September, 2007

The Jeremy Kyle Show

Jeremy Kyle used to work at Virgin Radio hosting the late night “Jezza’ Confessions” show where he took calls and gave advice in between playing music.
But most people these days know him from his morning ITV show where his guests confront various issues.
Actually that’s a pretty polite way of saying that some very stupid people from the dregs of society have been lured to Manchester with the promise of a night in a hotel and a free meal or too, in return for washing their dirty laundry in public in front of a judgemental host and audience.
It’s tawdry television, and is pretty much indefensible. I had the misfortune of seeing a bit the other day when a youth had the results of a DNA test revealed on the show, only to discover that the person he thought was his biological father wasn’t. He was in tears, and considering that the show is served up for entertainment purposes, you couldn’t help but feel a voyeur in this person’s very personal moment.
But it gets great ratings for ITV.
The show hit the headlines last week when a judge labelled the show has a “human form of bear-baiting.”
“It seems to me that the purpose of this show is to effect a morbid and depressing display of dysfunctional people whose lives are in turmoil.”
He added that it was “human bear-baiting which goes under the guise of entertainment”.
“It should not surprise anyone that these people, some of whom have limited intellects, become aggressive with each other.
“This type of incident is exactly what the producers want. These self-righteous individuals should be in the dock with you. They pretend there is some kind of virtue in putting out a show like this,” said Judge Berg.

Judges can make crass and stupid comments at times, but it’d be hard to argue with these.
A couple of days later, and there were further allegations, denied, that an alcoholic guest was given lager.
Now comes news that the programme’s sponsor, Learn Direct, has pulled out of the show. On the face of it, that’s a sensible course of action for worthwhile organisation.
But I have a question:
What the hell were they thinking of when they sponsored the show in the first place?
Learn Direct is a government funded organisation, and the reported £500,000 a year sponsorship contract comes out of tax-payers’ money. The sponsors knew very well what they were getting into when they signed up for the programme. Certainly, the kind of people who appear on the show, and perhaps many of the viewers are perhaps in Learn Direct’s target market. But the programme hardly perpetuates the kind of values to which a good scheme should want to be associated. If there was televised dog fighting, they wouldn’t sponsor that would they?
Nope – in the same way that Carphone Warehouse jumped from Big Brother earlier this year, Learn Direct is trying to get away from the sponsorship of a programme which they should have known was unsuitable from the outset.
Sponsorship can be a very powerful and effective way for an advertiser to get their message across, but it’s key to match your brand with an appropriate programme. I’d be looking very hard at the Learn Direct marketing department if they were responsible for signing off this sponsorship in the first place.
* Obviously, as ever, these views represent my personal views, and not necessarily those of my employer.

Will I Get An iPhone?

Well the short answer is no.

But since a few people I know are beginning to get tempted, I thought I’d lay out all my objections to Apple’s new wondrous piece of technology.

Cost

Most people in the UK who have large monthly spends are used to getting even the very newest phones free of charge with a new contract renewal. But that’s not the way the iPhone is going to work. You have to buy the phone for £269 and then take out an O2 contract for a minimum of £35 a month. If you’re already on O2, that might be fine, but it’s not a great prospect otherwise. Apple take a cut of every penny the consumer pays to O2, which explains the somewhat inflated prices. I will concede that the data element of those packages is pretty good.

Technology

Why is this device not 3G? Higher speed technologies might not be the standard in the US, but that’s really not the case in Europe and to release this product at a slower speed is just not acceptable. Yes there’s Edge, and I was tickled to find that my Orange phone got Edge wherever I was in Skye recently, whereas it’s pretty rare in London. But 3G is where it’s at.

It may well be the best iPod that Apple have ever made, but it only comes with 8GB of memory. That’s the same as you get on a iPod Nano. Given that the screen is going to encourage me to watch videos on it, there’s simply not going to be space for more than a handful of videos, a few albums, some photos and a few podcasts. I’ll have filled it.

For forty quid less, I can get twenty times the memory on an iPod Classic.

