Vintage TV Is Nashville-Bound Following Canadian Expansion
Founder and CEO David Pick explains why the U.S. launch had to start in Music City.
Vintage TV, the U.K.'s 24-hour all-genre music television channel with a monthly reach of 10 million homes, recently expanded into Canada and China and now has its sights on the U.S.
Having seen a hole in the Canadian country market when CMT announced it would stop playing music videos and quickly stepped in to fill it, the company's founder has now been regularly visiting Nashville with plans to launch the station stateside this spring. Meanwhile, as Canada's only all-music TV station, Vintage TV has added dedicated playlist shows featuring music videos from such international country greats as Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson and Shania Twain. It has also supported rising country acts, including Britain's sister duo Ward Thomas, male-female duo The Shires, America's Sarah Darling, along with established Canadian acts like multi-platinum roots-rock band Blue Rodeo.
Vintage TV Canada also plans to invest in the country music market with new country genre programming, while keeping its multi-genre popular music mandate. Everyone from Gene Simmons and Alice Cooper to Joan Baez, Bob Geldof and Nile Rodgers have been interviewed for the channel.
Vintage TV's founder and CEO David Pick sat down with Billboard in Toronto for an update on this new focus.
Why was Nashville the first city you went to in the U.S. for Vintage TV?
It all started when CMT [Country Music Television Canada] said that they would no longer be playing country music videos, or country music at all, on the channel and that they were going to stop on the 31st of August . I heard about that within maybe 48 hours of that day and thought this is complete and utter madness. At the same time as I heard about it, we were contacted by Ted Ellis, the chairman of Canadian Country Music Association and Alan Cross [Vintage TV's host of Needle Time] said, "You ought to contact [CMT host] Paul McGuire who was effectively going to be losing his job. So we did all of that. They all gave us quotes and we came out with a press release [in September, 2017] that if you want country music, come to Vintage TV. And Ted Ellis said, "You've got to come to Nashville. Pease be my guest at the CMA awards."
How does country music fit into the U.K. musical landscape? We don't hear of breakthroughs over here.
Country music in the U.K. has always been big; it hasn't necessarily been high profile, but for years, back in the '80s, '90s, there were always big country music events at Wembley Stadium.
With the big American artists?
Absolutely. There haven't been so many U.K. homegrown country music artists, really at all, until quite recently. So it's always been there; it just hasn't been particularly high-profile. So in the context of the U.K., this is becoming increasingly relevant. So we decided if I was going to the CMA Awards, let's make the most of it. We brought over a small film crew from London; Alan Cross came along, and we set up at the Hilton across the road from the awards and interviewed people on the days before the awards, the days afterwards, and we were on the red carpet.
What was really exciting was that going to the pre-awards reception, for example, I met publicity people, promotional people, who said, "If you're doing what I'm hearing you're doing as Vintage TV, we'd like to work with you." And suddenly because we have become, almost overnight, the only platform for country music in Canada, they said, "How can we make this happen with you?"
Is this a stepping stone for Vintage TV to get into the States?
It's turning out that way because in Nashville, during those days around the CMA Awards, I was introduced to people from the major labels with whom we've been in regular contact ever since because they've been saying, "Listen, you're effectively a global platform. We've got artists who can't get onto television. So let's work together. If you work with our artists, we will help you get exposure for them on American networks."
These artists that you're profiling, they would be aired in Canada and in the U.K. ?
And you were thinking of opening up an office or studio?
Yes. Again, through the conversations I had in Nashville, I explained that we were planning to set up a production hub for Vintage TV in the U.S., in New York. And I got some way towards doing that because I've got a lot of contacts there. And they said, "David, word of advice, if you're going to do that, do it in Nashville."
So how far along are you toward that?
Since November, I've been to Nashville pretty much every month. Within a period of four months, I've been three times, and in the process expanded those relationships, created new ones. And we're now in the process of forming a U.S. company and appointing a PR company, setting up the lawyers, the banks, whatever we need in order to establish ourselves in Nashville. A lot of things are coming together. This is coinciding with the first-ever British Airways direct flights between London and Nashville, which start on the 4th of May, I've been introduced to the owners of famous venues in Nashville who are saying come and film our bands here. There's a multitude of relationships that are starting to develop because we've said we're coming to Nashville.
Are there key people who have been particularly helpful there?
There's certainly some executives within, say, Universal, within Warner's, who have been particularly engaging about our plans, but also obviously we're being introduced to some of the bigger independent labels.
If I could go back to the question about U.K. country scene, the first-ever homegrown British act to get a No. 1 album in the country music chart in the U.K. are two girls called Ward Thomas. They've signed to Sony in the U.K. and they're spending a lot of time in Nashville with writers and recording. Their first exposure on television was with Vintage TV two years before they ever signed with Sony. So we'd already recognized country artists or country-esque material. We got them onto Vintage TV.
So, yes, there's always been that understanding within Vintage of the potential of country music and now it's all coming together.