Shotglass Media, the digital label at FremantleMedia UK, was one of the first to launch a football network back in 2013 with the FullTimeDEVILS. Since then the company has created six more fan channels and earlier this summer launched The Football Republic, the flagship channel — with several shows powered by Skype.
Earlier this summer, the English Premier League announced a new deal with NBC Universal to show live games for the next six years in the US at $83m (£53.2m) a season. A reasonable chunk of cash (or a Liverpool winger with change if you’re Manchester City), yet it is a drop in the ocean when compared to the record breaking £5.1bn the league secured for a three season UK deal with BT Sport and Sky that kicks in from 2016-17. But it’s not just BT and Sky that are spending considerable money and resource on televising the beautiful game.
The traditional ‘big 4’ of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United have all, at one time or another, run fully operational linear channels, while many more have terabytes worth of video online — with a lot of the clubs providing content on a subscription basis. Yet, whereas Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore described the league’s action as “unscripted drama”, official club TV, tends to be anything but —with the odd notable exception, including a social media savvy ‘Harlem Shake’ video by Manchester City. There is also very little tension to a televised pre-season friendly, while player and manager interviews invariably toe the official line— offering little in the way of insight or personality, let alone drama (notoriously, former captain Roy Keane departed Manchester United soon after blasting teammates on a never released MUTV interview).
Between the live big-ticket action of the Premier League and official club television, exists a fan shaped gap that Shotglass Media are looking to fill. Head of Sport Neil Smythe explains: “FullTimeDEVILS started in March 2013. There was very little football content online back then that wasn’t the game. Generally speaking people used YouTube for watching rips of goals. Several months down the track things were starting to happen. We launched FullTimeDEVILS and a community started to appear. Now there is a number of channels trying to emulate our success in this space. Our channels exist to give fans a platform and connect them globally. You could say it’s by the fans, for the fans.”
Since then Blue Moon Rising TV (Manchester City), ChelseaFansChannel (Chelsea) and SpurredOn (Tottenham Hotspur) joined the roster, while The Football Republic, the overarching generic channel for all football fans – was launched in the summer. But how will the new television deal effect football content online, if at all? Neil explains: “We are not in competition with broadcast, people still want to watch games live. What will be interesting is the next round of digital rights, the Premier League will have to look at that really carefully and that’s what will be of interest in our world. Will Google or Microsoft be interested (in buying them)?”
Prior to FullTimeDEVILS Neil spent eight years at Soccer AM, a “traditional-ish linear TV’ Saturday morning show on Sky Sports 1:“The biggest difference is the way we communicate with the audience, so the audience has a say. Yes (traditional) TV shows listen and communicate with the audience but there’s much more of a barrier. Our content is a direct conversation with our fans.” Saunders Carmichael-Brown, The Football Republic Producer/Director adds, “The difference is the budgets for digital are a lot smaller, but the turnaround time is quicker and with digital you get audience data you simply can’t get from linear broadcast.”
“What will be interesting is the next round of digital rights, the Premier League will have to look at that really carefully and that’s what will be of interest in our world. Will Google or Microsoft be interested (in buying them)?”
As Neil explains, the team grew organically and the setup is fluid:
“In broadcast there’s an infrastructure; the production company delivers the show, someone else looks after the social media, then there’s the PR and the commissioner. Here, there’s a group of lads who can do multiple things. Multi-skilled and multi talented, some guys are YouTube natives, some have a background in TV — another was a comedian. The more multi skilled the better, this makes us much more agile and cost effective!”
This extends beyond the crew to the talent in front of camera, as Neil continues:
“We’ve used Skype from day one, and not just for the production tool of hooking up two fans. The contributors we know are big YouTube influencers: fans who want to get involved — they are all pre-vetted, but it’s not overly cast. We’ll give anyone a shot.” And of the search for talent Neil says, “for FullTimeDEVILS back in the day it worked a lot better when we looked at Man United blogs (rather than freelance production websites).”
FullTimeDEVILS and The Football Republic are also using Skype to create content, as Josh Fleming (TFR Audience Development) notes: “We have two (program) strands, The Rumor Rater and A Game of Two Halves. They go out Tuesday and Thursday, and the whole show is centered round Skype.” While more recently Skype and The Football Republic joined forces for Pundit Pursuit — a competition to find new talent for the channel.
By Neil’s own admission football channels are “still a small area; it’s still not as big as the gaming or music verticals on YouTube.” But it is an area that is growing and fewer activities stoke the passions quite like football — be it watching, playing or discussing. A case in point being Any Tate, a Manchester United fan whose ‘Biggest fool in Manchester’ rant at then manager David Moyes in March 2014 was captured by FullTimeDEVILS, catapulting Tate into something of YouTube phenomenon — the video has notched up more than 2.2 million views, with the circle being completed when Andy appeared as a guest on Soccer AM last month.
Where BT and Sky excite with their live action and official club TV has, an albeit vetted, intimacy — there is a unique authenticity to football fan channels such as FullTimeDEVILS and The Football Republic that make them increasingly vital to the football broadcast landscape.
As Adam Boultwood, The Football Republic Channel Producer, notes: “I think we’re better at including fans into the discussion, making them part of the experience.”