News broadcasters are taking a further step into the work-from-home challenge today as Sky News announced it will be hosting its live news programme with every single person involved working remotely.
The Life After Lockdown programme will be hosted by Sarah-Jane Mee at 4.30pm today in what Sky News producer Nick Stylianou believes is a ‘world first’ for live TV news.
Stylianou shares with the SoE how he has prepared for the programme, which will see everyone including the producers and directors working remotely after the studios in Osterley hand over control to the team for the 30-minute show.
The Lockdown special will examine how people around the world are surviving during the various stages of lockdown. It demands the most of its production team to seamlessly present the show – with its line-up including Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organisation’s Special Envoy for Covid-19.
Supporting the programme is a great deal of technology, including the producer’s array of five different screen devices; he lists ‘laptop, computer, monitor, iPad, iPhone’. Stylianou explains that the screens are all needed so all of the correspondents and experts can be seen and co-ordinated without losing track of people.
The demands of the programme have also been met by the show’s director James Whicher to ensure the show is up to standard professionally. Whicher ‘has built our familiar Sky News look-and-feel, as well as a huge amount of other back-end work into some software currently used for Sky Sports/Sky Sports News Football & Boxing shows.’
The challenge also puts a great deal of trust in the WiFi networks of those working remotely; Stylianou jokes that his director’s software is a ‘real test of people’s home bandwidth’.
Still, Sky was keen to get the ‘top editorial talent’ involved to see how they could incorporate the trademark aspects of their programmes while not having access to the main studio kit.
With the help of Ben Wickham, head of Studio Output, and Neil Dunwoodie, head of News Output, economics editor Ed Conway will be able to deploy his trademark Big Screen routine. To shake up the Zoom format, Conway plans to use an actual TV screen live at home to explain the data behind the lockdown.
The programme will also be joined by political correspondent Tamara Cohen from her home – rather than Westminster – and diplomatic editor Dominic Waghorn speaking about how Covid-19 is to affect the new world order.
In what Stylianou describes as a ‘technical mash-up that, fingers crossed, comes together seamlessly’ the programme will also take on the challenge of co-ordination across the world time zones. It will use Zoom to interview the list of experts and correspondents that viewers have become accustomed to rely on for top knowledge on the pandemic.
To add to the poignancy of the challenge, this weekend marks almost two months of living under the coronavirus lockdown restrictions, and thus shows how far live broadcasting has come to adapt to the new setup.
At least we can be relieved to know there is a safety net in place, ‘Of course, if we have a huge technical problem, the studios can pick our output back up almost immediately if our existing fail-safes don’t work’, he says.
The final challenge is a constant one for broadcasters.
Time-keeping is always a priority on TV and today is no different: the show is followed by the 5pm Downing Street Briefing.
But Stylianou hopes this feat will be managed with a bit of time to spare – adding ‘I don’t want to be the guy who misses the first bit of that!’
Tune in to Sky News at 4.30pm to see if the team succeeds.