June, 2009

Radio Festival – Tuesday


[Note: Thiese are rough notes so apologies for any typos and general bad English. I’ll try to update as I go.]
Nicky Campbell kicked off proceedings as host with a few stories about his life in radio before introducing a very nice summary of radio in the last 12 months.
The first panel has Tim Davie (BBC), Andrew Harrison (RadioCentre), Stuart Taylor (GMG) and Simon Cole (UBC). Tim Davie believes that 2015 is a challenging timeframe, while Stuart Taylor highlighted the in-car issue.
Campbell wants to know what’s in it for the listener, Simon Cole says that the savings from dual transmission must be reinvested in content.
Tim Davie doesn’t seem himself “strapped to DAB” but he wants to see a credible portable medium aside from DAB. But he says that IP doesn’t do the job yet. The last year has seen some good progress in radio. We need to be able to buy a decent digital radio for £15 and not £50.
On the question of whether the BBC should be funding the transition to digital, Davie thinks that there’s some element that the BBC should pay for. He questions how much of local rollout should be paid for though!
Campbell asks about the potential of a new administration, and Davie pointed out that we’ll be hearing the Tory point of view at this Festival.
Stuart Taylor points out that it’s not certain that every station wants to go national. He argues for freedom in format change – radio is competing with unfettered competitors.
Davie is asked about how a post digital switchover landscape might look and Davie talks about share of listening – not share of radio. The future will have, by one means or another, almost infinite choice. Taylor thinks that a lot will change in five years with signal strengths increased and radios in cars. But the key thing is that radio is up against so many other things these days – people continue to find time to listen to radio.
Nicky Campbell draws attention to the very obvious issue that Global Radio, the UK’s largest commercial radio operator, appears to have sent nobody to the Radio Festival, the UK’s biggest radio conference (In fact there are one or two people here – but they’re keeping quiet).
A question from the audience asks about Libby Purvess’s recent Times column questioning the green credentials of digital radios. Harrison and Davie are in agreement that it’s certainly something to be addressed. Harrison says that we now have a brief to take to manufacturers about precisely what kind of radios need to be brought to the market.
Glynn Jones from Digital One wants to know why advertising on digital radio services is being sold as a discount rather than a premium. Taylor agrees and says that it’s been sold wrongly – as a cheap bolt on. Buyers obviously look to undermine a sales offering, but he believes it’s an issue that’s being addressed.
Campbell asks about the recently announced Radio Council which Harrison believes is a good thing and will allow everyone to work on the industry’s issues. The joint radio player is a good example, he says.
Simon Cole says that the industry is too small to have lots of internal fighting.
Tim Davie says that we all have to huddle together for scale. He says that lots of people want to join the Radio Council, but he won’t say who.
A questioner from Wales points out that it’ll take six DAB transmitters to cover his single current FM transmitter in mid-Wales. He says that he turns over £18,000 per month, and it’s unaffordable.
Davie says that this is why there’s public money involved. Harrison suspects that in some of the nations there’ll be additional help.
Torin Douglas of the BBC reports that the RNIB suggests that there needs to be a help scheme for blind people. Harrison believes that it’s a bit too early to consider this. New digital sets, however, should be much easier for blind and disabled to use than analogue dial sets.
Davie points out that we’re at much lower levels than television, so comparisons with the digital television switchover fund are too early.
Someone from Norway asks about getting radios, in car in particularly, in line across Euirope. Cole says that we now have the industry engaged and it’s a question of getting new functionality like traffic cameras built in. Cole believes that we’re at the tipping point across Europe now.
The first Spotify question comes up from somebody who makes commercials for them. Taylor says that they’re not radio but they’re a competitor for listening share. He suggests we question them about their pricing and sales.
Teenage Wasteland – Engaging with a Youth Audience is the title of the next session presented by Dr Anthony Cox of Sparkler.
Campbell introduced the session saying that youth audiences have declined, despite overall audiences reaching a record level. Cox points out that while reach has remained stable, listening hours have declined by 36m hours over the last five years.
Cox explored some of the other things that youths are doing (!) these days, and presented some video diaries. Radio’s in there, but so is MySpace, YouTube and many other things.
He says that big brands stand out for this audience and platforms are very important for this age group. But this demographic is the least likely to buy a DAB radio – they want it online.
Richard Sambrook (sambrook.typepad.com) is the director of BBC Global News – which as he points out, is significantly, the BBC World Service.
He notes that the World Service is the biggest digital only radio service in the UK, although I should point out that you can receive it on AM in London, and it’s still just about listenable on shortwave even if many European focused transmitters are turned off.
Sambrook talks about the various challenges the WS has faced over recent years changing from a didactic voice to an inclusive attitude. FM is important, especially in major cities around the world, often working with partners. The World Service is available in 154 capital cities – and have to deal with 154 regulators. There are also about 200 partners.
He says that sometimes partnerships don’t work. They had to pull a service in Sri Lanka for example. But a US partnership is very successful as is one in India (although they’re not allowed to broadcast news there).
In India, the audience is perceiving to be less stuffy than it once was, and is now more modern.
There’ve been changes with some language services increasing massively – sometimes on FM often via mobile, and sometimes online. Video streaming has also increased substantially he says.
Sambrook showed off the impressive BBC Bus for the US Election and the even more impressive BBC WS Train for the recent Indian elections. It was multi-platform and multi-lingual (and very cost efficient – everyone slept on the train).
Save Our Sounds is great new initiative that lets listeners upload audio to a map – a sonic archive.
The BBC Persian TV service launched recently and has quickly become very popular. The flagship programme runs across the web and TV – and has been well received in Iran. Recent weeks have obviously seen a huge surge in traffic with up to five video clips a minute coming into the service. It’s not especially popular with the Iranian government however.
Prison Radio did staggeringly well at the recent Sony Radio Academy Awards – in particular Electric Radio Brixton. Steve Orchard began with an anecdote about being mugged en route to a Prison Radio committee meeting.
Prison Radio first launched in the US in 1938, but in the UK it really started with Feltham in 1994 following a series of teenage suicides. The Prison Radio Association was soon launched as a charity to back the service. Mick Jones and Billy Bragg were two of the first guests on the first broadcast at Brixton.
Orchard explains how low literary skills can be in prison and how the radio improves confidence and more importantly is the main source of information in the prison. Tough subjects are tackled head on – drugs, self-harm, etc.
Overall Orchard played a lot of fantastic radio segments illustrating many aspects of the service offered by the Prison Radio Association, all of it fantastic and thoroughly compelling.
This was followed by a session chaied by Richard Bacon about the power of prison radio. On stage was the governor of Brixton prison, Paul McDowell and Tis, who won a Sony Radio Academy Award for his interview with Jonathan Aitkin and is still a prisoner. He was given special dispensation to attend the Festival today.
Bacon and Tis discussed what it brings to the prisoners, and responded when challenged about why money should be spent on this ahead of other courses.
Bacon wondered about who gets on air, especially as there are plans to roll this out to all prisons across the country. McDowell said that of course he chooses who is allowed on air and who isn’t. Notorious serial killers, for example, are not going to get on air.
