June, 2015

Discovery Buys The Olympics In Europe

Well here’s something a little unexpected. Discovery has swooped in and bought exclusive Olympic rights across Europe for €1.3 billion for the years 2018-2024.

In the UK, the BBC already had a deal in place that stretched out until the 2020 summer games in Tokyo, as does France TV. But the BBC would not have automatic coverage of the 2022 winter games or the 2024 summer games.

Discovery bought Eurosport last year, and this potentially gives them something big to play with. But there are some interesting questions to be asked about the whole deal.

First of all, the UK, like some other European nations, has “Listed Events” – sporting events that are considered so important that they’re protected. “The Olympic Games” falls into Category A in its entirety, which means it must be made freely available live to UK audiences. As it stands, the only broadcasters that meet that requirement are BBC1, BBC2, ITV, C4 and Channel 5 (not all Freeview muxes cover the whole of the UK. Look out for some annoyed football fans who won’t be able to see BT Sport Showcase on Freeview, for example).

The UK isn’t alone – according to an Ofcom document, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland and Italy all also have listed events that include at least some of the Olympics.

While legislation might have changed by 2022, it should be noted that the most recent attempt to amend it, in 2009, was in the ignored by government.

In any case, Discovery’s CEO David Daslav says that events might be sub-licenced to the BBC (or another broadcaster one imagines).

What’ll be interesting to learn is the detail of the IOC’s agreement.

There are some particular lines in the press release to warrant examination:

“In a world of increasingly “anytime, anywhere” viewing, the Olympic Games are an unparalleled live event that aggregate enormous audiences and capture the world’s attention in a way that continues to become more valuable for marketers, distributors and fans.”

Well it’s good to know fans come first…

“This agreement ensures comprehensive coverage of the Olympic Games across Europe, including the guarantee to provide extensive free-to-air television coverage in all territories.”

That doesn’t say “live.” And it’s not clear how it’ll be delivered.

UK viewers were perhaps spoilt in 2012, when coverage was as complete as possible anywhere on the planet – every minute of every event streamed live, and on platforms like Sky Digital and Freesat, all in HD, free of charge. Beyond that, it was all on iPlayer too. Will that be bettered? The bar is pretty high already.

“Consistent with IOC and local market requirements, Discovery has committed to broadcasting a minimum of 200 hours of the Olympic Games and 100 hours of the Olympic Winter Games on free-to-air television during the Games period. Discovery will sub-license a portion of the rights in many markets across Europe.”

To put that in perspective, in the UK, viewers had 2,500 hours of coverage in 2012.

“This new partnership is an exciting win for European sports fans as we will deliver record amounts of content across platforms to ensure the Olympic flame burns bright all year long.”

It’s not really a “win” if it costs European sports fans more than it currently does.

Then there’s the Olympic Charter. Section 48.1 says:

The IOC takes all necessary steps in order to ensure the fullest coverage by the different media and the widest possible audience in the world for the Olympic Games.

That would seem to infer that delivery of the Olympics via Discovery/Eurosport will need to at least match what is currently being delivered. It’ll be interesting to see how that works in the UK. Judging by the line above, it seems that 200 hours of coverage of the summer games is deemed enough.

A big part of this deal is that Discovery will activity promote the IOC’s planned Olympic TV channel – hence the line about “all year long.”

Although quite what this will show between games is still unclear. Rights to events of any value tend to be bought by other pay-TV sports channels or free-to-air broadcasters. And repeats of a dressage event from two years ago are of relatively little interest (Not that this stops Skys Sports F1 filling hours of its schedule with repeats. The F1 season is at least annual, and runs for much of the year).

One final thought. If access to the Olympics were to become in some way limited to UK viewers, the question should then be asked, why are National Lottery proceeds being directed to sports men and women who viewers will have limited access to seeing achieving their goals? I think this same question can be asked of any sport that locks out a proportion of the general public by selling their rights to pay TV providers.

A Microadventure in the Fenlands

Sunset on the Little Ouse

A Fenland Microadventure from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

I’ve been meaning to do one of these for ages. I can’t remember what path of serendipity sent me in the direction of Alastair Humphreys and his blog, but I’ve been reading it for quite a while now. He describes himself as an adventurer, author and motivational speaker, and that would seem to be pretty accurate.

In particular he’s coined the name “Microadventures” for a more accessible form of adventuring. Instead of needing months of planning, and many thousands of pounds in the application, microadventures are the kind of thing you can do overnight. An example would be the 5-9 microadventure where you leave work at 5pm, head out to a hill somewhere, spend a night under the stars, and get the train back into work for 9am the next morning.

He’s written a lovely book which elaborates a lot on what microadventures can be, and his blog is full of ideas and inspiration. He also organises an annual charity evening called Night of Adventure where he and like minded individuals tell stories – both big and small – full of lots of inspiration. I went for the first time this year, and it was packed full of ideas and fun stories.

But I hadn’t made that final leap. I’d not gone on my own microadventure.

Sure, I’d thought about it a lot. I’ve been camping – wild camping even – in the past. But that was part of something bigger – a cycle tour of the Outer Hebrides in that instance. The last time – the only time? – I’d slept out under the stars, was in Morocco on a terrific mountain biking trip many years ago. We had tents, but it was a hot night.

Alastair put up a challenge a couple of weeks ago: The Summer Solstice Challenge.

The challenge was that you should spend a night under the stars over the weekend of 20/21 June (or before the end of June anyway) and to record it in some way.

So I gathered a few bits and pieces together:

– Sleeping Bag
– Bivvy Bag (bought before wimping out of a previous challenge)
– Inflatable mat
– Towel
– Swimming trunks

And some camera gear.

I also had a few extra bits like a camping stove, that I ended up not using because to be honest, I don’t really need tea or coffee to get going in the morning. These all went into a bike pannier.

The next question was where should I go?

I really fancied the idea of somewhere near a river that I could go swimming in. But it always feels that the southeast is a bit built up for that. However there are of course rivers and ponds you can go swimming in. But wild camping too?

(Just to be clear, strictly speaking you can’t camp in England unless you have the landowner’s permission. There are the odd exceptions, but that’s the rule. However, in reality, if you get there late and leave early, the worst that’s likely to happen is that you’ll meet an early morning dog-walker finding you.)

