«Thanks – I’m Barney Francis, the Managing Director of Sky Sports. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sky Sports, we launched back in 1991 ...»
‘Pioneering Sports Broadcasting’
Barney Francis, Managing Director of Sky Sports
Astra TV Conference
14th March 2013
Thanks – I’m Barney Francis, the Managing Director of Sky Sports.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sky Sports, we launched back in 1991
in the UK and Ireland.
In the month before Sky Sports began, there was just 27 hours of sport
available to UK viewers.
Over the last two decades, we’ve dramatically expanded the quantity, the
quality, the breadth and the depth of top-class sport available on British TV.
Today, over 4,000 hours of sport is shown in a typical month on our six Sky Sports channels.
We’ve also constantly innovated to improve our coverage with broadcasts available at home in HD and 3D and on the move via our mobile service.
1 2012 was an incredible year for British sport and Sky Sports. 2013 will be our biggest year yet.
But as always with these things, it’s probably best to let the pictures speak for themselves.
[RUN VT] So, that’s Sky Sports in a nutshell.
I want to talk to you this afternoon about what I believe are our two key roles at Sky Sports: constantly innovating with our coverage and with technology to allow sports fans to live and breathe the sports they love; and then working with sporting bodies to help sports grow at all levels.
Before I do, I want to tell you about the first time I came to Australia.
Ten years ago, I was executive producer for cricket and I was out here for the Ashes series.
I remember arriving in Brisbane for the First Test full of anticipation and excitement.
Then on the first morning, on just about the hottest day I can remember and faced with just about the flattest wicket I’ve ever seen, the England captain, Nasser Hussain, won the toss and uttered the immortal words: “We’ll have a bowl”.
2 There was a deep intake of breath in the commentary box as he turned and walked back to the pavilion. And we all spent the next couple of days watching Australia rattle up 492 runs.
That has gone down as one of the worst captaincy decisions of all time.
Nasser is now a prominent member of our cricket commentary team so he’s never allowed to forget about it. But in fairness to Nasser, even he’d acknowledge that he had no confidence in his batsmen to post a decent score. And he was right – the first three Tests of that series lasted just 11 days.
Back then, English cricket was in a pretty bad way – but look how far it’s come since. The England team has won three of the last four Ashes series and is fresh off a series win in India, which I’m sure many of you in this room will acknowledge is looking an ever more impressive feat!
The England women’s team also hold the Ashes and has won a World Cup.
And it’s only right that I congratulate Australia on their World Cup victory recently. And across the UK, hundreds of thousands of girls and boys are playing cricket in schools, clubs, parks and gardens.
In 2004, not long after that miserable tour, Sky Sports was awarded exclusive live rights for all English cricket, which had previously been a listed event, rather like your ‘anti-siphoning’ list, that had to be shown on free-to-air TV.
We offered an unparalleled investment in rights, airtime and promotion. But there was a huge reaction.
An independent think-tank described it as “an utter disgrace.” Motions were tabled in Parliament, on the basis that the decision: “certainly reduces the
We thought differently. As did the England and Wales Cricket Board. And today you’d be very hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t recognise the positive effect that we’ve had on cricket. One broadcaster recently told BBC Radio that: “At the moment I’ve never known a greater enthusiasm for cricket in this country, particularly amongst kids of all backgrounds, of all ages, of all races.” Our coverage has given exposure to all forms of the game and helped the sport win new fans. Innovations like High Definition pictures, stump microphones, ultra-motion and thermal cameras – all familiar to many of you in this room - have all helped transform the game for our viewers and umpires alike.
Meanwhile, the funding and exposure that we provide is helping to improve the sport’s infrastructure and getting more and more youngsters playing.
Through our coach education programme with the ECB Board, we’ve helped train over 45,000 new cricket coaches to meet that growing demand.
I’ve long said that we don’t consider ourselves as buyers or renters of sports rights; we consider ourselves partners of the sporting bodies that we work with.
Once we’ve signed a deal, the two most important things that we can do are:
constantly innovate with our coverage and technology; and work with sporting bodies to grow their sports.
Innovating with our coverage First, innovating with our coverage.
Those Formula 1 fans in the room today will be only too aware that the new Formula 1 season begins in Melbourne this weekend. I’m heading there tomorrow morning.
It marks the beginning of our second year broadcasting the sport on Sky Sports. And for me, it’s a really good example of how we’re pushing the boundaries of how a sport is covered.
Because if you look at what’s changed since we won the rights to show Formula 1, we’ve created the first dedicated channel in the world, which shows every practice session, qualifying session and Grand Prix from all 19 race weekends. And two weeks ago for the first time in UK and Ireland we showed testing live and in 3D too, the 14th sport we’ve now given the 3D treatment too.
But it’s not the quantity of coverage that has really won over Formula 1 fans.
The thing that has persuaded those who were sceptical is the quality of our coverage and the amount of innovation we’re providing through it.
As well as blindingly good HD pictures provided by Formula One Management, we recognised that Formula 1 is a sport made for second screen experience because of all the telemetry, different camera angles and social media
Then, because we know they like to be able to hear the engine of the car behind them as well as see the car in front of them, there’s Dolby 5.1 sound for the first time in the UK.
