June, 2016

Tate Modern – Switch House

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The new extension of the Tate Modern has recently opened and I popped along on what I hoped would be a quiet day. It wasn’t – as there were hundreds of school kids around and about. The new extension, Switch House, is adjacent to the Boiler House (as the older part of the museum is known). The new extension is ten stories tall, and there are two banks of elevators to get you up it – except one set only goes up four stories. This is a bit of a problem as most people are trying to get up to the top. As a result, the lifts are crowded.

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But you can’t complain about the views up there. This is probably the best free skyline view in London. You’re out in the open – so no grubby hand prints on glass to deal with if you want a photo. It’s not ridiculously high up, but it’s high enough and affords good views across St Paul’s Cathedral, the City of London and out towards Canary Wharf.

There’s not such a good view looking west towards Westminster, but it’s still a nice place to see the city from.

Most entertainingly you can see directly in to the two residential tower blocks that sit alongside the Tate Modern. And when I say you can look in, it’s more voyeuristic than James Stewart in Rear Window. I can only imagine that the property values will be falling because either you put up blinds (removing the reason for buying that property in the first place), or you have to put up with thousands of people staring right into your apartment. I couldn’t help noticing that all the sitting areas closest to Switch House, look like they’re straight out of a magazine cover shoot. They don’t look lived in.

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Inside the new extension, you have to go down quite a few floor before you reach any new space actually being used as an exhibition area. The halls are light and airy, although the staircase is narrow. The building opens up lower down, and you end up in the tanks at the bottom which are cavernous areas that amazing things can be done in.

Well worth visiting, although I fear the viewing gallery might need some kind of queuing system in the height of the summer or school holidays!

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Cycling in the City

Cycling in the City from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

Here’s a short film I shot with my Super 8 camera about four years ago that somehow hadn’t previously seen the light of day. The film was basically shot on my commute to work along the cycle paths of Bloomsbury and around Tavistock Square. Unfortunately, I didn’t use the correct filter for my daylight film, so some remedial colour correction has been necessary.

A Timelapse of 25 Great Pulteney Street, London

25 Great Pulteney Street – Timelapse from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

Do you ever embark on a project that somehow you never quite get around to completing?

I certainly do. And here, finally, is a project that I’ve completed some six years after I started it.

This begins back in 2010 when I was still working for Absolute Radio in One Golden Square, Soho, London. I sat at the back of the fourth floor, windows behind me looking across the Soho alleyway that is Bridle Lane and towards a building on Great Pulteney Street beyond. The fairly ugly building from the 1960s at 25 Great Pulteney Street had once been home to the agency Starcom Motive. But they’d long moved out, and the building had been empty for at least two years. When Google Street View’s team passed it in 2008, the building was boarded up, and that was still the case by 2010.

Now finally the developers were moving in, and it looked like something was happening with the building. I brought in an old Canon A470 digital camera, bought cheaply on eBay, and loaded a memory card with CHDK – the alternative firmware that would provide my camera with timelapse facilties. I also bought an external power supply and suction camera mount.

Over the next year and a half, between April 2010 and October 2011, I set the camera taking photos – first of the demolition of the building, and then of the new building rising in its place. I wasn’t consistent in either the location of the camera, the frequency of it taking photos, or what it was pointing at. When I went on holiday, I made sure to keep the number of photos a day low to ensure the memory card didn’t fill.

In retrospect, there are a lot of things I’d have done differently, including changing the aspect ratio, the photo size and so on. I was left limited in what I could do with zooming or panning across scenes. The camera was also limited in its angle of view from my window, and the camera was often mounted on a slight angle. The buildings were too close and the lens not wide enough to capture everything in one shot. The window meant reflections, and it wasn’t perfect either – neither clean nor unscratched.

Over the course of having the camera in my window, I had to ensure that cleaners at Absolute didn’t unplug it. The suction of my suction mount would invariably fail over time, and I’d come into work to find the camera on the floor. On one occasion the fall was “fatal” and I bought an identical replacement on eBay to continue the project.

