Sky News Means Business in News Corp Cross-Platform Hub

The new Sky Business News set. (Pic – The Australian)

“We think that this will really become a focal point for live coverage of Australian business and consumer news.” That’s the word from Australian News Channel CEO, Angelos Frangopoulos, on the launch of the new Sky News Business studio, situated in the Sydney HQ of News Corp.

The dedicated business studio broadcasts live, breaking business news across the country and is a pivotal part of News Corp Australia’s recently formed National Business Hub.

The launch of new digs for Australia’s only 24-hour business channel follows the 2016 acquisition of Australian News Channel Pty Ltd by News Corp Australia. While operations for the main news channel have remained at the Macquarie Park campus of Foxtel, Sky News Business teams have been busy on integration with counterparts at News Corp to form the cross-platform National Business Hub.

According to Angelos Frangopoulos, “This is a collaborative work environment where we’re bringing together the business journalism resources of News Corp Australia in a collaborative sense, and one of the key things about achieving that was actually having the Sky News Business based here at Holt Street. There’s a couple of reasons for it. Not just the fact that we’re in a building full of journalists, the finest journalists in Australia working here for News Corp Australia, but also the fact that we’ve brought the business channel closer to the CBD which has been a challenge for it geographically, based out at Macquarie Park.

“The Australian is a couple of floors above us and there’s also a team here from Dow Jones Wall Street Journal and being physically here together in the same building means that we’ll be able to collaborate a lot more closely as well.”

What form will that collaboration take?

“We have already seen some great developments in what we’re calling, ‘cross-platform journalism’. Ticky Fullerton, for example, who’s the host of Ticky, our flagship business program, is filing stories for The Australian in print and is also filing during the day as well for her evening television program. A case in point, on our first day broadcasting out of the Business Hub, we had the Treasurer of Australia, Scott Morrison, as our guest, and that was a story that transcended multiple platforms. It made news and allowed the Hub to not only deliver news in terms of immediacy – that’s actually important to the news cycle – but also allowed further analysis to happen off the back of it on other platforms.

In terms of workflow for that type of coverage, can content be instigated by print journalists as well as those on the TV channel?

“Absolutely. Our business traditionally at Sky News is about immediacy. It’s part of our DNA. If something breaks, we’re on it. And, that’s been our philosophy around covering the Australian Stock Exchange. We see what we do during the day as being very much a partner product to covering the ASX as a traditional business, markets-driven channel. But, in the evening, we’re taking a different approach in 2018, where we’re going to broaden the channel out and work a lot more closely with some of the News Corporation brands around consumer and real estate and superannuation, etc. That really will allow us to provide a more rounded service of information and money news, consumer finance news, to a broader group of Australians than the ones that currently consume our coverage of the markets.”

The new studio is central to the Business Hub. What does it involve? 

“This is a further extension of the way that we approach television production. This is a down, end-of-the-line studio, and all our production infrastructure is actually based out at Macquarie Park [in Sydney]. So, all our Mosart suites, switching, our pilots and co-pilots, we’ve also got a production resource there where we produce side by side Sky News Live, our main channel, Fox Sports News as of July this year, the Business Channel, we’ve got an additional Mosart suite which allows us to provide content such as Qantas and other third-party product, and we also have an environment for our 24-hour Weather Channel, Sky News Weather.

“So, what we’ve created here is a remote studio. It allows us to further build on the economies of scale that we have in that centralised production model, while at the same time delivering an environment that is really quite dynamic.

“The new studio, the Business Hub, actually forms part of the area as you enter into News Corporation, and I think that adds a certain vibrancy to the Ground Floor here at News Corp. I think, importantly, it reaffirms the fact that News Corp is a truly multi-media company and bringing television into what has been traditionally the home of newspapers, is another powerful message about the News Corp of the future.”

Angelos Frangopoulos, Australian News Channel Chief Executive Officer.

Angelos Frangopoulos, Australian News Channel Chief Executive Officer.

And, do you interact with the other arms of News Corp, internationally?

“We’ve got really great relationships right across the News Corp assets. We collaborate closely with the radio business that they own in the UK, we have a strong collaboration already with Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones, great relationships there. And it’s something that we’ll build up over time.

“We’ve only been part of News Corp since the 1st of December [2016] and already since then we’ve made some great progress in building relationships and identifying opportunities, some of which are still down the line and yet to be announced.”

Is there likely to be more consolidation at this site or will this remain more of a remote facility?

“This is really about investing in business journalism. We still have a long lease on the property out at Macquarie Park and there’s a lot of sunk costs there. As you can appreciate, relocating is a significant endeavour, and I don’t want to get too many suppliers too excited just yet about a Sky News relocation.”

Can this Hub also act as a distribution point for content?

