December, 2008

Surviving Gaza

Wow. Channel 4 has an interesting and incredibly timely programme on next Monday. I assume it’ll detail how to survive on the Gaza Strip when you’re being bombed daily by the Israelis.
Wait a minute… My mistake.
It’s actually called “Surviving Gazza“, and is about the famously off-the-rails footballer.
Of course this is scheduled after an episode of the returning Celebrity B** B******. The fact is that Channel 4 can’t survive without the ratings that this garbage gives them. We all know that they’re in trouble, and are desperately short of cash. BB doesn’t rock my boat. The people they sign up are “celebrities” in the loosest sense, largely doing it to reignite their waning careers (there’s no other real reason to go on). But as I’ve said before, the downside is that C4 is effectively off limits for me for the next x-weeks – I neither know nor care how long it lasts.
So what’s the answer? C4 needs BB to at least attempt to balance the books. E4, More 4 and even Film Four are appreciated by their respective audiences, but overall the station is haemorrhaging cash, and has recently made quite a large proportion of its staff redundant. It’s unable to really benefit from international sales or DVD revenues because it doesn’t its own programming – it’s all made by independent production companies. And its news is facing problems as ITV cuts ever back, perhaps even leaving news behind altogether. As it is, the channel relies on ITV’s regional news divisions.
Is it time for the end of Channel 4? I’m not sure that its is, but I worry that the direction it’s headed is doing it no good in the long term.

Three Fun Articles To Read

Well one article and two blog posts really.
First off, Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, writes at length about how the media is effectively now unable to examine things like whether corporations are avoiding tax legally. We know that the UK’s libel laws are absurd and encourage libel tourism (everything is effectively “published” in the UK either via the internet or through online booksales), but even more scary are the vast sums that journalists must pay tax lawyers to write articles. The piece itself cost “several thousand dollars” just to be cleared to publish. Nobody else followed up Private Eye’s stories about Tesco in the summer, not because it wasn’t a story, but it’s just too expensive (and Tesco is a major advertiser, who nobody’s in a hurry to annoy).
Charles Arthur on what a devastating effect Zavvi and Woolie’s closures (or imminent closures) are likely to have on the music industry, with the supermarkets taking control of physical sales. Their tastes are somewhat blander than might be liked…
And finally author Max Barry on the stupidity of Warners who have somehow prevented purchasers of The Dark Knight on DVD from playing it on their PC. Such is their concern about anti-piracy, that they make pirates out of honest consumers. Film companies really need a kick up the backside.

Copyright Extension

In just four days, we could begin to see the first of Cliff Richard’s singles re-released without Richard himself either profiting or having any say over what’s released.
That could happen, although as I write, I can’t see any forthcoming releases at Amazon. Indeed he’s recently released a celebratory 50 years anthology, and gave away an album with the Mail on Sunday recently covering much the same.
His first two singles came out in 1958 and were Move It and High Class Baby.
Because copyright on current performers extends over 50 years, those songs drop out of copyright from Jan 1 2009.
Richard’s problem is that he performed, but did not write most of his hits. Move It, Wikipedia tells me, was written by Ian Samwell (Aaron Schroeder wrote the B-Side – Schoolboy Crush). Samwell died in 2003, but his estate continues to profit from the song he wrote, and will do so until 2073 under current UK copyright legislation.
But Richards isn’t happy, and he’s not alone. In 2012 early Beatles songs will also go out of copyright, and thousands of other songs are going out of copyright every year.
There’s a massive push amongst the UK music industry to get this period increased from 50 years to 95 years.
The reason is simple. These songs currently earn money, and with recorded sales declining, the industry is trying to recoup every penny it possibly can from wherever it can.
Is this a problem? Doesn’t Cliff et al deserve a few quid for their work? Well in fact, Cliff’s profited quite nicely. The major problem the industry has is that all the people who stand up for them seem to be well-known multi-millionaires. I can look at my own work in 50 years time and know that it won’t be earning me any cash. But then I know that because I went in knowing it. If I perform a song today and it’s in some way successful (I know this is a stretch, but stay with me), then I know that I have but 50 years to recoup some cash. A struggle I know.
Andy Burnham recently stood up in front of the music industry and gave a speech which suggested that the UK government was backing down from the conclusions of its own report.
Gowers, the author of the report, has a fantastic riposte in the FT:
Copyright is an economic instrument, not a moral one, and if you consider the economic arguments – as I did two years ago at the request of Gordon Brown – you will find that they do not stack up. All the respectable research shows that copyright extension has high costs to the public and negligible benefits for the creative community.
Consumers find themselves paying more for old works or unable to access “orphan works” where copyright ownership is unclear. Small businesses that play recorded music such as hairdressing salons and local radio stations face a hidden extra “tax” in the form of higher music-licence fees. Do they really need this at this time?

