February 2008 Archives

Bagless Mail

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So the Daily Mail has suddenly become devoted to going bagless - that is, seeing the end of the free plastic bag.

Earlier this week it launched a massive campaign, and by a complete fluke, and in no way pre-planned, the next day Marks & Spencer announced that it'd no longer be supplying free plastic bags for its food shopping. Instead customers would be encouraged to get bags-for-life and later it'd start charging 5p a bag if you still wanted one.

I'm not going to complain about this, as I've desperately been trying to cut down on plastic bags myself. I have a variety of reusable bags now to take with me when I go grocery shopping, and I carry a "fold-up" reusable bag in my rucksack for those unplanned shopping excursions.

At the same time, most retailers are beginning to ask if you want a bag rather than automatically giving you one.

But what I'd like to know is this - will the bulky Saturday Mail and its sister Sunday title begin to start being distributed without their own plastic bags? It's called poly-bagging, and given the number of supplements, leaflets, CDs and DVDs that come with the average paper now, some retailers demand plastic bags around the papers. You especially notice this at supermarkets and train stations.

So I'll be on the lookout this weekend to see if the Mail has the courage of its own convictions.The Mail on Sunday is giving away a Nigel Kennedy CD the weekend after this, so how will it be distributed without a plastic bag? We shall see...

Ed Reardon on New Grub Street

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Thanks to Chris for noting that Open Book on Radio 4 recently covered nineteenth century novelist George Gissing and his novel New Grub Street.

The main character is one Edwin Reardon, and there's also a Jasper Milvain. Familiar names to fans of Ed Reardon's Week like myself. Listen to the extract here:


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Or go to the Radio 4 website and listen to the whole thing.

I've immediately got a copy of New Grub Street and will fascinated to find out what links there might be. Christopher Douglas, who's immediately recognisable as the voice of Ed, who co-writes Ed Reardon's Week, claims here that there aren't a great many parallels. Nonetheless, it'll be fascinating to read more.

And just another plea at this point, if I may, to the good burghers of BBC Audio: please release Ed Reardon's Week on CD! I get fair bit of traffic to this website from people searching for mp3s and the audio since aside from hoping it pops up again on BBC7, there's no way to legally get hold of the episodes.

Earth Tremor

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Utterly bizarre. I was just sitting here in my flat at 12.55am, when the sofa started shaking.

I live on a top floor flat, and the light hanging above me was moving while the rather precarious stack of CDs against one wall started to move. It all went on for about ten seconds.

Turning on Five Live reveals that the tremor was felt across the country - as far afield as Rochdale, Bedfordshire, Norfolk, and, well, London.

I've only ever felt one earth tremor before which was in Athens (i.e. very close to the meeting of some of the earth's tectonic plates). That was an aftershock that I felt in a sixth floor bedroom.

I'd say that this was actually quite a similar force. This time I was on a sofa, last time I was lying on a bed. In both instances it felt like someone bouncing on a bed near me.

Anyway, Sky News now has it as breaking news...

[UPDATE] Here it is (thanks to the magic of Twitter) - a magnitude of 4.7.

Taxi To The Dark Side

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The winner of this year's Oscar for Documentary Feature was Taxi To The Dark Side.

This film was shown on BBC2 as part of the Storyville strand. Having just won an Oscar, the BBC are obviously rushing to repeat the film for those of us (including me) who missed it.

So when and where is it on? Well you'll be pleased to learn that the schedules have been cleared, and it's going to be shown at 9.30pm this Saturday... on BBC Parliament.

That's right.

BBC Parliament. You know. It's somewhere beyond the news channels on Sky.

Not BBC2. Not BBC Four.

BBC Parliament.

Is 6 Music Too Male?

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Well, the short answer is that I don't know. But that seems to be what Lesley Douglas has been suggesting recently following a backlash against George Lamb. Now I've not heard him, so I've no idea how good or bad his show is, or what kind of audience it might be attracting.

Douglas is quoted in the piece though:

"The remit absolutely hasn't changed in the six years it has been on air," she added.

"What was true of its first few years was that its audience was very male biased. I think it's only right that you make it as open to female listeners as it is to male. That is something we have tried to address over the years," she said.

Douglas added that the station could attract more female listeners by changing the way it talks about music and she said giving Lamb the morning slot was part of that process.

"Men tend to be more interested in the intellectual side of the music, the tracks, where albums have been made, that sort of thing," she said.

"We want to broaden it out - there is absolutely no reason why women shouldn't love 6Music as much as men love 6Music."

As the contributors to MediaGuardian's Media Weekly podcast said, I'm not so sure that this isn't just a little unfair.

Anyway, I thought that it'd be interesting to have a look at the profile of the BBC's national radio audiences. First reach:

And here are the hours:

(Source: RAJAR Q4 2007. Reach is defined as the number of different listeners weekly who hear a particular serivce, while hours are determined from the amount of time people actually spend listening to those services).

What's clear at first is that all the BBC's main services are more male than female, which considering that the population is only 49% male and 51% female, is a little surprising. Some services are more male than others, with perhaps the least surprising result that Five Live is especially male with its plentiful sports coverage.

But BBC7 is nearly as male as 6Music, which might say something about the greater propensity of men to listen to digital services as much as it does about those services' appeal to women.

The most female friendly BBC national service seems to be Radio 4 with 55% of listening hours being consumed by women. While the listening hours of 6Music are low at just 36% for women, perhaps Douglas should be more concerned at Radio 1's strong male bias - 59% of the stations' hours being male. That's especially relevant considering that the service is thirty-six times larger than 6Music (The Chris Moyles show is also 59% male and 41% female, incidentally).

