August, 2016

HTC 10 – Initial Thoughts

This is my fifth HTC device, although it has been a while since my last. That was an HTC One X, which was pretty decent in its day, although the camera was fairly average. Sometime before that, I also owned an HTC Desire, Orange SPV 500 (aka the HTC Typhoon) and an Orange SPV M500 (HTC Magician) complete with stylus.

More recently I have been using a Nexus 5 (made by LG), which was excellent except that I had serious battery issues with it, and eventually had to abandon it for those reasons. My most recent phone has been a Sony Xperia Z3 Compact (Z3C).

In point of fact, I’d remained pretty satisfied with my Sony, until a couple of faults occurred. The first was the failure of the headphone jack. I’d actually already had a warranty replacement of the Z3C over this failure. So it was disappointing when it happened a second time.

Since playing audio is a vital function of a phone for me – perhaps the most vital function – I had to find a workaround. This was a small Sony SBH54 Bluetooth adapter. Essentially this little device allows any headphones to be connected via Bluetooth. It was a workaround, albeit a pricey one. (Incidentally, expect to see more of these if the next generation of iPhones do actually come without a 3.5mm jack socket.)

For the most part audio quality on the Bluetooth accessory was excellent, and connectivity was generally good. Sometimes in built-up areas, you’d struggle for a few seconds to get a solid signal. The only slightly annoying thing is that you’re stuck with the device’s default ringtone, which really isn’t great. And of course, you need to keep the device charged. If it goes flat (and it doesn’t give you much warning that it has low battery), then you’re without audio. All in all, nice to have, but a wired connection is more reliable.

I would have persevered longer with the Z3C had I not dropped the phone and seemingly broken the proximity sensor. This is very annoying. The proximity sensor is the thing that turns off your screen when you put your smartphone to your ear. You don’t want your earlobe dialling other numbers for example.

When my proximity sensor broke, it meant that as soon as a call connected, the screen turned off, and none of the physical buttons would turn it back on. This meant, for example, that you had to wait for a caller to hang up. And if you needed to press the keypad during a call to an automated switchboard or your voicemail? Well good luck.

In fact, searches online showed me that firm pressure in the top right hand corned of the screen where the proximity sensor sits, reactivated the screen. But this was an added issue, and in any case, didn’t always work for me. While 18 months isn’t quite the life expectancy I would want to get out a phone, it was time for a new one. I subsequently learnt that disappointingly, Sony hadn’t included the Z3C on its Android N upgrade path either.

Now I don’t actually look forward to upgrading my phone. It’s a time-consuming process. Really time-consuming.

While Google Play attempts to reload all your regular apps, you have to re-sign into all your services, and I have to work hard to keep all my audio in place. It’s a much simpler process with Apple, and I wish it was easier on Android.

These days I actually end up taking photos of the layout of my phones home-screens – which apps I’ve gathered together, and so on. It’s a hassle.

The good news is that since I now buy phones SIM free, I’m not in a contract, and don’t have to worry about where I am in a contract cycle. And more importantly, many of the major 2016 Android phones have already been launched, so there’s a good selection out there. That said, like buying a PC, there’s always a new model on the horizon.

Nope, I wouldn’t consider an iPhone. I like and understand the Android ecosystem fully, and you tend to get better value with Android hardware. Plus I’ve invested in the ecosystem, paying for apps that still work happily on my new device, and that I’d need to rebuy if I switched to Apple.

You also don’t own the same phone as the rest of the world.

But mainly, I have a general dislike of Apple’s way of locking you into their ecosystem, them deciding what you can and can’t do with your device. They’re also right at the top-end price-wise (all that un-taxed income!), and iTunes is of course, the work of the devil…

So it was always going to be an Android phone, but which one?

Here are my needs:

  • A good camera
  • 32GB minimum on board
  • MicroSD card slot
  • Good battery life
  • Fast processor
  • Not a phablet – I want to put it in a trouser pocket
  • [Later] Headphone socket

A decent camera is vital. Your phone is always the camera you have with you – and I speak as someone who carries a Sony RX100M3 an awful lot. Phones with RAW capability are on the market now, and I’m looking for that flexibility and power.

Seriously, who even makes phone with less than 32GB these days? To be honest 64GB should be standard, but the need for MicroSD storage sort of puts paid to that. I currently use a 128GB card and it’s often close to full. That’s because I store a lot of podcasts, audiobooks and offline Google Play Music audio on it. That’s before you get to the more usual things like photos and video.

Battery life is always essential, and my Z3C really came through here with loads of life. Yes – I’m still putting the phone on charge each night, but for those times when you need that extra power, a bigger battery wins over a thinner phone.

A fast processor is more about making sure that the phone isn’t sluggish. I don’t really play games on my phone, but I do the occasional bit of photo processing on it, and that takes CPU power especially when paired with RAW files.

And the thing needs to be pocketable. Phones are getting larger and larger these days, but I want something that is easy to carry around.

[Later] A headphone socket because guess what, wired headphones – the ones I already have – are great. I’ve been using wireless headphones for a while since my old Xperia’s headphone socket broke (a design flaw of the phone rather than of the jack), and having an extra thing to charge is just maddening.

