Looking Ahead to the Second National Digital Radio Multiplex

DAB Radio

Ofcom is finally closing its doors on applications for a second national commercial radio digital radio multiplex. Originally bids had to be in by the end of October 2014, but Ofcom extended its application period to the end of January 2015 when a potential bidder sought a Network Access-only reference offer from Arqiva. (Since Arqiva is provides transmission for the majority of radio services in the UK, a third party bidder would probably need to use Arqiva’s sites to broadcast from. As such, it has to provide third parties with separate costs, and until the third parties have put into place their broadcasting plans, Arqiva can’t provide those costs. Hence the delay.)

It’s thought that there will be two bidders – Sound Digital (an alliance of Arqiva, Bauer Media and UTV) and, potentially, a second group that has not yet been publicly announced.

Up until relatively recently national digital radio has had a bit of a roller-coaster existence. When national commercial DAB launched in 1999 the key stations to be found on it were the three analogue INRs: Classic FM, Virgin Radio (now Absolute Radio) and Talk Radio (now Talksport). Alongside were a number of new services that multiplex (“mux”) owners GWR Group and transmission supplier NTL, brought afresh. And so we had services with new brand names like Core, Capital Life and OneWord.

DAB set ownership was low, and while the INRs had all built analogue businesses to help them with the additional DAB transmission costs, the new brands struggled. Their owners were far more interested in their highly profitable local FM stations. Why waste marketing budget on new services that might actually cost you listeners?

In due course brands would come and go on Digital One. It was quite expensive to get carriage, but if you had the money, there was space available.

That ceased to be the case to an extent around 2006 when BT Movio launched. The mux’s licence allowed a proportion of the available space to be used as data – about 30%. BT Movio was an attempt to launch a mobile TV service using that space. Crucially though, it was a paid for service, and the only phone that was ever built that was capable of watching the service came from Virgin Mobile – the Lobster phone.

It was fine as far as it went, but the fact is that with few television choices, there was limited appeal for subscribers, so unsurprisingly BT announced the end of the service in 2007. The phone was reasonably decent though – at least as a phone with a DAB radio built in! (We’ve yet to see another phone come with DAB since then – although there are reports that LG might release a device).

It was also around this time that Ofcom decided to licence the second national digital radio multiplex for the first time. There were two bidders – 4 Digital*, a consortium led by the public sector broadcaster Channel 4, and National Grid Wireless. The 4 Digital bid was considered much more attractive and it was duly awarded the licence with planned new services including the flagship Channel 4 Radio (described as a Radio 4 competitor!), E4 Radio, Sky News Radio amongst others. But Channel 4 had over-expanded in television, and was having financial difficulties. So in 2008 it scrapped its plans to launch despite having won the licence. Ofcom was not happy, and although they held onto the frequencies, it took quite a few years before they could be persuaded to try licencing the mux once more.

So by 2008 with BT Movio having closed, and GCap (formed from the merger of GWR and Capital Radio) pulling off the platform, space had been freed up and was available. Few seemed interested in national DAB. The mux owners would broadcast Birdsong as a holding station when capacity wasn’t being fully utilised. And the mux was bought outright by Arqiva, the transmission provider that had become the defacto sole supplier in the UK having bought up its rivals.

But people were still buying DAB sets, and notably Absolute Radio, under new ownership and rebranded from Virgin Radio, jumped in at about this point. It first launched Absolute 80s and later Absolute Radio 90s on the national mux. It also played around with station labels when it first bought Premier League rights, and created Absolute Radio Extra.

All the while DAB penetration and listening had been creeping up, and more transmitters had been built. DAB was now working. Absolute 80s became the biggest commercial digital only station, and importantly it was sold on a network basis – advertisers buying across the whole suite of Absolute brands. There were fewer brands that existed solely as standalone DAB services.

In the last year or so, we’ve seen a number of bigger brands coming onto the platform and duplicating that work. Global has got fully behind national DAB – previously it had mostly concentrated on local multiplexes often part owned by them, its predecessor GCap having just about abandoned it. It launched Smooth Extra, Capital Xtra and LBC nationally. Bauer has bought Absolute Radio, and although Absolute Radio 90s got shifted off the platform, it now has Kiss, Magic and Planet Rock alongside the remaining Absolute stations on the mux.

