March 2009 Archives

The Prisoner - Coming Not So Soon?

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Broadcast Magazine has a new picture of Sir Ian as Number 2 in the ITV/AMC remake of The Prisoner.

Slightly worryingly, the piece says that AMC is planning on airing it later this year, while ITV is showing it in 2010. Might I suggest that this is a bad idea if ITV wants to avoid rampant piracy?

Simultaneous broadcasts - or as near to as possible - is the only way to show this kind of event TV. Not doing that will just reduce the available audience. That's especially true with genre programming, and is why Sky One has been showing Battlestar Galactica as near to the US screenings as possible.

Radio Radio

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A couple of worthwhile pieces in today's Media Guardian for those interested in the radio industry.

Global's Stephen Miron gives an interview. The subject of licence roll-over is brought up. Classic FM is the first of the three INR licences to be renewed, expiring in September 2011. Global would like an extension rather than the highest bidder mechanism - something that's currently legislated.

The piece also highlights two speculated national services for DAB, including a talk station. Miron won't talk about that, so we'll have to wait and see.

The bit I'm unsure about is the comparison between the Heart network and Radio 2. Miron positions Heart as a Radio 2 that you can advertise on. Given the recent issues Global's had with Ofcom in regard to contemporary music levels, I'm not sure that the comparison is quite there (although Radio 2 certainly does play a significant level of contemporary music). Many of the services that have recently become Hearts were actually more chart based than Radio 2, and they've not had their formats changed.

Meanwhile Martin Kelner - recently employed by TalkSport - addresses the marketing surrounding the introduction of Heart in the last week to lots of towns and cities west of London. Toby Anstis, who's morning show is networked across all 29 Heart services, had been rolled out to places such as Oxford, Plymouth, Exeter and Reading to explain why his show was relevant to local audiences. His reasoning was indeed a little flawed - he'd visited some of these places before, been on holiday there, or his brother had been to university and so on.

The only way to really win this argument is to provide compelling programming to those audiences - something better than they'd been getting before.

Kelner, meanwhile, wanders off in an odd direction at the end, suggesting that the BBC scraps local radio to let commercial radio have a proper go. I'm really not sure that this is a great solution. In most parts of the country BBC local radio is targeting a much older audience - witness the furore surrounding Dave and Sue a few years ago.

Dave and Sue

As Kelner notes, many local services really aren't doing as much journalism as they might once have, so is it a good idea to scrap the one type of service that is doing local news? Particularly at a time when local newspapers and downsizing or shutting down throughout the land.

The BBC Trust ruled against the BBC's local video plans last year, amid great protest from local newspapers and radio services. Ironically, I can see there actually being a significant hole in coverage in the future, as many stations rely solely on the Press Association or Sky News for their journalistic requirements. David Simon in The Guardian this weekend pointed out that a loss of local media means it's easier to get away with things like political corruption. While the nationals may catch Jacqui Smith's TV viewing habits, do they catch agreements between local councillors and supermarket chains, or developers? Is that something that bloggers will catch if there are no journalists?

Any destruction of the coverage of local news is something to be opposed at every level. It'll be bad enough if there's only a single source of news - the BBC.

[As always, these opinions are mine, and do not reflect those of my employer.]

Knowing

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This is a film I went into completely blind. I knew it couldn't have had the best reviews of the week, but I hadn't seen a trailer and didn't really know anything about it.

First things first. Nic Cage's hair is very strange in this film. At some point soon he's going to have to acknowledge it's receding, because hair cuts like this don't really, umm, cut it.

To the film. I suppose not knowing what the film's about is a strength in this instance. We open in 1959 school where there's a very strange little girl. She's suggested that their school celebrates its opening by placing a time capsule in the ground. Her classmates all draw pictures of spaceships and robots to bury, but little Lucinda writes two sides of seemingly random numbers. They all get buried.

Flash forward to 2009 and Nic Cage is John, a lecturer at MIT who seems to give quite facile lectures. He also looks at Saturn in his garden with lights all over the place, surely making it really hard to see the night sky. He doesn't believe in god, and hasn't talked to his pastor father for an indeterminate period of time. He's a widower with a son, Caleb (a very biblical name for a non-believer, but then Caleb appears in the Book of Numbers, so that'll be the reason).

Strange things begin to happen when the time capsule's opened up and Caleb gets Lucinda's scribblings. Late at night John spots the date of 11 September, and then manically finds loads of other dates, along with spookily accurate numbers of people who died in each event (are the total fatalities for 9/11 even known that accurately?).

