June, 2012

Random Notes

A few entirely unrelated things worth noting:
1. Nexus 7 Tablet
Google’s announced its new tablet, and I’ll let others tell you how good or otherwise it is. What I find quite staggering is Google’s UK pricing. In the US, the 8GB entry level model is $199. When you hear numbers like that normally, you begin to wonder what the UK price will be. There are exchange rate variables to consider, and there’s also the fact that US prices don’t include sales tax (although commonly this isn’t charged online, depending on which state the business resides as well as recipient’s local state laws).
Anyway, £199 seemed like a fair guess.
In fact it’s going on sale at £159. If you do the sums at today’s exchange rates (via Google), $199 = £127.64. Add 20% VAT to that and you get £153.17. UK consumers are effectively only paying £5.83 more than US consumers. And as I say, that exchange rate is variable.
I think it’s clear that Google is either making no money, or indeed, more likely, making a loss on every device sold at those kinds of prices. And that pricing really puts the pressure on Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which of course hasn’t launched at all in the UK. Indeed, I’d argue that it puts pressure on the regular Kindle Touch at £109.
Clearly there are some significant advantages of epaper over backlit screens for reading books and achieving long battery life. But you can’t watch videos or play games on a regular Kindle. What Amazon does in response to Google in the UK marketplace will be interesting. And how Microsoft price their Surface tablet will also be worth watching, although productivity will undoubtedly be their USP.
2. Soho Stories
The National Trust of all people has launched a really interesting app called Soho Stories presented by no less than Barry Cryer. In many respcets it’s similar in the way it works to Hackney Hear (iPhone only, so I’ve not been able to use it) or The Guardian’s King’s Cross London Streetstories app (iPhone and Android) in that what you hear is related to the location you’re physically in. I do believe that these kinds of applications really do offer a very different and immersive experience in any given area. It should be noted that you can still listen to the audio if you’re not able to walk around Soho.
Of course I work in Soho so it’s much closer to home for me. But the history of Soho is fascinating, and I’ve explored it in the past to an extent – particularly Golden Square.
I think these kinds of ideas are terrific, and it’s good to see more of them emerging, even if I’m still a little unclear about why the National Trust of all people took this on!
The fully-featured iPhone/iPod Touch app is here. The currently “lite” version of the Android app is here.
3. Sony RX100
If you want a small pocketable camera, that isn’t a compact systeme camera, this really does seem to be it. David Pogue at the New York Times has already called it “the best pocket camera ever made.”
In recent times, people have been getting quite excited about systems like the micro 4/3 format from companies like Olympus and Panasonic, Sony’s NEX and Nikon’s 1 cameras. But for many people a slim pocketable camera without the fuss of different lenses is all they really want. There’s the camera in your phone, and then perhaps something a bit better. Better camera phones will certainly kill the low-end camera marketplace.
However, this sounds like it’s a lot better. I’ve been a longtime user of Canon’s Powershot G series of cameras that are fully featured and have things like viewfinders and hotshoes. But the RX100 is really interesting. It’s as small as the G12’s slimline brother, the S100 which I know is excellent, yet seemingly offers a near DSLR experience. The reviews are suggesting it outperforms them everything else in the point and shoot marketplace.
Unfortunately, in the camera world a $650 price point coverts to at least £549 in the UK. And given the initial demand this camera’s likely to have, that won’t be changing anytime soon.

The Daily Show – Back Daily in the UK

Since it’s easier to moan than to be positive, I thought it was worth giving kudos to Comedy Central UK who are bringing the regular daily edition of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart back to the UK screens from the end of next month.
You may recall that it used to air nightly on More4, Tuesday to Fridays, 24 hours after broadcast. But back at the end of 2010, they announced that they were dropping the nightly version. Instead we were left with the “best of” weekly version aka The Global Edition. The trouble with this is that we lost three quarters of everything they did.
Viewers in the UK either had to make do with the Global Edition, shunted away into late night on More4, a station that’s evolving away from what it started out as being. They could buy episodes on iTunes, or gain access via less, er, conventional routes.
Now it’ll be back on Comedy Central Extra on a nightly basis at 10.30pm which is perhaps a better time. Yes it clashes with Newsnight, but that’s what PVRs are for. Sadly we’re not getting The Colbert Report just yet, but I’m sure that Comedy Central will be looking carefully at their ratings and if enough people watch, then perhaps, perhaps.
But in the meantime this is excellent news – especially in an election year. In many ways The Daily Show is easily the best way to really get under the skin of what’s happening during their electoral cycle, consistently providing a fuller picture than any number of other outlets. I mean, do you really want to watch Piers Morgan on CNN?
Now if Comedy Central UK could just make sure that UK viewers will be able to see the extended versions of interviews that are ending up exclusively online with greater frequency, that’d just be wonderful.