(As ever, this blog entry is written in a personal capacity and does not reflect the views of my employer.)

PS Did anyone hear the car-crash radio that was Nicky Campbell "interviewing" Stevie Wonder at a post-Oscar's party this morning?

[UPDATE] I note that the Google Spreadsheets charts embedded above don't have the chart values showing (and I can't see a way of doing that - if you know, please leave a comment), and unlike the charts on the original spreadsheet, you can't click on a bar to see the underlying values. So, I've published the data here should you wish to see the underlying data.

I Have Magnetic Legs

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Well that can be the only explanation. Unless the system is just flaky of course.

Let me explain. I live in London, where the public transport system is divided into circular zones. The further out of the centre you live, the more you pay for your all zone ticket - or travelcard.

A couple of years ago we were introduced to the Oyster Card - a smart card system that removed the need for paper tickets with magnetic strips. Instead of putting your card through a slot, you just swiped your Oyster Card and the gates opened. Magic!

Except I get on an overground station, and although the Oyster system could work there, the fact that the gates to the station aren't permanently manned means that travelers can't use all aspects of the Oyster system.

I get an annual travelcard from my local station and each day I have to use it at least twice to get through barriers - as I say, there are no barriers at my station, otherwise I'd have to use it a lot more. A piece of cardboard being used several times a day is not going to last a full year, so every so often I had to get it replaced. This would happen a couple of times a year. I'd always go to the station at the weekend, because you can't possibly realise how complicated a procedure this is. The assistant has to find my details on the computer system, invalidate my previous card and then issue a new one. He or she then has to print it, and write on it. A bore, but an infrequent bore.

I did once go very early in the morning during the week to get it replaced, and got told off my the ticket assistant for attempting something so rash at such a busy time! The assistant's incompetence meant that it took a full ten minutes to get a replacement issued.

But last year something changed. My ticket stopped working just a week or so after getting it. I got a replacement. That lasted a few days before it again stopped working. When tickets stop working in a station, you have to wander around looking for a station employee to buzz you through the barrier. Often you have to queue behind someone who hasn't paid for their journey, and are arguing their point. It's terribly frustrating.

By now I was convinced my ticket wallet had somehow become magnetised - the tickets work on a paper magnetic strip system. I replaced the wallet. The ticket stopped working again. I got another new plastic wallet, and kept my ticket in a different pocket altogether, well away from my wallet. It stopped again. I removed my photo card (you're supposed to keep it with your ticket) and put the travelcard in its own entirely separate wallet. It stopped working once more.

You can't believe the frustration. I've had perhaps seven or eight cards in less than twelve months, all of which have stopped working. Yesterday it stopped yet again - the card only being a week or so old. As I say, I can only think I have magnetic legs. Is something in my diet giving me too much iron?

People who live in London will probably be laughing and pointing at me asking why I don't get an Oyster Card. Although the pay as you go system doesn't operate in my locale, the annual card system does. The problem is that I still have several months to go with my current card before I need to renew, and I have some serious issues with the Oyster system. You can be tracked quite successfully with it, and I quite like my civil liberties (Yes, I know that by having my mobile switched on, I can be tracked quite effectively enough thank you - check out the recent Google Maps update for an idea of the precision available).

But enough is enough. Come and find me authorities! Next time around it will be an Oyster Card.

There is one additional advantage that the ticket assistant who sold me my last card pointed out (even though he can't sell me an Oyster Card) - you can cancel them. When I first got my annual travelcard, I lost it within a month. The rail company issued a replacement, but sent me a letter explaining that this was the first and only time they'd do this since the lost card was still 'live', and I could be a fraudster (They didn't spell it out in quite these terms, but that was certainly my understanding). They suggested that in the future I might like to look into seeing if my home contents insurance covered any further losses. At least with Oyster Cards, you can cancel them remotely, like mobile phones, ensuring that your personal losses are minimised.

Oh the irony

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irony

(Yes, I really am on the subscription lists of both these organisations).

Privatising Radio 1 and Radio 2

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In today's FT, the former chairman of Endemol UK, Peter Bazalgette argues for the BBC selling off Radio 1 and Radio 2. As part of an argument to solve the BBC's problem of facing losing a "top-slice" of the licence fee, Bazalgette has noted that the BBC still has a 55% share of radio.

His solution is to therefore sell off those two stations, which would overnight increase commercial share substantially, and reduce that of the BBC's.

But there are two reasons why we needn't and indeed shouldn't do this.

1. While the BBC is biggest amongst the overall adult population, it's doesn't have the biggest share among the commercially attractive younger audience. Amongst 15-44s, commercial radio has a 53% share, while the BBC has a 44% share (the 3% difference is made up of "other" non-RAJAR measured radio listening). So although the BBC remains a powerful competitor, commercial radio is no weakling amongst listeners who've grown up listening to a commercial alternative.

2. Selling off Radio 1 and Radio 2 would be disastrous for the rest of the commercial radio industry. There are only five national FM stations broadcasting in the UK: Radios 1-4 and Classic FM. What Bazalgette is proposing is to sell off the two popular music stations. This is fine if you're part of a commercial group that ends up winning these stations, but disastrous for everybody else. Commercial radio revenues are fairly static at the moment - about £600m - and they're not likely to grow significantly in the near future. Indeed one of the issues facing new entrants to the industry is that, like television, everybody's seeing a slightly thinner slice of the pie as more stations launch.

If Radio 1 and Radio 2 became commercial, you can be sure that the lion's share of that £600m would go to the owners of those stations; everybody else would be fighting for metaphorical breadcrumbs. The biggest stations always get the most advertising, and these two would strangle local stations who rely on national income.

