September, 2004

BBC News – Other Sources

I see that the BBC News website has introduced a “From Other News Sites” box on some of their stories. According to the explanation, this facility is supplied to them by Moreover, and I’ve got to say it is a useful tool for discovering more about a story you’re interested in. I guess the big question is whether some sites will get dropped for reasons that might go against the BBC’s own guidelines – maybe including swearing in the linked pages, or material that the BBC might not be legally able to publish. I’d suggest that although this link is automatic, it’ll be monitored very carefully for sensisitve stories by editorial staff.
UPDATE: The Beeb have now announced this technology as Newstracker

Club Class

I’m just beginning to catch up on the recent Radio 4 series – Club Class. The first of the latest series featured the Skulls and Bones – a secret society which invites just 15 new members a year, yet has both George W Bush and John Kerry as members. The really interesting thing about this is that none of them will talk about. The programme couldn’t get any of the organisation’s members to talk about it. But plenty of members have reached high office in the States, and there are only around 800 members alive in total.
I know that this is the stuff of conspiracy theorists, but if there wasn’t a story there, then either Bush or Kerry should just say that it was all a bad idea and a silly student organisation that they joined.

Tanner on Tanner on BBC Four

I know I keep going on about this – but I’m so happy to see that BBC Four’s bought the UK rights to Robert Altman’s Tanner on Tanner. And they’re showing it in the run-up to the US election which means we won’t have to wait very long at all to see it!
Maybe they could reshow Tanner ’88? Probably a bit too hopeful.
And I’ve only just noticed that BBC Four have been reshowing the wonderful Phil Aglund documentary, Beyond the Clouds, on Mondays. This is the kind of documentary that we’re missing these days. On top of that, there’s the Graham Greene season in the next few days, and I also note that Sky at Night is getting a primetime repeat on BBC Four as well. Excellent news. I’d love the channel to also show Horizon repeats in the same week, and also Panorama – but Panorama should rightly be repeated on News 24. I wish someone could explain why it isn’t.

Cricket TV Rights

Well the England cricket rights are up for grabs at the moment (free reg reqd). Over the last three years, Channel 4 have had all the home Tests, save one, and Sky have had the one dayers as well as a single Test.
Ofcom have recently put out a draft of the latest Listed Events (PDF), and it’s worth noting that the England Test Matches fall into Group B, which means that if, say Sky, get the live rights exclusively, another broadcaster should be able to offer highlights and live radio rights have been acquired by a national broadcaster. The wording is confusing, and I’m not sure whether that means that if, say, Sky get the TV rights, but neither the BBC nor Talksport take the radio rights, that then Sky wouldn’t be allowed to continue. A moot point that’s unlikely to occur.
But returning to the case in point, I’m not sure how keen C4 really are to continue with their cricket coverage. You sometimes get the feeling that it invades their Hollyoaks/T4 hour (repeats of Friends have to continue at all costs, and they’ve just paid a fortune for The Simpsons). Then there’s the issue of highlights (remembering that most people are working for most of the time the Test matches are on) – sometime around midnight seems to be the norm. And on Saturday, at the time when most people are able to watch, they interrupt it with racing (albeit, you can watch full, unencrypted coverage of FilmFour if you have digital satellite or cable).
Sky, I’ve no doubt would love it, but it surely has to be the BBC that gets the cricket back. Wimbledon aside, most of the summer they can fit it in, uninterrupted, and when play goes beyond 6pm, it’s less of an issue.
But the fact remains, that should the ECB want, they could just go for satellite, with some kind of highlights programme relegated to late night on a terrestrial channel. It would be late night coverage, because neither the Beeb nor C4 would especially want to give much primetime to a sport that they can’t cover properly – that’s why there was so little coverage of the last Cricket World Cup terrestrially. The rights were available, but no-one wanted them.
Sports administrators can be very stupid about these things, just looking for the quick buck. But if I was a sports sponsor, I’d be looking for reduced costs if the ECB go the Sky route. Less exposure equals less cash.
My dad was moaning to me only yesterday about how terrible it was that the Ryder Cup was not shown live on free-to-air television. You had to stay up late for the highlights – which were certainly comprehensive. But the event didn’t finish until around 10.00pm our time, so it was much later than that, that terrestrial viewers got to see the European team celebrations. The Ryder Cup is also a category B event, and that’s why, I think, that the competition has never really achieved mass appeal. It’s a big event, but one that can’t be shared properly by the populace.
Incidentally, other Group B events include non-finals play at Wimbledon (the BBC have this, but they could in theory be limited to the finals alone), all the games aside from the final in the Rugby World Cup (ITV currently show all the games), Six Nations matches involving home nations (the BBC have all the Six Nations), The Commonwealth Games (BBC – doubt anyone else would bother), The World Athletics Championships (BBC), the Cricket World Cup final, semis and matches involving England (Sky has this tournament, and terrestrial viewers are left with highlights of the above – if at all), the Open Golf Championship (BBC).
I reckon if the Open Golf Championship left the BBC, that might just about kill Golf as a mass viewership sport in this country. There are a handful of other tournaments on TV in the UK – including the Volvo PGA, the Scottish Open, the World Matchplay, and the Masters. But would the BBC give loads of airtime to a sport that they couldn’t really do justice to? I doubt it. As it happens, I think that the deal the BBC have stretches a few years forward – the European Tour deal certainly runs to 2008.
In some respects, keeping an element of these sports on terrestrial TV must also help the likes of Sky Sports. If you don’t build a following free-to-air, you reducing the number of people who’re likely to want to subscribe for additional coverage. Look at boxing as a case in point. Amir Khan aside, the general populace has lost interest in this sport.