Gowers goes on to point out that no musician has ever decided not to record a song because it’ll be out of copyright in 50 years.
The orphan works argument is also important. Most recorded music is not available today. It was largely disposable at the time, and even if it wasn’t, unless it was recorded by a big enough star, it has long gone out of print. It’s worth nobody’s time putting it back in print if there are unnecessary copyright payments making the project unworkable.
And if you can’t even trace the copyright owners, then you can expect the works to remain out of print until that copyright period is up completely. Currently that’s 50 years from then, but it could reach 70 or even 95 if we mimic the States where Walt Disney has had such a sway.
As ever, it’s the Open Rights Group that looks out for this kind of thing, because the music industry sings from one voice.
As it points out: the record industry will roll out some needy musicians – and there undoubtedly are many. But they won’t be the real beneficiaries of increasing the term: many of those performance rights are owned by the large labels. I don’t doubt that they’re suffering. Look at EMI after all. But that’s not reason to tax the public.
[Regular readers may know that I’ve written a lot on this subject before. Here, here and here for example. These views, are of course my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.]

Fears Grow For Doctor Who

Has The Evening Standard Already Seen The Christmas Special?
As seen on a London Evening Standard billboard today. Perhaps they’ve had a preview of the Christmas special?
They do know that he’s a fictional character don’t they?

Voting Fun

If Strictly adopted the US voting system as I’d advocated, then it’s incredibly unlikely this weekend’s incident would have occurred.
This isn’t, of course, important. Votes placed will still go to viewers’ favourite dancers. So everyone who’s saved the BBC or Ofcom’s phone numbers on speed dial to complain at the drop of a hat should probably take a close look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves why they actually voted for the programme.
I heard some fool of a woman on the radio saying that she wasn’t going to watch the final next weekend because she was so upset!
So she’s willing to watch the first 13 weeks, but a 15p vote that will still count is enough to make her not want to watch the show? (And she’s so upset, that she got up really early this morning to head to a studio in W12). As William Shatner once said, “Get a life!”

Safety First Investment

Safety First Investment
I love it when tube stations are being refurbished and old posters are uncovered before the new LCD panels go up in their place. Yesterday evening I saw this wonderful Abbey National poster from goodness knows when (it looks quite old to me even if the colours are quite vivid).
I suspect that Abbey wouldn’t use quite those words today in its advertising.

Media Talk on The Guardian

Matt Wells had something of a moan this week about what he called an advert for DAB that he’d heard on the BBC this week. He saw it as a straight ad for BBC viewers and listeners to go out and buy a DAB digital radio.
A couple of things Matt:
The BBC did exactly the same thing last year(That’s a link to the Media Guardian site containing the video from last year). And indeed the BBC has been effectively promoting the DAB format since it started. Indeed since their charter requires them to broadcast on DAB, it would be strange if they didn’t. The BBC is not promoting a particular brand of radio – they’re promoting the format. That’s not surprising since they broadcast in the format and have a national DAB multiplex.
Secondly, this is no different to what happened with Freeview where the BBC kicked life into the DTT format. They happily promoted – on air – the availability of the £99 box.
The BBC has also recently been promoting its HD channel. To watch that, I have to go out and buy and HD ready TV. And to watch that I also have to pay for a subscription to either Sky or Virgin Media, or go out and buy a Freesat box.
I know Matt Wells hates DAB digital radio, and he’s welcome to his opinions, which we hear endlessly week after week (although it was nice to hear the promotion of his sister company’s Christmas programming this week as news), but let’s have a little fairness shall we?
And it was entertaining that he enjoyed the Branagh version of Wallander. Last week, sight unseen, he wasn’t at all sure and thought that the books, which he hadn’t read, were rubbish. He might be interested to learn that the dramatisation was pretty accurate to the books. So perhaps he should try one or two before condemning them unread.
As for the Media Talk discussion about Project Kangaroo – well I’m going to get into that in another post. But I was disappointed by the level of discussion.

Changeling

J. Michael Straczynski is someone best known to me as the creator and driving force behind Babylon 5, a series that was almost certainly ahead of its time.
Now comes Changeling, a superb new film directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Angelina Jolie. Straczynski dug up the story – infamous at the time – based around a mother who’s son disappears. The police, in the shape of Jeffrey Donovan’s Captain Jones, return a different boy, and then try to shut up Jolie’s Christine Collins when she complains.
Then there’s the powerful Rev. Briegleb played by John Malkovich, who is pretty much her supporter. But he has a radio station to continually berate the corrupt Los Angeles Police Department.
There are more elements to the story, but I won’t mention them here as the really spoil it.
Eastwood does a fine job directing it in his usual manner, and the 30s period is depicted in a way that never detracts from the story. But it’s lovely to see the operator manager using rollerskates to move swiftly around the office. Eastwood also composed the music.
A lot has been made of the lack of jokes and seriousness of the film, but I don’t think that’s fair. So it’s not always especially pleasant, but it’s always watchable and the incredible story just keeps you going as you want to discover what happens.
A fine cast fills out all the minor roles, but again I don’t want to highlight anyone in case I give away plot details. The film certainly headed off in a direction I seriously wasn’t expecting although I’m not familiar with the history of that part of California in that period.
I know a lot of people find Angelina Jolie annoying, but just when you begin to think she is, up she pops with something like this to make you forget.
Eastwood, it seems, pretty much used the script as it came without changes, and his next film, hot on the heels of this – Gran Torino – also uses the script as it came to Eastwood. Unchanged. The guy’s got class.