While there’s no denying that TV Palmeiras’ success has been phenomenal – as highlighted by the recent visit of YouTube’s Latin America director John Farrell – Palmeiras are still a rookie, and a timid one, in the universe of Sports Club broadcasters.
In an all-exclusive interview for Anything Palmeiras, meet Stefano Bozzi, Head of Programmes at Manchester United’s TV channel MUTV, a 24/7 channel with an global audience estimated at 6 million in 85 countries.
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Anything Palmeiras: Stefano, first of all: thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Could you start by giving an overview of what MUTV is all about?
Stefano Bozzi: Certainly, Kristian. Well, MUTV is the official television channel of Manchester United, the number one sports brand in the world. It was launched in 1998 and was the first club channel of its kind. Today, MUTV operates 24/7, producing and broadcasting both live and pre-recorded programmes. We have two studios, one at Old Trafford and the other at the training ground, the Aon Training Complex in Carrington. All our programmes are transmitted from Old Trafford to the BT Tower in London and then uplinked to the Sky satellite platform. There is no advertising, but a subscription of £6 (US$10) a month. We have some 100,000 subscribers in UK & Ireland alone and can be seen, in various forms, in 85 different countries.
There are new shows nearly every day – on average nine hours of fresh programming each week. On match days, we come on air for a 30 minute preview show three hours before kick-off, then are on air constantly from an hour before kick-off – bringing our fans exclusive interviews and the team news first – then for 15 minutes at half time, and then for an hour and a half post-match when we do interviews, analysis and hear from our viewers via phone, skype, email and social media.
Of course we do not have the rights to show Premier League, Champions League or FA Cup matches live. But we do have secondary rights, enabling us to do full match re-runs and highlights once the holdback delays have expired (usually midnight on the day of the game).
We do various studio shows with former United players as guests and viewers calling in, show the U21 and U18 matches live and also show first team pre-season friendly games live and exclusively. We produce exclusive high quality documentaries, re-live classic archive matches, hold a weekly discussion show with newspaper journalists and preview each match with programming the night before. We hope to bring our fans unrivalled player access and behind-the-scenes footage – something that is not always easy to achieve.
AP: What kind of infrastructure is needed to operate a channel of this magnitude?
SB: We operate on an annual budget from the club, with a department of 60, based separately from the club in an office in the city centre. Our staff is made up of everyone from cameramen to schedulers to marketers to producers, directors, presenters, GFX engineers, EVS operators, transmission engineers and researchers. In addition to the TV programming, we also provide video content and a podcast for the website, mobile, app and all social media platforms, and produce material for club partners and sponsors.
My work is to commission and supervise production of all our studio, documentary, football and special event programming, and control our 24/7 scheduling.
AP: What is your background, Stefano?
SB: I grew up obsessed with sport and intent on a career in sports journalism in TV, radio and newspapers. After a degree and post-grad in journalism, I joined the BBC in 1997 as a junior archive assistant in BBC Radio Sport. In my ten years there, I moved to TV and worked on Match Of The Day and Football Focus, and produced our England coverage at European Championships and World Cups. I became Senior Producer at Setanta Sports in 2007, then worked for Premier League Productions, and returned to the BBC as Assistant Editor in Sports News, which included the 2012 Olympics. I have been Head of Programmes at MUTV since Feb 2013.
AP: At Palmeiras – or at least among Palmeiras supporters – there’s a bit of a heated discussion in relation to the passion vs. professionalism aspects of running a football club. The new Palmeiras administration, elected in late 2012, have brought a business-like mind-set to most areas of the administration, including, for example, marketing and public relations. The latter is a prime example: Palmeiras’ press and public relations have been outsourced to a company where the CEO is an outspoken corintiano (Palmeiras’ biggest rivals on and off the pitch). What are your views on this, relating to your work at MUTV?
SB: Coming from the BBC it is a very different environment here. It is far more corporate and business-like. More professional than passionate. That being said, most of the staff here are United fans. But not all. I make no secret of my allegiance to Arsenal and I have a picture of former Arsenal captain Tony Adams in my office. There are even Man City and Liverpool fans here. As long as they have a passion for and sound knowledge of football, and are committed professionally to Manchester United, then that is good enough for me. In fact, some objectivity when producing MUTV content can be a good thing. We always respect the opposition and maintain a high level of editorial judgment. Partisan yes. Biased no. And never overly critical of players or manager.