Indeed at time of writing, the only remaining non-Global or Bauer stations still on the multiplex are BFBS (aimed at the armed forces and their families, and effectively an extension of the MOD), Premier Christian Radio, TeamRock and UCB UK. And it’s reported that Premier Christian Radio will have to make way for Global’s Heart Extra at some point.

Indeed there are now so many radio services on the mux, that only Classic FM and Capital Xtra are still broadcasting in stereo, since a multiplex has a limited amount of bandwidth and it can only be cut so many ways.

And so, finally, we reach the present day, and a second attempt to licence a second national DAB multiplex. Exactly what the winning group wants to do with the space remains to be seen. We’ll learn later this week what the respective plans are of the bidders.

Possibilities include:

– the launch of brand new services and formats
– the UK launch of international brands and stations
– additional sub-brands of existing properties (although arguably we’ve stretched these as far as they’ll go)
– national coverage for stations that haven’t found space on Digital One, or have had to make way for sister stations
– the opportunity to launch some services in DAB+ (see below)
– some clever mobile data usage

I would certainly expect the announcement of at least one new speech station – most other radio markets globally are able to sustain many more speech services than we have in the UK.

Of crucial importance for any standalone brands that launch will be their advertising sales strategy. Who will be selling their advertising for them?

And the other thing to look out for will be transmission plans. Rolling out new transmitters is an expensive business. The BBC continues to rollout masts for its national DAB mux to reach ever more of the population. Digital One reaches somewhere around 90% of the population, but the diminishing returns of population versus cost means that it’s unlikely to go much further. It seems likely that whoever wins the new mux won’t be so ambitious. Look for a potentially phased rollout that may never reach more than 75% or so of the population – i.e. the major towns and cities, and key trunk routes.

But perhaps the launch of some services in DAB+ is perhaps the most interesting prospect. DAB+ uses much more up to date audio compression meaning that lower bandwidths are capable of broadcasting higher quality audio than vanilla DAB can use.

In reality that means one of two things:

– a station can broadcast at a higher quality using its equivalent current capacity;
– or you can squeeze even more lower quality stations into the same space

As with DAB originally, there’s also a chicken and egg situation with DAB+ in that probably the majority of DAB sets in the UK marketplace today are not DAB+ enabled. That means that they can’t receive DAB+ services. Some of them will be up-datable with a firmware upgrade. But that’s not as easy to do with a radio as it is, say, with a PC or smartphone. You can’t just roll-out an update that users click on. It tends to involve downloading files to USB sticks from PCs and going into unusual menus on radio sets.

Most DAB sets currently in the market are DAB+ compatible, but given the slow replacement cycle of radios compared with many other consumer electronic goods, getting everyone over to DAB+ will take some time.

Additionally, Ofcom has placed some odd limitations on what mux owners can do with DAB+. It has said that no more than 30% of the new mux’s capacity should be used for DAB+ stations. It wants to make sure new services are mostly available to all.

In other words, a new bidder would be unable to launch with a complete roster of DAB+ stations even if it wanted to.

That feels wrong to me. This seems like it is something the commercial broadcasters, set manufacturers and the marketplace can sort out between themselves. The market will dictate the speed of DAB+ roll-out.

If a a service provider chooses to broadcast in DAB+ then it is up to them to make the gamble that they can achieve a big enough audience to sustain such a service. Indeed, if a broadcaster chooses to make a particularly attractive range of options behind a DAB+ “wall” then it might be able to drive DAB+ uptake on its own.

Realistically, no bidder is going to limit listeners unless they can make a commercial argument to do so. Intervention feels unnecessary.

Looking across the Atlantic is instructive. When Sirius (now Sirius XM) signed Howard Stern away from free-to-air radio to their then new subscription satellite radio service, they made the gamble that he was a big enough name to motivate his listeners into both investing in new hardware and paying a subscription to carry on listening to his show. Would enough people be prepared to upgrade to DAB+ to hear, ooh, let’s say Chris Moyles? I don’t know, but I think it should be for broadcasters to make that judgement, not the regulator.