He shows his findings to his cynical physicist friend. It's all numerology. But there are three dates left, and each date has some more numbers attached which haven't been decoded.

And so we embark on something that's not too clear, and feels as though it might have strolled in from an M Night Shyamalan film. There are some strangers who are following Caleb around. He's seeing strange visions.

The first date arrives and there's an almighty accident that's a little too CGI for its own good.

I won't spoil the film any more as the direction it follows is uncertain, but anyone who's watched the films of Steven Spielberg should have a good idea where it's heading before it gets there.

Rose Byrne, seen most recently in Damages, gets an interesting role that doesn't inevitably become a romance with Cage - Byrne might be 15 years younger than Cage, but that wouldn't stop such a plot development in any other film.

What can I say about the ending without giving anything away? There's too much CGI that feels out of step with the rest of the film. I'd have saved the money and gone for something simpler.

The story didn't hang together well enough, and even when disaster was striking, Cage was seemingly able to stroll around with impunity. When everybody else's mobile phones were down, Cage's was up. Having Cage's character drink from a bottle of whiskey at any given evening was fine, but it wasn't really followed up. This was no Leaving Las Vegas.

All in all, interesting, but not great. Not terrible, but just OK.

A One-stop Audio Shop - Cons (and Pros)

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In this week's Broadcast magazine, Emily Bell suggests that it'd be a good idea for there to be a one-stop shop for audio. She's referring, of course, to Tim Davie's interview with Media Guardian on Monday suggesting that the BBC works with commercial radio to build a single "radioplayer."

"I'm talking about getting radio fit for the on-demand digital age. Why shouldn't we be able to live pause, put it on hard drive, grab stuff from the past seven days and pre-book on radio as well as TV," he says.

That's all pretty exciting, and there are some interesting ideas there. A core technology backbone for all radio offerings would be a good idea.

But a single radio player?

The problem is that he's coming at it from the point of view of a public broadcaster who's job is simply to get the Corporation's audio out to as many people as possible. But while that might be a major aim for commercial operators who also want their radio to be heard by as many people as possible, their prime aim is to make money via the medium. If one can't be done with the other, then it's not a solution.

And websites make money for radio stations - groups have digital sales teams. Once upon a time, a radio station's website might effectively have been classed as a line on the marketing budget. But no longer.

Commercial radio stations quite like it when stations listen to their service online via their own website. That's why you'll hear presenters drive listeners to stations' websites to interact, watch videos, enter competitions, find out more and so on.

Websites' radio players can also do smart things like be "skinned" by advertisers, have video or audio pre-rolls, and provide links to other popular fare like videos or social networking tools.

The idea that a listener instead goes to a generic 'www.radioplayer.co.uk' and goes direct to the stream is not something that's obviously commercially workable.

In her piece, Bell notes that we all go to YouTube for video. Most providers, even if they initially held firm, end up putting something on YouTube and hope that viewers come back to their sites for more. Thus the BBC put clips up and so on. But that's also the reason that Comedy Central in the US, for example, gets you to go to its own site for clips of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. It's all there and embeddable (indeed embedding clips is about the only way of watching outside the US), but those page impressions drive advertising direct to the producers.

I know that a viewer might prefer it if if they went to one place - a bit like their digital TV service's EPG to get programming. And maybe one day, individual station websites will seem as quaint as stations sending out magazines at regular intervals to members. Hastening their demise doesn't really help in the medium term. Not when it's the one certain revenue growth area in any media.

For some providers, of course, the idea might be good. The Guardian produces a lot of excellent programming, and would probably quite like to have The Guardian Daily show up in the same player that houses The Today Programme, have Media Talk sit alongside The Media Show, or Football Weekly somewhere in the vicinity of Five Live.

But even The Guardian might be concerned if it started to have an overall impact on page impressions of their otherwise very popular main site. Audio and video, to The Guardian, are not core components - they're nice extras that they're trying to grow.

Newspapers have had a difficult time with Google News, but most at least are clear that the page views are returned to the individual papers with their stories. That said, is The Guardian or The Times really comfortable with the fact that some (potential) readers head to www.google.co.uk/news rather than www.guardian.co.uk or www.timesonline.co.uk for their news needs?

At the moment, if someone wants to listen to Absolute Radio, they visit our website, and they aren't tempted by Xfm or 6 Music sitting just alongside.