It seems a strange thing to argue coming as someone who works in commercial radio, but I think you'll find the same is true if I was at ITV. They don't want to see their revenues halved if money had to flood into BBC1. As a nation, we're not large enough to support such a diverse selection of mainstream, and expensively produced services as we currently have. The advertising market just wouldn't sustain it.

Digital Radio - What Now?

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(First off, it's worth me reiterating that these are my personal views and don't necessarily reflect those of my employer)

The following is a revision of a comment I made to a blog posting by The Guardian's Matt Wells last week. I think it largely addresses the issues of where radio - and commercial radio in particular - needs to move to today:

There's been a lot of talk about how technology has really been the main failing of DAB, with commentators continually addressing issues like the emergence of a successor to DAB, DAB+, and low broadcast bitrates of DAB stations as being reasons behind the lack of explosive success of DAB digital radio in the UK.

I think the technology arguments are a little specious. Sure, if you were launching digital radio in the UK today, you might well choose DAB+. But the only real difference with that is that you can squeeze more stations into the same space - and one thing we currently don't have is a shortage of space. With technology we're going to be constantly playing a catch-up game. If we backed DAB+ today, "DAB++" would be announced tomorrow and we'd be back to square one.

DAB essentially works on MPEG2 which is the same system that Freeview uses - the phenomenally successful Freeview that is - now in more homes than any other digital platform. What's under the bonnet doesn't really matter. In this instance, it's programme or station choice, audio clarity and usability that count.

Sound quality is a well trodden argument. Radio 3 has a high bitrate and needs it. Pop stations tend to be lower - yet even the original recordings these days, are compressed enormously (ironically, so that they sound "loud" on mp3 players and FM radio), so there's not a lot to be gained or lost, for many pop stations. I agree that mono is not the best option for music stations, but much listening is done in non optimal conditions on kitchen radios.

Now I wouldn't for one second say that DAB could replace FM or AM today, tomorrow, or perhaps even ever. But what it does, it does pretty well. It has the ability to give us more choice in a format that for most people is an improvement in quality. Like all digital technologies, you either get a good signal, or you don't get one at all.

If you want to listen in home or at work, then as long as you can get a signal, it's a perfectly viable replacement. If you want to listen in car, it is a problem - largely because you almost certainly don't have an in-car radio. There are rumours that Ford will start fitting DAB radios as standard is some models soon, but we're heard these stories for a long time. I suspect that the profit on every new car sold is very tight, and if a car manufacturer can get away with fitting an FM radio, they will.

Out and about? Well portables are pretty good and improving all the time. They don't work well in shops where my AM radio still lets me listen to the football when I'm out shopping on a Saturday afternoon, and battery life is poor. But overall, I can listen fine on my daily commute into work, again, as long as you have a decent signal along your journey.

There's now an EPG on DAB, and the recent Roberts MP-Sound 41 allows you to programme your radio to record shows in advance straight to an SD card. In other words, exactly what you can do with your Sky+ - except that Sky doesn't offer a full radio EPG because their early digiboxes have run out of memory so they don't bother (this is also the reason why the list is now closed to new Sky launches).

The internet is not going to be a replacement for a while to come. You can't stream radio in your car, and you're not likely to be able to for some time. But it's worth noting that not as much listening takes place in car as you might think. According to the most recent RAJAR figures, only 21% of radio listening is in car; most of it, 63%, is at home - the remainder is largely at work.

When you are able to receive a viable internet connection in your car, via WiMax, 3G or whatever, it'll almost certainly cost you. And the infrastructure of internet broadcasting is not yet in a position that radio broadcasters would be able to serve the current broadcast audience via the internet. The bandwidth isn't there. Putting a tall tower up and broadcasting the signal to anyone who cares to tune in, is still the most efficient way to get radio to the listener.

One of the more interesting numbers propogated by GCap is their claim that they have 15 million FM listeners and 1.7 million online. 15 million represents GCap's weekly reach across the group on RAJAR - and it includes digital listening (including online). But their online audience, at least according to RAJAR, is not 1.7 million. It's significantly less than that - at least for one week's reach (RAJAR agreements mean that I can't publish another station's platform listening figures here). Now different measurement systems produce different results, and the online world has many different systems including a site's own analytics software, but I'd be very interested to learn where this figure was derived from. 15 million represents one week's listening to the network. Does 1.7 million also represent one week's listening?

Podcasting certainly has a place in the landscape, but they don't have the immediacy of radio, and can't offer the choice of entertainment that broadcast radio can offer. If I want to listen to music, I listen to the radio. When I heard about the Camden fire a week ago, I turned on LBC to find out what was going on. The same goes for football, coverage of the BAFTAs, or even, god help us, the Brits.

So you're left with what? A choice between the status quo, and the stations we have currently, or a digital platform that has space for new entrants. Indeed, for reasons I don't understand, GCap's new Chief Executive, and previously my ultimate boss, is arguing for switching off AM radio too. Obviously she hasn't spent enough time in Snowdonia or the Highlands, where AM is the only radio option at all in many places.

DAB has to overcome some hurdles - principly the cost of transmission needs to come down, so that an econimically viable model can be found for some of the niche stations like Planet Rock and theJazz. But it's not as though the wrong horse has been backed. There isn't another horse anywhere else in the world that's looking a likelier bet.

So is GCap pulling out of DAB a threat or an opportunity? It's both. Channel 4 can't launch soon enough for the good of the platform, although the latest we hear is that it won't be up and running until the autumn. But if under the new Arqiva ownership, Digital One can arrive at a charging model that allows for some sustainable business models for smaller stations, then there is surely an opportunity for some new radio services programmed by people who care about the product?

