October, 2009

RAJAR Q3 2009

Today sees publication of the latest RAJAR figures and there are a few things that are food for thought.
FIrst of all, it wasn’t the greatest RAJAR for commercial radio which slipped back a little against a strong BBC which saw increases in share for all its national analogue networks with the exception of Radio 1.

Source: RAJAR Q3 2009
Commercial radio really does need this to return to parity.
Nationally, as well as the BBC channels mentioned, Talksport has done well with some gains quarter on quarter.
In London there’s a very interesting story with Capital FM becoming the biggest station in London and this is despite losing share quarter on quarter. What’s happened is that Magic has lost even more (and Heart has missed out too), leaving Capital as “London’s number one” as the jingles will no doubt be informing listeners at some point today.
My own employer, Absolute Radio, has done well in London, picking up 7.6% in hours against an overall declining backdrop (the BBC is gaining in London too, where the traditional commercial lead is being whittled away).
All of this means it’s going to be interesting to see what happens in Q1 next year once Chris Evans has started up on Radio 2. But that’s six months away yet.
One very important measure is the percentage of listening that’s being done via a digital platform – be it DAB, the internet or DTV. For all radio, it’s remained at 21.1%. With commercial radio overall dipping a little at 20.2%, the BBC has helped keep the level up as it has achieved 21.6% digital overall.

Source: RAJAR Q3 2009
Does this mean that “Digital Upgrade” is not going to happen, and we’re going to remain on analogue forever? Er, no. It’d be good to see those figures continue to rise, and I know that the DRDB is working hard to ensure that they do continue increasing.
We’ve also heard that the radio industry is working on a new way for every station to be able to be heard online. Hopefully, that will drag up the relatively lowly 2.2% listening share that the internet currently achieves.

Source: RAJAR Q3 2009
Again, my own employer, Absolute Radio, has managed to better this. Excluding our FM listening in London, 51.5% of all listening is done via a digital platform now – exceding the 50% target set by Lord Carter in his Digital Britain report four years ahead of the 2013 date suggested.
Even if we include FM listening in London, Absolute Radio is at 30.5% – well ahead of the commercial average.
DAB ownership is also up 14% year on year now with 16.6m adults living in a home with at least one DAB radio.
This next quarter is a very important one for sales of DAB radios – and now more than ever WiFi connected radios. As well as the Pure Sensia, Pure has just announced the Sensia Flow while Revo has just announced the Heritage. And Logitech has its interesting looking Squeezebox The common factor for all of is that they have internet radio. As more homes get wireless networks, these devices will become more common place.
All of this leads me to Radio at the Edge where amongst other things, Richard Bacon will be interviewing Tony Blackburn and Lisa Kerr will be telling us why Radio Must Go Digital. It’s well worth the asking price, so persuade the people you need to, to let you go!
And if you’re very lucky, you might see some very interesting short videos from, ahem, me…
(Note: Although I work for Absolute Radio, this piece does not necessarily represent the views of my employer. That said, it’s only because my employer is happy to publish our digital platform listening figures that I can quote them here. I am unable to publish other stations’ platform listening figures.)
[Updated to include DAB ownership – 8.20am]

