Sky Sports innovates with Strike Meter, enhanced programming

Onsite and remote teams customize content for avid and casual fans

Sky Sports is on site at The Open Championship with a team of 150 working closely with a team from Sky HQ (mainly working in Galleries 4 and 34) in Osterley, UK to deliver a wealth of content for the keen golf fans as a newcomer.

According to Sky Sports Golf Executive Producer Jason WesleySky Sports is doing more hours than ever on location, with programming such as The open area, Live from outdoorslive golf coverage and shoulder coverage before and after the round.

“The hours are tough for everyone, although split shifts help,” he says. “And we’re doing more with talent than ever before. They support Live on the range; they support our show; they support NBC and IMG’s Live Shows and Featured Group.”

Sky Senior Producer Dave Randall leads the efforts of the remote team, a team that has been busy delivering content to UK golf fans from 9am on Monday.

He says the challenge of working from a gallery in Osterley was obviously to create an environment that was familiar and very similar to what the team would have if they were on site. The editorial aim is to take all available video and audio sources and tailor the story to British golf fans.

“Golf is a very interesting sport in terms of its production,” Randle points out. “It’s what you’re leaving out, not necessarily what you’re putting in, because it’s a non-linear sport forced into linear production. We tailor coverage to our audience and try to follow our stories. Good luck [in remote production] is when the audience doesn’t notice the difference on screen.”

Sky’s production management team for The Open: (from left) Stuart Lang, Lauren Shaw, Katie Harrison and Chrissy Malone

Sky Golf Production Manager Katie Harrison is on the Old Course, ensuring that the on-site team moves in step with the remote production team.

“It’s a much bigger gallery and can accommodate a lot more feeds than our home golf gallery,” she says. “We send about 60 feeds to Randall, who decides what to use in those feeds. This week we also have 18 of our own cameras which include different types of presentation cameras, three RF cameras and [a super-slo-mo] camera.

“Randall and the content team then decide what else they want to tailor the feed,” she continues. “We’re going to sit down and work that out with Randall and I’m going to try to fulfill that wish list.”

Explains Randall, “The challenge is the sheer volume of feed and how we’re going to use it. Some of them are for broadcast and some for preview.”

One of the biggest challenges in remote production is communication with talent: organic conversations over breakfast or drinks just don’t happen. Randall says, “WhatsApp groups are part of [overcoming that challenge] as that is where the organic conversations take place. You also need to force a moment, force a meeting, write things in the diary or make phone calls. You use all these available means to make this communication successful.

One way to make the remote team feel more connected is that many of them were sent to the Old Course to familiarize themselves with the place and create an attachment.

“We wanted them to feel the aura and get to know the course,” Vesely says. “Most of the people on the production team are up, like the producers and the APs. We have nine producers and APs at Sky and three here.’

Adds Randall, “I think some remote productions can take people away from the emotion of the event because they don’t get the atmosphere of the first game. But we give people everything [offsite] that we ever had in place. In some cases, as technology has advanced, we have actually been able to improve upon it. We’ve given people more access to more feeds, to more host-broadcaster cameras, and they can record them all at once. In fact, we have created a facility that is probably technically better than a truck on site. It’s also a more comfortable working environment for longer hours as it’s a huge space for us.”

There is also a replay room at Osterley with seven EVS servers, each of which can handle 10 sources at once.

“The world feed is kind of like non-stop coverage of golf,” says Randall. “It’s up to us to create our own global broadcast. We’re well covered with our own reps.”

The Sky Open Zone studio on the Open Championship practice range is home to live demonstrations, interviews and analysis.

Sky also has two studio locations and an interview area this year, and all of these signals return as part of the 60 Vision Paths. The two on-site studios deal with the Open Zone, which has been a staple of The Open practice since 2016, and Judgment show that airs before and after the end of the live broadcast.

“The Judgment The studio is in the Himalayas next to the first hole right next to the burn and looks out over the R&A Clubhouse,” says Harrison. “We also have a Sky interview with a stand monitor where we do interviews after the round, and we have three RF presentation cameras that Randall can make go anywhere he wants in the RF range.”

One innovation for golf coverage is the Strike Meter, a new version of Toptracer that crosses shot data—launch angle, ball speed, spin speed—through an algorithm to create a score of 1-100 (60 is average). The higher the score, the better the shot.

“We’ve been using it for a day and a half and it’s very smart,” says Randall. “This is a next generation Toptracer and has captured data in various golf tournaments this year. This is the first time it has been deployed. It measures not only ball speed and club speed, but also side spin and this unlocks future possibilities. There are four on the golf course: the fourth, fifth, 13th and 14th tees.”

Open Mic also returns, capturing audio from a specific band in a more thoughtful way than simply relying on effects mics or camera mics.

“It’s a directional microphone that’s focused on the interaction between player and caddy before a shot,” Randle says. “We’ll have someone watching him and capturing moments around the field. Today it’s Padraic Harrington and his band and the little snippets of commentary are fantastic.”

Sky Sports has provided plenty of coverage from the practice rounds this week, with live coverage of the entire course, interviews and much more.

“I think it promotes the event first and foremost,” Wessely says of the practice round coverage. “The Open is a week-long event and a festival and celebration like Wimbledon or the World Cup. I want to reflect that a fan can come on Monday morning and see the players practice, see the standout players and the opening of the merchandise and the start of the city. There are people at the bars and that’s a fantastic thing. I wanted to cover that on TV.

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