I heard it on the Twitter Vine


Football has much bigger things to worry about than six second videos being shared across Social Media hasn’t it?  Well not if you read some of the more recent news stories and official comments made by the governing bodies that run the game in England.  Statements using words such as “crackdown”, “unlawful” and “infringing” have elevated the issue to headline status with organisations including the BBC, Bloomberg and The Financial Times covering the story in depth in the past few weeks.  But is it all just a storm in a tea cup?

It is important to take a step back and understand the context before we can really pass any judgement.  The facts on face value are simple.  Any distribution of copyrighted material, irrespective of the medium, is piracy. Back in the day it used to be confined to taping the Top 40 off Radio 1, finger ready at the pause button to avoid Mike Reid’s voice.  Technology has presented us with so many opportunities to take our media with us wherever we go in a digital form, but that has increased the problem of piracy to untold lengths.  Illegal distribution of latest film releases is still a major issues for film studios as well as cinemas who need to constantly police their theatres to ensure nobody is covertly recording movies.

Vine-LogoVine seems to be the latest problem child.  The app, designed specifically for the smartphone, allows users to make their own 6 second “movie”, condensing video and pictures, then sharing with the world at the touch of a button.  Formed in June 2012, the start-up was acquired by Twitter before it even officially launched for a reported $30 million having been seen as a natural rival to what Facebook were trying to do with Instagram.  Today, with over 40 million users, Vine is a platform for those with creative vision, challenging users to make those six seconds unique, compelling and above all worthy of sharing on Social Media.  According to an article published by US Library of Medicine earlier this year, our attention span has dropped to just eight seconds on average, meaning that Vine is becoming the perfect media for advertisers who want to grab the attention of Internet users.

The fact that the word “vine” has now entered the modern day lexicon along with Tweet, SnapChat and Like shows how we consume digital content.  So why is there a problem?

During an average 90 minute football match, the ball is only actually in-play and live for around 50 minutes.  Out of that period how many minutes are taken up by goal mouth action or incidents?  Five minutes at the maximum?  You only have to watch the final game every Saturday on Match of the Day to see how brutal an editor can be with a mediocre game, reducing 90 minutes down into 90 seconds.  So if you are able to compartmentalise the key moments, Vine becomes the perfect medium to share the action.  With our short attention span, do we really need to see the same incident for every angle or just be able to pause and rewind it ourselves?

The Premier League is the richest football league in the world. The excesses in our national game have been driven by outlandish commercial deals, spiralling ticket prices but above all, multi-billion pound TV deals.  Having invested so much money into these deals, broadcasters such as Sky have to get the return on their investment in terms of subscribers.  One way to get new viewers and keep the old ones coming back month after month? Invest in the technology.  Sky Plus, TiVo boxes and hard disk recorders are all now staple items in living rooms up and down the country allowing us to record, pause, rewind and access additional content as standard.  By being able to rewind the action to the point where the latest action starts, Vine users can then simply take a screenshot of the action then press publish.  Seconds later the goal can be seen on timelines of millions of people across the world on Twitter. This has been the catalyst to the high-profile issue that the Premier League want to clamp down on.  So in summary, the commercial rights that they put on the table have essentially fuelled a problem they now want the broadcasters and Social Media to stop.

So what exactly is the issue?  In its simplest form it is one of copyright infringement.  Everything that happens on a Premier League football pitch is copyrighted, owned by the clubs, the governing bodies, the advertisers, the broadcasters or the sponsors.  Even taking pictures within a stadium can get you ejected or even arrested – the use of any device that can capture or distribute digital content is explicitly banned according to the stadiums conditions of entry, although few will mind you taking the odd snap or two.  The reason is that every time you capture an image it will contain copyrighted material.  A shirt sponsor, a perimeter board even a player’s face themselves.  Companies pay millions to have exclusive rights to be associated with the players, the clubs and the stadiums and they take a dim view of anyone else having a free ride.