In the meantime, the Digital Radio Working Group has begun to meet to try to determine what should happen next. But will the market end up making that decision for them?

Radio News

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GCap's announcement on Monday about its plans for the future were big news this week in the radio world (I'll get around to some of my thoughts in due course), and the media sales trade magazine Media Week gave its cover lead to the story. GCap's withdrawal from Digital One and the knock on effect that this might have on the DAB Digital Radio platform left some serious questions to be answered.

But curiously, today's issue of Broadcast, the trade magazine which is "The Voice of British Broadcasting," can only find space to mention the story on page 14.

This means one of two things: Either I'm living in the confines of a relatively small industry where such announcements are far more important that they are in the real world, or Broadcast has got its news values massively wrong.

It's worth noting that GCap's announcement saw coverage on the BBC's Ten O'Clock News that evening, and even The Sun covered it - and not on its business page.

I rather suspect that like the recent Broadcast Awards, if it doesn't move on a screen, then they're really not that interested in it. Certainly there's a dedicated radio page, like there's a dedicated multimedia page, but we're in the 21st century now, and it's really not all about TV.

At the very least, I would expect some kind of comment or editorial piece on the move.

But for Broadcast, the big news is that Five is planning to bring back Minder, with Shane Ritchie tipped to play Arthur Daley (I know. I just felt a shiver down my spine too).

BBC Three - Designed For Two Year Olds

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We all know that bright and shiny things attract children (and magpies). You only have to look at CBeebies to see examples of that: Teletubbies, The Tweenies, Bob the Builder etc.

I can only assume somebody over at BBC Three is aged about two and a half. Otherwise they wouldn't have decided that a bright neon pink logo was needed for the channel. They may as well have it spinning, beeping and bouncing around the screen, as it couldn't attract any more attention.

It's the worst DOG in all of multi-channel television, and there are some really bad logos out there.

Seriously. Do they want anyone to actually watch the shows?

Forget it. Get rid of the logos, or I stop watching the channel.*


*Yes, I might be slightly out of their target age group, but that's irrelevant. I've been reading Jamie Hewlett comics on and off for years. So I'm well within my rights to watch Phoo Action.

And Now On Radio 4

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This is one of two books published towards the end of last year to tie in, unofficially, with Radio 4's 40th anniversary. And Now On Radio 4 takes a fairly brisk look at the history of the channel, with very little background about what radio had been broadcast in the UK prior to the big changes of 1967.

The format of the book means that we go through an average Radio 4 day, starting with Farming Today and ending with the Shipping Forecast. At each time of the day, the network's history is examined, and so we find ourselves jumping forwards and backwards as necessary.

The book has a relative lightness of tone which makes it very engaging, and also easy to dip into and out of. But that does also mean that some parts could easily form whole chapters, instead of the two or three pages they end up being awarded.

And there is an annoying editorial practice of having boxouts of subjects take the top two-thirds of up to four pages at a time, meaning that you have to jump back those pages to where you'd been. The non-linear book experience? Call me old fashioned, but I'd like a straighter read.

But when all is said and done, there are a lot things that I learnt about the channel. It's obvious that a handful of contributors have made up a significant proportion of the book's firsthand tales, but that gives it a very personal touch.

I look forward to comparing it with David Hendy's book.

There Will Be Blood

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I'm not quite sure why, but I always treat a Daniel Day Lewis film with some trepidation; he doesn't exactly produce films at the same rate as Samuel L Jackson. But There Will Be Blood has been talked about with such great praise, that I was really keen to see it.

The distributors have gone for a limited release in the first week that seemingly builds word of mouth, so that next week when it opens nationally, I'll have told all my national friends (well those who don't read this blog) that it's wonderful and that they should rush out to see it.

It'd be a shame to say much about the plot, involving the birth of the oil industry, but so much more than that. The two key performances are those of Daniel Day Lewis who plays Daniel Plainview, a man who is driven to succeed, paying lip-service but perhaps not much more, to those around him as he strives for success, and Eli Sunday, upon whose family's land oil is found. Eli is a preacher, and he and Daniel continually fight and strive against one another as each somehow needs what the other has.

At 158 minutes, the film might seem long, but when the end finally comes, you know that you could have easily watched another thirty minutes.

As it is, the film opens with a long sequence in which no dialogue is spoken, but we do get to hear Jonny Greenwood's incredible score which is like no other, and yet is completely appropriate. For some reason it's not eligible for an Oscar because some of it predates this film. Just another reason why I don't like the Oscars (actually, the more I think about, the more I hate all awards ceremonies).

Anyway, you need to go and see this film, you really do.

BAFTAs 2008

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9.00pm The BAFTAs begin and we're told by our host, Jonathan Ross, that this is has been a great year for films. We see a montage of clips from various films. For some reason, Transformers is in there.

9.01pm It's clear that the sound is completely out of kilter with the left and right channels being out of sync with the centre channel.

9.04pm Someone has turned off the centre channel leaving those with surround sound systems at least hearing the sound without it appearing to eminate from a goldfish bowl.

9.08pm The sound's fixed!

9.10pm Shane Meadows wins the Korda award, and gets it presented by Sly.

9.15pm The "Orange" Rising Star award must surely go to Ellen Page. Or maybe Wei Tang. Instead Shia LaBeouf gets it, although he's not here to collect it. He starred in Transformers...

9.25pm The Lives of Others wins the best foreign film, and the director gives an impassioned speech (and hopes that it makes the final edit. It obviously does).

9.28pm Adapted screenplay must go to No Country For Old Men surely? It's a tough category though with most of the best film contenders seemingly being in there.