London Newspapers

17/10/2009
Associated Newspapers has just announced that the London Lite will shortly be closing. This has surely been inevitable since the Evening Standard went free a week or so ago.
Clearly as well the journalists mentioned in the The Guardian’s report, there are also an awful lot of part-time distributors losing their jobs, as well associated roles.
I have mixed feelings on this, as I think the paper was absolutely dreadful and an utter waste of space. Culturally, we won’t be missing anything that a dozen entertainment websites (or “proper” tabloids) can’t do much better. Indeed, let’s face it: these papers only need to exist in physical form while we don’t have mobile internet on the underground.
But nobody wants to see people losing their jobs – they won’t all be able to get jobs at Best Buy.
So what are Londoners left with? The Evening Standard, which is apparently giving out 600,000 copies every evening. Except that I don’t think it’s got its distribution at the refined point that The London Paper and London Lite had achieved.
In W1 where I work, I usually can’t get a copy at Oxford Circus by 6pm with all the distributors having closed their stands and left for the evening. Such is the footfall there, the papers have all been snapped up. Note that I can easily pick up a London Lite at that time, and indeed I can carry on getting one until at least 7pm and often later.
My route home gives me no further opportunity to collect a copy, and so more often than not I simply no longer see the paper. Even the mainline rail stations aren’t that well served. At 8pm this evening there wasn’t a Standard to be had in Kings Cross. Yet the recent Standard marketing technique was to sell the paper through until about 11pm at a discounted price. I’ve always previously been able to get a copy at the station at that time, and potential new readers drawn in by the cut-price deal who work late, are now left in the lurch. And beyond mainline stations, there are numerous stations at junctions where overground and underground meet without commuters leaving the ticketed platform areas.
Of course, once I reach my suburban destination, I have no opportunity. The local newsagent doesn’t carry it – only a very distant supermarket – the kind of place you tend to visit once a week at most.
Now it’s still early days, and perhaps the West End will be better served, but the biggest issue facing the Standard right now is that some of those people who loyally paid their 50p daily can no longer buy a copy. Yes – it’s available online – but actually they need a mobile friendly downloadable version that lets me read it offline on my phone, netbook or laptop. The current version requires an internet connection. Even a simple PDF would be fine.
FInally – that photo at the top is curious. WH Smith – at least at Kings Cross – lets you pick up a free copy as long as you buy something else in store!

The Informant!

The Informant! (I guess the exclamation mark is important) is the latest film from director Stephen Soderburgh, and if I said that it was about one man taking on liars and corporate greed, you might wonder if Soderburgh was revisiting the territory he first examined with Erin Brokovich.
But this is a very different film – even though recognising that took me (and the audience I was with) a while. The film is sort of based on a true story, we’re told, although details have been changed, “So there.” Based on a book by Kurt Eichenwald, it tells the story of Mark Whitacre, an executive at a company called ADM.
He begins to get uneasy about the fact that ADM is price-fixing of lysine, with its competitors on a global scale – setting the prices at which they’d sell their products. Matt Damon plays the naiive Whitacre who’s wife persuades him to tell the FBI that there is corporate price-fixing taking place, and that he’s a part of it.
The key FBI agents are played by an endearing Scott Bakula and Joel McHale (currently to be seen in the not-at-all-bad NBC comedy Community, as well as E! network’s The Soap). They listen to his story, and persuade a reluctant Whiteacre to begin recording his dealings with colleagues and competitors at the secret meetings that take place all over the world.
As the film unfolds, it seems to be told straight, with humour deriving from the characters rather than necessarily their actions. The light soundtrack and on-screen captions would make you feel that this was taking place during the swinging sixties or perhaps seventies. Yet in fact it takes place throughout the nineties – Whiteacre’s ties being a particular point of interest. And his wife, Ginger (Melanie Lynskey) seems to be mostly wearing a beehive from the sixties.
The story then begins to unravel further and further. Having somehow accumulated enough evidence to instigate an FBI raid, without being suspected or caught, things that we’ve seen earlier begin to come into play, and Whiteacre is revealed to not be entirely as we’ve hitherto had him presented to us.
Is he really as naiive as all that? Is he, in fact, utterly stupid?
Things that we’ve seen on-screen – that seem unlinked an unimportant suddenly jump out at us, as we realise what we’d seen, but not seen, earlier in the film. While this isn’t quite a cinematic equivalent of the reveal in The Sixth Sense, it’s handled very deftly.
The gaped mouths of the protagonists of the various legal jurisdictions that are involved leaves you laughing out loud, and although there’s a serious subject at heart – corporate price fixing on a major scale – the disbelief of some of Whiteacre’s behaviour leaves the viewer stunned.
This really is a curio then, and well worth seeing if you like some of Soderburgh’s quirkier and more interesting pieces. I suspect that this will be a hard sell at the box-office, being neither a thriller nor a comedy, but sharing elements of both. But it’s good that someone as smart as Soderburgh is able to gather a quality cast and make a film like this.