The sessions where Governor is asked questions, he says is really no different to what the prisoners ask when he walks around the wings.
Overall a fantastic session.
Mark Oliver and Godfrey McFall from Oliver & Ohlbaum came on to deliver a presentation entitled Radio – The Fight Back Begins.
They opened with the various challenges facing the industry.
In the advertising market, the internet has obviously come along, although its still not made massive headway in display. McFall talked about London where he said that there was a four horse race in London – that puts pressure on yields. In TV there’s been a 50% decline in prices in real terms over recent years meaning that it’s become a threat to radio with the growth of multichannel.
Fragmentation affects the ways of reaching the most valued audiences.
In radio terms regional and digital services, according to McFall, are getting lower yields than
Disintermediation is a fantastic word if you’re playing scrabble. But it’s also looking at ways of connecting with an “audio consumer” in a multiplicity of ways cutting out the middle man.
O&O don’t have great news for those hoping for a quick recovery from the recession.
Having seen some quite daunting challenges, Oliver addresses what the industry can do about all this. He suggests that a two year digital warning might be a little ambition given that TV got six years. Legislative changes are all encouraging however.
There are also plenty of opportunities for the consumer in terms of technology. And the new landscape can become attractive to advertisers.
Beyond spot advertising then show and station sponsorship becomes more important as well as merchandise, events, coupon schemes and competitions. Coupons are particularly good ways to show the impact of advertising on sales.
But in summary – radio needs to help itself and look beyond the well developed world of spot advertising.
The next session was Radio at the Edge (get your tickets now for the full conference in November as it’ll be excellent) – with Mark Friend (BBC Audio & Music), Hugh Garry (BBC Radio 1) and Chris Lawson from Absolute Radio.
Friend started with a presentation which had some interesting facts:
75% of listening is to live radio and 25% is to on demand
94% of iPlayer time is with a listener’s favourite network.
5+ m claim to download regularly
35% now listening to different radio programmes
c 90% are listening to as much or more live radio
Younger listeners prefer highlight packages
Friend explained the constraints under which the BBC was allowed to use podcasts. He also said that the iPlayer has a very long tail of listening.
For a Monday episode of The Archers people catch up very quickly – mostly witin a couple of days. The same was true of last year’s Glastonbury coverage.
A chart comparing TV and radio shows very complimentary ussage of the two media via the iPlayer. Interestingly visualisation figures from Radio 1’s Big Weekend mimics TV viewing in patterns rather than radio with a mid-evening peak.
Chris Lawson then talked about the Absolute Radio story so far. He said that there were 53 ways to listen to Absolute Radio, with 49% of listening being via a digital platform already outside of London. This is something that Absolute is pushing aggressively and the station is going where the audience wants us – highlighting the 120,000 YouTube plays of a Bruno video recently uploaded as well as the success of the recent Dave Gorman podcast, currently at number one in the iTunes charts.
The launch of the iAmp had 8 days of promotion on-air to drive take up. 100,000 installs were achieved over that early period. Now around 24,000 people launch the application on a weekly basis. He compared the Absolute Radio hours with BBC hours and challenged others to do the same.
Lawson noted that the default rating for iTunes is one star so don’t be put off.
He also previewed the LiveAmp which will retail for 59p soon.
Gerry then came on to talk about what Radio 1 has been doing including their Shoot The Summer video. After a clip he explained that using phones was what their audience was doing already.
He also demonstrated Band In Your Hand – the clever augmented reality technology used by Radio 1. We got a live demo… And the live demo worked. Many impressed sounds came from around the audience near me.
Matt Deegan wanted to know if Absolute Radio was missing a section of the audience who weren’t so digitally enabled. Lawson said that people were upgrading if not everyone was at the cutting edge. Absolute Radio wants to pull people forward. Friend said that some things were less mainstream but that’s what Radio 1 audiences expected.
The first session of the afternoon was a choice of four, so I went to The Recession That Rocked Radio.
David Meliveo from Autoglass was first off. He explained how one day in 2005 Aviva bought his main competitor and they lost 25% of their business four weeks later. Their advertising was failing and they weren’t getting return on investment, so they turned to radio in desperation! Radio lets you listen and talking to people about windscreens is intrinsically boring.
Radio also lets you test regionally and it’s cheaper to produce. Their ads were conversational, were 60 seconds and were more friendly.
The results showed a 24% year on year on by nearly a third growth within the previous few weeks. By the end of that campaign they’d achieved 77% increases.
He has showed us a remarkable chart comparing radio investment with demand. The two were in sync and as a result they use radio all the time. Autoglass isnow the biggest brand in radio and the second biggest advertiser.
Autoglass brand awareness has increased 19% in four years.
“Radio advertising has completely changed the way we run our business.”
Demand for replaement windows is seasonal so they advertised in downtimes to flatten out shifts. They have to use fully trained technicians so they can’t use casual labour.
On top of all this, customer satisfaction is at an all time high.
The same formula is being used in another 18 countries. We heard some multi-lingual versions of the ads.
Meliveo in summary says “Keep the faith” – radio is in everybody’s life. He says radio needs to keep investing in programming. He wants to carry on reaching even more people.
Radio is fantastic for brands driving sales and building brands – it needs to sell itself better.
Mark Middlemas from UM spoke about the importance of radio in peoples’ lives yet the small amount of spend. It’s been there a long time. Radio just isn’t sexy but it can still drive sales.
Middlemas thinks that the brands are strong but it needs to be about more than CPTs; value is more than just price. Making more of the talent is also important – using it off-air too. And differentiation and investment in programming is vital he said.
He spoke about a deal UM did with Intel changed the way that everybody thinks about it – silos were broken down. And there are lots of accountability case studies. But there’s more to be done he says. Improvements to audience measurement and RAJAR are key to the future he says.
The PR volume of radfio needs “turning up” says Middlemas – and that can leave radio behind. He highlighted a Microsoft campaign on Global using the band, The Saturdays.
He thinks that it’s a challenging future which makes them very nervous – he mentioned recent pieces by both Libby Purves and Kelvin MacKenzie recently.
Julian Carter said that we had to “get real” about the current situation. More people in programming need to be clearer about the correlation between audience and cash. He talked about networking, and said that hours have increased so far as the Heart network. He questions whether networking in Scotland will work though. LDC, on the otherhand, is trying something different with Phil Riley.
Has consolidation helped? It’s not clear because cannibalisation has happened and too much focus has been on share rather than competing with other industries. Global needs to be strong and profitable as the number one player.
The advertising medium needs to grow – in other countries it takes 10% not 5%. Digital and mobile need to be used more – digital should be pushed on-air. Creativity is important and the RAB is doing something. But he says that you don’t hear as good ads as you used to.
Radio needs to have world class customer service, but many big clients say it’s awful – RAJAR figures get spun.
Finally he says that calls to action are still most important. Branding’s important, but calls to action can drive results like those of Auotglass.
Carter gave an example of B&Q advertised a one-day sale on radio but should have used different copy throughout the day.
