February, 2016

The New Day

DSC_0013

Well full marks for bravery.

The New Day really is a different offering to the rest of the national news offering. It’s Trinity Mirror’s new national daily – and yet still feels a bit like a spoiler targeting the now Johnston Press owned “i” as the previous owner – the Lebadevs – take The Independent online only whilst selling off the “i”.

It had been widely rumoured that Trinity Mirror was itself interested in taking over the “i” but that Johnston Press beat them to it.

Media Guardian reports that Trinity Mirror’s chief executive, “…denied that the sale of i to Johnston Press, one of Trinity Mirror’s major regional press rivals, played any part in the decision to launch The New Day.”

Yeah – right.

This sounds like classic spoiler territory to me.

When Robert Maxwell launched The London Daily News in 1987, the Evening Standard quickly (re)launched the Evening News at a cut price. So suddenly there were three London papers instead of one. Everyone lost money until eventually the London Daily News folded, the Standard quickly shut down the Evening News, and there was just one paper again.

Then there was The Times’ price war against The Independent – dealing it a massive blow in terms of potential profitability from which it never could recover. The Times lost money for a while, but the long term damage was done.

And more recently there was 2006’s attempt by News International to break into the London marketplace with thelondonpaper. The Standard responded with London Lite – an alternative free paper. The Standard battled through as a paid-for title until it had seen off thelondonpaper. Then London Lite shut down, and once again the Standard was on its own. In due course it was sold to the Lebedevs, became free itself, and is now profitable.

From the outset, The New Day sounded like a classic spoiler tactic.

There were plenty of free copies of issue #1 in my local newsagent this morning, but they’re free only for today. The title’s full price will be 50p which you must set against 65p for the Daily Mail. 15p buys you a lot more paper, although admittedly its politics might not be aligned to yours.

The paper comes with a big wraparound that tries to explain what The New Day is and isn’t. Their biggest play seems to be the quality of the physical paper – which is a step up from most newspapers. It’s printed on paper stock similar to some of those advertising sections that occasionally drop out of your weekend papers. But it’s as well that it is on thicker paper since at 40 pages, it’d be pretty thin otherwise.

They claim no political bias, and that they will carry opinion but not columnists. They claim that they’re rethinking the newspaper – not having men’s and women’s sections.

From The Guardian:

[Editor, Alison] Phillips told Radio 4’s Today programme: “The New Day will tell you everything you need to know on any given day. It will be pitched at people aged 35 to 55, people who want a more modern approach to news.

“It will be a ruthless edit of the day, with balanced analysis, opinion and comment, but no political line.” It will not have a leader column.

It will not be a red-top, she said, but would not be aimed at the audience currently served by the i newspaper.

So this sounds like “i” with a splash of Metro. Except Metro is free. Sure, it’s only available in major towns and cities, and relies heavily on commuters. Lots of people pick up Metro because it’s free – few probably would claim that it’s the best paper. But it does the job.

So the question must be how many people will pick this up and pay for it ahead of a free paper or a more editorially driven paper. And it’s not as 35-55 year old people don’t have smartphones and tablets.

So how does this all translate in issue #1?

The cover is a story about the plight of infant carers. It’s on page 4, but nowhere on the front page does it tell you to turn to page 4 to read it.

Pages 2 and 3 are full of one to three sentence stories dealing with the news of the day in a light style. A bit more than you’d get from Twitter or Facebook if you don’t click through – but not much more.

The letter from the editor mentions that they’re aiming at a glass half-full kind of person. Have we seen their TV ad? I saw it once and I couldn’t work out if they’d made it specially or just edited something together from stock footage – so stunningly underwhelming as it was.

After their child carers story on pages 4 and 5 we come to a page which will be their letters/reader opinion page. And then it’s Today’s Big Question which seems to feature two, er, columnists writing about the snooper’s charter (Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Julia Hartley-Brewer). I’m sure they’re not regulars. They’re carrying opinion and not columnists remember.

A couple more tabloidy/Metro-ish pages, and there’s a two page spread including a piece on the EU referendum from David Cameron and an adjoining one from a woman described as art teacher, and mum of two, from London.

More opinion on the big talking point of who Cheryl Fernandez-Versini is seeing (!) and we suddenly reach the Sport Essentials page – still in the front half of the paper. It’s all short stories with no actual match reports, or indeed just a box giving the scores. But we do get an Instagram picture from Cristiano Ronaldo with his son.

The centre spread is called The Bigger Picture and is basically a big double page photo – today of the UK as shot by Tim Peake from the International Space Station. The photo is actually a month old now, with most papers carrying it at the time it was taken.

Two pages on bullying, a “3 Minute Update” on Politics, the World and Money (on one page), and then a Russell Kane column (Surely a one-off, because this paper doesn’t have columnists?!).

Then it’s back to sport with Robbie Fowler writing about the Liverpool (not the League Cup final per se) and Ugo Monye writing about England v Ireland from Saturday. Yes – it seems odd that these are divorced from the other sports pages, and no, they’re not match reports.

We get the inevitable astrology, alongside a piece about women proposing to men (it’s Feb 29 today) and a piece from someone from Gogglebox – again, not a column I’m sure. Then we get a curious 11 Days in the Life Of… This is the first in seemingly a series of 11 pieces leading up to an event – in this instance a wedding. 11 seems a random number and means that new series of these will start on different days of the week.

