The news that Arsenal Fan TV is set to make the crossover onto terrestrial television was met with predictable furore. After all, the popular YouTube channel has become something of a punchline in recent years. We’ve all seen discussions between characters like Claude and DT descend into a shooting match, usually punctuated with shouts of ‘Wenger out.’
For many of an older generation, its resonance baffles. Gary Neville, for instance, took aim at Arsenal Fan TV, calling the channel and its guests “embarrassing” after a game at Stamford Bridge. “I walked out the Chelsea ground yesterday and there was a couple of these Arsenal fan TV camera things everywhere and to be honest it was embarrassing listening to it and watching it,” he said, sparking a war of words.
But Arsenal Fan TV, and similar fan channels, aren’t mean for people like Neville. He is an insider. In fact, Neville is the epitome of what fan channels rally against. They seek to unsettle the establishment, giving fans a voice when mainstream TV is dominated by former professionals. This is their outlet and there is a profound and noble purpose in that.
Sure, Arsenal Fan TV’s style might be too abrasive for the tastes of some. But they reflect a certain community, a community which has taken the YouTube channel to nearly 750,000 subscribers. This community, in the wider sense, deserves its place in the mainstream. Channel 4 are right to give them a show, The Real Football Fans Show. There is a readymade audience for them to exploit.
Even before this announcement by Channel 4, fan channels like Arsenal Fan TV could already claim to have had an influence on the mainstream. Broadcasters like Sky Sports have experimented with vox pops before and during games, asking fans for their opinions on matters and inserting them into their shows. That is a move directly prompted by Robbie, Claude, DT and the rest.
The established football media cannot afford to be snobby about what football fans want. Consumer habits are changing with Premier League viewing figures down for the first time in a generation. Social media has changed the way fans consume the game and Arsenal Fan TV’s move into the mainstream is a manifestation of this. The mainstream media must move with the times or risk being left behind by the sub-culture, or another medium willing to adopt and harness the sub-culture.
This isn’t to guarantee the success of The Real Football Fans Show, but it provides an indication of where football media is heading. Not so long ago, shows like Soccer AM and radio phone-ins were derided for their lack of a sound concept, their perceived lack of an audience. Then they became a staple of the mainstream. Fan channels might now be making a similar transition.