Sue Timson, a consultant talked more about what local clients want. She said that local advertisers want many of the same things as national advertisers – they want to know about digital but not yet understand it. Your local station is showbiz however much networking it carries.
But it’s not just a sales problem – that team is almost the last place it impacts on. But everyone has to play a part in commercial success.
John Myers is next up, author of the Myers Review following his three month trip around the world. Myers noted that he was in Canada when Michael Jackson died recently. In Canada they have a 40% Canadian music rule so they couldn’t go to a non-stop Jackson format. In the US it was worse in many stations that are just fully voice tracked for most of the day.
Myers points out that he’s speaking in a personal capacity.
Sometimes Ofcom “has about as much vision as Stevie Wonder.”
Myers explained that he had six weeks to put together his review across all “stakeholders.” He says that a common viewpoint of the regulator among some industry people was that respect for it was as bad as it has ever been.
Myers went back and asked some of the big questions from the start – why was local radio created the way it has been?
Revenue kept up with the number of stations through the 90s until 2004. But growth in listening stopped and declined as station numbers continued to grow. And on top of this share against the BBC fell from the mid nineties. At a point new stations were canibalising existing stations; the cake was being sliced smaller. What’s more, lots of small stations were launching from the beginning of the nineties.
Myers thinks that the problem, which was clear early on, was demand led. Local MPs petitioning for a station would mean one came about. Economic surveys weren’t completed to see if one could be supported. Even though people bid for them, many never would make money, and in some cases they were traded as commodities.
“Licences were awarded to the wrong people… [They] lost out to gold-diggers.”
There are now too many stations in too many markets and he stated that 50 stations would go bust – he believes he’s on track.
“Four reviews in four years does not mean we’re good at this.” Ofcom needs to think bolder and bigger than it has ever done before. Myers thinks that the industry needs to take giant leaps forward.
He said that there isn’t enough local news on the radio and that it needs to be written into licences.
Ofcom: “The milk tooth regulator – where the milky bar kid’s bite isn’t too bad”
Myers says that local radio needs to broadcast local information. He also thinks that it’s really not too hard to measure local appreciation.
Myers was vitriolic on Ofcom’s regulation of local radio. Local radio is about what comes out of the speakers and not where it comes from – so co-location is a sensible way forward. Listener satisfaction can and should be measured.
Myers believes that the regulator doesn’t want to do it and doesn’t like it; so it wants to kill it.
He than ran through the options recently put forward by Ofcom and in summary – he didn’t like them.
“I’ve heard of a local station recording one local bulletin in the morning and putting it out ever hour through the day.”
Each of the three ideas that Ofcom proffered were rejected, often scathingly, and always with good humour.
Myers claims that he can’t find proof that Ofcom monitored more than 10 stations in 2008. And not one yellow card, he thinks, has been handed out without a listener or competitor complaining.
Myers suggests we all go home tonight and complain about five different radio stations. Then do the same the next month! Complaint led regulation simply isn’t good enough in his view.
If a local station is not valued by the community, then it’s not a local station, he says.
“Virgin is now Absolutely gone…”: Myers on the changing face of commercial radio.
Myers believes that the industry’s changed and the regulator also needs to change. He stresses that this isn’t a slight on the people there, but new people bring new ideas.
“Local radio is not dead – it’s just been re-engineerd.”
In summary then – a fantastically clear minded view of what local commercial radio is, what it could – and in his opinion – should be, and what we want from a regulator.
Nicky Campbell, doing sterling hosting duties, asked Martin Campbell from Ofcom to respond, which he did. He said that he didn’t recognise what Myers reported. Myers said that this was the case and that perhaps they wouldn’t necessarily feed that back to Ofcom.
On formats, Myers believes that the days of regulating on music are gone and that we should regulate on content.
Joan Warner, CEO of Commercial Radio Australia, spoke next about the launch of digital radio in Australia. In Australia, the rollout was simultaneously carried out by public and commercial operators.
She said that they learnt much from the UK like forcing stations onto low bit-rates. Receivers had to affordable from day one. She says that they sold out quickly. Instead of copying the UK model of multiplex ownership, stations get direct access to the airwaves via consortia.
In Australia in building coverage was planned for as many stations can’t be heard in tower blocks. That means higher powers – 50 kW.
She noted that when FM launched in Australia in 1980 spectrum was given away free because there was a belief that nobody would buy new devices to listen to the radio…
Warner says that radio is the only industry in Australia that’s promoting, on-air, the fact that advertising through a recession is a smart thing to do.
Australia, of course, has adopted DAB+ for their launch earlier this year. This means it’s 2-3 times more efficient. That means everyone can get on to digital radio. Community stations will get on digital, although narrowcasters won’t.
She says we can’t just sit where we are and assume we’ll keep the healthy audiences they currently have.
Each broadcaster is allocated space and they’re free to do with it what they want – they can split it into smaller lower quality services, or offer higher bit-rate single services. Broadcasters can do what they like with the bit-rate apart from video. She says that radio is considered a free to air platform; people will buy new devices, but they won’t pay for subscriptions.
The May launch saw five major markets but there’s another 100 areas to go covering 40% of the Australian population. And in Australia radio wants some of the vacant TV bandwidth when TV goes digital.
She spoke about how internet radio is not the answer, being very spectrum inefficient and unable to scale easily or cheaply. The usual, very valid, issues were brought up, but she admits that it’s a hobbyhorse.
New radio services have been introduced including “Pink Radio” which is a commercial offering based around a new Pink album. It’ll soon be renamed Britney Radio.
So some interesting ideas to learn from.
Shelagh Fogarty joined Nicky Campbell on stage to talk about how their Sony Award winning work together. It turns out that Fogarty thinks it’s useful to like your co-presenter on-air.
However, Fogarty thinks Campbell can be a “strange fish”, saying that he can sometimes her what the interview’s “about” at the last minute! She also talked about how they do sometimes carry out two-headed interviews where the other one will pitch in with a question.
Campbell says that Fogarty sometimes does personal emails while he’s carrying out an interview! She said that they’re messages to the producer.
Torin Douglas asked how they choose who does the “big interview.” Over time, Fogarty says they’ve worked out their strengths, weaknesses and favourite areas.
A question from John Mottram was about how a damaged partnership might work. Campbell says that it’s harder for them than say The Today Programme where everything’s more compartmentalised. He also said that TV is very different because it’s more scripted – although
Fogarty says that she doesn’t like the simpering looks co-presenters give one another on breakfast television in particular.
James Cridland asked about how text messages that are read out on air are chosen. In a compliant BBC there are producers read through texts in advance. There are good reasons at times for doing this he says, when it’s a particularly controversial subject. Occasionally people would smuggle things into texts that they didn’t realise – Fogarty remembers the use of the word ‘roasting’ on one occasion.
Campbell says moving to Manchester is a fantastic opportunity, and if you say you can’t go anywhere you sound dreadful. The words “down there” and “up here” when talking about somewhere like Edinburgh. Campbell reiterates that he is moving there. It’s not like he’s moving to Canada! Fogarty hasn’t decided however… She says it’s actually more about
Campbell suggests giving Fogarty an 18m pound three year contract…
That concludes day one (or two if you were here yesterday) of Radio Festival!

