November, 2008

TV Remakes

We seem to be going through a significant period of remakes at the moment. Actually, that’s a little unfair as television has always remade successful programmes. How many Agatha Christies or Robin Hoods have we had over the years? And when isn’t there another Austen, Dickens or Hardy production on the cards?
But recently we’ve had a remake of Survivors for which the jury’s still out in my view, and now we hear that The Day of the Triffids is also being remade.
I’ve not seen the original version of Terry Nation’s Survivors, but I’m told that it’s broadly the same story as the remake. But Survivors is obviously already following in the footsteps of 28 Days/Weeks Later and even Dead Set. A plague/virus/flu has spread and there are few humans left.
The Day of the Triffids, based on the novel by John Wyndham, the story has already been made into an enjoyable TV series as well as a good radio dramatisation. There’s also a film version that I’ve not seen from the early sixties. I suppose I’m a little concerned that it’s being made by Power, who’s recent Crusoe leaves a little to be desired, and their Flood was simply appalling. Still we’ll wait and see.
I suppose the timing is what’s a little off, with this version coming so soon after Survivors. Perhaps some rights were about to expire?
Mind you, another curious remake perhaps coming soon is a BBC/Showtime reimagining of Camelot. Isn’t there already a Camelot series running on the BBC? Ah, but this is a contemporary retelling – so it’ll be a bit different.
But the remake I’m really looking forward to seeing is the ITV remake of The Prisoner with Sir Ian McKellan. I’ve only just discovered there’s a blog covering its production, which has now nearly finished.
It’s due sometime in 2009 and I for one can’t wait.

24: Redemption

For whatever reason, I’ve recently ended up on a few PR companies’ lists for “Bloggers'” events. I’ve been invited to a few film screenings here and there – although I’ve not been able to make disappointing number of them. That’s more the shame because screenings tend to take place in and around the West End, and that’s where I work.
Then, recently, I was invited to the launch of an interesting new 3 handset which I wrote about here.
Then last week, I got an invitation to a bloggers’ screening of the new 24: Redemption two hour TV-movie. The screening was to take place the following Thursday.
Er – hang on. It was going to be shown on Sky One on Monday and it had aired on Fox in the US on Sunday.
Ah. But this was to be the DVD release which was an extended cut, and would feature a trailer for series/day 7 coming in the New Year.
So should I just watch the Sky One showing on Monday, or wait until Thursday to see it in a nice screening room?
Decisions, decisions.
Because I was a little slow in replying my place wasn’t secured until the last minute, but circumstances meant that I hadn’t had a chance to watch my Sky+ recording anyway. So I headed off to Soho House to watch the screening.
Recent series of 24 have swung wildly between good, and very bad. The most recent series – season/day 6 – began well although it was clear that by the time they’d let off a nuke, they were going to struggle. And the plot involving Jack’s own dad trying to kill him was dreadful. The writers looked like they’d struggled for ideas – seemingly repeating storylines that had appeared in previous series.
When the writers’ strike go under way in autumn 2007, it knocked production of 24 completely out, and the producers and network decided to skip a year and return in 2009. Early story ideas were going to see Jack Bauer in Africa, and these have ended up being used in this film. In the meantime, behind the scenes Joel Surnow, one of the series’ creators was kicked off the show, and we began to wonder whether the over-reliance on torture (“It doesn’t work” said Leonardo DiCaprio’s character to Russell Crowe’s in the recent Body of Lies).
And so to Redemption which takes place in the fictional Sangala in Africa. Jack is holed up in an American sponsored school for local African kids run by the Irish (!) Benton (Robert Carlyle). We’re told that Jack and Benton know one another from the special forces, but it’s unclear why and how and they might have met.
Across the border from Sangala, a vicious warlord is rounding up kids so that they can be armed and sent into battle – effectively as cannon fodder. In perhaps the film’s best scenes, you find kids holding AK47s quite chilling.
The real time concept is kept and we’re told that the action takes place between 3pm and 5pm. Meanwhile in Washington, the new president is being inaugurated seemingly without a great deal of help from the outgoing Powers Boothe. 24 of course gave us a black president, and now that we have Obama in reality, they’re giving us a female president in the shape of Cherry Jones. We also meet her son, and his friend. But the Washington aspect of the story is really all set-up for the forthcoming series 7.
Back in Africa, the rebels still need more kids despite the fact that they have no time to train them as their attack on the country is imminent. And guess which school’s kids is in the firing line. Fortunately there’s a hidden cellar where they can hide out – along with the cowardly UN guy who, of course, is French.
Can Jack save the kids with Benton despite the US government having a warrant for his arrest? What do you think?
The build up is quite nice and measured. Despite the short running time, it doesn’t run at the same lunatic pace as many episodes of 24 can do. Quite why the rebels would get so worried about Bauer is a little unclear (he kills someone’s brother, so there has to be revenge). But in an attack on the school, the soldiers are still after a dozen kids, even when about a dozen adults have been killed in the attack. It doesn’t seem worth it!
What was a bit disappointing was the terribly clunky product placement. Seemingly US network Nextel is available in fictional African countries – the phones are held up to the camera just a little bit too long to make sure we can see. And when the US president conducts video chats on three monitor set-ups, he or she sees a massive Cisco screensaver whenever they switch off the video conferencing system. It’s a bit clunky.
We also saw a 15 minute preview of day 7 – essentially the first fifteen minutes of the first episode. It begins with a terrific stunt involving the kidnapping of someone. Then we cut to Jack Bauer who’s giving testimony about his torture. It seems that all that shooting people in the legs to get information is finally catching up with him.
It’s no surprise to learn that Tony Almeida is back – Carlos Bernard’s name is in the credits. Yes – I know we thought he was dead. But could he really be working for the other side? We’ll have to wait until next year to find out…