For various reasons somewhere near The Little Ouse on the Cambridgeshire/Norfolk/Suffolk borders seemed ideal. Although lots of time spent looking at an Ordnance Survey Map can help (Alastair notes that Bing Maps has an OS option making it better for this sort of thing than Google Maps), I turned to the recently published Wild Guide to Southern and Eastern England. It has hundreds of suggestions of places off the beaten track to try.

I alighted on a spot near Lakenheath in the Fenlands; it was near a nature reserve and would meet my needs perfectly.

Although there’s a very nearby railway station, the service is relatively infrequent, and I was planning on using a bike anyway (my trusty “tourer” – in reality a 20+ year old mountain bike converted for the purpose). So I decided I’d set out to Littleport on the London-King’s Lynn railway line. From there the flat straight roads of the Fens would take me near to where I wanted to get to.

I’d checked the weather and while it wasn’t brilliant, it wasn’t bad. Except…

I checked again as I traveled into King’s Cross, and suddenly there was a chance of rain in the middle of the night. I didn’t want to get wet, and hadn’t brought an actual tent. What should I do?

I headed to a small camping shop in Camden where the chap sold me a cheap tarpaulin, and some rope. It cost £8 all in. This would keep me dry.

Then it was the train to Littleport followed by a 25km cycle ride. In retrospect, it might have been better had I not already cycled 80km earlier in the day. And the excursion into Camden from King’s Cross meant I’d got a later train to Littleport than I’d originally planned. That meant no time to get a proper evening meal at a pub before I found a place for the night. I’d rely on the few provisions I was taking with me.

I was cycling some miles further southwest of the area I’d been in for the Tour of Cambridgeshire a couple of weeks earlier, but the roads and the landscape were very similar; pan flat with exposure to winds. The land has been drained artificially over the centuries, but being very fertile is dominated by agriculture. The roads are mostly dead straight, turning at right-angles. They tend to be called Droves, a name that implies that they were once used for herding animals. Criss-crossing the landscape are a mixture of dykes, drains and ditches. In the fields, hoses were watering crops.

I finally reached the point where the road met the Little Ouse by whose banks I planned to camp. But now I had a choice.

A dirt road ran towards where I was going, but it ran some way away from the river, and while following it would be easier, I might miss a good spot to make camp. On the other hand, the 1:25,000 OS Map I’d loaded onto my phone showed a bridlepath running right along the river bank. I could cycle along that, and try to find a nice place to stop.

That was the plan. In fact, the bridlepath was barely a footpath, atop an artificial bank. Thick grass and thistles meant that I had to walk my bike much of the way.

And then there were the cows.

These fields were used for cattle – a variety that had horns. And the relative narrowness of the fields between the river to my left, the bank I was walking along, and the fence to my right, meant that I had to pass close by them in each of the three fields I passed through.

Each time, we played a game where the cattle would glance up to see me coming. A staring contest would then ensue as I wheeled my bike in their direction. The cattle would “blink” first and run to the other end of the field – invariably the end I needed to exit from. Then I had to hope they’d go left or right and let me pass.

The first two fields were without incident, the cattle heading down towards the river bank and away from my path. But in the third field, the cattle had gathered right by the gate I needed to pass through. And there was little place for them to move. They had youngsters with them – and I know mothers get protective.

They did pass me. Quite close by, and at quite some speed. “Stampede” might be overselling it, but it was a thunderous sounds, and I wouldn’t have wanted to get in the way of them. They’d made their presence felt on the ground too. I tip-toed around the fresh cow-pats and through the gate.

The next field seemed to be empty of cattle which was just as well for camping. I didn’t want any bovine interruptions in the middle of the night. And there was a nice copse down by the riverbank that looked like it was on dry land. Perfect for spending the night.

I wheeled my bike over a patch of dried out marshland and into the copse, where a small footpath trailed along the river bank. I found a suitably flat area of ground to place my sleeping bag. However, I was still worried about the prospect of rain, so I set about tying my tarp to a few nearby trees to provide some shelter. I’d seen enough of Bear Grylls and Ray Mears to know that keeping dry was important, although I suspect neither of them would have been too impressed with my efforts.

In the event, it never rained, and the tarp mostly made quite a racket blowing in the wind.

The spot was indeed lovely, although there was the small matter of insects. Being close to the river meant that there were a fair few flies. I’d brought what I thought was a small mosquito net that I’d bought years ago and had never used. But on closer inspection, the “net” turned out to be bits of string and hooks to support a net.

Another lesson learnt: know your kit before you go.

The long grass, thistles and nettles during the walk to the site, along with these insects meant that I did come away with a certain amount of bites and skin irritation.

I’d love to say that I had a quiet night’s sleep, but sleep is always intermittent for me camping. There were some wonderful bird sounds. I’d seen kestrals on my way into the area, and I heard owls during the night. But in the distance I could also hear a pump somewhere – the Fens rely on pumps for water maintenance. I was actually pretty close to the Lakenheath airbase, but I wasn’t disturbed by USAF planes. However sleeping outdoors is such an unusual experience, that your brain over-compensates and your imagination runs wild. At one point I was sure that a motorised boat was coming down the river – guards patrolling the banks. It was my imagination… and that pump again.

Dawn was around 4.25am, although the birds woke me earlier than that. I got back to sleep and by around 5.30am there was a the sun was bright and sky golden. I should have been up at that point to take photos or video. But I drifted off again, and by the time I actually got up at about 6.30am clouds had come across and the day was a little grey.

It’s worth noting that because my bivvy was a super-cheap one, there was a lot of condensation that collected on the inside. That meant that later at home both it and the sleeping bag needed a proper airing to dry them out.

I took some more video footage, and then decided that to complete my challenge, I needed to go for a swim.

I’m not scared of a bit of water, and the ability to swim in the Little Ouse had been a major reason for coming here. Swimming trunks at the ready I approached the water’s edge and put my feet in.

It was really quite pleasant. But there was a lot of mud and silt at the water’s edge, and it wasn’t clear how deep that went. I lowered myself into the water and quickly my legs went thigh deep into the mud. I could just about wade a single step, but the mud was so deep that I was actually quite worried about my restricted movement. I had to grab hold roots and branches to pull myself out and back onto the bank. I tried a couple of other points in the river. The same problem.