Setanta

So Setanta’s finally died – or at least gone into administration. It’s as good as dead.
It won’t be missed by many. It did itself no good by having a reputation for truly awful customer service. In particular, cancelling it proved near impossible with, at times, people being asked to write a letter (no phone calls – no email). I never subscribed, but I heard enough other people talk about the dreadful customer service to mean that I never would.
Where does that leave premium TV sport in the UK?
Well ESPN has picked up all Setanta’s Premier League rights for next season and the three following seasons. But is that enough?
Rumour has it that they’ve paid essentially what Setanta paid for the rights going forward (allowing for the fact that Setanta had already paid some cash in advance for next season which is seemingly non-refundable).
Then there are all the other sports that had deals with Setanta.
So ITV will pick up some England games that they’ll no doubt be happy to show. The fact that England is going to quality for the World Cup in South Africa at a canter probably won’t help audience figures, but England games are always worthwhile. Will ITV also hold on to those FA Cup games that Setanta had? Or will they go to someone else like ESPN or Sky?
This season it felt that the free-to-air operator didn’t have the strong hand that the BBC had previously had on the FA Cup with big fixtures going on pay-TV. With ITV losing one of its two weekly Champions’ League games, they might want to make up some of that shortfall.
Scottish Football must be worried. Although Sky is rumoured to be coming in to make a bid, they’re effectively going to just take what they’re offered. ESPN – even if it has to build up a decent sports offering from scratch – can’t just replicate what Setanta had by picking up precisely the same rights. Well they can, but will they want to?
Likewise, my previous employer, STV, will be concerned as they had the contract to produce all that Scottish football. Will they hang on to those contracts?
Other sports will be less hurt although I can’t honestly say that I know the value of the Blue Square League fixtures.
So what does this all mean for Setanta. This morning on Five Live I heard some thoroughly misleading information regarding ESPN’s US service. They’ve just lost Champions’ League football on their US service; it’s now all on Fox Sports. This is a UK only deal.
From what’s being reported, it seems ESPN will launch a new UK only service and not use either ESPN America or ESPN Classics. They could certainly fill it up with other sport like French and German football, but it probably needs a more attractive pricing policy than Setanta had.
In the US, ESPN is considered a basic cable package, and you’ll almost certainly get it without playing a specific premium for the channel. They get their revenue by the vast majority of cable customers effectively paying $3-4 a month without choosing whether or not they specifically get ESPN. A low per user value, but it adds up.
In the UK, Sky packages channels differently with customers choosing packs. Eurosport, for example, gets a small amount of my sports subscription, while Sky One gets cash if I choose the Entertainment pack. Perhaps ESPN could be funded this way, but I doubt it. It’ll be a bolt-on of some description.
Previously Virgin Media offered Setanta as part of its XL package – giving them a decent level of viewers but at a very low price. I suspect that this is an offer that won’t be repeated.
The price creep to £12.99 per month for a number of channels, few of which people were interested in, was too steep – particularly as most subscribers already had Sky Sports. The additional games are in the “nice if you can” category. Unless you had an allegiance to a team they were showing, then you didn’t mind missing the games. As an Arsenal fan, I’d just go to the pub if I felt radio commentary wasn’t going to be enough for me.
With the number of games falling to just 23 from the 2010 season onwards, it seems that ESPN is going to have to swallow some costs and try to build an audience. They have to come up with a good deal to build an audience in these troubled economic times.
Setanta also offered a way of many of the club TV stations to be packaged. I never subscribed to Arsenal TV because it effectively would cost be £12.99 a month. How these are going to be funded going forward is another interesting question. The same was true of ESPN America – I quite like the odd baseball game, but I wasn’t prepared to deal with Setanta.
ESPN does have an interesting offering, but pricing is going to be key. And they don’t have long with just 8 weeks until the first games of the 2009/10 season. I look forward to hearing their proposition.