Dear Lemon Lima & Capitalism: A Love Story

Dear Lemon Lima is one of those many films that you have see completely blind at a film festival. According to IMDB it’s only had a screening at one other film festival and I can’t see details of a release date which is a terrible shame.

Vanessa Lemor (Savanah Wiltfong) is a young teenage girl living in Fairbanks, Alaska who’s completely infatuated with Philip (Shayne Topp) who works with her for a summer job selling ice cream at a stand. But Philip has well to do parents who’ve taken him away to Paris for part of the summer, so by the time they both start school again, he’s no longer a geek – the glasses have gone – and he’s rather thoughtlessly ditched Lemor who certainly hasn’t got over him.

Can she retain his affections? Can she fit into the school that she’s won a scholarship for?

She’s not very good at physical education, so the super-keen PE teacher banishes her with the others who have problems or notes from home in the “weights room.” There she finds some kindred spirits.

Lemor is half-Eskimo (Yup’ik) – that’s how she attained her scholarship – and is therefore expected to know things that frankly her distant Eskimo-father never taught her and her mother certainly didn’t.

The film is laced with finely tuned humour, never coarse, and the characters are very believable. There are the uptight neighbours who are concerned that Lemor may be a bad influence on Hercule, their son who seems more interested in living nature than joining the rifle club and killing deer (there’s a wonderful family photo of a happy father and mother standing over a dead animal while their child looks on disgusted). The weights room misfits slowly bond together and then there’s the Snowstorm Survivor competition which this year takes place in broad sunshine rather than snow. The games played are supposed to reminiscent of the Eskimo heritage of the people of Alaska.

Fine performances by most of the cast, including once again the much underrated Melissa Leo as Mrs Howard, the uptight mother next door who’s turn is more than simply comic.

In the end, the plot is perfunctory, but that shouldn’t detract from the overall feeling of the film which is less cutesy in the way that some of its would-be peers might be treading the same ground.

My only real disappointment came as I read the credits and it was obvious that like so many Alaska-set films and TV shows before it, this one was also shot in Washington State. I suppose I don’t complain that most series and film are shot in California regardless of their setting, but it’d be nice if a few more films set far afield were actually filmed there. Many of the actors, as well as director Suzi Yoonessi are Eskimo however.

I only managed to get my ticket for the Surprise Film the day before the screening. I’d managed to miss out by the time booking was open for Times readers (I’m not a BFI member, and I’m not really an enormous Times reader, but I was glad of their sponsorship nonetheless). Then last week, the BFI Twitter feed announced that more tickets had gone on sale – while I was stuck in a two hour meeting. Then on Saturday, a load of seats were released which I managed to see in time and book.

The London Film Festival tells you that most screenings have returns and that however sold out they appear, it’s always worth coming along early to see if you can get one. The surprise film might be one too many though because the returns queue was simply enormous yesterday. While some got in, people definitely turned up more than 20-30 minutes early to get them.

In the cinema itself, there was discussion about what the film was. Clearly some knew – perhaps from the relevant distribution company. I was also in the 20:45 screening and there was a 20:30 screening who were almost certainly texting people in our audience. Anyway, I managed to still be in the dark before the credits started to roll and it became clear that it was indeed Capitalism: A Love Story – the new Michael Moore film.

When the title came up, one person actually left the cinema. Well more fool him, as this was a passionately made film and quite easily the best film Moore’s made since Bowling For Columbine, and indeed perhaps his best film ever. Indeed although Moore was on screen for some of the film, it really wasn’t about him. It was about the American – indeed world – system of capitalism and what it means and how it’s changed the way we work.

The film opens with families being foreclosed and evicted from their homes where they may have lived for dozens of years. There’s nothing that can be done, and in the US, the local police force is employed to throw these families out.

Moore makes fantastic use of archive material, not always relevant archive, but he uses it in a way similar to Adam Curtis uses it in his documentaries like The Power of Nightmares(Incidentally – what happened to the proposed feature version of his documentaries? His current work can be watched on his fascinating blog.).

