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UK's Vintage TV Expands into Canada, Eyes China, Eventually U.S.

Vintage Tv logo
Courtesy of Vintage TV

   

Vintage TV, The U.K.’s all-music television channel, quietly came into Canada in October, launching on Shaw to 2.4 million homes, and last week was added to Rogers basic cable package in 2 million homes. “[Carriers] Bell and Telus are very close, but we’re not there yet,” Vintage TV Canada general manager Nathalia Browing told Billboard in an email.

Vintage TV’s founder and CEO David Pick was in Toronto recently meeting with members of the music industry and doing press for the channel. He sat down with Billboard to discuss how they became “the most prolific producer of music TV programming in the U.K,” their expansion into Canada and potentially China and when it will be time to come into the U.S.

 

Billboard: What was your background in the music business before launching Vintage TV in the U.K.?
David Pick: I have been involved in the music industry for several decades. I started life in the mid-70s with EMI when EMI was literally the music industry in many ways. I started as a lawyer and tmoved to managing the contracts department. I was looking after deals from the Beatles to the Stones to Queen to the first deal Kate Bush signed, Cliff Richard, you name it. Itreally was the center of the music world in those days.

I then became involved in other smaller record labels and in 1981set up a business affairs consultancy, representing artists, managers, independent record labels and music publishers. My largest music client was actually MCA, which of course, became Universal. I was negotiating all of their signings in the U.K. and at that time, my opposite number in L.A. was Bruce Resnikoff [UME’s current president and CEO].  I probably devised the first ever pre-recorded videocassette and licensing agreement for a company, which became Embassy Home Entertainment, part of Embassy Pictures.

Then I got involved in music marketing, so I helped a compilation album business spread from the U.K. throughout Europe, into the States and into the Far East. It was a company called Tellydisc and Tellyvideo.  And then I got involved in home shopping, not just music, but all forms of direct marketing. So that took us through to the Internet and then I had experience of selling off a screen, which became relevant to what I do now.

What’s the environment like in the U.K. for visual music content?
It occurred to me around February 2009 when I was starting to look at the music TV landscape in the U.K.  that there were 30-odd music channels but they were effectively playing all the same sort of chart-orientated material. There was a whacking big gap for those of us who’ve grown up with traditional music television, MTV, VH1, and so on. In an environment where you’ve got an aging population like most of the west, we’d effectively become disenfranchised. There wasn’t a service offering good music, real music, on television. There was a huge gap, un-served market, aging.

The word vintage implies that it’s retro, does it not?
It does, but if you look at the dictionary definition of “vintage,” you’ll find it’s all about longevity, quality, and that’s the definition we apply to Vintage TV.  Yes, it’s a misinterpretation to assume that we’re only, exclusively, retro. And we don’t use the R-word or tnostalgia, at all.

Because you are producing original content?
We are. When we launched in the U.K. it seemed an important [unique selling point] was to bring TV screen music that had never been aired.  So we literally created a backdrop of newsreel footage for music from the ‘40s, ‘50s, 60s and ‘70s, preceding the music video age and preceding MTV. I did that by licensing footage from Getty, ITN,  Reuters and BBC. We launched with about 250 videos for music, that had never been on the small screen before. And it took off. We marketed it as a music channel for the over 50s.

Was that content available on YouTube?
No, we were using newsreel footage, all sorts of rare stuff that wasn’t on YouTube. Six months after we launched the channel we started and became a core part of the business, which was generating our own programs. We started mainly because I couldn’t find anybody who could make programming of the quality we wanted, the production values that we wanted and had an empathy with our brand. So, basically, we needed to do it ourselves.

Do you have your own production facility?
Yes, we use a range of different studios. Dean Street Studios in the West End, which is where Tony Visconti did a lot of recording with David Bowie, for example. There are several, but it depends on the program. We started on the road of making our own programs and now we’re probably the most prolific producer of music TV programming in the U.K. We’re producing around 30 hours a month in the U.K.  We’ve got a library that we own for the world of over 800 hours of programming, which we produced in-house. We don’t use independent production houses.