Ofcom has said it will review the limit in 2018.

In any case, right now this is all moot. We’ll find out what the broadcasters have come up with later this week!

* At time of writing, the 4Digitial site is still there, buried away on the Channel 4 website – proudly proclaiming their winning bid!

Disclaimer: These are my own views, and do not represent those of my current or former employers. I did work at Absolute Radio at the time it launched its digital sub-brands, and I helped with the Virgin Radio proposed service – Virgin Viva – as part of the 4 Radio bid back in 2007. SMG, then owners of Virgin Radio, never signed on the line, hence Viva wasn’t formally listed as part of the bid.

Things I’m Not Going to Embark on this January

This isn’t a blog about New Year’s resolutions. I’d be a few weeks’ late if it was.

But January is an interesting time for another reason – it’s when those curious partwork publications kick off their new runs.

You know the sort: often advertised heavily on TV, with cheap first issues (although much more steeply priced in subsequent weeks) and although there’s a magazine to collect, it’s more about the “thing” attached. They tend not to spend too much time telling you how many parts it’s going to take before your “thing” is complete, although the answer is often between 90 and 100 if they’ve even determined it at the start.

So here is a not-comprehensive list of things I won’t be embarking on:

The whole partwork business is something that fascinates me. WH Smith and other independent retailers give away lots of rack space to the launch editions of the publications that people will necessarily need to subscribe to. Readers are heavily incentivised to subscribe direct, meaning that there’s little reason for repeat weekly trips to Smiths to complete the collection. And yet seemingly half of the sector’s revenues come via those independent retailers. Perhaps it has to do with the demographic of those who subscribe?

The magazines are very profitable – companies like Deagostini, Eaglemoss and Hachette gently sipping from your bank account via Direct Debit as you slowly build a somewhat-more-expensive-than-you-realised U-Boat over two years (I mean – where do you even put it when you’re finished?).

And why are they all launched at the same time of year? Well I suppose some people make New Year’s resolutions to learn a new hobby. But post-Christmas advertising is usually a bit cheaper, and TV ads seem to work.

Once upon a time, it really was about the magazines, and the printed material. For a while, there were plenty of partworks that dripfed longer running TV series on DVD. But these days box sets and Netflix has put paid to them. So like kids’ comics, these days it’s all about the “things” that come attached – be they balls of wool or pieces of the Mallard.

There’s a healthy online community to discuss them. The major companies behind them develop them in some markets (including the UK) and then roll them out globally, seriously backing them with TV advertising (this piece goes into it a bit more).

When I was younger, I was caught up by it a couple of times. Once I subscribed to a Jazz partwork that once started I never really got around to stopping. I ended up with over 100 CDs (many of which I suspect were out of copyright), and binders full of magazines I never read. Then there was the Robot-Wars style remote controlled vehicle that kept coming long after I’d lost interest. I think it stopped eventually.

(And although I’m ever intrigued by 3D printers, I still can’t find a rational reason to buy one.)

The Day We Phoned Maggie

One of the big stories in the news today is that someone somehow got through to David Cameron on the phone, and pretended to be the head of GCHQ. Cameron says that he realised that it was a hoax fairly quickly and hung up.

I suspect that a lot of people are wondering: “Surely it can’t be that easy to get put through to the Prime Minister can it?”

Well let me take you back a few years. I couldn’t put a firm date on when we did this, but I’d hazard a guess that it was sometime around 1983 or 1984. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and it was a school holiday – perhaps half-term.

My friend Patrick and I were around 13 or 14, and we were a bit bored. We both had ZX Spectrums which ate up a lot of our time. And that also meant we had cassette players which you didn’t have to just use for loading and saving programs. Around at my friend’s house, they were far freer with letting us use the phone; my parents counted the minutes like hawks at home.

So we had a heady mix of time, a cassette player and microphone, and free access to the phone. Who could we call?

We decided to call Maggie herself.

I can’t say that we had anything specific to say to her. Yes, the Falklands were over, no the miners’ strike probably wasn’t. But aside from having previously lived next door to a Conservative councillor, I can’t say that I was especially politically aware at that age.

