October, 2007

Bladerunner

I’m really looking forward to Bladerunner: The Final Cut, essentially a big DVD boxset that’ll be the final version of Bladerunner, a classic SF film that’s definitely up amongst my favourites, but which has a troubled version history.
But it’s a little disingenuous, for Ridley Scott to claim to claim that he has an aversion to remakes.
I’m a massive Ridley Scott fan, and despite the horror that was A Good Year, it’s great to see him back on form with American Gangster, but he was clear when there was a director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven, that it was done for marketing purposes (Note: Wikipedia refers to a Total Film interview about the extended DVD being made as a result of paying too much attention to preview audiences, but I distinctly recall Scott claiming marketing reasons being behind the release in a TV interview. This was around the time, for example, that Oliver Stone’s Alexander was being released in numerous versions. Unfortunately, I have no source for this).
Anyway, roll on the 3 December release, and hopefully I’ll be able to see it in the cinema too.

The Cotton Fields of Uzbekistan

There was a great film on Newsnight last night highlighting the child labour abuse in Uzbekistan where during the autumn the schools all close and children are sent off to pick the cotton. They don’t have any choice in the matter, and they sleep away from their homes.
This cotton is then sold by the Uzbek government to the cotton trade who process it, largely in Asia, before it becomes cotton goods that turn up in many UK high street stores.
Why are some clothes so cheap? Because the cotton is picked by children for a pittance.
It’s really down to us in the West to take an interest in where the materials we buy come from. Fairtrade cotton?

Local Radio

It’s probably best that I don’t comment too much on this issue just at the minute (In my current position I’m directly involved in this issue. At some point in the future I hope I will be able to blog about it). But I’ll point you towards a Media Guardian Organ Grinder blog entry about the Radiocentre’s campaign to cut the statutory levels of locally originated programming on local radio stations.

Correcting More Misleading Audience Figures

As you may know, it’s the fiftieth anniversary of the Today programme on Radio 4 this week, and there have been one or two pieces about it. A large piece in The Observer and something written by presenter John Humphrys himself in The Mail on Sunday.
All very interesting, but the Mail piece has a nice little table showing how the Today programme “beats all its rivals in radio AND TV news.”
The chart shows that the Today programme has an audience of 6 million, followed by the BBC Ten O’Clock news with 5.5 million and the BBC Six O’Clock News with 4 million alongside Tonight, With Trevor McDonald also with 4 million.
But is this a fair comparison?
Well, no.
You see, while current RAJAR figures (the industry ratings body) show that three hour Today has an audience of 6.2 million 15+ adults, that’s actually a weekly “reach” figure. In other words, that’s the number of different people who listen to the programme for at least five minutes across the course of a week. Not everybody listens to the programme every day. And they certainly don’t listen to every minute of that three hours. According to the most recent figures it gets:
4.7m on Monday
4.7m on Tuesday
4.6m on Wednesday
4.6m on Thursday
4.5m on Friday
(The slight decline across the week is probably not true, and is slightly symptomatic of the research methodology, with less scrupulous completion of listening diaries later in the week).
But that’s not the end either. Generally quoted TV audience figures are not “reach” figures, but are actually the average number of viewers over the duration of the full duration of the programme. For example, last Friday’s BBC Ten O’Clock News had an audience figure of 4.1m viewers, but in fact in the 22:00-22:15 period it was 4.0m and in the 22:15-22:30 period it was 4.6m. Since ratings are averaged out on a minute by minute basis, this actually leads to an overall 4.1m figure (In this instance I suspect that the increased number later in the news are people tuning in to watch Jonathan Ross after the news as it got a larger audience than the news).
But we know that it “reached” – at least for a short period – 4.6m viewers, and we can safely assume some of those who watched the first fifteen minutes of the programme did not watch the second fifteen minutes of the programme. So the overall reach of the programme will be higher than 4.6m (I don’t have a full TV ratings system to supply the precise number).
Obviously that 4.1m figure for the Ten O’Clock News is divergent from the 5.5m figure quoted by the Mail, but Fridays are likely to be lower rated than other days of the week with more people out, and it’s not clear where the Mail figures were sourced from or over what period. But by way of comparison, the audiences for last week were:
4.7m on Monday
4.4m on Tuesday
4.7m on Wednesday
5.4m on Thursday
4.1m on Friday
Note that these are “overnights” and don’t include anybody who might have recorded the news for later viewing (as unlikely as that might seem, there are sure to be some), and the full “reach” is likely to be a bit higher.
Suddenly, on a day by day basis, the Today programme’s audience is much closer to the BBC Ten O’Clock News’s figures, with the TV programme regularly being seen by more people than those who hear some of the Today Programme.
I’m not sure that even Humphrys quite understands the differences:
“Its audience is healthier than it has ever been, at well over six million regular listeners. Most television producers would sell their grannies into slavery for ratings like this.”
I should also point out that TV and radio use entirely different methodologies for collating their figures – with radio using a sample of around 130,000 people a year keeping paper diaries for a week at a time, while television uses a panel of around 5,500 homes that have boxes attached to their TV sets monitoring what they watch. Now is not the time to get into this further – perhaps I’ll save that for another blog entry – but you should be very wary of comparing figures gathered using different methodologies.
So the moral of this story? Don’t compare apples with pears. Radio and TV audience figures are calculated using very different methodologies, and the resulting numbers – even basic audience figures – are not directly comparable.