Arcadia

2 June 2009
I first saw Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia in 1993 at the Theatre Royal Bath, when the play was touring following its premiere at the National Theatre in London. It was a joy to watch and I instantly fell in love with it. I rushed out to buy the text.
It was smart, and literate. The dialogue was sumptuous. The performances were wonderful. That original production starred Rufus Sewell as Septimus, tutor to Emma Fielding’s Thomasina in Sidley Park, the English country house where all the action occurs.
Thomasina is a child prodigy, with an uncanny grasp of mathematics. Septimus struggles to keep up as taunts and tantalises the various females in the house – at least those not being tantalised by his off-stage friend, Lord Byron.
Meanwhile in the present day Felicity Kendall’s Hannah Jarvis is having a war of wits with Bill Nighy’s fame seeking academic, Bernard Nightingale. Events are separated by about two hundred years, and yet are, of course completely linked.
Radio 3 broadcast an audio version of this original production later that same year. I dutifully recorded onto a pair of very hissy cassette tapes. Sadly, this version has never been released commercially, although if you hunt very very hard, you might just find it on the web.
In 2007, Radio 4 broadcast a new version of the play as part of a BBC Radio Stoppard season, with Jason Watkins as Bernard, Nicola Redmond as Hannah and Jack Laskey as Septimus. I’d love to be able to tell you that this version is available for purchase/download… But it’s not.
And now comes the first big revival of Arcadia in London since its original production. And it’s also the first live production I’ve seen since the NT’s production that I saw back in 1993.
The play has lost absolutely nothing in the intervening years, and is now studied regularly at A Level (I got to study The Pardoner’s Tale and Julius Caesar for my O Level Eng Lit. The former was barely in a form of English that I understood, and the latter only just. Students these days get to study much better stuff.).
This new production stars Dan Stevens as Septimus, Jessie Cave as Thomasina, Samantha Bond as Hannah Jarvis, and Neil Pearson as Bernard Nightingale.
At first it’s hard to shake off my recollection of the original casting – especially so with Bill Nighy. And Neil Pearson seems to display some of the larger-than-life attributes that Nighy had formerly brought to the role. But you soon settle down into the run of things. Pearson and Bond play off one another fantastically, and Stevens, like Sewell before him, is very rakish.
Teenage prodigies are surely hard to play – they’re mostly unlikeable in real life after all, but Cave does so well. Lucy Griffith as Chloe Coverly is very different to when I last saw her as Maid Marion in the recent TV version of Robin Hood – she still sends me weak at the knees though.
Tom Stoppard’s son Ed plays the thoughtful Coverly, and brings tremendous charm to the role.
The single set does the job well, and the music is minimal but nicely placed.
Overall, this new production is absolutely wonderful, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. The jokes are terrific from start to finish, and it’s just such a thoroughly thoughtful play.