Practicality

I’ll admit to not having actually played with an iPhone – the closest I’ve got so far is standing two deep back from someone playing with an iPod Touch in the Apple Store on Regent Street. But I’m not convinced by a non-tactile communication device. I’ve lived for nearly 18 months (and yes, I very much regret signing up for 18 months last time around) with an Orange M600, or HTC Prophet. It has a touch screen, and for some stuff like Google Maps it’s great. But for dialing people it’s rubbish, and texting is positively painful. You have to keep getting your stylus out to do anything worthwhile. Now while Apple’s touch technology is undoubtedly much more sophisticated, it you can stand up with your hand on your heart and tell me that texting is easier than with a keyboard, then I might begin to listen.

And while the screen looks lovely, you just know you’re going to have to put it in a fairly bulky case. The iPhone is a thing of beauty, but it’s going to get grubby finger marks all over that screen (you should have seen those iPod Touches in the Apple Store), and you simply couldn’t put it in any pocket without protection.

The Small Things

The whole ringtone thing is a disgrace – you have to pay extra to turn your iTunes tracks into ringtones, when every other phone in the category these days lets you play whatever music you’ve put on your phone as a ringtone.

Why can’t I just install whatever programs I like on the phone? That’s the whole point of smartphones isn’t it? They’re small computers. I can install whatever I like on my M600. I don’t need a nanny looking over my shoulder deciding if I can be trusted with it. It’s all down to me.

Conclusion

Maybe the second generation of iPhones will be better. Apple won’t be able to dictate pricing quite as rigidly, and there’ll be more competition to keep things keen. Flash memory will be cheaper so there’ll actually be a decent amount of disk space on the phone, and 3G will be included. There might even be the odd button on it. Perhaps then I’ll take another look at it.

Yes, the phone’s a thing of beauty, but that’s not enough.

In the meantime, I’m much more tempted by the HTC TyTN II which although it’s still touch screen, has a keyboard for email and texts which pivots, and is the closest device to my previous ever favourite, the Psion 5. I just have to wait for Orange to get it.

Heat Radio

This week, Heat Radio has relaunched using an advertising free format. Instead it’s using sponsorship to earn revenue. In this respect it’s similar to stations like Virgin Radio Xtreme which launched with Sony PSP for the first six months.
Heat magazine isn’t exactly regular reading for me. I’m not, and indeed, have never been in its target demographic. But I thought I’d give it a try. A wraparound on trade magazine Media Week advertised a trade competition at the URL heatradio.com. I clicked through, but all I could find was the said competition. At least it’ll let me click through to hear the station though won’t it? Not easily, no.
It was all very strange: heatradio.com is a great URL, so it’s odd that they’re not using it for consumer purposes rather than trade ones. I won’t draw too much attention to their schedule which suggests that 2am follows 1pm.
Instead you have to click through to heatworld.com. Now while this might be the regular Heat destination website, it still should be all a little more seamless. Heatworld, incidentally has to be launched as a seperate window or tab, which means pop-up blockers can get in the way.
Then there’s another strange thing. The top story on Heatworld is one that’s been doing the rounds in the radio industry following an appearance on Holy Moly a couple of days ago. The wrong file was played out for the news, and listeners instead heard the newsreader degenerate into lots of swearing as she realised her script wasn’t all there. As it’s unlikely that some punter was recording the output of a digital radio station like Heat, you can only imagine that the audio came from someone within EMAP radio (Heat’s owners) itself. Heatworld links to a YouTube “video” of this audio.
This couldn’t have been a first week “stunt” could it?
But I’m still trying to hear Heat Radio.
A tab at the top links to www2.heatradio.com – a very different site to www.heatradio.com which is odd because usually the inclusion of numbers just refers to a series of servers serving the same code up. Again, it launches in another window.
Still no audio though. Now you have to launch the radio player – another window – with the curious URL www.whatson.com/heat/. The player is a little large for my liking, and effectively works as a player for the whole of EMAP radio. The link to buy songs directly on iTunes via Tradedoubler (that’s how they earn some cash from the transaction), is neat, but it all feels a little cumbersome.
As for the actual output? Well it’s not really my thing as I say, so I don’t think I’ll be listening too much…