In total I ended up with something like 250,000 photos. I wrangled them into something useable with Quicktime Pro, getting MP4 files from my JPGs. On underpowered PCs, this was a slow process.

Finally I had a collection of 102 files, taking up about 10GB. And then I sat on the videos. I couldn’t say way exactly. I suspect that I found it a little daunting. I knew that there was too much video and it needed editing down, although it wasn’t really a big job. I had to find some music – two tracks. One for the demolition, and another for the new building. I’ve sped many of the clips up further, removed nights for the most part, when as already mentioned, reflections of my office were a problem.

Finally it should be said that this is by no means every minute or day of the building being demolished and rebuilt. But it’s lots of it.

And so it is, that some years after capturing this footage over many many months, I’ve pieced together this video! I hope you enjoy it.

Notes and Further reading:

The architects were WilkinsonEyre, and they have a nice project page with some lovely photos of the finished building.

The building is reported to have cost £9.5m to complete, and was for the client F&C Property Asset Management (now BMO Real Estate Partners)

The front of the building has some interactive railings in a piece called Finial Response designed by Cinimod Studio.

EU Referendum: Immediate Post Mortem Thoughts

Women's Tour of Britain - Stage 4 - Cheshunt to Welwyn via Hertford-1

  • Cameron has to take a massive amount of blame for all of this. He probably didn’t think he was going to win the last General Election, and therefore including something in his manifesto to keep UKIP at bay was probably just a sop to them. But he won unexpectedly and so felt he had to carry through to prevent party divisions. This despite knowing it was a dangerous ploy, despite knowing that this is a complicated argument to make to the electorate, and despite nearly losing the Scottish referendum previously. He didn’t make the case strongly enough, and he’s now fallen on his sword, possibly to be remembered as the prime minister who ended our membership of the EU, saw the end of the Union, and possibly worse.
  • Osborne must be a dead duck. His Project Fear didn’t work. The “emergency budget” he talked about was just too extreme to be taken seriously. I don’t doubt that there will need to be remedial action, and we’ll find out in the days and weeks what that’ll be. But he over-egged the pudding, and voters saw through it. He was planning to be the next PM, but now his career must be in tatters.
  • Remain did not remotely make their case. It’s hard to prove a negative, and easier to say we should do something rather than continue as we are: “Something must be done!” But there’s no doubt that the Remain campaign was abysmal. It’s now pretty clear that while they reached the educated population, who understands why the economy is important. To many less educated, that’s just a nebulous thing. As the exchange rate tanks this morning, to many people that only really matters to them when it comes to changing some holiday money. They don’t think it affects them. The importance of the EU on jobs and trade wasn’t made clear in a way that reached the politically illiterate. There are a lot of people I’d class in that group. They will get out and vote, even if they don’t truly understand what they’re voting for. That’s not the whole story of course, but for some it truly is as you heard people giving the most awful reasons for leaving during the campaign.
  • Jeremy Corbyn was useless. I’m sorry — I’m sure he was a lovely guy — but he didn’t lead from the front. In the early part of the campaign there was silence from Labour, because the whole thing seemed to be about in-fighting Tories. They woke up a bit latterly, but there’s a suspicion that he’s actually a bit of a Eurosceptic. His call for invoking Article 50 immediately seems misplaced. But mostly, it was about not campaigning hard enough or loud enough. You need more charisma than he seems to exude. While I’m sure he’s a compelling speaker in a hall somewhere, most voters only see or hear candidates on television. I can’t think he really thought a Leave win would so damage the Tories, that Labour would be able to win through the middle. He must be wondering if Labour are going to replace him in time for any general election that might follow the Conservatives choosing a new Prime Minister, because I can’t see him prospering in the next election.
  • Immigration. The dirty word that Leave bandied around the whole time, but that Remain did little to really counter. When it comes down to it, this is the issue. Whether people really think they’re losing their jobs, or there’s just a little bit of racism, I’m not sure. I suspect some of both. But this was the key issue.
  • No facts. Electors were being asked to make a decision about something they didn’t really understand. This goes back to Cameron calling a referendum in the first place. But with a biased printed press, and a broadcast media forced to play a straight bat and counter any claim with a counter claim, it left people with little real understanding and no way to tell truth from lies.