I don't want to sound overly negative, but some very careful thought has to be put into how such ideas might work. Sharing some of the knowledge that the BBC has built up, and the developments it has made seems very sensible. The idea that I could set something to record a radio programme for me ahead of time is very interesting. And if I listen via a WiFi radio, then of course I'm not going to be visiting anybody's website and it's all moot anyway.

But in the current tough climate, radio groups are going to be ever more reliant on additional revenues generated away from simple spot airtime, and that means digital revenues. Anything that damages them is not going to be welcomed with open arms.

More on this from Matt, earlier in the week.

[As ever, these views are my own, and do not necessarily represent those of my employer]

What I've Been Listening To This Week

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Third Reich & Roll is a cracking three part documentary from Radio 2.

Stephen Fry narrates this story about how Nazi technology helped develop tape recording technology, and then the post-war development of multi-track technologies and stereo.

Part 2 is available until Monday and details what kind of technologies various classic albums used, from the fact that The Beatles were limited to no more than eight tracks - sometimes using two four-track devices in parrallel to achieve this - to the incredible tape layering required by Queen to achieve Bohemian Rhapsody.

I suspect that this Monday's final episode will get into the digital realm where tracks are now limitless.

Thanks to Speechification for the heads-up.

David Mitchell's The Unbelievable Truth is back for a third series this week. Not to be confused with the not-at-all-the-same yet not-all-that-different-either Would I Lie To You on TV, it's another Monday night comedy panel game.

From a few weeks ago, the Radio 4 book of the week was The Decisive Moment. This shouldn't really still be available on the iPlayer, but epsiode 3 is strangely still there. Anyway, it's quite an interesting listen, and no doubt a good read. That said, I thought that it jumped around a little bit, and I'm always a tad suspicious of the science in books like this. It always feels like someone has tried to retro-actively fit a bit of science around an otherwise interesting story. That might be the serviceman who decided that a radar blip was a missile rather than friendly plane, or the fireman who came up with a life-saving wildfire survival technique in a moment which was otherwise counter-intuitive.

And our very own Frank Skinner podcast is doing quite nicely in the suspicious iTunes podcast charts (Suspicious because it's never entirely clear how they're generated).

Still to listen to: William Boyd on Raymond Chandler on this week's Open Book.

Keep Calm

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Keep Calm and Turn It Off and On Again

Inspired by the ridiculously popular WWII poster, and The IT Crowd.

Personally I think another poster in the series - Freedom Is In Peril - is equally as relevant.

The Boat That Rocked

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23 March 2009

Obviously, any film that was going to set itself on a pirate radio station in the swinging sixties was going to pique my interest. And so it was with the new Richard Curtis film.

Richard Curtis films are big affairs - you don't make films like Love Actually and Notting Hill and decide that your next project is going to be a small one. So despite the relatively niche interest in something as obscure as British radio broadcasting history, we still get a sampling of some of our finest comic actors and a top American actor to boot.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is the obvious star, playing The Count, an American DJ broadcasting to the UK. The film tells us that something like 25m people a week were listening to pirate radio, and although I'm not sure how accurate that figure can possibly be, it's clear that for a long time before the BBC gave us Radio 1, Brits had to look elsewhere: legal or otherwise.

Is this an accurate history of what it was like to be on a pirate ship in the North Sea? Almost certainly not. They all look like they're having far too much fun, and of course the boat is manned by just about nobody else but DJs (there are other people who work at a radio station believe it or not). But that's not really the point. Curtis' films are never framed as social documentaries. They're supposed to give you a good time and leave you smiling at the end.

And The Boat That Rocks does that. It's laced with music from the period, and for the most part - despite some sexual escapades between the locked up men, they all get on well. The laughs are broad - sometimes too broad for my liking - but it all looks like fun.

If anything, the story is too slight. There's evil Kenneth Branagh, the government minister who's trying to close down the perverted pirates, and his henchman "Twatt" (Jack Davenport). Branagh is clearly having a whale of a time being evil with a Hitler-esque moustache to boot.

But aside from that, and Bill Nighy, the station's owner trying to combat the government, there's not really a lot to say. A young lad joins the boat, falls in love, and gets his heart broken before... Well you know. It's a Curtis film. Then there are some fallings out between DJs - I'd love to see two DJs sort out their differences by, say, climbing to the top of the Crystal Palace transmitter as the two do in this film.