9.29pm It goes to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly... which I haven't seen (well it only came out on Friday in about three screens). Ronald Harwood announces that he's no longer on strike and forgives those BAFTA members who didn't vote for him!

9.34pm Best Supporting Actor, and as usual, there are some pointless words about what it means to be a supporting actor. Javier Bardem gets my vote...

9.36pm ...and that of BAFTA!

9.39pm Dreadful "CGI Fridays" gag that for Brits isn't funny, and for the rest makes no sense.

9.40pm Orlando Bloom introduces a "package" which is something I though F1 drivers had. If 30th Century Man wins, then I've got it on my Sky+. In fact Matt Greenhalgh wins for Control, which is arriving in the post tomorrow on DVD. The Hollywood A list don't know who Tony Wilson is when Matt dedicates his award to him.

9.47pm We get a "clip" of a winning sixty second film.

9.48pm Emily Blunt couldn't look like any more like she was reading off a screen if she tried. A crap joke about Matthew McConaughey doesn't help. The Golden Compass wins best visual effects. Lots of them, lots of thanks.

9.53pm Cuba Gooding Junior is introduced as once having been in Jerry Maguire. That's a damning indictment on his career since. The winner of best supporting actress is Tilda Swinton for Michael Clayton.

9.55pm A "red button" indicator is telling me that I can watch red carpet coverage on interactive. I think I might just stick with the awards thanks.

9.57pm It looks like we're getting ready for a news break, as there's another montage of films - largely better ones than previously - and some dreadful puns.

9.58pm There's a trailer for Mad Men which is still "coming soon." From the first couple of episodes it looks like a cracking series. I'm looking forward to seeing it in full.

10.00pm Don't go peeking (I haven't). Back here at 10.20pm.

10.20pm We're back - a bit too suddenly because we caught a glimpse of a couple of frames between the news and the weather, and nobody backed it up. Still Eddie Izzard's on to present the animated award, but he's doing a short set first. As I've seen none of these films, I don't really care who wins.

10.22pm Ratatouille won. "Put the bloody mic up." Brad Bird couldn't be here.

10.26pm Another failed crack about Final Draft. Not many writers in then. Still loved the intro to Hugh "ITV3's Jeeves & Wooster" Laurie. He makes an epithelial membrane gag at which point we cut away to a stony faced Rhys Ifans. Juno should win this.

10.29pm It does! (If you've seen the film, download the script here. If you haven't, go and see it first!)

10.33pm The "in memorium" piece ends with Heath Ledger, and there do seem to be some genuine tears in eyes.

10.37pm The Outstanding Contribution to British Cinema award goes to Barry Wilkinson for props. He might have worked for 40 years, but the only film clips shown come from films made in the last 20.

10.41pm The David Lean Award for best director. I suspect it'll go to Paul Thomas Anderson, although possibly the Coen brothers. They're both exceptional films.

10.42pm The Coens win! Joel collects the award. If he's prepared his speech, it doesn't sound like it.

10.48pm Harvey Keitel presents the leading actress. Ellen Page would be my choice...

10.49pm But Marion Cotillard wins. She thanks Olivier! I guess this is by far the most surprising result of the evening so far (not that we've seen a whole host of awards that we'll no doubt get in an "earlier..." segment). At least it was Keira Knightley.

10.51pm We were led to believe that all the Hollywood glitterati would be turning out tonight because of the writers' strike (now as good as over). So Kate Hudson seems an odd choice to present the leading actor award. I loved her in Almost Famous. But since? Daniel Day Lewis is a shoe-in isn't he?

10.53pm And he gets it. They cut away to James McAvoy who didn't look overly impressed. Not sure about the piratical earrings, but he leads us on a lovely story about his childhood before getting to his acceptance.

10.57pm Best film now. Jeff Goldblum and Kevin Spacey are plugging their play... sort of.

11.00pm Atonement wins. Which I find amazing, since nearly all the others in contention were better. I'm beginning to think that whichever film gets the biggest whoop in the auditorium is the likely winner. Ridley Scott looked decidedly unimpressed when they cut away to him. He literally had his nose in the air.

11.03pm Dickie comes out to present the Fellowship, and begins with the football scores. Anthony Hopkins is getting it. Was this a surprise? We get a Hopkins "medley." I'd have thought that again, a few earlier examples of his work might not have gone amiss.

11.10pm I did enjoy the fact that he decided not to read his speech, and instead thank Lord Attenborough. He goes into a speech anyway... obviously.

11.13pm And that's it... nearly. Now we get the "other awards." Ricky Gervais begins with a joke about it. The camera really has to search the back of the auditorium to find the winners. I was pleased that Roger Deakins won the cinematography award for No Country. He's amazing! The Bourne Ultimatum got the best sound and editing awards which were deserving.

In summary then, La Vie En Rose seems to have really been the evening's big winner with several craft awards. Was it worth blogging it? Probably not.

1 Billion Viewers

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Yesterday the news broke that the Premier League is considering giving everyone an extra fixture which will be played in one of five cities internationally.

I'll leave others to debate the pros and cons of such a scheme - or "brand extension".

But plenty of reports claim that "an estimated 1bn people watched the Premier League game between Arsenal and Manchester United in November 2007."

I don't know who was doing the estimating, but they're wrong.

The reason for the billion estimate was because the game was airing in primetime in the Far East. Everyone knows that countries like China are finding English football ever more popular. Except, that of course, while the population of the country is roughly 1.3bn, comparatively few of them can watch football. It's a premium commodity!

But as of the end of last year, WinTV which bought the rights to Premier League games for three seasons from the start of this one, only had 20,000 subscribers.