Is it also available on mobile, tablet, and desktop?
Our business model in the U.K. is that we are funded by advertising. If we don’t have an audience, we’re dead. We have to be popular, unlike other markets, without naming any, we can’t be subsidized by a share of subscription revenue. We have to produce a popular channel. Having said that, we are completely independent. We’ve got no big corporation shareholder at all, there’s no big corporation supporting us. We have to work hard to make sure we keep and grow our audience.

Are you in Europe?
Our business is substantially UK. Yes, we’re on [Eurobird 1] at 28.8 [degrees east] transponder but the footprint is across Europe and we get messages from all over, Switzerland, Sweden, Greece. People are watching us, but we can’t monetize that yet.

Why expand to Canada first?
Largely because there’s always been a substantial cross-pollination of music between Canada and the U.K.  So in terms of delivering something here that had a number of overlaps with what has worth in the U.K, it made sense to be as persistent as we’ve had to be to get the channel launched in Canada. It’s been three-and-a-half years of talking to the likes of [carriers] Bell and Rogers and Shaw and Telus. Everything became good last year on October 19 when we launched on Shaw on their basic package. It’s a very important premise for us that all subscribers should be able to get Vintage TV and not have to pay extra for it.

Did you get any push back from the carriers?
We had nothing but positive responses from everybody.

Bell Media has Much and MTV and develops their own content.
Well, they may well be, but having said that they’ve indicated they want Vintage TV.

Are you doing anything in Canada that you haven’t done in the UK?
WE will be doing some things different. In the UK, we don’t broadcast any acquired content, but in Canada, where there is no other, Vintage TV is going to offer those that have content an opportunity to get it out there as a platform.  We already have several quite serious conversations going on about taking third-party content and offering it to the Vintage TV audience.

We also have Canadian Content regulations.
Yes.  The way it works is in our first year, we have to have 15 percent of our output [be Canadian], the second year 25 percent, the third year 35 percent. Our approach to that, it’s entirely academic.  We expect to exceed that very quickly. All of the content we produce in Canada is produced by Canadians creatively, physically, recorded, post-produced by Canadians.  It helps us qualify for the CanCon requirements.

So, you didn’t try and acquire archival material from Much (formerly MuchMusic) or MTV Canada?
We are having conversations.  Bell have said, “We’d like to talk to you about you showing this wonderful library.” We’re talking to others like the CBC and more who’ve said, “What a great opportunity this is to offer to the Canadian public the chance to see this wonderful archive material, which is otherwise gathering dust.” So we expect that. We’ll do if it works for the audience, not because of any CanCon requirements.

Is Vintage TV 24 hours of original content or, say, repeats of 8-hour programming?
Twenty-four-seven. We never have run blocks, an important difference. We schedule our programming whether it’s 1:00 a.m. or 1:00 p.m. or whatever it is, according to the audience.  It’s different on a Saturday to a Thursday.

All  genres of music?
The only music genres we don’t really play is classical and Jazz. For us, live classical and live jazz isn’t the best on TV.   But there are certain, how can I put it, fashion-generated genres that are not suited for us.  We are the antithesis to celebrity. 

What about the U.S.?
We are starting to get companies, cable channels, and others approaching us now and I think that will gather momentum through osmosis, or whatever, once we start to build the business in Canada. It’s inevitable.  We’re not directing our energies to the States. We are IN other markets by the way, and that’s something which we can offer Canadian talent.

What other markets?
The market that’s happening arguably even faster than this one for us is China. It’s taking up an increasing amount of our time.  We are involved in some of the biggest video platforms in China.  We have contracts with them. And they’re hungry for what we’re offering because nobody else is doing it. Of course, there’s a substantial Chinese population here [Canada], and we know from the research we’ve done, there’s an appetite for Canadian Content in China.

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