December, 2016

Radio Times – Boxing Day 2016

So you’ve made it through to Boxing Day. Assuming you’re not hitting the shops for the sales, or off to some sporting or outdoors activity, you’ll be settling in at home looking for more entertainment.

Here are my choices and anti-choices for Boxing Day from the Radio Times.

As ever, click the link below to see a larger-scale photo.

Boxing Day TV

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Boxing Day TV 2

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Boxing Day Radio

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Radio Times – Christmas Day 2016

Happy Christmas!

It feels as though everyone and their mum has released a Christmas Message™ this year. However, I shall simply try my best to satisfy the nation’s TV watching by sharing once more pages from my copy of the Radio Times.

Hopefully this will help you find some of the programmes the rest of your family will talk through anyway, and some others that you will have to leave the room for when someone insists on watching it.

As always, these are best viewed large. You really will struggle on your smartphone. Links below each image send you to something legible. There are two scans of TV and another for radio.

Come back for Boxing Day!

Christmas Day TV

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Christmas Day TV2

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Christmas Radio

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(For those who missed it, I did one of these yesterday for Christmas Eve. Well, it may be useful as there’s iPlayer/ITV Hub/All4 etc.)

Radio Times – Christmas Eve 2016

It’s that time of year again, when I humbly take it upon myself to help you make your viewing and listening choices. Yes – that means Post-Its and pens on a copy of the Christmas Radio Times, scanning them in and making your life easier.

(I’ve been doing this for quite a while.)

As ever, you may need to click on the link below to go large on the images.

This year, you’ve got the big channels and a fair smattering of digital channels (yes – I know they’re all digital). Plus, I’ve been through radio choices for you too!

Come back tomorrow for Christmas Day choices.

Christmas Eve TV

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Christmas Eve TV2

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Christmas Eve Radio

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TeamRock: An Autopsy (I Never Understood You)

The sad news, just ahead of Christmas, is that 73 staff who worked for Team Rock, have lost their jobs as their company has entered administration. The Daily Record reports that just seven staff will be kept on to help administrators.

It’s a disappointing end to a business that I never quite understood.

Team Rock Ltd was the company properly launched in 2013 by Billy Anderson, with ex-GMG executive John Myers as chairman. The group bought Classic Rock and Metal Hammer magazines from Future Publishing, and also announced that there would be a new national digital radio station – also called TeamRock (Which never did make any sense to me as a consumer brand).

It was a competitive marketplace for rock radio with Planet Rock, itself recently sold to Bauer, Kerrang! and Absolute Classic Rock all on the airwaves, the latter pair also owned by Bauer.

At launch it was reported that the station would not carry spot advertising, instead relying on sponsorship and promotions:

“Spot advertising on niche radio stations is an outdated model. While TeamRock is a much wider business, radio will play an important role in our development,” said their Chief Executive Billy Anderson.

They promised a different mix of rock music, and from all accounts, they did deliver that, going deeper and further away from the mainstream than other stations. But all commercial radio stations rely on robust business models to bring in revenues – to pay staff, transmission costs, rights holders and so on. Traditionally that has been an ad-funded model – stations play music, and interrupt that music with advertising breaks.

Now that’s not necessarily the only way to make money, and a commercial station might make between 20% and 40% of its revenues through other means – promotions (paid for competitions), sponsorship and concert co-promotions for example. And some religious stations are built almost entirely around listener donations.

Stations are always looking for new revenue streams, and nobody is sitting still.

Beyond this, a radio station could conceivably form part of a larger business’s marketing budget. In TeamRock’s case, perhaps promoting a profitable stable of music magazines. And the internet has brought subscription models – paying for your favourite radio stations. Various groups have tried that model to greater or lesser success.

I wasn’t alone in wondering about their business model. Matt Deegan wrote about it at the time, noting the difficulties smaller groups have selling spot airtime.

TeamRock never went onto RAJAR, so we don’t know how successful they were as a station in terms of listeners. That immediately becomes a challenge when you’re talking to advertising agencies and trying to do sponsorship deals. Promoting concerts is a little simpler since the promoter will quickly know how good you are at selling tickets.

But broadcast radio isn’t cheap. There are significant costs in getting national DAB transmission, and it was notable when TeamRock came off the platform in July 2015.

The company obviously needed some serious capital to buy the magazines and set up the station, and Harwood Capital’s investment vehicle, North Atlantic Smaller Companies had a shareholding, raising a reported £13m-£15m in 2013.

Later that year, they received a £650,000 grant from Scottish Enterprise in return for delivering a significant number of jobs in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, although the group also maintained offices in London.