Narrowing down my options I had the following shortlist:

  • Samsung Galaxy S7
  • OnePlus 3
  • HTC 10
  • Sony Xperia X
  • LG G5
  • Wait for a new Nexus device (or whatever it ends up being called)

The Sony Xperia X could quickly be discarded. Originally priced close to the other flagships, it has since been discounted a bit. But it’s just not much of an evolution of recent Xperia devices. In particular, it doesn’t use the top-end Snapdragon 820 processor that most of the others use, instead having a mid-range one. That’s fine in a mid-range phone, but this isn’t priced as such. If I was searching for a £150 phone (e.g. a Moto G4), then this would be fine. But I’m not.

The phone seems generally fine, but it feels like Sony missed a trick. There is an Xperia X Performance which has been released to right some of these wrongs, but it’s also priced high. Plus those Z3C headphone issues have really burnt me. It seems to have been a known issue, and it really damaged my enjoyment of an otherwise excellent phone.

The OnePlus 3 has many things going for it. Even with the recent post-Brexit price increase, it’s still much cheaper than its competitors with a strong package onboard. I even like the fact that it has a dual-SIM which is useful for holidays or trips abroad. But while it comes as standard with 64GB of onboard storage, there’s no microSD slot. That’s a deal breaker for me, as I don’t ever want to be faced with storage issues on my phone. There are 200GB microSD cards on the market now for goodness’ sake.

The LG G5 might be a serious contender. It has come down a bit in price recently, and the Nexus 5 they built for Google remains one of the best phones I’ve ever owned. A good package and worth considering.

The HTC 10 has some excellent specs, and the camera seems like it’s almost best in class. Perhaps the Samsung betters it. It has expandable storage, and HTC has messed around very little with stock Android which is a good thing. The sound capabilities are also said to be very good. Another contender.

Samsung’s Galaxy series are always strong, and the S7 is no slouch. The use their own processors, but the camera is said to be excellent, and they’ve reintroduced microSD storage. The only thing stopping me is the premium price. Samsung doesn’t have to discount this, so they don’t. And Samsung does mess around with stock Android more than most. If I really wanted to be flash, there’s the Edge model, but that’s just ludicrously expensive, for fairly limited practical advantage.

Finally, there’s waiting for a new device, particularly one of the new Nexus devices from Google coming soon (and maybe not called “Nexus”). Waiting can be a fool’s game. Yes, you get Android N, but then some apps will take time to get support and so on. More pertinently, Nexus devices have hitherto come without expandable storage. And for my phone, that’s a deal-breaker. For a tablet mostly used at home, like my Nexus 7, 32GB (or 64GB) will suffice. (Incidentally, I’d really love to see a replacement for the Nexus 7. Superb quality at a great price.)

There are other phones of course, but it was always going to be between these ones. It must be said that some of the price issues diminish if you use an online Hong Kong-based retailer. Many of the shopping ads on Google with the best prices tend to be these guys. The problem is that you may or may not be hit with VAT and import duty when you receive the phone (these guys are definitely trying to avoid it), and your warranty may well not work over here. That could mean shipping your phone back to Hong Kong should you experience any difficulties. Buyer beware.

In the end, I plumped for the HTC 10. Despite HTC going through some tough times with their phones, this seems like a good one. A £100 off summer offer was enough to swing it for me. And theirs seems to be the only phone taking advantage of adoptable storage – in effect making the phone 160GB (32GB + 128GB microSD) in a single storage area.

So what are my initial thoughts?

Well the phone is really nice. It’s a large beast, coming after owning a Z3C for so, long, but not overly. I can still put it in either my trouser or shirt pocket. I tend not to wear suit jackets at work, so being pocketable is important.

The camera is really very nice, although I’ve really only experimented with it so far. But I’m impressed. If you do shoot in RAW, the only thing to note is that there is a “processing” delay before you can take another shot. But also note that RAW is actually RAW+JPG since it’s almost certain that none of your phone’s apps can handle the DNG formatted RAW file. Lightroom Mobile is the only app I have that seems to work with the format.

I liked the physical camera button that the Z3C had. You either used it as a shutter button in the camera app, or to quick start the phone from screen off into the camera app. I changed the function of the volume buttons to be the shutter on the HTC 10, but to get into the camera quickly, two swipes on the blank screen are required.

Indeed double tapping the screen when off can turn the phone on, and while this is nice, it can cause problems. I found myself accidentally turning it on from a pocket on more than one occasion. I may disable that function.

The implementation of Android M is fine, with relatively little messing around. I was impressed with the fingerprint reader which does unlock the phone very quickly.

The phone’s sound is excellent. Recent HTC phones have had “Boomsound” speakers front facing. On the HTC 10 they aren’t front-facing, but without headphones, still sound great. If you plug in the headphones that are packaged with the phone, then the sound is simply magnificent.

While I’m not an audiophile, I do care about decent sound, and the HTC 10 has better sound than I’ve ever heard from a mobile. The supplied headphones really are excellent as well. Another “quirk” of my Z3C had been finding any headphone/microphone combos beyond those supplied with the device, that worked properly with the phone. I don’t need to look for third party phones with this device since they’re just so good. A small button on the microphone lets you pause, answer calls and other things. A really nice package.

I must confess that I’m still getting my head around adoptable storage in Android M. As mentioned. this allows you to treat microSD card storage as if it was internal. I thought I’d be presented with a single storage space, but that’s not quite true. For example, I use the BBC Weather widget on my homescreen, but that needs to be stored on the device and not the SD card – even under adoptable storage – for you to be able to display it. So there’s a bit of rummaging around to move apps about. Still, I no longer face the interminable bore of moving apps back to the SD card every time they update, as I did previously.

