Sky Sports is the UK's leading subscription television sports network, operating ten TV channels that cover a range of high-end live sports including football, cricket, golf, rugby and motorsport. Its passionate subscribers not only demand coverage of the leading sporting events, but they also expect cutting-edge productions, full of innovation and insight.
When the broadcaster won the rights to televise Formula 1™, it launched Sky Sports F1, a dedicated channel to give fans the most in-depth motorsport coverage yet.
Formula 1™ is one of the highest profile, most glamorous and technologically advanced sports. It’s also one of the most challenging live television productions to pull off, especially given the amount of equipment that has to be shipped, installed, rigged and packed away again at each circuit for a full race broadcast.
With shipping costs rising and the broadcast industry needing to deliver more for less, Sky Sports wanted to reduce the operational costs of producing a full season of F1™. This meant cutting the amount of kit transported for each race while ensuring that the quality of the content produced remained high.
Keen to address this growing challenge, Sky Sports commissioned Gravity Media – then branded Gearhouse Broadcast – to design a lighter, more flexible and efficient solution to replace the ‘flyaway’ unit it had used during its first three years covering F1™.
The collaboration resulted in OBPod, a flyaway configuration consisting of six interconnecting pods, all built on the standard air freight PMC rectangular pallet footprint to simplify logistics. Each pod housed a different part of the production workflow. Every element, including equipment and furniture, was scrutinised to make sure it could deliver the highest production values and withstand the rigours of international shipping while remaining as lightweight as possible.
To give the production crew the best and most versatile working environment, coachbuilder A Smith Great Bentley developed pods with expandable sides to deliver a larger overall footprint within a circuit’s TV compound.
Thanks to the flexible design of OBPod, the innovation didn’t stop there. Gravity Media streamlined OBPod even further after the 2015 F1 season to accommodate the live productions of each race from sister broadcasters Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland into the same set-up. This resource sharing allowed the broadcasters to save on the amount of infrastructure and equipment required. It also meant they could leave all of the technology requirements and management to Gravity Media and focus purely on the creative aspects of the production.
As part of the 2016 set-up, Sky UK, Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland had their own dedicated pods, which housed individual production galleries. The EVS replay and edit pods were combined into one new server pod while the audio and MCR pods have been upgraded so that all three broadcasters can use them. There is also a storage pod incorporated into the layout.
Keith Lane, former director of operations at Sky Sports who oversaw the project, put the project into perspective. “Gearhouse has taken everything within our previous flyaway pod and refined it to deliver a lighter, yet more flexible and futureproof solution without compromising on performance or functionality. This has been an ambitious, yet ultimately rewarding project, both financially and from an engineering and systems integration point of view.”
In 2017, further technical advances were implemented within the pods to allow Sky to provide UHD season coverage, giving subscribers even more enhanced, immersive viewing experiences. And the innovation isn’t over. As we move into the 2018 season, Gravity Media has been working closely with Sky to redesign the pods, this time for remote production capabilities. This allows both Sky UK and Sky Italia to send smaller teams out to each location and easily produce their F1 coverage remotely from galleries in Osterley, UK and Milan, Italy. The flexible Gravity Media pod system supports the changing requirements of both broadcasters, ensuring that they get a robust remote production system in every location.