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Innovating a sports revolution

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24 May 2017

Jamie Hindhaugh

Blogs by author:  Jamie Hindhaugh , Chief Operating Officer BT Sport & BT TV

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BT Sport Studio

As part of our innovation blog series, we wanted to get to know one of the great innovation stories within BT: the birth of BT Sport.

BT Sport launched into an extremely competitive market with high audience expectations. We also built and fit out a studio and production hub (86,000 sq ft) in eighteen weeks when it usually takes four years. But we made a step change in how our customers viewed us, and we used innovation to do it.

Jamie Hindhaugh, Chief Operating Officer of BT Sport and BT TV gives us a glimpse at the BT Sport innovation story, before he takes to the Innovation 2017 stage on 12 June.

Can you tell us a little bit about the ambition behind the BT Sport launch?

The launch of BT Sport was very much driven by the ambition to bring audiences, particularly those not at a live event, to the heart of sport. It’s been our mantra well before our official launch and it’s remained ever since – you can see it in the way we continue to use digital technology to break barriers. For example, we were the first 4k channel to show live sport and we continued to be the only one for a year. We launched Dolby Atmos 3D sound to really bring the stadium sounds to audiences (and we’re still the only one doing that), and recently we announced that we’ll be screening the UEFA Champions League final on TV, online and in 360° virtual reality (VR).

In our previous blogs we’ve talked a lot about the technologies driving some game-changing innovations. How have BT Sport specifically used tech to improve what we can offer to customers?

One of our sayings here at BT Sport studios is to focus on ‘what we allow technology to do, not what it allows us to do’. And one of the best things about technology is that it enables choice. We’ve been able to use our mobile app to really improve the experience, giving our audience choice – whether it’s choosing what they watch or when and how they watch it.BT Sport presenters Gary Lineker and Rio Ferdinand test out their Google Cardboard VR headsets

And using 360° VR video is another example of how we’re putting the control into our audiences’ hands. For our ground breaking Champions League Final coverage they’ll be able to choose to watch from eight different camera angles, watch live replays, and select whether to have commentary and graphics or simply watch the game ‘pitch side’.

How do you decide which innovations to pursue?

Well another one of our sayings is ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ – an idea may be sexy or cool, but it doesn’t mean we do it unless there’s a clear purpose aligned to our objectives.

Innovation can lead to competitive advantage, but it’s important to me not to just innovate for the sake of it. It frustrates me when I see other companies talking about using innovation to be different. I’m lucky enough to witness tonnes of ideas in my role, but I make sure there’s a reason behind what we do.

What internal capabilities have really helped you grow BT Sport?

Well firstly, we’ve developed our network to support the growth in infrastructure and ensure we have a reliable, seamless experience.

Aside to the technology, I believe we’ve got to where we are today by sticking to our principles of being agile and ambitious. We don’t follow typical corporates in that we take a very positive view and don’t worry too much about what might go wrong. We don’t have the time to worry either; it takes 70+ people in the production chain to capture and broadcast a Champions League/Premier League game, so we have to encourage a culture of decision-making and let expertise be enabled. That’s not to say we don’t have strong governance around risk, because we do. We just do it in a different way – one that is open and where you’re not scared to admit making a mistake, because it means you can learn from it.

Ultimately, we created our own culture and it’s one where innovation can flourish. We’ve retained 80% of employees who were there when BT Sport launched back in 2013, which is surprising when we set up a whole team from scratch, and couldn’t guarantee exactly where we’d be and what their job would look like down the line.

I think it’s fair to say you’re reaping the rewards of BT Sport’s innovation journey? What three tips would you give to senior leaders looking to use innovation to reinvent themselves?

1. I think firstly just accepting (and making sure all your stakeholders accept) that you need to transform your business to stay ahead. It’s harder than it sounds.

2. Be really clear on the plan. Understand your core objectives, set out how you desire to change, and then be brave. We were.

3. Take the time to get all the right people in a room and work through the art of the possible ensuring everyone feels a part of it.

As Jamie’s described, we have transformed our own organisation over the last five years, as we become a digital business. In just ten years, BT TV has 150 channels and 1.5m viewers, and BT Sport has grown rapidly to six million subscribers in just four years. We’re setting new boundaries with Ultra HD, multi-screen viewing and TV content on mobile devices. This is all underpinned by our cultural transformation to be a digital business.

We see digital transformation as empowering people – customers, businesses and employees – to do amazing things. We call this the Digital Possible. Find out more.

To hear more from Jamie as he gets interviewed by Craig Doyle, register your interest in attending Innovation 2017.

BT Sport is giving away Virtual Reality headsets for free ahead of UEFA Champions League Final, read our press release to find out more.