The phone is mostly devoid of unnecessary and unasked for apps. However Facebook is there, as is its Messenger app – the latter seemingly not uninstallable despite my best efforts! (I refuse to succumb).

Probably the most disruptive thing about the HTC 10 is the use of USB-C charging. While I’m firmly in favour of this new format – assuming that third party manufacturers start building proper cables – this does cause some new short term issues. Nearly all my devices are micro USB charged currently, and that means it’s easy to bring one charger (I tend to use the slimline folding Muo Duo chargers) and a couple of micro USB cables wherever I go. They recharge everything from phone to camera to Garmin to tablet to bike lights. Yes, getting the cable the right way around is fiddly, and yes, I’ve damaged plenty of wires over time. But at home I also have a nice Anker 5 Port charger in my living room to meet all my charging needs.

The phone comes with a quick charger and this is excellent. It has found a place by my bedside table. That said, I miss the cradle I used for my Z3C, and the wireless charging capabilities of my Nexus 5. I may pick up an unofficial device if I can find one that will work with my case. Other 2A chargers such as those mentioned work well, but I did buy a few spare USB C cables to scatter around my home and put in my bag so that I’m never far a charging solution.

Otherwise everything looks good. The phone works fast, and holds charge for a solid day or so. Clearly your usage and experience will differ, but for me it perhaps last a little less than my Z3C, but still satisfactory. The screen is lovely, and call quality is fine. I had no problems with either WiFi or Bluetooth, although NFC isn’t perhaps quite as good as on the Z3C – I use it to pair with Bluetooth headphones and speakers at home. And sadly there’s no FM radio on the phone, but in truth, I now carry a pocket DAB radio for that. I wait in hope that phones aside from a single mid-range LG model, begin to come with this as standard. A good stereo DAB or DAB+ service could sound awesome through this device’s audio circuitry.

But those are small gripes. Overall I’m very pleased with the device. The camera and especially the audio quality are remarkably good and worth it alone for that!

The Music Industry As Depicted in TV Dramas

We may currently being experiencing peak TV, but even that doesn’t really explain the recent glut of TV series set around the music industry.

A couple of weeks ago, Netflix’s new magnum opus was released – The Get Down from Baz Luhrmann. The series is rumoured to have cost a record amount, at least on a per episode business. And based on the first 90 minute episode that I’ve watched so far, this is sort of understandable.

It’s set in 1977 and seems to focus on a group of youngsters basically discovering the birth of hip-hop. The characters are part fictional and part based on real characters like Grandmaster Flash, who is also an executive producer.

Meanwhile HBO has cancelled the at-first-renewed Vinyl. This also had a lot of weight behind it, with a pilot from Martin Scorsese, and input from Mick Jagger. This was set in a New York record label slightly earlier in the 70s, as they basically started to discover disco and punk. The series mixed fake bands on the fake record label, but was set against the backdrop of real artists like Led Zeppelin and David Bowie.

Meanwhile Showtime’s Roadies, comes from no less than Cameron Crowe, but is this time set in the present day. But even it has callbacks to the 70s, an episode featuring a flashback to one of the crew’s early life when he was supposedly working for Lynyrd Skynyrd, and in particular Ronnie Van Zant. Another episode revisited the tragedy that occurred in 1979 at a concert by The Who in Cincinnati.

It is peculiar that all of these big projects, each backed by major Hollywood directors, should all arrive on the small screen at the same time. In Hollywood lingo, they probably all count as “passion projects” because part of the reason they’re made is that big names, and often, big stars come attached. Networks love the glamour and commission them. But why now, and why all at once?

I suspect that it’s because at a certain level, studio executives are in their late forties and early fifties, and this period has a particular appeal because these people were discovering music then. Plus the music industry was rawer; there were groupies and drugs, and there was an enormous amount of money to be made.

I’m not saying that’s not still the same, but not to the same extent. Sure, if you’re Taylor Swift (who in Roadies, has seemingly performed a concert in space!) the glitz and the glamour is perhaps bigger than ever, but let’s face it, what money there still is in the music industry is far more polarised, the rich getting much richer, and everyone else having to work harder to make a living.

I confess that I’m watching or have watched all these series. Vinyl was probably rightly cancelled as its direction just wasn’t clear enough. While Bobby Cannavale’s coke snorting record exec Richie Finestra was an entertaining and off the wall character, tales of excess only go so far in storytelling. Plus when a character is murdered after a drink and drugs binge, you haven’t really got anywhere else to go. And the series missed a trick in not properly developing its female characters, with Olivia Wilde as Richie’s wife Devon, being particularly underutilised.

I’ve enjoyed Roadies a lot more. It doesn’t take itself quite as seriously, and I suspect presents the dullness of life on the road with a band relatively accurately. I’m not sure who the fictional Staton-House Band are supposed to be analogous to, but there are lots of those white middle-of-the-road bands in the US that basically don’t cut through much beyond the US market. The Dave Matthews Band perhaps? In the final episode, a number of stars playing themselves appear and I found myself Googling an awful lot of them, trying to work out who they are. Cameron Crowe has clearly pulled in lots of favours from lots of friends.