Slowly we turn to the bank bailouts. This is a section of the film that’s passionately related by a handful of politicians who tried their best to reject the bailouts asked of them. At first, as we know, the package was rejected. But once the coterie of Goldman Sachs and other politicians had put the pressure on, and greased the palms that needed greasing, the package was passed.

What happened to that money? Well look around you today. The bonuses are back. Moore tries a couple of stunts, which really only provide some much needed humour amidst the otherwise gloom and despair we see around us. And despite the evident happiness of so many when Obama was elected, even Moore doesn’t try to persuade us that anything’s really changed.

This is a film which obviously only finished being edited very soon before its recent screenings in Venice and US opening. It needs to be seen by lots of people – now. Moore basically implores his audience at the end as he relates a couple of good stories of people who’ve refused to leave their foreclosed homes, a sheriff who’s refused to help administrate them and a factory taken over by its workers. Go and see it (although you may have to wait for February frustratingly).

Compare My Radio

I was in Sweden recently, presenting at Radio Days 2009, and letting a Swedish audience know what we’d been doing in the last 12 months as we morphed from Virgin Radio to Absolute Radio.
One of the things I noted was that Absolute Radio publishes its playlist online, and includes the number of plays the tracks got on both Absolute Radio and competitor stations.
After the presentation, I had a conversation with someone who expressed great surprise that we were giving out information about not only what we were playing, but how often we were playing it, as well as our competitors’ plays. You see, for a long time, this has been regarded as one of the dark secrets of radio programming. Although you might think that a certain track is getting a lot of airplay, it’s never been very easy for a listener to determine quite how much, and how that compares with other stations.
Radio professionals have always had access to this information though. You obviously know how much your own station plays a song, but you can also find out what your competitors are doing. At a very basic level, this might just be employing a work experience person to sit down with a pen and paper (or spreadsheet) and just jot them down as they hear them over the air. Once a song has aired on the radio, it’s no longer a secret.
But companies are out there have long provided this kind of service, for a fee to radio groups. As such, it’s remained out of the range of curious listeners.
Now the clever guys downstairs at work in our digital media team have launched a new product as part of the One Golden Square Labs initiative: CompareMyRadio.com allows you to see which stations are playing your favourite artists, how different stations compare, the frequency that they play tracks, the uniqueness (or similarity) between stations and so on.
Stations like Radio 2 have begun to make this kind of information very public anyway, with full tracklistings of all their programmes on their website. But others have been a little more “secretive” about it. The precise music mix of their station, they might consider to be akin to Coca-Cola’s secret recipe.
It’ll be interesting to see how the site develops. It’s obviously very much a beta product at the moment, and there are plenty of possibilities for developing it more – not least of which include getting more services on-board. But comparing stations during different timebands would be interesting: most stations play it much safer during daytime than in their evening programming when more specialist fare is allowed.
Anyway, do go and take a look, and then give feedback at the One Golden Square blog.
[Disclaimer: This is clearly a product created by my employer, but these views are my own]

The Permanent Way

After I recently saw The Power of Yes, it became apparent that this was not the first production that David Hare had produced in this way.
In 2004, there was The Permanent Way, a National Theatre/Out of Joint co-production that carried out a similar dramatised investigation into the state of British railways following privatisation and through a spate of accidents that seemed to occur partly as a bi-product of that.
Obviously, you can’t just watch plays “on-demand” unless they’re one of the few that make it to DVD release. For the most part, you can only hope that the script has been published – and all of David Hare’s have been by Faber and Faber, including The Permanent Way.
But I knew it was also broadcast on Radio 3, so I hunted through my old recordings (I record far more than I can hear), and what do you know – I had an mp3 copy of it!
What a fabulous play it was. I listened to it yesterday – mostly on a train as it happens as I returned from Oxford. It’s another devastating indictment of mistakes both avoidable and unavoidable. And John Prescott really doesn’t come out of it very well at all.
What a shame that plays like this aren’t available to download at sites like iTunes? Despite being dramatised for radio by an independent production company, Catherine Bailey Limited. Searches of Amazon, iTunes and Audible don’t find it. While the play may have limited life expectancy as a CD, digitising audio and then selling it on iTunes should be straightforward shouldn’t it? Surely it’d unlock loads of additional revenue for the independent producers concerned?
In the meantime, my Psion Wavefinder recording dutifully kept from its 2004 broadcast will have to do me…