But on-air, it felt that the commercial opportunities were scant. When the station came off DAB they said they’d be concentrating on streaming and podcasts, with a million registered users.

Money was clearly becoming an issue, and at the end of 2015 they carried out a new funding round of £4.5m again with North Atlantic Smaller Companies, including, seemingly, a £2m investment from Scottish Enterprise.

The most recent results filed with companies house showed the business as having reported a loss of £8.8m in the year to March 2015, from a loss of £4.3m the previous year. The accounts show a £6.5m turnover, but with a cost of sale of over £2m, and expenses of over £12m, they were haemorrhaging cash (although at least one of the directors was taking home £126k).

Earlier in 2016, the station got rid of its remaining presenters, and then in the summer, John Myers left.

It was clearly the beginning of the end. Reports suggest that the directors were looking for a further cash injection, or to make a sale, but they didn’t complete a deal and so they have now ceased trading.

According to ABC, for the year 2015, Classic Rock was still selling just over 51,000 copies a month (down from 56,000 three years ago), while Metal Hammer was at just under 21,000 copies a month (from 26,000 three years ago). You would imagine that Classic Rock is probably still a viable product – perhaps even Metal Hammer. Mojo, by way of comparison, currently sells 70,000 copies, and Kerrang! 24,000, so perhaps there’ll be a sale of these assets, with maybe Bauer best placed to add these to its portfolio reducing overall costs at the same time. But we’ll have to see.

It’s all a bit of a sorry tale really. There was never a clear business plan that made a great deal of sense – at least to this observer.

A lot of people have lost their jobs, and a number of private equity investors have lost their money. You would think that Scottish Enterprise should have questions asked of it too, in particular the timing of the £2m investment at the end of 2015.

[Updated to correctly name Billy Anderson as launch CEO] [Update 2: Fans, readers and listeners are donating to a crowdfunder to get some cash to the redundant staff. At time of writing they’ve raised over £50,000.] [Update 3: TeamRock’s magazine assets have been sold back to Future for £800,000. That’s quite a tidy earner for Future who initially sold them for £10.2m in 2013. Sadly, I wouldn’t imagine that a significant number of jobs will be saved however.]

The Singles Charts

It may seem unlikely that I’m writing about the UK singles charts, on the basis that I’m not sure that I could name a single song released this year that may have troubled the chart compilers.

Except that it turns out I’m wrong. I know quite a lot of the songs in the current chart.

Today comes news that the compilers of the charts are adjusting their formulas for mixing sales with streams. The reality is that today people stream to a much larger degree than they buy. Sure, some diehards buy downloads, or even physical discs. But it’s a streaming world. And a consumption model is driving the charts.

Previously one download was equivalent to 100 streams, but this is being upped to 150, to weight charts a little further away from streamers. The problem is that people stream popular stuff all the time, and the charts become stale. Seemingly one Drake track was number one for 15 weeks this year, despite only being the best selling track for three of those weeks. All those streams – and teenagers have a tendency to listen to their favourite music a lot – kept others off the top.

This is fantasically illustrated if you have a look at the UK singles chart right now.

It’s full of Christmas music.

Not in and of itself a bad thing. Artists have always released Christmas songs.

But here’s a select list of some of the artists currently clogging up the singles chart. There are some very familiar names:

  • All I Want For Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey (1994) at #6
  • Fairytale of New York – Pogues ft Kirsty MacColl (1988) at #18
  • Last Christmas – Wham (1986) at #20
  • Merry Christmas Everyone – Shakin’ Stevens (1985) at #29
  • I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday – Wizzard (1973) at #36
  • It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Andy Williams (1963) at #50
  • Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee (1958) at #51
  • Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade (1973) at #53
  • Step Into Christmas – Elton John (1974) at #62
  • Wonderful Christmastime – Paul McCartney (1979) at #69
  • Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord – Boney M (1981) at #77
  • Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band (1972) at #83
  • White Christmas – Bing Crosby (1945) at #92
  • Stop The Cavalry – Jona Lewie (1982) at #95

There are others too. I’ve skipped some of the more recent ones.

Essentially, streaming Christmas playlists on Spotify is enough to get these songs back into the charts, sometimes into quite high positions. I’m not aware that any of these were formally “re-released.” But in a streaming world, everything is “on release” all the time.

Obviously this doesn’t matter in the sense that the charts are ephemeral, and these will all drop away come Boxing Day. But I’m not sure that any of this is healthy for new artists or the industry in general. And it’s clear that the algorithm we’re currently using for the charts is not fit for purpose, reflecting consumption but leaving the charts with the potential to be stale. Somehow it needs to differentiate between new material and old favourites.