Mayoral Promises

Boris Johnson has now been formally chosen by the Tories as their candidate for the London Mayoral elections. That’s what a few appearances on Have I Got News For Your can do.
Now far be it from me to really believe that his key election promises are those that the media has highlighted, but let’s just have a look at them shall we?
He wants to get rid of “bendy buses” and replace them with old Routemasters. I’m really not at all sure how he’s going to manage that. I hate bendy buses for a number of reasons: they’re very dangerous for cyclists and motorcyclists as they turn around corners in some of our narrow and congested London streets. They take up valuable road “real estate” being so long. You could get more traffic in that space if you used a double decker. And I loved using Routemasters with the ability to jump on and off where it was convenient rather than waiting for a bus stop.
But surely this is a complete non-starter. Those bendy buses will be on leases that run for years to come. The various companies that operate the services won’t be able to get out of them. And where are these Routemasters going to be found? They were clapped out, frankly, when they were retired, with barely any leg-room since they were built in another age when people were smaller. The entry and exit are cramped. All the old buses were scrapped or sold off – it’s not as though there are garages full of the things sitting around like army Green Goddesses during a fire brigade strike, just awaiting further use.
There are a couple of routes still served by Routemasters, but they’re the exception rather than the rule, and they’re mainly for tourism purposes. Double deckers would probably be the solution.
As for claims that he’s going to put the tube right – well good luck. I’m all for improving it, but I don’t believe that it’s something that’s easily achievable. It was our new Prime Minister – the then Chancellor – who forced Public Private Partnerships on the tube, with the result that Metronet is now in all sorts of trouble trying to maintain services. Ken Livingstone has hated these things from the start, so I’d be amazed if Boris can do anything.
Still real commitments are still thin on the ground, so we’ll have to watch and wait to hear some real policy initiatives.

Marketing Speak in the Wild

Languages always change and develop as we start to use words that never existed before. But there’s one area of language development that I really don’t like, and it’s the use of marketing-speak in everyday language.
I have too pet peeves – “content” and “premium.” They can be used separately, and are particularly terrible when they’re put together.
Content is now the catch-all word for programming, audio, video, pictures and of course the written word. I agree that it is a handy word – a catch-all. But the reason I loathe it is that it somehow dismisses the essence of what is being produced. It suggests that one piece of writing, or one produced programme is much alike the next. It relegates each individually produced piece to the same status as baked beans going into their cans in a factory; content is something that you purchase by the yard.
Now while I might have some idealism, I realise that a lot of television really is purchased by the yard. I’m sure that there are some skilled producers working on some of these shows, but when a daytime commissioner orders 250 hours of buying/selling antique programming, they probably don’t really care what it looks like as long as it delivers a satisfactory audience.
Indeed perhaps the recent malaise in TV standards, which surely has been put down to people no longer really caring about the audience, can actually be laid at the feet of the word “content”?
Premium is even worse. I suppose that I first came across premium in relation to lagers. In ye olde days, we’d have all drunk whatever lager the brewery who owned the pub offered. There was unlikely to be a great deal of choice. There was branding of course: who can forget those Hoffmeister – follow the bear ads. Or perhaps it’d have been Skol that you drank? There was always Heineken or Carlsberg, and there were cheaper or more expensive lagers. But along comes Stella Artois which was “reassuringly expensive.”
That’s fine, but then the expression “premium lager” began to creep out of the pages of the marketing press and into the wild. What exactly is premium about these lagers? Well Holsten Pils has always claimed that more of the sugar turns to alcohol, but is the process involved in these lagers’ manufacture truly that different? Is there a “premium” brewing process?
A cynic like myself rather suspects that Skol is manufactured in a vat right next to the one used for Stella. Sure, there’ll be some different ingredients and processes; the drinks do taste different after all. But aside from the “brand values” each drink is afforded, I remain unconvinced.
From a consumer’s point of view, the marketing works – Stella is the biggest selling lager in the UK. There’s a certain snobbishness prevalent when you walk into a bar or pub and try to avoid the cheap lager. It may well have a lower percentage of alcohol (which is actually becoming more popular), but like any other product the same marketing rules apply.
Premium isn’t just used in lagers of course – there are premium brands, and worst of all, premium content…

