As part of ASC Action Sports + Culture, Oli Russell-Cowan spoke with Scott Bradfield, former SVP of Content for Red Bull Media House. Bradfield has an outstanding record of creating innovative media groups and delivering award-winning, high-revenue content. Scott was responsible for the initial conception and development of Red Bull Media House, and as Senior Vice President, Content, he led an Emmy Award-winning team that has produced the highest-grossing action sports film ever made, the most-watched livestream in history, and the spectrum of Red Bull Media House productions across all U.S. platforms from sports, music, and entertainment.
They go in-depth about Bradfield’s career, the most-watched livestream in history (Stratos), and the spectrum of Red Bull Media House productions across all U.S. platforms from sports, music, and entertainment. His thoughts about creating aspirational content, the importance of storytelling and more.
Oli Russell-Cowan: When did the Red Bull Media House kick off begin?
Scott Bradfield: So when I came on board the media house was just a drawing on a piece of paper that Dietrich Mateschitz had drawn, I think a few years before, he had a vision of creating a content machine to help market the brand.
A few months on board at Red Bull I was very much a freelancer. It wasn’t a full time gig yet, it was a bit of a risk jumping over. I had gone to Salzburg, Austria for this media house project kickoff. I was one of the few guys in the meeting that had worked in television, and specifically in the United States.
We had this kickoff meeting in this basement of this old hotel old in old town Salzburg. It was my first time in Salzburg. I hadn’t been back to Europe at that point in years.
It was this really cool kind of Wonderland. The mothership, if you will.
It was pretty cool because it was this fresh initiative that at the time streaming and digital content, none of that stuff was anywhere near what it would become. At the time it was all broadcast. Everyone was still sending out VNR’s via tape. HD wasn’t even a thing yet. This was 2006.
We had this kickoff meeting, and then we went to Amsterdam for this big electronics show where we’re looking at camera systems and very first HD and decided that HD was going to be a way for Red Bull to make its unique position on how to get content on air, because there wasn’t very many content providers providing HD footage or shows to broadcast.
That was one of the strategic ways to make a difference. Like how can you be a content provider that’s got something that the broadcaster’s want, but no one else really has, because the investment is higher. It was a bit future proof as well. So that the media house kickoff meeting in terms of the ideation and that team.
Up until a few months ago, there was only three of us left in the company that were part of that initial team not just one. It blossomed into what it is today.
About a year later, it officially launched in 2007 in Austria. Then a few years later, I want to say late 2010, early 2011, the US media house was launched. That’s where they really consolidated a bunch of departments and then basically moved them into the media house structure.
Oli Russell-Cowan: Over your career you were working for Red Bull for 15 years on some pretty incredible projects. One of the most famous ones was when you guys pretty much broke the internet with the Red Bull Stratos project. It was five years in the making. When did that project start?
Bradfield: Probably just pre media house launch. That’s when Felix had come up with the idea. The sports team was leaning into making it happen. It kind of got all its proverbial internal checkboxes.
How I got brought into it was I was over in Austria for a big meeting. It was a meeting for something else. It was at the end of the day, and and some key people from the US team were asked to go to a tech meeting. So the meeting ended, everyone else heading going out for drinks.
We were brought upstairs to a small conference room. And it was all dark out. They sat us down. And this was the leadership team at the time. They played this remade video of Joe Kittinger’s World Record jump from 102,000 feet in 1960.
I’m a bit of a space buff, I’ve always kind of been fascinated by space. I knew of the jump, I didn’t really know, Joe, but I knew of the jump because that’s how the early spacesuits were developed.
He was known as a pre astronaut. He was the first person to see the curvature of the earth so it was a pretty special moment. I’m like watching this thing and at the very end, it has this Red Bull logo pop up.
They get done the lights come back on, and I’m standing there going, ‘Oh, shit, this is awesome.’ They proceed to tell us that the project is happening in the United States. We’re looking at a couple different launch areas, one being the West Coast, the other one being in New Mexico, because you need balloon windows and all that kind of stuff. It’s going to be the team’s responsibility to run the project, but also to film it. I proceeded to raise my hand, I remember this very distinctly. And I was like,
‘Well, you know guys, cameras just don’t work in space.’