Arguing Your Point

Robert McCrum in today’s Observer has written about why It’s time to ditch the prize guys – arguing that it’s time for the Booker Prize to be radically reformed from the ground up.
Except, it’s really not very clear why exactly he feels it needs this change. Certainly the Booker no longer gets the TV coverage it once had, now being timed to arrive during the BBC’s Ten O’Clock News, but I’m not sure I understand why the prize is out of touch as he says it is. He doesn’t say why. Is it because the shortlist, Ian McEwan aside, isn’t made up of a list of names that I could choose myself if I was provided with a list of eligible names?
Seemingly, the prize chairman Sir Howard Davies gave “one of the most embarrassing Booker speeches in living memory.” But McCrum doesn’t explain why it was emabarrassing. The main substance of his speech that was reported was the backslapping that goes on between reviewers who know one another and review one another’s books. The Times had a good editorial on it. I don’t think there’s anyone in the literary world who doesn’t know that this goes on. Every year, Private Eye helps us when it examines the various Books of the Year lists, helpfully explaining any feuds or friendships that mightn’t be too obvious for those of us who don’t move in their circles and mightn’t otherwise be clued in.
McCrum needs to explain himself.

Interviewing Sigur Rós

I’ve just been watching Verity Sharp interview the members of Sigur Rós for The Culture Show, who have a new concert film – Heima – coming out next month which looks wonderful. And seemingly there’s a Culture Show special specifically about the band coming up in November.
The interview was somewhat better than one they gave NPR in the States recently.
I’m just gutted that the film screening for the BBC Electric Proms and live acoustic set were scheduled for Wednesday which is RAJAR results day, and hence I can’t make it.

Voting

From today’s Observer:
“Given that more people vote to evict contestants from the Big Brother house than in general elections…”
This is something that you keep hearing. It’s simply not true. It’s nowhere near true. The story I’ve just linked on the BBC News site tells us that 27,128,130 votes were cast in total the 2005 general election. And that was (largely!) one person, one vote.
Now while the figures are a little out of date, in that there have been another three editions of the regular Big Brother since then, the numbers are not going to have increased fivefold.
And as the BBC piece goes on to point out, TV producers don’t worry unduly about people voting lots of times. Indeed they actively encourage it. I’ve just seen the Strictly Come Dancing results show (it’s a guilty pleasure) and they’re already letting us know the numbers for next week’s vote with the lines now open even though we’re a week away from the contestants even dancing again.
Anyway, can we once and for all put to bed this urban myth?

