February, 2014

The Worst Place in the World for a Big Live Global TV Audience

In a nice piece from Marina Hyde in today’s Guardian, she links to a New Yorker piece from a few years ago that disavows the idea that a billion people might watch the Oscars.

Starting from the fact that only 15% of Americans watch their own movie awards, it seems incredibly unlikely that the numbers could get near to one billion.

But I think it’s simpler than that, and it’s the reason that the Super Bowl is never going to have true global appeal. America is just in the wrong place in relation to the international dateline for major events.

That’s particularly the case for those that happen on a Sunday and are aimed at a US TV audience: the Oscars and Super Bowl being the most obvious.

America times events for the east coast where the population is largest, although with some consideration of those on the west coast. So the Super Bowl this year, taking place in New York, was timed to start at 1830 ET/1530 PT. That allows the network to air the game and the post-game show, and still give a boost to that network’s own shows in the valuable post-Super Bowl slot around 2200 ET.

But 18:30 ET is 2330 GMT/UTC. So for British viewers you’re looking at a 0300 finish on a Monday morning. For most of Western Europe that’s 0400.

By the time you’ve reached the Middle East or West Africa, the game has finished 0600 on Monday morning. I guess NFL fans could get up early?

In India the game doesn’t finish until something like 0830 in the morning, while in China and Indonesia, the game is ending sometime around 1100 in the middle of a working day, while many in Australia can perhaps catch the post-game presentations during their lunch break at 1300.

Given the Americas make up somewhere around 14% of the world’s population, that means that 86% of the world is having to make an enormous effort to watch any event timed principally for US television.

Compare and contrast with the upcoming World Cup final in Brazil. That game will kick-off at 1700 local time (1500 ET) to facilitate 2000/2100 start times in Europe. Sure – Asia still loses out, but Europe is where FIFA generates its cash. And with the final most likely to be contested by countries from the Americas, Europe or possibly Africa, fans of competing times are likely to be awake when the game takes place.

So all in all, another reason that a billion people won’t be watching the Oscars.

And of course, I won’t be watching.

[NB. Yes, I realise that many global news and entertainment outlets will report on the awards, and perhaps include clips. However, to what extent the populations of India or China are interested in how American Hustle and Gravity perform still remains unclear to me.]

Battle of the Streaming Services

This morning, Amazon UK announced a shake-up of its streaming offering, hitherto called LoveFilm. From next week, the service gets rebranded as Amazon “Prime Instant Video”, but perhaps more importantly, it gets rolled into the regular Amazon Prime offering.

So far, so good, unless you were attached to the LoveFilm name.

However there are price increases around the corner. Although it doesn’t say it anywhere I can see particuarly obviously on the Amazon website (indeed, I can’t see any press releases on the Amazon UK website post 2012!), the cost of Amazon Prime will jump from £49 to £79 for users. Anyone already on the £49 deal, or who joins before the end of the month, continues at the current price until the end of their 12 months. But the price is jumping up to that higher level with renewals or new starters after that point.

I’ve been using Amazon Prime since 2007, and it has undoubtedly made me use Amazon for many more purchases than I would have otherwise. The overall reliability of their next day offering, and the fact that I can use it easily for gifts, means that it’s been of immense value. I have to weigh that, of course, against Amazon’s avoidance of tax, the effect it has had on record, DVD and bookshops on the high street, and their reported working conditions. I try to use bricks and mortar bookshops as much as Amazon for this very reason.

When Amazon US started bundling streaming video in the US and offering it to Prime customers there, I wondered when we in the UK would get it.

Of course it was different market situation there to here. In the US, Amazon was the upstart fighting against the dominant Netflix. In the UK, Amazon had bought the market leader, LoveFilm (which had mirrored itself on the US Netflix model), and therefore didn’t need to offer a great deal to their customers.

In recent times, Netflix has made an inroad into that LoveFilm dominance, although I believe LoveFilm has remained bigger. And Amazon has been more heavily branding LoveFilm as Amazon LoveFilm in recent months until today when we lose the LoveFilm moniker altogether.

What they’ve not tried to do is work hard to upgrade UK Prime members to a package that included LoveFilm. They did have an offering – also at £79 – that gave consumers both. But it was handled strangely. You had to cancel your current Prime account, get a refund, and then take out the new deal. Amazon never seemed to try to upsell to the new package, I suspect because they always knew that today was on the horizon.

In many respects, it’s not a great deal. If you just want next day delivery on all your purchases, your cost has just gone up 61%! I would think that’ll be a deal-breaker for many people. Yes – there’s the Kindle lending library, but I’ll be honest, I’ve never used it – on the basis that most of the books I want to read are unlikely to be included (and I rarely see the icon on a book’s page suggesting that they are). So if streaming video is of no interest, you’re seeing an enormous price hike. And the new combined price of £79 seems particularly high compared with the $79 price for the same package in the US, even if in the US it’s more about two day delivery than next day delivery.

And it seems that those still on the DVD monthly rental scheme are seeing the basic price from £7.99 to £9.99. I’m sure that in time, Amazon would like to kill off that administratively complex model. But at the moment, it’s only via discs that Amazon is able to offer the widest selection of fare.