Then we get lost in a mish-mash of pieces that aren’t really specific to a day. The TV guide seems to be solely a list of four recommendations for tonight, before we reach the inside back cover which has “The Big Read” on the conditions of albino children in Tanzania. The back page has the weather, a few puzzles, a couple of lines from Thomas Hardy and a photo.

So what do we take from all this. Well it might not have been spelt out in the run-up to launch, but this is clearly a female-targeted publication.

There’s little to no actual news – more features. One of the big things surrounding this launch was that there wouldn’t be a website for the paper. You can see why – they’re not really chasing news. Their Facebook and Twitter feeds are hard to discern at the moment since they’re mostly talking about their own launch right now.

While I appreciate that this paper is not for me and never will be, I’m not at all sure who it’s actually for. Why would you spend 50p on this? It’s certainly no better than Metro, and substantially worse than London’s Evening Standard (not itself a good paper). The “i” has more actual news and costs 10p less. And if you can leave aside the politics, you certainly get value for money from the Mail at 15p more.

I don’t understand some of their editorial decisions.

They break up sport into two different sections – neither of which deals with it properly. And all the sport was male. Why not report, for example, Lizzie Armistead winning her first race as World Champion in Belgium at the weekend? She’ll be a strong gold medal contender in Rio. Or Adelle Tracey’s performance in Sheffield?

And while I know that every TV set has an EPG these days, running a grid of TV listings with pithy one-liners is still a useful service for readers. If it’s worth printing the weather (which is on every smartphone) then it’s worth printing TV listings.

While I’d never wish ill on a new project I just don’t see what the point of this is. The target market is digitally enabled, and there is simply no shortage of what they’re offering online, and in better quality (e.g. The Pool).

The title is terrible too. It makes it sound like a weird new right wing political party.

The paper has nothing going for it, and aside from Trinity Mirror trying to cause some damage to Johnston Press, I just can’t see this project lasting.

[Update a week later: It’s now reported that initial pricing plans have been changed. It was at first due to have a one day free trial, followed by two weeks at 25p before finally reaching 50p on a permanent basis. But it looks now as if it’ll be staying at 25p for “a few weeks.” With sales reported to have fallen to 110,000 by Tuesday this week from about 150,000 at launch. Whether it can steady the ship at around that level and become profitable is another question altogether. I have very strong doubts about it.]

[Update 17 March: The Guardian reports the paper’s price finally reaching the planned-for 50p a day, yet the sales are now around 90,000. I’ve not picked up a copy since the launch edition, but that’s quite a bold move. I reiterate that either the “i” or Daily Mail surely offer a better read for anyone to whom this paper is targeted.]

Capturing MiniDV Tapes

Time flies in technology, and “old” formats get left behind frighteningly quickly.

Here’s my problem. I have a box of perhaps 100 Mini DV video tapes. They were shot with a camera that still works, and I want to capture the files into a digital format for preservation (I will hang onto the tapes as well though!). The way to do this is to use a Firewire cable to a capture device.

Now the camera still works as mentioned, and my now slightly aging laptop has a Firewire connection. But capturing video takes up lots of disk space, and although I’ll offload that video onto external hard drives, I’ll be limited in disk space in the medium term using that machine. There’s also the question of time. Using my existing laptop will eat up time I could be using it for something else. So I’m looking for a solution that avoids my current laptop and is pretty cheap.

Here are my thoughts so far, and why I’ve not pursued them:

  1. Buy a new laptop to do this job specifically. On the one hand, I suspect that a relatively cheap laptop would suffice for this job, allied with a USB 3.0 HDD. But there are pretty much no laptops now being made that come with a Firewire port.
  2. Buy a USB device to capture Firewire to a new laptop. Ah, you’re talking about something like the Pinnacle Moviebox – which is no longer made. There are a variety of cheap USB devices that claim to do the job, but forums suggest that they don’t work for video capture. Why Pinnacle doesn’t still make the Moviebox, I’m not sure, since there must be a lot of people now discovering their options for video capture are limited. But they don’t. Ebay may be the answer here, although I’m concerned that any such device will compress the DV files regardless.
  3. Buy a portable hard drive that will just do the job for you, a bit like those WD My Passport machines you can get that capture from SD cards. I wish! That would be a great drive to have. Just have the standalone device swallow up video from the camera, automatically ingesting it. As far as I know, they don’t exist.
  4. Build a cheap desktop machine to do the job. This might be the best solution. While some kind of very powerful rig might be a good investment – and help with 2K/4K video editing and running programs like After Effects, that’s a fair investment. A £200 machine with a £10 Firewire card would do it. I have software for capturing already. But I wasn’t actually after another desktop…
  5. Buy a cheap small form-factor PC. There are a range of these machines, and they don’t take up much space. I suspect that they are powerful enough to do the job, but I can’t see an easy way to add a Firewire port to any of them.
  6. Buy a cheap Chromebox, install Linux and capture via that… somehow. Er, well. No. I suspect that there’s no easy way to get a Firewire connector onto such specific hardware, and then capturing Mini DV in Linux isn’t straightforward either. And Chromeboxes aren’t actually that cheap in the UK from what I can see.

I suspect that building a cheap desktop machine is the way to go. I could perhaps even pick up a used machine from Ebay or a computer fair. Pop in a Firewire card, hook it up to a monitor and keyboard and get cracking.

1 hour of DV video takes up about 13GB of space.

13GB/hour x 100 tapes = 1.3TB of video.

So a 2/3TB hard drive inside the machine would do it.

Anyone else got any thoughts? Is there a small form-factor PC I could use? Any other devices that would do the job, or something I’ve not considered?