Curiously, depending where you read, reports suggest that previously between 30m and 300m were watching Premier League football regularly.

I tend to believe the former number rather than the latter, since the most popular single show on Chinese TV is the CCTV New Year's Gala which is estimated to achieve audiences of up to 700m (this year's Gala was on Wednesday).

Obviously there are many more places that show "EPL football" as it's known internationally. But in a recent report from Initiative Sports Futures, it placed the Superbowl as the biggest single event, with an average audience of 97m in January 2007, and a total audience (reach) of 142m. This shouldn't be confused with this year's Superbowl which achieved an average audience of 97.5m in the US alone, making it the second biggest broadcast ever in that country, only behind the final episode of *MASH* which achieved 106m. And that figure excludes people who watched in clubs and bars.

As Initiative's report says:

Initiative Sports Futures' league table of the most popular televised sporting events of the year is very different from that which would be produced if based on typically reported audiences.

Initiative Sports Futures believes that it is vital to draw these differences between actual and reported TV audiences to the attention of sponsors. Reported audiences often reflect the potential number of viewers, or include news clips within the total audience figures.

Here's the full list of sports:

World's Most Watched TV Sports Events 2007

Podcasting Forecasts

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As a follow-up to RAJAR's recent research into podcasting, the US based eMarketer.com has just released some forecasts for podcast revenues for the next five years.

The full report retails for $695, so you'll excuse me if I limit my notes to the findings they publish on their blog.

They suggest that total audience for podcasts in the US in 2007 was 18.5m. RAJAR had a UK figure of 4.3m. So the US listenership is 4.3 times the UK one. Considering that the population of the US is roughly 5 times that of the UK, this seems quite reasonable - particularly as the UK has faster internet access than the US.

When the active audience is examined - those who've downloaded a podcast in the last week - the figures are 6.5m in the US and 1.9m in the UK; a factor of 3.4 times the size in the US. Again, I find this broadly believable.

What RAJAR hasn't (and wouldn't) been able to provide, is the value of podcasting market. eMarketer considers "advertising" to include sponsorship. I assume that also includes podcasts made to order for clients. The 2007 value is $165m which if we extrapolate, would equate to $38-50m for the UK market (using the multiples above) - or £19-25m.

Is this right? I don't know, although I suspect that the proliferation of BBC programmes available as podcasts might suggest this is a bit high, albeit that these same podcasts are available to US consumers as well.

The report also predicts some significant growth in the next five years, with revenues rising to $435m by 2012, representing an increase of 264%. Let's hope so!

Finally, they list some of the factors they believe are driving growth:

A number of factors are driving the growth of the podcast-user base:

  • Greater ease of consumption for podcast content
  • Growing awareness of podcasting
  • Terrestrial radio‚Äôs use and promotion of podcasting
  • Increased penetration of portable players
  • The evolution of smart phones and proliferation of affordable mobile data plans

I wouldn't disagree with any of those areas. What closer analysis of RAJAR's research has made me consider is that for a lot of people, getting podcasts onto their portable devices is still actually quite tricky. They don't understand what "subscribe" means, and beyond the iPod and iTunes, there's not a user-friendly system for the non-tech minded consumer to use.

As a result, many people now have mobile phones that are perfectly capable of playing back podcasts, but they're not using them.

RAJAR's research told us that more people play back their podcasts on their PC than anywhere else, and while a PC will always be convenient for many, I believe that this is more because consumers don't know how to get podcasts onto their portable devices.

To continue growing the uptake of podcasts, radio stations and others have to provide clear explanations of how subscriptions work, and methods for getting podcasts regularly updated and onto their listeners' devices as easily and painlessly as possible. Only then will podcasting become truly mainstream.


*As ever, these views are mine, and don't necessarily reflect those of my employer, Virgin Radio.

Timewatch - The History of a Mystery (1996)

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"Someone" uploaded my favourite ever episode of Timewatch.

It's an episode that examines, seemingly at face value, the claims of such books as The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (you know, the one Dan Brown has evidently written). At the time this documentary was shown, there'd been a rush of similar titles. Indeed, the latest one was The Tomb of God, who's authors featured in the programme. And the publishers had a full page ad placed in that day's Times pointing potential readers towards the Timewatch episode.

What they didn't know was that about half way through, the programme changes tack and carefully dismantles the facade that all the various authors had built.

This documentary seems eminently timely for a dusting down these days with so many readers seemingly believing that The Da Vinci Code is real, and these pseudo-historical books seeing a resurgence - check out the "history" section in your local bookshop.

So do have a watch!

MMR and Autism

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The Guardian has a front page report on yet another study which should finally dismiss any links people might believe can be made between the MMR vaccination and autism. This is accompanied by a leader.

MMR and Autism

But as you can see, there's also an advert on P17 of G2 for a company called Wellcare which plainly plays on parents' fears of MMR and autism in some way being linked.

Robin Hood Was Real

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In a smart PR move to promote UKTV Gold now running BBC1's Robin Hood, the company commissioned some research which has resulted in worldwide coverage.

Seemingly teenagers think that Winston Churchill didn't exist and that Robin Hood was real.

When I read about something like this, I immediately want to read the full press release, which isn't something easily done. I found this reference to the poll on UKTV's site. And it pointed out what some of the press reports hadn't - that the research was conducted amongst 3000 under 20s.

OK, so 3000 seems like a pretty robust sample. So which research firm carried out the questionnaire, and exactly how were the questions framed?

I can't find a source. Was it YouGov or similar? There's no questionnaire either.