I did have a 6 month cheap trial of LoveFilm about 18 months ago, but I ended up not staying with the service. It just didn’t offer the choice of films I wanted. And there was a particularly frustrating issue with it allowing you to search for a film, only to discover that it was only available as a disc and not for streaming. Let’s face it, LoveFilm was able to offer every film as a disc, so that was particularly frustrating.

Amazon has obviously made inroads into original commissioning, and I’m interested to see their new pilots. However, it was Netflix that got me to sign up first, when they unveiled the first season of House of Cards this time last year.

Amazon will need to up its game in terms of making its device offering better. Netflix is currently superior. Incredibly, there is still no Android app! There obviously is a Kindle app (which of course is built on Android), but Amazon is so determined to flog Kindles, that it has deliberately not made an Android app – a marketing decision that is a strike against them, and is detrimental to the large core of its customers who own Android devices. Amazon does have an app for iPad though!

And the streaming technology used by Amazon is based on the abysmal Silverlight and is thus full of curious error messages and a lack of support on some operating systems like Chromebooks.

For what I imagine are rights reasons, neither Netflix nor Amazon yet offer cached offline viewing as, say, Spotify is able to. This is obviously a shame for those travelling with portable devices. From keeping kids quiet in the back seat to giving yourself a better selection of films than your airline has chosen, there is a significant demand for it. London commuter carriages are packed with people watching iPlayer cached video, and to a lesser extent Sky Go video.

It’ll be interesting to see what the next moves are.

At the moment, it feels that although Amazon is the bigger player in the market, it’s Netflix that has the can’t-miss programming that’s getting critical acclaim. Amazon hasn’t managed this yet. Which goes back to my note the other day about Netflix being a game-changer. Their batting average is high so far, but probability suggests that won’t last.

That said, I note that Amazon has stealthily added pay-per-view to its offering. So it’ll be able to offer Game of Thrones at £1.99 an episode or whatever.

The game’s afoot.

[UPDATE] And according to Re/code, Amazon is going to be launching its own set-top box next month. Whether or not it arrives in the UK, and offers more than their streaming service remains to be seen. One set-top box – one service feels very wasteful.

Viewing Habits

On the train home this evening, I noticed an outdoor advertisement for Sky Atlantic’s big new series, True Detective. So I posted this on Twitter:

Now I was a being a tad disingenuous as I do know (or at least think I know) the answer to my question. But a few people engaged in conversation, so I thought it might be worth elaborating a little and discussing things more broadly.

In some respects there is the simple answer in that expecting people to remember a date and time is pointless in today’s 24/7 world. I can go home and Google it. Sky emails me weekly and has told me about it. If I go into the On Demand section on my Sky box, it’s already there waiting for me to preview it.

Then after it has aired, the show will get lots of repeat opportunities across the week. And it’ll stay available on demand for box-set style catch-up opportunities.

So in that respect, giving me a date and time – the traditional way of doing things – isn’t necessary.

Then again, look at the promotional activity surrounding the upcoming fourth season of Game of Thrones. It’s all about the date.

That’s because the shows do two different things. Game of Thrones gets audiences that are probably bigger than any other show on the channel. It’s also the most pirated show in the world.

Whereas True Detective isn’t going to be a mass crowd pleaser. HBO who make both shows understand this. And so does Sky. HBO simply has to keep making shows that prevent subscribers cancelling the premium channel, or make them want to subscribe to it. Actual viewing figures don’t matter. Sure, you’d think one would drive the other. But that’s not always the case. It’s a bit like buying a book or an album that you think you should read or listen to, but never quite get on. It doesn’t matter. You’re part of the in-crowd.

In fact, True Detective isn’t an easy-to-watch programme. If you’re in the habit of sitting with a tablet on social media while you watch TV, then you’re not going to get a lot out of this. But it does come with two mega-stars in Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. So in fact the show is getting a massive marketing push because it’s the kind of show you should be watching – even if you don’t.

And given that Sky Atlantic is exclusive to the Sky platform, it’s another reason to be with Sky and not Virgin Media.

How do I know this? Because it’s going out on Saturday nights. Yes BBC Four has made a virtue of using this night for dramas, but there’s no way that True Detective will get more than a couple of hundred thousand going out at 9.00pm on Saturdays up against the big entertainment shows on BBC1 and ITV.

The other big programme at the moment, with Hollywood star quality is of course the second series of House of Cards on Netflix. Is this the future of television? All thirteen episodes available in one go from last Friday? Superb acting, writing and production?

Well yes. But also no.

House of Cards is superb. The cast is exceptional, and the second series begins with a bang (No spoilers, but I remember the original series. I also watched this the same day I watched the first episode of the second series of Line of Duty).

The question I’ve got to ask is this – how long can Netflix keep up its batting average?

So far you can just about name every series that Netflix is 100% responsible for. In some instances, they’ve “saved” broadcast shows like Arrested Development and The Killing. In other cases they’ve commissioned new series like Orange is the New Black (still to get into this, although I hear John Plunkett likes it) or the less well received Hemlock Grove.