Throughout the film we get cutaways of swinging Britain listening eagerly to "Radio Rock" from their transistor radios, quite often dancing around in public. We get montages of them at various points as the plot unfolds. But mostly it's just all about having a good time, and finding some appropriate music to play.

It'll do pretty well in Britain with a cast that includes the excellent Rhys Darby, Nick Frost, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Chris O'Dowd (playing a DJ, unlike his character in ITV2 comedy FM who is... a radio DJ) and Katherine Parkinson. But I wonder how it'll be sold in the US? This is a big film that's had a few quid spent on it, and although it sets up the story and explains why there were pirates, it's not part of the heritage.

Still - who cares (apart from Universal and Working Title)? I'm here to talk about the film, not worry about its commercial viability.

Overall, I'd say it's definitely worth catching, even if it's not the funniest comedy you'll see this year. It's a tad too long to be honest with a few surplus scenes, and some of the plot is just a little predictable.

The end sequence of the film explains that by the summer of 1967 the pirates were over (I'm not spoiling anything - you should know this). It doesn't then point out that Radio 1 launched using lots of DJs who'd been on pirate ships. But the film does then say that there are now 299 music stations playing rock and pop twenty-four hours a day (It'd be churlish to point out that on the day that another batch of Global services turn into "Hearts" that's probably over-egging it because so many sound alike, and indeed, are alike), but it then goes on to say that in the subsequent forty years, the music has had a good innings. And we get a feelgood montage of clips of the characters and classic album covers from the period - starting with Sgt. Pepper.

Ignorant Reviewer

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Friday night saw the first in a new series of Genius on BBC2. It's a TV transition of the popular Radio 4 comedy presented by Dave Gorman. The radio series is very funny. The TV version is also very funny, being basically the same, except that you can see some of the mock-ups they've built of various "Genius" ideas suggested by viewers/listeners.

Now I've had bad things to say about Sam Wollaston's TV reviews for The Guardian here in the past. He's obviously angling for his own column rather than being really interested in television. So perhaps I shouldn't have been so disappointed.

But I think that one sentence really gives him away in his Saturday review of Genius:

This is not about real ideas; it's about comedy. Actually, it's already been a Radio 4 comedy (three words that have rarely sat together well in my book) for a while.

[My emphasis]

Do I take it that Wollaston thinks that all Radio 4 comedy is bad? Does he actually ever listen to comedy on the radio?

I wouldn't for one second say that every comedy that Radio 4 puts out is comedy gold, but I think it covers a lot ground with a "something for everyone" approach. While there are certainly duds, the quantity that it commissions means that it does get quite a few hits. Whatever you think of The News Quiz - it's pretty much the same as Have I Got News For You.

The Now Show's always entertaining; "Clue" is recording a new batch sadly without chairman Humph; Ed Reardon is unfailingly excellent; and I enjoy Clare in the Community. Then there's other returning series like Heresy and The Unbelievable Truth (on tonight). And I've just picked up CDs of series 1 of Bleak Expectations following Barry Cryer's recommendation at a Radio Academy event last week. Then there are Armando Iannucci's Charm Offensive, Down the Line, Nebulous and Chain Reaction.

Has Wollaston listened to any of these? Is none of them funny in his eyes (or ears)?

Saying something like that is just a display of his own ignorance. He really doesn't deserve to share a column with Nancy Banks-Smith.

Streetmaps in London

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Google Streetmaps has launched in London, and I was keen to see if I featured.

A few months ago I saw the Google car taking photos:

Google's Street View Car near Piccadilly Circus

But sadly, it wasn't taking pictures on Glasshouse Street where I saw it.


View Larger Map

The above photo was taken in front of the Jewel nightclub at the back, just next to "Donuts."

What is clear is that Google has painstakingly blurred out anyone identifiable in their photos.

A potential moment of fame gone forever...

A Celebration of Radio Comedy

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Earlier this evening, the Radio Academy had one of its regular events - this one was a celebration of radio comedy.

Jon Holmes hosted the evening, speaking to two excellent proponents of comedy on radio: Barry Cryer and Steve Punt.

Radio Academy 1

Barry Cryer picked some his "desert island" comedy classics and we were treated to excerpts. So we had Around the Horn which is a fantastic show that I learnt about via BBC cassettes, the peerless Armando Iannucci's Charm Offensive, and of course, I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue. The only programme of his that I really didn't know was Bleak Expectations; I can see that I'm going to have to educate myself.

