LED walls, virtual floors and AR politicians to engage audiences like never before as part of broadcaster’s comprehensive election night coverage. 

The hub of Sky’s Election Night is Sky Studios’ Studio 4 commonly used for Monday Night Football (MNF), Formula 1, NFL and boxing. Described by Ben Fisher, Head of Sky News Studio Output as “a 360-degree immersive space making a brilliant canvas for storytelling and data,” he explains that “as soon as we saw it on air we thought, hang on a minute, this is built for an election.”

Zonal marking

Sky News has split the studio into four zones. The large curved LED which acts as the backdrop for MNF will be the main presentation space for anchors Kay Burley, Beth Rigby, and Trevor Phillips, with Andy Burnham and Ruth Davidson as pundits. This will feature a screen dubbed the ‘window to the world’, featuring a mosaic of live feeds from 102 constituency counts.

Ben Bishop, far left

Sky News Election Night team, from left to right: Ben Fisher, Head of Studio Output; Nick Phipps, Editor; Isla Glaister, Data & Elections Editor; Katy Dillon, Politics Senior News Editor; and Harry Ward, Creative Director Sports and News

The central zone is referred to as the ‘disco floor’, filled with a giant virtual map of the UK populated by results through the night. Ed Conway, Sky News’ Economics and Data Editor, will head this analysis zone and be able to call up AR characters such as MPs Grant Shapps and Penny Mordaunt.

“One of our big reveals on the night is we’ve made a life-size AR model of Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer,” Fisher says. “You know when you see AR footballers appear to walk out and make a gesture? Well, we got [the party leaders] to do that while they were in Grimsby for our leader’s debate on June 12.

“We’ve made a full-size 360 model of them. Their eyes will follow you around the room, the camera can get up close and personal. They’ll pop up variously through the night,” he says.

In the ‘totems’ area, where MNF pundits analyse game tactics, there will be forecasts of individual results.

The fourth wall of the 360-degree studio will feature an AR Downing Street where big moments like the exit poll, the winning moment and other big reveals are made. This has been built in Unreal Engine. “We’ve even got a little augmented reality Larry the cat,” teases Fisher.

Planning has been taking place for six months. “In fact, we were all doing a rehearsal or a little step-through of this AR stuff when the July election was called,” says Fisher.

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Election night in 2019 was held at Sky’s main campus building with AR banners on a huge scale. This time around the setup is a lot more studio-based.

“We’ll be out and about through the night, getting all the declarations, going to various presenters and correspondents, but it’ll be a lot more contained within the studio. We’ll be telling the story through the graphics, through the AR, through the disco floor.”

Camera coverage

It’s not practical to have a full camera team at all 650 constituencies, and neither would anywhere near that number get to air. As such, Sky will take feeds from 102 OBs. Decisions on exactly where to deploy each broadcast was finalised at the end of last week.


Sky News: Election Night Live

Source: Sky News

“The places we’re going are mostly locked in, but the story changes every day,” Fisher says.

This is managed as a Digital Camera Project (DCP) and includes around 20-30 Sky ENG cameras with camera ops supplemented by 60 to 80 students equipped with a camera and LiveU cellular TX unit. All feeds are routed via the cloud to a network operations centre at Sky Studios.

“We’ve taken over one of the canteens in Sky Studios and turned it into our DCP area where we have several producers managing the students and constantly checking all the feeds,” Fisher explains. “The feeds then get filtered down into what we call the ‘Fab 4’, which are four outside sources which come to me in the gallery. So when one of them is declaring we get a shout from the DCP team in the canteen saying, ‘Northampton East is declaring #21’ and that gives us the option of going straight to that camera.”

All 102 feeds are also fed into the mosaic which will fill the curved screen in the studio offering a “visual wow” moment. “I imagine we’ll only take half of those 102 feeds live because a lot of them happen at the same time and might have James Cleverly or another fantastic guest in the studio which takes precedent,” adds Fisher. “Obviously, if there’s a well-known MP that we think’s going to lose their seat, we’ll be wanting to switch live for the count.

“This workflow is quite hard to rehearse because we don’t have all those live shots up at the same time but we’ve got a good framework there and it’s how we’ve done the elections in the past,” he says.

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This is the first time Sky has worked with automated galleries having installed a Ross Video Overdrive since the previous general election. “I’d say the gallery is a hybrid; half automated, half non-automated. We’re still using our graphics ops, for example, but a lot of it is being driven through the automation.”

This automated gallery will remain in place at Studio 4 following the election and be used for sports or any other programming in the studio in future.

The leader’s debate Sky hosted in Grimsby was a 90-minute set piece which was rehearsed and easy to plan for. Election Night of course is live so anything could happen. “I’m always pretty relaxed but under the surface I’m flapping,” says Fisher, who will direct his first UK election night having performed a similar role for Sky’s coverage of the US presidential election in 2019.

“We’ve got a lot of good people here, a great studio and technical team. Splitting the studio into zones helps because it gives us a framework for understanding how we’re going to declare, how we’re going to show a result and what we are using the AR for. Then through the night, we will sprinkle it with various toys.”

Crucial exit poll

The exit poll immediately after voting closes gives the first indication of the result and is a crucial part of the live specials.

“It’s the most important part of the night, really,” explains Fisher. “Only two people in the building have access to that result which everyone else including the presenters won’t know until it’s on air.”

Sitting in a small room at Sky HQ designated as the exit poll room on the night, Fisher adds: “Screens will be installed, the doors are locked. There will be just one person in here. They will receive a phone call from someone at the BBC [where the exit poll is handed to all broadcasters) giving them the numbers. They will then run into the gallery and a graphic op will transform the figures into graphics. They are the only people that’ll see it.

“When ready, the show producer will get a whisper telling them what the result is. They will double-check we are good to go, and then we cross our fingers that it all works at 10 o’clock. That workflow is something we are rehearsing quite a lot.”

For the count declarations, Sky has what it calls “the crunch team” of four people monitoring 15 counts each, situated in the repurposed canteen with headphones listening to the live feeds.

“As soon as a result comes in the crunch team enters the results into the graphic which should immediately appear on screen. If there’s a mistake – and there are bound to be one or two that might be entered wrong – we can correct it.

“The information is fed to a live data feed hitting the lower third on-screen graphics, the vidiprinter, and studio graphics all the time. Similarly, we will have a stringer at every count entering the results as they are declared into a special app. That automatically updates the full-frame graphics, the lower third and everything else. So we know that if, for example, Ashford has gone to Lib Dem, we can decide if want to throw graphics up and talk about it.”

From 7:00am on the morning after the nationwide voting, lead politics presenter Sophy Ridge, will be live from Westminster as the election result is absorbed.

Election coverage starts from 9:00pm on Thursday 4th July and runs throughout Friday on Sky News (Freeview 233).

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