November, 2009

Inside Out Upside Down

Given that ITV barely does any local or regional news, it seems a bit unfair to target the BBC’s programme – Inside Out – that covers the English regions. And I’m not.
But for reasons I can’t really explain, I decided to go channel surfing in the 970s and 980s on Sky to see what stories all the regional BBC services were covering.
BBC East, covering East Anglia, had a story covering “legal highs”: drugs that are legally available to buy and which are potentially as dangerous as illegal drugs. A good story you might think. You can read more here – and see the episode later once it’s encoded, on the iPlayer.
Then I flicked over to BBC Oxford. They were also covering “legal highs”.
Aha. Clever. Reusing the same story that’s relevant in other parts of the UK!
Umm. No.
They’d made an entirely different (but somewhat better) version of the same story. So while the BBC East reporter was wandering around shops in Norwich and Colchester buying dubious drugs, in Oxford the friend of someone who’d died after taking drugs was doing something similar. The Oxford interviews were of a higher calibre if I’m being honest too.
You can see the BBC Oxford (or BBC South) version of the story here, again once it’s been encoded.
It’s possibly not surprising that a relevant story gets shown in more than one region, but it’s a shame that the two reporting teams couldn’t have pooled resources, or planned more carefully the fact that they’d each be producing the same story.
Of course – there always has been a massive rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge…

In Radio News Today…

The DRDB has announced 10m DAB digital radio sets sold in the UK (and Pure has announced that it has sold a cumulative 3m DAB sets worldwide). This comes at the peak time for selling DAB sets – the run-up to Christmas.
David Liddiment, who is leading the BBC Trust review of BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music says in today’s Media Guardian that they’re likely to ask the BBC to protect Radio 2’s appeal to older listeners and “ask the executive to ensure that the average age of listeners does not fall.”
That’s something, as John Plunkett’s piece rightly points out, that’ll come under the spotlight as Chris Evans takes up the reigns of the Radio 2 breakfast show in January.
We’d like Radio 2 to provide the audience with more imaginative, entertaining content the licence fee payer can’t hear anywhere else. We want to preserve the aspects that make it popular but we’d like to give the BBC Executive a mandate to be more ambitious, including during the daytime peak schedule, even though we recognise that this carries with it a risk that audiences fall.
One way or another, this is going to be a very interestingreport when it’s published at the start of next year.

Spotify Making Money?

Yesterday’s Observer had an interesting piece on Spotify that included a little more substance about whether or not Spotify is making money.
I tried to find out as much as I could about Spotify ahead of Radio at the Edge a few weeks ago, and put everything I determine into a short video.
As I said at the time, there are conflicting numbers published about Spotify which can muddy the waters a bit, but yesterday’s Observer piece cuts through them as best as anybody can. The Swedish news that Lady Gaga’s Poker Face only earned around £100 from Spotify in that country.
The most interesting information comes from Rob Wells at Universal who explains that although record companies have a stake in Spotify, it doesn’t get better terms as a result. Moreover:

And the revenues are flowing, he stresses. In revenue terms, Spotify Sweden is now Universal Music Group International’s eighth largest business partner, out of 1,400. “Watch this space. Those guys are absolutely on fire, you are going to see some amazing developments over the next three to six months.”