In the meantime, the nearest A&E to me has closed down, and is currently being redeveloped as housing. And the only other hospital in my borough with an A&E department is now described as “unsafe” and “unsupported.” So I’m looking forward to learning in which week we’re going to get a shiny new hospital as promised by Leave. We’ll ignore the nitty gritty about not being in power, and there not being any staff to support such a new facility – at least not without lots of immigration.

boris

John Oliver on Brexit

On Sunday night, HBO in the US aired a new episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The second half of the show was a long explanation/opinion piece from Oliver about what Brexit is (this is a show aimed at Americans after all), and was essentially a 15 minute piece imploring Britain to Vote Remain. It’s very good and hits the nail on the head.

On Monday morning the HBO had posted the full 15 minutes on YouTube.

In fact some of the videos from Last Week Tonight put on YouTube are blocked in the UK by the uploader – i.e. HBO. But this one wasn’t. The reason is almost certainly because Sky Atlantic has the rights to the show in the UK, and Sky prefers to limit access to clips from the show to its own subscribers.

But in this instance, UK viewers could watch — almost certainly because Oliver and his producers knew that the piece wouldn’t be broadcastable in the UK until the Brexit referendum had finished.

I noticed quite early on Monday that the piece was unbroadcastable under UK election guidelines, and later on Monday, Sky Atlantic pulled its planned broadcast from Monday night when new episodes of the show usually air. Sky Atlantic will instead broadcast the show on Thursday after polls close.

Now if you were to believe a certain section of the “Twittersphere” this is because Sky is owned by Rupert Murdoch, and his papers in particular are rampantly “Leave.”

But the truth is that Sky Atlantic couldn’t have shown the programme whether or not they had wanted to (Murdoch doesn’t fully own Sky either, although he certainly exercises a lot of control).

In the UK we have strict rules about impartiality in the run-up to an election or referendum. The UK regulator Ofcom, publishes a Broadcast Code which all UK commercial broadcasters have to adhere to (The BBC also adheres to some parts of the code).

Section Six of the code deals with Elections and Referendums, and is based on UK law:

Relevant legislation includes, in particular, sections 319(2)(c) and 320 of the Communications Act 2003, and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Broadcasters should also have regard to relevant sections of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (as amended) (“RPA”) – see in particular sections 66A, 92 and 93 (which is amended by section 144 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000).

Ofcom told broadcasters earlier this year that the “referendum period” would run from 15 April 2016 until 10pm 23 June 2016.

Rule 6.3 is critical during this time:

Due weight must be given to designated organisations in coverage during the referendum period. Broadcasters must also consider giving appropriate coverage to other permitted participants with significant views and perspectives.

It’s pretty clear that Sky Atlantic wouldn’t have been able to balance John Oliver’s piece appropriately, and so, they postponed the episode until after the election.

Topical comedy programmes are always tricky during election periods, and it’s notable that the current run of Have I Got News For You has been interrupted until after the referendum now. You can broadcast topical comedy, but you have to have “balance” in your comedy too.

What if Sky had broadcast the programme anyway? What could have happened?

Well Ofcom regularly finds broadcasters in breach of it’s code. Only this week the Discovery owned Quest (and Quest+1) channel was found to have breached several rules when they broadcast a post-watershed programme, complete with multiple swearwords, in an early-morning pre-watershed slot.

In this instance, the finding was simply a rap on the knuckles (Discovery was extremely apologetic, and put in place new compliance procedures to ensure that the mistake was not repeated), but no further sanction. Broadcasters who repeatedly breach rules can face fines or in extreme cases, have their broadcast licences revoked. In essence they can be shut down. This is rare, and for the most part has only happened to adult channels who have repeatedly breached rules. But a multi-billion pound broadcaster like Sky, reporting to shareholders, cannot possibly risk the loss of its licence.