[Update] A suggestion on Twitter was that I should simply buy a cheap old laptop with a Express Card slot and do it that way. In fact, I’d meant to consider that option. Laptops don’t come with Express Card slots any longer, so it’d be an old one. And at that point, I might well find one with a Firewire port and use that. Something with Windows 7, a modest amount of hard disk space (I can shuffle off captured videos every 100GB or so), and powerful enough to capture video. I wouldn’t even need to worry about the battery being a bit rubbish since it’d be sitting on a desk somewhere slowly ingesting in real time.

Is there anywhere aside from eBay to be looking?

Trumbo

I’m fascinated about the period of the Hollywood Blacklist – that post-war period, as the Cold War was getting under-way, when virulent anti-communists including Senator Joseph McCarthy started “investigating” perceived pro-Soviet beliefs and output in Hollywood.

Before I went to see Trumbo, I thought I’d watch Fellow Traveller, a 1990 film made by the BBC and HBO. Written by Michael Eaton and directed by Philip Saville, it received a short cinema release in the UK before showing up in the Sunday night Screen Two slot in early 1991. The film did get a VHS release, but as far as I’m aware, it had a single outing on BBC Two and that’s been it.

More to the point, aside from that VHS release, there’s no way to get hold of the film today. I resorted to digging out my old VHS off-air recording and digitising that to enable me to see it. None of my kit is in perfect order, so it’s not exactly a pristine transfer, but it’s watchable.

[For what it’s worth, this is the sort of thing that it would be good for BBC Store to stock. It’s a little off-beat, I grant you, but otherwise the tape is just gathering dust in an archive somewhere.]

As for the film? Well it’s an interesting story of a Hollywood writer Asa Kaufman (Ron Silver) running away from the McCarthy witch-hunt, escaping to London where he needs to take on a false name to get work. ITV is just getting off the ground, and new companies are being set-up, so he becomes scriptwriter on The Adventure of Robin Hood. Meanwhile in Hollywood, movie star Clifford Byrne (Hart Bochner) shoots himself.

The film flashes back to Kaufman’s time in Hollywood with his friend Byrne, and their friends and family, first during the war when they’re raising funds, and later as witch-hunt gets under way. Imogen Stubbs plays Sarah Atchison, once Byrne’s girlfriend, but now back in a deprived post-war London.

The structure of the film is a little off, with the multiple flashbacks meaning that the film jumps around a lot. We even get imagined sequences from the Robin Hood series, with some deliberately heavy-handed dialogue reflecting real-world events. And the music can be a little overbearing at times, with the same theme used repeatedly.

But overall, the film absolutely bore re-watching, and the story, while fictionalised, is true. The ATV version of Robin Hood was written by a number of blacklisted US screenwriters – there’s a good 2006 Guardian piece explaining this, and noting:

There was also another, more direct threat to the anonymity of potential scriptwriters: betrayal. After the blacklist collapsed in the mid-1960s, [Ring Lardner Jr, one of the Hollywood Ten] explained that a TV show about an outlaw who takes from the rich to give to the poor provided him “with plenty of opportunities to comment on issues and institutions in Eisenhower-era America”. But Steve Neale of Exeter University, who has uncovered the names of exactly who wrote which of the Robin Hood episodes, points out that within the scripts’ emphasis on redistribution of wealth there is “a theme that recurs in the first two series: the probability that Robin Hood or one of the outlaws will be betrayed”.

But what about Trumbo?

Trumbo tells the story of Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston). Like many others in Hollywood, he had been left-leaning during the pre-war and war period, and had indeed joined the Communist Party of America. The coming of the cold war led to hysteria in the US and further afield – there might be “reds under the beds” everywhere. And so there’s the suspicion that Hollywood might be spreading sympathetic communist views via popular films.

As hard to believe as that might seem to be sitting here in the twenty-first century, that fear was stoked heavily by the likes of popular Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, headed by John Wayne (David James Elliot).

And so, Trumbo becomes one of ten screenwriters – the Hollywood 10 – subpoenaed to testify in congress about communist propaganda. Trumbo faces up to the challenge with equanimity and with the support of his family led by wife Cleo (Diane Lane), he goes and treats the committee with the disdain it deserves and in a humbled manner. Yet the death of a Supreme Court judge means that he ends up serving an eleven month prison term.

In the meantime, one some of his friends and colleagues are finding it difficult to support Trumbo and some of the other writers. Notably Edward G Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) ends up naming names to protect his career – he’d not worked for a year at that point. ]

The blacklisting is biting at this point. Trumbo’s friend Arlen Hird (Louis CK) is one of several people really feeling the financial pain. And so Trumbo starts to lead a group of writers who will produce scripts, anonymously, for Frank King (John Goodman) – the producer of cheap and lurid pictures. Trumbo would go on to win Oscars under pseudonyms for both Roman Holiday and The Brave One.

Only by 1960, when Trumbo was at first secretly writing Spartacus for Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and Exodus for Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel), did his name get made public, and despite the best efforts of protesters.

It’s a terrible period of America and Hollywood’s history, and this film tells the story really well. Trumbo isn’t painted as some kind of a saint. He was difficult to live with, often writing propped up in the bath, and at times having to churn out so many screenplays that he had time for nothing else. He was a champagne socialist, living in some luxury until the time of his prison sentence. And he wasn’t always a good friend. But he stayed true to his causes.

The film is really good, and the acting is excellent – particularly Cranston. This is clearly a superior film to Fellow Traveller, but they do make an interesting pair to see together.