Indeed throughout, the series had a nice line in including real musicians constantly showing up to be support acts for a night or two, and they get to perform a song or two – just enough to get me to tempt me into learning more. The series is probably too reliant on a couple of will-they/won’t-they relationship teases, meaning that the through story struggles a little. But the characters are fun with Luke Wilson and Carla Gugino running the show, while Imogen Poots and Colson Baker mess around. Rafe Spall’s character is a bit one-dimensional, only slowly emerging from a caricature. And while I completely believe that labels do have someone like him constantly running a spreadsheet against tour costs, I’m not sold on the idea that he’d be touring with everyone else. If Roadies gets a second season, it’ll have to work hard to keep his character in the mix.

Interestingly, of the three series here, Crowe seems to have been most closely attached. While Luhrmann and Scorsese directed their respective first episodes, and probably determined the overall direction of their series, Crowe has directed four of his series, and is credited as a writer or co-writer on six of the ten episodes.

Having only seen the first episode of The Get Down, I can’t really determine its direction, but they’ve found a good selection of largely young and unknown actors to populate the series. The show is edited to within an inch of its life, and although that first episode runs to more than 90 minutes, it does fly by.

Conjouring up The Bronx in 1977 is never going to be easy – or cheap – and a lot of visual effects are used to manage this. But despite upwards of 10 VFX houses being listed in the credits, I’m uncertain that they’ve carried it off. They pictures are graded to appear like stock footage from the time in places – because they mix them with lots of real stock footage. But this means that when we see a city block being burned down (for the insurance), the fire just doesn’t seem real.

Of course things are never real with Luhrmann. He doesn’t do verisimilitude. That means we get at least two dazzling set pieces in the opener – one set in a club, and the other at the eponymous “Get Down.” They’re both excellent.

What all three shows share is excellent music soundtracks, and I say that despite not really being a fan of any of the genres depicted. Indeed the sheer reverence shown towards some of these artists feels a bit forced and fan-boyish. But I am enjoying listening. Vinyl seems least reliant on music, although there’s plenty of it. Roadies presents its music with complete technical assurance, and is superbly sound-mixed. Everyone sounds simply superb. Each episode features a “Song of the Day”, part of the crew’s routine, and these are standout moments acoustically, usually deftly worked into the plot. The music on The Get Down just doesn’t stop. You get a barrage of music almost non-stop. The music “sync” rights for the show must have been massive.

Roadies is on Amazon Prime Video in the UK, and interestingly Kill Your Friends recently popped up there too, the movie adaption of John Niven’s searing novel set in the UK music industry of the mid-nineties. That too was a period of excess, because Napster, Limewire, eDonkey and AudioGalaxy hadn’t quite yet arrived , so piracy was not yet rampant, and people were still buying music to own (as opposed to stealing or renting it).

The film is relatively to the novel, with its anti-hero Steven Stelfox doing literally anything to get a leg-up in the biz. In the book, there are wonderful little chapter intros that seem to be real press-releases sent out to Music Week announcing big money new signings in the 80s and early 90s. We readers, of course, know that none of these signings would pay off. Having over-dosed on versions of seventies American music, it was refreshing to see a British take on affairs. Yes, the excess is endless, but it feels believable while incredibly cynical – nobody actually seems to like music. This level of cynicism would be impossible in any of the aforementioned US series, because there’s too much musical reverence.

I’d like to see Roadies open up its world a bit more, and it’ll probably need some new characters if it gets renewed. But of the three, this is the series I’d like to see more of.

How I Lost My Strava KOM

Did you know I had a Strava King of the Mountains?

No? Well neither did I.

First off, Strava is a social media app/site for cyclists and runners. You either use their app on your phone to record your ride or run, or sync the data from some other device you use to measure your pursuits. In my case, I use a Garmin GPS bike computer and the data gets synced across to Strava.

In Strava’s world, paths and streets are divided up into often quite arbitrary segments – say a hill climb, or a long stretch of road. Anyone can determine where a segment is, and they’re all over the place. Once listed, anyone recording their ride is automatically checked against segments, and you get a ranking.

Here’s an example of a hill climb I sometimes do if I ride the whole way home from work. It’s near Highgate Cemetary.

segement

On that particular segment I’m fairly lowly ranked.

Indeed the only time I’ve ever knowingly had a KOM was when Strava one year introduced an annual KOM for segments, and I won a couple by virtue of going for a ride on New Year’s morning – i.e. before anyone else had got up! (This wasn’t a deliberate ploy incidentally, I just don’t really do New Year’s Eve, and the next day it’s always nice to get out on a bike)

Anyway, I was intrigued by the KOM I had just “lost” so I had a look. The segment is a short stretch – 100m – of road parallel to both Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street. However, there’s not much opportunity to build up a great deal of speed to beat any records. But it is flat.

In September last year, I apparently completed the segment in 9 seconds at a speed of 78.1 km/h!

On my Brompton.

To put that in perspective, Jason Kenny won the Keirin in Rio at 71kph.

If I could sustain 78kph for any length of road, I too should have been in Rio!

And I was beaten, I should point out. The new KOM did it at a speed of 100.8kph. Truly remarkable!

seg2

Of course the reason for this is that GPS bike computers aren’t always completely accurate. There are tall buildings everywhere in London, and if GPS satellites aren’t well placed, the accuracy drifts. It would only take a 40-50m drift to suddenly give me a ridiculous burst of speed as far as measurement was concerned, especially over a segment as short as this.

But I’ve lost my KOM, and I am a bit sad.

Best-Selling Folk Music… According to Amazon

I have fairly broad musical tastes – it’s why I struggle when people ask me what kind of music I’m into. A couple of weekends ago, for example, you could have found me watching the Pet Shop Boys at the Royal Opera House on Saturday night, and the next day in a field in Hertfordshire at the always excellent Folk by the Oak festival.

