June, 2017

Free to Air Cricket

Today brings some interesting news, with the ECB actually allowing some free-to-air cricket on TV screens in the future. The BBC has done a deal to see the return of cricket to its channels for the first time since 1999.

You will recall that in 1998, Channel 4 secured the rights to most international cricket, notably including Test cricket. One Test was aired on Sky, who until that point had made do with smaller competitions and notably overseas tours.

In many respects Channel 4 really improved TV coverage, and despite some awkward business of trying to show both cricket and Channel 4 Racing on the same afternoons (with Film 4 often being used as an overspill channel), they were very successful.

In its final season Channel 4 saw a peak audience of over 7m watch England win the 2005 Ashes. Thousands turned out for an open-top bus parade that ended in Trafalgar Square.

Cricket was on top.

And then, for the most part, it disappeared from our screens. Sky had outbid Channel 4 for exclusive coverage of all domestic cricket. The ECB had taken Sky’s cash ahead of any interest in keeping the game alive.

The ECB continued to work exclusively with Sky renewing deals right through until 2019.

The only free-to-air cricket that appeared on our screens were Channel 5’s highlights packages and some IPL cricket on ITV4 (Which has since also moved to Sky). There’d be an occasional tourist game against Scotland on the red button but that was it.

Earlier this year, the BBC did show highlights of the ICC Trophy, and we have also seen some in-game digital clips appear on the BBC website. But for live cricket, you “only” had the unparalleled Test Match Special.

In the meantime participation in cricket had fallen, and most counties were now propped up financially by the ECB.

T20 had come along, and while the riches of the Indian Premier League might seem impossible to replicate in Britain, the success of Australia’s Big Bash seemed distinctly replicable.

That tournament runs for 35 nights in a row on free-to-air Channel Ten, garnering significant audiences for its city-based franchise structure. (It should be noted that Channel Ten is suffering severe financial pressures currently, and either rival Channel Nine will win the rights next time around, or some of the games may go subscription only).

So the ECB has now conjoured up a city-based franchise format, meaning that some big counties will miss out and need to be paid off. That also means that the new format will be in addition to the existing T20 Blast series which will continue to be competed at county level.

And then of course there are the existing four day County Championship games as well as one day competitions, all of which need to be squeezed into the cricket season.

Add into the mix central contracts, extended period of Big Bash, IPL, one-day internationals, T20 internationals and Tests, all of this means that big names are rarely seen in their “home” counties.

Still, that’s the mess of contemporary cricket.

Which all brings us to today’s news that the BBC has done a deal for cricket with the ECB. It doesn’t start until 2020, because Sky still has exclusivity until 2019. But the BBC will be showing:

  • Two England men’s home T20s (of a total of 4-6?)
  • One England women’s home T20
  • 10 matches from the domestic men’s T20 city-based franchise series, including the final (out of a total of 36 matches, all of which will be on Sky)
  • Up to 8 matchs from the women’s T20 city-based franchise series including the final
  • Highlights of home Tests, One Day Internationals and T20 Internationals
  • Highlights of women’s internationals
  • Digital clips of men and women’s internationals, plus County Championship, One-Day Cup and T20 matches
  • Test Match Special wins radio rights to all competitions through until 2024

So the live coverage will exclusively be T20 formats, with other competitions receiving highlights treatment.

Sky has regained rights to everything else, including exclusive live coverage of home Tests. BT Sport, which is thought to have bid, has not come away with any rights. Notably, it has bought rights to Australian cricket meaning that it will be the exclusive rights holder to the Ashes Tour this winter (assuming the massive pay dispute there is sorted out).

In total, the deal is said to be worth £1.1bn over five years – quite a jump from previous deals, with Sky’s last deal £260m over four years, and then extended a further two. That said, there wasn’t significant growth over the last two deals. This all suggests Sky sees a great opportunity in the new T20 competition.