Although the film details activities in Hollywood between the forties and sixties, it’s actually incredibly relevant today. Most overtly, the death of a Supreme Court judge having a substantive impact on his life. It’s incredible that US politics is so caught up in the judicial system that the highest court in the land is largely defined by the political beliefs of its members. Today we have a court with eight judges split evenly between Republican and Democrat, and a determination from Republicans to block any member nominated in the next 12 months while Obama is still president.

And then there’s the “reds under the beds” fear that means some call for anything to go. Today it’s not communism, but terrorism. I find some interesting parallels in the case Apple is fighting with the FBI over encryption and iPhones. Apple is suddenly the bad guy because Tim Cook believes in the right to privacy – something which strong encryption provides users with. Many governments, including our own, want some kind of “backdoor” into devices to allow law enforcement to get into these devices. If we don’t then the terrorists somehow win!

There’s more to write on encryption, but I think that there are definitely parallels to be drawn. In the fifties and sixties it was fear of communism. Early in the 21st century it’s fear of terrorism. There’s may be and have been legitimate threats from both. But do we give up our ideals and ways of life – our own liberties – to fight these threats? Or do we “win” by showing that we can be bigger and better?

DAB and DAB+: Some Testing Ahead of SDL/D2 Launch Next Week

125 DAB and DAB+ Services

Rupert Brun, expert on all things audio and late of the BBC, has been testing his radios at ahead of the Sound Digital (SDL) launch in a week’s time. The multiplex is in full test mode at the moment, so if you want to know if you can hear the new services, then a rescan of your radio may be in order.

Rupert first compiled his results on his blog (direct link), and has gone on to produce a Google Doc of the results including those of others.

So I’ve decided to test my own radios allowing Rupert to incorporate them into his results.

First of all I should note, as the photo above shows, that I’m in a rather fortunate location with regard to DAB/DAB+ radio. I live in north London, inside the M25, but close to the green belt. I’m also high up (at least for London) at somewhere around 70m above sea level. What that all means is that my radios will currently tune in 125 different services coming from the following multiplexes

  • BBC National
  • D1 National
  • SDL National
  • London 1
  • London 2
  • London 3
  • London Trial
  • Herts, Beds & Bucks
  • Essex
  • Kent
  • Surrey

I am somewhat surprised that I can get the Surrey multiplex, since it’s geographically the other side of London. And to be honest, reception is poor – but listenable. Kent might seem as far, but historically FM services have always reached this part of north London, and the closest transmitter for that mulitplex is actually in Benfleet in Essex.

Anyway, here are the results of my radios. I’ve included the number of services tuned into to give you an idea of the sensitivity of these sets. I tested them all with their own built in antennae, except the portable models where I used a set of ear-buds extended vertically.

BrandModelResultsRating (Based on Rupert Brun's Rating)Services Tuned
RobertsEco4 BTDisplays and plays DAB+ servicesGood125
RobertsEcologic 4Displays and plays DAB+ servicesGood125
RobertsStream 83iDisplays and plays DAB+ servicesGood125
RobertsGemini 59Shows but does not play DAB+ servicesPoor125
GrundigOpusShows but does not play DAB+ servicesPoor125
PureMove 1500Shows but does not play DAB+ servicesPoor116
BushCDAB431RDoes not show or play DAB+ servicesAverage*122
GoodmansGHDAB101Shows but does not play DAB+ servicesPoor125

*Note that Rupert measures both sets that present DAB+ services that can’t be tuned, and those who can’t tune them, so hide them, as both “Poor.” That’s true, but I think it’s a better user experience to hide services that can’t be tuned. It you see a service and tune to it, it looks like there’s either a problem with your radio, or perhaps the station is off-air.

In summary, the more expensive radios – the first three Roberts models – all did fine. Which is as well, since these are my most used radios, and also deliver by far the best sound. I’m unsurprised that none of the portable models tested works, but I do have a new Pure Move 2500 – untested because I left it at my parents’ house accidentally – which should give me DAB+. And none of my cheap models surprised me by revealing that they were indeed DAB+ compatible.

Two more thoughts on my testing:

– The test audio that SDL is currently broadcasting for Virgin Radio is truly awful in sound quality. While the service will only be 80k mono, it sounds like they’re playing a 32k mp3. Not the best way to show off a new service.

– My radios get a lot of Heart stations. And it’s not always easy to tell them apart. In order I get the following:

Heart – Herts, Beds & Buck
Heart – London 1
Heart Kt – Kent
Heart Su – Surrey
Heart Sx – Essex (esS eX – geddit!)

You’ll note that the first two are indistinguishable from the short version of the DAB label. I have to tune to one of them and then hit “info” a few times to determine which multiplex I’m listening to.

When Heart Extra launches in a few days that’ll be one more! (With the London breakfast show carried on the service competing with all the local Heart breakfast shows.)

I know that DAB labels aren’t easy to manage. I once battled with naming all the Absolute Radio services, trying to get radios to sort them in a logical order. Unfortunately, what’s logical on one radio, isn’t on another – different brands and models use different sorting algorithms! So trying to get Absolute Radio 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s, along with the main brand and classic rock, into a sensible order proved impossible.

The Encounter

The Encounter is a tour de force piece from actor, writer and director Simon McBurney and the Complicite theatre company. I confess that I mostly knew McBurney from his acting roles including the excellent Archdeacon Robert in the wonderful Rev with Tom Hollander, but you soon realise how accomplished he is simply from this one production.