How would you start if you wanted to phone the PM? Well today it might involve a bit of searching on the internet. But in those days it made sense to call Directory Enquiries. Which is what we did.

There then followed a series of calls as different people either gave us different numbers or occasionally transferred us.

I think we started with a generic Houses of Parliament number that Directory Enquiries had furnished us with. Then we moved onto a Commons specific number. Then we got put through to an internal switchboard, until we got the news that Mrs Thatcher was not in Parliament that day. Had we tried Downing Street?

Another number was given out, and before long we had got through to her office.

I don’t recall at any point, anyone asking us what we wanted her for. Just helpful people giving us helpful information. In truth, we had no idea what we’d say if we got hold of her. Patrick was doing the talking, and his tone of voice was quite authoritative. He spoke “the Queen’s English.”

Finally we got through to someone who left us on hold as he went to find her! A few moments passed.

Alas, she wasn’t available. Sorry.

And that was it. So near, and yet, so far.

Now in truth, someone might have caught onto us in the end, and humoured us by putting us on hold before politely getting rid of us. But at the time, it felt very real, and at the time, we were pretty certain that some Private Secretary had gone to look (we watched Yes Minister). What was very apparent was that if you spoke with enough conviction, people didn’t ask questions.

I think that remains true.

We played quite a few prank calls at the time, usually recording them (Though I don’t believe a tapes of any of these, including the Maggie call exist now). We pretended to be DJs on air with Capital Radio, phoning a woman at random and saying that she was live on air and had won a competition. We tried to recruit a plumber we found in the Yellow Pages into MI5 – plumbers were useful for gaining entry to plant bugs of course! We phoned a zip company telling them we had an emergency: one of their zips had got “caught” in the flies of our jeans and we needed emergency help to free it up.

But it was the Maggie calls that were the most memorable.

Refurbishment

Refurbishment

This premises on Great Portland Street is using pop-culture magazines to black out its windows while it undergoes refurbishment.

I can’t decide if it’s cool or sacrilegious!

The naive person within me thinks that they found some magazines under some stairs somewhere and decided to use them to cover up the windows.

The realist in me knows that they bought these magazines on eBay specifically for this purpose.

I spotted Wham, Elvis, Paula Yates, Genesis, Bananarama and Cliff Richard. There are plenty more in the window.

Taken with a particularly average phone camera.

On a Canal in a Canoe – Secret Adventures

Secret Adventures Canoe at Night-18

It being the middle of January, and therefore getting quite cold, what better way of spending a Monday evening could there be than paddling a canoe around London?

This was an organised trip via “Secret Adventures“, an internet Meetup group. We set off from Moo Canoes’ base in Limehouse, heading up Limehouse Cut heading in the direction of Stratford, before passing 3 Mills Studios, continuing up the Lee Navigation, ignoring turn-offs that are still closed due to post-Olympic development until we reached the lock just adjacent to the back of the Olympic stadium near Fish Island, before continuing a little further up to Crate Brewery & Pizzeria.

It was good fun, and not too hard on the upper body! The well organised event did a good job pairing people up for the boats and ensuring we had the basics before hitting the water. I did manage to fairly soak my legs however – something to do with being 6’2″ and not being able to canoe with my legs flat. And although I kept the camera dry, I fear the Lee Navigation must now have a Lowe Pro camera case (thankfully otherwise empty) to add to its disturbingly large collection of junk.

The pictures I took tended to look better on the back of my camera than they did on a 23″ monitor. Using ISO 6400 quite a lot, a certain amount of noise reduction has needed to be applied.

Anyway, as well as these photos, there are more over on Flickr.

Highly recommended!

Secret Adventures Canoe at Night-19

Secret Adventures Canoe at Night-5

Secret Adventures Canoe at Night-9

Secret Adventures Canoe at Night-13

Amazon’s App Notifications

As I buy a reasonable amount of stuff from Amazon, I use their mobile app a bit. It’s a relatively convenient way to manage my Amazon transactions.

It also usefully sends you updates, using Android’s notifications system, to let you know when your items have been shipped, or if they’re available for collection should you use Amazon Lockers.

In other words, if you see the tell-tale lowercase “a” on your device, it’s worth checking out.