Premium Rate Services On ITV

So finally Deloitte’s report on premium rate services on ITV has been published. Well I say “published” but in fact, what we’re getting is an 11 page summary detailing failures on three specific programmes, and mentioning a number of other shows in passing.
Once again, it’s turned out that ITV producers and researchers were regularly defrauding the public of millions of pounds over an extended period of time. Sometimes this was because competitions had closed while presenters continued to urge viewers to vote (at a premium rate). In other instances, the various competition elements of peak time programmes like Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and Ant & Dec’s Gameshow Marathon were not carried out fairly with researchers screening callers to look for people who “sounded lively” and then actually visiting them on pretexts to make sure that they were TV friendly (i.e. cheerful and not ugly).
In other instances, viewers who didn’t live within a certain distance of preordained areas of the country were removed from consideration.
There are the usual issues with votes not counted, and in one instance – Soapstar Superstar – the wrong contestants were put forward for eviction. Indeed this was a programme in which first, viewers voted for their favourites. Then, presented with the those with the fewest votes, another viewer vote was used to determine who left the show. And yet another viewer vote determined which song, the remaining contestants would perform in the next episode… except where producers overrode the viewers’ decision and made their own choices.
Maybe in a future series, viewers can vote for camera angles, or lighting designs? Which set should they use? What costume should the presenter wear in the next episode? The choices are endless.
There’s a great discussion going on over at Media Guardian’s Organ Grinder blog, with the general feeling being that what ITV and its various producers have been up to is actually criminal. Will the police investigate? Seemingly the police won’t investigate unless Ofcom ask them to, and Ofcom has to conduct its own investigation now. Maybe they can publish the full Deloitte report and not just the 11 page double-spaced summary.
ITV has busily set about promising viewers refunds on their phone bills. But as with GMTV before it, this seems to be a particularly complicated procedure requiring you to fill out a form and remember which shows you voted in as long as two years ago. If ITV is in possession of the numbers of those who voted, I fail to understand why a credit cannot be applied to those bills.
And even though it is promising to either return this money, or give the cash to charity, that’s not really enough is it? If I steal some cash from you and get caught, it’s no good me saying, “It’s a fair cop! You caught me. Here’s your money back, and I promise that I’ll try really hard not to do it again.” That probably wouldn’t satisfy either you, or the police.
There’s also some fun discussion about Ant and Dec’s role in these shows. The guys themselves are obviously feeling a bit bad about it and saying that they knew nothing about it and Michael Grade’s backing them up. But they did take Executive Producer roles on the shows and that should mean that they’re in quite a senior position on the show – they’re not just the hired talent. I believe that they actually came up with the Saturday Night Takeaway format. So should they take more responsibility. (See Media Guardian’s Diary for an industry definition of what an Executive Producer does.)
I’m sure that they never dirtied themselves in the detail of how competitions were carried out. But then maybe they shouldn’t take the Executive Producer credits. You can’t have it both ways.
As part of ITV’s remedies, they’re immediately suspending text and red-button voting from live programming. Of course they’re still asking trivial competition questions on their non-live programming: I refer you ‘Dickinson’s Real Deal’ – sample question that I was unfortunate enough to see yesterday “Complete the following phrase: Bull In A ———.” It was obviously a multiple choice question.
It’s all well and good saying that there’ll be new broom from now on; on a day in which the media news is obviously being led by the BBC’s major news about redundancies and the selling off of TV Centre (where do you send your media correspondent?), but that’s not enough. In fact, in many respects the ITV report is actually getting more attention than the BBC because, BBC dealings had been well telegraphed in advance.
Of course Ofcom will eventually hit ITV with a massive fine as they did to GMTV, but it still comes down to a public service broadcaster defrauding members of the public. It really does leave a very sour taste in the mouth.
[UPDATE] Both Jon Snow and Jeremy Paxman yesterday gave ITV Executive Chairman Michael Grade a real grilling about whether there should be police charges following the defrauding of viewers. He really wriggled on the end of their lines, but didn’t make any concessions.
Today, The Guardian is reporting that ITV could face a fine of up to £70m. I assume that this is based on the “5% of qualifying revenue” basis, but I can’t quite get the figures to work out. Nonetheless, ITV must be worried.
[UPDATE 2] One of the areas that Paxman gave Michael Grade a hard time over on Newsnight last night was the reason why it was such a complicated procedure for viewers to reclaim their cash from the various phone votes and competitions. Grade said that it was standard practice that consumers should proactively claim what was rightfully theirs. But there’s a difference between a retailer recalling a toy that they’ve sold, where there’s no record of who bought it, and a telephone call which has a distinct phone number – and therefore account – attached to it.
Maybe Grade didn’t know the answer at the time? Perhaps there’s a legal reason involving data protection laws, and ITV or the telecoms companies involved no longer hold the information. In which case, say so.
The rules regarding compensation are not straightforward, so it’s no wonder that Grade was suggesting it may cost ITV up to £2m to simply process them. Some of rules are incredibly complicated – for example ITV2+1 claims (where no “Lines Now Closed” caption appeared preventing callers entering competitions that had already ended): “Only affects limited dates between certain times where banner advising that the competition was closed was omitted on ITV2 + 1 catch-up channel.”
Let’s face it, if you were one of those callers, you’ll have absolutely no idea whether you should claim or not. And only a limited number of X-Factor votes are involved. If you’re an infrequent voter on the show, there’s no way you’ll know whether or not you have a valid claim. You’ll need a remarkable memory to be certain, or be a vigilant collector of old telephone bills.
If someone could explain why the calls could not simply be recredited, then I’d love to know. Some accounts may have expired or become dormant, but for the most part it could surely be performed automatically.
Incidentally, the front page of ITV’s website has a link to the claim procedure as it should, but it’s not at all clear to the consumer that this is what it is.
“PRS reimbursements
“Click here for more information on measures to reimburse consumers for PRS failures.”
Huh?
If you’re not up on arcane television terminology, then that’s going to be completely meaningless to the average viewer. As a keen media watcher myself, I associate PRS with the company who collect music rights. Google “PRS” and you’ll have to scroll down before you see a link to Ofcom’s “Premium Rate Services” page.
ITV, I know that this is a massive embarrassment, but there’s no point in trying to hide it away. At least GMTV’s homepage has a clear “Competitions Announcement.” Although of course GMTV similarly made viewers go through a claims process to reclaim the cash they’d wasted on their competitions.
Grade has talked a lot about regaining trust, but part of that is surely making it easy for consumers to reclaim what is rightfully their’s.
[UPDATE 3] In related developments, the Serious Fraud Office is reviewing evidence in the GMTV case to see whether a criminal investigation should begin.