ATP World Tour Finals

ATP World Tour Finals (83 of 124)
I was lucky enough to go to the evening sessions at the O2 of the ATP World Tour Finals in London earlier this week – attending on both Monday and Tuesday.
Overall I had a great time – not exactly hindered by the fact that I had superb seats. While the upper level seats were cheap, I’m not certain I’d want to go up there and attempt to keep my eyes on a 130mph serve.
ATP World Tour Finals (29 of 124)
Monday night saw Novak Djokovic beat Nikolay Davydenko in three sets (more on this later). And there was lots of Serbian support inside the arena – and some Russian support too. But despite that loss, Davydenko was the man who would end up reaching the final today.
ATP World Tour Finals (11 of 124)
On Tuesday there was the really tasty fixture of Roger Federer v Andy Murray. Once again, this went to three sets with Federer really raising his game after Murray had taken the first set.
ATP World Tour Finals (90 of 124)
Overall it was good fun, with one small exception – the match timings.
The evening sessions began at 7pm with a doubles fixture. This was followed each evening, not before 8.45pm by the singles match. To speed along the doubles fixtures, they play a “no advantage” rule at deuce, whereby once deuce is reached, the receiving pair elect who will receive and the game is decided on that single point. The rights and wrongs of this, I’ll leave to others, but this is clearly to ensure matches finish on time as much as possible.
In Monday’s evening session, the doubles fixture still ran on a bit, with the result that Djokovic v Davydenko only actually started after 9pm. Djokovic isn’t the fastest player on the tour – bouncing the ball lots of times at every service.
The match was destined to run to three sets, with the result not in until 11.45pm. As we ran to North Greeenwich tube, we were implored not to because the last tube wasn’t until 12.16am and there was no need. But that didn’t allow for changes and connecting tubes and trains. I ended up getting home shortly after 1.30am as a result of all this, having to wait nearly 40 minutes for my final train home.
Even the following night’s action, which was over around an hour earlier, still saw me getting home at close to 1am. And I live in London!
The arena certainly emptied early on Monday, and even on Tuesday.
The O2 has this excellent tournament in London for the next four years. But they need to amend the timings. I can’t work out why 8.45pm is a good TV time for anywhere else in the world. Champions’ League fixtures start at 7.45pm and that seems to work well for most of continental Europe. It doesn’t help Asia particularly, but neither does 8.45pm. Even the US timings can’t be brilliant, taking place in the mid-afternoon. In which case, start the matches earlier.
With the best will in the world, the doubles weren’t well-watched, but if they got under way at 6pm, I’d make an effort to get there for them.
Lots of people travel long distances to watch tennis, and they should be able to stay to see the whole game. So switch the timings next year please!

Sky Mobile

For a good year or so I’ve been using Sky’s mobile service on my phones – in particular their Remote Record function that allows me to browse the Sky EPG and set my Sky+ at home to record the programme I want. But it’s not been the easiest thing to use. Not because the service doesn’t work, but because Sky has seemed to make it as hard to use or find as possible. I’d end up in recurring loops chasing around the Sky website looking for a downloadable application, or a mobile web address I should go to.
On the first N82 I had (before it was damaged), I had to hunt high and low to find the Sky application, eventually getting it from a forum somewhere – certainly not a sky.com website. When I needed to reinstall the application, the same hunt across Sky’s website revealed precisely nothing. I ended up with an inferior Java based application which still worked. It allowed me to log-in and set remote record reminders.
Sky seemed as keen as anything to get me to take out a mobile TV subscription, but I find Remote Record the most useful application.
Remote Record is also available via a texting mechanism which is fine, as long as you can remember the format that Sky wants date, channel and programme title:
Programme Title. Channel name. Two-digit day/Two-digit month. 24-hour time
Send this to 61759. Sky’s example would be: ‘Simpsons. Sky One. 22/03. 18:45’
That’s fine, although I’ve struggled in the past with programmes like Match of the Day, which can be frustrating.
Their PC implementation is fine. But mobile is surely the most useful. Indeed Sky’s recently launched an inevitable iPhone application to do this. The number of people who’ve got excited about something that other mobile users have had working for the last two years is extraordinary.
Which makes it all the more curious that yesterday Sky sent me a text to let me know that from November 29, their application would no longer work.
“We regret to say our Sky App will no longer work from 29 Nov. If you have Mob TV you can still watch via VF Live. For our latest Mob services visit sky.com.”
To say this is disappointing is an understatement. Here’s a service which works – and works well. What’s more it’s something that only Sky offers in the marketplace. So quite why non-iPhone users should have this functionality removed is bizarre. Does this cost Sky an awful lot to administer?
Someone I know who used to work at Sky once mentioned that hardly anyone used their mobile application service (this was pre-iPhone). I pointed out that this was probably because it was practically impossible to find on their website, and install. With the advent of the (flawed) Ovi store, Blackberry World, and Android store et al, people know about installing applications on phones more than ever.
A scan over at Digital Spy reveals similar consternation to my own, with the same confusion.
The text suggests that I visit sky.com to learn more about their mobile services. But I can’t see anything on their main site or their mobile site to suggest a replacement service is coming. Indeed the Sky Mobile landing page currently pictures a Nokia N95 running the very app that is due to die next week.
In summary, I’m at a loss. Perhaps I’ve missed something obvious. But if I have, Sky has communicated this information very badly.
[Update] A further Google reveals this. There’s a new Sky App for more Nokia phones! If that’s the case, then why doesn’t Sky say that we’ll need to update our applications and not just say that they’re all finishing?
In fact, having now installed and played with Sky’s new Nokia application, it’s actually pretty decent (although I’ll wait to see if the programme I’ve just set to record did indeed record when I get home later).
Poor communication from Sky then?
How about this time, they make it a bit easier for people to find and install the application at sky.com? It’s a shame to invest in developing a product and then not tell people about it properly.
[UPDATE 2] Sky responded to an email I sent them and are now directing customers to http://d2c.wecomm.com/sky to download the latest version of the application, which as I say above, is a welcome improvement.