It is simply overwhelming, and all the more remarkable for being in essence a one-man show. It makes remarkable use of enveloping the audience in binaural sound, taking us on a journey into the depths of the Amazonian rainforest.

McBurney begins very casually, the houselights are still-up and he notes the latecomers still finding their seats. We are warned once again (we’ve already had many warnings) that we really should turn our phones off or put them in airplane mode. The reason is not just as a courtesy to the actor, but because phones will inevitably cause interference on our headsets if audience members are receiving calls or texts.

And slowly we drift into the story. McBurney is going to tell us about the National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre, who in 1969 was dropped off deep in the jungle by the side of the river on assignment to photograph the Mayoruna people. Very quickly he found them, or rather they found him, but he foolishly got lost, having left most of his kit by the riverbank. He realised that he was going to have to rely on this tribe that he shared no language skills with in order to survive.

The play is based on the book Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu which records McIntyre’s story. But we’re also getting McBurney’s own telling of the story including “interruptions” from his daughter as he tries to deliver it.

This is fundamentally a play that uses sound remarkably well. As I mentioned, it uses binaural sound, but it also mixes in elements of pre-recorded music and speech, live sound effects, pre-recorded sound effects, and a whole host of different microphones both worn by McBurney but also placed at a table on the stage in an almost studio setting.

At the start of the show the technology is explained a little to us. The audience is suddenly in awe of the power of binaural audio, the incredible ability it offers via our brains to “place” the audio source around our heads, and the way we can be tricked into experiencing things that aren’t there. Then pre-recorded elements are added. And there are loop machines on the floor to create broader multiplying sound mixes. As well as a theatrical experience this is all a technical accomplishment.

As the story gets deeper so the sound becomes more all-encompassing. It’s clear that Mayoruna people have some very different beliefs, particularly in relation to time. At certain points we’re suddenly brought back to the present with recordings of the familiar sound of Professor Marcus du Sautoy talking about time in relation to physics. At other points, McBurney uses a phone to play back clips of conversations with Petru Popescu relating what McIntyre had told him.

McBurney has also been to Brazil to meet some of the descendants of the people in McIntyre’s book. All of this is infused throughout the piece.

A word on the technology. This does not look to be a simple undertaking. Both the wing’s of the circle at the Barbican Theatre were taken up by massive units that deliver the sound to the audience. The audience itself is some 500-600 and each member has a pair of Sennheiser headphones wired into their seats to listen through. Test audio is played on a loop at the start of the show to ensure that everyone gets their left and right the correct way around, and ensuring that duff headsets can be replaced ahead of the performance.

The headphones are Sennheiser HP 02-100s, and the sound quality is excellent. While wiring is fiddly, you don’t suffer from the hiss that wireless headsets often include. Indeed Sound Designer Gareth Fry explains that he didn’t believe that wireless provided the quality he was after with this production.

Centre stage is a dummy head – made by Sennheiser. It sits on a microphone stand and clearly has some very sensitive microphones places within it, because the effect is superb. More effects are delivered using, for example small speakers playing a mosquito sound and then waved around the head. And when at one point McBurney blows softly into one ear, you “feel” it through your headphones.

Additionally McBurney uses a pair of skin coloured theatrical microphones, and a couple of other microphones used for closer work. One of them has an effect applied to lower his tone and deliver the voice of McIntyre. The technicians and producers who are mixing all of these live microphones along with pre-recorded material that has to be carefully timed to match with McBurney’s live narration are superb. They are rightly recognised at the end of the show.

Entertainingly, the backdrop of the set has the look of an anechoic chamber – a room specially designed to be soundless. It’s used to good effect with light projections, if not to completely dull the sound since theatres are designed to do the opposite, and in any case, the production can solely be experienced through headphones.

I can’t say enough good things about this production. Regardless of your interest in the technical aspects of it, it’s simply a wonderfully powerful piece about a remarkable people, and their beliefs. Sound is used fulsomely to deliver some of their rituals, and as an audience you are simply captivated.

Superb!

The entire run at the Barbican is now sold out but The Encounter is going to be live streamed on Tuesday 1 March on the Complicite YouTube channel at 7.30pm GMT. Don’t forget that it’s essential to listen via headphones! I’d also recommend settling down in a nice quiet room with your other devices turned off and no interruptions. I’ve no idea if it’ll stay there on-demand afterwards, so I’d recommend being there for the performance if you’re going to watch and listen.

Complicite also has an excellent resource section on its website.

Spotlight

Spotlight tells they story of the Boston Globe investigate journalism unit – called “Spotlight” – who investigated the long-term cover-up of child abuse by a significant number of priests within the Catholic Church in Boston beginning in 2001.

The film is based very much on the Spotlight team in the newspaper itself, and details how the arrival of a new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) kick-started an investigation into something that was bubbling under but hadn’t truly been properly investigated.

The Spotlight team – played by Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery and Brian d’Arcy James – each take on elements on the investigation, trying to get witness and survivor testimonies, unsealing sealed court documents, and trying to persuade attorneys who have some idea of the scale to let them in.

The film isn’t showy in any way. There are no grand-standing performances where characters get overly “emotional.” It’s not even that cinematic. The week before seeing Spotlight, I re-watched All The President’s Men on DVD, and that film has many more flourishes – Deep Throat disappearing into the blackness of an underground carpark; wide shots across a large open plan news floor.

If the Spotlight team’s offices were as they’re presented here, then they were buried away in the building a bit, with just an outer room for the reporters and an office for their editor.

