February, 2005

Ratings and Cancellations

Today’s Media Guardian has an opinion piece by Emily Bell about the recent habit of stations canning series mid-run, and highlighting the recent case of the last episode of a Johnny Vegas sitcom failing to be aired having been “pre-empted” by an Ellen MacArthur special.
Somehow it seems ironic that on the day this piece appears, Mediaguardian.co.uk “lead” on a Channel 4 ratings story. In particular they highlight the fact that Nathan Barley only got 700,000 viewers on Friday night.
But isn’t Media Guardian actually leading by example when it talks about this stuff? We never used to have a free outlet telling us how last night’s programming fared. Now, as well as Media Guardian, we have daily reports availble from such avenues as Broadcast (which has always featured in depth ratings analysis), Media Week and Media Bulletin. It’s all out there in the open. When once detailed overnights were only pored over by TV channel controllers, and TV buying/selling agencies/houses, now everyone and their mum gets a look. A show is very quickly deemed a hit or a failure after a couple of episodes. Big projects are examined in detail, and there is almost an undisguised glee if something big doesn’t score immediately with the audience.
What we don’t get are audience appreciation indexes, which are carried out privately by TV companies. So there may well have been only 700,000 viewers of Nathan Barley on Friday, but if they all loved it to bits, that’s got to be important. It may also be that these people are generally hard to reach individuals – always worth remembering when, say, Champions League football doesn’t return quite the same audiences as a regular episode of the soap it’s bumped would have. If I never watch Channel 4 apart from Nathan Barley (and Time Team), then this programming is actually very valuable indeed.
I think that irrespective of the gains made by multi-channel television in the last few years, TV companies run scared more easily because of the heavy reliance everyone now makes on ratings. Even if channel controllers know all of this, there’s still the public or “media” perception that the show’s a relative failure. And no-one wants to wear that badge.

Cartoons

Quel surpise! Channel 4 commission the 100 Greatest Cartoons, just months after they land The Simpsons, and waddya know. The Simpsons comes out top!
Whilst it’s undoubtedly funny, nobody would argue that the level of animation is fairly rudimentary. And indeed, the whole of this list is pretty worthless. South Park at no. 3? Family Guy at no. 5? In fact out of the top ten, only two are not either being made at the moment, or have been produced in the last few years. Indeed I’d argue that a lot of the recent computer animation films are more technique above quality.
But in general, this is a ridiculously biased list with short-lived poorly made films filling up the top the end of the list. I didn’t really watch the programme that accompanied it, but couldn’t help noticing that there was a longer discussion about the Beavis & Butthead “huh huh huh” (no. 32) than there was about Mickey Mouse (helped in the creation of a multi-billion dollar company – no. 31!).
Can you take any list seriously that puts Fantasia at no. 53 and Snow White at no. 60? And there’s a distinct lack of those fabulous Tex Avery shorts that don’t feature famous characters, such as Red Hot Riding Hood – one of my all time favourite cartoons which, criminally, isn’t even available to buy in the UK.
On another note, when is C4 going to stop filling four hours of primetime television with such pointless fare? Wasn’t Kevin Lygo putting a stop to all the Z-list commentators talking about clips that they’ve watched about 10 seconds before “commenting” on them. Something that was mercilessly parodied on the Armando Iannucci show over New Year.

Freeview: Good News, Bad News

The good news, according to Broadcast this week, is that ITV and C4 are favourites to win the vacant Freeview slot that’s been put up for lease by Crown Castle. This means that we don’t get another shopping channel. The bad news is that ITV wants to put a version of Men & Motors on the channel, and C4 is “exploring options including a gaming channel”.
Somehow, I’m sure that Turner could have come up with a more interesting channel, as would Disney or even NBC Universal. Even better would have been David Elstein putting his newly purchased Hallmark on the platform.
How long do Top-Up TV have left on their lease of their space? If E4 left the fold, where would it go (since it’s not currently on Top-Up TV 24 hours a day), and would Top-Up TV be sustainable as a business without this service?

Not Quite A Billion Viewers of the Oscars

A nice article from The New Yorker about the fact that not even close to one billion people watch the Oscars. I regularly rail against such hyperbole, but this comes just after the Superbowl. And then we’ll get the Olympics and the World Cup. To put the Oscars in perspective, you should know that in the UK they’re broadcast exclusively on pay television (upwards of £20 a month to get the channel that shows them), and they’re live at 1.30am – just before a work day. OK – they’ll get rebroadcast at a sensible time the following evening – but if the show gets more than half a million in total I’d be amazed. 4.4m watched the BAFTAs a couple of weeks ago.

