We chat to Jim Brackpool, Head of Music at our client BT Sport, about running a successful broadcaster music department, recent artist features, and taking home two Music Week Sync Awards.
Hi Jim, thanks for chatting with us. How would you describe your role at BT Sport?
I look after all the commercial and operational, creative and strategic aspects of music use at BT Sport. So I do the top line deals with PRS and PPL, and other big rights assignments. I manage relations and systems development work with various suppliers, and direct our creative output and strategies, and that involves managing commercial and non-commercial strategic partnerships. I’ve also got a small music team to manage. We’ve got a dedicated creative, a dedicated rights and reporting manager, and an operations coordinator who manages the day to day running of our systems and workflows.
What’s a typical day like for you and your team?
In a live production environment there isn’t really a typical day. Most of our shows are weekly so they’re all on fast turnaround production schedules, and we also have creative projects popping up out of nowhere. There could be a “drop everything and do this” moment at any point. Every day I make sure that the long and mid-term projects are all ticking over, so that might be renewing or renegotiating our blanket licenses, or doing other big commercial deals.
A lot of the time I’m planning for the future, looking further down the line at where the channel itself is going creatively and editorially, making sure music is pre-empting that and is part of the conversation. First and foremost, BT Sport is a live Sport channel so I really have to beat the drum to make sure we get what we need to service producers and add value back to BT.
Can you take us through the upcoming schedule?
We have Premier League Football and Premiership Rugby every weekend. We also have live shows around the Premier League called ‘The Score’ and ‘Premier League Tonight’, we have Champions League and Europa League Football, FA Cup and European Cup Rugby Women’s Tennis, UFC and top flight Football from Germany, Italy and France. We’ve got some Darts coming up as well.
Can you tell us about the more creative promo opportunities you have for artists at BT Sport?
Last year we had a football comedy chat show that had live bands on it, but that’s currently being “re-developed”. We still have something called our Album Launch Package, where we offer an artist and their label a suite of sync opportunities over the course of the week of release, so we’ll try and place tracks from an album across a variety of shows, and cut some original digital content for them.
“We have something called our Album Launch Package, where we offer an artist and their label a suite of sync opportunities over the course of the week of release.”
We’ll also have a joined up online campaign where we work with the label and the band’s PR team on it to give it more visibility. Basically it’s about cross promotion – us putting the album in front of an engaged audience that might not have known about it, and the band putting BT Sport out there to their fanbase in a credible way. We also offer new release exclusive spots around Premier League and Champions League, so if there’s a big album or single coming out we offer labels and publishers a chance to break it first on BT Sport.
Are these opportunities centred specifically around football?
No – when we do the album launch we’ll try and place wherever we can really. When you’re working with music you’re servicing your producer’s or director’s creative needs. The process of finding the right track for a spot is a collaborative one, so most of the time you need a lot of good fortune to land something – especially if you are saying “please use a track off this album”. We’ll work with our producers to find something that fits their brief musically, and that also fits within our creative remit. Those features can be across football, rugby, UFC – wherever we’re creating material to go around the actual live event.
Would you say that BT Sport’s approach to music is orientated around current releases?
Certainly for commercial music our main concern is that it’s credible and contemporary and relevant. We want to root our show and our programming right in the moment. Live sport is happening here and now, so it’s important that we use music that reflects the spirit of the time. We want our producers to think creatively and be the first to use new artists or genres of music so that they create something new that sets BT Sport apart from other sports productions. And ultimately sport’s a very emotional thing and we really want to create memories around that. I really love the idea that someone will remember the track that they heard the moment before their team went on to some incredible result.
We try to empower our creatives to think creatively and to push the envelope – to the extent that we want to make every single sync count. We’ve got this massive convenience of licensing commercial tracks under blankets, but that doesn’t mean we should be lazy creatively and just use the first thing we come to. And by using credible, contemporary music we’re positioning ourselves as a platform for breaking artists – we want artists and labels and publishers to come to us with new ideas.
“By using credible, contemporary music we’re positioning ourselves as a platform for breaking artists – we want artists and labels and publishers to come to us with new ideas.”
You need support from labels and the industry at large to get access to talent if you need it and evidencing a commitment to new music and creativity can often leverage that.
How should they get in touch?
We take mailers from labels and publishers in the usual manner. We try and listen to everything, and if we think there’s likely to be a place for it on the channel we’ll pre-clear it and then it goes into Synchtank, which like our catalogue shop window for all the stuff we want our producers to get excited about and hopefully place in their VTs and Promos etc.
You recently mentioned that if an artist is a big Arsenal fan, for example, they should get in touch about an upcoming game. How far in advance does this need to be?
Well I would get in touch about that kind of thing irrespective of the schedule. We will make a note of it, and the next time there’s a big Arsenal game and we’ve got a producer that wants to do something special, then we’ll say, “ah! We know so-and-so is a fan so they might be up for doing something”. So rights holders and managers out there – if your artists are into a certain sport or particular personalities/teams then get in touch. But don’t expect it to happen for that weekend unless there’s a huge amount of good fortune involved.