Good old technology again has made the professional production of instant highlights possible and so the Premier League has been able to offer additional rights packages to commercial partners.  Last season the Premier League sold the online digital rights for the distribution of goal action to News International to mobile devices. Their paid-app product touts “almost immediate” access to every goal in the Premier League.  Yet before they can push the net-rippler out, thousands of people have already shared the moment through a Vine on Social Media.  What is the value then in a subscriber using their service if they can get it quicker, and cheaper, elsewhere?   If existing subscribers simply walk away from the paid service, what value are News International getting from their significant investment and are they likely to renew it?

Match of the Day used to be our only way of seeing the day’s main action.  Today, before the famous theme tune starts just after 10.30pm on a Saturday, all of the day’s main talking points have been shown around the world thousands of times. What football fans want to see are those incidents that the TV broadcasters never show.  Take the example from the opening day’s Premier League game between West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur.  An eventful game with two sending offs, a missed penalty and a late winner for the visitors.  But the main event which was shared across the world via Vine was when a pitch invader ran on the turf and took a free-kick on goal that was being lined up whilst being pursued by stewards.  Yet that one incident will never be shown on Match of the Day, Sky Sports or BT Sports. Why?  Because it may encourage others to do the same? Maybe, but the main reason is that it could be deemed to undermine the value of our game to those commercial partners.

So what can the Premier League do to enforce the laws on copyright infringement on Vine?  Practically, very little.  The one aspect here is one of the fundamental principles of English law.  To be found guilty of an offence the perpetrator has to demonstrate the “mens rea” and the “actus rea”- the guilty mind and guilty act.  In theory, if someone didn’t mean to do something wrong, they can’t be found guilty of an offence.  It is not always as simple as that but does someone who takes a Vine of Aaron Ramsey’s 90th minute winner for Arsenal versus Crystal Palace doing so because he is intent on infringing the Premier League, among others, image rights or because he wanted to share the moment with millions of fellow Arsenal fans across the world?

Once infringing content has been identified, there is still the issue of removing it.  The beauty of Social Media is that it’s instantaneous.  I can quickly search using hashtag for the material I want and see immediately.  But if material needs to be removed there is a set process that has to be followed and that takes time.  The reason why hundreds of millions of people use Twitter is that it allows free speech.  If it was heavily policed then people would simply move elsewhere.  So whilst the Premier League can request that content is removed for legitimate copyright infringing reasons, it will have been seen by thousands of people already.

So is this just sabre-rattling by the football authorities, or will they genuinely crackdown on users sharing illegal content?  Brand and reputation monitoring solutions are becoming more effective every month but they would still need to justify the investment in a comprehensive solution would be effective in eliminating the problem.  We see technology advancing all the time, so who is to say what medium we will using and consuming in six months let alone six years.  Football has far too many other issues that need to be addressed before it can genuinely think about policing social media to stop these issues.

PS – I wrote this a few weeks ago.  On Saturday I noticed that a very well-known ex-Premier League footballer who is now a commentator on a national commercial radio station tweeted a “Vine” from the Liverpool v West Brom game whilst it was still in-play to his hundreds of thousands Twitter followers, breaching the rules.

Home form the key for Burnley


Tonight Chelsea open their Premier League campaign with a very tricky away game to newly promoted Burnley.  For those who have never experienced it, Turf Moor is not an away day for the faint of heart. The ground has gone through some huge redevelopments in the past decade or so, with two new stands, but it is still the away end that gives visitors a feeling of what the ground was late three decades ago.  Seats are of the cold, wooden variety, and leg room, should you try and sit down, is designed for people under five foot tall.

The David Fishwick stand was recently hammered by Championship supporters in a poll of the worst away ends by the Trinity Mirror newsgroup. Not only were its poor facilities criticised, but supporters were hardly complimentary about the surrounding area either. However, could the lack of luxury on offer to visitors work in Burnley’s favour this season?