You can be certain that Ofcom and potentially the Crown Prosecution Service would take greater exception to rules surrounding elections and referendums being broken by a large broadcaster. The Representation of the People Act would potentially leave senior people at an infringing broadcaster personally responsible for illegal actions, and subject to being prosecuted under the law.

Indeed, here’s what Ofcom published with respect to a much smaller local election recently:

Ofcom will consider any breach arising from election-related programming to be potentially serious, and will consider taking regulatory action, as appropriate, in such cases, including considering the imposition of a statutory sanction. (i.e. the removal of a broadcast licence.)

Furthermore, the fine that Ofcom can choose to impose can be informed by that company’s turnover. Sky’s 2015 turnover was around £11.3bn.

Since broadcasting the Oliver piece without “balance” would be deemed quite deliberate by Sky, the cumulative fine, risk to broadcast licence and the potential for personal prosecution means that there was no way Sky was ever going to broadcast it.

It’s not a conspiracy — just the law.

Note: I’m not a lawyer, and these are just my interpretation of the rules as I understand them.

The Secret Listeners of Trent Park

Trent Park Campus from the Air

Last night I heard a man named Fritz Lustig speak.

Fritz is 96. He came to Britain in 1939, as a refugee escaping Hitler’s Germany, where his family were classified as “non-Aryans” – an immigrant who was seeking asylum, if you like.

At first, like most Germans in Britain, he was interned once war was declared. But in due course he was allowed to work for the war effort, eventually joining intelligence and becoming a “secret listener.”

The meeting I was attending was a campaigning group working to Save Trent Park. The park, close to where I live, comprises of a large mansion house built in 1923 for Sir Philip Sassoon, and surrounding parkland.

During the Second World War, the mansion house became a prisoner of war camp for very senior German generals and other high-ranking officers. They were imprisoned in relative comfort, with the freedom to walk around the grounds.

Why did the British show such leniency to these people? Because they were lulling them into a false sense of security and had actually secretly placed microphones all around the building – both inside and out.

The “guests” as they were known, would discuss military secrets, while down in the mansion house basement, teams of German translators were listening in around the clock, recording and writing down what was said, and producing thousands of pages of transcripts. Secrets revealed included early knowledge of the production of the V1, V2 and the V3, as well as Germany’s work on an atomic bomb.

Trent Park and its two sister sites could be thought of as relations to Bletchley Park where of course code-breaking was carried out during the war. All were providing vital information and secrets to the Allied war effort.

Fritz talked eloquently for a 96 year-old, and he is one of only two “secret listeners” still left alive. His work for the war effort was essential.

And of course, this came on the day that MP Jo Cox had been murdered in the town of Birstall in her home constituency. While I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, want to draw any direct correlation between what Jo stood for, including her support for Syrian refugees, and why she was murdered, I couldn’t help think of a different age when fascists were on the rise across Europe, and Britain took in something like 70,000 Jews (Although I wouldn’t want to pretend that many thousands more struggled to find a country willing to accept them).

The fact that so many of these Germans, like Fritz, then went on to do critical work to defeat Hitler is also not lost on me.


The Save Trent Park campaign group is working towards turning part of the site into a museum to celebrate its importance in the war effort.

I remember the site being used by the then Middlesex Polytechnic – once attending a series of holiday music workshops for children. Then it became a full campus for Middlesex University who finally left the site in 2012, selling it to a Malaysian University. This didn’t go well, and the site was never used. Finally, last year, it was bought by Berkeley Homes. But there has always been an educational requirement for using the land, and Berkeley will need to adhere to that in at least some form.

The debate now is what proportion of the mansion is turned over to become a museum. Berkeley plans to knock down some fairly ugly 1960s and 70s building, and put up in the region of 270 housing units. They’ve yet to submit their formal application and it seems clear from last night’s meeting that they’re thinking of a fairly low-key museum, whereas supporters of the Save Trent Park group are thinking of something rather more along the lines of Bletchley Park, the CEO of which was at last night’s meeting.

