March, 2012

One Night

On BBC1 this week, there’s been an excellent drama over three nights, with a final fourth episode tonight. One Night tells the goings on over a single twenty four hour period in an inner-city part of London. Each episode tells one side of the story, starting with Ted (Douglas Hodge) who lives in his fairly middle-class home adjacent to a large council estate. He castigates a group of school-girls who drop litter outside his home and then give him verbal abuse.
The ramifications are later seen from the perspective of one of those girls – Rochelle (Georgina Campbell) – who is in fact a gifted student sitting her A Levels and chasing a place in Oxford. Her boyfriend meanwhile, of Somali descent, is facing some gang repurcussion following a murder on the estate.
The third episode concentrates on Carol (Jessica Hynes), who’s struggling on her own, raising her kids whilst holding down a dull supermarket checkout job, and trying her hand at stand-up. There’s a terrific scene in which she performs in a comedy club, and we see the full routine with its sometimes mixed reaction, as she performs some very personal comedy. And despite what she’s done for her kids, Carol’s older son seems to be involved in gangs.
The fourth and final episode goes out tonight. And it features 13 year-old Alfie (Billy Matthews). The linking mechanism of the whole piece is a police interview with Alfie who came into the station with a gun that’s been used. How this came to be, we’ll learn tonight. It’s a great story.
But, if you’ve not been watching, I wonder if it’s because of the scheduling? It was clearly commissioned to be shown over consecutive nights, but I can’t help thinking that it was originally designed to run at 9pm over four nights from Monday to Thursday (Friday perhaps having a usual comedy block).
But that’s not where it’s ended up. Instead it’s been going out at 10.35pm each night, meaning that episodes don’t finish until twenty-five to midnight. And since Wednesday evenings also have to accommodate a lottery programme, that can mean quarter to midnight. Furthermore, because Question Time is a BBC1 fixture, the drama has to run Monday to Wednesday, take a night off, and then conclude on Friday.
And, as I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of this kind of multi-night “event” scheduling. Even with PVRs, and iPlayer, it’s too easy to miss an episode, or fall behind until you realise you’ve got hours to catch-up on. Doing the same in post 10.30pm slot just feels completely foolish.
All in all, it feels like shambolic scheduling.
Yet the programme itself is excellent. There are perhaps too many dramas at the moment telling the same story from multiple angles – with Titanic on ITV1 being the latest (and not convincing me thus far). But this feels right.
So a jewel that most will miss. What a shame.

Sport on TV – Racing

Sandown-12
Channel 4 has just done a deal with the Racecourse Media Group to become the exclusive free-to0air broadcaster of horse racing of all forms of horse racing in the UK. At first glance, it’d seem to be a good deal, with Channel 4 picking up the rights to prestigious events such as the Grand National, the Derby and Royal Ascot. Having just concluded its coverage of Cheltenham, I’m sure the C4 Racing team are excited. As a result of the deal, there’ll be no horse racing coverage on the BBC.
At this point I should admit that I have no interest in the sport at all. I might watch one of those big races, but that’s about it. And even the National’s appeal is waning as nobody likes to see dead animals on the course.
So does it matter? Well if I were in horse racing I’d say that yes, it does. They’ve just put all their eggs in one basket. So when this four year deal comes to an end, there’ll be just about no other terrestrial broadcasters interested.
Roll back a few years, and you may remember that Channel 4 threatened to pull out of horse racing altogether. In the end, they ended up continuing, but being subsidised by the racing industry to do so. Usually broadcaster pay for sports rights. They don’t get paid themselves!
This deal turns that around with Channel 4 putting up cash. But when it comes to renegotiation, I wonder if the sport won’t find itself in a position where no other free-to-air broadcaster will be interested since they no longer cover the sport, and hence their bargaining power will be minimal to non-existent.
Horse racing survives on betting. And the betting industry seems to be moving more and more towards football and away from horse racing. The sport needs visibility.
In the short term, that’s precisely what Channel 4 is offering. But what will happen in four year’s time?

  • The BBC won’t be interested.
  • Channel 4 will be, but they won’t need to pay too much (if anything) to retain the rights.
  • Only pay TV would otherwise be interested, but with several racing events “listed” they have to be broadcast free-to-air.

All that seems to imply a great deal for Channel 4, but I wonder if it’s in the best interests of the sport in the long run?

King’s Cross Station

King's Cross Panorama
I was expecting the new concourse at King’s Cross station to be open tomorrow. That’s when we’d been told it’d open. But sneakily, they actually opened it today. So although I hadn’t planned to, I had a bit of a look around.