Speaking of which, they’ve just sent me an alert. Let’s see what’s happening…

Screenshot_2015-01-08-16-01-53

Um thanks, but no thanks Amazon. I didn’t order that, and nor do I want it. And that’s apparently a “personalised” recommendation!

Note: In your app go to Notifications and switch Personalised Notifications off. Then you just get the more useful ones should you need them.

A Portable Music Player

When I was thinking about my future options for a home for my digital music library once I’ve breached Google’s 20,000 song limit, I also mentioned in passing the sad death of the iPod Classic – i.e. the iPod. If reports are to be believed, the remaining iPod Classics in the retail system were swiftly snapped up post news of Apple ceasing production. Indeed some devices were said to be changing hands for £600 or more.

But unlike the death of the classic cassette Sony Walkman (when I did nip out to Argos to pick up one of the final cheap models, since I still have some cassettes in my loft that I may at some point digitise), I wasn’t about to try to pick up a model while I could.

Yet it did get me thinking about the what options there are out there for getting a replacement. At CES in Las Vegas, Sony has just announced a new high-end Walkman – the Sinclair-sounding ZX2, with a non-Sinclair-sounding pricetag of £949 in the UK. This is serious high-end kit. It looks gorgeous, and I’ve no doubt it’ll sound pretty decent as well, with support for all the high-end audio codecs including lossless ones like FLAC. It does come with 128GB of memory on-board, and with a microSD slot, I would anticipate that you could double that with the addition of a 128GB card. That would take it into truly “decent” levels of space. But if you’re going to encode all your music in lossless formats, or buy higher-than-CD quality of music, then you’re going to need a lot of space. However good it is, that’s just too expensive.

Then there’s the curious PonoPlayer from Neil Young no less, being promoted at CES and arriving any day now for about $400. This comes with 128GB in the form of 64GB on-board, and a 64GB microSD card. The specs suggest that it’ll support up to 64GB, although I suspect that with firmware improvements, 128GB should be doable. The shape is very odd, being triangular rather than flat, so I’m not sure how well it’ll sit in your pocket. The price of the high-definition audio has been noted by some, and if I was more suspicious, I’d suggest that the music industry is again trying to tap its most loyal consumers – these people are buying music, and probably quite a lot given their investment in high-end hardware. A premium seems fair, but I don’t want to return to the early days of CDs when catalogue albums regularly sold for £15 (those are late eighties pounds too!).

The other serious option seems to be the Fiio X5. Like the others, it supports the major lossless music formats as well as lower quality mp3s. But at £289, you have to budget for microSD cards as well. It seems to currently support 128GB cards. So a pair of those would give you 256GB space. Once 256GB cards are available, the plan is that a firmware update would support them too. Getting 0.5TB of audio into my pocket is beginning to sound very nice. But 128GB cards currently cost about £75-85, so that’s another £150-170 to budget on top.

There’s also the Cowan P1. But that’s £740 for a device with 128GB on-board and space for another 128GB via a microSD card. I’m sure it sounds awesome. But like the Sony, I think I’ll put it to one side.

Truth be told, I’ll be sitting tight for a while. I suspect that in due course 128GB cards – even 256GB cards – will drop significantly in price, and then I might be in the market once more.

Incidentally, the more I think about it, the more essential a microSD card slot on my next phone/tablet will be.

Why I’m Abandoning Google Inbox

There was much excitement last autumn when Google launched Inbox, it’s revolutionary new email program. It came with accompanying mobile apps, and the company implored you to fully immerse yourself with it. Like any new product, it required invites to get in and try it. It’s the cool new thing.

But having given it a few months, I’m going to have to abandon it – at least for the time being. I’ll probably check it out every so often to see if they’ve fixed some of my issues. Some of them are still unaddressed from my initial thoughts previously.

But it’s not all bad.

[Note: I’ll use a capitalised “Inbox” to talk about the Google product, and a lowercase “inbox” to talk about where my mail goes generically.]

Good Points

It’s a Google Now experience for your email. And that’s good. The program is pretty smart at identifying certain kinds of emails and dealing with them swiftly.