Amazon is famed for it’s ecommerce prowess, and I must confess that I make full use of the next day delivery that Prime offers. So I’ve bought music in plenty of genres from Amazon, still mostly preferring CD to download (let’s not even mention “rental” here).

Amazon tries to learn from my buying patterns and likes to send me suggestions of what to buy next. Having bought a few folk albums from them, they naturally like to send me a regular email entitled Best-selling folk music..

It’s awful.

Here are a few genuine emails I’ve had from them so far in 2016:

January

January

Featured are Jame Bay, Adele, Mumford & Sons and Eva Cassidy. Mumford & Sons, I could just about allow as folk, and Eva Cassidy has certainly sung folk, although this album would best be considered jazz. But sorry – not Adele or James Bay!

February

February

Wow. All of these comfortably count as folk music. What’s more, this email is actually telling me about interesting new folk music.

March

March

Well Bellowhead Live is a great choice to be promoting. The Gloaming and Sandy Denny are fine too. But Daniel O’Donnell? Well I suppose I’ll allow it. I mean he’s definitely not Pop and Rock.

April

April

Just in case you thought their algorithms were learning, then fear not, because April saw two Adele albums, a James Bay album and George Ezra. I wouldn’t count any as folk.

June (I can’t see a May email)

June

Again, I can just about allow Mumford & Sons, and indeed Christy Moore. I’m not familiar with Max Jury but he perhaps straddles folk and country. And yes, Simon and Garfunkel I suppose could be folk too – their version of Scarborough Fair is on it after all. Maybe the algorithm is improving?

August (Again, no July email)

August

Ah – we’re back to Adele and James Bay again. But there’s also a Ministry of Sound compilation album no less! An unlikely label to be releasing folk. The album is subtitled “The perfect blend of laid back & acoustic covers.” Well… okay… but… Artists featured include Justin Bieber, Sam Smith, Bruno Mars, Sia, Ella Eyre and Florence + The Machine. So I really don’t think this counts.

I think I know what’s happening here.

Amazon obviously categorises every album they get into multiple categories. They’re effectively trying to add it to lots of categories to make sure every album is eminently discoverable. But that means that the same massive selling albums appear everywhere. And that means when they send an email like this, it makes a complete nonsense of it.

But it does seem that I’m getting two very different types of emails of “best-selling folk.” And very occasionally, Amazon might actually highlight a decent new folk album.

But mostly it wants to alert me about Adele’s older work, which seems entirely unnecessary, and most irrelevant, fine singer though she undoubtedly is.

RAJAR Q2 2016

RAJAR

Once again, this post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the past 9 years, and it’s my favourite RAJAR analysis tool. So I continue to be delighted to be able to bring you this analysis in association with them. For more details on RALF, contact Deryck Pritchard via this link or phone 07545 425677.

All views here are clearly my own!

Early August means the results of RAJAR Q2 2016, and most of the new second national DAB multiplex (D2) services are reporting for the first time.

The first thing to note is that overall listening is at its highest ever for radio. 48.687m people listening to the radio each week. While listening hours aren’t at a similarly high record level, the average radio listener listens for a solid 21.5 hours a week.

You can perhaps partially attribute this record to that launch of those new commercial services, which in the main have a cumulative effect on radio listening. And commercial reach has overtaken the BBC’s again, with 35.570m people listen to commercial radio each week – another all time high.

(It’s fair to add at this point that RAJAR updates its estimate of the UK population in Q2 each year, so if radio listening remains constant, then you would expect numbers to increase proportionately with the population regardless. But we do know that there are some real challenges at the younger end of the age spectrum for radio, so this remains a good result.)

New Services and National

This quarter saw the launch of no fewer than six completely new services on D2, as well as the movement across from D1 or up from local multiplexes, of a number of other services.

But I must confess that I’m interested in a couple of specific stations in particular. First off, Virgin Radio reports for the first time. It has delivered a reach of 409,000 with 1,453,000 listening hours – a result that seemed to be good enough to send everyone off to the pub on Wednesday afternoon!

Now the key thing here is any possible misattribution.

Recall that I previously looked after ratings for Virgin Radio as it changed to Absolute Radio back in September 2008. We were acutely aware that no matter how big our marketing budget (and it was never going to big enough), many listeners would continue to think of the station as Virgin Radio. If they were long term listeners, they might have been listening for 15 years at that point. And the station adopted a more adult approach of rebranding, slowly morphing from Virgin to Absolute, rather than the more usual ‘off air on Friday, back on air with new format on Monday’ approach that more regularly happens. The majority of the presenters remained the same, and the music was only very slightly tweaked – probably not enough that the average listener would notice. So the big job was to expunge the old name and get people calling the station by its new one.

As far as RAJAR went, we had a label in diaries that said something like “Absolute Radio (was Virgin Radio)” which is pretty typical, and helps respondents navigate the name change. Capital Liverpool still refers to Juice on its label, for example.

Of course the station initially took a massive hit in listening figures, and that label referencing Virgin Radio remained in RAJAR diaries for many subsequent quarters – indeed years. It takes a long time for people to forget a station’s name.

And now we get the new Virgin Radio, with the same logo, but nearly all new presenters. The music mix isn’t the same as Absolute Radio, although the new Virgin shares just under a third of its playlist (at time of writing) with Absolute.