Internet Retailing At Christmas

Let me first apologise for mentioning Christmas while we’re still in November. I take no pleasure in bringing forward a retailing period that’s already appearing far too early, and is very occassionally considered a religious festival (for goodness sake, a man died today in a stampede at 5am in Walmart in New York).
As someone who does more and more of his shopping online, I usually don’t mind if the retailer emails me regular updates of special offers, perhaps based on my previous shopping habits. But I’ve noticed it getting worse and worse of late. Last year, in the run-up to final postal deadlines to receive goods in time for Christmas, all the major retailers were sending me at least one email a day. This is overkill.
This year, as a recession looms (unless we’re in it already), it’s already getting silly. My inbox is daily filling up with mail advertising that day’s offers. More often than not, they’re not really targeted at me based on any previous purchasers. The retailers effectively see it as free non-spam. I’ve elected to receive their email and they’re going to make sure I receive it.
Well let me tell them that they’re walking a very fine line. There is no reason for them to send quite the quantity that they are, and if it significantly increases from the current level, I’ll be unsubscribing. At that point – they’ve lost me.
Email is not a replacement for other forms of media. It’s more intrusive, but it’s also something I can control, when I turn on the radio or television, or buy a newspaper, there’s little I can do to determine whether or not I see the ads (PVRs excepted). But I can and will take too much junk email into my own hands.
So HMV, Argos, WH Smith and even Amazon – you better watch out. I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s getting fed up with the bombardment.

