Mark Shipman: Paying the piper

With no idea what he wanted to do, his father encouraged him into his first job as a clerk with the Commercial Bank of Australia.

Today, at 40, he’s the majority shareholder in a media plc behind a television music station that is already securing some of the biggest audiences on digital television, after less than six months on air. Everything was rosy when Accountancy Age spoke with him last month. Then last week, the channel went off air, ahead of a major overhaul (see box below).

P-rock tv, which airs on Sky’s channel 461 and plays what can loosely be described as modern-day punk rock, is already becoming cult viewing among the 11-24 age group.

Shipman became involved with p-rock when he was left with time on his hands, following his retirement from a career spanning several international banks and his own investment firm.

He had been spending his retirement managing a residential property portfolio – his pension – playing drums with the band Bad Manners and being taught hypnotism by Paul McKenna. Then in November 2001, he began work on launching p-rock tv.

It was a joint venture with his friend and music industry veteran Fatty Lol, who had been involved with punk since it all started back in the 70s. He was frustrated by not being able to win television airtime for the bands he was involved with through his record label Moon Ska Europe.

At first, the plan was to win backing from business angels and venture capitalists with the hope of the station becoming OFEX or AIM-listed.

By July 2002, Shipman decided to back the station using his own capital.

He had been registered with the Financial Services Authority, the UK’s main watchdog, since 1990 and had a long history of compliance. This helped when it came to dealing with ITC lawyers and winning a licence.

The application was turned around in just a few weeks and was among the last to be granted by the ITC in 2002.

‘We saw winning the licence as just the start, as we wanted p-rock to evolve into a major brand which is recognised worldwide,’ says Shipman.

The launch team comprises just three people with no television experience – Shipman, Fatty Lol, and programming and content director Russell Aldrich.

The station launched late last November from a windowless office in Park Royal that contained just a computer and DVD and video players. The videos, often exclusives, come from contacts in the music industry and are carried by hand to a transmission company across the road.

Nobody knew what was going to happen, but within days teenage satellite surfers were tuning in, telling their friends and talking about it on the internet. Within a few weeks, according to BARB figures, one-and-a-half million people had seen the channel.

When the channel went off air for just a few hours because of a minor technical problem, rumours soon swept bulletin boards that the station was transmitting from a boat in the North Sea that was sinking!

What surprised Aldrich when he saw the initial viewing figures was the number of housewives watching: ‘I couldn’t believe it until I realised it was parents who were in the room looking at it with their kids.’

Week-on-week since then, there has been no drop in viewing figures, which are now more than 600,000.

That’s nearly half the number watching the well-established, Emap-owned Kerrang! channel, which Shipman estimates is worth £20m.

With a marketing launch comprising just two adverts in obscure magazines, the initial interest was beyond all expectations. But with running costs of about £1m a year, Shipman has been closely scrutinising the first few months performance.

‘Obviously, we need advertising and it’s already coming in, but we don’t want to alienate viewers by advertising the wrong products.

We want the adverts to interest viewers as much as the music, otherwise they’ll switch over. Fortunately, we’ve got some big players of the right kind who are already interested,’ he says.

Another revenue stream comes from the channel’s commitment to audience participation. Viewers can vote for the music they want to see. There’s a playlist on the channel’s teletext facility and website at Viewers phone in their votes for the videos they want aired, at a cost of 75p per call.

The most popular ones are then compiled into a weekly chart, while new titles are also added to the playlist on a weekly basis.

Recent number ones have included firmly established, but not yet mainstream, Californian band Reel Big Fish with its latest single, Monkey Man. It features on the soundtrack of the children’s cartoon, The Wild Thornberrys – a film version of the Nickelodeon series, which also airs on CBBC.

The band, who recently sold out two gigs at London’s Astoria, are one of the most popular on p-rock. On a recent UK tour, they acknowledged that the channel could be the launch pad they need in this country.

Bass player Matt Wong says: ‘Any avenue for bands to get their music out there is great. From what I’ve heard about p-rock, it’s giving smaller bands an avenue to play their videos. I think that’s awesome and I’m all for it.’

With more than 20 other music television channels already screening on Sky, ranging from pop and rap to classical with at least another three in the pipeline, music television is a competitive field. However, the right brand could bring advertisers flooding in and lead to other spin-offs, such as sponsorship, website development and marketing tie-ins.

Within the last few weeks, Sky has launched three new music channels – Scuzz, the Amp and Flaunt. Of these, Scuzz is the closest competitor to p-rock.

However, Emap Performance – the Emap division that runs Kerrang! – remains undaunted by the competition. Maureen Corish from Emap Performance says: ‘We welcome new channels that may help grow the TV viewing market. However, Emap and Kerrang! are in the unique position of being able to cross-promote the channel across our portfolio of magazines, radio services and events, which helps nurture the huge loyalty Kerrang! fans have to the channel.’

Emap Performance was created in 1999 when Kerrang! was identified as a potential star. Back then, it was a 19-year-old magazine with solid but unspectacular sales. It’s now the biggest selling music weekly in the world. As well as its TV station, the Kerrang! brand now encompasses digital radio, CD compilations, award ceremonies, a website, tours and club nights.

Shipman’s long-term aim is a stock market flotation for his company, Boleyn Media. ‘I’m playing against the big boys here – Viacom, which is worth $63bn, and Emap, which is worth $2bn, on the FTSE – and it’s just me and some friends who a few months ago knew nothing about television!’

But whatever happens, Shipman will still be going to the Boleyn pub situated in the shadow of West Ham’s Upton Park stadium. It’s the inspiration behind his company’s name and where the newly fledged p-rock TV execs regularly meet for a drink before the match.


‘Well folks, sorry we have disappeared from your TV screens, but we made a decision to come off air today to “regroup and plan for a relaunch”,’ reads last week’s statement on the p-rock website. ‘Unlike some rumours that originally circulated on our inception, we were not some big corporate entity; we really were three geezers with absolutely no previous TV experience running Punk Rock DIY TV.’

It certainly wouldn’t have been what Shipman had hoped for on launch, but the self-styled bean counter is clearly upbeat. And the ‘snarling upstarts of British TV’ acknowledge problems.

‘We couldn’t believe how long it took the advertising agencies to acknowledge that we actually existed, let alone book ads (there are some very notable exceptions to that … you know who you are and thanks for your support),’ it reads.

And it pledges to return, starting with an improved website next week, followed by a full channel, relaunch in the autumn. ‘We plan to be back on air as soon, as we have sorted out refinancing and organising a better infrastructure … because we now know how to do it properly!’

Shipman himself acknowledges the channel’s strategy may have looked strange, but he blames others for this setback. ‘Far and away the biggest obstacle to our cash flow was the slowness in which the advertising came in. After being seriously misled by some so-called TV ad experts, who led us to believe revenues would appear quicker than they did, it became a serious up-hill struggle. By the time we finally had the agencies interested, time was running out, hence, our decision to come off air.

‘We thought it better to take p-rock TV off air to regroup and relaunch with the correct amount of financial backing. We have proved the concept is strong, but you can’t run a channel on a shoestring budget. It’s unbelievable what we have learned in the last six months and none of us have any regrets about giving p-rock a go.’

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