Signing up for a mailing list that uses MailChimp? It saves you even opening your email to confirm your subscription.

Bought something from Amazon? It embeds a little picture of your order from the confirmation email and delivers you an easy route to tracking your purchase.

There are loads of these little things where somebody has smartly identified a specific kind of email notification and provided you with a shortcut to dealing with it.

Bad Points

Sadly there are many more of these.

As I mentioned previously, it uses too much white space.

You can change the layout of Gmail to suit your purposes. For example, my work laptop’s screen is only 15″ and so I prefer “cozy” for the density of information. Not too busy, but not too much white space. Inbox uses acres of space, which is fine on a 22″ monitor, but terrible on smaller laptops (or Chromebooks!).

Labels, labels, labels.

I use labels. It’s one of the most powerful things in Gmail for organising your email. I use an extensive set of rules to categorise mail as it comes in. It takes a certain amount of work to do this, but it keeps your inbox in check to a much greater extent.

Certainly Gmail does a good job on its own identifying emails generated by your social media platforms – Twitter, Facebook, Flickr etc. But I can use labels to gather together less important emails into one place. Then I can check them out at my leisure. Inbox really doesn’t like that. It prefers that you undo all that “skip inbox” stuff and read your emails that way. Certainly it gathers them together well, but suddenly a relatively clean inbox gets busier again.

Mark as Read.

You just can’t do this. You have to open and close each individual email. Much marketing email falls into the category of “worth having, but rarely reading,” in the sense that occasionally there’s a useful sounding email from a business that you want to read. I’m perfectly capable of unsubscribing from those I don’t want at all.

And if you use labels, then marking emails unread becomes more important, because if you click on a label and find unread emails in there, you spend time looking at them again to see if you missed something important.

No notification for emails that skip your inbox.

This is another problem related to using labels. I tend to have interesting but essentially unimportant emails skip my inbox and put themselves neatly into what are effectively sub-folders. I do this because I know that the emails are essentially unimportant, but they’re interesting enough that I’ll go and read them from time to time. Some email lists and social media notifications fall into this category. But of course if you use this functionality, then you have no knowledge of the emails ever arriving. I don’t want a full notification on my mobile, but I would like a hint that a label contains unread email. Google has set Inbox up to cater for these emails, but it prefers to bunch them altogether as “Social” or whatever. I’ve got finer control and can better group similar emails.

Invitations just don’t seem to work properly.

This is a really bad one, and I just don’t understand what they’re doing. Inbox tries to be very smart. If you order some train tickets online for example, when the confirmation comes through, before you know it, Inbox has added the trip to my calendar. I’ve no problem with this. But one of my breaking points came earlier in the week when a friend sent me an email invitation via his corporate Outlook account. Here it is as it appeared to me in Outlook.

Inbox

The email appeared to me in Inbox as a completely blank email. I genuinely thought he must have done something wrong to be sending me these empty emails. But when I looked at my calendar, I discovered that the details had been dropped straight in. I hadn’t been given a choice – did I want to attend or not – it had just gone in.

Here’s that same email in regular Gmail.

Gmail

A date, time, place (yes – we’re really going there), and I’ve cropped it, but a Yes/No/Maybe option for accepting the invitation. I can’t for the life of me understand why this doesn’t work.

Links from emails – reset the email to the top.

This is harder to explain, but it’s incredibly annoying and someone must have purposefully programmed Inbox to do this.

If you get an email containing a number of links – from a news organisation for example – you can of course click a link and open it in a new tab. However when you return to your original email in Inbox, no matter how far through the email you’d got to before clicking the link, the email has returned to the top. For longer emails with editorial and links, that becomes ridiculous, and you waste ages scrolling back down to where you got to.

It’s completely pointless, and I don’t know why it does it.

It hides your spam.

Spam’s not good obviously, so why would this be a problem? Well it’s because Google’s spam filters aren’t perfect – they tend to be a little over-zealous if anything. So I tend to have a quick look at my recent spam every few days, just to make sure that something I wanted to see hasn’t been spam-trapped. It regularly misidentifies marketing emails that I’ve signed up for – not essential, but irritating. And curiously, some Facebook notifications get caught up too. Very occasionally, something more important finds its way in. I always “teach” Gmail that these are not spam emails, but it does mean that my vigilance is warranted.