The Great Monkey Trial of Tennessee

The Saturday Play on Radio 4 this week was The Great Monkey Trial of Tennessee (available until this coming Saturday on the iPlayer), which tells the story of the Scopes Trial.
It’s a good listen and well worth catching. What I can’t quite work out is the play’s all-star provenance. The credit is BBC Wales, but with a cast including Neil Patrick Harris and Ed Asner, this probably wasn’t recorded in a studio in Cardiff.
I think it must be a special commission of an LA Theatre Works production. Ed Asner has appeared in one of their productions of this work previously, although it was a longer version of the play. But looking at the date on Audible, that production seems to date from 2006. Go back a bit, and there seems to be yet another 1994 production of this play, also featuring Ed Asner!
In the end, none of this matters. It’s a terrifc listen, and quite as relevant today in a world of Creationists and scientific illiteracy.
[Sorry – wrote this a couple of days ago and neglected to put it live. So now it’s no longer on the iPlayer]

Some Random Things

It’s Up For Grabs Now is a very good new podcast about Arsenal presented by Alan Davies and some of his mates. There are four episodes so far, and they’re all excellent including yesterday’s which deals with Thierry Henry and Ireland, the Sunderland game at the weekend, and even Spurs.
The podcast comes from a company called PlayBack Media who produce a variety of other podcasts, all with comedians or presenters. And the Arsenal one, at least, is very professionally recorded. It’ll be interesting to see if they can earn some revenues and make the business pay.
They’ve effectively used Facebook Group pages as their home pages, which is fine, and efficiently ties in social media aspects. But when it comes to getting the podcasts I can’t find a non-iTunes route. That’s fine for me, but no good for my less-IT-literate friends.
[Quick Update] I note that these podcasts are being put together by Paul Myers, who I assume is the same man who was/is behind Wippit. Regular readers will know that he’s had mixed fortunes in the past – notably over his dealings with Danny Baker.
Hopefully this won’t end the same way as that did. Perhaps the market for paid-for podcasts like The All Day Breakfast Show was too nascent. I’ll watch with interest…

I’m including this purely for Google purposes as it’s something that really annoyed me for weeks and weeks.
Regular readers may know that I’ve struggled repeatedly with the Nokia Ovi store. Basically, since it launched, I’d been unable to log in.
On a PC it was fine. I’ve had a Nokia login for ages, and it still works. Ovi, in its previous guise as just a backup engine, had also worked. But try as I might, I couldn’t log in on my phone. And downloading anything from the Ovi store involves logging in on your phone.
The solution came from here. I was trying to log in on my Nokia N82. I’m on Orange in the UK. But I repeatedly was given error messages.
It turns out that it was because I was using “Orange GPRS WAP” to connect to the internet (Why is a good question – but is based on an excellent price I get from Orange). If I change this to “Orange Internet” it works!
All that said, the Ovi store still leaves an awful lot to be desired. It’s just not a friendly user experience finding anything interesting.

Five Live

On Monday there was a Radio Academy event in London with Matt Wells asking the questions of BBC Radio Five Live’s controller, Adrian van Klaveren.

The obvious area for questioning surrounded Five Live’s forthcoming move to a new facility in Salford.

As someone who listens to an awful lot of Five Live, I’m still unconvinced, although van Klaveren put up some persuasive arguments. BBC Radio probably is too metropolitan in its outlook, with some programmes coming from outside London based on all sorts of mistaken logic.

But I wonder if it wouldn’t have been smarter to move a station like Radio 2 up there? When all is said and done – and this was a theme at the interview event – it’s clear that Five Live is going to have to do an awful lot of “Down the Line” interviews.

While technically these will be fine, as anyone who’s ever heard a Radio 4 Today interview with someone sitting in the radio car in a remote place knows, it’s never the same as having the interviewee facing you in the same room. As things stand currently, Five Live often shares major interviewees with Radio 4 – especially politicians.[UPDATE: It’s probably worth noting that sometimes politicians are in other London studios – White City, Broadcasting House or Millbank and are doing “Down the Lines” – but the argument still holds]

Van Klaveren was at pains to point out that politicians do venture north and that they’ll be able to interview people up there. But if a major event is taking place in parliament, then it’s London where the people concerned will be found.