Via the medium of video, Adam and Joe talked about an influential piece of comedy in Peter Cook's calls to Clive Bull in the guise of Sven the Norwegian (I listened to a lot of LBC around that time, but never heard about Sven until it was too late. I did, however, hear Clive Bull's "talent show" radio of the same period. Bull's still with LBC!). Adam and Joe mentioned that it was a regular thing that comics phoned in radio shows. Shocking!

Radio Academy 2

Steve Punt had an interesting selection of influential radio comedy in that it's not quite the usual selection of Radio 4 comedies. So he mentioned Kenny Everett's Captain Kremen (something I tried listening to as a child but never really got. I didn't listen to Capital either), and Adrian Juste's Saturday lunchtime radio comedy show featuring lots of cut-up clips of comedy records interspersed with Juste's own jokes and music. I do remember listening to that, and Juste was in the audience this evening.

Punt also referenced Steve Wright and his then original zoo format show with a cast of regular phone-in characters: Sid the manager et al. And finally, there was one Radio 4 comedy in amongst them all - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Finally Lauren Lavergne appeared via the medium of video and told us she'd effectively just discovered On The Hour. Well the CDs were released just before Christmas!

What I did find interesting was that both Cryer and Punt had access to, at various times, "writers' rooms" of sorts where comedians of the day gathered to talk to one another, exchange ideas, and make outgoing phone calls at the BBC's expense.

And this kind of environment is important, we were told, since although you can become famous to an extent via YouTube today and get yourself discovered, until you're produced by someone experienced, it's hard to become fully formed.

I must admit that I came out enthused about listening to more radio comedy. I guess it's a shame that commercial radio just isn't able to do scripted comedy. Of course there are comics on the radio - and my employer has quite a few - but fully fledged scripted comedy is still exceptional.

Duplicity

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Director and Stars of Duplicity

I'm really not at all sure what I think about Duplicity, the new film from writer-director Tony Gilroy starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. It's one of those twisty films that keeps you on your toes as it jumps back and forward in time to tell a story of industrial epsionage. Indeed one suspects that Gilroy may have been quite envious when he saw the TV series Damages, as that's what it most reminds me of in form.

Roberts is ex-CIA and Owen ex-MI6, who first meet on missions for their respective intelligence agencies in Dubai. But Roberts drugs Owen and makes off with something or other.

Flash forward and Owen is now working in corporate counter-espionage. There are two big corporations who may as well be P&G and Lever - except they're not. It slowly becomes clear that Roberts, who works in counter intelligence of one company is a double agent for the counter-intelligence division of the other company. She is being "run" by Owen's character.

There's a new product launch imminent, and amongst enormous secrecy, all are desperate to discover what this game-changing product is going to be.

Throughout the film, you're never too sure who to trust. This is an old-school Cold War spy film updated to become corporate US. Roberts and Owen never trust one another either despite having an ongoing relationship. Of sorts.

It's certainly a good film, but somehow, it's not quite as good as it might be. It's intelligent, and demands that the audience pays attention. If you don't you might lose the thread (sadly I think that's what happened with some of the premiere audience that I saw this with - they were unduly restless).

The performances are strong, but in the end, I don't think it's quite as good as it might be.

Secondary Ticketing Redux

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The other day I was talking about secondary ticketing and my despising of the general dishonesty of it all.

Well now Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails has explained the situation from a band's side of things. He doesn't like secondary ticketers, or "re-sellers" as they're known. Like me, he considers them touts, or scalpers in US-speak.

It sounds like NIN are doing their level best to avoid it, but the forces of exclusive agreements and venues means that they're limited in what they can do. In their instance, they get 10% of tickets for a fan pre-sale with per-customer limits and printed names on tickets which will need to match ID at the venue. Fans will use their own entrance for this check.

Live Nation and Ticketmaster are merging and he foresees an auction system taking place or market-based system a la airlines.

He says upfront that the demand for some gigs outstrips supply and therefore in a market system, ticket face values are under-priced. There are always fans who'll pay top dollar to get the best seats.

But of course the artist might not actually want the very wealthy getting all the best seats. Bruce Springsteen doesn't and raised merry hell recently when Ticketmaster sent fans through to their secondary ticketing outlet in the US Ticket Now. Madonna hilariously complained in her film In Bed With Madonna about the dull fans at the front. Then she does a deal with a secondary outlet for her next tour (or Live Nation) does meaning that only the very wealthiest of fans will be at the front. Of course, she's 50+ these days, so probably wouldn't get quite as many screaming fans up the front. But she can't moan if they don't want to get up and dance. They've spent a lot of money - and it's like sitting in a box at the theatre.