I was on my own, and did not fancy drowning because the mud near the bank was too deep.

I suspect that if I’d leapt into the water further out, I ‘d have been fine. And perhaps I could have swam from the deep into the shallows of the bank and pulled myself out that way. But frustrating though it was, I had to opt out of the swim, even though the water was so inviting.

I packed up my camp and headed out. I had planned to complete a loop back to Littleport using some smaller drove roads I’d identified on the map. But a barrier blocked my way, so I had to return via a dirt track road past some remote farmhouses and out to the main road. Then it was a slog, mostly into a headwind, cycling back towards Littleport.

The station only gets one train an hour, and it was clear that the headwind was hampering me to such an extent, I’d be getting the 10.50am rather than the 9.50am. Eventually I reached Littleport, found a newsagent which sold sugary drinks to both rehydrate me and provide some energy after my sapping bike ride.

Then finally it was the train back home.

A good day out, and despite some unpreparedness, and a failure to get a swim, great fun.

In the meantime, I think the following are worth looking at for the future:

– A mosquito net hood
– Insect repellent
– A portable hammock

(- And I’d love to try an inflatable kayak too)

So where next?

Poppies

Abandoned Cab

Bookazines

Boris Johnson - Cripes!

I’m slightly obsessed by bookazines.

But first, let me apologise for using that word (also known, equally unattractively, as magbooks). It’s clearly made up by the publishing industry, and so perhaps I need to explain it first. It’s obviously a contraction of two words.

Books need no real explanation. They get published; they sit on bookshelves and hopefully sell; sometimes they’re available permanently; other times they eventually get returned (“sale or return”) to the publisher and are pulped.

Then there magazines. These also need no explanation. They come out perhaps weekly or monthly. They have a literal shelf life at a newsagent. And unsold copies get returned to the publisher (and pulped) when the new issue comes out to replace it on the shelf.

Bookazines somehow sit between these two things, and if you’ve been to the unholy mess that is W H Smith recently, you’ll know what I mean. They occupy shelving in roughly the same place as magazines, but their editorial’s lifespan is less “freshly squeezed” and more “made from concentrate.”

Titles often cover technical subjects such as issues around computing or perhaps using your new camera. A company called Imagine Publishing seems to specialise in these a great deal, with several feet of shelf-space occupied by their output.

Then there are rushed out jobs, when, for example, there’s a royal baby!

DSC_0190

Note three bookazines rushed to print with essentially the same photo taken when Kate came out of the hospital. The presses were probably rolling a few hours later.

For some publishers it’s a handy way to “re-purpose content” and essentially republish features that have appeared in old magazines, bundling them up into something “new.” Cycling magazines seem to do this – perhaps gathering together routes from a couple of year’s worth of magazines and publishing them in a single handy package.

And then there are the packages that come with DVDs – usually obtained at low or no-cost (in the case of out of copyright material). So lots of WWII, Ancient Rome, Laurel and Hardy, Volcanoes. You name it.

The extended half-life of the average bookazine means that the shelves can be a bit stale. While many of them should clearly be printed on slightly better paper and reissued as actual, well, books, someone has worked out that people perhaps are more likely to see them in an ever-changing magazine environment rather than the more static non-fiction shelves of the book section.

This also papers over some of the cracks in the magazine publishing business, which in some sectors is in real decline as readers move to online sources and away from the printed page. These titles fill some of those gaps on the magazine shelves left from titles that have closed.

My real obsession has been ignited recently by a couple of titles that are getting a bit of promotion in W H Smiths – I assume because the publisher has paid for shelf hangers (or whatever the correct terminology in this sector is).

The election over, and Labour is busy picking a new leader, but somebody somewhere has decided that this should be Boris Johnson’s moment in the sun as he took his place in Parliament as an MP (while also being Mayor of London, something he said he wouldn’t do). And they published “Boris Johnson: Cripes!”

As you can see from the picture at the top it is somehow a “Special Edition.” Of what, isn’t clear, although that may well be a sobriquet that W H Smiths has given it. But it has been placed squarely among the political and current affairs magazines. Indeed it’s foremost of them all.

You do get the feeling that these titles are aimed at, well, a Daily Mail audience. Slightly right leaning, who do their shopping in Smiths, and don’t mind spending a few quid on an otherwise unheard of “magazine.”

But who else would fit the bill? Who else has been in the news a little and would make a good subject?

Jeremy Clarkson - Driven

Jeremy Clarkson: Driven! “A controversial life in the fast lane,” says the sign.

It’s obvious now isn’t it? And there it is, sitting proudly ahead of the other car magazines in my local Smiths. Kicked off Top Gear; friend of the Camerons and the Chipping Norton Set! He’s ripe for the bookazine treatment. Except whisper it, but this magazine is copyrighted 2014 suggesting his recent Top Gear “fracas” hasn’t made it in (I didn’t either purchase or read through to check).

Both the Boris and Jezza titles come from an imprint called Endeavour Press, who seem to specialise in ebook publishing, and they’re both written by a chap called Nigel Cawthorne. I’m not familiar with the man, so I did a little searching to see what I could find out. I was mostly interested to see if he’d been turning out any more of these. But I found something even better!

Simply put, this man is a pure writing machine.

Based on ebooks available in the Kindle store on Amazon, he’s already had the following titles published in 2015 to date:

Blond Ambition: The Rise and Rise of Boris Johnson
David Cameron: A Class Act
Jack the Ripper’s Secret Confession: The Hidden Testimony of Britain’s First Serial Killer (he’s a co-writer on this one)
Alexander the Great
Roger Courtney: By Strength and Guile – The Story Of The Founder Of The SBS
Julius Caesar
Alan Johnson: Left Standing
Jeremy Clarkson: Motormouth (Updated To Include His Sacking By The BBC)
Prince Philip: I Know I am Rude, But I Like It: The Royals and the Rest of Us as Seen By Prince Philip

(And those three political biographies are also available in an omnibus!)