You recently won a Music Week Sync Award for the spot you did with Raleigh Ritchie. How did that come about?
It was a colleague of mine that worked on that but I think it just transpired that the producer loved the track and got in touch about clearing it for regular VT. We knew that he was an actor as well as a musician, and we thought there might be an opportunity to do something a little bit different. We reached out to his label and manager and sure enough he was up for it, so everyone went out to the San Siro in Milan and he performed and acted a bit, and it came out looking pretty smart. We’re trying to do more and more of those artist-led promos – they’re a big deal for us at the moment because if you get them right they can really cut through and rack up decent numbers for the artist as well as the channel.
“We’re trying to do more and more of those artist-led promos – they’re a big deal for us at the moment because if you get them right they can really cut through and rack up decent numbers for the artist as well as the channel.”
The other week we did an amazing piece with Big Narstie and Conor McGregor for the UFC fight and that’s had 1.7 million views on Facebook last time I checked. We’ve done a lot of stuff with Grime artists – they’re just up for doing stuff all the time. Their fans are very active online and the MCs themselves are just in the mode of producing content – they’re constantly serving their fans online with bits and pieces delivered across a whole range of channels. They’re great guys to work with and a lot of them are sports fans, so you might see more of them on BT Sport in the future.
You also won the award for Best Broadcaster Music Department. What do you think sets you apart?
I don’t think we’re set apart from other broadcasters really, like all broadcasters we’re just trying to create the most compelling products we can for our customers, if there’s additional value in that for rights holders and artists, then great. The criteria for the award this year was a team that has good communication and lots of creativity, a clear strategy when it comes to sync that demonstrates benefits to artists; those three things have been right at the heart of what we’re trying to do in music at BT Sport from day one. Our communication is really good and we have great relationships with our label and publisher friends, and we work really hard on everything else. Suffice to say it was a very proud moment – we were over the moon.
From a broadcaster perspective, how does the Synchtank system help you and your team?
We’re absolutely delighted with the service that we get from Synchtank. The system works for us because it’s a shop window for the music that we’re trying to promote to producers. The user interface is familiar and easy to navigate, and the big thing for us is that it plays nicely with all of our other systems.
“We’re absolutely delighted with the service that we get from Synchtank. The system works for us because it’s a shop window for the music that we’re trying to promote to producers.”
Our producer can preview a track, clear it, download it, and send it straight through to their edit suite. They can then confirm that it’s gone into production, and that will send the details on to someone who can complete a cue sheet, and when that’s been done we can notify the label and the publisher that it’s been used in something. All of that can happen in less than a minute, and Synchtank’s right at the heart of that process.
In a fast turnaround production environment this end-to-end journey is invaluable. Automating those processes just frees up all the time that we would have spent on those fiddly bits of the workflow, so the music team can concentrate on being creative and having good relationships with producers and rights holders.
Can you tell us about any other recent placements that were a highlight for you?
I’m really proud of our Premier League theme tune. We commissioned Everything Everything, a band me and my colleague Pete have been fans of for many years, to write something to brief. We wanted an exciting track that would speak to sports fans and music fans at the same time, and the piece that they delivered has a really positive message about what it’s like to go to the football week in week out and sit there thinking whatever has happened before, right now I feel like something incredible is about to happen. We wanted the band to hone in on that positive sentiment rather than it being, “We’re going to smash you”, and they did that in a really clever way. We went out on a limb by commissioning an original song and I’m very proud that we pulled it off.
How do you see the channel evolving in the future, and what challenges does technology like VR present you with?
Stuff like VR and 4K presents us with a number of challenges. BT Sport Ultra HD is one of the first 4K channels on the planet, and from a technical and production aspect that gives us things to fix. If all we’ve got from the label is a 256kbps mp3, we’ve got big problems because if they’re not already doing so, in a few years from now, many people will be watching (and listening) on high end AV gear and they will rightly be expecting as polished a product as is technically possible. Moving up in audio quality is problematic because we don’t get things like WAVs as a matter of routine and even when we do they’re harder to move around in production because of their size, compatability issues and lack of meta-data. BWF is virtually unheard of in sync-world which is incredible to me as pushing catalogue for broadcast is central to the sync remit! But we’re trying to futureproof our systems for these things so we’re not playing catch-up when UHD really starts to penetrate.
As far as our editorial goes, there has been a shift away from entertainment style programming towards pure live sport, so we’re always looking at ways to fit music in and around that in a way that generates noise around the channel and really enhances the programming rather than it just being there for the sake of it. I think we’re going to move to more shareable online content, like the Grime VTs and the Raleigh Ritchie spot. And I think as a team there is massive potential for us to begin to produce our own music led content for BT’s various channels. For BT Sport, we want to be making content that can live online as well as on the channels where it can serve music fans and sports fans alike – that’s the dream.