Over at Techcrunch, Michael Arrington disagrees. And of course in a purely capitalist system - he's right. If there's a market, then so be it if the best tickets command the very highest prices.

But if bands want to pursue that route, then some of their fans might voice their displeasure.

U2 tickets go on sale this Friday for their latest UK tour. They've promised a set number of "cheaper" £30 tickets for each gig. But their top price tickets are some in the high £160s! Really. And I quite expect those tickets to immediately get sold for even higher prices when they reach the Seatwaves and Viagogos of this world. Will U2 themselves profit? I don't know. At the moment I've only seen Live Nation and Ticketmaster as promoted sites. It's a fascinating subject, and one I still have strong feelings about.

Bad Ads

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As I mentioned the other day, the Radio Sales documentary on Radio 4 on Saturday ended with the infamous "Superscreen" ad.

OK. Here it is:





In recent days there was another really annoying advert. A certain major soap opera was advertising a major event that took place in last Friday's episodes. Radio advertising is the perfect way to drive audiences to this major event (even if it is up against Comic Relief night), but heard a few too many times, it does begin to grate a little. See what you think:





[Obviously these are my own views, and don't reflect those of my employer who thinks ITV is a fine advertiser who it's happy to continue working with]

Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle

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Stewart Lee's new comedy programme is excellent, if the first episode is anything to go by. Each week Lee addresses a different topic and this week it was books.

OK - so this ticked all the boxes with me, with Dan Brown, Russell Brand, "Tragic Lives" and Chris Moyles all targeted for their books. Moyles in particular had a thorough lambasting. I once picked up Moyles' first tome in WH Smith and realised by virtue of the fact that I was flicking through it, I'd pretty much read the whole book in ten minutes in the shop (I should quickly explain that I was looking for a reference to a friend - I certainly wouldn't have given it ten minutes of my valuable time that could have otherwise been spent washing what's left of my hair otherwise).

The standup was broken up with short sketches featuring people like Kevin Eldon and Simon Munnery (credited for two book jokes!).

After it had finished, we learnt that behind the red button, the show's producer, Armando Iannucci interviewed Lee about the very show we'd just watched. This was a pretty good 10-15 minute watch too. I'd link to it on the BBC site, but sadly it doesn't seem to be online. I stand to be corrected but I did have a good look and search.

[UPDATE] The Stewart v Armando episode is now available via the iPlayer.

(Incidentally - the BBC homepage really is awful. It's just not easy to get to the BBC Two page from www.bbc.co.uk - you go there and try it. Honestly. What's the quickest route? There's no "Explore the BBC" button so I had to go to the mini schedule and click from there, two thirds of the way down the page.)

I'll look forward to these in coming weeks, although I'll be upset if I can record the main programme but not the Iannucci interviews.

All this talk of Iannucci reminds me that I'm really looking forward to seeing In The Loop when it opens on 17 April. I should get The Thick Of It DVDs in readiness, although I find it curious that BBC Worldwide hasn't released a boxset of the first series and the specials.

Likes and Dislikes

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Things that have annoyed me in recent days:

Channel 4 not including a "series link" in their Freeview EPG for Red Riding. It meant I had to look "elsewhere" to find episode 2.
Sci Fi Channel in the US renaming themselves SyFy (this is not a joke).
My computer at work.
Apple releasing an iPod that loses functionality if you don't use their terrible included earphones.
The Coronation Street radio ad - if you've heard it, you'll know why.


Things that have excited me in recent days:

Saturday's stage of Paris-Nice was cycle racing as it's meant to be. And Sunday's stage was pretty good too.
Man United being beaten 4-1 by Liverpool, while Arsenal won and Aston Villa lost.
Radio 3 repeating the Daphne Oram feature.
Pet Shop Boys spending two hours on Absolute Radio.
Radio Sales on Archive on 4.
The new issue of Word magazine is out.

Multimedia Meets Radio

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I was invited to present at the EBU conference Multimedia Meets Radio conference in Prague. More alert readers might realise that the EBU is a union of public service broadcasters and wonder why someone who works for a commercial radio station would present there. But we're all radio services and there's always plenty to learn about how others are doing things.