Radio 2 Audiences and The Age of Listening

Here’s an interesting question related to the Ross/Brand affair. Yes, I know I said I was bored of the whole thing, but this is genuinely interesting.
Did Russell Brand actually cost Radio 2 listeners when he was on-air with them? (Or perhaps more reasonably, did he cost them listening hours, when regular Radio 2 listeners just tuned out until his show had finished?)
This starts from a piece in the BBC Trust report. It notes that Brand’s Saturday night 9-11pm show “attracted an average audience of around 400,000 listeners. Their average age was 50 and more than 40% were over 55. Just over half were women.”
Looking at the RAJAR data for the most recent show, I see that Russell Brand reaches 382,000 listeners – close enough to the 400,000 the BBC quotes. The report states that the average age was 50, although I make the mean age (from reach with a base of adults 15+) to be 52. This is interesting because the mean age of the station overall is actually 50.
So Russell Brand’s listeners were slightly older than the station average! I’d suggest that this comes of the scheduling of his show. Overall, 37.9% of Radio 2’s audience (based on reach, base – adults 15+) is aged under 45, but for Brand’s show this falls to 35.2%.
Put simply, younger people are more likely to be out at that time.
This explains to a large extent, the numbers that then follow in the report:
The programme was made available on the BBC iPlayer for seven days after broadcast. The edition of 18 October 2008 received 33,000 requests from UK-based users and a total of 44,000 around the world. It was also made available as a podcast for seven days from Monday 20 October and was downloaded 130,000 times in the UK and a total of 168,000 times around the world.
It’s fair to assume that these podcast and iPlayer listeners are younger than average. Let’s assume their average age was 30. That’d mean that the overall average age of Brand’s listeners would still be relatively high at 45. It’s worth noting that Brand’s weekly podcast was second only to Radio 4’s Friday Night Comedy.
You might be sitting there thinking – well that’s not that old (Ross is 48 after all). But a mean is only the average. A very significant proportion of those listeners are likely to be 45 or older. As the Trust report notes, over 40% of the RAJAR live listeners were over 55.
But let’s return to that 400,000 – or 382,000 anyway. How does the same 9pm-11pm slot do between Monday and Sunday? (I’ve put shows in brackets, but Radio 2’s schedule does change fairly regularly, so I’ve listed programmes from the start of September which will be included in these RAJAR Q3 2008 figures).
Monday: 655,000 (Radcliffe & Maconie/Big Band Special/Jamie Cullum)
Tuesday: 643,000 (Radcliffe & Maconie/Nigel Ogden/Various)
Wednesday: 573,000 (Radcliffe & Maconie/Trevor Nelson’s Soul Show)
Thursday: 559,000 (Radcliffe & Maconie/Mark Lamarr Reggae)
Friday: 509,000 (Friday Night is Music Night/Various/The Weekend w/Claudia Winkleman)
Saturday: 382,000 (Russell Brand)
Sunday: 511,000 (Russell Davies/Malcolm Laycock)
So clearly Saturday night is Radio 2’s lowest night of the week for that time-slot – by a significant margin.
But hang-on. Is that Brand’s fault, or is it just because Saturdays are a poor night for radio listening in general because we’re all out, or watching X-Factor/Casualty or entertaining or whatever?
Brand joined Radio 2 in November 2006. So let’s choose Q3 2006 – covering the period just before Brand started at Radio 2. Sadly, I don’t have listings for who precisely was on the station at that time, but nonetheless, I do have the numbers:
Monday: 636,000
Tuesday: 600,000
Wednesday: 581,000
Thursday: 581,000
Friday: 491,000
Saturday: 358,000
Sunday: 586,000
So poor Saturdays aren’t Brand’s fault. There are simply fewer listeners to be had on a Saturday night at that time compared with any other day of the week.
But the average age back then for a Saturday night was 56.
I think that this, in the end, is the most important thing. While the difference between 52 and 56 might not seem all that great – shifting average ages by even a single year is actually very hard to do. This is particularly the case with a large station with a loyal audience.
An older listener who doesn’t want to hear speech (Radio 4/Five Live/talkSPORT) or classical music (Radio 3/Classic FM) only really has Radio 2 aimed at them on a national scale. Certainly there are services like Smooth or even Magic that also target that audience to a certain extent. But nobody else does it quite so well.
So why not serve that audience with something they want at 9pm on a Saturday night rather than desperately trying to attract a younger audience?
Now Radio 2 would probably fairly point out that Russell was bringing new listeners to its station. But I still wonder if he wasn’t better suited to 6Music whose average audience age of 35 is closer to Brand’s – he’s 33? Or maybe even Radio 1 (average age… er, 33 – base: adults 15+)?
You shouldn’t solely concern yourselves with demographics of course. Older performers can be perfectly well be appreciated by younger viewers and listeners (witness all the crooners who find a new lease of life when they perform at Glastonbury), but let’s not forget the service remit of Radio 2:
The remit of Radio 2 is to be a distinctive, mixed music and speech service, targeted at a broad audience, appealing to all age groups over 35.
If I’m aged 70, and don’t want to listen to classical music, then Radio 2 remains the service for me.
Perhaps when the BBC next looks at its statements of policy, it should take account of the older audience to a greater extent. There are already more pensioners than there are under-16s, and the fastest growing age-group in the UK is 80+! This age-group has grown from 2.8% of the population to 4.5% of the population in the last 25 years. Sadly, pensioners have little spare income, which don’t make them an attractive audience for most commercial radio operators (witness the decline of Saga Radio which attempted to target 50+). So it’s almost certainly going to need to be the BBC which picks up the slack and reaches out to this growing audience.