In 2014 there were:

A Bit of Stephen Fry
The Magical Mythtery Tour
The Alien Who Thought He Was Elvis
Ian Fleming: Licence to Kill
Alan Turing: The Enigma Man
Harry: A Prince Among Men
Bodies in the Back Garden – True Stories of Brutal Murders Close to Home
Tesla: The Life and Times of an Electric Messiah
A Brief Guide To Agatha Christie
Flight MH370 – The Mystery
The King Of The Crime Writers: The Biography of John Creasey
The Empress of South America
The Sex Lives of Hollywood idols
The Sex Lives of Famous Gays
The Sex Lives of Famous Lesbians
The Sex Lives of US Presidents
The Sex Lives of Popes
Che Guevara: The Last Conquistador

I didn’t look any further back.

Honestly, he puts Ed Reardon to shame with his sheer volume. And what a range of interests – particularly sex lives!

I would suggest that the two bookazines I’ve spotted published by him are “repurposed” versions of his biographies of Johnson and Clarkson, pacakged together with agency photos. He’s obviously recently updated his Clarkson book online, but as I say, it’s not clear that this is the version you can find in Smiths.

Now I have to confess that I’ve not bought or read either of these titles, or any of Cawthorne’s book, so they may be masterpieces. Or they may not be.

The quickie unauthorised biography has been around for years, with some publishers making a living rushing titles to bookshelves when someone either dies unusually young (e.g. Michael Jackson) or does something extraordinary in the public’s eye. To a large extent that business has moved online, where anyone can get an Amazon listing for their ebook in no time at all. I’m sure up and down the country, a few “biographers” are updating their old Chris Evans biographies with a few new chapters to ride the wave of Top Gear news.

Part of me wants to applaud the entrepreneurial spirit of the individual who came up with this idea and has implemented their plan so successfully. Another part of me wonders who on earth is buying and reading them?

Can We Have A Moratorium on Shallow Depth of Field in TV?

If you’re a photographer you might know what I mean in the title of this blog.

If you’re not, then I might need to explain a little. The depth of field in an image or piece of video is a measure of how much of the image is in focus at any one time. By using different lenses and controlling the amount of light you let through to the lens via its aperture, you can control how much of an image is in focus.

For a landscape, you typically want the whole scene in focus. That tends to mean a small hole letting light in for a longer period of time.

Walking to The Unthanks-3

For a portrait or close-up, you might want to blur the background out, leaving the subject in focus. A larger hole letting more light in for a shorter period of time.

Life Ring

Camera technology is always improving and we’re now seeing a lot of TV productions use some very high quality cameras. In the past, TV lenses might have been quite “slow.” That is you let a lot of light in meaning everything is fairly flat looking. But now you can use an f1.8 or faster lens and create a cinematic look by controlling the extent to which parts of the frame are in sharp focus.

The trouble is that everyone’s doing it all the time, and it become intensely irritating.

A recent case in point was a wonderful documentary series on BBC – The Detectives. This followed the casework of some Manchester detectives as they investigated a number of cases over a period of about a year. It was fascinating stuff, and beautifully told over three hour long episodes.

Except that the director or director of photography chose to shoot everything with a very narrow depth of field, meaning that aside from the subject of the frame, much else was blurred out. The problem with that, particularly in terms of an observational documentary, is that unlike a drama, you can’t place your characters precisely. And using a narrow depth of field means that you have to be very precise with your focusing. My suspicion would be that they were using DSLRs to shoot the documentary, which can mean that focusing is done manually.

In The Detectives the camera operator was clearly struggling to maintain focus as an interviewee or subject shifted around in their seat. It becomes very distracting to the viewer if different bits of the frame keep going in and out of focus. But of course, while in a drama you’d do another take and ensure focus was maintained, in a documentary you’re capturing reality and usually can’t go again.

I don’t want to pick on The Detectives, because it was a very fine documentary. The same issue occurs all the time in dramas too. I’ve no problem if it’s used as a specific device – perhaps to show that a character is somehow isolated from the world around them – but maintaining it for long periods of time is actually quite frustrating as a viewer. We don’t naturally see that way unless we’re short-sighted.

It can feel like someone being given a new toy, and them playing with it exclusively until they – and we viewers – are bored. So please use the device sparingly if your a director or DoP. Thanks!

While we’re at it, did you really need to shoot your TV series in 2.35:1? “The Interceptor” – I’m looking at you. 1.85:1 (or 16:9, the shape of our TVs these days) not good enough? Or are we a wannabe Sergio Leone?

Platform Exclusives

On Monday, Game of Thrones finished its fifth series run on Sky Atlantic with an explosive episode. Don’t worry, you won’t find any spoilers on this site (Unlike certain news sites). Anyone who wanted to, could watch it on Sky Atlantic.

Well, up to a point Lord Copper.

If you’re a Virgin Media customer, then you don’t get Sky Atlantic. Sky sees the channel as a point of difference between it’s own platforms and others. So while Sky One and Sky Living are offered to third parties like Virgin Media, Sky Atlantic is held back.

You can, as of Tuesday this week, legally access that entire fifth series of Game of Thrones via platforms like iTunes, Amazon Instant Video or Google Play. But obviously that’ll cost you.

Also this week came the announcement that AMC Networks is launching a UK offering, but that it’ll be exclusively available via BT TV on YouView. AMC in the US has been home of series such as Breaking Bad, and its spin-off Better Call Saul, Mad Men and The Walking Dead.

But who broadcasts those shows in the UK can vary quite a lot. The new Channel 4 Sunday night series, Humans, is an AMC co-production. The Walking Dead, which is the biggest drama in the US, goes out on Fox TV in the UK, with Channel 5 having had second run rights. Mad Men went out on Sky Atlantic having been poached from BBC Two in the UK, and Breaking Bad and its spin-off are on Netflix (although Breaking Bad is also now on free-to-air Spike). Other AMC shows can be found on Amazon too.

What’s interesting about this deal with BT is that they’ll have exclusive access to Fear the Walking Dead – a new spin-off series set in the same world as The Walking Dead. And to watch it, you’ll need new hardware. BT is seemingly trying beef up its non-sport TV portfolio.

Of course AMC now owns a near 50% stake of BBC America, and this means that you’d anticipate some BBC co-productions down the line between the two broadcasters – John Le Carré’s The Night Porter with Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston seems like a good example of this (although I believe this was presented to both parties by a third party who put the package together).

So how this will all fit together with regard to BT-exclusive access to AMC programming in the longer term remains to be seen. However it should be noted that despite the Sky/HBO deal, there are still instances where, say, the BBC does a deal with HBO and Sky is cut-out – The Casual Vacancy being a recent example.