10th Anniversary

10th Anniversary
Ten years ago today the a new site took the internet by storm. adambowie.com was launched.
OK. Maybe the internet wasn’t taken by storm. This was 2002, and while Google was already in existence, there certainly wasn’t a YouTube or Facebook.

  • Arsenal had won the Premier League – at Old Trafford no less.
  • The World Cup was meeting its climax in Japan and South Korea.
  • We were all watching the brand new Spooks, as well as the somewhat older and returning Auf Wiedersehen Pet.
  • Tony Blair hadn’t yet take us to war.
  • Chris Tarrant reigned in London on Capital.
  • Daryl Denham had recently launched his Virgin Radio breakfast show (after a short stint with Steve Penk, and following the departure of Chris Evans the previous year).
  • NTK still had a couple of years’ life left in it.

And everybody was launching their blogs. OK. We were very much post the dotcom boom of a couple of years earlier when the likes of Boo.com had been foundering. But blogging was the big new thing. And although it may no longer have the growth it once did, I’d argue that it’s not gone away, even if these days Tumblr is cooler than WordPress or Blogger for no discernible reason.
I couldn’t help noticing that Steve Bowbrick’s blog launched about a month ahead of mine. Blogging is clearly where it was at in 2002.
To be fair, I did have varying web presences under my control prior to 2002, with a website in existence since about 1997 or so. But it was with the start of adambowie.com that I really got involved.
In case you’re interested, here’s my first entry. It’s that kind of insight that’s kept people coming back year after year.
The blog has had a couple of makeovers during those ten years, but nothing incredibly substantial. I’m still using Movable Type to power it, as much because it’s really hard for me to move as anything else. Commenting has never been easy, so I’m just about the only place left on the web not using Disqus to power comments.
I suppose I should have some kind of list of stats telling you how many people have accessed this blog. But I don’t since I only started properly monitoring the site’s performance when I added Google Analytics in November 2005.
But Google does tell me that within that time I’ve had 144,000 unique visitors. That partially explains why there’s no advertising on the site. Well that, and the fact that I don’t like advertising on a personal blog. Actually that’s not entirely true. On the rare occasions that I trouble readers with some books I’ve read, I do place affiliate links to Amazon. However, I’ve never earned enough money from those links for Amazon to so much as give me a pound in fees. On the other hand, I continue to spend a fortune with them.
Still digging into Google does always bring up a few entertaining bits and pieces. Remember, that although I’ve never completely focused this blog on a given subject, things related with the media (and radio in particular) tend to outnumber other entries.
The most popular individual blog items that I’ve published are as follows:
1. A piece from 2007 exploring which parts of Strictly Come Dancing are pre-recorded, and which aren’t. This of course, predated all the “openness” and “honesty” that broadcasters now have to abide by. I’ve no idea why this particular piece was so popular.
2. An entry from 2004 about what was happening to the YHA’s “Adventure Shops”.
3. A piece from 2005 heralding the arrival of series two of the still excellent Radio 4 series, Ed Reardon’s Week, a series I still love.
4. A 2006 review of a Bush WiFi radio that was widely available in Argos. I must admit that only a couple of weeks ago, I threw this out having left it in a wardrobe for a couple of years. It simply won’t talk to modern secure WiFi routers.
5. A quick 2010 review of the HTC Desire fairly soon after it was launched. Regular readers will know that I’ve only recently upgraded to an HTC One X.
6. Exasperation in 2011 that a programme like Mrs Brown’s Boys gets commissioned when something like Pulling gets cancelled. I still don’t understand this.
7. My annotated Radio Times pieces collectively. I’ve not done too many of these recently, but there’s a special birthday edition on the blog now!
8. Thoughts on the re-jigged Radio 1 line-up in summer 2009.
9. Why, in 2008, I was highly suspicious about how Derren Brown’s The System was produced. Again, this pre-dated the recent “issues” surrounding television production and honesty.
10. My failure to produce an Excel “Euro 2004” spreadsheet. Beginning with Euro 2000, and again with World Cup 2002, I’d produced rather popular “wallcharts” that worked without dangerous macros that might prevent some from using them. Sadly my Excel skills were not good enough to keep up with UEFA’s (and FIFA’s) rules surrounding how to treat teams level on points in the group stages. I haven’t done a Euro 2012 spreadsheet either.
It’s always fun to see what search terms generated the traffic over this time and led to people visiting my blog. But over a long period of time, they tend to be a bit dull, and broadly reflect the entries I’ve mentioned above. Strangely “adam bowie” is the top search. You will find me that way.
Other curios (which don’t make a great deal of sense to me) include:
“itv schedlue tonight” – I’m not going to be that helpful
“the+real+hustle” – I had similar suspicions to those I had of Derren Brown
“is wifi dangerous” – probably not
“thelondonpaper” – remember that?
“keep calm” – yes, I made one of those signs too
“paranormal egypt” – it’s not
“abby titmuss” – her name is “abi titmuss”
“shocking websites” – you’re going to be very disappointed
“danny baker podcast” – you’re looking in the wrong place
“jonny greenwood doghouse” – I believe I actually broke some new here
All of those have led well over 100 people to this site.
So what am I doing in celebration of this blog’s tenth anniversary? Not a great deal.
I did take the photo shown above. And if you’re not reading this in Google Reader (how excited we were about RSS feeds) then you might notice that I’ve added some additional random header images for just about the first time in years.
But onwards and upwards. Here’s to the next ten years!