So far, they’ve mostly done really well. But just because you have the cash to hand, and have allowed producers more creative freedom than certainly US broadcast networks offer, is that enough to “guarantee” hits? Well no. Netflix hasn’t had a big flop yet – although they keep streaming figures a closely guarded secret – but it’s inevitable. Compare and contrast with the film business. Even arthouse studios aspire to make every film the best possible, but as we well know, that’s not possible.

The real problem is that it’s one thing commissioning two series – 26 episodes – up front for $100m and getting a hit. What happens if the series fails spectacularly?

What’s clear in both the case of HBO and Netflix shows – it’s near impossible to discuss them in the workplace because no longer is everyone at the same place.

And on that, can I just ask nobody tells me what happens in Breaking Bad, as I’m only two episodes into the first series…

Mud in Trent Park

Mud in Trent Park from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

Here’s a short video I shot yesterday morning to test my Sony Action Cam with the Joby Action Clamp and Locking Arm. I bought the Sony AS15 last year in a cheap deal on Amazon. In many respects, it’s highly specced compared with the Go Pro competition. My model has now been superseded by the AS30 and AS100, but it still has some great remote control abilities using a mobile app.

Where Sony is really lacking is in accessories. There’s just not a wide enough range on-sale, and what’s more even those that are being manufactured are really hard to get hold of. I never really understand why companies don’t put the effort into the various mounts, since you’ve got a captive audience. Again, Go Pro realise this and make a lot of their own accessories as well as having a wide range of third party mounts.

The Joby Action Clamp I used today comes with both a standard mount which will fit the Sony, as well as the bespoke Go Pro mount.

How did the clamp perform? Very well indeed. As you’ll see from the video above, I attached it to my bike in a number of places, and it held on well. Only once did something loosen, although that may have been the tripod mounting screw. Despite being made of plastic, it is really firm due to a clever locking mechanism design. Overall I’m very impressed, and I’m happy to put a camera on the end of it.

As a side note, this is the first time I’ve licenced some music from Vimeo’s music shop. I’d still love to be able to licence music that’s more famous for use in Vimeo and YouTube videos.

Branson: Behind the Mask

Tom Bower is that rare thing – a writer who takes no prisoners. He goes where others fear to tread – or at least UK libel laws force others to fear to tread. His previous subjects have included Robert Maxwell, Bernie Ecclestone, Mohammed Al-Fayed and a previous book on Richard Branson.

I’ve not read the first Branson book, but following a piece by Roy Greenslade at Media Guardian, I decided that I did want to read this follow up.

Bower’s books have a breezy manner and he dives straight into his subject. This isn’t a biography so much as a detailed look at businesses that Branson has been involved in over the last ten years or so. It’s safe to say that he’s not especially impressed with Branson’s credentials.

The over-arching story throughout the book is that of Virgin Galactic – one of several efforts to send privately funded vehicles into space. The books begins with an accident that took place in the Mojave desert in 2007 that killed three people and injured another three. Bower takes apart some of the publicity and public pronouncements that have been repeatedly made about the project.

This is not a comfortable read if you’re a fan of Richard Branson, and the same themes appear over and over in every business he takes an interest in – he’s the underdog fighting for consumers, but in fact he’s no better than anyone else. His fights change to fit his own needs. Is he taking a green approach to his businesses? Or is he opening new air-routes that compete with more environmentally friendly train travel?

Part of his failings seem to be naivety, and lack of attention to detail particularly in technical areas that he doesn’t properly understand. That becomes a liability when it comes to building spacecraft or putting together an F1 team.

Overall, Bower paints a picture of a man who’s not worth as much as is often portrayed. His businesses are largely not owned to any extent by him any longer – Virgin perhaps collecting a small licencing fee.

I don’t always buy everything that Bower says though. He doesn’t have much belief in the idea of peak oil for example – the point at which oil production will decline. I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on this either, and I know that there are a lot of factors in play including technological developments and accurate reporting of what resources remain. But what is clear is that fossil fuels extracted from the earth will run out. And in any case, the impact is already being felt. That’s not to say that Branson hasn’t been foolish in some of the things that he’s said about renewable energy and the pointless “tests” involving different kinds of fuel that he regularly brags about.

And Bower isn’t afraid to point out when Branson has had genuine successes – although he often puts then down to luck rather than any business nous.

Nonetheless, some of what Bower says about Branson is very familiar. A couple of stories from my time at Virgin Radio illustrate this.

When I joined in late 1996, we had a staff meeting a few weeks later in early December, and Richard Branson showed up. In case I was under the apprehension that he popped in all the time, it was pointed out to me that this was a fairly rare occurrence (he would only ever show up in Golden Square one further time while I was there, when he was being accompanied by a feature writer from an American magazine who was doing a big piece).

Staff meetings in those days had a bit in them called “Dumb, Dirty and Dangerous.” The idea was that staff members could anonymously ask the executive team questions which would be answered in front of all staff. “Dumb” questions were things to which you probably should know the answer but were too scared to ask someone. “Dirty” questions seemed to be quite bitchy questions along the lines of, “What does the XXX department actually do?” And “Dangerous”? Well that could be anything at all.

Anyway, somebody asked the question, “Will there be a Christmas bonus this year?” Our Finance Director stepped forward and said, no, there wouldn’t be one. I think he gave some reasons why. And that was that.

