David Pick, founder of Vintage TV, didn’t miss a beat expanding abroad, after spotting a niche in the market for timeless classics
Four decades ago, the way we consumed music was radically transformed. TV channels began broadcasting non-stop pop videos, 24/7. Hits were forged, budgets spiralled and careers were launched overnight. Slowly, however, these music channels began to lose their allure – many played a repetitive cycle of chart fodder programmed by algorithms, or a stream of reality TV shows.
But if you were under the impression that music TV was a thing of the past, Vintage TV has been proving it’s anything but.
When it launched eight years ago, the UK channel was originally aimed at over-50s who couldn’t find the music they’d grown up with any more. Since then, it has expanded to fit its dictionary definition – quality and longevity – spanning 60 years of popular music, broadcasting original content 24 hours a day, subscription-free, across Sky, BT, Freesat, Freeview and Virgin.
Vintage TV’s founder and CEO, David Pick, is a music industry veteran who came to the role with limited experience of broadcasting.
“I simply identified a glaring gap in the market,” he says, seated in a small meeting room in the basement of Vintage TV’s cosy London office. “We have an ageing demographic that had grown up with music, but I saw that nothing served them any more in terms of music TV. I put together a presentation and managed to attract some investors. The response within the industry was so positive that we launched quickly.”
Vintage TV was unveiled on 1 September 2010, to the sound of the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations. Its staff numbered just four, working in a spare meeting room in ITN’s Gray’s Inn Road offices.
Legendary folk singer Joan Baez recently visited Vintage TV’s studios to record a show. Photograph: Suki Dhanda for the Guardian
At its inception, the channel showed music videos made using newsreel footage licensed from Getty, ITN, Reuters and the BBC. Pick then realised that was never going to provide enough content for 24 hours of scheduling, seven days a week. Instead, he set about making his own, producing original programmes and recording live shows. Today, Vintage TV produces over 30 hours of new material a month and owns a small library of over 1,000 hours.
“It began as music TV for the over 50s, it’s now about great music for people who are passionate about music,” explains Pick of the station’s evolution. “Vintage means longevity, in the sense that it will stand the test of time. That can mean something from 1969 or a breaking artist. We originally drew the line at 1989, but then we opened up through the 90s and the noughties, right up to now – all without alienating our audience. Today we have a nice balance of heritage acts such as Gene Simmons, Graham Nash and Joan Baez, as well as new artists like Gabrielle Aplin, Newton Faulkner and Ward Thomas – and even some unsigned ones.”
Vintage TV’s most popular shows include My Vintage, in which personalities such as Rick Wakeman and Toyah Willcox choose their all-time favourite songs, matching them to personal memories, and Live With, where popular acts such as Sister Sledge, Fairport Convention and Nik Kershaw strut their stuff.
For all the output, and growing audience figures, Vintage TV still remains a small operation with a full-time staff of just 13 – a programming/management team of four, plus admin, accounts and a handful of videographers/editors.
Vintage TV now produces about 30 hours of original material a month. Photograph: Suki Dhanda for the Guardian
Currently, the channel is funded by advertising sourced from across a spectrum of mainstream brands, ranging from banks to insurers and supermarkets. At the same time, Sky Media – the agency responsible for booking all Vintage TV’s advertising – provides useful feedback in terms of audience data, identifying weaknesses and strengths. The channel’s schedule now reflects its audience, changing depending on the programme output across daytime, evening or weekends.
Over the past eight years, Pick says the channel has raised several million pounds of investment, but when a swift cash injection was needed, it turned to alternative funding platform Spotcap. “We looked at traditional lenders but it proved so time-consuming and expensive to service their constant requests that we decided to pursue other options,” he says. “I was recommended Spotcap by a firm of accountants. They took a look at our accounts and just over a week later we had everything we’d requested. It was that simple. I was extremely impressed.”
Spotcap provides loans up to £250,000 to small- and medium-size businesses that have been operational for two years or more, with an annual turnover of at least £250,000. Spotcap says it processed over 1,000 applications last year, including Vintage TV’s, from its London office that opened in October 2016.
“Using artificial intelligence and machine-learning capabilities we developed ourselves, we quickly picked up on positive trends in Vintage TV’s management accounts,” says Spotcap business development manager, Amy Roberts. “This is just one part of a quite rigorous application process, where we do financial underwriting as opposed to credit underwriting. We also reached out to David for a first-hand view on Vintage TV’s needs.” She adds: “David was difficult to pin down due to his busy travel schedule, but we managed to connect from across the globe, and after that things moved quickly.”
Having begun broadcasting solely in the UK, Pick had come to realise that overseas markets offered similar opportunities. Less than 18 months ago, Vintage TV expanded into Canada, where its spin-off channel, Vintage Country, is anticipated to fill another hole in the market left by the closure of homegrown channels broadcasting this genre of music.
“No sooner had we launched than I was invited to the Country Music Awards in Nashville, where I was told they no longer have anything like it in the US,” says Pick. “So I’m spending 50% of my time in North America now, because it’s opening up rapidly.” The channel has also been on air in China since autumn 2016 and was recently granted a national broadcasting licence in South Korea.
“We are completely independent, there is no corporate shareholder,” says Pick with satisfaction, “and we are wholly British-owned. It’s something I’m very proud of and it’s why we’ve added the union jack to our guitar pick logo for China.”
Mike Pattenden as part of a paid partnership with Guardian Labs
Originally published April 9 2018 , updated April 9 2018