SVG Europe Sit-Down: 808 Talent’s Ben Swanton offers insights on Brexit and sports rights changes

Ben Swanton, Founder and CEO, 808 Talent

808 Talent was launched in 2014 to work in partnership with technology companies to provide a personalised recruitment service that is consultative, proactive and thorough. Founder and CEO Ben Swanton has over 10 years’ experience of recruiting at senior and executive levels within the global broadcast, digital TV and converging media industries for companies ranging from start-ups to international corporations. 

What’s in a name – why ‘808 Talent’?

Interesting question and perhaps the one I get most frequently asked when I meet for the first time.  808 was inspired by my business partner for a couple of different reasons. His inspiration was his father who was called Bob which looked similar to the digital version of 8:08. That added to the fact he has a personal mantra of if he is already at his desk by 8:08 then he generally has a good day.  After three plus years now, I have taken on this mantra and more often than not it is a good omen!

Have you seen any changes in recruitment demands for sports broadcasting staff over recent years?

With the ever-increasing expenditure in sports broadcasting and the constant demand for better production quality for the consumers, this has had an impact on recruitment demands in the industry. This impact has been seen in those that are looking for staff with cutting edge technological expertise – whether that’s the latest knowledge of IP OB trucks, or those who are skilled in developing OTT platforms. We have seen that technology vendors, services providers and ultimately the Sports Rights Holders are willing to invest in best of breed skills in order to provide a best in breed service to the consumer.

Are there differences throughout Europe when it comes to clients’ requirements for staff?

There are differences when recruiting throughout Europe, but for the most part these are relatively obvious: language requirements, salary budgets, contact networks, working hours, cultural behaviours etc. Ultimately all clients, no matter where they are, have the same goal – get the best talent possible for each individual role at the ‘best price point’. This simple philosophy is one that is held globally.

The line between IT and Broadcast can sometimes be a blur with the technologies becoming ever more mixed. Does this affect the way you go about finding suitable staff? 

Absolutely. For probably the past eight years finding the right level of compromise between IT and Broadcast has been fundamental for technology businesses and content owners alike when bringing new talent into their organisations. Historically, this has been a huge challenge – effectively finding someone who had an IT pedigree, but could understand the dynamics of broadcast technologies and the culture of the industry. Or conversely, finding someone from the Broadcast environment who was willing and able to skill up on IT technology. It is still a challenge today to find such individuals who are able to traverse both skills sets, but what has changed in recent years is that businesses are better placed to understand what they have internally within their teams, and therefore what is most important in new individuals they recruit. Colleges and graduates are also beginning to come into the industry with both these attributes as well, so longer term this will become less and less of an issue.

Is uncertainty about Brexit affecting recruitment – both in the UK and the rest of Europe?

Short term it has not drastically affected recruitment, but I do anticipate that will change over the next couple of years once we truly know what sort of ‘Brexit’ we will be getting. Clearly, companies are looking very closely at their operations and deciding whether or not to continue to invest in developing their businesses in the UK or moving them into Europe. The most immediate example of this predicament can be best seen with Discovery. They clearly have a strong presence and history in the UK, but also across Europe with the Eurosport business. Do they continue to build on the infrastructure in the UK or move more of this into the France operations? We will have answers to this in due course. Another example is who MLBAM decided to set up their operations in Amsterdam after the Brexit vote. We will see more and more of these types of decisions over the coming years, some of which will benefit both the UK and Europe. Ultimately, 808 Talent is well-positioned to help in either scenario given our pedigree and history of having a global footprint.

When you say you ‘partner with businesses’ – what exactly do you mean?

Too often my line of business is simply seen as ‘transactional’ – here’s a role, if and when you fill it, I will pay you for that service. This is still a key part of my day job, but it is only that – a part of my day job. Partnering for me is offering a more consultative service to my clients – engaging throughout the business from the ownership, senior management to HR Departments, to ensure I fully understand the ethos, culture, and vision of a business, so I can best advise them on bringing the best talent on board to help them realise their goals. This can come in many different forms: salary surveys, competitive market analysis, HR consultancy, restructuring consultancy, staff retention plans, and, of course, recruitment.

Partnering to me is really getting to understand a business as best I can; its values, mission, and people; and then helping it to achieve its goals by providing the best service possible that I can.

One of your industry sectors is sports rights. How do you see this sector developing – especially when it comes to the complex issues of second screen applications?

This is a fascinating topic given the huge increases in rights revenues we have seen over the past 15 years, although we are beginning to see a slight shift, in my view at least, back towards the free-to-air or public state broadcasters. The rights market is still a very dynamic place, and there seems to be lots of questions being asked on future positioning of content.

By second screen issues, I’ll refer to that as simply the consumption of content anytime anywhere, as carving out specific second screen rights does not seem to be a key driver. The role of a dedicated OTT platform combined with the best distribution via traditional channels is more prevalent at this stage. My views would be to combine a free-to-air or public state broadcaster distribution with a federation owned OTT to deliver the ultimate viewing experience. People watch and engage in sport they are passionate about or it is fashionable to do so, therefore blending larger FTA/PSB audiences with an OTT enhanced content offering satisfies both the casual and super fan alike.

Do you feel that media colleges and the like are turning out graduates who meet the needs of the media sector? If not, what can be done to rectify the situation?

This to me is a really interesting discussion and one that I regularly have with clients and contacts throughout the industry. On the whole, I do believe that the quality of candidates coming from these media colleges is still very strong and they form an integral base in our industry. I would caveat this with the fact that we are beginning to see skills shortages in certain parts of the market, which I feel are being a little overlooked. A classic example area would be in the outside broadcast domain.  The amount of discussions I have had with clients who are looking for the ‘next generation’ of OB engineers to bring in more innovative ideas, and they are just not seeing new talent coming out in the market place. This is one example, but there are many others too.

Perhaps the best solution to this is the need for technology vendors, services providers, and sports rights holders, to invest further into apprenticeship and partnering schemes with various media colleges. Sky, BBC and others have fabulous apprenticeship schemes and should be commended for this, but I still think more could be done. For those businesses that are really struggling with a particular skills shortage, they should actively invest time and resources into these colleges to try and bring through the next generation of talent. The colleges for me can only do so much, they need guidance and investment (of time) from the industry to ensure they continue to produce what we require.

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