And they proceeded to tell me that was my problem. So I came back in a bit of shock. You have this Everest of a project in front of you. Having done things in the past, I was like, Okay, well, you know, you started leaning on all your trusted resources. I leaned on every one of mine. We found companies that work for the military, that make cameras for space and we asked, how do you do that, and they were really pretty helpful in helping us figure out how to build these nitrogen filled capsules canisters that would house at the time, red one cameras, that we had to get modified.
Everyone that we leaned into was part of the adjacent Red Bull family or within the media business that we talked to for support. If it was if it was support for gear or knowledge, no problem. If it was like, ‘hey, do you want to take the broadcast?’ It was like, when’s it going to happen? How long is it going to be?
We didn’t know any of those things. We kind of got laughed out of the room by everybody. It wasn’t until literally a few years later that we got the YouTubes of the world on board. We did a co-production with the BBC, which ended up airing on NatGeo and then Discovery took the live feed.
It took years to get people convinced that we were going to do it, and quite a bit of fanfare in terms of awareness of the project, which in itself, was just a massive alignment within the organization, not only in a national perspective, but also a global perspective to get everybody on board with a project that doesn’t have a hard date. It was really kind of challenging, because you’re like, Hey, this is going to happen, I think.
There’s so many different weird things to get over that we didn’t even realize.
I will say the one saving grace for that project that I don’t think most people even realize is there was a failed launch that happened about 10 days before the actual jump. Where the balloon was being filled and a gust of wind blew and basically tore the balloon and it failed. Luckily that happened because YouTube’s servers were actually going into the red, they weren’t prepared.
That was an eye opening for YouTube that they’re like, Oh my god, this could actually shut us down. And so on the day, YouTube had every single one of their systems online and every single backup that they had access to. And this is Google. We still used about 15% of the Internet bandwidth all around the world that day. And that period of time, which is pretty crazy to even say that any one thing is that much. It was a pretty awesome project.
Russell-Cowan: Feature length documentaries, like McConkey and Blood Road, films like Art of Flight working across all these various projects why some been really successful and others maybe not so much?
Bradfield: It starts off with trust. I think one of the benefits that me and my team have had is the relationship with the athletes and building a level of trust with the athletes. That’s a pretty significant portion of my career is being able to talk to the athletes eye to eye having been an athlete. Being able to go shred with them. So they actually know that you’re not somebody who is from the outside.
First and foremost the trust piece is key to building that foundational, and that they know that they can talk about their most intimate moments. With McConkey he was really the first project where story, like the story of it, not the sensational vision of visuals, where the driver, it was Shane’s story and a very Red Bull story at the time.
We had a lot of people involved in that as you would. Shane was arguably the most significant skier ever, in terms of what he had done for progression of the sport. And so working with his wife, Sherry was very hard. She trusted us and she trusted the team. There was a big group that was very close to it and we had to make hard decisions.
The beauty of Shane was he shot everything, from the time he started his career all the way through, every single moment.
So we had every moment. So having to take out moments was hard. But that taught me a very valuable lesson in terms of the storytelling and telling these penultimate Doc’s that relate back to an athlete or an athletes experience.
There’s certain things that connect, and you got to focus on those, even though it’s really hard to, like, let some things go. In the end, it’ll be better off. That was the case for Shane and was the case for Rebecca’s story on Blood Road. Both of those very different but very personal, intimate stories. They had to really lean into us for trust.
If I look back at it all, that’s an honor to be able to be entrusted with that responsibility. Just to make sure that they know that we have their back end. It’s been an honor to be able to tell those stories and I look forward to telling more of those stories as the world goes on.
Russell-Cowan: What are you most proud of over your career?
Bradfield: You know, if I look back over my career the thing I’m most proud of is the team that I’ve been able to assemble. Be it at Fusion or Fuel TV, the Weekly Update team or the Red Bull team over years, it’s the team.
If I look back at it all, it’s the team. As the team continues on making the best work they can, and they’ve got a great foundation I really look forward to seeing what they do.
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