Digital Britain: 2015 – First Thoughts on Radio

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It’s finally here – The Digital Britain report. It’s Lord Stephen Carter’s magnum opus, before he ups and offs.
The headlines are sure to be the levy charged on fixed lines to fund broadband, encouraging and enabling the wider take-up of broadband, and even the piracy issue. What happens to BBC licence fee money is certainly a big part of the story.
But for some of us, the key issue here is radio. Digital radio.
Digital radio gets its own chapter.
The chapter opens with a quote from the early nineteenth century Scottish writer, Thomas Carlyle: “One must verify or expel his doubts, and convert them into the certainty of Yes or No.”
This seems to be addressing the need for radio, as an industry, to stop dithering and jump into the digital soup. Or am I mixing my metaphors?
What is clear, that radio, as a relatively small industry worth £1.1bn per year (including BBC spend), needs to do something to remain essential to the vast majority of the population who continue to listen.
At the heart of our vision is the delivery of a Digital Radio Upgrade programme by the end of 2015.
So there’s the date: 2015. It’s not actually that far off. The plan is that the “Digital Radio Upgrade” as it’s to be known (to differentiate from TV’s “Digital Switchover” one supposes), will take place on a single date in that year, with at least two years’ advance notice.
To enable this to take place, two key crieria need to be met by the end of 2013.
1. 50% of listening is to digital
2. national DAB coverage is comparable to FM coverage, and local DAB reaches 90% of the population and all major roads
(Note that digital obviously doesn’t solely include DAB).
The Digital Britain report says that it’s “our intention that the criteria should be met by the end of 2013.”
An accompanying (and in the first release at least, wrongly labelled) chart shows that left to itself, we should reach 43% digital by 2013 rather than 50%. The difference will be delivered by the “Drive to Digital” effort. By switchover in 2015, the reports’ authors predict that 68% of listening will be to a digital platform. Obviously at that point, we will need to get it to 100%.
Ofcom has been asked to produce a report, at least once a year, on the progress towards these criteria. I’d suggest that it might be more appropriate to report quarterly as it has done for digital television.
The Consumer Expert Group, which has helped oversee digital TV switchover, is being brought in to help facilitate all this. They’ll also determine whether or not a Digital Radio Help Scheme will need to be put in place. This is akin to the scheme set up for TV to ensure that nobody is disenfranchised by the move to digital.
Within radio circles there has been an endless series of discussions about whether DAB is the right format and whether we should instead be adopting DAB+, DRM, IP or some other format. The Digital Britain report largely dismisses these discussions. It makes clear the importance of a broadcast medium over internet delivery because it offers advantages such as portability, the most financially viable, and free at the point of access amongst others.
However, the report does seek to ensure that all digital radio sets sold in the UK conform to the WorldDMB profile 1. This will mean that going forward, we’d be able to move across to other formats like DAB+ and DMB-A without requiring a new radio. Adopting a single standard like this is also easier for manufacturers meaning a single set will work across Europe – something that’s not the case currently.
One pair of lines which might concern commercial radio operators is the following one:
Achieving the Digital Radio Upgrade timetable will require building a DAB infrastructure which meets the needs of broadcasters, multiplex operators and listeners. This will require a significant contribution from the commercial operators and the Government welcomes the early commitments that they have given.
The report doesn’t suggest much in the way of spare cash being brought to bear to improve digital radio coverage.
However, the BBC will also be expected to contribute in line with its Charter Public Purpose.
Although most radio stations have benefited from the lower transmission charges that followed on from the untakings made by Arqiva to the Competition Commission, that didn’t necessarily follow through to everyone. In particular, multiplex owners tended to be beneficiaries rather than stations broadcast on their muxes.
The BBC will be required to roll-out DAB coverage nationally to the same level as its current FM network. This needs to be achieved by the end of 2014. The national commercial multiplex, run by Digital One (D1), and shortly to fall under Arqiva’s control, already matches Classic FM’s coverage in overall coverage (Classic FM being the only commercial FM broadcaster), although currently the FM and DAB coverage areas don’t actually match. So it’s actually likely that D1’s coverage area will need increasing.
The report’s authors also believe that signal strength needs increasing to improve indoor coverage. This is certainly true – as many listeners will tell you. Hopefully a lot of this can be achieved “simply” by turning up the power on current transmitters (I speak as a non-engineer).
I think stations on the national commercial multiplex (my employer included) will be pleased that Digital Britain proposes that the BBC and D1 should work closely together to ensure that new transmitters put up by the BBC should benefit both puiblic and commercial multiplexes. This should result in lower costs for the commercial operator as the network is extended.
Local and regional multiplexes need work which everyone seems to understand.
Local multiplex operators will probably be pleased to learn that the BBC is likely to be required to fund significant proportions of some of their build out costs. These multiplexes will need expanding if the BBC local services (which all sit on commercial multiplexes) are to reach the current FM penetrations.
Meanwhile regional multiplexes will be replanned entirely to produce a second national multiplex. In essence, many quasi-national services are available on many different regional (and local) multiplexes. This replanning should allow regional advertising – something that the current national multiplex is unable to offer.
To encourage operators to find solutions, multiplex licences could be extended to 2030; the D1 licence currently expires at the end of 2011. Administered Incentive Pricing (AIP) would also be delayed – the dreaded spectrum pricing. We’ll know for certain what’s being offered in a year’s time.
What’s clear is that the report’s authors understand that what’s really needed is encouragement for less die-hard listeners to adopt digital radio.
The report suggests that we need niche services like “a dedicated jazz station” (Jazz FM is back on air), getting better value from existing content like “live coverage of Premiership football or uninterrupted coverage from music festivals” is important.
I’m not sure that any broadcaster with Premiership football is not making full use of its rights. They’re not cheap after all. And I suspect that the BBC will argue that the live festival coverage is exactly what 6Music is doing at Glastonbury in a couple of weeks (My employer, of course, has just spent the weekend at the Isle of Wight Festival, including live broadcasts of Simple Minds and Stereophonics). In my experience, this is more a question of securing rights from promoters, bands and record labels. That said, you’ll be hard pushed to find much live music coverage across the commercial radio dial. Aside from Absolute Radio, Classic FM is probably the other main exception.
The report suggests that it’s not just new services that are required to get more listeners adopting digital, but also more services. The report suggests that these might be EPGs, slideshows, downloading music, and so on. Pause and rewind is useful, and can already be found on high-end DAB sets. And the ability to save to memory card is also built in to some sets.
But cheap sets are also needed. The report talks about sub-£20 sets within the next two years. Seemingly set manufacturers have promised this. That said, some supermarkets have already reached this pricepoint now (Although my recent Sainsburys “Red” radio has dreadful sound and I wouldn’t recommend it at all. The quality of the speaker is awful).
The idea of having DAB to “FM-rebroadcasters” is an interesting one. Effectively the equivalent of Pure’s Highway for the home. I guess that one device in the house could serve multiple old FM receivers. I can see a problem in family homes where people change channels…
Getting digital radio into cars and other vehicles is obviously a key issue. The Digital Britain report highlights a five point programme that involves working with manufacturers to ensure that all vehicles are sold with a “digitally enabled” radio by 2013. Unlike France, there’s no suggestion that this would be legislated, although with a definitive switchover date, manufacturers would need to go digital anyway.
Other points include adopting a common logo for digital radios and the encouragement of converters like the Pure Highway in devices like Sat-Navs.
For local radio services, there are some key issues that the industry has been trying to achieve. John Myers produced a well-received report earlier this year for Digital Britain, and his recommendations are reprinted in the Digital Britain report.
Ofcom, however, didn’t fully support some of the details. In particular how a local impact test might be defined. The report ploughs through some of these objections and says that Ofcom will need to agree a two-year pilot based on an output focused regulatory regime. In other words, it’ll be how a radio service sounds to the listener, rather than where it’s based, that will be important. The pilot will only include a limited number of stations, but should it prove satisfactory, it’ll be rolled out “more widely.”
The report does go on to say that it wants to produce a new tier of what it describes as “ultra-local” services which will remain on FM. In effect, the idea is to bundle smaller ILR services and community stations together, leaving the bigger players, with networked programming, on DAB. I suspect some smaller players in local radio might not be happy with some of the proposed relaxations on community services, who’ll now be competitors not just for listeners but also for money. At a time when the smaller services are hurting the most – and closing down – I’m not sure that this is the news they want to hear.
Ofcom will extend licence periods for all national and local services that broadcast on DAB for up to seven more years. But if, by 2013, the Digital Upgrade timetable isn’t on track, then licences will be terminated in 2015, meaning rebidding would apply.
This is obviously important news for any ILR that’s close to licence expiry. And it’s especially important for the national commercial radio services all of whose licences expire between 2011 and 2012. In particular Classic FM and Talksport will appreciate the additional time this gives them to migrate their audience over to digital. That national FM licence in particular would have been hard fought over, however few years the licence might have been for.
Finally, the report will allow two or more smaller stations to be put together to form a single DAB service. With the prospective replanning of local and regional multiplexes, this neatly sidesteps some of the issues of geography that are simply unworkable currently.
Overall, then, I think that this is massively encouraging for radio. There are certainly going to be issues along the way, and obviously key to all of this is getting DAB coverage improved to meet current FM coverage. In particular, that means ensuring that DAB sets work satisfactorily indoors. Anyone who has tried using a DAB set in a modern office, often acting as a massive Faraday cage, will know what I mean.
As ever, these are my own views, and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.
I should probably also stress that I’m only commenting here on the radio bit of Digital Britain. Other parts mightn’t be nearly as good as this. There do seem to be some quite worrying aspects of it at first glance.
Update: I have amended or clarified a couple of small errors since first publishing this piece.