Meanwhile, the 3D virtual images that we’ve built of all the cars allow our experts in the studio to show viewers what’s going on under the side-pods, helping to take our analysis of the sport to a new level.
Another great example is football.
We were first awarded the rights to show the Premier League back in 1992.
We started by doing simple things like adding the match clock and score at the top of the screen. That was a world first but we remember the days when people rang up to complain about it. Can you imagine life without the time and score now, not just football but any sport?
We also increased the number of cameras at matches from fewer than 5 to over 30. And the quality of broadcasts has moved from widescreen to High Definition to 3D.
More recently, the biggest innovation that has helped to move our football coverage on has been the addition of Gary Neville, the former Manchester United and England defender, to our team.
But now, we’re being flooded with people saying: ‘You proved us wrong’. Gary has taken expert analysis on to another level. His reading of the game is such that the Football Association came calling to offer him a the number two coaching job with the England team.
And while some might think it comes easy, he’s always in by 9 o’clock on a Monday morning to review the tapes of the weekend’s matches before Monday Night Football. The same diligence and hard work that made him a great player are also now making him a great analyst.
It’s by doing all of this that we can keep pushing forward with our on-air coverage, leading the way. And we’re making even bigger strides off-air.
Innovating with technology By harnessing the latest technology, we can offer customers what I call a complete sports service that offers them the flexibility to watch on their terms.
At home, there’s the big TV experience with the remarkable clarity of HD and the immersive experience of 3D, all of which they can share with their friends and family.
On top of the millions watching at home and in pubs and clubs, the recent Champion’s League match between Manchester United and Real Madrid attached almost 350,000 viewers on Sky Go.
The growing popularity of new devices also offers other opportunities for us to enhance viewing. I’ve already mentioned the Formula 1 app and when our customers are watching Premier League matches, they can use our app to access all the data, heat maps and other information that our experts have in our studio.
So while watching sport used to mean remaining rooted to your seat, our customers no longer have to choose between enjoying the live experience and getting on with their busy lives. Instead, they can choose the option that best suits them.
As well as enabling us to add greater value for existing customers, new technology also allows us to reach a whole new group of customers.
In the next few weeks, we’ll offer customers the opportunity to watch Sky Sports on a pay-as-you-go basis through our internet TV service, NOW TV, launched last year on a wide range of connected devices. You’ll be able to buy a day pass on a wide range of connected devices offering access to all six Sky Sports channels for 24 hours.
Introducing NOW TV alongside our market-leading satellite service allows us to meet the needs of even more customers; those that want to dip in and out of their favourite sports as well as those who want an all-you-can-eat subscription.
Enhancing sport through partnership So, once we’ve invested in sports rights, we give them the best possible treatment both on air and off air.
The second area where we can add value is by working with sporting bodies to help their sports grow.
I talked about the transformation of English cricket earlier. But it’s not just the biggest sports that profit from long-term partnerships with us. There isn’t a single sport – from rugby league to the Netball Super League – that hasn’t benefited from the spotlight we provide. Many are using investment to upgrade facilities, develop talent and improve their infrastructure, from the grassroots to the very top.
If you do look at netball, since we started working with the sport, crowds have gone up, more girls have started playing it and more sponsors want to get involved. That’s a result of our live programming, but also the work we do with England Netball to promote and market their sport, both on and off-air.
At Sky Sports, we’ve always been a committed, long-term partner to the sports we cover.
Equally, I don’t talk to any sporting bodies these days that are just in it for the money either. The evidence shows that sports that are in long-term partnerships benefit over the long term; while sports that take a bit more money from someone else in the good times absolutely lose out over the course of a 10-year period.
Listed events But we can only innovate and help sports grow because we’re able to bid for rights in an open and competitive marketplace.
I know there’s a similar debate about anti-siphoning laws here as the one we have had a number of times in the UK.
I just want to say two things about it.
First, it really isn’t a zero-sum game, where sport has to be shown on pay TV or on free-to-air channels. We show around 50,000 hours of sport a year on our six Sky Sports channels. But the reality is there’s far more sport on UK free-to-air TV today than when Sky Sports launched. In the last week or so, one terrestrial channel alone has shown two live FA Cup matches, a UEFA Champions League match and two live UEFA Europa League matches.
The best people to decide which broadcaster or broadcasters will make the best partnership for them are the governing bodies themselves. In my opinion, they should be left to do that.
Conclusion So to conclude, at Sky Sports, we’ve been pioneering sports broadcasting for over twenty years in the UK and Ireland.
We’re enormously proud of the role that Sky plays in sport, from setting new standards in sports broadcasting to boosting grass-roots participation.
And the results of our investment and commitment are clear to see, on and off the pitch.
Later this year, Alastair Cook will walk out to the middle on the first morning of the first Test in Brisbane.
Inevitably it’ll be another hot day at the Gabba, and another flat wicket. But if he wins the toss, I’d bet this time he’ll say: “We’ll have a bat”.
And I’d like to think that Sky Sports will have played a small part in that.