On the first day Mike Mullane, head of news, sport and new media at the EBU opened the conference by quoting some interesting statistics from a Canadian study that showed 62% of people agree that the radio influences their internet surfing. It's all linked, and multimedia is an important part of any station's armoury these days.

Vaclav Kasik of Czech Radio opened proceedings and detailed a few multimedia things that they'd done in the last few years. They've worked with a number of sets of animals including migrating storks (is this where BBC Radio 4's bird tracking came from?), and famously The Revealed which began as a pastiche of reality shows like Big Brother, instead following a group of gorillas at Prague Zoo. But it grew beyond that and it's become an educational tool with spin-off merchandise that's sent money back to save the gorillas in their natural habitat. More recent projects have included oral histories and looks at the 1968 uprising.

We then heard from Steve Purdham of We7 the online music specialist. They offer an ad funded music service and he spoke about the early success that they've had since launch in the latter part of last year.

He talked about the various models that can be adopted to get the economics right: from free , via ad-funded, to a service strategy (e.g. Nokia's Connect With Music) through to subscription and premium.

He also talked about the complexity of putting together the offerings. Peter Gabriel, the musician, is a part owner of the service and allowed his music to be included. Yet it took a total of 21 months from him giving permission to the music eventually reaching the site. This was a record company issue.

Jonas Woost of Last.fm also ran through his service showing us some of the functionality of their website that we were unaware of. I must admit that Last.fm is one of those sites that I really need to spend more time with. I know that all the excitement's with Spotify at the moment, but then I'm lucky that my passsword's not one of the ones that they lost recently.

A very impressive presentation then followed from MX3 who have positioned themselves as the home of Swiss music. They've managed to put agreements together that allows them to include all the best and biggest Swiss music on one service, even when the artists are signed to major labels.

Their service offers over 35,000 songs by nearly 11,000 artists. And the impressive technology that they have to access their service means that they're currently serving 2TB of traffic a month. The technology that lets users embed widgets in all manner of websites and social networks is similarly impressive - in particular their cube. It's some technology that's really worth checking out, although I believe that it's mostly blocked outside Switzerland.

DR Musik presented Karrierekanonen 2008 in which they tried to promote 50 unknown artists using some clever technology.

Steve Pratt of CBC in Canada gave one of the best presentations of the conference when he talked us through the success of Radio 3. It talked about how it basically went against all the standard "rules" of how to make a great radio station.

Indeed he said that they'd seemingly gone out to make "The Worst. Radio Station. Ever."

They'd created a new format, played a wide variety of genres, had infrequent repetition, don't broadcast on AM or FM, have their entire music library user-generated and don't encumber their downloads with DRM. And there are some pretty big Canadian artists on the service like Arcade Fire and Feist.

He explained that they didn't consider Radio 3 to be just a podcast or a website (it doesn't have a traditional broadcast stream). They position themselves as experts in Canadian music. Radio 3 is defined by content and not by platform. Canadians have something of a low opinion of their own music, it seems - one that's not shared outside the country. In the UK we actually listen to a fair few Canadian artists.

The whole of Radio 3 is from user generated content. There are about 75,000 songs.

What they do is ensure that they offer multiple formats ensuring that each platform, making use of the unique properties of each platform. Then they publish where the audience already is.

Mission Europe is an attempt to use radio to teach languagues. Radio France International, Deutsche Welle and Polskie Radio have joined together to produce 3 bilingual dramas in 4 versions each. These are in turn rebroadast by a network of further stations.


A really fascinating piece of technology was then demonstrated by WDR. The WDR Radiorecorder gets around the fact that rights issues mean that only a limited number of podcasts can be made available by stations. However, just as perhaps we once recorded radio shows to cassettes completely legally (unless we sold or passed on those tapes), the WDR Radiorecorder is a neat way of doing this.

It records on the user's PC from the stream. But you can use EPG data to determine which programmes are recorded and when. It's capable of recording more than one stream simultaneously, and it neatly incorporates the resulting mp3s into your iTunes library for syncing with your iPod or iPhone.

It really looks like an excellent product.

Vaclav Hradecky of Czech Radio spoke about how they'd used techniques such as online focus groups to test their services. And Tiziano Bonini of Rai Radio 2 spoke about Amnesia, a daily radio drama that presents life from the point of view of a 32 year old who's forgotten everything. It's presented as a "true story" but is a drama, and it's backed up by a wealth of multimedia online. If I spoke Italian, I'd certainly download the podcast.