But what this clearly means is that viewers are going to be faced with some hard choices.

At the moment, should I want to watch Game of Thrones, Daredevil and Transparent, I can do one of three things (or a mix of them).

– Subscribe, respectively, to Sky Atlantic (via Sky or Now TV), Netflix and Amazon Prime
– Wait until they become available through DVD/digital
– Pirate them

(I’m not advocating the third, incidentally).

Assuming I’m a Walking Dead fan who also wants to watch the other series, at least until now I could access to the OTT services through an inexpensive one-off purchase of a Google Chromecast, Now TV, Roku or Apple TV box. To see the Walking Dead spin-off, I’m going to need a full-on BT TV subscription and one of their boxes. Or I’ll have to wait until the DVD/digital downloads are made available.

This is where it gets even more complicated.

At the moment, most of these productions are actually owned by third party companies, and they simply licence their output for specific windows to services like Netflix or Amazon. But that has meant that when Netflix launched in France, they had to do so without House of Cards, because it had been licenced to another channel. That’s also why DVDs/downloads are made available of the series in due course – the studio that owns them distributes the DVDs and earns revenues from them – not Netflix. House of Cards tends to be exclusive to Netflix for about six months before the DVD/download option becomes available.

Netflix in future says it wants to own as much of its own programming as possible. In other words, it wants to close off those avenues, or at least have control of them. Holding back programming could make long-term sense in platform building, even if it leaves money on the table in the short term.

In the meantime, I’m not sure that this deal on its own is enough to make a compelling case for anyone to cancel Sky and take up BT TV – as it hasn’t been with their sports rights so far. But I can see some of those AMC catalogue programmes disappearing from Amazon in due course, and I can also imagine that there’ll be a significant amount of piracy surrounding Fear the Walking Dead when fans realise that they need a whole different subscription to watch it legally, unless they’re prepared to wait for the DVDs/downloads.

Don’t Bring Back TFI Friday: And Why Are Today’s Most “Dangerous” Presenters All Working on Radio 2?

This isn’t a proper review of TFI Friday since I must admit that I dipped out a few times during near two hour run-time of last night’s show – and it over-ran massively last night, even becoming a joke in the show.

TFI Friday was a terrific programme of its time. Because Chris Evans first became a Virgin Radio presenter and then its owner, early during its run, there was a large crossover of staff who would work on the show. The TFI team ended up in the basement of One Golden Square. In the Virgin Radio sales team, it was a regular thing to take clients out to lunch then down to Riverside Studios in Hammersmith where the show was recorded. They’d get to be in the bar. I even got to stand it the bar myself for one episode when the entire staff of Golden Square decamped to watch an episode recorded. I had a jacket which had both TFI Friday and Virgin Radio logos stitched into it.

I liked and admired many of the people involved in TFI.

So I should be a massive fan. But… well… I was curious about Friday night’s show. And yet…

TFI Friday was a product of its time, just as The Tube and The Word were before it. They caught the zeitgeist of their moments. They were live… well until TFI was pre-recorded as live. And they spoke to their generation.

Yes, this one-off edition of TFI crammed in lots of clips from old episodes – although they played a clip of bowling balls hitting mirrored wardrobes a few too many times. But it was a little shambolic. It could be argued that this was what the show was like anyway, but I’m not sure that’s true. When you get into the run of a series, you make things tighter and perhaps are willing to jettison ideas that might have at first seemed good on paper, but turned out not to be so.

In this instance it felt like anything that was thought up made the cut. And that just made the show baggy. By the time Evans was playing a game with Lewis Hamilton about how long the show might be allowed to overrun, it just felt tired. It really didn’t help that Hamilton was the big guest since he’s really not the most animated of guests at the best of times. And if you’re going to get the audience to ask questions, then at least prep them in advance.

Incidentally, the audience in the bar was way more distracting than it ever used to be. They really needed some floor managers up there shutting them up. I’m sure that tickets were really hot to get, but if you’re going to be an audience member of a show, please shut up.

The ratings, of course, were great. 3.7m in the overnights, giving Channel 4 a rare slot win. But I would say that there were two contributory factors. First BBC1 and ITV weren’t really playing the game. Have I Got News For You ended its run last week, so BBC1 had a repeat of New Tricks. Meanwhile ITV wasn’t really bothering either, with a repeat of Doc Martin. Arguably only Channel 5 was in the mix with a Big Brother live eviction. But nobody cares about that programme any longer – particularly the non-“celebrity” editions.

And yes, I believe that the show did well in the younger demos that Channel 4 so prizes from a sales perspective. But this really counted as event television. Frankly, if you were at home on Friday night, you might as well see what it was all about.

My fear is now that Channel 4 will look at those numbers and commission a new series. But they shouldn’t, even with a new host. And here’s why.

In the ad-breaks, we repeatedly got to see ads for a new TFI Friday compilation album, packed full of 90s music (not live performances from the show, as far as I can see). I really hate to say this, but in 2015, this is dad rock in 2015.

The TFI brand is fairly meaningless to a 20 year old today – something that was pretty clear from the various kids/babies that appeared on the show reprising their appearances from years before. Even with a new host, it would be akin to the BBC bringing back Jukebox Jury or The Old Grey Whistle Test with Reggie Yates. The only people who’d relish that thought would be the people outside the target market.

Then there are the presenters. Now we have find generation of presenters, and Chris Evans is clearly one of them. The clips showed him to be massively confident when TFI was in its heydey, and he still is.

But why are all our biggest, and arguably most “dangerous” TV presenters on Radio 2? Evans; Graham Norton; Dermot O’Leary; Paul O’Grady. And then there are ex-hosts like Alan Carr and Jonathan Ross. Kudos to Radio 2, but that can’t be right?

Channel 4 absolutely should be making a new show like this. But it needs to speak to today’s audience. So it needs a presenter who’s not about to turn 50 (in any case, Evans is now doing Top Gear). Look again at Evans’ confidence in those shows, or further back, Jonathan Ross’s confidence when he launched The Last Resort. Even the Network 7 crew.

They need someone new bursting with that kind of energy.