I must admit that I’m still trying to work out how a fairly exclusive enclave (the properties might cost £1m each) can co-exist with a tourist attraction, and I was slightly worried about inferences that the museum might be too popular. All the properties will be set well away from the main road in glorious countryside at the end of the Piccadilly Line. There’s no doubt this will be an exclusive place. We’ll see.

You can read more about Fritz Lustig’s story here.

 

Euro 2016 – Staying on TV

As Euro 2016 kicks off in France tonight, my inbox has become flooded with nonsense PR stories. My email address has recently been sold to a number of PR agencies and I get a wide variety of emails asking me if I’m interested in writing about things I’m not interested in writing about.

I silently archive them all, but one company keeps popping up with some ludicrous claims about the end of TV as we know it.

This was the lead line (I won’t mention the company specifically):

“Euro 2016 will likely be the final major international football tournament aired exclusively on television”

Well a few things to say about that:

  • This tournament won’t exclusively be on TV anyway. Both the BBC and ITV in the UK will be streaming their live matches on their websites and in their apps alongside their regular broadcasts.
  • The BBC and ITV already have the rights for FIFA World Cups 2018 and 2022, and Euro 2020.
  • Both the Euros and the World Cup are Listed Events – and have to be shown on free-to-air broadcast TV in their entirety.

So it would take a review of Listed Events (they’ve tried before, and quietly parked the idea), and the broadcasters who already have the television rights choosing not to broadcast them for some reason despite both of them having plenty of capacity.

I’ve no doubt that more people will watch on more devices than ever before, but those internet-connected devices aren’t going to usurp the broadcast audience any time soon.

The press release goes on to highlight lots of irrelevances:

  • La Liga broadcast a game live. They don’t highlight the fact that it was a women’s fixture. Until recently, women’s football wasn’t broadcast at all in the UK. So it’s great that there’s increased exposure for a game that is generally poorly covered.
  • Twitter is streaming Thursday night NFL games. Those would be the games that are being broadcast on the NBC and CBS television networks. The NFL knows how to disaggregate its rights to its best advantage like few other sports organisations. Sure they want some Silicon Valley cash!
  • BT Sport simulcast its European cup competition finals on YouTube. As I’ve noted elsewhere, that was to keep UEFA happy and try to reach a decent sized audience when relatively few knew about their free-to-air channels.

Marketing Week recently carried a great piece noting the inequality of counting BARB measured TV audiences versus 3 second views on Facebook or other streaming platforms. They’re not the same and they shouldn’t be compared.

Last October, for example, Yahoo claimed its livestream of an American Football game attracted 15 million viewers. That’s an impressive debut given the average TV game garners 18 million. But this is not an apples to apples comparison, it is an apples to orange skins stuffed with bullshit comparison.

While 15 million different people did indeed, at some point, briefly encounter the coverage, the average audience per minute for the livestream was only 1.6 million viewers – less than a 10th of the typical TV audience.

Every time you see a digital video “audience” it is crucial to query the metric being used to define it. For example, we know thanks to BT that the Champions League final at the weekend was “watched” in this country by a total of 4.3 million people on TV and a further 1.8 million on digital platforms. Yet BT used BARB data for TV – so someone had to tune in for a least 30 seconds in a minute to be counted as viewer – while the digital figure is a “unique view” and “not done on time like BARB”.

So let’s not be stupid about all of this.

Is streaming growing? Certainly.

Is broadcast still dominant? Absolutely.

Will streaming one day beat broadcast. Quite probably – but that day is still a long way off.

Finally, just consider the last time you had internet problems? Perhaps you had no coverage somewhere rural (or urban!), or data went down on the network, or you were in a busy area, or you had to wait two weeks dealing with BT Openreach to get your broadband up and running, or… The list goes on.

Yet your local TV broadcast mast is probably really pretty good. The worst I ever get, is some satellite break-up in particularly heavy rain. The technology is incredibly robust.

Streaming will dominate eventually. But not yet.