London RAJAR

If you happen to be passing by during RAJAR periods, you’ll know that I now tend to put together a nice chart of historical RAJAR that you can play with.
This is for the national picture of course. And I’d meaning for a while to have a look at London specifically. A few weeks ago, I did precisely that, but promptly forgot to tell anyone about it.
So why not wander over to the fullscreen London version of the chart and have a play! Full instructions can be found under the chart.

The Premier League’s £3bn Deal

First of all – wow!
I mean WOW!
£3bn for the new Premier League rights. A 71% increase on the 2010/11 – 2012/3 deal.
In the current economic climate, that has to be a spectacular result for the Premier League, and its clubs.
But I just wanted to address what it means for all the players, and what it might mean in twelve month’s time or even sooner.
Channels
Sky had to win rights to the majority of games. Its very foundation is built on the Premier League. It has to have a package that football fans see as unmissable. With its retention of the key 4pm package, it has pretty much done that. But it has lost some significant rights to BT.
The Premier League bundles its fixtures up into packages broadly based around when the games go out.
Under EU regulation, Sky would only have been allowed to bid for 116 of the 154 games on offer under the new deal (more than the current 138 games a season). Sky has successfully achieved that, although at significantly greater cost than last time around. It’s true that the current deal was broadly flat compared with the one before that, but they’ve made amends this time around.
The loss of the Saturday lunchtime games should not be underestimated though. Sky’s recent deal with the Football League will probably mean more Championship games will go out in that slot. But Sky will not be showing some of the biggest games of the season. And this is the first time since the inception of the Premier League that this can be said to be true.
BT is the new player in the market, and I don’t think anyone really saw them coming. We’d heard talk about Google and Apple – neither of whom I ever saw as realistic bidders since they work on global scales far more than a single territory like the UK. But there was also Al Jazeera in the mix.
If someone mentioned BT as a likely bidder, then I certainly didn’t see it reported.
Media Guardian’s report says that BT is paying £246m a season, or £738m overall for its package of 38 games a season. On a per-game basis, BT is paying more than Sky (with its other package broadly being midweek games). It clearly outbid Sky and all-comers for package “A” which constitutes the Saturday lunchtime selection of games. Critically, it gets 18 of the 40 “first picks” a season.
That means that BT will in all likelihood get a Manchester derby, a north London derby, and a Merseyside derby. Those Saturday lunchtime games are big games, especially if the clubs are due to play in the Champions’ League on a Tuesday night and the police dictate that it must be an early kick off.
The question is then – what will BT do with its games? How will a consumer be able to buy them?
BT obviously has its own platform in BT Vision. It could make its new packages exclusive to that platform meaning that only BT Vision subscribers could get all the games. And since BT Vision also offers Sky Sports 1 and 2 via an encrypted Freeview service, it might market itself as “the only place to get every Premier League game” or something similar.
But BT Vision has not been noticeably successful. Many of its subscribers get access to it as part of a larger package. And it’s not clear how much people are actually paying extra for it. Or indeed using it as their primary TV delivery mechanism.
BT is also notably a shareholder in the forthcoming YouView, shortly to begin fullscale beta trials. One would imagine that BT’s football offering will be made available via that platform. Sky could also its sports services that way.
There is a problem with HD though. Sky’s current unique selling point is that Sky HD is the only way to get all its sports in full HD. Sky Sports 1 and 2 via encrypted Freeview are only SD. And there isn’t really the Freeview capacity for a BT HD broadcast stream. BT could offer a streaming HD service, but that’s asking for all sorts of problems which much the UK’s broadband capacity really not up to it. With buffering, the radio might be minutes ahead of a streaming TV channel.