So take that into account when you’re considering its figures. Looking at its figures in comparison with the other new launches from the Wireless Group (or should that be News Corp now?), this feels a little high for the first set of numbers. But then Absolute Radio has gone up this quarter too very slightly (see below), so maybe all is fine. One to watch…

What about the other new launches? TalkSport 2 saw a reach of 285,000 and 913,000 hours. As expected, they’ve picked up Absolute Radio’s second pick of Saturday afternoon Premier League football commentaries, so this may take time to grow as they build out their portfolio of sports.

TalkRadio is at 224,000 reach and 840,000 hours. That’s going to need to grow since speech radio isn’t cheap. I suspect that the success of this will be down to marketing. Fortunately for all of their stations, having a new owner who owns a series of national newspapers (and has interests via a parent company in a satellite TV network), marketing might prove to be a bit more achievable in the medium term.

In any case, these are decent results, and all have plenty of room to grow.

Mellow Magic achieved a respectable 380,000 audience, with nearly 1.6m listening hours, while Magic Chilled (which is DAB+ recall, so not available on all DAB radios even within the D2 transmission area) reached 233,000 listeners for 601,000 hours. I suspect Bauer will be perfectly happy with both as something to build on, and something to add into a Magic Network national sales proposition.

As an aside, Magic has also been running a series of pop-up DAB stations. We’ve had Magic Abba, and right now there’s Magic Soul Summer. Sadly, these don’t get measured by RAJAR as they’re on-air too briefly.

The final completely new service on D2 is Awesome Radio, but I don’t believe that it is currently being measured by RAJAR.

Elsewhere, there’s no doubt that Radio 1 has had another shocker, down 4.6% on the quarter and 9.4% on the year in reach terms. 9,455,000 is its lowest reach since 2003, and there are no immediate signs of improvement. Listening is actually up a little on the quarter, but also down on the year. As I’ve repeatedly mentioned previously, I believe this to be a larger problem than Radio 1 and more “radio” – although arguably Kiss is bucking the trend (see below).

Radio 2 is down a little, but nothing to be concerned about, with 15.3m listeners and “only” 179,000,000 hours, or 17% of all radio listening!

Radio 3 has had its best reach figures since 2011 at 2.2m, all the more surprising for not happening in a Proms period (they’ve just started). Hours are down a bit though. Meanwhile over at Classic FM, they’ve bounced back from last quarter’s very poor results, up 7.6% in reach to 5.5m. Cue lots of headlines about a classical music resurgence, which I don’t believe is true.

Radio 4 has had its best ever reach under the current methodology (i.e. since at least 1999), with just over 11.5m listeners. Can we put this squarely down to coverage of Brexit? Perhaps we can. Hours are also up, if not quite at record-breaking levels.

5Live also saw gains in the period – albeit, more modest – up 1.5% in reach to 5.858m reach.

Absolute Radio was fractionally up with a reach of 2.185m listeners this quarter, although listening was down. It’ll be worth watching closely with regard to any issues over misattribution as I mentioned above.

Talksport also had a good quarter, jumping 6.5% in reach and 15.4% in hours on the previous quarter. Perhaps it was helped by the a decent end of the season story and notably Leicester City? (Although arguably that should have also affected 5Live.)

Digital

Last quarter, you may recall, RAJAR reallocated listening to platforms for those who failed to record it properly. This led to something of a “bump” for digital listening. It rose to 44.1%.

So this quarter, it was going to be interesting to see if that one-time increase would slow growth. Q1 was also the quarter that new Christmas DAB sets tended to inflate numbers a little.

Well it turns out that it hasn’t dampened growth, and we’ve seen listening increase again to 45.3% of all listening hours now being on a digital platform. What’s more, of those who listen to the radio, 78.6% now choose to listen for at least some of their listening time via a digital platform.

Needless to say, these are both all-time highs.

Breaking that 45.3% down, 32.2% of listening is via a DAB radio (a record), while 8.0% is via the internet (also a record). Only DTV is fairly settled at 5.1%.

Streaming grows as broadband improves, smartphones become more normal, and data plans increase. In another year or so, we might be at one in ten hours of radio being streamed in the UK.

I was disappointed, but not at all surprised to see that Absolute 80s has registered a fall this quarter. Recall that this was the largest commercial digital only station. Last quarter Bauer moved it from the D1 to D2 multiplex. Unfortunately, there is significantly less coverage for D2, and stations like Absolute that moved across, saw decreases in availability. Maybe it was due a dip anyway, but it exhibited an 8.1% fall in reach and 9.9% fall in hours on the previous quarter.

Not everyone can switch to streamed listening or the digital television when they lose their DAB signal.

6 Music has another record reach, up fractionally on last quarter’s record reach to nearly 2.3m listeners listening for nearly 22m hours.

Radio 4 Extra seems to have rebounded a little from last quarter’s disappointing results, back to nearly 2m listeners.

Asian Network achieved an all-time record reach of 676,000 which will please them.

The BBC World Service was basically flat in reach (-0.8% on the quarter) at 1.454m, but down 5.5% in hours.

Finally, LBC is worth examining. Reach and hours across the network are at record highs under the current methodology. It’s reach is now 1.729m, up a massive 12.3% this quarter, and 16.7% on the year, while hours are even better with 17.5m up 15% on the quarter and 20% on the year. I think we can squarely put that gain down to Brexit, and indeed the question is whether they can hang onto that listening in future quarters. A really excellent performance.