Steampunk

Steampunk

The Oxford Museum of Science is currently home to a great little exhibition on the subject of Steampunk – seemingly the first collection of such artworks ever collected like this in the world.

I’ve always found steampunk to be an interesting area with the wonderfully creative machines that they built. I suppose my introduction would have been through something like The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, but there is more and more fiction about now.

It’s a really great collection, and since the it’s there until February 2010, you really should visit if you get the chance.

Fantastic Mr Fox, Topper and Dirigible

The London Film Festival opened on Wednesday, and this week I caught a few films: Fantastic Mr Fox, which was the opening film of the festival (I wasn’t at the premiere sadly), a UCLA restored version of Topper, and a Columbia restoration of Dirigible.

Fantastic Mr Fox is a terrific stop-animation version of the Roald Dahl tale which you may remember, although I personally didn’t (perhaps my free audio CD from Saturday’s Guardian of Dahl reading the tale himself will remind me). The film has an almost naturalistic acting style employed – with George Clooney leading the voice talent. Director Wes Anderson has adopted a different style to something like Wallace and Gromit where the voice acting is a little more larger than life.

Despite the cast all speaking in American accents and using Americanisms, the scenery still feels British. It’s an odd combination. And the evil farmer Bean played by Michael Gambon does speak in an English accent with a slight cockney twang.

Is the film too scary for kids? No. It’s a PG, but kids should be fine. The only slight issue I have is the use of the word “cuss” to replace swearwords all the way through the film. It’s used the same way that “frack” is used in Battlestar Galactica. But while that latter is aimed at adults, this isn’t and the nascent parent in me found it a bit uncomfortable. “Cluster-cuss” anyone?

Topper is a Cary Grant film from 1937 and a film that I’d never seen before – but 30s screwball comedies are always favourites of mine. As Anthony Slide told us before the film, Topper was a very popular film at the time and was later followed by a couple of sequels neither of which featured Cary Grant, but it has fallen out of favour in recent years and I certainly don’t recall it ever showing up on TV.

Early on, we’re introduced to Cary Grant and Constance Bennett who play Mr and Mrs Kerby – a rich and wild young couple. Mr Kerby is a director of a bank but really that’s just a means to his wealth’s end. They couple have a wonderful car (or “contraption” as it’s later dismissed as) – a Buick Roadmaster roadster that’s utterly gorgeous. But that’s their problem. Returning to their home somewhere in upstate New York, although clearly somewhere in Southern California, they have a fatal crash. Not a good start for a comedy, but they have ghosts!

The ghostly couple decide that before they hear the trumpets and get to enter a better celestial place they probably have to do good. They decide that their benefactor should be Cosmo Topper (Roland Young – the film’s real co-star along with Bennett, although Slide told us that Grant was paid much more than Young) the bank’s manager. He’s a put upon fellow with a wife and butler who organises his every moment of the day, and determines his diet at every turn.

This is a great comedy, and the print has been lovingly restored by UCLA. As it was explained to us, the image all the way through the film was slightly diffused and not as sharp as might be expected. That was a deliberate choice made by Norbert Brodine, the cinematographer, who used that diffusion to hide wires and other things used to create the ghostly special effects. The Kerbys are able to appear and disappear at will although they only have a limited amount of “ectoplasm” to keep them visible.

The film is more risqué than you might think – but I’d guess that this film pre-dates the Hayes Code. A pair of knickers are a small plot point, but they’re the type worn by less savoury types. And Mrs Kerby takes a most definite shine to Topper and spends a lot of time alone in his company which was surely “not the done thing.” Given that the Hays Code at the time was pretty strict, it’s amazing that some of the jokes and allusions were allowed through.