The charts probably are still useful as a concept – people like to know what’s popular. But it’s got to be a bad thing that so many old tracks clog up the charts.

TechCon 2016 – The Return

One of the casualties of the changes surrounding the Radio Academy was that TechCon, the one day conference about radio and audio technology, fell by the wayside.

Fortunately, it was gamely picked up by Ann Charles, Aradhna Tayal and Andy Buckingham, who took the conference independent.

Running a conference is not for the faint-hearted, with real costs incurred for things like the venue hire, kit, catering and dull things like insurance. These are largely upfront costs before you’ve sold any tickets. And of course the more specialist a conference is, the more limited your potential audience might be. In a media landscape that has seen a reduction in the number of sizeable radio players, that can mean that it’s challenging to sell tickets.

I spoke to a colleague recently who attended another specialist conference, and they noted that almost the entire audience was made up of speakers and panelists.

So congratulations to the team for filling the room with more than 150 people, and thanks too to the sponsors of the event – notably Broadcast Bionics, Arqiva, KTN, RCS and the IET.

By its very nature, TechCon can get technical – and so it did. But never so much that an interested layperson couldn’t understand what was being talked about. While I won’t list every session from the day, in no particular order, here are some of the great takeaways I came away with:

  • The science of acoustics and machine learning is utterly fascinating. This is the sort of work that allows Amazon Alexa, OK Google or Siri to work as well as they do. Cleopatra Pike and Amy Beeston from the Universities of St Andrews and Sheffield, talked about the science and some of the challenges of this kind of automation, and about how machine learning is driving a lot of this. And if we move to object based radio, as Dave Walters talked about, there’s the possibility of this becoming a little easier.
  • There is no definitive conclusion on the future of radio according to research conducted by Nicky Birch of Rosina Sounds for the British Library. The report interviewed a lot of people, and while change is clearly afoot, nobody really knows what that’ll mean who how fast it will happen.
  • Some van drivers have illegal gizmos that they plug into their vehicles to block GPS. This is primarily to prevent their employers being able to track them with built-in GPS trackers. But Simon Mason of Arqiva pointed out that this one of many problems they face when trying to keep transmitters like the national DAB network in sync with one another. More generally he talked about satellite navigation solutions – a timely talk since the European Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), Galileo, is due to begin operations by the end of this year. That brings three systems to European users, sitting alongside the American GPS and Russian GLONASS systems.
  • We heard lots about the development of in-car audio. One interesting perspective is how the likes of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are received by different car manufacturers. Because they essentially offer a single solution to every vehicle, a luxury car manufacturer is no longer able to differentiate themselves from a budget car manufacturer. Everybody gets the same experience. We also saw a potentially scary video of self-driving cars handling a junction autonomously (similar to this video). It’s going to take a little getting used to.
  • Nigel Fry of the BBC World Service, told us how hard it is to broadcast to countries where governments might prefer you not to broadcast.
  • It’s possible to broadcast a radio station making use only of the sun. Even in London! Issa Kassimu of Internews, who is powering such a station in South Sudan, ran us through some calculations. The key point is that you do have to factor in the wattage of your kettle. Everyone wants a cuppa after all!
  • Ofcom is looking forward to licencing more small-scale DAB licences – although it may be a few months before they start to invite applications.
  • To broadcast the (re) launch of Virgin Radio from a moving train, Phil Critchlow of TBI and colleagues from Vipranet used twelve different 3G and 4G connections from four network operators. That still doesn’t help for some cuttings and tunnels, and probably isn’t enough for you to stream Netflix either!
  • Everyone loves binaural. I know you know I know this, but Chris Pike of BBC R&D was able to demo this live with wireless headphones. He played some audio from one of the two binaural productions broadcast a year or so ago (you may recall I went to an event for one of these). We also got to hear some of the audio from the BBC’s VR “Taster” experiment, The Turning Forest, viewable in Google Daydream, Google’s VR application.

And that’s without me mentioning Software Defined Radio, making and broadcasting radio using only cheap phones, and building new studios in tight confines when you have a hatful of new national speech services to launch!

To anyone who attended and couldn’t ask a question because there was just so much to get through – apologies. That was probably my fault as I was doing my best to keep everything running to schedule. One of the downsides of running a conference in a theatre is that, at the end of the day, a production wants the theatre back to put on a show. So we had a very tight turnaround. (That’s also why I wasn’t live Tweeting as I ordinarily would)

I’m sure that the conference will be back next year, so head over to the TechCon website and add yourself to the list!

David Lloyd has a nice writeup of the day, Arqiva has also written about the event, and Trevor Dann features the conference in this week’s RadioToday Podcast.

See you there next year!