Networks

The Kiss Network is an interesting one to keep an eye on. It seems to be continuing to grow, building out Kisstory and Kiss Fresh. And what’s interesting is that all the Kiss brands are young, with Kiss aged averaging 30, Kisstory 32, and Kiss Fresh 27. Radio 1 on the other hand averages 35. The Kiss Network has achieved a record 5.5m reach, up 5.4% on last quarter. And Kisstory is now only just behind Absolute 80s in the battle for best performing commercial digital station. Kiss and Kisstory also achieved record results in London.

The Capital Network is also growing, although we need to be careful because they’ve grown their portfolio of stations too. This quarter, the network is up 3.9% in hours to nearly 7.9m listeners, while hours have also grown very solidly by 7.4%.

The Heart Network isn’t doing quite as well, falling slightly this quarter in reach and hours. Nothing disastrous, but it doesn’t feel that Heart Extra has had any effect so far. But there is a curiosity here. Heart Extra is a service I can listen to on DAB, but it doesn’t arrive on RAJAR until Q3 since it launched mid-period [Updated].

The Absolute Network suffered a small drop down 1.6% in reach and 1.3% in hours. Nothing major – but it would seem to be driven by Absolute 80s.

Finally we have the brand new Magic Network placing a strong benchmark figure of 3.7m listeners. We’ll see how it does from here on in.

Breakfast

Grimmy on Radio 1 has held his show flat this quarter, which is actually a pretty decent result when compared with the station’s overall performance. He is down 7% on the previous year however. But a solid result in the circumstances.

Over on Radio 2, Chris Evans has perhaps been temporarily distracted by Top Gear – the press certainly has (has a TV show ever had its production pored over by the press in such detail?). His radio show is down a modest 2.6% to 9.472m, but down a little less on the year. Nothing to worry about here as he now concentrates on his breakfast show.

Christian O’Connell had a great set of results last quarter, so it is perhaps not surprising that he’s slipped back this time a little. But he fell just 0.1% or by 2,000 listeners. I’m sure both Bauer and Christian will be very happy with 1.923m listeners! Listening is up too.

People are always interested in how Chris Moyles is doing. As already mentioned, Moyles featured in another heavy TV campaign during at least part of this period. He’s actually down in audience a little this quarter to 694,000 nationally. This could be a slow build for Global.

London

Before talking about any particular London station, it’s always worth carefully looking at the market overall because we have seen some odd shifts around. Arguably, this quarter is no exception, with All Radio listening up 4.5% in reach and 9.7% in hours. Year on year changes are more steady, but this is worrying as it seems unlikely that overall behavioural listening patterns are changing quite so much. As ever with RAJAR, look for long term trends rather than short term blips.

Capital has lost a few listeners this quarter, down 0.9% to 2.266m (although up on the year), however it maintains its position and number one in London in reach terms.

In hours terms, Kiss can claim to be the “most listened to” commercial music station with a 17% bump in hours on the quarter, essentially righting a massive fall in hours last quarter. It’s reach is just behind Capital’s with 2.127m. So it looks like for the foreseeable future, Capital and Kiss will be slugging it out for commercial music dominance.

Heart has bounced bank from last quarter’s awful numbers, climbing 11.4% in reach to 1.724m, although it did see a fall in hours by 9.0%.

Magic on the other hand, fell back from last quarter by 6.5% to 1.632m listeners, while its hours improved 4.7%. Perhaps it was seeing some its listeners trial some sister services? (See more on this below).

LBC had a massive bump this quarter surpassing its national performance, jumping 29% in reach in London to 1.292m, and a frankly astonishing 61.5% in hours to 14.5m hours, making it the biggest commercially listened to station in London. The jump is so large as to almost be unbelievable. However, as mentioned above, there was Brexit during this quarter, and I think it’s fair to say that this was discussed more than once on LBC…

Radio X had a modest jump this quarter with a 31.2% increase in reach to 442,000, and a 27% increase in hours to 2.5m. The percentages are good, but the numbers are low.

And BBC Radio London had a massive jump from last quarter’s dismal numbers – up 44% in reach to 510,000 and 60% in hours to 3.7m. Again, could Brexit be part of this?

Sister Stations

Absolute Radio and the BBC paved the way – in essence copying something that TV had been doing prior to that. But we continue to see sub-brands or sister services popping up. We’ve had TalkSport 2, Mellow Magic and Magic Chilled just this quarter. And of course there are decades stations and Extra/Xtra stations a-plenty. But to what extent do these services share audiences with their brethren? (Yes – I’ve done this before.)

Since I’ve been chart-free so far this quarter, here’s an incomplete look at some of these services… charted! And since it’s hard to display overlaps beyond three services in just two dimensions, I’ve limited my analysis to the three biggest services within a group. Note that these are only very roughly to scale, and they default to the period over which both or all three stations would be reported.

Radio 1/1Xtra

Slide1

Radio 4/Radio 4 Extra

Slide2

Absolute Radio/Absolute 80s/Absolute Radio 90s

Slide4

Capital/Capital Xtra – London

Slide3

Magic/Mellow Magic/Magic Chilled

Slide5

TalkSport/TalkRadio/Virgin Radio (by special request)

UTV

Further Reading

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

The official RAJAR site and their infographic is here
Radio Today for a digest of all the main news
Go to Media.Info for lots of numbers and charts
Paul Easton for more lots analysis including London charts
Matt Deegan will have some great analysis
Media Guardian for more news and coverage
The BBC Mediacentre for BBC Radio stats and findings
Bauer Media’s corporate site.
Global Radio’s corporate site.

Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB, period ending 26 June 2016, Adults 15+.

UPDATED to correct Virgin Radio’s reach.

Disclaimer: These are my views alone and do not represent those of anyone else, including my employer. Any errors (I hope there aren’t any!) are mine alone. Drop me a note if you want clarifications on anything. Access to the RAJAR data is via RALF from DP Software as mentioned at the top of this post.

RideLondon 100 2016

RideLondon 100 Start at Stratford

For the second year running, I was fortunate enough to get into the RideLondon 100 via the ballot.

I had thought that the slightly increased numbers of competitors and the addition of a 46 mile option (only announced much later), might mean that everyone who wanted to, was able to enter. But that’s not true – and I know of a few people who try and repeatedly fail to get in. So it must be luck on my part.

RideLondon 100 Start at Stratford

Out of necessity, RideLondon is a staggered start, with competitors leaving in groups from the Olympic Park in Stratford between about 6am and 8.30am. When you start seems to be dependent on how fast you think you’ll manage the course. Essentially, the organisers want the faster riders at the front of the race to prevent them racing through a large pack of slower riders.

But starting earlier also means the roads are more manageable. This year I started at just after 7am and was aiming for a time of around 6 hours. That time, incidentally, would be measured by my GPS rather than the race time, to allow for a couple of breaks along the way. The year before I had started closer to 8am, and following my wheel-buckling incident, had ended up even further down. (Sadly, it seems that the shop in West Byfleet that bailed me out last year has since closed down).

What that meant was that Leith Hill was rideable, when last year it had been swamped with people walking their bikes up it. And there wasn’t a further problem for me at least, in Dorking where last year the weight of traffic (and pedestrians crossing the road) had meant me walking through the town centre.

I say that Leith Hill was rideable, but it’s horrible. Newlands Corner is much easier, and frankly Box Hill is a breeze since it’s a continuous gradient on a well surfaced road. It is slightly annoying that even after the summit, the road seems to continue to rise for a bit!

Then it’s downhill and over several lumps and bumps as you head back into town. I was trying to make up time a bit, and powered on through as best I could, hoping that gels would see me through. If truth be told, I should have eaten more, and I suffered on the second half of the course.

The final slog is in Wimbledon which seems to finish off some people. I was just ploughing through now. My main issue was that my feet were hurting. Otherwise I was fine.

The finish on The Mall was great fun, then it’s through to collect a medal, be handed a goody bag and face the throngs in Green Park. I really wanted some food, but the queues were enormous so I settled on an overpriced ice-cream before heading back home.

My time was just faster than last year – but only by a minute. That’s disappointing and really was a result of the second half of the race. More care with nutrition would help. And a few more miles closer to the date would as well. Plus some weight off me wouldn’t harm either.

It’s both essential and annoying that the professional men’s road race doesn’t finish until well after the sportive, but the prospect of kicking my heels in Green Park for five hours to wait for them to come through just didn’t appeal. So I settled in to watch the race on the sofa at home. David Millar on a motorbike is great fun – but it was a shame that the event organisers’ technology failed for the last few miles. I believe that this was a SweetSpot issue rather than a BBC one. But kudos to Ian Stannard and especially Geraint Thomas for shaking things up in a race that has thus far routinely ended in a sprint.

The Good

  • The wide and colourful variety of people entering
  • The roadside cheering, from the groups supporting their charities, to residents of south London and Surry.
  • The well organised hubs and drinks stations. All were well stocked – at least when I visited.
  • The chap I saw completing the ride on a Boris Bike (I feel I’m not going to call them “Boris” Bikes much longer).
  • The couple I saw on what I could only describe as “shopper” bikes!
  • The Bromptons and tandems. I wouldn’t want to spend 100 miles staring at someone’s backside.
  • The top-tube sticker that RideLondon supplied with details of all the hills and and drinks places.

The Bad

  • The accidents – too many people going too fast and not paying attention to the road. I only saw the results of crashes with exception of a guy flung from his bike by not seeing a speed bump in Richmond Park. But one cyclist looked like they were seriously injured and I know the air ambulance was out.
  • Aero-helmets! Come on people – what are you thinking? Tri-bars are banned because, well, this isn’t a time trial. Time-trialling in a group is very dangerous. But aero helmets? Idiots.
  • Ignoring marshalls. That includes the cretin I saw who was told to slow down for an ambulance but who just ignored the calls and sped on regardless.
  • Undertaking. Seriously – except in extremis, don’t do it. There are two lanes of the road to use!
  • Strava – for going down just as I was trying to upload my ride! I ended up manually uploading it on Monday morning.
  • The top-tube sticker that Evans supplied with a time breakdown of where you should be for a set-time. The information was fine, but the sticker needed hot soapy water to remove it from my frame later! Choose a different sticker supplier next year! The RideLondon sticker came off the bike fine.

The Ugly

  • If you’re riding with deep-rim wheels, then I don’t expect to see you getting off and walking on Leith Hill.
  • Similarly, I don’t really expect to overtake anyone on a Pinarello Dogma with Di2 Dura Ace on the climb into Wimbledon Village.
  • If you’re cycling shorts are a bit weather-worn, you may want to consider getting new ones. Some were positively transparent…

Newlands Corner - RideLondon 10DSC_00970

Newlands Corner - RideLondon 100

RideLondon 100 Finish on The Mall