You can’t find your contacts.

OK – this is pretty dreadful in Gmail anyway. For some reason Google makes it incredibly hard to get a page listing your email contacts. It’s there, but it’s hidden. In Gmail you have to click on the little down arrow next to the word Gmail in the top left of the screen. Contacts and Tasks are hidden underneath. With Inbox, I can find no way of getting to them. Tasks don’t really exist there either, with instead timings being associated with emails.

Summary

Look, this is a beta product. But I’m afraid it doesn’t work for me. Despite all that white space, it does look lovely. But the functionality means that I can’t stick with it.

I suspect I’m not the only one. Although Google implored me to jump fully in, I found myself having to go back and forth to regular Gmail. So Google started doing things to persuade me to stick with Inbox:

– “Let me turn off Gmail notifications that duplicate Inbox. You only need Inbox ones.”
– If you open Gmail in desktop browser, a little prompt reminds you that you’e activated Inbox and wouldn’t you prefer to go there?

Many of my problems with Inbox are because I’ve carefully tuned Gmail to my needs. I’ve used its filters and labels to carefully personalise it to meet my needs. But the “average” user probably doesn’t do that. They let Gmail sift email into the three or four generic bowls, and don’t do much beyond. They don’t care about read/unread/spam email. And I need to face the fact that I prefer order to chaos.

Only when Inbox has power-user controls to let me take more command over my email will it be ready for me.

I will give it a while, and come back regularly to see what’s happening. But for the time being, it’s back to Gmail full-time for me.

Is Golf Becoming as Invisible as Cricket?

According to a report in the Telegraph, the Royal & Ancient is considering whether or not they extend their 50 year broadcasting agreement with the BBC for future coverage of golf, or whether some or all rights go to Sky.

In reality, I suspect that this is a negotiating tactic to try to squeeze a bit more cash out of the BBC in the next rights round. But across the Atlantic, these rights go for eye-watering sums, and I dare-say there are some envious looks.

Let’s see. Most televised golf is already salted away on Sky Sports. Is the R&A suggesting that somehow, by losing free-to-air coverage of The Open, uptake of golf will improve?

Here are the figures from Sport England’s Active People survey:

I would suggest that golf isn’t exactly in the rosiest of health.

Look at the Ryder Cup. Yes there are free-to-air highlights, but it’s fair to say that live coverage is probably one of the jewels in Sky Sports crown. They throw everything at it. Rory McIlroy was one of the stars of Europe’s winning team in 2014.

And yet, when it comes to the public voting for Sports Personality of the Year, the much more deserving McIlroy gets outvoted by F1’s Lewis Hamilton. McIlroy may have won over one weekend live on BBC TV, but Hamilton was seen free-to-air over many weekends – many of them live. I’m not saying that’s the only reason Hamilton won (F1 fans ae probably more engaged in picking up their phones to vote than golf fans), but I suspect that most people’s affinity for McIlroy comes from his in-no-way-awkward Santander adverts, whereas they might have actually seen Hamilton driving a car.

This discussion comes in the week that the ECB renewed its current exclusive cricket deal with Sky for another two years. This is great news for Sky, but terrible news for cricket. The sport is becoming incidental. Tennis, Cycling, Swimming, Athletics, Snooker, NFL, and Darts even, get more exposure on free-to-air TV than cricket.

An hour of highlights on Channel 5 isn’t going to get any 12 year old off the sofa to knock a ball about with his or her friends in the park. Indeed with the slug-fest that is IPL disappearing from ITV4 off to Sky Sports from this season, I don’t think that there’ll be any live cricket coverage of any sort on any free-to-air TV channel anywhere.

Yes that chart above shows a slight blip in cricket uptake, but it’s still lower than it was just after Channel 4 lost cricket rights to Sky.

I’m always amazed at how short-termist some sports bodies are with regards to this sort of thing. Yes, there’s a big cheque on the table today. But how easy do you think it will be tomorrow when a new generation of fans hasn’t been brought up with the game? And you might find sponsors aren’t writing quite as big cheques either.