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Cool jumpers and a weird dad // VCs move into footie

02 Dec 2019  |  Dominic Mills 
Cool jumpers and a weird dad // VCs move into footie

Dominic Mills wonders whether the joy found in M&S's festive ads could help revitalise the business far beyond Christmas - while he remains confused by Pandora's strange offering. Plus: Why new money entering sports streaming is bad news for traditional broadcasters

As luck would have it — or bad luck in my case — I am going to have to get myself a Christmas jumper this year. It’s well out of my comfort zone, but it’s either get one or face social shame and ostracisation. The latter is marginally worse.

Full marks (er, poor pun) then to M&S for its Christmas jumpers ad. Who knew Christmas jumpers could be so cool.

Is it the music (House of Pain’s Jump Around)? Is it the casting? Is it the dancing? Is it the puzzled Jack Russell — a star turn —? Is it the jumpers themselves?

It’s all of them, blended together in one glorious mash-up that oozes happiness and joy.

And now M&S has taken the same idea, and extended it to that other Christmas staple — the gift of pyjamas. Same soundtrack. Same cast (I think). Same dog. Same feeling of fun.

There are a couple of points to note. One, unlike John Lewis/Waitrose, which has put Christmas under one umbrella master ad, M&S has separated out its food and clothing efforts.

And to contrast the M&S pair, while I like the food ad largely because it unashamedly sells the food and doffs its cap to its food porn heritage, you wouldn’t think they were from the same parent.

Put it this way: the food ad is like a serious grown-up, albeit one with a twinkle in its eye; the clothing ads have all the fizz and enthusiasm of youth.

The second point is whether the clothing ads mark a turning point for M&S. Is this a style it can use to inject some much-needed pep into what feels like an increasingly dull clothing offer, one that is, moreover, a drag on the whole business? Or will, Christmas done, it revert to the norm?


Weird dad ad

And now we move from pure, unadulterated fun to, well, the pure and unadulterated weirdness that is the Christmas ad for jewellery store Pandora. First up, let me say how surprised I was to see this — who knew that Pandora could even run to a TV budget, let alone one for Christmas.

In the ad, we see an ageing man buying a last-minute Christmas present in Pandora. Then he heads off to the airport, having gone home to pack and put on a Christmas jumper. He reads a text from his daughter — ‘have a happy Xmas’, it says.

Carrying the gift, he boards the plane. A cheery twenty-something hostess greets him and he gives her the present.

Surprise! Perv alert!

OMG! She’s his daughter.

For me, this is definitely an ad that raises more questions than it answers. Why is he travelling on his own? What has happened to the mum? Is she his only family? Why did he decide to surprise her while she was working? And if they were on the same plane, then they were obviously bound for the same destination — so why not give her the present later? And why am I wasting my time thinking about this?

It’s all too much for me. This is a weird dad too far.

When VCs move into football

Arsenal sacking the doomed Unai Emery aside, the big football story of last week was the news that the Abu Dhabi owners of Manchester City sold a 10% stake in its City Football Group (owners/part-owners, not only of Man City, but also clubs in Spain, Australia, China, India and Japan).

The price was just under £400m, meaning a clutch of football clubs, only one of which anybody has heard of, has been valued at £4bn.

Wow! That is an extreme valuation.

The buyer is US VC outfit Silver Lake, once focused on tech through stakes in Alibaba and Skype, but which now, according to the Financial Times, is doubling down on entertainment. Apart from footie, it is splurging big money on assets like Miss Universe, formerly owned by Mr D Trump, and martial arts franchise Ultimate Fighting Challenge.

What these, together with Silver Lake’s stake in Hollywood talent agency Endeavour, have in common is that they all involve assets with global fanbases.

Nor is Silver Lake the only big-money outfit moving into football. This summer Elliott, known as the ‘Vulture Fund’, took control of AC Milan, once the plaything of Silvio Berlusconi.

Now the principals of these US funds may or may not like football (personally I doubt it), but it is clear they are not in it for the glory or the vanity. Nor, chunky as they sound, are they in it for the broadcasting rights as currently funded by the likes of Sky or BT — which are flatlining, if not going down anyway.

No, they are in it for the streaming, where a global fanbase will tune in in their billions to watch their favourite clubs online — live, if possible. Hence the need for assets with global appeal. Image a City Football Group media channel, with fans distributed around the world, and every game show live.

To succeed, putting the tech and the enabling platforms apart, what these investors need is to blow up the current structure of collective rights that underpins any of the existing broadcasting deals.

With football, so with other sports with global appeal — like rugby, where the same process is underway.

None of this is going to happen overnight, but the impact is going to be huge, and right in the firing line are the traditional broadcasters, for nearly all of whom sport (live or highlights) is a key attraction. There’s trouble ahead.

And readers looking for a parallel or with a historical frame of mind, may choose to cast their minds back 20 years to the time Sky tried to take over Manchester United. Indeed, it wasn't the only broadcaster trying to get its hands on a football asset: part of ITV took a stake in Liverpool, and NTL (now Virgin Media) had stakes in Celtic, Rangers and four EPL clubs.

The motivation was the same, but it ended badly, although not for the football clubs. This excellent feature in 442 explains it clearly.

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09 Dec 2019 

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