All the time, Richard Branson was watching proceedings. We went through other elements of the staff meeting until finally at the end, Branson stepped forward to say a few words in a slight mumbled, wearing a trademark jumper. However, he ended by saying that in fact, yes, we would all be getting a Christmas bonus!

Obviously that left staff very happy, although my boss pulled me aside later to explain that as I’d only been there a couple of weeks, I’d be getting less. But the whole incident left our Finance Director seething. Not only did he have to find the money from somewhere, but his authority had been completely undercut by Branson. It was the Virgin Radio business – only partly owned by Branson that would have to pay the cash. But staff would thank Branson himself.

During those years at Virgin Radio, we’d get annual Christmas presents from Richard Branson himself. These tended to be related to whichever new business he was getting into. One year, Branson had just published his first book – Losing My Virginity. And every member of staff across all the Virgin businesses was given a hardback copy of it for Christmas. A Private Eye article a few weeks later suggested that the Charing Cross Branch of Books Etc had ended up having many more copies of the book “returned” than they’d sold, with nearby Virgin employees cashing in their books for the retail value of them!

Another year, we were given a Virgin Vie fragrance. And the year that he launched Virgin Mobile, everyone got a free phone with a bit of credit on it. Indeed, I dutifully passed on my phone to my parents who still use that number to this day.

As far as I, and other members of staff were concerned, this was a nice touch from Branson himself, as were his summer parties in his Oxfordshire home where staff members were bussed to a big free funfair in his grounds. Branson stood at the gate and shook hands welcoming everybody as they came in.

Only later did I learn how those “free” gifts were funded. Each year Virgin Group would tell the businesses what the gift that year was, and they would then charge the Virgin business for the “gifts”. In other words, the year that we all got a free mobile phone, the business was being charged £100 or so per member of staff for a phone. And they had no choice. They had to “buy” the “gifts” to give to staff.

In essence, we all thought that these gifts were coming from a benevolent Branson, while in fact, it was the individual businesses that were spending the money, but not getting the recognition from staff members for giving their employees a sometimes quite pricey gift.

These are perhaps both small stories, but they explain how even to staff members, Branson came across as being a better guy than maybe he was.

Anyway, if you want to get a truer picture of the Virgin business, then this book is certainly worth reading.

TV Apps’ Shortcomings

You know when something should be easy but it just isn’t? Well this is what I often find with apps on smart TVs and other devices. They’re just there to try us. While they function adequately for normal use, it’s those edge cases where they break.

Here are two examples.

Last weekend, I decided I’d like to watch the Cyclo Cross World Championships. No TV station was broadcasting it, but it was being streamed live via YouTube. Visiting YouTube on a laptop was trivial. But I’ve got this massive glass looking thing in the corner of my living room, and thought I’d like to watch it on that – my television.

My Samsung TV has a YouTube app. But it’s a bit more limited than the website. I wanted to watch a live stream, and they just don’t seem to show up in the app. Even adding the video as a “Save For Later” title wouldn’t let me watch it.

The same was true for the even worse YouTube app in my Bluray Player.

In the end I ended up using the awful web-browser built into my TV, having painfully entered the full URL using a remote control and keyboard based upon a scrolling arrow.

Yes – HDMI would have been quicker.

Today, I wanted to watch the new Amazon Prime/LoveFilm Harry Bosch pilot. Amazon does this thing where they put their “pilots” up online and let viewers say what they think about them. They commission full series based on this feedback.

I’m not a LoveFilm subscriber, but these pilots are available free online to anyone! Well they are on the web.

Again, I thought it’d be nice to watch on my TV. Again, there’s a LoveFilm app. But it’s not sophisticated enough to know that there’s a “free token” to watch the pilot. Ditto the Sony Bluray player app. You have to sign up for them. The web is easier.

OK. I’ll try plugging my Asus laptop into the TV with a handy HDMI cable.

Wait one moment mister! I got a delightfully opaque “6031” error code. Googling isn’t altogether clear, but it seems that perhaps my HDMI output isn’t HDCP compliant. Or something like that. I’d update my drivers, except that they are up to date. Either way, it wasn’t going to let me output via HDMI, even when I turned the laptop screen off.

I whipped out my Chromebook, but that doesn’t have the odious Silverlight that powers LoveFilm even available for it. So no LoveFilm on it at all (Netflix incidentally, does work on Chromebooks).

I’d try the LoveFilm app on my Nexus 7, except Amazon in their infinite wisdom, has not released a LoveFilm app for Android tablets despite there being a perfectly serviceable one available for Kindle Fires which have operating systems based on Android. And if Sky Go is anything to go by, they’d prevent me from mirroring it to my TV with my Slimport HDMI adaptor. (Sky Go does this from an Android tablet despite letting you do it from some laptops).

So basically, LoveFilm is going out of its way not to let me watch their new pilot on my TV!

Who says getting video onto your TV is easy? Roll on a UK release of Chromecast.

Twitter Notifications

The other day I was seething about my inability to turn off a particular type of Twitter notification in the Twitter Android app.

I’m talking about ones that say something like “@user1 and @user2 are talking about #subject” and urging me to join the conversation.

My problem is that these just aren’t intelligent. If there was a sports event taking place, then people I follow who like that kind of sport might well be talking about it. But you know what? I’m well aware that if I want to talk sport on Twitter, I can do.