Email Marketing

Epson Printer Email
This is easily a topic for a book, but I shall limit this to a short rant about Epson.
In early January this year I bought a new printer – an Epson. It was nice printer, not massively overpriced, but a good quality photo printer with the widely priased Claria ink system.
During installation and set-up, I filled out my details with Epson, to register my ownership. I thought that this might help with guarantees and also mean that Epson could drop me a note if new drivers became available. Of course I knew that Epson would market me with direct email. That’s fine. I don’t mind too much. Well targeted advertising emails work well.
Since registering with Epson, I’ve received 18 separate emails. While one or two advertise ink/paper deals or offers on projectors, just about every single one is advertising… another printer.
Despite having bought a new printer less than six months ago, Epson seems hellbent on getting me to buy another new printer!
Do they have so little belief in their products that they think the printer I bought all the way back at the start of 2009 might have already broken? It just doesn’t make sense.
Try to sell me a scanner, ink, paper, photo frames, whatever… Honestly – I don’t really mind. But don’t try to sell another printer!.

Massive £985,000 Sale!

12 June 2009
A local bed comapny has a massive sale on.
But they seem to have run the numbers, and although it might have been nice to have had a £1 million sale, it seems they ended up just a little short.
So it’s only a £985,000 sale!
(Oh, and they’ve decided that since they’re giving away such great value beds, they can forgo the "free" assembly and the "free" disposal, but they hadn’t decided that before they printed the poster).

Free To Air Listed Events Review

The DCMS has for the last couple of months been conducting a review into the listed events – those events that must be covered live on free-to-air television – Group A Events. That’s event like the Olympics, the World Cup and so on. It also includes events to which highlights must be made available on free-to-air TV – Group B Events.
You can see a full list of these events here (PDF).
I’ve previously argued long and hard about the recklessness of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) when they sold pretty much all their rights to Sky – meaning that we no longer see any live cricket on free-to-air TV at all. Yes, Five shows nightly highlights and at the moment the BBC is showing late night highlights of the ICC World Twenty20 competition. But that’s not the same as free-to-air live coverage. The ECB was greedy, and I won’t accept any excuse otherwise. They looked to the short term of their sport and not the long term. If England win the Ashes this summer, do not expect another ticker-tape procession in Trafalgar Square like last time. Most people won’t have seen it.
Anyway, today Sky released its response to the consultation. You can read the full document here, as well as a speech given by Jeremy Darroch given at a Sports Industry Group breakfast this morning here. Or if you prefer, read The Guardian’s summary here.
Unsurprisingly, they don’t want Government shackles put on what sports bodies are and aren’t allowed to sell them. They argue that many bodies will continue to sell their rights to free-to-air broadcasters.
But I’m not sure that’s the case. There are a lot of very short-sighted people in charge of sports. Look at all the sports that might be losing millions because they didn’t learn from the ITV Digital fiasco when it came to negotiating with Setanta – reportedly close to going into administration. The Scottish FA has already doled out £3m which should have come from Setanta. Will they get any cash from them if they do go to the wall? It remains to be seen.
But given that Fifa and Uefa have both in the past argued against the Listed Events system employed in different countries across Europe, it’s safe to say that they’d happily sell more of their European Championships or World Cup rights to pay TV broadcasters if they could. Indeed they might sell all those rights.
It’s true that horseraces like the Derby and the Grand National would of course remain on terrestrial TV – this is a sport that essentially pays Channel 4 to retain coverage. Without widespread broadcasting, its betting revenues would dwindle. But the Derby in particular has been broadcast across more than one free-to-air channel over the years.
I’m similarly unconvinced that a free-to-air commercial broadcaster wouldn’t be interested in carrying cricket. Channel 4 revolutionised cricket coverage in this country, and was simply outbid by Sky. The ECB might have wished that the BBC had entered the bidding and pushed prices even higher, but you don’t always get what you wish for. There’s certainly no question that the BBC could bid for Test Matches again in the future – there’s plenty of space to broadcast them (look at the efforts they go to with their red-button scorecard service employing the Test Match Special radio commentaries).
Sky’s response is, of course, completely self-serving. They need exclusivity to drive subscriptions. Sport is fundamental to their entire business. They want as much opportunity to build that business as possible. Look at their recent sponsorship of British Cycling. Although Sky’s coverage of the sport is limited, the Olympic results from Beijing and the likely success in London in 2012 mean that even though they haven’t carried much of the sport, they’re getting involved and pushing further. If that means getting some of the World Cup matches or a piece of Wimbledon, then so be it.
Look – I’m a subscriber to Sky Sports. I think they provide an excellent service, and they cover what they do with excellence (even if they do employ Andy Gray and Jamie Rednapp). But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to see sport reaching as wide an audience as possible.
Sport gets a lot of state aid and public money via a vast diversity of routes from Lottery funding to local authority grants, tax breaks and many many more areas. Sport has to give back to the population. It’s more than just another business.
Anyway, Sky’s put its response into the review. So I’ve just put mine in too. And I’ve reproduced it below.

Note: The responses to these questions are based around this document.

Q1. Do you think that the UK should continue to protect certain major events through live or deferred coverage on free-to-air television? Please give a reason for your response.
Yes it should.
Sport is an important part of our culture, with millions regularly enjoying and watching major sporting events throughout the calendar. The biggest TV audiences are regularly reserved for major sporting occasions.
Sport also encourages our children to participate. At a time when there’s a major obesity problem with children, promoting and encouraging sport at any level should be key. Seeing sport on TV is a motivating factor for children, and indeed all adults, to take part in healthy activities.
Sport is not just a commercial business; despite what some pay TV operators might think. Most sports have in some way benefited from public money – via grants, transport infrastructure, policing, and many other ways. Therefore sports have to “give back” to the public, and this can be done through free-to-air broadcast rights.
Q2. Do you think that events other than sporting events should be listed? If so, please give your reason. You will have an opportunity to suggest appropriate events at a later stage in this consultation document and do not need to do so now.
Anything that is historically of strong importance to a UK society should be listed. So, yes, that might extend beyond solely sporting events.

Q3. Do you agree that this should remain the essential criterion test? If you do not agree, please explain why and please indicate what you consider should be the essential criterion in a sporting context.