Morals

Yesterday I was about to go into a newsagent, when a couple of kids stopped me just outside. If they gave me the money, would I go in and buy them a packet of cigarettes?
“Sorry, no,” I replied.
It’s a moral thing – I’m not buying their cigarettes for them. They’re under-age, and I’m not helping them out.
The same thought came today, when, in response to a request for present ideas, someone suggested buying the Mamma Mia DVD as a Christmas gift (no names – no pack drill).
Just like I’m not going to help feed some youths’ nicotine addiction, I’m not going to support someone’s terrible taste in celluloid – even if it’s ironic.
I have to have standards. I’d feel dirty just buying a copy. I’d have to explain to the shop assistant that it wasn’t for me. I’m feeling a cold shiver down my back just typing these words, and thinking about quite how appalling the film might be.
When I give a gift, however much the recipient desires the gift or has asked for it, the fact that I’ve given it is a reflection of me and my tastes.
So no Mamma Mia DVDs, no Mariah Carey CDs, no Martina Cole novels, and so on.

Body of Lies

Another year – another Ridley Scott film. Scott is responsible for some of my favourite ever films. They tend to be earlier films like Blade Runner and Alien than later ones, but American Gangster last year was superb, while 2006’s A Good Year (also starring Russell Crowe) was abysmal.
So where does Body of Lies fit? Well it’s not had wonderful reviews, and while it feels a little workmanlike at times, the story is interesting and it certainly feels contemporary. Crowe plays the Hoffman, a CIA director who runs Leonardo DiCaprio’s Ferris – an agent in the Middle East. When we first meet him he’s based in Iraq, but he moves on to places such as Jordian, Dubai and Syria at various points during the film.
Ferris is trying his best to nurture agents on the ground, but Hoffman, who inhabits a suburban Washington DC lifestyle and seems to permanently have a mobile headset wired to his ear, is in a rush to find the operator of an Al Qaeda cell currently causing misery in Sheffield, Manchester and Amsterdam.
The real intelligence of the piece turns out to be the Jordanian head of intelligence, Hani (Mark Strong), who’s men are everywhere and really understand the geopolitics of the region.
We continually see surveillance imagery taken by drones high in the sky, although the Al Qaeda operatives know how to stop the drones tracking them, with a clever desert manoeuvre.
Others have taken against the immorality of most of the film’s characters, including the otherwise likeable Ferris. But that’s not really a problem in a spy film. I suppose the bigger problem is the speed with which the conclusion of the film’s reached. It’s all a little too neat and tidy – but then a film has to have some kind of resolution.
So worthwhile? Undoubtedly. But like the Coen’s and Burn After Reading, it’s not as good as the film that came before it. I just hope that the next film Scott makes is The Forever War and not Monopoly The Movie.