The notifications are just annoying. I try to keep all Android app notifications down to what I consider the most important ones. What I consider important and what you consider important may vary. But I just want to be able to control them.

Of course, I could just turn off all notifications and be done. But on the other hand, I quite like getting relevant notifications – perhaps when people have replied to something I’ve said or asked, or want to ask me something.

Anyway, it turns out that there is a solution, even though it’s not very intuitive – at least to me.

To turn off these “recommendations” you should go press the menu button (top right) and choose Settings. Then select your account – you may have more than one of course. Press the name of the correct account.

It was the next bit that fooled me. All I could see was a general “Notifications” menu item with a check box. But it turns out that there’s a sub-menu underneath! If you press the word Notifications you can configure exactly which kind of notifications Twitter can send you. You want to turn off Recommendations.

I also think that you need to restart the app to make it work.

I hope that works for you…

[Update]

You may also have to turn off News and Other to get this to work. I found that Recommendations didn’t seem to be enough. Quite what News and Other may have delivered anyway, I’m not sure, but I don’t feel that I’m missing out on anything so far.

Changing From Real Radio to Heart Mightn’t Be All Plain Sailing

Aside from the publication of new RAJAR figures, the big news in radio today was the sale of seven stations by Global, which was forced on them by the Competition Commission.

Since Global finally gave up their legal challenges against the Commission’s ruling, this day was always coming, and it’s got to be of some consolation to the staff working at these services that it’s finally here.

Matt’s written a pretty good summary of what’s going to happen, and which stations will be run by Communicorp, the Irish group that’s taking ownership of the services. John Myers’ piece is also well worth a read.

I do have a few further thoughts though:

Firstly, do we really know that Global has sold these stations for as much as £35m? It’d be excellent business if they have, since that’d be pro-rata what they paid the Guardian Media Group for them. I suspect that we’ll have to wait another twelve months or so to see their books for this financial year. It was only in their recently published figures that we learnt that they paid £69m in the first place for the whole group.

The reason I question the value is that although I think there’s good business to be had, a franchise arrangement does leave Communicorp having to dance to someone else’s tune. While they get to enjoy the value of Global’s marketing, they also have little freedom in how they programme the stations. In the same way that a McDonald’s franchisee has to accept that they can’t adjust the menu.

Global will continue to sell all the brands nationally, leaving Communicorp with local sales, and perhaps a share of national sales.

Global certainly has a whip hand in all of this.

On the other hand, the costs and overheads for Communicorp are potentially reduced since they really just need local presenters as required under their Ofcom format in regard to localness, and a local sales team. Global is able to provide many other services including playlists and production.

I suspect that Denis O’Brien is a shrewd operator and that the numbers add up somehow. Those Global books will be worth checking out at the end of the year though.

The other major issue that I’ve heard nobody talk about, is any potential regulatory hurdles that Global (and Communicorp) will need to overcome to rebrand the services. In particular, I’m thinking of the rebranding of Real Radio stations to Heart.

This is a contentious issue in the radio industry, with many thinking that Ofcom meddle too much with formats. As it stands, FM formats are reasonably heavily regulated, Ofcom arguing that public spectrum is scarce. So while you can essentially call your station what you like, you still have to abide by the format restrictions that the licence was offered under.

A great case in point is a recent ruling against Heart Cornwall. At the start of the year, Ofcom found that Heart Cornwall was in breach of its licence. You can read the full ruling here (P63 of a PDF document).

Heart Cornwall was established when Global bought the previous licensee, Atlantic FM. However in doing so, Global has to abide to the previous licence. A licensee can request changes to the licence, but Ofcom often consults on major changes. In this instance, Global had previously requested a format change, but that was rejected.

This might all sound a bit arcane, but the reason that Heart Cornwall was later found in breach was because, in Ofcom’s eyes, the service had strayed too far from its licence requirements, and in particular the local speech element of the licence wasn’t being upheld. Although there was significant speech during the local breakfast show, Ofcom felt that speech had to be broadcast throughout the day.

And there’s the problem – the Heart brand is primarily a music proposition. Adding speech into the mix – especially outside breakfast – can dilute that. And this becomes harder when you have networked shows such as Toby Anstis’s morning show. How do you reconcile Cornwall needing speech when London doesn’t?

What you may or may not be aware of is that even today, not all Hearts are the same. And the easiest way to show that is to look at their licence formats.

Look first at the format for Heart London:

A MELODIC ADULT CONTEMPORARY MUSIC-LED SERVICE FOR 25 to 44 YEAR-OLD LONDONERS, SUPPLEMENTED WITH NEWS, INFORMATION AND ENTERTAINMENT. THE SERVICE SHOULD HAVE PARTICULAR APPEAL TO PEOPLE IN THEIR 30s.

Now compare that with Heart Swindon/West Wiltshire:

A LOCALLY ORIENTED CONTEMPORARY AND CHART MUSIC AND INFORMATION STATION FOR UNDER 44s IN THE SWINDON AND WEST WILTSHIRE AREA.