Channel 4 needs to discover people like that. And ideally not just someone from the conveyor-belt of stand-ups who appear everywhere all the time (Live From The Apollo, HIGNFY, 8 Out of 10 Cats, Mock the Week, QI…).

Even the idea of “anointing” Nick Grimshaw as his successor doesn’t seem sensible. I thought Grimmy didn’t do himself too many favours on the night, and he now seems to be aligned with The X-Factor.

In short then, this was fine as a retrospective, although it was flabby.

But Channel 4 needs new blood in a new format.

Music Tourists

There’s been a new report published by UK Music, the consortium that supports the UK music industry’s political needs.

Wish You Were Here 2015 highlights the importance of the music industry to tourism and that audience’s spending power. It was released on Monday and has generated a decent amount of press coverage.

It’s a chunky piece of work from Oxford Economics, and gets right into the detail of each region’s importance, backed up with detailed case studies. But the headline figures have a couple of numbers that either feel like they’ll be misinterpreted, or are overly precise.

“Music tourism numbers in the UK increased by 34% between 2011 and 2014, with 9.5 million people travelling to music events in 2014. These music tourists, attending live concerts and festivals in the UK, helped generate £3.1 billion pounds in direct and indirect spend.”

“This increase in music tourism provides a huge boost to employment throughout the country, with 38,238 full time jobs in 2014 sustained by music tourism in the UK.”

(My emphasis)

The report is further supported by quotes from the great and the good including the new Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale:

“It’s fantastic news that our music industry drew in 9.5 million tourists last year but it’s no surprise. British music is legendary around the world and continues to go from strength to strength, with UK artists now accounting for one in seven albums sold worldwide…”

(My emphasis again)

Goodness. That’d seem to imply a lot of foreign tourists we’re getting coming purely to see music!

Er, well. That might be the impression you take from the report, but that’s not actually what it says.

If you dive into the methodology, you’ll come across this table which highlights where those tourists come from:

visitorshare

That table shows that foreign tourists make up a relatively small percentage of overall visitors to festivals – mostly below 3% (the outlier seems to be the East Midlands where perhaps the Download Festival does indeed attract significant overseas tourists). For regular concerts, the foreign numbers plummet further.

UK Music has categorised attendees to these events as “locals”, “domestic tourists” and “foreign tourists.” And it’s the first two camps that are biggest. Furthermore, they’ve used a definition of ‘3 x your commute’ to determine whether you’re a local or not.

So if you live in London and going to the V Festival at Chelmsford? “Domestic Tourist.”

Live in Milton Keynes and going to see Dave Grohl and co. at Wembley at some point in the future when their gigs get re-arranged? “Domestic Tourist.”

Indeed what this report really says to me is that the live music industry is flourishing and there are now lots of festivals and big arena gigs that inevitably require people to travel to get to. And of course they spend some money getting there.

But let’s try and put this in perspective. I’m mixing methodologies, and probably periods, but you’ll get an idea.

VisitBritain says that there were 34.4m foreign tourists in 2014.

Now the UK Music report doesn’t provide an overall percentage of tourists who are foreign, so I’ve extrapolated using the percentages in the table above. This will provide a wrong number (it takes no account of the relative sizes of audiences in different regions, or between concerts and festivals), but it’s better than nothing.

So if we ignore locals, we end up with an average of 95.7% “domestic tourists” and 4.3% “foreign tourists.”

UK Music says that there are 9.5m “music tourists” in total, so that gives us 405,000 “foreign tourists.”

But there are 34.4m foreign tourists in total. So our very rough calculations suggest that a little over 1% of all foreign tourists to the UK come for the music.

Not to be sniffed at, but perhaps not what you’d get from reading the coverage of this report.

Here are a couple of examples with incorrect and correct reporting:

Digital Spy – “According to industry body UK Music, 9.5m visitors from abroad attended music events in the UK last year…”

BBC News – “Across the UK 9.5 million people travelled to music events.”

The other number I wanted to highlight was the extraordinarily precise figure for the number of employees these tourists support. The report says 38,238. If you give a number with that precision, it suggests that you have all their names and addresses. Surely they should just say “38,000” or “over 38,000”?

In any case, let’s look a little more deeply at this statistic. According to the methodology, the numbers are calculated based on Full Time Equivalent (FTE) employees and the amount of Gross Value Added (i.e. additional spend) across a number of sectors and by region. FTE is a standard measurement of labour and takes account of part-time working and job-sharing.

My issue here is that surely most of these jobs are very casual indeed? Summer festivals are full of students earning money, and a very transient labour force in general: security, caterers and so on. While arena concerts might be a little more evenly spaced throughout the year, providing a very specific number of jobs suggests a level of accuracy that just isn’t there.

In fact it’s likely to be a much bigger number of people getting some employment for some time. But the news release actually says “38,238 full time jobs” and that simply can’t be the case.

Full Time Equivalent is not the same as full time jobs.

What kind of work do you think that person has on a wet Monday in November? They’re not employed by Glastonbury/Festival Republic, that’s for sure.

I’m not decrying the work necessarily. It’s terrific for students and others to have opportunities like this for relatively short-term shifts. But let’s not over-egg the pudding. Indeed I’d hazard a guess that some agencies are offering “zero-hours” contracts to employees…

Thanks to Paul Flower for pointing me towards this report and suggesting all was not what it seemed.

The Champions’ League – Part Two

This is a follow up to yesterday’s piece anticipating BT’s changes in packages having won exclusive Champions’ League and Europa League rights, although I’m mostly talking about Champions’ League coverage here.

Well BT has announced its new football deal and there were some things we expected, and some things we didn’t.

Yes, Gary Lineker is going to be one of their presenters – I imagine him and Jake Humphreys taking Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Yes, it’ll cost £5 for many people (much more on this below).

Yes, there’ll be a new Freeview channel, BT Sport Showcase which will be where the free-to-air fixtures are shown. But this will be SD only for most people (everyone?), so will look absolutely rubbish on your 46″ TV (And approximately 10% of the country won’t get this channel at all on Freeview. It’s unclear if it’ll pop up on satellite).

The channel has some new pundits in Steven Gerrard (hope he’s up for some media training, because his post match interviews are awful), Rio Ferdinand and Glenn Hoddle amongst others. And there’ll be a 4K service for “select” fixtures. But that’ll need a new box and, in my opinion, a TV somewhere around 55″ or bigger to make any difference.