The biggest scene stealer of the film was Alan Mowbray who played the Kirby’s uptight butler. You might believe that plenty of portrayals of Jeeves have been based on his superciliousness. He even gets the final laugh of the film with the closing line.

With any luck, this restored version of the film will be get a release on DVD so that more people can rediscover this classic comedy.

Finally, there’s Dirigible, a very early talkie, dating from 1931, and directed by Frank Capra. It’s an adventure film involving airships and planes attempting to reach the South Pole. While some of the acting seems quite stiff to our modern sensibilities – resulting in unintentional laughs in the audience I saw it with – it’s incredibly well made. The “dirigibles” of the title were US Navy airships and Capra obviously had access to real ones to film. But there is also plentiful use of models for some of the special effects scenes. The scenes at the pole itself are remarkably well rendered, despite having actually been shot in the desert – it all looks the same in black and white. Clearly, the screenwriters were well aware of the likes of Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton, because some of the scenes feel like they’re simply reworkings of those true stories. The central love triangle features a torn Fay (King Kong) Wray who’s at the centre of a love triangle. But it’s always clear what the “right” thing to do is and despite talk of going to Paris to get a divorce, the marriage survives.

It’s lovely to see films like this on the big screen, although I’m now looking forward to seeing a few newer films.

The Force

There’s a lot of rubbish on televison. Most of it in fact.
But once in a while there’s something good. And even more rarely, something exceptional gets aired. Last night on Channel 4 we got the latter. The Force is a new three part documentary from Patrick Forbes. He’s made some excellent observational documentaries in the last couple of years including National Trust (which I haven’t seen but was widely praised) and English Heritage (which I have seen and is excellent).
In these films he follows the Hampshire Police as they solve crimes. That could be very dull – the networks are full of cheap observational police documentaries. ITV airs Nightwatch every night after all. But this was something more than drunken youths in a city-centre somewhere being locked in the cells overnight.
We followed a case where a body of a young woman was found burnt in a suitcase. A nasty murder. The police had to piece the whole case together. The body was unidentifiable initially, and they had no witnesses. A car had been seen and had an accident. They had some of its paint. Slowly the story came together. But forensics in real life aren’t as slick as those of CSI or other dramas. DNA evidence doesn’t always come up trumps.
The film was edited in such a manner that it felt like a well-told crime drama. Yet it was real, and the death of the young Polish woman was not just some Sunday evening fun. There was tension and reality – the cameras couldn’t always be everywhere at exactly the right time. But we saw enough to realise that here were a group of people diligently carrying out their job even when somebody at Vauxhall was being unhelpful about getting a German contact to talk about paint to.
Curiously the film’s credits listed Mark Strong as narrator, yet one of the film’s strengths was that it had no narrator. Maybe I’ve forgotten about something at the start, but all the information that we needed to know was conveyed in brief on-screen captions. Indeed my biggest complaints about contemporary documentaries – that they feel the need to recap after every ad-break – was nicely side-stepped by a brief summary caption for latecomers or the slow of thinking.
Overall this was a little gem, and I’ll be looking forward to the rest of the series.
Do yourself a favour and watch the first episode. It’s repeated on Channel 4 this Thursday at 1am (ie. Very early on Friday morning), so set your PVR for then. Or watch it again on demand. You’ll thank me later!

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Is Sky One Becoming the UK’s HBO?