Burma/Myanmar

In my last post I mentioned that I was pleased to be able to watch Channel Four News when I get in without having to record it first. The reason I was pleased to see it this evening was because there was an excellent report from Burma where as we know, there are enormous anti-government protests.
It’s an important story, as Burma is one of the most repressive regimes in the world, where Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under house arrest since 1990.
But there’s another thing that’s just really beginning to annoy me. The country’s name.
You see, it’s the corrupt generals themselves that renamed the English language version of the country as Myanmar. I’m happy to go with the name that most Burmese, and free Burma organisations use themselves prefer – Burma. The BBC and most major news organisations in the UK use Burma. But plenty of web reports use Myanmar. And I even saw Myanmar over someone’s shoulder in Metro today.
[Update] I’ve just seen that the BBC News website covers this very issue in some depth.

+1

It’s all about the plus ones it seems just now. Channel 4 is terribly excited about it’s newly launched +1 channel allowing you to see programmes that were on an hour earlier. It has always confused me that they’re called “+1” channels – surely they should be “-1” since it was on an hour earlier?
Anyway the only use I get from them is if I’m recording more shows at the same time than my PVR can cope with. But I’ve just found a use for Channel 4 +1 – I can watch Channel Four News when I get in. Usually it’s just about over before I reach home. Now I can easily catch it. Although it is weird hearing the continuity announcer on Channel 4 +1 explaining that over on +1, The Simpsons is just about to start. For that I need Channel 4 +1 +1 (or +2) don’t I?
Discovery Channel does have both Discovery +1 and Discover +1.5… I think I prefer the FX solution. Their sister channel is FX+ and they just rejig the network quite a lot; it doesn’t take long to find another airing of Dexter.

Alisher Usmanov

Hello lawyers at Schillings! (I’m pretty sure, there’s nothing illegal, libellous, or defamatory on this page, but be sure to let me know if you think otherwise! Send me a comment. You and your client have certainly done us all a favour by drawing attention to the man).
I’ve no idea if they’ll read this or not, but it seems that they’re having enormous fun at the moment busily shutting down the websites and blogs of people who don’t like new Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov.
Have I mentioned that I thoroughly recommend Craig Murray’s book Murder in Samarkand?
I’ve just pulled my copy off the bookshelf and Usmanov is referred to on pages 56, 207, 283 and 366. He used to be Prime Minister of Uzbekistan.
This is the man who wants a blocking share of Arsenal, so aside from anything else, he’s someone I’m very interested in, as every Arsenal fan should be.
There’s loads about this elsewhere at the moment, and I’d start here and here.
NB. At time of writing, both Craig Murray’s and Boris Johnson’s websites are still down.

In The Air Tonight

You can’t move for Phil Collins at the moment. Geneis has just embarked on a new tour of North America for the first time in something like fifteen years. There’s a new book out about the band. But mostly, there’s that Cadbury’s ad:

Over in the States, there’s a new ABC sitcom called Carpoolers which is being trailed with this clever take on the same song:

The best use of the song is still surely the wonderful footage of Crockett driving around in his Ferrari in the pilot of Miami Vice:

Incidentally, Popbitch informs me that In The Air Tonight is likely to make the top forty this weekend. That’s iTunes for you.

The Colour Purple

Small Purplish Chap
Guess where I was last night? I had my camera confiscated at one point, and was very pleased that I slipped the memory card out of it and into the palm of the person next to me, as I was directed to some lockers to hand it in. It was an unnecessary subterfuge since they didn’t try to delete any pictures or take the memory card. They just wanted me to stop taking pictures and were pretty nice about it really. I just claimed to be completely unaware of the rules – I hadn’t even seen the ticket until that evening (true).
Today I read that the small purple person (Google indexes this site pretty well so I shan’t make it easy for them) has contracted lawyers to remove lots of illegal fare. I assume that many of those YouTube videos will be the thousands of camera phone videos that everyone else in the audience was taking without incurring the wrath of security.