The reason for the difference is that the latter service was actually one of the earlier commercial services, and under its former guise of GWR, it was essentially a pop station – a commercial competitor to Radio 1. Heart London, on the other hand, was the original Heart, and came along 13 years later when a whole bunch of new FM licences were launched. There was already a pop station in London of course – Capital. So Heart’s licence had to be distinct and different from Capital.

Somehow Global has to reconcile a AC station with a hit music station. And in reality, that does mean that depending which Heart you listen to, you might hear a slightly different music mix. Of course music doesn’t come clearly defined – so most of the music you hear on most Hearts is probably quite close. But there is always that constraint.

What does that have to do with Real Radio? Well check out some of the Real Radio licences.

Real Radio Yorkshire:

A FULL SERVICE ADULT CONTEMPORARY MUSIC STATION FOR YORKSHIRE, TARGETING PRIMARILY 25-54 YEAR OLDS, TREATING NEWS, SPEECH, REGIONAL INFORMATION AND LISTENER INTERACTIVITY AS IMPORTANT INGREDIENTS, AND RUNNING 24-HOUR NEWS.

Real Radio South Wales:

A FULL SERVICE ADULT CONTEMPORARY MUSIC STATION FOR SOUTH WALES, TARGETING PRIMARILY 25-54 YEAR-OLDS, TREATING NEWS, SPEECH, INFORMATION ABOUT WALES, SPORT AND LISTENER INTERACTIVITY AS IMPORTANT INGREDIENTS, AND RUNNING 24-HOUR NEWS.

Now it’s fair to point out that Real had previously asked for and had approved some very specific additions to its news provision in late 2012 and early 2013.

I imagine the gamble is that by agreeing to better news provision in some parts of the schedule, Ofcom might in due course allow more music to be played in daytime.

But the Cornish findings doesn’t make that a certainty. Global, and others in the industry, are likely to continue the fight to free up licences further. But at the moment, I forsee some tensions when Reals are rebranded Heart.

In the end, the Heart a listener hears is the Heart they know. Heart listeners in London don’t expect, and don’t get, a 20 minute news programme in the evening. On the other hand those in Scotland do. And if there’s a bit more chat during the day, then it’s only radio anoraks who notice that it has a different style to other Hearts. And advertisers of course, are just buying the entire network.

In other news, RadioCentre has a new CEO. Siobhan Kenny has previously worked in DCMS at the time Ofcom was being setup. That might be handy if the industry wants to ramp up efforts to pursue greater freedom in formats…

RAJAR Q4 2013

RAJAR Q4 2013

If it’s early February, it means it’s time for another RAJAR release. So what are the big stories?

Well I reckon they Radio 2, Radio 1 and commercial radio in general in London are the main themes.

But let’s go through things in a bit more detail.

National

The first thing to note is that the BBC has had a decent set of results this quarter, with more people listening to BBC radio, and they’re listening longer. The time spent listening comes at the expense of commercial radio though, and the gap between BBC and commercial radio has opened a bit more with 55.2% of listening being to the BBC and 42.1% being to commercial radio (compared with 53.4% and 43.9% last quarter). There’s also a distinct issue in London, but we’ll come back to that.

So where have these BBC gains come? Basically: Radio 1 and Radio 2. Both saw significant jumps in listening hours, while Radio 2 also saw a sizeable increase in reach. In fact, Radio 2 managed to gain yet another all-time record reach with over 15.5m listeners each week.

Both Radio 4 and Five Live saw good increases quarter on quarter, while Radio 3 slipped back in the period after the Proms.

6 Music had another storming quarter, and it’s now just behind Radio 3 in terms of reach – just 30,000 behind. You’d think that it may well get over 2m listeners by next quarter, especially considering all the digital devices including tablets and DAB radios that get given and bought over Christmas.

The Asian Network also achieved record listening figures. So much for that brief attempt to close them down with their sister digital station a few years ago!

Radio 4 Extra saw its reach increase, but its hours fell back a bit, while Five Live Sports Extra fell back substantially after last quarter when a summer Ashes tour saw it boost its audience considerably. Two Australian Tests did fall into this RAJAR period, but England’s woeful performance allied with the through-the-night timing probably meant that cricket had much less impact on the station overall.

The Absolute Radio network of services saw its second highest ever reach with over 3.5m listeners, although listening fell back a bit. Within that, there was a particularly good result for Absolute Radio 90s which achieved its highest ever reach and hours, while Absolute 80s maintained its position as the biggest commercial digital-only station.

Classic FM saw both reach and hours increase by 6%, while Talksport saw a nice bump in reach to 3.2m, while it’s hours dropped back to 20.2m.

The Capital Network fell a couple of percent in reach and hours, while the Heart Network dropped a little more. Kiss was broadly flat in reach nationally, but up in listening hours, while sister brands had mixed results. Kisstory’s second quarter saw it climb to just below 1m reach, but Kiss Fresh fell back post its Smash Hits transition to just under 400,000.

This was the first quarter that saw a Capital Xtra figure with 854,000 reach – a little above last quarter’s national Choice figure of 839,000. I’m sure Global would say that it’s early days yet.

