Welcome to our series ofdiscussions with EBU Members, Lessons From The Lockdown.
Today, we focus on an area that has been completelywiped out by COVID-19, sport.
So how have media organizations across EBU been dealing with the challenges the pandemic has presented? What lessons have they learned and how can we all planfor a return to sport with the virus stillan ever-present danger? Join us as we speak to three EBU Members, who talk about theirexperience of COVID-19.
I’m joined by BBC Directorof Sport, Barbara Slater, Panu Pokkinen who is YLE’sDirector of Sports and Events and David Szekely who isDirector of Sport for M4 Sport in MTVA in Hungary.
You’re all very, very welcome.
I’m gonna start with Barbara.
Ladies first, on this occasion.
Barbara, it’s an unprecedented time.
You know, what would your advice be as to the challenges people faced over the last number of months? As you say, it’s unprecedented, it was unexpected.
Actually, it happenedincredibly quickly in a way when we now look back in hindsight.
I remember we had a Six Nations, one of the big concluding weekends, and, we were pushed to goeven as late as the Friday.
And we absolutely understoodand completely supported the decision in the endto cancel that match.
So we’ve been through a wholenumber of different phases I think of this.
One was the immediate aftermath.
We’ve got a number of staff, I think, there was that inmanagement and that sudden change and making sure that staff were informed, they were communicated with, they knew what we expected of them.
And suddenly we were in lockdown and that presented again awhole new set of challenges.
And at the moment andpretty much from lockdown we’ve had, about the BBC, about 7 to 8% only of ourstaff in the buildings.
Obviously we’ve still keptprogramming like all our news services and oursports news services going.
And I think it’s beena remarkable transition to suddenly see thousands of staff working very effectively from home.
We live don’t we, in an age of technology that has allowed us to continue to work in a way with extraordinary adaptability and speed.
I think that’s beenone of the great takeaways is just how adaptable people can be when they’re put in thischallenging situation.
And I just would want tobe extremely complimentary of the way that, evenwithout the live sport, we’ve had to still move and there’s been a hugevolume of sports news that we’ve needed to cover, and we’ve sort of shifted gearfrom live sport production into replacement programming production.
In many ways, this has beenone of our busiest periods.
Panu, to you next, froma challenge point of view that whole challenge of the schedule, that’s gotta be a huge challenge for all broadcasters at this time.
And as Barbara said, it was such a sudden kind of lockdown situation, where sport was just completely cancelled.
How has YLE dealt with that? I agree everything Barbara told.
And it’s affected the sameways on our side as well.
And I would take anotherangle on the challenge is that it has mainlychallenged how we manage, how we lead and how wekeep up the resilience with all our employees.
And that’s another perspectiveto the whole problem and to the whole situation.
When we don’t know at themoment where we are now, what happens in few months and at the same time you needto do something, do more.
The people, the audienceswant more content than ever because they are more at home.
They have more time tospend in front of TV or their web services.
At the same time we losebasically all the content we have planned within the sports.
And, in Finland especially, first time we qualified And, in Finland especially, first time we qualified for the football Euros andthis was supposed to be in Yle, this was supposed to be, the summer of events.
We created a new unit whichwas supposed to launch new kind of big events tobe present among people among tens of thousands ofpeople all around Finland, while we are having this thefirst time experience from from the UEFA competitions and all of a sudden, all this disappeared.
That’s why we had to keep dealing with the mental side as well, not only with our employeesbut also with the audiences.
We’ve been waiting that for so long.
You probably can imagine, but that’s the first timein football in Finland, and the Olympics after that.
But that’s the situation where we started.
Huge, huge transition.
David, you’re running a sports channel.
How on earth do you copewith the loss of content when your only commodity is sport? I mean I don’t want to lessen the impact on BBC or for Yle but schedulers cope in termsof putting in other things like movies or, or repeats.
For a sports channel, how do you cope with that? I won’t forget ever the twodays when everything cancelled or postponed at the beginning of March or in the middle of March.
The first idea was to, to rerun the 2016 UEFA Euro because that was a veryinteresting tournament for Hungary becauseHungary qualified after more than 40 years to a big football championship.
So basically we had an agreement, with C11 to rerun all the gameswith the same day schedule.
With that, we gained some time.
We found a lot of things in our archives, and then we had an agreementwith the, the IOC as well.
We discovered servicesthat we were able to rerun the Olympics from 1992.
So that was the first idea.
The second was to show somehow, earlier Formula racesinstead of the live races.
And after a few discussions with Form, and Liberty Media, we also had the green light for it.
So basically we changed everything.
We didn’t even have any live logo, but we had some kind of good content.
It’s not the same as itwould have been in 2020 with the Hungarian Grand, the partenza for the Giro d’Italia, for the Swimming European Championships, the Euros, the Olympics, but at least we were ableto show something different.
For example, we had a game against Brazil, a football game in 1986and we have beaten Brazil 3-0 that game.
And, for a lot of ourviewers it was a great memory and a huge event so we changed to being an archive, a classic sportchannel, until these days.
Barbara, have you noticeda significant shift in audience behaviour over this time? or is it pretty solid at your work? I think we have seen generally a tremendous boost in audiences.
As it’s been said, people have been at home, they’ve been looking for content.
So I think what’s been interesting is the very high peak audiencesyou would get for live, obviously we’ve not seen those, but we have seen a steady appetite for the replacement programming.
People love sport, ofcourse they want it live, but we’ve done a number of programmes that have actually beenincredibly successful.
So our Match of the Day, which has been an absolutestaple of Saturday night, has been featuring, a big discussion programme, the Match of the Day Top 10, where our pundits have beendebating and discussing.
It was actually a podcast, commissioned as a podcast, but we’ve been able to visualise it.
It’s been very popular.
And similarly we’ve beendoing Match of their Day, which is speaking to pundits and picking their highlight matches.
The other thing I think we’vebeen really interested by has been the volume of sports news, there just seem to be so many stories.
And as the whole crisis has evolved, and the impact of COVID-19 on sport has been a multitude of things.
And so again, our web services, although the audience is down, it has given us an opportunityto tell those stories, but maybe more thanthat, to experiment a bit with surround sound content, some of the human interest stories, some fun quizzes, all sorts of, a multitude of things, actually people I thinkhave really enjoyed.
So I think some of our production teams have been incrediblyinventive in the way this is, has almost forced them tothink slightly differently about some of the things that we produce.
Same question to you Panu, you have Areena, the Areena online space, is there more of a shifttowards that in Finland over this period? Yle has found its audiences both from TV, which is doing much betterthan it was doing before, but especially in Yle Areena, and in Areena, we’ve been evenbefore Netflix, all the time, but now we are the numberone also under 45 years old.
So, Areena kind of got the leap and took the first place there.
So, we have succeeded incompany level quite well, but what we did within sports, we had a different approach, compared to BBC.
July 22, 2020
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