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Sky promises TV, online innovations for F1 coverage

20 February 2012

Sky Sports continues to reveal details of its 2012 venture into F1 broadcasting, with the announcement of Dolby digital sound following hot on the heels of other innovations on both its television and online coverage.

The inclusion of Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound will be available to viewers watching via the high-definition version of Sky Sports coverage when the dedicated F1 channel launches in March. The use of Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound - an audio feed using six different channels to provide a cinematic style experience - will represent the first time that live F1 broadcasts have been offered to viewers in the UK and Ireland in surround sound, and will cover all practice and qualifying sessions, as well as the 20 races.

"For the first time, viewers can hear the drama of F1 as well as see it," executive producer Martin Turner commented, "The stunning HD pictures will now be matched by stunning Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio that will help take our viewers trackside. This is another example of us giving F1 the Sky Sports treatment and I know those that hear the coverage will be amazed by it."

Sky will take a purpose-built mobile audio control room to the F1 television compound in order to receive the 5.1 audio produced by Formula One Management's host broadcast coverage. The commentary feed will then be added before the signal is beamed back to HD viewers in the UK and Ireland.

"F1 in Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound is seriously impressive, it's so much closer to the real experience from inside the cockpit or being at the side of the racetrack," driver-turned-commentator Martin Brundle noted, "It even picks up atmosphere from the crowd and I'm confident the viewer will notice a much greater intensity and spectacle."

In addition to the surround sound experience, Sky has recently announced a number of innovations it expects to set its television and online viewing experiences apart from its rivals.

Already christened 'Sky Race Control', interactive services on the broadcaster's F1 channel will feature as many as nine viewing options, with viewers given the opportunity to choose which camera they watch, while a similar facility is expected to be announced for Apple's iPad. Turner has already claimed that Sky Sports' coverage will 'reinvent interactive television'.

“The most powerful and interactive use of the 'Red Button' in the last few years has not been to show different angles and cameras, it's been to show you a different game," he pointed out, “What we are going to do is take F1 as a sport and offer different ways of seeing it, be it by on-board cameras or with the data tracker that tells you where the cars are.

“We will also be offering a live 'Pit Channel', [as] Sky will be covering the pits as its own channel to see what's going on there, because there's always something going on in the pits even without the cars being there.

“Technically speaking, our multi-screen offering will be the biggest change [to F1 viewing]. We will be offering a choice of on-board cameras that [viewers have] never had before."

Although the short-lived F1 Digital channel pioneered by Bernie Ecclestone more than five years ago featured multiple viewing options, it did not stretch as far as Turner suggests Sky is prepared to go to ensure that fans get the closest experience to actually being at a grand prix.

In addition to revolutionising television coverage of F1 - and building on the 'Red Button' facility offered by the BBC, which largely extended to prolonged coverage after the chequered flag - Sky has also leaked details of some of the features that it hopes to include with its iPad extension of Sky Race Control. Prime among these is a proposed four-way viewing option

"The aim of Sky Race Control is to replicate the [multi-viewing] offering across all of our platforms," said former BBC man Owen Williams, now head of projects for Sky Sport's digital media department, "You will see, for example, on the website you'll have your nine streams that Martin was referring to. So, in effect, you can be the race director, you can direct the race yourself. It gives an offering that, quite frankly, the BBC couldn't rival."

“There are certain things going on at the moment that will happen. It's not that we are trying to mislead, it's not that we are trying to be deliberately secretive, [but] a lot of the things being developed then have to go to Apple for submission and I can't stand up and say 'yeah, all these things, you will get them coming to an iPad on 15 March."

Having weathered the storm over its acquisition of the rights to show all 20 races as they happen in 2012, leaving the BBC with just ten live events, Sky has already drawn criticism for its decision to make its Race Control app available to Apple, with one tech forum member complaining that other platforms should have been considered.

"Before you ask, no, NOTHING for Android, this deal they must have with Apple is unbelievable," the post fumed, "When will Sky learn that Android is far bigger in the UK than Apple and so many of their customers are being left high and dry. It's amazing they can put out new apps for Apple products very fast and with red button et al and yet we are still waiting for an Android app. Once again, a kick in the teeth for most of Sky's loyal customers. Shame on you Sky."


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