Still, this all goes to show that getting eyeballs in front of your sport is essential if you want to see any significant growth in it. And perhaps other sports will learn from this.

The ECB has learnt the hard way.

Sky Sports Revamp

Sky Sports is reportedly getting a bit of a makeover, losing the numbered channels currently known as Sky Sports 1-5, and instead gaining sports-specific channels.

Currently the channels are roughly being used as follows:

Sky Sports 1 – Football
Sky Sports 2 – Cricket, Rugby, Football
Sky Sports 3 – Football, Tennis
Sky Sports 4 – Golf
Sky Sports 5 – Football
Sky Sports News
Sky Sports F1 – F1
Sky Sports Mix – (Available on cheaper non-sports Sky tiers) Simulcast of one of the above, Dutch/Spanish Football or smaller sports like Netball, Drone Flying etc.

It sounds like this list is going to be rationalised into:

Sky Sports Football 1/Premier League
Sky Sports Football 2/Football League/Spanish etc.
Sky Sports Cricket
Sky Sports Golf
Sky Sports Arena (Including Rugby and Tennis)
Sky Sports F1
Sky Sports News
Sky Sports Mix (Assuming this continues)

In some respects, this simplifies things a little. It seems that what Sky wants to be able to do is offer a cheaper entry to its sports packages. Recall that BT Sport retail its sports offerings from as little as £5 a month for a streaming package, and £7.50 for those with Sky (and a BT Broadband internet connection).

Currently the cheapest way of getting Sky Sports on TV is £49.50 a month (based on taking the cheapest Sky Original Bundle before adding the full Sky Sports pack to it, with Sky only offering packages with their new Sky Q box). According to The Guardian, this will allow Sky to charge £18 for its cheapest partial sports offering.

But I do foresee a few problems with this plan.

First of all, it seems likely that the cheapest offering will not be football, rights costs for which have shot up. I would anticipate that either cricket or golf will be the cheapest offerings.

Then there’s the issue of sustaining full channels of some of these sports around the clock year long. Sky Sports F1 is something of a joke outside the season, and is largely filled with filler outside of race weekends. Quite why it didn’t become a broader motor-sport channel has never been obvious to me.

You also have the issue of major sports that don’t fit in. What about Rugby League or NFL, both of which have significant followings and carriage deals with Sky.

But more to the point, as someone who takes the full Sky Sports package, I would love to pay less and drop sports I’m not interested in. Namely Sky Sports Golf and the misery that is Sky Sports F1 (Seriously, why would I pay to hear Martin Brundle?).

At time of writing, it’s not clear when these new packages will go live, and I’ve not seen the price breakdowns across the different packages.

There’s also the not insignificant matter of third parties who currently get Sky Sports 1 and 2 on a wholesale basis. Although formal “must-offer” conditions have previously been removed, Ofcom has said that it would take a keen interest in any move that removed Premier League football from other platforms.

It would seem like that Sky would continue to retail football. But nearly all Sky’s major sport appears on those Sky Sports 1 and 2 currently – so even if golf usually finds its home on Sky Sports 4, it gets a bump up during, say, The Masters or the Ryder Cup. Lions rugby is on Sky Sports 1 right now, and next week England’s Test series against South Africa will start on Sky Sports 2.

While the Premier League channel might be one, what would the second be? At the moment, if I subscribe to, say, Sky Sports on BT TV, I can watch Premier League football, Test cricket and Lions rugby. What happens in the future? The easy answer would be for Sky to allow its channels to be retailed more fully on other platforms. (I did also wonder if the recent news about Sky and Virgin sharing Sky’s targeted advertising technology might mean that Sky Atlantic was made available to Virgin Media homes?). But we shall have to wait and see.

With the Fox takeover of Sky still in the balance following yesterday’s news that it’s being referred to the competition authorities, it will be interesting to see how Sky plays this.

Today We Are 15!

Somewhere over Hertfordshire

Happy Birthday me!

This blog is 15 today. This is probably only of academic interest to most people, but who says blogs don’t have legs?

