Behind the scenes with Sky Sports Premier League TV coverage: Inside the studio, "Batcam" and the search for Shaka Hislop
RadioTimes.com went behind the scenes at Sky Studios to watch football from a whole new angle
Where do you get your football from? We ask the question of our food, our clothes, almost everything we consume.
Football ranks among the required ingredients for life itself in the eyes of many. Gargantuan audiences swallow up games from across the globe, while the Premier League remains the crown jewel in Sky Sports' coverage.
RadioTimes.com was invited to Sky Studios to find out how Sky Sports' primetime show, Monday Night Football, is made during a visit to check out the company's streaming TV, Sky Glass, which broadcasts the Premier League in 4K HDR quality.
Preparations for MNF start early, rendering the central word of the title wholly inaccurate. This is an all-day event, with technical staff in the office from 8am, 9am on the morning of each Monday game.
One notable feature of the coverage is that it's all rooted in west London, not Tyneside where Newcastle are preparing to host Arsenal. Sky Sports' agents are dispersed across the land, but it's all fed back to the mothership for processing.
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Stepping into the MNF studio is like stepping into the least conventional office you've ever worked in. Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher, David Jones are sat in formation around the table, each wearing a casual t-shirt – or a hoody in Neville's case – each silently engrossed in their oversized tablets.
It's 5pm and the three men are cramming in some late revision, late preparation for the game to come. Neville can't help but dive into the game. He's a coiled spring desperate to launch into discussion at all times. The former United right-back turned pundit supremo cultivates an infectiously geeky love of the game, there's no faux passion on display, just authentic interest.
The 9-to-5 is over for millions, with the masses ready to sink into their armchairs for a dose of MNF. This is the time the trio come alive.
In the gallery, there's a confrontation of too many screens to count. It's overwhelming, a sensory overload when combined with voices coming from a dozen or so production staff dotted across the room. Closer inspection makes you realise that every screen is actually necessary for this mammoth production.
From this room along the corridor, we watch the trio in rehearsals. Jones runs through the Newcastle team in effortless fashion. And then runs through it again. Then again. And again.
Jones is meticulously applying polish to his words with a surprising amount of chat about the actual game being fed to him. It's not cold and clinical, the producers clearly want to saturate their product with as much relevant, sharp football insight as possible, right down to which players and details to include in the team news, which they receive 15 minutes prior to the outside world.
Whether it be too much about Miguel Almiron, Callum Wilson as captain or unnecessary chat about an absent Chris Wood, every detail is honed for purpose.
"I've just swapped wing-backs for Arsenal," informs a voice from the back of the gallery belonging to the person in charge of the graphics. Another voice from the front: "Make it more about Willock getting into box over ASM down the wing," while describing his vision for a blink-and-you'll-miss-it montage.
"60 seconds!" Neville and Carragher – now suitably suited – are swiping their phones as the countdown clock races towards 7pm. The former is recording a video for his social media disciples, he's ribbing Jones.
A hush washes over the rooms, the gallery and the studio. The five-second countdown begins. The director announces: "We are on air, have a cracker everyone, last MNF of the season."
It's like observing the underbelly of a tapestry. The screens littered with uncountable numbers of camera feeds, voices continue to puncture the gallery vacuum, to the outsider – very gratefully – looking in, it's chaos, yet there's order. The threads behind the scenes are many and messy, but flip over the canvas and the product is three men in effortless flow.
When Carragher speaks, a prompt is given to Neville as to what to expect next ("Gary on Arsenal approach") and vice versa. Jones has always been a master of letting the conversation flow, appreciating that he is flanked by first-hand knowledge and experience and making sure to tap into both sources liberally.
The game kicks off at 8pm and the pressure shifts from the studio and gallery to a production suite three floors up in the gigantic Sky Studios building.
The suites are unassuming, far smaller than the main gallery used for studio work. They're intimate small pods containing two people and, you guessed it, another countless array of screens, only this time it becomes clearer what everything actually does.
There are 14 cameras plus four VAR feeds, tunnel cam, fixed roof cam and even a "batcam" drone soaring above St James' Park. This is a small production, a run of the mill game. They used 22 different cameramen plus all the trimmings for Liverpool v Manchester City earlier in the season.
Each of the 14 camera feeds has a label attached: "Cam 1: John", "Cam 10: Andy" and so forth. This suite is a brain and 250 miles away, under the lights in Newcastle, 14 eyeballs are drinking in the sights.
One of the producers almost literally calls the shots, setting up his eyeballs, directing them where to point at any given moment. The visual editor executes the orders, pushing the buttons that determine what you see at home. It's a fascinating, genuinely eye-widening experience soaking it all up.
"Go on, No.5." Arteta's bringing his Arsenal side over for a team talk. "Don't go too close No.5." The camera, now beaming to the nation backs off. "Clear off, No.5, get out of the way." The Arsenal players rush back onto the field, the main camera angle feed returns to the coverage, No.5 backs off, away down the touchline.
"Have we found Shaka Hislop? Who can get me Shaka Hislop?"
Set-pieces are handled with the same precision and co-ordination on the field as they are in Sky Studios: "No.4, do your set up. Wide. Wider. No.8 can you do the kicker? Terry No.11, come to Arsenal fans." The setup is completed by both striker and producer.
A hush descends in the stands and the suite. If this goes in, the dominoes are likely to fall in the way of No.8, whose eye is fixed on the taker, followed by a cut to No.11 and scores of jubilant Arsenal fans. All 14 camera feeds are still, all 22 players are still. The chance is missed. "Clear 11, clear 11." The shot drifted harmlessly wide.
Sometimes it's less precise. "How quick can you do a set of stats to show Newcastle's dominance. Passes? Possession? Shots on target?" Typing pops up in a graphic box almost instantly. "I need eyes on Eddie Howe please." All 14 eyes buzz to Eddie Howe, the vision editor makes his selection and the graphics box appears.
As if that's not enough, the producer has the two live commentators on the line at all times. He prompts them with the graphic, they discuss Eddie Howe, his impact, Newcastle's dominance, served up with a shot of the Magpies' new hero and all the stats to prove it.
It is remarkable how much attention the technical guys are paying to the match. Every shot is hand-picked to paint the tale of the match. This is no robotic chore, they are storytellers, plugged into the game more than any of us, you or I, watching from home.
This weekend, three Premier League matches are beaming out of Sky Studios simultaneously, each with a dedicated team, each with their own brain suite, each dedicated to telling the story of the match with details you may barely notice, but simply couldn't watch without.
Oh, and they got Shaka Hislop.
You can three Premier League games live on Sky Sports on the final day of the season.
Add the Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Football channels for just £18 per month combined or pick up the complete sports package for just £25 per month.
For more information on Sky Glass, check out the official Sky website.
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