Nonetheless, you begin to feel the heat of the conservative Catholic hierarchy in Boston, with their fingers in most of the political pies. Nobody wants to own up to the extent of the issue, and how much work the church is doing to cover it up.

It’s not a confrontational film. To a large extent the “villain” of the piece is Cardinal Law, the Archbishop of Boston who eventually had to resign his position in covering up the sheer scale of the settlements the church had made. But we don’t meet many of the abusers themselves. One of the few we do seems to be a doddery old fool who doesn’t even seem to acknowledge that “fooling around” was in any way a bad thing. He hadn’t raped them after all! One of the reporters discovers that a building close to his family’s home is where some of these priests have been put out to water – kept out of harm’s way. He simply puts a photo of the house on his fridge door, with a warning to his kids to stay away.

This is a newspaper story, and some of the elements of urgency that we see come from the need to beat the rival paper to seeing documents that should be available to the public. In the aftermath the investigation is temporarily suspended while all hands are on deck reporting on that.

It’s a really fine film from Tom McCarthy, the actor turned director, who also co-wrote the script. Howard Shore’s score is very subtle, and sparsely used. A really good journalism film at a time when newspapers are sadly shutting up shop.

D2: All Coming Together

US 2014-90

NB. This is not a DAB radio. The picture above is of possibly the most beautiful radio I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s the Nocturne, made in 1935 by a US company called Sparton and designed in Art Deco style by Walter Dorwin Teague. This one sits in the Wolfsonian museum in Miami. If you want one, there’s a YouTube video showing a 2012 auction with one going for $34,000, so you may have to start saving. This radio has a whole website dedicated to it, where you’ll notice that teaser adverts for forthcoming new models are nothing new!

In my recent RAJAR post, I wrote a little about the second national commercial multiplex – Sound Digital – which is due to launch from the 29th February (with some services launching across the following month).

The full line-up of services has been announced, and we’re now getting a drip-feed of more details about who will be on those services.

First properly out of the gate is the new TalkRadio. I’ve long thought that UK radio is under-served by speech, with essentially four national speech services currently available. LBC was very late in the day in going national, but it has made a good fist of it, and in particular has delivered a lot of publicity by making a virtue of giving politicians of all hues their own shows.

TalkRadio looks like it’s going to be quite similar, but perhaps a little lighter in tone. Paul Ross, who seems to have had stints on just about every station going, but most recently on BBC Radio London’s breakfast show, will helm TalkRadio’s breakfast. Then comes Julia Hartley-Brewer, who has previously done a similar show on LBC. Sam Delaney moves over from TalkSport, and then there’s Iain Lee, who recently had a run-in with BBC Three Counties and left, with a return to late-night on TalkRadio being the obvious gig. However, I really could do without George Galloway though who I find abhorrent, and who has a tendency to take cash from the Iranian and Russian governments via their state broadcasters as well as say obnoxious things.

With LBC filled with ex-politicians like Iain Dale, occasional Newsnight presenter James O’Brien, former Five Live breakfast presenter Shelagh Fogerty and of course, Nick Ferrari, it feels like a slightly more current affairs driven service than TalkRadio.

The proof will be in the pudding of course, and with Dan Walker off from Five Live to BBC Breakfast, listeners may be exploring their dials to find something new to listen to.

Of course Five Live and TalkSport do have the advantage of analogue carriage. If you want TalkRadio, or LBC outside London, you do have to listen on a digital platform. That will affect audiences – particularly in-car because while new cars now nearly all come with DAB, the vast majority on the road don’t have it. But late nights in particular are going to be really interesting.

Next out the block is UTV’s other big new station, the reborn Virgin Radio. Considering I spent much of my working life at the original Virgin Radio (It launched in 1993, and I worked there from late 1996 until it re-branded in 2008), you might think that I have mixed views about this, but to be honest I don’t.

The big questions for me were always going to be: What kind of service would UTV offer, and was the Virgin Radio brand a bit passé in the UK? The new version of the station is interesting because UTV is a partner with Bauer Media (and Arqiva) in the multiplex, and Bauer’s Absolute Radio is the evolution of Virgin Radio. Christian O’Connell, Geoff Lloyd and Leona Graham are still there from the Virgin days, all in key shows. You would imagine that many of those legacy Virgin Radio listeners are now Absolute Radio listeners.

And whisper it, but I’m not sure Virgin is quite the sexy brand it once was. It’s a transport and finance brand these days, rather than record label and record store. Yes Virgin Atlantic is aspirational, and Virgin Media does a decent job. But it does feel a bit tarnished. Even the potential of Virgin Galactic has not been achieved.

Then there’s the marketplace for where a Virgin Radio music service might fit. While Virgin Radio isn’t a prescriptive service that comes with a set playlist – stations in Dubai and Thailand show that local Virgin Radios can be whatever the market dictates there’s a space for – there was a serious question about whether a relaunched Virgin should be recognisable from before, or something new. Should it just be Virgin Radio about ten years older? Well eight years on, anyway. Or do you disregard what Virgin Radio meant as a brand to listeners in the past, and do something new? If you choose the latter, what is the point of retaining the brand? I suppose the thinking is that like a movie studio relaunching a popular franchise for a new generation, the same can be true for a radio station.

Although I did see a UTV presentation recently that noted the continued strength of the Virgin Radio brand, that perhaps wasn’t surprising given the station’s previous life, and the fact that it had a very successful run with Chris Evans at the helm. And anyone who’s been through a station re-brand will know that old brands live on much longer in listeners minds than marketeers might perhaps hope.