I’ve always enjoyed my trips to Turf Moor – although have been lucky to go there when the weather has been pleasant.  My one experience of being an away fan at Burnley was on a Tuesday night ten years ago when West Ham won thank’s to a late Harewood goal. Great, passionate fans who will not make Turf Moor an easy place to visit.

Burnley boss Sean Dyche admitted this week that the transfer market was proving tricky to navigate as he desperately tries to add a bit more quality to his squad. His struggles in attracting new talent mean his options are limited and he will doubtless be relying on the team’s home form to give them a chance of avoiding relegation.

Last season the Lancashire club had the second best home record in the Championship, just behind Leicester, winning 15 out of 23 games and losing just twice on their own patch. The Clarets also had the best defensive record in the division last term and look set to stick with the same backline that served them so well.

The stats suggest that going to Turf Moor this season will not only be an unpleasant experience for the fans but for the opposition as well. While they shouldn’t cause Chelsea too many problems on the opening weekend, Burnley can be expected to ruin a few people’s football accas over the course of the year.

At home will be where the fight for survival is won and lost for Dyche and co. Last time in the top flight they recorded all seven of the victories they managed at Turf Moor and they will be counting on recording a few more to make sure it is Premier League fans dreading coming back in 12 months time.

 

 

Moore than just a footballer


559881_557443577622196_396737540_nLast year marked the twentieth anniversary of the death of Bobby Moore. The date was marked with numerous events and presentation across the footballing landscape, especially in the East End. I never saw Bobby play in the flesh, but I have heard enough stories of his playing career from my Dad and brother to know that he was a special player. It is all too often in life that we only really remember the contribution of someone to our lives when they are taken from us.

Bobby Moore epitomised the image of West Ham during the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Few footballers back then lived their life on the front pages of the newspapers like today, and the standard of behaviour (George Best aside) was that of a group of people who saw playing football as a privilege rather than a right.  Moore made 544 appearances for the Hammers before he moved onto Fulham.  He became the first man at the club to ever lift a trophy, when West Ham won the 1964 FA Cup final, and then just a year later leading the Hammers to a famous European Cup Winners Cup victory at Wembley.  Of course, he was also responsible for winning the World Cup twelve months later.

Despite playing a further 150 games in his career he remained a Hammer.  Few will know that he actually ended his career playing in Denmark, for Herning Fremand before he ventured into an unsuccessful career in management at Oxford City and Southend United. Continue reading

What does this season have in store for the Premiership?


The Premiership in England has long been considered one of the best, and richest, leagues and attracts world-class players from around the world. Recent signings such as Manchester City’s £30 million for midfielder Fernandinho, Liverpool’s capture of Luis Alberto and the potential transfer of Napoli striker Edinson Cavani to the Premiership, mean footie fans are in for a treat in the upcoming 2013-14 season. But could this be a vintage season due more in part to the continuing carousel of changing managers?

David+MoyesBoth Manchester teams now sport new managers with arguably the toughest test of taking over a new club falling to David Moyes at champions United. Manuel Pellegrini succeeded Roberto Mancini at Manchester City, with the former Malaga boss hoping to improve City’s challenge on the title. FA Cup winning Roberto Martinez may have also seen his club Wigan relegated but his move to Everton promises much. And the ever entertaining Ian Holloway is now back in the league with promoted Crystal Palace.

However all eyes will be on the ‘Special One’ Jose Mourinho, after his move from Real Madrid back to Chelsea. This was a move that was a slow train coming, with the departure of Rafa Benitez as interim manager a foregone conclusion. The Chelsea faithful have clamoured for the return of Mourinho almost as soon as he was sacked in 2007 and his at times controversial remarks and actions mean there will never be a dull moment. With an enviable track record, he could bring the title back to London from Manchester. Indeed, given the history between former Manchester United icon Sir Alex Ferguson and Mourinho, it will be interesting to see how United and Chelsea square up to each other. No-one would envy David Moyes given the huge shoes he has to fill.

