Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Getting the YouTube ball rolling

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast June 06, 2013

Bigballs is helping to create a new kind of television, says Kate Bulkley

There’s a new kind of television emerging online that requires a new kind of thinking on the part of production companies – or even a new kind of production company altogether.

Among the best of these new practitioners is Bigballs Films. You may not have heard of it yet, but you will, not least because it has just landed a deal to launch a YouTube channel for Virgin Media, which effectively amounts to a change in how the cable TV and broadband provider thinks about content.

Remember that since selling its stake in its channels business to Sky in 2010, Virgin Media has focused on being a platform company. A YouTube channel is a way of dipping its toes back into the content waters, but in a very online-community sort of way.

The channel will be fronted by YouTube-style presenters and a couple of ‘shows’ will be made each week talking about what’s coming up in film, TV and games. It will use clips and highlights you might see on a Virgin Media TV channel but in a completely different style – an anarchic, YouTube one – as a way to appeal to younger viewers who might not be all that interested in paying for TV or in the

Virgin Media brand full stop. It’s brand publicity by stealth and a less risky (read cheaper) way to get back into the content game, while looking hip to younger audiences.

The Virgin Media Entertainment Channel (which hopefully will not be its final name if they want it to be a hit with the kids) is the first of what Bigballs hopes will be several brand channel commissions, but it’s just one of the things the producer is up to. Bigballs has big ambitions in sport, including football.

Nine months ago, it launched Copa 90, its first football channel on YouTube. This has already attracted 300,000 subscribers, making it the fourthlargest football channel on the platform, bigger than the official Manchester United and Chelsea club channels (though it still has some way to go to match Real Madrid and Barcelona’s channels).

But the point is that Bigballs makes 52 hours of programming a year for Copa 90 without a single clip of a goal, any kind of game coverage or a traditional TV analyst in sight. Instead, it is targeted at the average 19-year-old fan and has original productions like a film called The Real Oviedo Story, which is about how a nearly bankrupt Spanish football club was saved by its fans.

Next up for Bigballs is another football channel called Line 9 about extreme sports that, like Copa 90, is part funded by YouTube’s own original channels fund. Set to launch in August, Line 9 will have 30 hours of original content, with character-driven stories such as one about Irish surfing star Fergal Smith.

Bigballs, like a lot of producers, might also have been interested when Hollywood studio DreamWorks Animation announced last month that it will pay $33m (£22m) in cash for AwesomenessTV, a maker of teen-oriented YouTube channels. Awesomeness has been called “the Nickelodeon killer”.

Bigballs chief executive Tom Thirlwell likes to say Bigballs is the ESPN for the YouTube generation. That might be another killer idea in its own right.

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