Then there’s the question of the wider radio landscape and a new Virgin Radio’s place in it. As well as Absolute, in broadly the same musical area, there is the new Radio X with its massive marketing budget and big-name presenters, and BBC 6 Music which gets larger all the time and is undoubtedly the “cool” station of the day.

The announcement of the new Virgin Radio line-up suggests to me that they’re actually trying something a bit different! I will admit that I was surprised that UTV let Johnny Vaughan up and leave for Radio X, when they’d had him on contract for TalkSport, but budgets are always finite, and UTV will undoubtedly hae some realistic audience targets that take account of their distribution. So instead it looks like Liam Thompson, Virgin Radio’s Programme Director, is trying something much more interesting.

Having former Radio 1 presenter Edith Bowman at breakfast almost seems like a direct response to the “male-ness” of Radio X, or at least the marketing surrounding that station’s launch.

And putting Kate Lawler in the afternoon slot – formerly of Capital, Kerrang and more recently Bauer’s Big City network – compounds that feeling. National radio is certainly too male, remaining the Achilles heel of Radio 2. Of course it’s disappointing that it should even need to be noted that 2 out 4 daytime presenters are women, but that’s a reflection of our industry today.

Also in the line-up are people I’m less familiar with like Jamie East and Matt Richardson, neither of who’s output I’ve ever seen. This also suggests, that I’m outside the target market for the new Virgin.

Rounding things off is Tim Cocker, who many were disappointed to lose when Xfm rebranded, as he lost his Manchester breakfast slot.

Overall, this is a much more interesting Virgin Radio than I’d envisaged. Again, my fear is that there could be too much congestion for audiences, so marketing for this and the other new stations will be imperative. Cross promotion on Talk branded services might not be enough.

I’m still curious to see exactly what TalkSport 2’s schedule ends up looking like, and whether it’ll be closer to Five Live Sports Extra (some extra programming, but lots of filler/repeats when there’s nothing new), or whether it’ll be more of a full-service. The next UK radio rights package for the Premier League has yet to be announced, and TalkSport might try to take a little more to put something on their new service. But Championship football might be more affordable at a time when the company is making a lot of investment in UK radio, and ridding itself of television.

What press there has been for TalkSport 2 mentions cricket, football, golf, horse racing, tennis, rugby and US sport. They launch at the Cheltenham Festival, and that might suggest that afternoons will have a lot of racing. Putting US sport on overnight might be a smart idea. Five Live Sports Extra covered the NFL this season, and in the past, the World Series has been broadcast. The radio commentaries exist, and with baseball, NBA and NFL (maybe even MLS), it could be as simple as retransmitting those commentaries. I speak as someone who once upon a time used to tune into distant Armed Forces Network programmes on AM to drift off to sleep listening to baseball.

Overall though, UTV should have a much healthier network offering to sell to advertisers, and given that most of the market is driven by large “share deals” for Global and Bauer, this is imperative for them.

Elsewhere, it’s very sensible that instead of the originally planned TalkBusiness, UTV has done a deal for the slot with London station Share Radio. Their challenge will be finding that business niche and monetising it.

From Bauer, we have not one, but two Magic spin-offs. Mellow Magic (or, as it was briefly, and bizarrely known, “Magic Mellow”) is to be joined by Magic Chilled, perhaps a little bit of one-upmanship against the upcoming Heart Extra back on Digital One. I confidently expect these to work precisely as Absolute Radio’s digital brethren work with its main brand. While it remains to be seen whether that includes changing the breakfast show music as Absolute does for Christian O’Connell, I would expect the same Magic presenters to be voice-tracking some more specialist versions of the Magic oeuvre, with perhaps a couple of new names helping out. The Absolute Radio Network model has proved itself.

The rest of Bauer’s services are either stations shifted from Digital One, to a perhaps more cost-effective platform, or moved up from local DAB multiplexes, where Bauer has a substantial shareholding.

Nearly all the rest of the DAB services on D2 are spin-offs of existing services. So Premier gets a second service, Premier Praise, as its main brand shifts multiplexes too. UCB 2 is another Christian service, previously available in London, while Sunrise and Panjab move up to a national platform.

The only other completely new service seems to be Awesome Radio (previously called British Muslim Radio), coming from the people who run Asian Sound Radio in Manchester. You would imagine that they will be able to utilise existing studios and personnel to keep costs reasonable.

Finally there are the two other new DAB+ services. When Sound Digital won the multiplex, they only talked about a single DAB+ service, whereas rival bidder Listen2Digital was talking of offering 4 DAB+ services. The fact that the Sound Digital bid won without a named service in place, and that subsequently it was advertising for services willing to run in DAB+ was perhaps a little concerning.

DAB+ has always been a chicken and egg situation in the UK. Because DAB has been around since the end of the nineties, many radios in UK homes do not have DAB+ compatibility. In territories where digital has been adopted more recently, DAB+ was offered from the outset. While more recent models have included DAB+, if only because the radios were built for more than just the UK market, it isn’t clear what proportion of radio sets in use today are DAB+ compatible.

So while I’ve no doubt there’ll be some rough numbers kicking around, produced with the help of manufacturers, it’s still a leap of faith for a broadcast who wants to go DAB+ only. Some radios might be upgradeable, since the choice about whether to include the DAB+ codec was really more about the intellectual property licences payable rather than the hardware required. But how many consumers will actually seek out that information, and go to the effort of plugging memory sticks into USB ports?