Mourinho has the arguably easier start to the campaign with a home game against newly promoted Hull while United face Michael Laudrup’s skillful Swansea away. The new Chelsea manager must fancy his chances as United adjust to their first new manager in 27 years. The change of managers mean that of the top six teams of last season, only Arsene Wenger of Arsenal and Tottenham’s Andre-Villas Boas, himself a former Chelsea manager, remain in post. Tottenham’s boss admitted Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge will be a challenge to other clubs hoping to land the title.

Due to the global nature of the Premiership, sponsorship for the league is in fine form with campaigns such as cider company Strongbow’s Earn It providing competitions with added excitement and buzz. This Strongbow football challenge dares fans to win a chance to step up and shoot a penalty against a top goalkeeper, a task which seemingly appears infinitely easier when watching a game. However, given the woeful performance of past England penalty takers, this competition would rightly provide bragging rights to anyone skillful enough to score. Fans who reckon they can do better than hapless duo Gareth Southgate or Chris Waddle are encouraged to enter.

Football Academies – Are They Doing Enough?


SAM_2179Academies in England have produced some great talent over the years. Players of international calibre, often valued at tens of millions of pounds, have emerged from some of the country’s most high-profile footballing institutions. While glittering careers in the Premier League and beyond await the cream of the home-grown crop, there are many others that fall by the wayside, which academies need to do something about.

The PFA have calculated that, of the sixteen-year-olds lucky enough to achieve academy scholarships, only around 40% will be offered a contract two years later. Even more worryingly, they estimate that, by the age of twenty-one, just 20% of these former scholars will be playing at a professional level, and this is a result of a number of factors.

Some stop because they fall out of love with the game. Dr Andrew Hill has conducted considerable research into burnout in youth footballers, arguing that many become disillusioned with the game due to the high levels of pressure and subsequently lose interest. Others are quite simply not good enough; with the huge amounts of money going into the top academies, clubs only accept the absolute elite. Continue reading

Premier ambitions


When cattle creep,
When I’m asleep,
To lands of hope I stray.
Then at daybreak,
When I awake,
My bluebird flutters away.
Happiness new seemed so near me,
Happiness come forth and heal me

The oft forgotten second verse of Bubbles

One of the most frustrating aspects of supporting a Premier League team is the simple lack of ambition 75% of clubs now have these days. Unfortunately, the league is so awash with money that real ambition has disappeared. Gone are the days when clubs would take domestic cups really seriously (there are a few exceptions such as Swansea City’s glorious season this year), deciding nowadays that the Premier League cash is more important. This leads to clubs simply being satisfied at reaching the “magical” 40 point mark, knowing that they will be on the gravy train for another season. The rich will continue to get richer, especially with the new TV deal kicking in next season. And what do we have to look forward to? A lame cup exit versus a lower division team, whilst the manager talks about “concentrating on the league”, when in reality all they care about is finishing in 17th place.

To demonstrate the massive gulf that exists within the same league, Manchester United came into this game with some fans suggesting this season hadn’t been as successful as it could have been. I’m sure the home defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League hurt, as too did the FA Cup defeat to Chelsea, but surely winning the Premier League at a canter from their nearest rivals was the number one objective of the season? Whilst West Ham’s fans would boo and jeer every touch United would have, who wouldn’t want even a small slice of the success they have had.

Premier League TV moneyI’m sure many will have believed the rhetoric in the past few weeks from the owners of West Ham regarding what will happen when we move to the Olympic Stadium in terms of being able to compete with the best, but is it going to be a couple of years too late? There are simply already too many clubs with richer owners with deeper pockets in the Premier League today. There are at most 7 European spots up for grabs, including the two cups and its fair to say that five of those are now all but sewn up on a yearly basis. Add in a Liverpool team who have the cash but just keep spending it poorly and there isn’t a lot of room for anyone else. Continue reading