We had quite the response to Seb Stafford-Bloor’s piece on Fan TV this week. His views seemed to strike a chord with many people, though it’s important to note that not everyone agreed. Many readers pointed out that the more dramatic moments of the genre overshadowed the quality and diversity of other content and stressed how much they enjoyed it. We were also contacted by Neil Smythe, Head of Sport for Shotglass Media and we are delighted to reproduce his letter here.
Iain Macintosh, November 5
In early 2013, FullTimeDEVILS launched. To be precise, it didn’t ‘launch’ (like a big budget TV show would launch); a video was posted on YouTube as two United fans sat in a windowless room waiting with bated breath for a reaction. A reaction that didn’t come, because at 0 views, 0 subscribers and 0 Twitter followers your feedback is somewhat limited. Fast forward to November 2015 and I’m writing this whilst on Snapchat following The Football Republic XI’s debut, a team comprised of faces from nine original fan football channels from Shotglass Media and beyond. And I’m proud, not because I’m sitting here in a suit counting money, but because I’m part of something which is building a community and bringing fans together.
FullTimeDEVILS happened because a Manchester United fan working in digital at FremantleMedia (Shotglass Media’s parent company) craved more videos about his team. He wanted independent, opinionated, fans-eye content that was available in the other 6.9 days of week. And so the channel was born. In essence it was a video fanzine, using the latest digital platforms to connect fans globally and to give them a voice. All run by two Manchester United fans lucky enough to be housed by a production company who also happen to make successful TV shows. We weren’t trying to replace professional punditry or quality journalism; we were just adding extra opinion to the mix, voices that weren’t always heard, and creating content that we thought other fans would like. Everyone wasn’t going to like everything we did, that was partly the point (football debate has long been a post-work pub staple).
Fancams weren’t a major part of the plan until Andy Tate gave us his raw, passionate and razor sharp “Biggest fool in Manchester” broadside. We were stunned. Digitally-savvy fans repurposed the video into (increasingly bizarre) Vines that were viewed millions of times. Other football fans liked them and passed them on and the fancam as viral was born….accidentally. Are we now at a point where fan outrage can be orchestrated or faked for gain? Undoubtedly, if you’re that way inclined. I’m not; all fan channel producers have a responsibility to maintain authenticity even, if not especially, at the expense of short term gain. Our cameras are still rolling to give fans a platform on match days, but we’re exercising quality control and we’re not posting rants for rants’ sake.
Equating commercial involvement with a lack of authenticity is disingenuous: blogs, podcasts, Twitter accounts and more all exist as networks with commercial entities behind them. Yes, some of us are experienced media professionals (I don’t wear a suit but I have produced football content for 16 years), and we have actors and comedians in our midst. We’ve also hired an estate agent, an ex-soldier, journalists and graduates. What we all have in common is that first and foremost we’re fans of our respective clubs.
We’re now running seven channels of various sizes and stages of development. Who’s paying for this content? Brands, not fans. This weekend, thanks to Skype we are bringing a Canadian MUFC fan over to watch his team at Old Trafford for the first time ever. For the PSV game, we’re re-uniting a couple who’ve been apart for a year. And it’s not costing them a cent.
The digital sport landscape is changing at a gathering pace and whether one appreciates the direction of our content or not, the fan channel movement means that fans now have a greater opportunity to be heard.
Head of Sport, Shotglass Media