The other issue is that current Sky subscribers, via Sky Digital or Virgin Media, might just simply not be interested in another box. Although BT has a compelling offering, it’s not clear that this will persuade a die-hard football fan to place another box under their TV set. You only have to go back to the days of OnDigital when it had exclusive Champions’ League coverage to see that it wasn’t enough for fans to adopt a second platform if they already had Sky – at least not on a scale that gave OnDigital an ongoing business model.
And given the price BT has paid, it’s going to need some significant subscription numbers to make it pay, BT also needs the big prices that pubs pay for access.
Therefore I think BT will have to launch an HD channel with its games and put it on the Sky and Virgin Media platforms. They’ll lose potential subscribers otherwise.
ESPN is clearly the big loser here. They initially picked up the defunct Setanta’s rights, but with the current TV deal, lost one of the two packages it had previously had, leaving it with a single package of Saturday teatime games. Clearly ESPN’s UK management either wasn’t able to match other’s offerings, or perhaps more likely since they are essentially a Disney company, couldn’t make the figures add up at that prices being talked about.
But being a sports channel in the UK means starting and ending with football. As recently as last month ESPN was saying precisely that. And with no Premier League games from the start of the 2013/14 season, that has to raise questions over the whole enterprise. Will subscribers stay with them? They still own FA Cup rights until the end of 2013/14, but that leaves their final season with only FA Cup games as top-flight domestic football. Italian, Russian and German league football doesn’t really make up for that.
One way or another, they’re going to have to reduce subscription rates, or even adopt a model like Eurosport of being bundled in a sports pack via Sky and Virgin Media.
Al Jazeera was always the dark horse of this round of bidding, and you feel at the very least, they’ve caused everyone else to bid much more than they’d hoped – or perhaps are comfortable with. How serious they ever were is something I clearly don’t know. But they do have the financial muscle to buy the rights. But perhaps even they baulked at the prices that were being bid?
The BBC are probably the real winners here. They’ve retained Match of the Day rights, with some added online coverage – finally. And until it becomes clear where BT’s games are going to made available, there’s a strong chance that 10.15pm on a Saturday night will be the first time a lot of people will have had an opportunity to watch the weekend’s top game, pub’s aside.
Consumers
Ever since the EU ruled that a single company couldn’t own all the rights, it’s been clear that consumers always lose out. To see all the football – albeit more than ever before – consumers have to subscribe to at least two packages. And until we understand what’s going to happen with platforms, they may have to invest in a separate platform too.
A 71% increase in TV rights doesn’t come without a cost. And while the twenty clubs in the Premier League will be clinking champagne glasses this evening, I can only see that this will lead some significant “bumps” in subscription rates. Push them too high and
And it’s BT that stands to be at risk here. If Sky’s rates go up too much, then consumers will have to cut back elsewhere. And that probably means not taking up BT’s offer. BT will need to tread a fine line to come up with a compelling offering that still makes financial sense to them.
And everyone will have to keep on top of pirates. I suspect that there’ll be more illegal streaming of those Saturday lunchtime games than there is currently.
Let’s not forget, that while in the football world inflation is rampant, the rest of us are still gong through some tough times.
Media Outlets
Remember a couple of years ago when BT was first able to offer Sky Sports via BT Vision? And Virgin Media was pushing the football too? As was Sky? Well that meant a lot of cash was being spent persuading consumers to sign up across a lot of media. July and August 2013 will probably see more of the same.
So winners and loser all round. The key question now is how BT plans to make its rights available, and at what cost.

