sync?
“It’s not easy, necessarily,” says Ward. “The tone of the Ashes, a historical series of cricket, is very different to the tone that you might put in the darts, which is very different again to what you might want to do for Monday Night Football, which is dark, moody and more analytical.”
The creative director says they have their little "brand design tricks" they use to pull everything together – fonts, colors and photography, for example – that knit everything cohesively to create a visual thread for a brand perspective. Holding on to those intrinsic values allows for flexibility across all comms. “We can go a little bit darker and moodier for Monday Night Football or have a graffiti-inspired brand identity for the US Open. But it does depend on the tone of the output.”
Having an in-house creative team does make it easier to get all these different executions on-brand, says Ward. “We live and breathe it. We don’t have other clients to get distracted by.”
At the crux of everything is innovation and entertainment, he says. “As long as it all ladders up to that, then the tighter that is the more it resonates with the audience. Part of our jobs is to make sure that’s a cohesive identity system.”