There’ll also be a “Goals!” show with James Richardson on Champions’ League nights that will chase around all the simultaneous kick offs and show the goals as they go in. Those with long memories may recall that the capacity constrained OnDigital did the same thing. And of course Sky had a red button service that hopped around goals.

The cost of HD is going up 33% for sports pack customers from £3 to £4 (they didn’t highlight this, oddly).

But the devil is in the detail and it’s not all clear at the moment.

BT seems to be making another play for BT TV, their television offering. The trouble is that it’s sub-standard compared to Sky and Virgin Media. The channel choice is limited and significant channels are missing from their options.

From the starting point that they’re appealing to sports fans, then there’s already a limited offering in that only Sky Sports 1 and 2 are available. And in SD only. That should get you most Premier League games, but you’ll be missing out on other sports – golf, European football and F1 immediately spring to mind. And the lack of HD becomes ever more important as screens get bigger. SD is just awful on anything from 40″ upwards. There’s no Eurosport either – which is important to me for cycling coverage. [Update: There is Eurosport, and in HD. See comments for details.]

So a sports fan watching via Sky or Virgin is perhaps unlikely to ditch their current platform.

Now there’s no mention of Virgin Media anywhere at the moment, so we’ll assume that the deals haven’t been done, and that this will happen in due course.

For the large number of Sky subscribers, there are two deals on the table, and we don’t know what one of them will cost.

– Those taking BT Broadband are looking at £5 a month for the full BT Sports Pack as the new package including the regular BT Sports channels, plus the new European one seems to be called. Then it’s £4 a month for HD. But what extra channels are they getting in HD? For Champions’ League and Europa League, there will be at least two British teams playing simultaneously in the league part of the competition. Will Sky and Virgin viewers be able to see both those games in HD? Or will there be a single HD channel and a red button SD service? It seems that the latter is likely since only one additional channel is being launched.

– Those who don’t have BT Broadband – e.g. Sky customers who have, perhaps, a Sky Broadband deal – will have to pay at least £13.50 a month for an SD package, and quite probably more. BT hasn’t released pricing. This has to be a substantial part of Sky’s football subscribers, and therefore a market that BT wants to reach. Charging perhaps £15-20 is a really steep ask, and I’m not at all convinced that many will bite. From what we can tell, the vast proportion of current BT Sport providers are BT Broadband customers getting it free. Relatively few football fans are paying £13.50 for a meagre offering of additional Premier League matches (one more year of the current Premier League deal to go), and lots will have decided that not spending the money is worthwhile for a handful fewer games. Champions’ League football does make a difference, but I wonder how much? This is the toughest sector to move.

For me as a Sky subscriber but with BT Broadband and wanting to watch Champions’ League football, I’m looking at paying £6 more a month (+£5 BT Sport; +£1 increased HD cost) for less HD football. Furthermore, depending on the draw, as an Arsenal fan, I face the prospect of seeing little HD football on the Sky platform because programmers tend to choose, say, Man Utd or Chelsea over Arsenal when highlighting a single fixture. And will I be able to record those red button channels?

Viewers of BT TV seem to get all the channels in HD. So is this an attempt to lure current Sky viewers – particularly those on BT Broadband – into getting a second box and watch via that? The “free” price point for those taking the minimum TV offering suggests that’s the way to go. Even with high-speed fibre, I’ll need convincing that sport is capable of glitch-free playback via IP. Can I do both? Get BT Sports on both Sky and BT TV for one fee?

It also looks like people currently getting BT Sport 1, 2 and ESPN free will actually only get BT Sport 1 free in future. BT Sport 2 and ESPN become part of the paid-for BT Sport pack. Because those people currently have the “BT Sports Pack” which is £0 currently, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they’re not rolled up to the £5 package. “BT Sports Lite” is a new package altogether which customers may well have to opt to choosing pro-actively.

The issue regarding months when little European football is played (e.g. January) isn’t really addressed – except you without a subscription you can’t see BT Sport 2 or ESPN during those months. This doesn’t make me want to rush to pay for August though since the Champions’ League proper doesn’t start until mid-September.

Overall, it’s a thoroughly confusing offering.

BT’s marketing material is really going to have to work hard at explaining how costs are broken down, with different prices dependent on platform and broadband supplier, and different HD and 4K offerings dependent on platform.

Their website is currently woefully short on information.

The one thing I’m pretty confident about is that the free-to-air ratings will be terrible. Unless they offer a little more in the way of “Showcased” programming, few will discover the channel on the occasions that they show games free of charge.

Apple Music

So now we finally know the details of Apple Music.

I won’t go through all the details because every site on the planet has already done so, breathlessly live-blogging the full announcement. So go elsewhere for those.

To be honest, as The Verge reports there are probably some sighs of relief around the rest of the streaming music world, because Apple hasn’t actually announced a service that’s leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the pack.

They’ve got a streaming service, a radio service, and some kind of social media bolt on (nobody mention Ping, OK!).

And what they do have is scale. They’re launching in 100 countries all at once. I imagine, because they have gargantuan teams of lawyers who have been working those deals. Other services like Spotify have had to launch market by market. Even Netflix is still going country by country.

The price point for Apple Music in the US is the same as for all the competitive products – $9.99. I can’t find details of a UK price, but I imagine we can see a magic exchange rate in action and as for Spotify, expect to pay £9.99. There’s also a family plan which is innovative, although I suspect many families currently just share the same streaming subscription. And Apple is actually deigning to make an Android app, although not until the autumn.

The big play Apple has is that it will send an upgrade to all iOS devices with a no-doubt unremovable icon (or set of icons) promoting the service. Spotify et al need you to download and install their app. Apple does that bit for you.

[An aside: isn’t this sort of thing what the EU accused Microsoft of doing when it was rolling out Internet Explorer with Windows updates in an attempt to kill Netscape? They got very angry about that. I know the EU has been looking at suggestions that Apple wanted labels to limit Spotify’s free plan, but that’s somewhat different.]

To be honest, the most interesting part of the whole announcement seems to be Beats 1 which sounds very much like a regular radio station. Zane Lowe is the key person behind this and he will be broadcasting daily from LA with other shows coming from New York and London, live around the world (We’ll get Zane Lowe for drivetime). From what I can tell this will be an advertising-free experience.