Merlin on Best Direct

I suppose I’m lucky that I don’t have Sky and get even more shopping channels. But Best Direct is one of the tackier ones I do receive. They’re one of those channels that just shows “infommercials” on loops. So one second it’s yet another weight-loss machine, and the next it’s an inflatable bed.
But last night I caught the best one ever – for Merlin. First of all we were told that the presentation was coming direct from the largest shopping centre in Europe – in Vienna! I’m sure that you’ll agree that such credentials are awe inspiring. Then we saw the sizeable set being set up in the middle of one of those atriums (atriaa?) that you get in the middle of Bluewater-style shopping centres.
Next we were told that the director of this particular infommerical was actually the best infommercial director working in Europe today. Wow! So we’re getting the Steven Spielberg/Martin Scorcese of infommericals. I settled back on the sofa for this.
Then we were introduced to our three presenters, all of whose names now escape me, despite the fact that we were repeatedly told them throughout the “presentation” as well as the location of the shopping centre where it was taped. They were all of either Austrian or German extraction. And at least one was supposedly a TV star. But then anyone can be a “star”. (As an aside, there’s an ad for a magazine on the tube at the moment boasting of it’s coverage of A List celebrities, and then featuring Abi Titmuss on the cover…)
Finally, after all these introductions were complete, the Merlin product was revealed to be… a food processor! But not just any kind of food processor. This one was 3D! Imagine that, much better than 2D or even 1D. Can you imagine trying to process your 3-dimensional food in a 2-dimensional food processor? And most food processors are only 1D we were told. Wow. It puts a whole new spin on such stories as Flatland. Food processing in multi-dimensional space is mind boggling.
Anyhow, the demo continued, and it became obvious that our Germanic speakers were being dubbed. Now if there’s one thing us Brits have never managed, it’s the art of dubbing. Somehow everyone seems to stand too close to the microphone and adopt a certain type of dubbing voice. Three presenters speaking rapid German meant three dubbers. And they kept up with the pace. I’m guessing the whole thing was not recorded with multi-track audio, so we had effects for when the processor whizzed around.
And there was the audience. It must be said, that the audience was a little sparce for such an important infommerical. But when it came to cutaways of them laughing at the feeble jokes, the noise they made was more akin to a packed comedy club in terms of both numbers and the size of the laugh. I guess something must have been lost in translation.
Needless to say, the presenters showed the boundless enthusiasm that only such presenters can. This only lessened when they realised how inadequate their previous food processors had been. Cut to mournful black and white footage of your more traditional kitchen fare.
The technology on show was astounding however. As well as having a whirlpool action, there was an intergral juicer with the device featuring a “nano-filter”! A bit like nanobots somehow I guess. What they really mean is that it comes with a filter with small holes. Nano actually refers to one-billionth. So in this case, the holes are what? One billionth of a KM? The fruit plunger was also talked up, although this a big bit of plastic to the fruit through the blender.
Oh yes, and finally it should be pointed out that your traditional food processors are big unweildy things that you can never move easily around from, say, your kitchen counter. I mean, what if you wanted to move it to your living room. A real pain right? Not the Merlin. It’s really small, so you can take it with you anywhere. And I’d imagine it’s especially useful for people with families of more than, oh, one person, since it can cope with such plentiful quantities.
Put me down for one!
(Incidentally, in the least exciting television slot ever, Attheraces is now showing an hours of Sky Vegas Live television at midnight. The only problem is that cable doesn’t have the intereactive part of it, so you can’t play along, in which case it’s literally a case of watching meaningless coloured balls being virtually chosen. My respect to the presenter who manages to keep talking and name checking the txt-like names people adopt. Sad buggers wasting their cash on these games however)

TV Listings in Express Newspapers

Ever ready to make a quick buck, Richard Desmond’s Express Newspapers group is now wanting to make charges to broadcasters for the right to have their channels included in his papers. He wants digital channels to pay for their appearance in his rags!
It seems as though all the channels are holding firm, in the full knowledge that TV listings are one of the major reasons people buy newspapers. I hope that some of these channels also stop providing his paper with preview tapes, photos, or access to personalities.
Of course the prim and proper Express still finds the space to provide listings for his porn channels despite being aimed at Middle England – not that I’d dispute the fact that many Middle-Englanders do subscribe to such services…
Still it’s nice to see that the Associated/Express war-of-words is alive and kicking with reports about Desmond’s tangential involvement in a mob-case being heard in New York at the moment. You just have to sit back and enjoy it all.