Interestingly, Global has recently announced that Smooth will be coming off Digital One – the national commercial multiplex. It will be replaced by an as yet unnamed service that will play music from “the 70s, 80s and early 90s.” While my initial thought was that they might label this brand extension “Heart Xtra,” I tend to now think that we can await the launch of “Heart Club Classics.” If that’s the case, then expect it to bolster Heart’s overall brand figures, and to compete with both Absolute 80s and Kisstory.

But at this point, this is all supposition. We shall have to wait and see.

There are a few interesting national breakfast stories. And the biggest has to be that of Chris Evans. In line with the station’s massive audience increase, Evans has seen a record audience for him and that timeslot. With 9.8m listeners, he has nearly two thirds of Radio 2’s audience listening to his show. Ouch.

[Note that previously Terry Wogan had a slightly different, and shorter programme times, so you can’t directly make comparisons.]

And Radio 1 will be pleased. Not just with their overall picture, but with Nick “Grimmy” Grimshaw (not being a listener, I always find it hard to just call him Grimmy. But perhaps that’s because I’m too old!). He’s seen his audience increase to nearly the level he had in his first quarter following the departure of Moyles. First quarters always gets lots of marketing and hence trial. Now Grimmy is more established, and he seems to be growing the audience on his own.

Not only that, but while the average age of the Radio 1 audience remains constant at 34 (see blogs passim for the reason that’s nearly impossible to shift), but he has managed to get his own show’s average age down from 34 to 33. [Note that this figure, like all the rest in this blog, is based on Adults 15+. Radio 1 tends to use 10+ when because it reflects more of their listeners and as a side effect, brings these numbers down a bit.]

Meanwhile Christian O’Connell at Absolute Radio has seen his second highest audience over the various Absolute Radio network services that he’s broadcast across.

Interestingly, both Smooth 70s and Capital Xtra have reported this quarter despite one replacing the other on national radio “dials” (In London Capital Xtra replaced Choice FM). Smooth 70s actually closed on 6 October, but because it’s weighting is over 6 months, there was enough data to provide a final figure. And because Capital Xtra replaced Choice, which had been able to report nationally, this means that you end up with both stations reporting.

London

In London it has all been a bit topsy turvy, and the key issue is a significant decline in commercial radio this quarter. One quarter does not imply a trend, and I’d be wary of rushing to judgement too fast, but the BBC has overtake commercial radio in the capital, and it’s had some significant effects across the board.

Over in Leicester Square, Global will be happy to claim the number one [commercial] spot in London for Capital. Although its performance has been pretty flat with a very marginal decrease in reach and marginal increase in hours (both less than 1%), that’s enough to maintain its reach advantage while gain the listening hours title as well.

That’s mainly because the other commercial London competitors have all fallen away – seemingly to the BBC. Kiss has lost reach and hours; Magic has lost reach and significant hours; and Heart is having a terrible time. Heart London has fallen again, to its lowest reach since Q4 2000, and its lowest ever hours under this measurement methodology. And this was in a quarter when there was Heart marketing with the Olly Murs creative.

All the more reason why I believe it’ll be a Heart branded service we get nationally on Digital One to help prop up Heart’s sales proposition (It’s worth noting for those who don’t understand, that most sub-brands of main services like Kisstory and Absolute 80s, are sold together with their parent brands as a single sell. This isn’t unusual – television does just the same.)

Absolute Radio also saw a significant drop in London, as did LBC. Even Xfm saw a drop – perhaps struggling against 6 Music. Only the comparatively smaller Smooth and Gold saw decent London results.

Overall, that means that the BBC overtook commercial radio in London. That’s actually a fairly rare event. While it’s been the case that nationally the BBC is bigger than commercial radio since time immemorial – or at least since I’ve worked in commercial radio – it’s been much less true in London.

What does this really mean? Well, as I always say with RAJAR, ignore a one-off result, and look at the trends. They don’t lie. In this instance, I think a one-off crash in commercial radio is likely to be just that. Let’s just wait to see what happens next time.

Breakfast

The big winner here is Chris Evans as already noted, with the likes of Christian O’Connell and Nick Grimshaw also doing well. In London, Dave and Lisa continue to rule the roost in commercial terms, while Neil Fox at Magic and the breakfast crew at Kiss also did well.

And although it’s not breakfast, and it doesn’t really fit in elsewhere, I’m just very pleased to report that Frank Skinner got his biggest ever audience this quarter, with 654,000 listeners.

Digital

After the odd little dip last quarter, digital listening has bounced back up. 36.1% of all listening is via a digital device, with slightly more digital listening happening amongst BBC service than commercial ones. The bulk of that listening – 23.4% – is via DAB. Again, next time someone tells you that DAB is failing, you can point out that nearly one in every four hours of radio listened to in the UK is via that platform.

And 57% of all radio listeners in the UK listen to at least some digital radio every week. That’s another figure too few people are aware of. Again, by far the biggest platform is DAB (37% of the UK adult population).

Bubbles

Finally, here are my regular bubble charts. Although they’re a bit more viewable on my blog than they used to be, I’d still recommend that you view them fullsize.

Note that I’ve managed to reconfigure the charts so that they’re presented by default in the format that I think is most useful. But note too that there is much more data behind the London version of the charts than the national version. And be sure to read the full notes under each chart to determine what shortcuts or differences I’ve had to make. Either way, they’re fully interactive, so do have a play!