Local News

This morning, the BBC Trust rejected plans for a local BBC video news service.
Concurrently, Ofcom published the results of its Market Impact Assessment and concluded that the plans would have had a significant negative impact on commercial news providers.
The BBC proposal would have seen it producing more localised news which would be delivered on demand either via fixed or mobile internet. The BBC’s aim was to provide another layer of depth to its current local and regional services which often stretch significantly. For example, if you sit in North Norfolk, the local news will also cover goings on in Watford.
Most commercial news providers were utterly opposed to the plans for understandable reasons. Local newspapers have suffered enormously as they’ve seen their advertising revenues fall. Traditionally much of their cash came from classified ads, and lucrative property and jobs ads. Yet all of these have – to one extent or another – moved over to the internet. As a result, they have less money to invest in news gathering and we’re seeing redundancies, and closures. The one thing they have going for them is their ultra-local news. And they didn’t want to see the BBC getting their hands on that.
Meanwhile, local commercial radio operators were similarly opposed to the BBC’s plans. As well as their on-air local news provision, the more forward thinking operators have been investing in online local news provision as the newspaper groups have. They want their sites to become the local news portals for a given region. If successful, they’re in a strong place to develop new online revenues (seemingly the only area of the UK media landscape that is showing growth).
They make good points, and I think the BBC Trust and Ofcom are probably right. But I think we also need to think forward a little. As newspapers suffer, so their newsrooms are shrinking. Fewer reporters mean that news is harder to come by. As Nick Davies pointed out in his excellent book Flat Earth News, with a retrenchment in journalists, comes a retrenchment in journalism. No longer does either a local newspaper or local news agency have a regular person sitting in the local courts or council chambers all the time.
And we’re seeing some local radio news operations being cut back – either by creating news “hubs” for a group of local services, or by even removing the one advantage local radio stations have over other broadcasters, and removing local news at certain times of the day altogether.
Can we really get all our local news online? I’m not sure we can.
If there aren’t any decent primary news gatherers – i.e. local news reporters on the ground – then everybody will be republishing the same Press Association copy. And that’s not enough. Like elsewhere in an open society, competition is important for news providers too.
I honestly don’t know what the answer is, but as budgets are squeezed, plurality of news providers remains important. If we all rely on one source – something that we’re getting closer and closer to – then we become less open. Without the concern that your competitor is going to scoop you, a reporter isn’t as incentivised to work harder and dig deeper. Who’s going to look hard into more difficult stories?
Perhaps beyond that danger is nobody at all covering the news. Local newspapers will have closed down. Local radio will cover things at a very superficial level perhaps having one or two people in the newsroom (including the newsreader). And local television won’t really exist and the likes of ITV offers the same “local” news for everyone between Carlisle and Newcastle.
As ever, these are my own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

BBC Trust on Jonathan Ross

The BBC Trust reported today on lots of things. Of most interest to the press was the Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand fiasco. But frankly, that’s so dull now, I can’t be bothered to get into it at all. Tomorrow’s papers will be all over it.
Of far more interest, in the same report, is the response to Jonathan Ross’ interview with Gwyneth Paltrow.
Undoubtedly Ross was crass, and like “complainant 1” in the report, it wasn’t the languarge per se that I found troubling, but the context. Ross was like some juvenile schoolboy, and you got the feeling the Paltrow was just being professional in agreeing to everything and going along with Ross.
Maybe she did find it funny, but I don’t agree. And it was seeing this particular episode that meant that I wasn’t surprised by Ross’ later antics with Brand.
Do I want him to continue to be irreverand? Absolutely. But I don’t want to be squirming in discomfort when I watch his show.

To Publish Or Not To Publish?