Over time this blog has morphed and changed a bit. But I still enjoy using it as an outlet for writing about things that interest me. And yes, for showing off photos and videos.

I confess that unlike the tenth anniversary, I’ve not bought the blog a cake and some candles. I’ve not even done some lists. The best I can give you is the photos above and below that were taken locally yesterday.

Chase Farm Hospital

DJI Mavic Pro – Initial Thoughts

Long time readers will know that I’ve been playing with a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced for over two years now. I’ve posted a number of videos and photos from that drone in the past and I’ve been very happy with it. However there’s no denying that its size limits where you can take it. You do have to actively choose to take it with you – perhaps at the expense of other things. I’ve had the whole kit fit into a rucksack, but I need other baggage if I’m taking anything else with me. It’s especially limiting for something like a cycle ride.

So when DJI release the Mavic Pro last year I was very tempted. It has more sensors than my Phantom 3 Advanced. Notably my early mistake of crashing the Phantom into a tree wouldn’t be possible with this. And the functionality is greatly improved too with lots more modes making use of the available sensors.

Now I confess that I was actually pretty happy with the 2.7k camera of the Phantom. While 4k video is nice and future proofs myself, I don’t actually have any way to see it back at that resolution. My laptop isn’t that high a resolution and nor is my TV. In any case, there are limits to the bitrate it records 4k at, and I suspect I’ll be using 2.7k to a larger extent with the Mavic.

One other consideration was the ultraportable DJI Spark which has just been released. This only shoots 1080 but is tiny and is a true go-anywhere drone. The arms don’t fold smartly like the Mavic, but it’s very pocketable and is the sort of thing you can easily keep in the bottom of your bag. I suppose my biggest concern was its performance in windy conditions. The UK doesn’t always have perfect drone flying weather, and while I’ll always avoid the rain, bigger beasts tend to be a bit more solid in the air. That said, in some of the YouTube reviews posted, it looks like it performs decently.

Another consideration is the likelihood that DJI will release an updated Mavic at some point soon. The Mavic Pro was released in October last year but it was post-Christmas before it was more widely available. No doubt there will be a new model available ahead of Christmas this year, but it’s like waiting for the next phone or the next computer. There’s never quite the right time to buy.

I still went with the Mavic, and I bought the Fly More pack – as much as anything for the additional two batteries. Other accessories were moderately useful, including some extra props, a car charger and so on, and although the bag is nice it’s not perhaps quite as tough as would be useful for protection. The hub charger is good, although I was slightly disappointed to learn that it charged batteries sequentially. So if you load 3 or 4 batteries onto it, it still only does them one at a time.

You will need to allow time to charge everything up, and importantly, get the most up to date firmware. DJI basically forces users to use the current firmware by making you use an account. If you don’t have the current firmware, your flight distances are highly restrictive. That all said, while it’s still slow, it’s a bit more obvious than the old Phantom 3 way of doing things. I updated using my phone (on WiFi at home), and that gives you a good idea of where you’ve got in the installation and update. Much better than listening for strange sounds from you Phantom!

The little remote is very nice, and DJI include microUSB, Lightning and USB C cables in the box to connect with your phone. I’ve been used to using a Nexus 7 for my phantom – which is basically that device’s single use. And I notice that there are lots of devices around that let you “mount” a tablet to your remote if you want. In use my phone (an HTC 10) worked well, although you’re going to be flattening your phone’s battery using it rather than a bespoke device. I can live with that for the benefits in portability. I’ll probably pack a small Anker battery charger in my DJI bag to recharge my phone if it flattens after a decent flight. I did however notice that the Mavic’s remote loses charge faster than my old Phantom 3 Advanced remote, which could effectively run for weeks on a single charge.

I played a little with some of the modes that track you as move, although I need to learn more about them.