Comment Spam

I’ve just been looking at this website’s “activity log” and was amazed to see how often comment spam comes in. Thank goodness that I’ve got some basic filtering in place. Yesterday there were 170 attempts to comment here (with one genuine comment), all of which failed because they didn’t pass my cunning challenge response box.
Interestingly, I’ve had one piece of spam come through and reach publishing which did pass the challenge response. I guess that was entered “by hand” which seems a very dull thing to be doing.
In other news, there are some very odd findings coming out of Technorati searches. It seems that people cut and paste things from this blog into other blogs (and link back) purely to include spam links on those blogs. I’m sure that there’s a word for this, but I don’t know what it is.
Finally, here are some entertaining search terms that resulted in people finding their way onto this site recently:
derek acorah imhotep
tessa dunlop
imhotep derek acorah
sally morgan star psychic
allo, allo british film vicki michelle photos
jeremy kyle merchandise
playback the return of allo allo
sally morgan psychic
“allô, allô” rené download clip
“martina cole” culture show clip
“robert kilroy silk” “new zealand”
“sally morgan” psychic contact details
“star psychic” production company
OK – that’s not all of them, and some of the search terms at the bottom are the result of only one search. But what’s clear is that the stuff I like least and tend to moan about is what people actually end up here looking at.
I’m guessing that Derek Acorah and Sally Morgan fans are going to be truly disappointed that I think they’re frauds who play on the insecurities of the gullible and the emotionally vulnerable (and with any luck, they’ll be visiting even more so as a result of this entry!).
I’m also impressed by the number of Allo Allo fans out there, including those who include the correct accents.
The Robert Kilroy Silk search is especially concerning…

CDs v Downloads

For most things, if you opt to download the material rather than get physical media, if there’s any difference in price, it’s cheaper to download. Think of iTunes v CDs, or software that you can download from many sellers. There’s no postage or packaging to account for, and minimal physical production costs.
So it’s odd then, that this morning I got an email from Adobe to my work address trying to get me to upgrade to Photoshop CS3, but which gives cheaper prices if I pay for the physical media rather than download a large file. I realise that thousands of people downloading 700+ MB is a significant bandwidth cost. But sending me a big box through the post should not be cheaper.
Try it yourself.
Very odd.