Can I suggest that using whatever methodology they did (and I'm guessing, but stand to be corrected) that it wasn't a usual research company given the unnecessarily high sample size, they just presented a list of historical figures, factual and fictional, and asked people to say which was which.

The tenth placed fictional character who was thought to be factual was Robinson Cruesoe with 5%. King Arthur was top, but then since UKTV Gold's sister channel UKTV History pumps out as many documentaries as any other channel about the "truth" of Arthur, Merlin, Camelot et al, this perhaps isn't so surprising. 58% claiming Sherlock Holmes is real seems very suspicious. Hence I really want to know the details.

Derren Brown: The System

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I do enjoy most of Derren Brown's programmes. The last series was a bit poor however, with episodes in which he essentially "kidnapped" a person and had them "wake up" in Marrakesh, not really going anywhere. But he's a great magician and showman who positively reinvigorated magic on television.

The System
began with Brown claiming to have perfected a system in which a punter could be guaranteed a win at the races. We followed Khadisha who gets sent an anonymous text telling her the name of a horse that will win a specific race. While she doesn't know who sent her the text, at some point early on, she's been instructed to started taping herself on a video camera as she continues to receive texts revealing winning horses, and she continues to win.

Brown also draws together a few luminaries from the racing world, and performs a very good trick in which he reveals advance knowledge of some people that they pick randomly.

But back to Khadisha. By now she's had five wins, and has been betting more each time. She now comes to a race course for the first time, and she's accompanied by a camera crew who film her reactions as, amazingly, she wins when her horse comes from behind to win, after the leading two horses both dismount their jockeys at the final fence (there's an uncomfortable part where it seems one of those horses is being shot having not recovered from the fall, but I think it eventually leapt back up).

Finally she's introduced to Brown as the mastermind behind The System, who gets her to put £4,000 on a seventh and final race. We're told that she's borrowed this cash and can't afford to lose it. With the bet on, the seemingly miraculous system is revealed by Brown.

She's not the only person who's been getting texts - there are 7,776 people (66). With the first race, they were each given one of six horses to back. In a six horse race, that left 1,296 winners. The production team kept going until they were down to the final six individuals who been randomly allocated the first four winners. Each of these had a small camera crew assigned as they made their fifth bet. Obviously the other five didn't win.

Brown illustrated this nicely by standing in front of a table and tossing a coin ten times in a row to get ten heads. He revealed that he'd in fact spent upwards of nine hours standing there tossing the coin until chance let him get ten tosses in a row. The sequence will come out once in every 1,024 sequences, so it would take a few hours to get it.

Anyway, we were left with Khadisha as the other five all lost.

With the trick revealed it was clear Brown couldn't know who would win the final race. And true enough, her horse didn't come in, leaving her crestfallen. But Brown then revealed that he'd had a change of heart and put the cash on a different horse - the winner. And so, she had £13,000 and was very happy.

It was a good trick, and obviously the production team had put a lot of effort in from the outset, even if it became clear before the reveal what was going on.

But I'm still troubled by a few things. We started seeing home video footage of Khadisha fairly early on - certainly at a point where if all the people left in the experiment had been given cameras, then they'd have had to send out several hundred camcorders. This wasn't mobile phone footage, so I don't think people were using their own cameras (widescreen footage; decent resolution). And the contestants had obviously been asked to talk about what they were doing quite a lot, because Khadisha explained her thinking and didn't just silently watch the races. This is the trick that's used in many quiz shows where there are a limited number of questions. Because it's all about suspense, it's clear that contestants are asked to voice their thinking, explaining why they went for a specific answer. It's this type of coaching that Khadisha seemed to have been given. Otherwise, there'd have been a very real danger of her just silently watching the races. I'd also love to know what bookies think of punters taking video cameras into their shops with them.

Then there's the whole question of release forms. If you go on TV, you have to sign something to say that you're happy to be broadcast. Objective (the production company that makes the Derren Brown shows) must have had to get those releases in right from the outset. It was never explained how nearly 8,000 people were recruited, but they'd surely need to know that it was for television, and agree upfront to take part. That surely means signing a release form, and agreeing to go through with the whole project and not disappear on holiday in the middle of proceedings.

We were also told that the 7,775 unsuccessful people were offered refunds for any cash they'd spent. I did at first wonder about that, although a poster at Digital Spy notes that it'd have cost somewhere around £20,000 to refund everybody involved - not too bad really. But did everyone even place a bet on every horse they were asked to? Even with the best will in the world, there were probably times when some contestants were unable to place a bet for varying reasons. True, they were undoubtedly told after the event that their horse had won, but having that knowledge and actually using it are two different things. Khadisha waved her winnings around happily for the camera - that makes good TV.

Finally, it's obvious that for the final bet, Objective covered all six horses in the race to ensure that Khadisha won. £24,000 (6 x £4000) will have been just a small proportion of the overall production budget would have made it worth it. And the bookie involved will have been happy to take that bet!

Maybe I'm overly suspicious, but it all doesn't seem quite right.

That all said, I still enjoyed the show, and especially enjoyed the start of Brown's explanation, when he likened the method used to homeopathic remedies; some people feel as though they work (through the placebo effect amongst other reasons) like Khadesha who was convinced that there was a "system", but in clinical trials they're seen to make no difference (only one person in 7,776 was a "winner"). And it was also positive to see some basic statistics and probability theory presented on screen although I'm a little hazy about his "1.48 billion to one" odds on there actually being a system. The calculation he performed on screen with his racing world luminaries seemed correct, but had no direct bearing on the overall "System" he was trying to prove.

All said and done - I'm looking forward to whatever he does next, and I really must get around to reading his book which is sitting on my unread pile.