The Mavic has a range of up to 7 km, but UK regulations say that you need to be able to see your drone at all times. There’s no way you can see something as small as a Mavic that far away. And I’m not sure whether a first-person headset would actually be legal here. One of the problems I had with a white Phantom was losing it against a white cloud sky. The dark grey of Mavic makes it easier to spot (and remain legal), and in any case, I probably don’t want to have to trek 7 km to retrieve an errant drone should it decide to land there. (I confess that I’ve never had a drone “fly away” from me. The closest I’ve got is have to use my eyes to fly a drone back when video connectivity caused me problems one time.)

One issue I will think about is bringing some kind of mat or cloth with me take off and land from. The lowness of the Mavic means even quite short grass could get caught by the propellers. I often find myself launching from grass, so a simple and lightweight solution would be useful.

I’m still learning about what the best recording settings are. I use RAW+JPG for photos, but video is another questions. I’ve also never bought any ND filters for a drone, although they do seem to be used a lot by the pros. We’ll have to see.

I did try doing some live streaming. I first tried YouTube, but the app kept crashing repeatedly when I tried it. So I fell back to Facebook which is never anyone’s favourite platform. They limit the video quality a bit for starters. But I confess that it just about worked (I’d embed the video, but Facebook makes that truly fiddly). A few people watched, although playing back, the video quality was at times poor. More annoyingly, there were cutouts continually. I was on 4G so it shouldn’t have been too bad, but it wasn’t great. Still it was good that the phone’s mic could be used for a sort of commentary of what I was shooting.

Otherwise, I’m really happy with my purchase. Expect more drone footage soon. In the meantime, here’s a sample of what I shot today.

Note that I shot on the default settings and have only done a tiny bit of colour correction on a couple of shots. I’m also interested to see what the difference is like between YouTube and Vimeo, so I’ve uploaded it to both, using Premiere Pro CC 2017’s settings.

Hilly Fields – First Mavic Pro Flight from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

There are a couple more photos on Flickr too.

What Should a Kids’ TV Channel Show When Kids Should Really Have Gone to Bed?

If your child likes watching CBeebies or CBBC in the UK, then you will know that both channels have cut-off times. At 7pm, the broadcast spectrum used by CBeebies is re-purposed as BBC Four, while CBBC’s spectrum will soon become a BBC Scotland TV channel.

Either way, there’s nothing to watch on the broadcast stream once the channels go off air.

In the commercial world, that’s not usually the case. Nick Jr is showing Peppa Pig in the small hours of the morning; Boomerang is showing LazyTown; and while the Disney Channel does shutdown, it waits until midnight after an 11.15pm Hannah Montana and an episode of Groove High.

When I was in Denmark recently I noticed that the main state broadcaster’s kids channel, DR Ramasjang, aimed like CBeebies at 3-6 year olds, did something amazing at night.

The service broadcasts until 8pm each night, and then it goes into an overnight mode. Essentially it runs a video of all the characters that appear on the service tucked up in bed and asleep!

A camera pans across each character’s “bedroom” in a way that lets kids see that each of their favourite characters has gone to sleep. The implication being that if they’ve gone to sleep then you should go to sleep too. It also reinforces this message should any errant child sneak out of bed and turn on the TV in the middle of the night.

It’s a simple, yet really clever thing. I assume that you only need to make an hour of footage and then loop it. And all you really need to do is plan to shoot a short “sleeping” sequence whenever you commission a new show for the channel. All the sequences are shot in the same way, the camera panning from darkness, left to right, to allow for easy editing.

Judging from YouTube, they’ve been doing this for quite a few years. Anyway, here’s an hour of DR Ramasjang’s “godnat” sequence from 2016:

Women’s Tour 2017 – Stage 5 – London

Following Saturday’s Nocturne, I headed back into town to watch the final stage of The Ovo Energy Women’s Tour, which was concluding on a circuit not dissimilar to previous years’ Tour of Britain finishes. (This year, the men are finishing in Cardiff instead).