A simple one first of all. It seems that the names of the people allegedly responsible for the death of Baby P are being passed around quite freely via electronic media. But for legal reasons, they’ve not been named publicly in the mainstream media.
It can obviously lead to a lynch-mob mentality that says that we should all go around their houses and… well… probably nothing, since they’ve been found guilty and will be sentenced accordingly. That’s a fairly cut and dried case. At this point, the law of the land will take its course.
But then there’s the case of the BNP membership list. As everyone knows, a version of it has been leaked, and the details contained are pretty full with names, complete addresses with postcodes, phone numbers, email addresses and even additional notes accompanying these details. The fallout has begun with a stand-in talkSPORT DJ no longer being employed by the station and at least one policeman facing possible sanctions (the police force made it illegal to be a member of the BNP because it’s at odds with their race relations) [UPDATE – The DJ concerned says he joined for research purposes]. Others are likely to suffer repercussions following this publication.
The leak is clearly a breach of data protection, and although our otherwise dreadful Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is fair in asking “I wonder why it is that BNP members are rather more ashamed of their membership [than I am]?” those individuals are entitled to their privacy while the BNP remains a legal political party.
At this point I should probably make clear that I find the BNP utterly abhorent and their beliefs are completely at odds with my own. But we live in a democracy, so the BNP is allowed to exist.
Yet I still feel uncomfortable about it all. Various mashup Google maps have appeared (and disappeared) plotting the data so that you too can see if there’s a racist in your street, and I’ll freely admit that I’ve checked out my neighbourhood, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.
In the US there are sex-offenders’ registers, and that’s been mooted over here – a parent wants to know if a convicted paedophile lives near them or their child’s school. The argument against it is that once News of the World readers have been around to smash all their windows and set fire to their house, they go “off the radar” and nobody is able to keep track of them – least of all the authorities.
Perhaps there’s something to be said for all political party affiliations to be made public? But I’m not so sure. It feels at odds with the civil liberties we’ve been handed down since Magna Carta (More on this soon in another entry).
So while it all seems a fun game to ‘out the local racists,’ does it really help in the long term?
And would I be happy if someone published a similar list of gay, Jewish or disabled people? (I’m in no way likening them to BNP members, but they’re lists that, if they existed, could easily be misused).
So no, I wouldn’t be happy. And frankly, I don’t want the Government doing it either with their ID card (or big database as it really is).

Voting Openness on TV?

So John Sergeant has quit Strictly. Don’t say that I don’t cover the important issues of the day. What’s that about Congo or pirates off Somalia?
What I still find perplexing is the lack of openness in whole TV voting world even post the telephone voting scandals we’ve had over the last eighteen months or so. We regularly hear that more young vote in Big Brother than General Elections, yet unlike a General Election, where the full results are published, we never get that information in TV contests. Instead, we’re just told who wins or loses.
In Strictly’s case, the judges count for half the votes, and viewers the other half. Of the eight couples dancing, according to the judges John and Kristina came bottom with 1 point, while Rachel and Vincent came top with 8 points.
Suppose the perverse British public essentially voted in the exact opposite manner putting John top and Rachel bottom – both would end up with 9 points (as would everyone else).
But we never actually get to see the final numbers of voters to allow us to determine what the overall results are. All we know are the bottom two couples. So maybe John has been squeezing through by the skin of his teeth, or perhaps he’s been “walzting” through unimpeded such has been the strength of his fanbase. Who knows?
Producers are obviously loathe to publish the numbers because it might influence how people vote next time. But that’s precisely why we need to see it.
And thet gets me on to multiple votes. There are no obvious limitations for the number of votes any particular line can make. Why not? OK – a family sitting down in a household may all hold separate opinions and want to each vote (thus cancelling out one anothers’ votes – but hey…). But a limit of four or five votes per phone line would be easy to implement.
Interestingly, the US version of the show adopts a percentage format that means that a very low scoring couple is at an extreme disadvantage however popular they are. This is much better than the British system where even a big points gap might only mean you’re one point worse off than the couple immediately ahead of you.
Anyway, it’s all moot now, and frankly I don’t even care about it that much. It’s an entertainment show and not a dance competition. Although quite why the Beeb hasn’t quietly reinstated a regular version of Come Dancing in Strictly’s off-season, I’m really not sure. It’d surely be popular early on a Sunday evening. And I’m sure Anton would be happy to present…