“That’s not the way that we operate. We are huge believers in the power of bonded cellular [technology] and we use bonded cellular to send all the content back to Macquarie Park. So, this is purely a production environment and a journalistic production environment for the 24-hour Business Channel and business more broadly. We’ll use this studio for the Queensland Election night, so it doesn’t necessarily just have to be used for business, but we’ve got a number of assets right around the country and it’s about utilising them in the best possible way.”

So, what is the connectivity between here and Macquarie Park?

“We’ve got IP connectivity. We also believe that IP connectivity is really the future about, not only just reducing cost, but being flexible in the way that we communicate from site to site, so we’ve got quite a significant IP project that we’re working on at the moment.”

What’s the end goal of that project?

“The end goal of that project is to be as flexible as possible. We’ve seen what bonded cellular has done to our business, it really has, because in effect they’re mobile phones, so it really has changed the way we operate. If we can, we’ve traditionally been a business that has been constrained by point to point circuitry, so bringing in multi-points into it at relatively low cost means that we can build studios and facilities that give us full flexibility.

“Two really good examples. One is Geelong. We’ve put a studio into Geelong for tactical reasons because there’s some great political stories out of Geelong but it is just a little bit too far to get to Melbourne. And, we’ve done the same on the Gold Coast. We’ve got a bureau on the Gold Coast for similar reasons, and we’ve only been able to achieve that because of our business model which is, down the line, remote gathering or remote production, but centralised aggregation of the content through Mosart and everything comes into Sydney and then we switch remotely out of there.”

I know that news.com.au had its own video crews. How much collaboration is going on with them?

“I think one of the key things why News Corp acquired the Australian News Channel Business was to be a driver of video and I think that that’s something that we’re obviously working on – integrating video content more into the News Corp universe through their distribution platforms and there’s a project underway for that now.

“As I say, it’s not even a year that we’ve been owned by News Corp and already we’ve made significant headway on that. There’ll always be reasons for bespoke content to be gathered that’s not part of our USP if you like, the way we operate, but we work very, very closely with Nicole Sheffield [Nicole Sheffield, Chief Digital Officer, News Corp Australia] and Julian Delany [Managing Director, News DNA, News Corp] and the entire team to ensure that we complement and build the video category as effectively as we can.”

As a Hub, you’re addressing all manner of platforms, not just TV? How does that all play out?

“So, already our journalists are filing for print and digital. We’ve done that at a number of sites, not just here in Sydney in this Hub. It’s a philosophy that we have rolled out on the Gold Coast, in Adelaide, in Darwin, and to some extent in Melbourne where Andrew Bolt operates out of our facility in Melbourne but is writing a blog all day for the Herald Sun, and in fact has a radio program at night. He also presents from his office in our facility in Southbank. But, more broadly, it really is about getting journalists thinking about the fact that there are multiple ways to tell a story and by having this collaboration on the same site in Surry Hills, where people are working closely together, it means that we can fast forward our way to achieving that.

“I’ve always believed the best place for journalists to be based is with other journalists and I think it’s a great step forward for everyone here to be part of you know, really such a vibrant journalist environment as this.”

Is one of the aims of having journalists from different backgrounds to enable cross-fertilising of ideas?

“I think Ticky Fullerton and Leo Shanahan are two really great examples. And, they each won a [News Corp] News Award recently and that’s really driven by the fact that they have been an additional resource, additional thinking, and they do benefit from talking to other journalists and exploring issues and gathering content in a fresh and different way.

“Television, by its definition, is very different to acquiring for print, or digital for that matter, and I think that the better blend you can get of all three, the better it is I think for the quality of journalism. There’s a lot that we don’t have as natural strength in terms of analysis and depth, which is a really great strength of newspapers. I pick up The Australian and the amount of depth and experience of talent that you’ve got in that newspaper is something that’s up until now has been very hard for us to replicate in a television sense.”

What of the construction of the Hub here and the team behind that?

“We did most of the engineering in-house ourselves. We’ve got a team that has done these kinds of projects before, where they’ve just finished the Fox Sports News Project. We outsourced the building of the set and designing of the set to Ark Television Concepts and they then had [Mal Nichols & Associates] out of Melbourne build the set. The frames were built in China, brought out here.

“We wanted this to be a really impactful set and while it ultimately is some shiny furniture on a shiny floor with nice screens behind it, I want it to be very much a work environment on the set. So, we’ve got the ability to get up and actually walk around, have full-frame graphics on screens. We’re still finding our way around the set, but it will evolve over time. The team’s done a really fantastic job and we’re really proud that the bulk of the engineering’s been delivered by our own in-house team.

“It’s very easy to get caught up with brand new shiny things, but ultimately I think that facilities like this have to be about, in our case, the journalism, and everything was built here. I think it really positions us well to build on the quality and breadth of our journalism, backed by really great technology, and I think that systems like bonded cellular, Mosart automation, Quantel, which is now SAM, really they are the bedrock of our business, and we are now very excited about taking some of the learnings from this facility and Fox Sports News and turning our attention to some of the other services that we produce.”

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The Sky News Business set as seen from News Corp’s cafeteria.