Q&A with Mark Alford - Sky Sports

Q1: Mark, you are responsible for the editorial content across Europe's largest digital sports network at Sky, having previously worked in Fleet Street journalism. What are the challenges for a media landscape where we are moving from an analogue environment (magazine, newspaper, TV) to a digital age characterized by the increasing convergence of technologies?

MA: The challenge, which has largely been met at Sky Sports, is to be active and, crucially, engaging on platforms where our audience is consuming content. We are now there – on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube and Instagram – but the new challenge is how do we produce bespoke content for that audience and that platform and remain consistent in our journalism and our brand?

The big change from the analogue environment for us – and remember that media is the most important for us, we remain a broadcaster first and foremost – is that our digital journalists and other content creators operate in an environment with no deadlines... Or rather we exist with a more oppressive deadline of 'the now'; don’t hold back push it out. At Sky Sports there exists a constant cycle of ‘produce, measure, review... Then produce again’. Ultimately, our mission is to drive our audience to ‘the live event’ and that could be on linear TV, Sky Go, Now TV, our live blog on web/app and/or the score service in the Football Score Centre app.

Q2: What does this mean specifically for sporting organizations and their fans?

MA: That they need to be agile and go to their audiences; not to expect their audience to come to them. Their core audience of 40,000, who regularly attend home matches, are loyal but ultimately conservative (small ‘c’). Their fans across the globe on Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram demand different content and a different tone to that found on any football club’s website.

Q3: Could you tell me more about how Sky is tailoring content to different audience segments? What tools are you using to make increasingly intelligent use of data to create tailored content and deliver it to the right audience?

MA: We use A combination of real-time analytics, Omniture metrics for our reporting, and video data to inform our decision-making. We use Social Flow to aid our social media publishing, too. All the social platforms have data which we constantly monitor and evaluate. We’re always thirsty for more granular data.

I believe digital publishing is largely about giving the users what they want, when they want it. Add some experts using their editorial judgment and some savvy Sky Sports relationship management (we are a broadcast partner that thrives on access) and ultimately you can create some really compelling content. That content on some of the market's best products is proving a winning combination (for now).

Q4: Let's talk about content across all connected devices. What are the challenges in creating, analysing and delivering live data, video and editorial content for a generation which has now been brought up with a variety of different screens?

MA: The article you read on skysports.com web is the same on Sky Sports for Mobile and our iPad app. That saw us through the initial ‘connected devices’ conundrum, but now there is clearly a dominant screen – the smartphone. 83% of all time spent on Sky Sports products is on mobile. And 80% of that is within our apps portfolio. We therefore have new questions to challenge our workflows: Should we bother with desktop? If we are a mobile-first publisher (and we undoubtedly are) how long can we persist with a production set-up that is web-first?

Q5. If we could jump 10 years in the future, what do you think the most dramatic changes will be in the way we consume sports content? And what new strategies/tech would teams be using to engage with their fans?

MA: Personalisation – technology will know instinctively what content I want to consume because it will have 'learned' my behaviour across the time of day, time of year, day of the week; across the sports I like, the teams I follow and the products/platforms I use. Essentially, the era of the editor/curator where 'us journalists know what users should be interested in' will pass. The Sky Sports interface that I interact with will be unique and be different from the one you and you and you use.

From the broadcast perspective – and I am by no means an expert here (my colleague Matt Roberts, who is also speaking at this event, studies this kind of stuff) but I have heard those who are talk of the end of linear TV and the development of TV apps. These apps provide content streams instead of channels, so you’d watch content on Sky Sports Boxing app rather than boxing on Sky Sports 1, for example.

Q6. Finally, what are you hoping to get out of our Fan Engagement symposium in June?

MA: Two big areas for development in my arena this year are set to be VR and fan engagement. Two sessions at the symposium have caught my eye…

1.      Virtual reality Panel: How can we replicate the game to the remote fan?

2.      Keynote panel – How is digital captivating fans and driving engagement in world sport? Specifically: Optimizing fan engagement through the convergence of broadcast, digital and marketing.

I'm looking forward to learning more on those.

You can view Mark's speaker page here...

You can view the agenda for the Symposium here...