Sky News: “OTT services give the user choice”

Hugh Westbrook, Head of Digital Product Development, Sky News

Hugh Westbrook, Head of Digital Product Development, Sky News

IP&TV News has long been curious as to the extent next generation TV could could alter the DNA of current affairs over the coming years. As such, we were extremely grateful for the opportunity to interview Hugh Westbrook, Head of Digital Product Development, Sky News, who shared his thoughts on the relationship between technology and the news…

Hi Hugh. What are the main agents of change in contemporary news at present, and how are Sky adapting to and taking advantage of these developments?

The emergence of new ways to consume news present us with both challenges and opportunities. When we launched 25 years ago, it was enough to present rolling news to a single screen. Now, people are accessing news wherever and however they want, and we need to be conscious of the new devices and platforms which people are using and make sure that we have a presence on there. The other challenge is to give them an appropriate service – what we produce for connected TVs is not the same as we produce for a mobile phone. So it is about recognising the new consumption models and creating products appropriate to those platforms.

Of course all areas of media are undergoing massive change at present. Are there some ways news and current affairs are exempt from the changing ecosystem, and others in which it’s especially vulnerable?

When news breaks, people often resort to their traditional means of finding out what is happening, that is, they put the television on to find out more. So in that respect, Sky News remains exactly as it was 25 years ago and the changing ecosystem doesn’t affect it. However, the growth of new platforms and systems means that a lot more companies can come into the space, and often they are not traditional news broadcasters. So the challenge for Sky News is to maintain its standing as the go-to broadcaster on new platforms, as well as on the previously established ones. 

What is the role of metadata in the current Sky News connected TV apps and how do you see that developing?

At the moment our use of metadata is limited, but we can see enormous potential in increasing the amount of metadata we provide. This is still a new kind of service and we are learning all the time about how people use it. It is clearly much more of a TV experience, sitting back and watching, but with the non-linear approach of a digital service. So in time, people may want related content to be suggested to them automatically, to allow them to sit back and view for longer, and metadata would play a key part in allowing this to happen. Similarly, if people want to create playlists based on their interests and then watch one long batch of content, their own news bulletin if you like, then metadata will make that possible as well. So I think this is an area that can only develop and enhance the experience.

We’re used to the debate in other areas of broadcasting about the future relationship between “linear” and “OTT” services. When it comes to current affairs – in a sense  a quintessentially “linear” form – the dynamic arguably changes significantly. How do you see the future relationship developing?

I think there is a role for both in any platform that you broadcast on. Certain news stories lend themselves to a traditional linear format, where a viewer simply wants to watch an event or a news story unfolding. It is vital that we continue to cater to this part of the market. However, on quieter days or when you want to understand the context around an event, additional content via an OTT service gives the user choice. So I don’t think the dynamic changes, it simply allows us to give users access to the most appropriate way to consume a story.

You’ll be appearing at TV Connect 2014 in March. What do you expect the hot topics will be at this year’s event?

For me, I think OTT services are a bit of a slow burner with the public at large, but recently we have seen that these services are beginning to grow in number. I suspect we may be wondering whether the big players are going to come through and take a stranglehold on the market or whether one of the many other innovative players in the market is going to make a name for itself with the general public.

Hugh Westbrook will be appearing at TV Connect 2014, 18-20th March. For booking and more info go here

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