Taking in lots of iconic London streets including Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and The Strand, there were plenty of vantage points. At roughly ten minutes between laps, you had time to walk the course a bit, and in some places see the racers twice a lap.

While the racing was great, the overall winner was never in doubt after Katarzyna Niewiadoma won the opening stage by nearly two minutes. This year’s race was longer and harder than previous editions, but there were plenty of other things to keep an eye. Not least of which was which of the Barnes sisters, Hannah or Alice, would take the overall best British rider (For the record, it was the older sister, Hannah. But Alice showed support from the top of a van with some friends at the final podium as can be seen below).

The weather was good, and the racing fast. A fine way to spend a Sunday.

Many more photos over on Flickr.

Rapha Nocturne 2017

This weekend saw the return of the Rapha Nocturne, with Rapha resuming sponsorship. These days, the event has moved from Smithfield Market to an area around St Pauls near the Guildhall. While I have no problem with the route, it’s a shame that it no longer covers an area with bars and pubs like Smithfields did. Most places in the City are closed at weekends, and I would suggest that Tesco Express was probably the biggest winner.

Still the racing and fast and frenetic, and it comes into its own as the sun sets later in the evening. I only arrived in time to see the end of the fixie race and the final two races of the evening.

I took photos…

Plenty more photos are over on Flickr.

Vote Tellers

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If you’re British and live in the UK, you will hopefully be voting today. Indeed you may have already done so!

My constituency is considered marginal – it could go one of two ways. And marginals are key to any election win, so parties target them.

As I went into my Polling Station this morning, a man approached me authoritatively outside the polling station itself. He was wearing a blue rosette without any other clear identification and asked me for my polling number. This is printed on the card that you get sent through confirming your eligibility to vote.

Now you don’t need to bring your polling card with you when you vote. Lots of people know that, but not everyone.

But if you do, the tellers would quite like to right down your number. And if there are tellers from multiple parties, they’re likely to share the numbers between them. The reason is that back at the local party base, members have big electoral lists where they’ve marked down voters according to likely preferences and likely voting proclivities, based largely (but perhaps not solely), on doorstep interviews and so on.

Later on in the day, they’ll start ringing up or knocking on the doors of homes of people they expected to vote for them, but haven’t so far.

Tellers don’t actually know which way you voted.

However the key point here is that just because a party might like to know whether or not you’ve voted, you absolutely don’t have to tell them.

And I genuinely don’t think a lot of people know the rules, and more to the point that you can completely ignore tellers.

As I was leaving the polling station this morning a lady entering in behind me was asked for her voter number. She looked a little surprised and slightly apologetic: “I’m sorry. I didn’t think I needed to bring my card with me.”

The teller told that, no, she didn’t. And because she didn’t know, he left her on her way.

But people widely think that they have to pass on their details.

We’re British. We’re polite. “Of course you can see my card.”

There are rules on what tellers can and can’t do. They can wear rosettes (although not all do), but they shouldn’t be spreading any particular message.

However they’re unofficial, and you can politely say, “No thanks,” as I did when asked for my number this morning.

In a world where political targeting is getting more sophisticated, I’m not inclined to pass on any information to the parties. I’m not a member of a party, and perhaps if I was, I might feel different.

This election, for the first time, I’ve been targeted on a massive scale online. No longer do I see posters beyond those put up by people inside or outside of their homes. I’ve not seen any newspaper ads. But I have seen a lot of advertising across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And it’s all for one party. They know I live in a marginal, and they’d like me to vote for them. (The advertising is all negative, incidentally. It has all been about why I shouldn’t vote for the other lot. Well, if you can’t stand on your own policies, then I’m definitely not voting for you. Simple as that. You can take your US election tactics and keep them.)

There’s a lot of talk about how “big data” is being used to tightly target voters. and indeed put off some people from voting at all. While I’m not inclined to believe that these database-driven campaigns are as powerful as they’re sometimes portrayed in media reports, I’ve certainly come to the view that I’m not contributing to these databases.