TV Themes

So what I’ve really noticed from sampling the new US TV series for this autumn (or Fall) – barely any have original theme tunes:
CSI:NY, Veronica Mars, LAX, and Dr Vegas, amongst others, all have reused old songs. I guess that having something instantly hummable attracts viewers, although I’ve got to say that I don’t know where the next generation of Mike Post’s are going to learn their trade if this continues.
And of those series that make it across the pond, it’ll be interesting to see if they retain their themes, or whether, like Las Vegas, they have to be reversioned for copyright reasons.

Gordon Brown is a Busy Man

It’s the Labour Party conference in sunny Brighton, and this morning Gordon Brown was really doing the rounds.
At 7.34am he was live on GMTV.
At 7.45am he was live on Five Live.
At 7.52am he was live on BBC Breakfast News
And although I didn’t hear it, he was, of course, the 8.10am interviewee on the Today Programme.
I know that he also did an interview with Sky News.
And they’re just the ones I know about. As I say, busy man.

Product Recalls

This months issue of Personal Computer World magazine has a copy of Windows XP SP2 attached to it – not unlike most of the other magazines this month. But more interesting to me is the inclusion of a four page advertisement that lets users know what the service pack includes.
I say “advertisement”, but in reality it’s quite an informational piece, to the extent that each page has the word “advertisement” printed on top of it, in case you thought that it was Personal Computer World editorial. This is obviously done to differentiate from normal advertising, but there’s also the issue that the Microsoft logo is not used to any great extent. Could it be because SP2 is largely about fixing security issues, with only a few other improvements to shout about?
It’s the same thing with product recall notices from High Street stores. You regularly see notices from supermarkets in stark small black and white ads that advise you to return the product to their stores for a full refund or to throw the food away. All very worthy and correct. Yet the logo probably doesn’t appear, and these days, most normal ads would appear in colour – these appear in black and white. Are we supposed to think it’s more important and worthwhile reading this way? But surely ad agencies have tested their normal creative to within an inch of its life, and know well that they’re noticed. Small black and white ads are far more easily missed.
It’s a strange dichotemy really – I think they genuinely want to inform the public about these problems, but don’t want to associate it with their company image.

Popetown Cancelled

Very interesting news about the planned BBC3 series, Popetown, being cancelled (free reg. req’d – or read the BBC statement here).
I’m actually pretty pleased about this. Not because, as someone who was raised a Catholic, I can see that a savage and witty comedy about the Catholic Church would be fine if done well, but because I think it’s double standards – some religions are easier targets than others. You could argue that the Vicar of Dibley ridicules the Church of England, but it’s more a lampooning of some individuals who happen to be churchgoers (and follows in a long tradition comedy TV vicars). But this isn’t a sitcom with some funny characters, one of whom’s a vicar. It’s about a Pope and his entourage – the head of the Church, and reportedly quite juvenile in its humour. If it was more sophisticated, would it be better? I don’t know, and really, without viewing the material, I can’t tell.
But I think the big question is, would the series have been commissioned if it was set around Judaism or Islam? Absolutely no way. There’d have been an uproar of “biblical” proportions.
There shouldn’t be any “sacred cows” in comedy, but the key thing is to do it fairly and do it right.