The technology we've been 'crying out for' in the game is here at long last, but off the pitch Monday Night Football has been pushing things forward for over 20 years. With an upgraded SkyPad to use and other improvements too, Gary Neville is ready for the next level.
Last Updated: 19/08/13 11:06am
Major managerial changes, 'will he, won't he' transfer sagas and the start of what appears to be a wide-open title race - the summer of Premier League upheaval has provided no end of talking points already.
With so much sprucing-up going on for the new season, Sky Sports' Monday Night Football was never going to be left out. Viewers for the preview show a week and a half ago have already been given an introductory look, but now the covers come off the full refit when Manchester City host Newcastle at the Etihad.
The studio set itself has been improved to ensure it remains state-of-the-art, while the technology used to explain and inform has received significant upgrades. In addition, you don't need to be a Liverpool fan to know the qualities that new signing Jamie Carragher will bring to MNF; a Scouse scholar of the game, he graduates with honours from Anfield in applied analysis.
His pundit partner Gary Neville has already received plenty of gold stars since joining the show two years ago, but understandably 'resting on your laurels' is not a phrase in the lexicon of the former Manchester United right-back. Everyone's got an opinion on tactics, formations and individuals these days, but few can explain them in such an engaging manner as Neville. In particular, the way in which he's embraced technology - particularly the SkyPad, the giant 70-inch touch-screen that's 10 times heavier than a normal tablet - has made these 'show and tell' sessions unmissable television.
Here, in his own words, Neville explains the MNF makeover and schools us in the SkyPad...
What's new with MNF this year?
The studio's completely different. It's amazing, in fact. We've got new green-screen technology - Ed (Chamberlin) will be doing some incredible virtual reality stuff with the teams and players walking towards him, so things are always moving forward. The big new thing is the new SkyPad, which will enable myself and Jamie to tactically look at either team and move our counters around, like you'd expect coaches to do, or even people in the pub with their glasses on the table. That's what fans want - to see people who have had their careers in the game explain what they've come across and their ideas, and get that knowledge over in a good way on television.
How has the SkyPad changed for this season's MNF?
It's slightly different to last year - the buttons are in different places. I was searching for the pause a couple of times the other day! But mainly, it's better for Jamie and I to use it together because now we're stood around a big SkyPad situated on the floor. It's a lot more comfortable than when I used to stand up at the screen. Now it's much more focussed around the screen itself. It's in front of you and you don't need to worry about the cameras and which way you're looking! It'll work well, with the two of us bouncing off each other when we're stood down there.
What does the SkyPad bring to your analysis on MNF?
It's more to enhance the information you can give to the viewer, and highlight things - to show them what you're talking about. Sometimes when you're talking over a video of a goal, it's easier for the viewer at home to be able to actually highlight somebody or shade an area that you're talking about. But we never use the technology just for the sake of it. We always use it for a reason - to describe in more detail how a goal's scored, or not been scored if that's the case. I would always use it to enhance the detail you can provide for people watching.
What's the trickiest part of using the SkyPad?
What's difficult is working out what speed to play the clips at. For example, you might want to play it slowly to give yourself more time, but actually the clip may need to be played at full speed to give the effect you want to describe. If it's a fast goal, such as a shot from 25 yards, you need to see that at full speed. Also, you want to find the perfect point to stop it. During the day when we rehearse, I know what I'm going to say and the people I want to highlight, but the main things I look through are the best points to stop. The problem you have when you go live on air is that Ed will ask a question. You're answering the question, the clip will be running and you'll be talking... and suddenly you'll realise that you've missed your spot. I always say "let me just take that back" - it's one of my great faults, I should just do it! Selecting the speed and stopping points are the most difficult. You want to get it right for the viewer at home, so it's a real challenge.
You were recently a guest on the Sky Sports Ashes coverage with Nasser Hussain, using the cricket team's SkyPad. Did you teach him any tips?
No, it was different! I cocked it up a few times. For the football SkyPad, we have to drag our clips in, but on the cricket you just tap it. I was trying to throw a clip in, and they were shouting in my ear "no, press it, press it!" I looked a bit of a fool, so I certainly wasn't teaching him anything.
Is it true you were once allowed to borrow a SkyPad to have at home?
I had one at home for about eight days, before I started two and a half years ago. They're expensive things! I'd love to have one at home, it would be absolutely fantastic. I'm not sure I'd get the kids off it. They'd be saying "put Peppa Pig on it!"
Gary Neville was talking to T3.com, the UK's leading consumer tech lifestyle website. Read their review of the SkyPad and find out Gary's views on the new Goal Decision System (GDS) developed by Hawkeye which the Premier League has introduced for the 2013/14 season.