Interview with Marc Webber, ITV.com
ITV, along with BBC, Sky and Setanta, is one of four major options for UK residents for sports programming. Currently ITV Sport hold the rights to Champions League football (shared with Sky Sports), FA Cup action (shared with Setanta Sports), rights to the next two World Cups (jointly with BBC Sport), plus exclusive rights to UEFA Cup football (quarters onwards) and rights to Football League and Carling Cup action as well (these will switch to BBC in 2009).
All in all, there’s a lot going on at ITV especially where football is concerned. In July 2008 ITV relaunched their website and their online content / promotion efforts. I think you’ll find (and Marc confirms it in the interview) that ITV is much more video-centric than it’s rivals, and as a branding strategy it’s hard to argue against it.
(If you’re interested in more sports, see itv.com/sport which shows off what other sports they have, including F1, other motorsport, cycling etc.)
Earlier this week I caught up with ITV.com head of content, Marc Webber, to talk about what football fans can expect from ITV in the coming months. Mr Webber is responsible for all web content, whether it’s social drama or football, and I was interested in finding out how ITV saw itself in relation to the industry as a whole and football fans in particular.
Mr Webber, please accept a warm welcome to Soccerlens.com.
What does ITV.com website offer to football fans and how does that differ from the competition?
We have the most football video under one online roof. We have highlights on all the core ITV football properties like FA Cup, England and Champions League and we also have highlights of Premier League, Football League and even Asian League football. We’ve also commissioned some web-exclusive video features like The Gloryhunter – where a Spurs fan follows Football League teams until they lose…and then switches allegiance to the club that beat them.
And we have all the ‘usual’ stuff you would expect from a football news site (stats, comments, blogs etc etc). That’s not to do down those key tools – but it really is about video, video, video for us.
For the Olympics we’ve seen NBC’s Olympics website do wonders in terms of bringing live video to viewers – do you see something similar happening for English football in the near future?
We certainly hope to be the flag bearer for high quality video football content on the UK web. We have a heck of a lot of rights and we are committed to bringing broadcast-quality highlights and video features to the internet. We all watch You tube for ‘that goal/funny moment’ now and again, but we know that people would rather watch that in high quality for free and legally – that’s why we feel the basket of video we have will be of interest to all football fans.
How do you define success in an online environment for a TV company (in context of the fact that you’re competing with Sky, BBC and Setanta)?
Well, all bar one of them is a commercial company and all bar one of them will define success in commercial terms. But to be commercially successful you have to prove to users that you care about them and you can help them get what they want. And that is what we’re trying to do on itv.com/football. 60 people watching our highlights of Wembley FC V Royston Town or 60000 people watching our Euro 2008 clips…all are of interest to me because it shows we are not a shallow ‘moneybags’ site and we are attracting awareness and attention to all types of football.
How does content strategy change from TV to the Internet?
Good content is good content. A great goal is a great goal – doesn’t matter how you see it…you’ll always remember you saw it. It’s more about the presentation of content for us. Whilst people might be willing to sit through a 40 mins highlights show on ITV1, they’ll probably only tolerate a 6 min version of that on the web. Or, to the extreme, they’ll just want a 20 second clip of the best goal/funny moment.
You said earlier that ITV was looking to use the Internet to drive traffic back to TV – what specific (or general) strategies do you think work best in siphoning online traffic to offline mediums (be it TV or print)?
Yes, a lot is made of the ubiquitous cross-ref from TV or print to web. But I am determined to show what the web taketh, it can give back. And here are a few examples.
We are the first broadcaster to film the early rounds of the FA Cup. We have taken a risk in sending 15 online camera crews to the smallest of grounds every round because we believe in the competition. Thames Valley’s regional ITV1 news show was so enthusiastic, they decided to feature the kick off from our very first match live.
We have developed a web-exclusive series called The Gloryhunter (see above for more on him). We have taken the commissioning risk on that, but it is catching the eyes of our colleagues in broadcast and there is a possibility it may be made into a TV documentary. Spencer (The Gloryhunter) is already committed to publishing a book on his escapades at the end of the season – that’s web pushing to book publishing!
We are developing active forums and we are linking to loads of blogs. We pass relevant comments to the ITV Sport team which may make it onto broadcast.
What does social media and blogging mean to ITV and how does a TV company use them for leverage?
ITV has content that everyone talks about, and football is no exception. We know how much fans love The FA Cup or Champions League and we want to listen to those fans and make them feel we are listening.
Our site is all about making people aware of football, whether that be highlights or banter. Linking to bloggers and making our content more accessible to those bloggers means we, hopefully, become part of a fan’s circle. We’ll never pretend to be bloggers – but we hope what we have online gets bloggers talking about us and feeling we have a place in their football lives.
Are there plans to license content to bloggers / fan sites?
In short, yes…and no. We absolutely want to share as much of our content as possible with fan sites and bloggers because we’re not naive to think that everyone wakes up in the morning and thinks, ‘ooh I’ll go to itv.com for all my football news’…yet! We want to become a part of the football family and sharing that content is a key way of doing that.
But in quite a few cases, restrictions on so-called 3rd party syndication by the licensing bodies means we have to keep content on our site. We have RSS and we are developing widgets for other sites. But for me it is all about making sure people know that all the content you could ever need is on itv.com/football.
Following up on the last question, how do you see ITV’s online strategy working with non-traditional football sites (i.e. blogs, resource sites, forums, etc)?
It’s a simple – and hopefully beautiful – relationship. We will open the door to the world of fans and bloggers from the ITV Football site and fans and bloggers we’ll see that we have some half decent stuff and make it part of their site one way or another. We have forums but we want to capture the passion of the sport by pointing to others. Yes, as rights holders, we have a close relationship with the various tournament organisers. But they know we will want to engage with real fans and won’t be afraid to point to useful discussions somewhere else.
Thank you for your time Mr. Webber, and I wish ITV all the success.
No problem, glad to help.
Ultimately it’s license-holders like the Premier League, the Football League, UEFA and FIFA who determine how much football we can see online and how much football we’re forced to switch the TV on for. It’s refreshing to see someone in football take a proactive approach to ‘official’ online video content. The real test will come when the 2010 World Cup comes around, and who knows, by then you could be watching the whole thing live on ITV Sport.