Newspapers Need To Help Themselves

I do something that’s becoming increasingly unusual in the 21st century.
I buy a daily newspaper.
Specifically, I have subscription vouchers for The Guardian and Observer. But I think it’s fair to say that everyone realises the days of printed daily papers are numbered. I don’t think it’ll happen that soon. It might be ten years, or it might be twenty. But we will move to a digital version of some description.
Personally, I love the printed word. Presenting me with an editorialised version of the news, rather than the news that I just choose to read online, means that I become a much more rounded person. It’s good for me.
So that’s why it annoys me when quality newspapers do stupid things that can only speed up the death of the printed word.
Specifically, two things really annoyed me when I picked up a paper at the newsagent today.
One of the few other qualities, The Sunday Telegraph, had wrapped itself in an ad for a cosmetics company. There was a masthead showing, but to read even the day’s headline, you had to get past an ad. Now I realise that once upon a time, all newspapers carried classified advertising on the front page. But we’re beyond that now. And if I’m paying for a newspaper, wrapping it in an advert is cheapening.
Certainly, free newspapers like Metro or the London Evening Standard, regularly have such wraps around them. But they’re “free”. The tacit understanding of anyone who picks up such a newspaper is that the ads fund it. But a paper like The Sunday Telegraph costs £2, and for that, I do expect a visible headline.
The Telegraph group has played before with “tracing paper” style wraps. However, they left the front page visible. This advert did not.
Indeed, aside from the copious amount of cash the Telegraph Group was able to charge, the only reason I can think that they did it is because so many of their readers take the paper via delivery or subscription, that incidental sales from people glancing at covers in newsagents make no difference.
The other thing that annoyed me today was The Observers blurb strapline. It read “Unhappy With Our Bodies. Why More And More Women Hate The Way They Look. A Major [My emphasis] Investigation By Eva Wiseman.”
That’s a bold statement. A “major investigation”? To my mind, major investigations in newspapers are things like Nick Davies ongoing investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World, or going back in time, The Sunday Times’ Insight team investigation into thalidomide.
The 4,000 word article has depth, certainly. One could easily call it a “special report.” But using the expression “major investigation” diminishes those investigations that newspaper do still carry out. Indeed such work is going to become more and more important to newspapers since it’s a point of difference; something that you can’t get elsewhere on the internet.
Newspaper need to be careful. I realise that budgets are tight (Especially so at The Observer where sometimes the articles are laughable. Someone notices that there’s a Johnny Depp “western” themed film coming out as well as a Quentin Tarantino film, and there’s an article somehow linking them), but overselling what you’re offering will not help.

A Fruitless Early Morning

The alarm was set for 4.00am.
I’d bought some Baader solar paper.
I’d made a solar filter for my camera, essentially following these instructions.
I was already for the last Transit of Venus that’ll be visible from Earth until 2117, and therefore, my lifetime.
Sadly, I hadn’t counted on the wonderful British summer.
Actually, that’s not true. I very much had counted on it. And for the last week, I’d been disconsolately refreshing the various weather sites to see what kind of cloud there’d be at 4.43am on 6 June. It was always going to be cloudy, if not wet as well. Fortunately, the rain held off.
The Transit of Venus was only visible in the UK briefly, between dawn at 4.43am and approximately an hour later. Using the very excellent Photographer’s Ephemeris app on my phone (seriously – if you’re any kind of photographer, this is an essential purchase), I was able to see exactly where there the sun would rise and at what position on the horizon. Less than half a mile from where I live, there’s an excellent position high over surrounding farmland. So I cycled out there to take a look.
But I knew it was in vain.
There were very occassional breaks in the cloud, but nowhere near the horizon where the sun was rising. I didn’t catch so much as a glimpse.
I was even joined by a chap who was also up early to have a look. Quite how he planned to do that I’m not sure, since he had no filters or equipment of any kind. And if there’s one thing everyone knows, it’s to not stare directly at the sun.
There was certainly the tail end of a dawn chorus to appreciate. But no Transit for me.
I shall instead make do with some of the amazing photographs that have been published online – not least many of those from NASA and others on their Flickr group.
Ironically, on my way into work later, the sun shone brightly. I guess that I can still use my camera filter to look for sunspots.
As an aside, there was a decent Horizon last night all about Venus, and its Transit. But it was oddly timed since it ended by explaining that you’d be best watching it with special filtered glasses. Except that at 10pm at night when the progamme finished, there was simply no way any viewer would be able to buy such filtered glasses before 4.45am the next morning. It’d have been much smarter to run the documentary – or that part of it – a week earlier.