Partially as a result of all this, Five Live is about to see a significant scheduling shakeup as Simon Mayo heads off to Radio Two (and there’s no doubt that his loss will be felt), to be replaced by Richard Bacon, who’s late night programme will itself be replaced by Tony Livesey.

Gabby Logan also finds a place on the schedule in a lunchtime slot that means that Victoria Derbyshire’s programme loses an hour. That in itself probably isn’t a major issue, as I personally find the full-blooded phone-ins the worst aspects of Five Live. Although I’ve yet to be fully convinced by Logan listening to her Sunday programme.

And the recent “Rules of Chat” TV ad for Five Live does concern me. Previously the station has been about news and sport. Yes, it handles lighter stories, including entertainment news, but it was primarily news and sport. “Chat” seems to have sneaked in of late.

Logan remains an uncertain choice in my view, and the cynic in me wonders if, like the recent return of Anne Robinson to Watchdog, it’s not more about getting fuller value from an expensively contracted presenter – her TV commitments having dwindled a little with the decline in quantity of live football on the BBC.

Richard Bacon is less of an issue to me, and I well remember the howls of protest that met with Simon Mayo’s arrival at Five Live. They proved to be completely unfounded. But as Wells indicated, he will need to “step up” his game when he makes the move in January.

I was interested in Stephen Nolan’s situation. By far the worst programme on the station, with its pointless “White v Black” arguments which tend to go along the lines of this:

Caller A: “White is definitely better than black. It’s so much whiter!”

Nolan: “How can you say that when black is so dark? That makes no sense at all!”

Caller B: “No. Black is definitely better than white. The darkness of it wins everytime.”

Nolan: “I can’t believe you said that. White is surely the most light of the two and clearly better.”

Repeat – ad nauseum.

Specious though those arguments are, they’re nothing to the waste of flying Nolan across the Irish Sea to Manchester each week where his show is made and broadcast from. Nolan is a broadcaster on BBC Radio Ulster each weekday morning, and so on Friday he hops on plane to Manchester to make his weekend shows.

Having heard that “Down the Line” interviews needn’t be so bad, Five Live still feels the need to make his show out of Manchester rather than Belfast even though it’s technically perfectly straightforward for a predominantly phone-in show to come from pretty much anywhere. Yes – his production team are in Manchester, but there can’t be that many of them, and it just seems a waste.

Van Klaveren was adamant that presenters would not be trained or flown up to Manchester and put up in hotels. If they retained homes in the South East, that was their lookout.

Interestingly, this question cropped up again in a Q&A session with him on one of the BBC’s blog pages later in the week. And once again van Klaveren stoutly defended it.

An issue that I did ask him about in the open Q&A at the Radio Academy event was the scarcity of sporting journalism on the station. I still fondly remember On The Line, which started out on Five as weekly investigative standalone programme, before making a transfer to BBC Two. Unfortunately, once it was ditched by TV it never did really return, and yet it’s just about the only serious sports news outlet. Much of the rest of the coverage surrounding sport is based on panel discussions – usually with ex-pros. Per se, there’s nothing wrong with these, and they make entertaining listening. But taking a hard look at sporting issues and the sometimes touchy politics behind it, is something that only the BBC can really do, and there’s a scarcity of that.

The only other true coverage of these kinds of issues is to be found in an occasional Panorama from the likes of Andrew Jennings who specialises in investigating bodies like the IOC and FIFA.

Even if commercial broadcasters actually wanted to seriously address some of these issues, they’d be more concerned about damaging critically important commercial relationships – it simply wouldn’t happen.

I’ve said before that running a major global sport is the closest you can legitimately get to being an internationally recognised dictator these days – particularly in the West. Look at the people in charge of the Olympics, football (UEFA and FIFA) and Formula One. People treat them literally like visiting heads of state such is their power and influence, however “democratic” or not their sporting bodies are. Jack Warner of Trinidadian football association is the foremost of these wretched characters.

That’s why we need a BBC who’ll take on these bodies and not run scared. The Kennel Club is a relevant case in point, as has been coverage of greyhound racing.

Van Klaveren said that in fact this kind of coverage does exist but that perhaps it’s not signposted clearly enough. Where once a programme like On The Line (which successfully spun off at least two excellent companion books by the way) would exist in its own right, today’s Five Live tends towards broader programmes that are less distinguishable in the schedule.

It would be good if Five Live was able to gather together some of this journalism and house it – perhaps on the web – under a specific label.

[UPDATE: The full audio of the Radio Academy event is available either on their website, the Five Live blog, and here!]