Cloverfield

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I must admit that I hadn't been looking forward to Cloverfield with quite the same enthusiasm that some on the internet had been. But the teaser trailer was good fun, as did the idea of a film with no stars, and all that it brought with it. I will just mention that having two brothers look quite so similar meant that I could barely tell them apart towards the beginning of the film.

Cloverfield's premise is that the whole thing is seen through the eyes of a video camera that begins videoing a going-away party and continues as the attack on New York begins.

I do have a couple of issues about how they did it. Unlike The Blair Witch Project, this isn't shot on a video camera. It may have been shot digitally - it looks like film - but it's certainly not made with any kind of consumer camera. Somehow, that detracts from the idea. And I suppose it would be a little unfair to note that the beginning of the film - colour bars and a timecode - the contents are labelled as coming from an SD card, when the premise of the film, with bits of previous footage being recorded over, requires a tape. The characters also refer to a tape.

But I'm being a little disingenuous since I think that this is a pretty good monster attack film. The characters' point of view as we run around New York at first trying to escape, and then looking to save a girlfriend, means that we never really find out what's going on, how the monster was unleashed, or even ultimately how the end comes. Instead it's bits of TV news in apartments and in a looted electrical store.

The monster itself is interesting and dinosaur like, although it also has a certain post-Lord of the Rings element to it, with the skin not dissimilar to Gollum.

The film has a devil may care attitude that I quite enjoyed, and the unknown cast meant that like Starship Troopers, you didn't know who was going to live or die, or what would happen. That's just so refreshing, as heroes being invulnerable can be no fun.

The whole thing comes in at under an hour and a half which is thoroughly refreshing. So well worth a brief diversion.

Bedroom TV

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A couple of week's ago Charlie Brooker wrote about the fun madness that is Bedroom TV - a channel where members of the public video themselves lip-syncing to pop songs.

Fast forward a week or so, and we put together a leaving video for a much loved colleague who was departing after more than ten years. You can see the result here:

Anyway, suddenly putting it Bedroom TV seemed like a fun idea.

Now there are a couple of issues - I didn't ask permission of everybody for putting the video into the public domain. I don't suppose anyone would mind, but it was there.

Yet the pull of seeing the video on TV - albeit a channel high in the 300s on Sky - but then I read the terms and conditions for submitting videos. Here's an extract, with my emphasis on a few points:

2. You give us all consents necessary for us to edit, produce and broadcast your image, voice and likeness in any manner we see fit for the purposes of creating the Programme and to use and exploit the Footage for any purpose/action whatsoever that Bedroom TV wants, throughout the world and in all media (whether now in existence or developed in the future), forever. You agree that we will be the sole owner of the worldwide copyright and all other rights/interests in the Footage and you waive any rights/interest that you may have in the Footage. Where any rights vest in you, you irreversibly transfer (by way of current or future transfer) such rights to us absolutely, worldwide and in all media (whether now in existence or developed in the future), forever.

3. We will be entitled to sub-license, transfer or assign our rights hereunder to any successor, subsidiary, affiliate and/or any person acquiring all or substantially all of Bedroom TV's assets, provided that Bedroom TV remains responsible for its obligations in this letter, where such assignee/transferee is not responsible. This release shall be binding on you, your heirs, executors, administrators, successors and assigns.

So in other words if I were to upload this to Bedroom TV I'm giving up any rights I might have in it forever more!

Even for a pointless leaving video, that sounds like an extreme state of affairs, and there's no way I could agree to that. I couldn't take the video back or delete it; I'd have no chance to ever prosper from it (not that I'd want to given the soundtrack isn't entirely, erm, original).

My advice to teenagers of all ages with video cameras and camera phones is to not upload your productions to this TV channel. Surely now we're in an age where we don't just give our rights to products away - we're in an age where YouTube will share ad revenue with video creators, always assuming those videos aren't made up of clips from last night's Dancing on Ice or whatever.

V Chips

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From January 1 2000, every TV set in the US has had to have something called a "V Chip" built into it. Effectively this is a parental control system similar to those found on systems such as Sky digiboxes, that allows parents to limit what their children are allowed to watch.

A rating code for every TV programme is broadcast in line 21 of the analogue signal, and the "V Chip" can block you watching that programme dependent on how the parental controls are set up on the TV's menu.

All well and good.

But my sister recently bought a TV in the US - it was a shop-soiled display model bought at a discount - and she's been happily using it for the last few months. Like nearly the entire US, she's not bothered with using the V Chip system. In her case, there are no children that she has to protect, but surveys have shown that nobody bothers with the system.

Anyway, for the last couple of weeks, as the race to the White House hots up, every time a Barack Obama add comes on her screen it's suddenly blocked.

"The ad starts... 'my name is Bara...' and then goes black, says 'blocked' with a 4 or 5 *s on it."

Hiliary Clinton's ads are just fine. She wondered if it was something happening at the local cable company, or even someone in her building doing it.

I'm pretty sure that it's not evil Clinton apparatchiks stopping the ads. I'm told that its likely that somebody at a post production house, perhaps adding closed caption data, screwed up, and put some kind of rating on these ads.

At the moment, I'm not 100% certain that this is the problem, but it seems the likeliest. Unfortunately, the remote sold with my sister's TV is not the correct one for that model, so getting into the menu system to check (and possibly unlock) is going to be difficult.

But it's worrying to think that all those concerned parents may be inadvertently be blocking Obama ads!

I always find the puritanical nature of American broadcasting remarkable given the large legal pornography industry that they have. And while a parental control system is to be welcomed, they still insist on fining ABC millions of dollars for showing a tiny bit of nudity on an old episode of NYPD Blue, which was broadcast past 9pm at night.

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