Now I’m no expert on architecture, and you’d best look elsewhere if you want details on designers and so on. Similarly, the history of the area is not my strong suit, so again, look elsewhere.
But I do use the station nearly every day, so I have some thoughts and considerations about it.
King's Cross Station-2
It does look excellent. I’m not sure anything could top it’s near neighbour, St. Pancras, but the large airy open design feels great. Inside, the main shed that holds platforms 0-8 is also much brighter and lighter.
The overall design of King’s Cross is now fashioned like an airport with Arrivals and Departures actually separated quite a lot. Arrivals to the main lines exit into the old, soon-to-be-demolished area at the front of the station. If you’re departing you now enter at the side.
King's Cross Station-6
And the suburban lines now don’t feel like an afterthought, and are easily reachable from the main concourse. It should make reaching departing services much more efficient. Previously you had to hope that you knew what platform you were going from, and could face runs to make last trains.
King's Cross Station-8
There are a few things I’m not really sure about.
It’s not clear to me how passengers coming into King’s Cross on the suburban platforms 9-11 are supposed to reach the tube. Perhaps that’ll be clearer tomorrow. At the moment you have to be funnelled out through a relatively small door at the side, and walk around to an external entrance. There is a new escalator leading from the ticket office to the new concourse, but today it was going up only, so was only of use to passengers departing from King’s Cross by rail. The signs didn’t really help either vaguely pointing passengers from platforms 9-11 in a direction that was neither one thing nor the other.
Still, the proof will be in the pudding, when commuters begin disembarkation tomorrow.
King's Cross Station-3
While a key consideration for any transport hub these days seems to be shops and restaurants, it feels that King’s Cross has gone perhaps too upmarket. Neighbouring St Pancras would never be so “dirty” as to offer a burger outlet, but new King’s Cross similarly looks like it has dispensed with late-night post-pub fare. Instead we have branches of Leon, and the like.
More disappointingly, the branch of WH Smiths that’s been added is tiny. It might be bigger than the branch we’ve had more recently, but that was severely cut down in size while works were ongoing. The new one was pretty rammed even for a relatively empty Saturday. And the new M&S Food store is similarly tiny, and nowhere near the size of the branch that used to reside there before works began. Fortunately, there are decent sized stores over the road at St Pancras. But given the number of passengers that use the station, they might look enviously at Euston, St Pancras, Victoria or even Waterloo, where there’s more space for stores (even Brighton has a larger M&S than the new King’s Cross).
King's Cross Station-9
On the plus side there are plenty of places to eat proper food now, and there’s a pub too – although I didn’t visit it. There’s even a bookshop to do battle with WH Smith’s meagre offerings.
King's Cross Station-10
For a commuting cyclist like myself, the road running between King’s Cross and St Pancras has finally been opened up. It’s regularly clogged with taxis setting down and picking up, but a barrier in the middle of the road made it a horrible experience to cycle along with taxis regularly blocking the way, and car doors swinging open randomly. Hopefully tomorrow will be a much nicer experience.
Overall, a welcome change, and we can only look forward to the ugly front section being taken down next year. The regeneration of King’s Cross continues apace.
King's Cross Station-11
King's Cross Station-12

Games on the High Street

Now I’m not much of a gamer these days. I take a broad interest in the industry and perhaps buy one – maybe two – games a year. I have an Xbox 360, but my Wii hasn’t been switched on in many months.
Anyway, I say this as I’m vaguely aware that Mass Effects 3 is coming out soon. With a star-studded voice cast, music from Clint Mansell and of course some incredible looking gameplay (based on what I’ve read, as I’ve not so much as looked at a trailer for it), I’m aware it’s coming. It’s what the industry calls a AAA title.
So at the weekend, while doing a bit of shopping, I popped into both Game and Gamestation locally to see if it was out, or discover its release date. Oddly, in neither shop did I see any mention. I realised that it might not be released for a week or two, but gaming is an industry that loves a pre-order, so I found it odd that there weren’t racks of empty boxes alongside a date and an urge for me to pre-order the game.
It was only later when I was going through a stack of recent newspapers that had been building up unread that I saw the news that Game and its sister company Gamestation will not be stocking the game. They’re similarly not going to be stocking Mario Party 9.
That’s because the company is struggling and EA in particular is refusing to deal with them over their big new release.
I understand that EA might be taking a risk by dealing with a “troubled” company. But I wonder if they’re not shooting themselves in the foot in the longer term.
If every games publisher does this, then that pretty much seals the fate of Game, and with it, High Street specialist games stores. Yes, there are still some independents, and HMV. But the latter faces its own challenges. As does Blockbuster, the only other really notable multiple with a hand in gaming (Does WH Smith still stock video games? Can you tell in their thoroughly cluttered stores?). In the main, the business is being pushed online. Is it such a good idea to have all your eggs in a handful of baskets like Amazon and Play? Suppose you fall out with Amazon, where does that leave you?
There are supermarkets, but they only maintain space on their shelves while it pays for itself. They’d drop games completely without any fuss if their margins per square foot of floor space aren’t maintained.
Perhaps this is a smart move by EA concerned about a potential loss of earnings on a major title. And the video games industry isn’t quite what it was a few years ago, so those millions matter.
But I can’t help but think it’s the industry ensuring that it has a smaller High Street presence in the short to medium term. Out of sight, out of mind…