I never supported Manchester United but always respected the club’s history, tradition, legends, organisation, management and playing style. Being offered the opportunity to work for the club was something I just couldn’t turn down. I feel privileged every day I walk into Old Trafford – not just on match days. The chance to take MUTV forward and improve the output to the next level is a very exciting challenge.
AP: What other teams have 24/7 TV channels? Do you keep an eye on the competition?
SB: I think it is just Real Madrid, Chelsea, Liverpool and us now. Arsenal had a channel but dropped it. Arsenal and Man City have a very strong digital presence, it’s a different approach. We would like more access to players and coaches in an ideal world but of course appreciate the situation. The access in American sports is incredible – I don’t know if we will ever get to that level in the UK. On the other hand, our documentaries have been nominated for awards in recent seasons – this is a very strong element of MUTV and we are very proud of the quality. There is an annual European Club Channels conference in Italy which has proved very useful in meeting producers at other clubs and sharing experiences and ideas.
AP: When making football club TV, would you say there’s a standard formula that works well for all clubs, or must one really tailor the content?
SB: Both. It depends on the size of the club and how successful they are. We can do bigger budget programming than small clubs, but smaller clubs often have far superior access to their players. At MUTV, we spend very little time close to the players. You play to your strengths and attempt to overcome your weaknesses. We have, for example, very good relations with the many ex-players we use on our programming on a daily basis. There is a real push now to improve clubs’ short-form video content and player access is key to this, so this is something we hope to improve.
AP: Generally, does someone from the club management approve your content before it’s broadcasted, or do you have autonomy?
SB: Yes, the club monitors our content, and if we have an idea that may be contentious, or a problematic situation, we will consult the club.
AP: Do you make content specifically targeting different geographical regions of the Manchester United supporter base?
SB: Some shows are targeted to the local fans, some more to the global supporters, but ideally every show works for as wide an audience as possible.
Manchester United have an estimated 325 million followers in Asia alone. 173 million in Africa, some 90 million in Europe, 37 million in North America and some 34 million in South America. One of the prime targets of MUTV now is to broaden our appeal further and cater more effectively for our fans overseas – specifically Asia and Africa. We are developing match commentaries in other languages and are hoping to introduce bespoke programmes in certain languages soon, as well as develop different schedules for different parts of the world. We’re also considering the use of virtual studios.
AP: How important is MUTV for the internationalisation of the Club brand? Could MUTV be considered one of the pillars?
SB: Yes, very much so. In our view, the club channel alongside the club’s website and social media can be the first point for content creation to connect the club with its fans worldwide. A recent Man Utd “Jakarta Fan Party” attracted 10’000s of MU fans to watch a screened MU match live with fellow fans – all organised by the Club. In addition, we can leverage key players in certain regions, like Hernandez in Mexico & Central America, Valencia & Rafael in South America, and Kagawa in Japan & Asia.
AP: what else is in the pipeline? Where would you like to take MUTV?
SB: There is a lot happening on the technical side. We are aiming to go HD soon and begin to integrate more effectively with the website manutd.com and all of our social media outlets on Facebook, Twitter, Seina Weibo, Instagram and Google+. We also have plans to create vehicles on which we can push the channel and improve its exposure – such as second screen, on-demand services and web streaming. Essentially, what we hope to do in the future is make more of our programming into events to “attend”, much like the matchday experience. One example would be interviews with players streamed live across Facebook, allowing for instant questions and answers – fans watch on TV whilst getting involved via a tablet. We want to be the fans’ channel where they have a voice every day.
I also hope to introduce some children’s programming soon.
AP: Well, Stefano, with so much on your plate, I’d better leave you to it. Again, thank you so much for your time. Best of luck to you and your team while taking MUTV into new levels of excellence!
SB: Thank you so much Kristian. Clearly TV Palmeiras is making great strides forward. Many congratulations to everyone involved and all the very best for the future. Maybe we can work together at the Club World Championship one day!