I agree that these should remain the essential criterion, although I’m not certain that having a national team or national representatives in the sport concerned are enough. In the case of Wimbledon, although we currently have a world class contender in Andy Murray, for many years that hasn’t been the case. So although the “national resonance” clause may apply here, it’s possible that the tournament would not be included on that measure.
Q4. If your answer to Q2 was that non-sporting events should also be considered for listing, what might an essential criterion be?
Historically appearing on free-to-air TV would be an obvious criterion. Attracting a large television audience should not be a key measure however. Some events may resonate more with different demographics of society – the elderly population for example.
I believe that some kind of “measurability” should be put in place, but it’s not clear to me exactly how that might be framed in legislation. Perhaps a National Importance Index determined by means of independent research?
I would also suggest putting together a broader advisory panel than the one created for this consultation for non-sporting events, since the criteria for picking this panel seems largely sports based.
Q5. Do you consider that these characteristics remain appropriate? If you do not, or consider that additional characteristics should be included, please explain why.
I don’t agree that these characteristics remain appropriate. Saying that an event is “likely to command a large television audience” is nebulous. What is large these days? 3 million? 5 million? 15 million? Depending on the event and the channel, any of these might constitute a “large” audience, and they’re all larger than a Manchester Utd v Liverpool fixture on Sky Sports would be.
I also believe that simply using an event’s historic likelihood of being broadcast on free-to-air TV is not enough. That would remove the likelihood of, say, Twenty20 Cricket tournaments ever being listed (I’m not suggesting here that they should), since they’re a relatively recent innovation with little free-to-air broadcasting in the UK.
I think additional measures should be used such as sport’s overall popularity. Special attention should be placed on sports with widespread appeal to children.
Q6. Are these the appropriate other factors that the Secretary of State should take into account when considering whether or not to list an event? If not, or you consider that additional factors should be taken into account, please explain why.
These are largely appropriate factors but with some heavy provisos. For example, season-long championships might be hard for a general channel to carry in full. I wouldn’t expect a free-to-air channel to carry full Premier League coverage for example. However, ITV has shown how significant coverage of a tournament like the UEFA Champions League is perfectly possible on a general channel. It shares the rights with BSkyB, but still shows significant hours of coverage throughout the season.
Pay TV competitors like BSkyB will always be able to argue that listing an event does reduce the potential income a sport is able to earn. It’s always likely that a subscription channel could pay more than a general free-to-air channel. So that should only ever form part of the factors used to weigh up which events are listed and which aren’t.
I’m unsure why radio commentaries are included in the factors alongside delayed coverage or highlights. I don’t believe that access to a sport on radio should be relevant here. It’s possible, for example, that an event’s rights holders might refuse to sell rights to a radio station, or that the price charged makes obtaining those rights commercially unviable.
Look at London, for example, where no local commercial radio stations carry any Premier League football commentaries, despite upwards of five clubs being based in the capital.
I think that the potential for increasing participation in a sport should have more weight placed on it. Depriving viewers of free-to-air coverage effectively means that the poorer members of society are deprived. That has a direct impact on the overall health of the nation.
Q7. Do you agree that both an A and B list should be maintained? If not, please explain why.
I think that maintaining both the A and B lists is a fair system. Although I’d argue that with digital switchover being completed within the next three years, digital television will offer free-to-air services the ability to cover these events irrespective of the difficulty broadcasters may have found in scheduling them previously. For example, BBC Red Button services, BBC Three and ITV Four are already regularly used for major sporting occasions.
Q8. Are there any issues that you would wish to bring to our attention in regard to the way in which the listing arrangements are given practical effect by Ofcom?
No.

Q9. Do you think that the Secretary of State should:
• leave the current arrangements unchanged;
• move existing events between the A and B lists;
• add any entirely new events; or
• remove any events that are currently listed? Please give reasons for your answers.

Broadly, the list as it stands should be left unchanged. In particular, none of the sports in Group A should in any way be diluted with elements pushed down to Group B. However, I believe that a few amendments should be made to it.
1. Wimbledon should be broadened to include the entire tournament and not just the finals. When Tim Henman or Andy Murray have performed strongly in the past, it’s as much of a national occasion as many other sports, yet neither has reached a final (so far!).
2. Cricket Test Matches in England should be moved up to Group A. Cricket is our summer national sport, and currently there is no live cricket on free-to-air UK television. I must admit, I mostly put this blame on the authorities, and in particular the ECB. That said, cricket is a national pastime, and it has benefited from plenty of public money.
3. The Six Nations Rugby Tournament Matches involving Home Nations should be moved up to Group A. This would ensure that UK viewers are guaranteed at least some live rugby beyond the World Cup Final every four years. Obviously all this tournament’s fixtures currently are on free-to-air television, but it would be detrimental for them to be lost.
4. The Open Golf Championship should be moved up to Group A. Again this would enshrine the availability of at least one tournament on free-to-air television in the future.
Q10. If you have suggested that live coverage of any such tournaments should be listed do you think that:
• the entire tournament should be listed; or
• only selected stages, events or matches involving national teams or representatives?
Please give reasons for your view and, if you favour selected listing, please specify which tournaments and which stages, events or matches.

Of the sports I’ve suggested should be moved up to Group A I would argue:
1. At least a number of England Test Matches should be broadcast completely live. A split of a Test series between a free-to-air broadcaster and a pay TV operator would be acceptable.
2. All the Six Nations Matches should be shown live featuring Home nations.
3. The final two days of the Open Golf Championship should be shown live.
Q11. Please suggest which non-sporting events you would like to see listed and why.
The events I believe would be worthy of inclusion would be:
The Trooping of the Colour
The Chelsea Flower Show
The Edinburgh Tattoo
All of these would be popular amongst an older audience and should be protected from a pay TV station that might want to benefit from the kudos (if not viewers) that carrying such an event might provide.

Q12. Do you have any other issues that you would like the Panel to take into account in considering what its recommendations should be?

I think that the panel should consider the wider social ramifications of making significant changes to the Listed Events.
As a society we are aging, and an elderly population is less able to pay to watch premium sports channels. Neither are the poor. Pushing sports into the hinterland, where they may earn the rights holders more money is not the only answer.
Everyone knows the famous Bill Shankly quote concerning football: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
That remains true of many national sports. Sport has a quality that brings large sections of society together. It can generate great happiness and sadness as the whole country gets behind a particular team or sports man or woman.