Short answer: No.
I alluded a little the other day to this, but I think it’s a discussion worthy of its own topic anyway.
Every couple of years or so, Sky One gets a new controller – most recently Stuart Murphy who was appointed at the start of this year. Every new channel controller wants to make his or her mark, and that’s always been the case with Sky One – or indeed any other channel. More than once we’ve heard that a channel controller of Sky One wants to make it a bit more like HBO in the US.
The problem is that HBO is sold as a specific add-on in the US, whereas Sky One is usually sold in a basic entertainment pack in the UK. In the US they’d talk about the former being “premium cable” while the latter is “basic cable.” That means that the amount the channel receives per subscriber is much less than what HBO gets.
Let’s take a bit of a look at HBO. It’s certainly not like any UK channel. First of all, it’s actually a pacakge of channels with HBO being the main brand. Most of the secondary channels show repeats of the main channel’s fare, but as well as original dramas and comedy, HBO largely shows first run films (a la Sky Movies), plenty of boxing (sometimes on a pay-per-view basis), and sex “documentaries”. How much subscribers pay can vary by cable or satellite dish operator, and other packages subscribed to, but it’s clear that HBO is getting around $35 a month per subscriber for its offerings.
The key thing for HBO then, is to ensure that it has a package that’s attractive enough for people to keep subscribing to it on top of their “basic” cable bill.
When we think of HBO in the UK, we think of The Wire, The Sopranos, Entourage, Sex and the City, Generation Kill, True Blood and Curb Your Enthusiasm amongst others. But the reality is that those are (or were) all Sunday night shows. And they’re then repeated – a lot – during the week.
So last Sunday there was an airing of the film Marley and Me, followed by new epsiodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Bored To Death (coming sooner or later to a UK broadcaster I’ve no doubt). These are then repeated before another movie – the most recent Mummy film.
The rest of the week is just a succession of films with the only other new programme being an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday evening at 10pm. Otherwise, there are a few repeats of these shows scattered about.
Daytime and late night is the same. The only other HBO produced show that week is an episode of Taxicab Confessions and a “First Look” at a new film.
In effect, then, HBO is actually Sky Movies Premiere with a few original productions scattered within.
That’s quite interesting because next year HBO launches its next mega-production: The Pacific. From the producers of Band of Brothers, it’s a sort of sequel set in the Pacific rather than Europe. In the UK, Sky has bought the rights to it – no doubt at great cost – with the result that it’s going to be shown on Sky Movies and not Sky One. If Sky One was really the UK’s HBO, then surely it’d be there.
Now I’m not trying to knock Sky One too much. It picks up a good selection of US dramas – although they’re nearly all free-to-air shows in the US. And it makes the odd drama. While series like Dream Team and Mile High are long gone, it produces a Terry Pratchett two-parter each year, and made the well-regarded Skellig last year.
It’s also worth noting that HBO makes a series of well-regarded one-off dramas, often being co-productions with the BBC such as the forthcoming Emmy-winning Into The Storm about Churchill, a sequel of sorts to The Gathering Storm.
But Sky One has struggled with home-grown comedy. And it actually seems to be making more gameshows and talk shows than anything else right now. Last week we heard about a commission for a gameshow called Sell Me The Answer to run alongside the previously announced Angela and Friends (which sounds a bit like Loose Women and is probably hoping to be like ABC’s The View in the US).
Aside from the aforementioned big dramas, there was also The Take recently and the forthcoming Strike Back based on some Chris Ryan novels. These are obviously costly, but perhaps a little more ITV than HBO? However it’s unfair to judge the latter until we see it. They’ve also got a They Think It’s All Over -type comedy panel show, and to be fair, their Twelve Days of Christmas short films initiative sounds very interesting.
Otherwise it’s mostly studio gameshows. We’ve had Don’t Forget the Lyrics, Smarter than a Ten Year Old (with its bewildering array of presenters), and there’s the forthcoming Just Dance.
There are the odd documentaries including Ross Kemp’s surprisingly good series, Justin Lee Collins’ “In At The Deep End” style series recently (although he’s been snapped up by Five now), the curiously funded UK Border Force, and a forthcoming Bird Watching programme with Bill Bailey.
Yet when all’s said and done, Sky One is its own beast. It’s not HBO. It’s not BBC1 or ITV1. It needs to follow its own path.
And if proof be needed, today comes news that Sky has commissioned a couple of shows based around renowned “psychic” Derek Acorah performing a “Live Séance” with the recently deceased Michael Jackson. I’m not making this up. Sky One isn’t HBO. It’s Living TV.