In some respects then, another free online radio station. There are many of those already; licenced or not. But I wouldn’t underestimate the power of this station. Apple can throw more money at this project than any radio broadcaster in the world.

And it’ll be free to listen to. You won’t need to be paying for Apple Music to hear it. With big music acts doing exclusive things on the station, I imagine that this will be the free-entry point into the service. Something to persuade you to subscribe.

Of course it probably won’t be directly competing with your station because I suspect that the music mix will be quite eclectic. But it’ll have massive credibility. And I expect that the station will allow its presenters to have their own voices. Stations that do this seem to do well (cf. Radio 2 and 6 Music).

But then it sounds very much like Beats 1 is just the first of a set of Apple branded radio stations. They certainly use the plural in their promotional material.

Here’s an interesting thing though. A big part of Apple Music is curated listening. So rather than simply rely on algorithms, an actual programmer will build playlists (Spotify and others do this too of course). Apple is spreading their net far and wide to create those playlists.

I note from Apple’s website that various music magazines and sites are building playlists. These include Q and Mojo – owned by Bauer Media. That would seem to mean that Bauer on Apple will be competing with Bauer’s own radio services for listening! I suspect that Bauer thinks being inside rather than outside is the better bet.

Earlier I wondered on Twitter whether radio stations that in the past had been massive Apple fans, had been talking about Beats 1? 6 Music did, but I’m not certain about others.

Let’s face it, stations have previously been in a rush to align themselves with Apple and announce the cool new iPhones or iPads that they’ve launched. There’s been basically little need for Apple to run radio advertising (has Apple run any radio advertising in the UK?), because stations plug the products for them free of charge. Indeed ask any promotions team and they’ll tell you that Apple products are what prize winners want to win in competitions.

So will stations be quite as keen to hand over free publicity to a device that now has a button – front and centre – that will compete with your brand? Apple is now a well-funded competitor.

[Update: I thought this piece from The Guardian was well worth linking to, with some really interesting numbers. In particular the fact that the average consumer is not going to be spending £120 a year on music when they currently pay just £40. Sure, some people will. But most people just aren’t into music to that extent.]

The Champions’ League – Part One

On Tuesday we will hear what BT has in store for its coverage of the Champions’ League and Europa League. It outbid Sky and ITV to win exclusive rights for the next three seasons.

The expectation is that they’ll announce Gary Lineker as co-presenting with Jake Humphries over Tuesday and Wednesday nights, with a £5 per month price-point for the package.

What that means for fans (and sponsors) is that there’ll be relatively little free European football on-air. At the time the bid was won, BT said that at least one fixture involving each British club in the competition will be available free-to-air on a specially set-up Freeview channel – BT Sport Showcase. This will include the final.

But whether they’ll offer the attractive games viewers want to see seems less clear. Man Utd v Zenit St Petersburg isn’t exactly a crowd pleaser, but would fulfill BT’s promise.

In the meantime Sky Sports has posted a blog that seems to say something along the lines of “We might have lost the Champions’ League, but nobody’s watching it any more and they only care about the Premier League, so we don’t really care.” Sour grapes anyone? The Guardian has more coverage here.

Is there too much Champions’ League football? Probably.

Are audiences down? Well the numbers say so.

Is this because English clubs haven’t done so well in the last couple of years? Er, I would think so.

Sky Sport’s audience at the weekend for the final might have been lower this year than last year, but it’s not clear to me that’s anything more than to do with the clubs competing. Personally I want to see Messi and co. I’m not convinced that Saturday night is the right time for the final, and wonder whether returning to Wednesday nights would see a stronger overall audience.

But I do think that UEFA is going to be the loser by selling exclusively to BT. Remember the OnDigital years? ITV had the Champions’ League exclusively then, and it wasn’t enough to save the platform. So yes, people do care more about the Premier League than the Champions’ League.

The football watching audience is divided into the following segments:

a. Free-to-air only. Match of the Day; England internationals on ITV; World Cups; Euros.

b. BT subscribers. Take BT Sport because they already have BT Broadband, so why wouldn’t they?

c. Sky Sports subscribers. Like the substantial Premier League offering.

d. Sky Sports + BT Sports. Pay for Sky Sports first of all, and then either get BT Sports free because of their broadband package, or pay because of the additional games it offers (other sports like rugby come into play here).

(e. BT Sports subscriber. Pay for BT Sport but aren’t BT Broadband subscribers. Probably only rugby or Moto GP fans, and not really football fans.)

We now need a couple of new segments:

f. Sky Sports + BT Sports + BT Sports Europe. Football die hards paying some more money for a complete football offering. This is probably the key constituent for the success of BT Sports Europe.

g. BT Sports + BT Sports Europe. Can anyone who doesn’t otherwise pay for football be persuaded to fork out £5 (or whatever) a month? This will be a small segment.

However the Champions’ League is vital for the top flight Premier League clubs. That’s why the big “four” are always fighting to be in it. Indeed, if they’re not then they’re not going to be able to attract the right players. Top players want to play in the Champions’ League.

It’ll be interesting to see how BT pitch their offering. They need to have the satellite capacity for Sky and Virgin subscribers to be able to watch as they can do now with BT Sports. And they need to persuade a lot of people to part with actual money to watch it.

I know that for me, this means my sports TV costs are going up. Sky has already announced price increases (the massive bids they made to retain Premier League rights ensured this), and now I’m facing £5 or more a month if I want to watch Arsenal in Europe (I do).

And then there’s the question of a monthly subscription fee when matches aren’t evenly spread out across the year. For example in the 2014/15 season, there was a single match in June – the final. July and August saw qualifiers – of interest to fans of the 4th place Premier League club, but few others. The group stage kicked off in September but rounds of the competition are not evenly distributed. There are no games at all in January. So how will subscribers deal with that? Do we all cancel mid-December and re-subscribe in mid-February? The Europa league has more games, and slightly more rounds to add into this mix.

In the meantime, we can look forward to a Media Guardian article this time next year explaining to us that the cumulative audience for the Champions’ League Final has fallen by x% (where x is a big number).

But let’s see what BT says tomorrow.

[Update: Here’s my follow-up piece.]