Sound Digital’s solution is to offer two existing relatively niche services in DAB+, as well as the new Magic Chilled. Jazz FM’s was once available on Digital One, but latterly it was largely available online, with only some local DAB coverage. Getting national coverage is good for the service.

It’s a similar story with Fun Kids. They target an audience that even RAJAR doesn’t properly measure, and so they need to be careful about how they spend money on broadcast transmission.

You would imagine that all three services are getting a “good deal” from Sound Digital, with everyone watching with interest to see how successful the services are. Because if DAB+ is actually available more widely than previously realised, then we can expect more services to switch to it. It’s a more efficient use of the limited data available in DAB multiplex, and can offer – shock – stereo sound at a more affordable price to stations. Stereo is especially important to Jazz aficionados!

For what it’s worth, I’ve been retuning some of my own DAB sets at home, which are largely Roberts models, to receive the test Waves and Waves+ test stations. All three of my main radios are DAB+. But none of them are especially old. Other, older radios await a retune.

[Updated to reflect that Magic Chilled is also in DAB+]

[Update: I’ve now tested all my radios and the results are here.]

Shock News: Car Drivers Quite Like the Radio

Isle of Wight-7

It has been a bit of a bugbear of mine in recent years that car manufacturers who are busily building their “infotainment” systems (aka the ever more complex multimedia thing that sits where once you found a radio/cassette/CD player), don’t really know what their users want.

The speed of consumer technological developments does not align well to the lifespan of cars, so as first GPS and then Bluetooth came along, manufacturers slowly added these their vehicles. They foolishly tried to get into the app game – even though the technology underpinning their apps is significantly out of date by the time the first model leaves the first forecourt. And only very recently are they ever-so reluctantly ceding a certain amount of control to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – effectively turning over the car’s screen and controls to your phone. In the future, your much more up-to-date phone will power these systems and provide the heavy lifting.

But in the meantime, as systems have to do more – Bluetooth, mapping, streaming audio, voice control, contact lists, traffic, WiFi and so on – radio feels as if it has been relegated in importance.

Where once the only option you had in your car was the radio, it now feels like it’s almost consigned to a sub-menu on your in-car entertainment system. Literally in some instances.

In particular, AM radio is already disappearing from cars (although in the UK, at least, it’s replaced by DAB where for the most part, you can still get your favourite AM services).

My particular frustration was a conviction that vehicle manufacturers, who’s expertise is really engineering large vehicles, had no real knowledge about how their owners actually used these entertainment systems. Yes, give drivers options like streaming services, but are users actually using the radio for the most part?

Remember that in the UK RAJAR tells us that 22% of radio listening is in-car. And in the US, it’s the dominent place to listen – with 44% of listening happening there according to one report.

So it’s excellent news that RadioPlayer has conducted some research into how important in-car radios are.

Across UK, France and Germany they surveyed 1500 new car owners, and found that 82% of drivers would not consider buying a car without a radio. That in itself is perhaps not surprising, but these same drivers said that 75% of all in-car listening is to the radio, with 84% saying they always or mostly listen to the radio on every journey.

These are key findings because, while I wouldn’t foresee any manufacturer actively removing a radio from its models, the lure of the new sometimes blinds them as to what drivers are actually doing in their cars.

Yes – we might like to stream Spotify or listen to podcasts as well, but those all require a certain level of curation. Radio is simple. You press the button and only have to choose your preferred station. They handle everything else.

Indeed 69% of drivers said that given a choice, radio would be the one option they kept!

choose-one

This is a really useful piece of research, highlighting the importance of the medium. While your response might be: “Well, of course radio is important in-car!” I’d say that it’s always worth just pointing that out, which this piece of research does nicely.

Here’s a RadioPlayer infographic, and full details of the research are on their website.

car-research-infographic

Sell Me Personal Use Music Rights

I like making the odd video, and invariable, I prefer to use music on the soundtrack. Given that I’m not about to commission my own music for my little projects, I have two choices. I can either use a music track I already know, or I can go to a music library and for a relatively small amount, buy the rights to use a piece of music for my video. As long as it’s for personal use, the costs is usually pretty low.

Now here’s the thing: I much prefer to use music that I already know. Certainly there is good music to be found in some of the online libraries, but you really have to hunt for it. And it becomes quite a big procedure relying on the library’s categorisations to hunt down the sort of thing you want.

If you use music you already know, it’s a lot easier. You simply pick something from your own music library, that you’ve heard on the radio or whatever. If you don’t already have it, you buy a digital copy for 99p and away you go.

Except, you don’t have the rights.

If you upload the video to YouTube, Google will probably monetise your video for you, correctly sharing any revenue with the rights owner. But it may not, depending on what agreements it has with the appropriate rights owner. If Vimeo spots unlicensed music (and it’s a bit more hit or miss), it simply doesn’t allow it.

And these issues can vary by territory.

What would be great would be to be able to licence music I’ve actually heard of for personal use. So no monetisation by me of the video on YouTube, and no commercial use. But just so I can put some music I’ve heard on my little video. I’d be happy to be a few quid for this – more than the 99p the track would cost me from a download site. I’d happily include a licence code that could be checked. Artists and rights owners make more money (more than they’ll make from advertising on a video that will in the scheme of things get very few views), and I get to feel good about using music legally.

How about it?

NB. I did write about this previously, but the intervening few years, the problem remains, and I’ve not found a solution.