National

The large version of the national bubble chart can be seen here.

London – Note that this may be slow to load

The large version of the London bubble chart can be viewed here.

On a personal note, I should finally say in passing that this is likely to be the last RAJAR analysis I provide in quite this level of detail. I’m moving on to pastures new, and unless I get full access to a RAJAR data analysis tool, I’m not going to be able to provide quite this level of analysis in future. Instead I’ll have to make do with RAJAR summaries which limits what kind of insight I can provide.

And as for those “pastures new”? Well I don’t actually know what they are right now. But feel free to drop me a line if you want a chat…

For more RAJAR analysis, I’d recommend the following sites:

The official RAJAR site
Radio Today for a digest of all the main news
Media UK for lots of numbers and charts
One Golden Square for more Absolute Radio details
Paul Easton for analysis
Media Guardian for more news and analysis
Matt Deegan for more analysis
And there are always RAJAR Smilies

Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB, period ending 15 December 2013, Adults 15+.

Disclaimer: These are my own views, although they’re based on work I’ve done for Absolute Radio, and through whom I get access to the data. I also sit on the RAJAR Technical Management Group representing commercial radio. Just so you know.

Blaze Laserlight – A First Look

Back in November 2012, I backed my first Kickstarter project – the Blaze Bike Light – and today it arrived fresh from manufacture in China.

Blaze Laserlight – A First Look from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

Now known as the Blaze Laserlight, its description basically explains what it does. It’s a regular bike light with a laser alongside that beams an image of a bicycle onto the road in front of it. The bike light is a fairly traditional type that offers either 100 lumens or 300 lumens output making it pretty bright. But it also comes with a green laser that projects a cycle image on the road ahead of you.

Having only got my device today, it would be unfair to call this a review because really I’ve only had a chance to use it getting home this evening. Think of this as a “first look” then.

The first thing you notice is the manufacturing quality which is gorgeous. The casings are all beautifully made in anodised and sandblasted aluminium, although the manufacturing speed means that they’re shifting to someone else after this initial batch. And it’s a weighty thing, coming in at just over 180g.

Out of the lovely box, there was already some charge in it, but I spent the afternoon using its bespoke USB charging cable to give it a full charge. While in some respects micro-USB would have been nicer as we all have lots of cables already, the magnetic charging device means that they can weather seal the light better. Other rechargeable bike lights I have rely on a plastic screw on cap to keep water out.

The main light offers a flashing 100 lumens mode, as well as constant 100 lumens and 300 lumens modes. Once a light mode has been engaged, you can choose whether to turn the laser on, and whether you want it to flash or to remain constant. In my brief usage, I tended to use the constant mode.

There are stickers aplenty around the outside warning you not to shine the laser in someone’s eye. The laser is quoted as being <5mW with a 510-525nm wavelength in case that's important to you.

What I can say is that it’s perfectly visible even in well lit central London streets. I should also add that a safety feature means that the laser is inoperable unless it’s on the mount. Obviously I went through a brief panic when I failed to turn on the laser when first getting out of the box and not reading the enclosed manual. I’m a bloke clearly.

The device comes with a mounting bracket and three thicknesses of rubber so you choose what’s best for your mounting situation. The design means that it overhangs back towards you rather than towards the front of the bike. And Blaze even supply a hex key to help you fit it. The mount isn’t quite as solid as I’d have liked – perhaps because of the weight of the light, I detected a small amount of movement. But in the scheme of things, that probably doesn’t matter. A trigger allows you to quickly remove the light from the mount. You won’t want to be leaving this light on your bike when you pop into the shops.

Incidentally, I had no problem attaching it to my S Type Brompton handlebar.

What you notice is that like any other mount, vibrations from the road surface will cause the laser to bounce around a bit. The very clean image is really only viewed when you’re completely still or if you’re on an incredibly smooth road.

Blaze suggest projecting the image about 5-6m ahead of you, and obviously depending on the height of your bike, this will affect the angle of the light. What I will say is that the light is much brighter than my existing Brompton’s lights, and I remain completely visible to oncoming traffic.

It should also be noted that although I left the light in a forward facing direction, you can tilt it left and right a bit should you wish the projection to be offset.

So what’s it like to ride with?

Well the first thing you’re going to have to get over is the fact that you will receive attention. I heard a few people comment on the laser as I rode around (although others were oblivious to it). One cyclist did pull over to have a chat about it, and I’d anticipate plenty such chats with fellow cyclists until there are more on the streets!

I did notice that in some circumstances when I was close to a cyclist in front of me, the projection jumped ahead of them, and I wondered if that might be off-putting.

Part of my route home is along a separated cycle path and I switched the laser off for this because there really shouldn’t be a need for it. Although ironically at one junction it might have prevented a motorist pulling out into the cycle lane had he seen the light.

My home stretch is on busier roads with few other cyclists and more traffic, and you know what, in a non-scientific single journey, it did feel like I was getting a bit more room. That may be my imagination, and time will be the only true test.

So in summary:

– It works well
– The light itself is an incredibly good and bright model
– The mounting seems to fit most bikes
– And it looks beautiful

The only problem you now face is getting one. I believe that Blaze is now taking orders for delivery in March priced at £125.