Ken v The Daily Mail

I think I can see both sides of the Ken Livingstone situation, with him claiming to have been targeted by Associated Newspapers over the last 24 years.
On the other hand, being told your job is like a concentration camp guard’s is not very pleasant.
Now Blair’s weighed in, speaking on that most august of programmes, The Wright Stuff on Five. Surely you’re not appeasing the powerful Daily Mail Mr Blair?
So it’s interesting to read the thoughts of a selection of journalists who either currently work for Associated, or who have worked there. Just about all of those who are in any way critical are anonymous, because they know what a powerful behemoth Associated is, and they know that they may have to work there one day. Murdoch famously said that he thought at one time there may only be his stable of papers and the Daily Mail.

Central Heating

My flat basically doesn’t have central heating. But it’s OK! It tends to be quite warm all year around anyway. But when it does get cold I turn on the big storage heater in the living warm, but there is one small side effect – the warmth tends to send me off to sleep. I lost a good deal of Sunday afternoon due to this.
So last night was pretty nippy, and I’d had a nice meal and was settling down to watch Look Around You. I’d got most of the way through it, I think, when I drifted off. Next thing I know, I wake up, and I’m learning business French on the Learning Zone! I must have slept right through the Masters Snooker where the BBC were pesisting in calling Jimmy White “Jimmy White” and not “James Brown” as he wanted due to a sponsorship stunt with HP Sauce.
Did you know that when you conclude a deal in France, it’s ordinarily celebrated with champagne? Well I know I didn’t, although I’m not sure that every deal is conlcuded in such a manner. I mean, if I order a box of pencils from my stationery company, that’s a deal isn’t it? But hardly worth a bottle of anyone’s champagne surely?
In utterly unrelated news, I was watching the latest episode of Lost at the weekend and in one of the flashback segments someone Charlie’s trying to rip off speaks about her dad being out “buying a paper company up in Slough”. A not-really-that-subtle allusion to The Office by J.J. Abrams, one Lost’s producers, who had Ricky Gervais guest star in his other show, Alias, last season.

Busy Time

It’s a busy time in radio at the moment with Lord Ali making a bid for my employers, Kelvin taking the Wireless Group off the stock market, and now Jazz FM renaming to Smooth FM, and losing all pretence of actually playing any Jazz.
Obviously, I’ll be watching carefully to see what happens were SMG to decide to sell Virgin Radio, but as is the way with these things, it’s out of my hands and my control.
The reason for Kelvin delisting is interesting. Supposedly it’s because the city doesn’t understand how speech radio stations make money – and he finds it hard to get investment as a result. I’m not surprised – speech radio is expensive. Is there more to this?
Finally Jazz FM is a name we’re going to miss. Smooth FM will definitely reign in Magic in London which has just had a storming RAJAR. But it’ll take more than one decent RAJAR to really prove to me that Magic is number 2 in London. But I wonder if they’ll keep doing “Dinner Jazz”, which has been their most successful proper(ish) jazz strand. It’s also noteworthy that they’ll continue to produce an online only jazz radio station playing pure jazz. With good investment, and a great name, they should continue to be one of the largest internet radio broadcasters in the world. It’s just the small task of making money from it…

BAFTA Awards

So BBC1 is showing the BAFTAs as I type, and I decided I’d have a quick look at the BAFTA site to see who all the nominees are.
Well of course BAFTA have put up the full list of winners! Yet the programme is descibed as being “live”. The red carpet stuff seemed to be shot in daylight – which ended several hours ago.
So I imagine the whole thing’s on an hour or two delay. But I’m wondering whether the website announcement was made while the show was still happening. So a text message to Martin Scorcese in the auditorium *might* have been able to inform him of The Aviator’s upcoming win as best film.
Just popped over the Betfair site, where betting is “suspended” on all the BAFTAs. Is this usual?
This all comes in the same week as the Brits where once again the awards are televised 24 hours later to edit out swearing, and dull bits to fit a neat two hour slot. But as I recall (I didn’t see it this year), there are rules about how many of the awards broadcasters are able to talk about when it’s happening live. It doesn’t matter that an award winner is a matter of public record – they keep a very tight lid on these things, even in our digital age will mobiles everywhere.
[UPDATE] It seems that the awards actually kicked off around 6.00pm, so even allowing for the awards that are presented early and not televised, the whole thing was probably over by around 8.20pm which is around the time I logged onto the BAFTA site. I should have checked a few newswire sites to see how quickly the winners were announced. It kind of spoils it for the viewing audience though.