Brett Spencer from BBC Radio Five Live presented some videos demonstrating some of the excellent recent multimedia work that BBC Radio has done recently. This includes the visual radio version of Chris Moyles, as well as the excellent additional elements they included with Wimbledon last year.

Brett had to leave early and it was as well that he didn't hear from Silvain Gire of Arte Radio. He explained that, "My religion forbids me to use PowerPoint." And you won't find much in the way of pictures on his website either. Gire has a very pure idea of what radio is, and it's an auditory medium.

He's lucky with the position he's in: "We are completely free to do what I want..."

He talked about making a recent radio drama with the BBC - Deja Vu. As you'll note from that link, beyond its iPlayer life, it's no longer available. But a visit over to Arte reveals it's there for download! (It's a bilingual play).

"It took about a year to get the contracts agreed and as far as I know it's still not signed."

Mats Akerlund of Swedish Radio showed how they try to get podcasts into the mainstream including advertising on the metro system. They even placed boxes you could plug into to listen while you travelled. But what I thought was really clever was an app that asked how long your commute was and then recommended podcasts of a suitable duration.

Finally Jonathan Marks of Critical Distance gave us food for thought with a presentation about how radio is being used around the world. He was very dismissive of Asian Radio which he believes has really dumbed down and was now either non-stop music or rolling news. Without ebracing the editorial aspects of it (Ireland, Denmark and Catalonia were cited), radio will die.

He talked about small radio stations in West Africa which use SMS networks to pass on harvesting details, and how the stations partner with mobile phone providers to share costs and keep both masts and antennas running. He talked about how your SIM card is your identity. If you don't have a bank account you can receive payment in airtime, which can later be exchanged back for cash.

He talked about a service that a radio station in Ghana offers allowing listeners to use SMS to check whether drugs they're being sold are real or fake - something that's a major issue there.

In another case he talked about a distance learning station that he was trying to get to archive its output. The station only goes on air when the teachers arrive, and using RFID chips, it can power up the station and now start recording their programme. By cleverly getting the first sentences to summarise the programme's subject matter, archiving is possible (recalcitrant professors are told they won't be paid unless they do this!).

From a wider perspective he said that DRM = Doesn't Really Matter. But Africa won't be going digital anytime soon until models under 10 Euro are on the market.

All in all, some very interesting ideas presented over a day and a half and read what James Cridland had to say on procedings here and here.

I suppose that if there's one thing I took away from this conference - it's that everyone's doing an iPhone app. They're all very smart and lovely, but I do wonder where the S60 apps (for Nokias) and Windows Media or Sony Ericsson apps are? Last time I checked, slightly more people are using these phones that Apple's one phone from one carrier solution.

BARB Changes Afoot

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An interesting piece in Media Guardian this morning about some forthcoming changes to TV ratings from BARB.

I look forward to reading a bit more detail about how exactly they'll be able to monitor these new programme streams.

Martin Kelner on 6Music

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Kelner is always worth a read:

[Lesley Douglas's campaign] a central plank of which was the replacement of Gideon Coe with the supposedly more female-friendly George Lamb, ranks in success somewhere between Balaclava and Napoleon's invasion of Russia.

Ofcom v Global

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Perhaps that heading is a little misleading, but that's what it feels like at the moment.

On Friday, Ofcom gave GWR FM (Bristol and Bath) a yellow card for not operating within its format.

GWR has a format which states (All stations' format can be found on the Ofcom website).

The format for GWR FM is:

A LOCALLY ORIENTED CONTEMPORARY AND CHART MUSIC AND INFORMATION STATION FOR UNDER 44s IN THE BRISTOL AND BATH AREA, WITH TARGETED 'SPLIT' PROGRAMMING FOR BRISTOL & BATH AT LEAST DURING WEEKDAY BREAKFAST.

The important part of that is the "contemporary and chart music" part. And what's worth knowing is that of the nineteen stations that have already changed or have been announced to change next Monday to the Heart format, only four of the smallest stations do not have these words in their format.

In other words they near enough all have to be "contemporary and chart music" formatted.

Based on some analysis of GWR's output (and possibly analysis of its logs), Ofcom claims that GWR is not playing enough of this music. Ofcom claims that at least 66% of music must be of this category. GWR was monitored as playing 47%.

It's also clear that this breach is not just a single station issue. The same levels of contemporary and chart music must be played on all fifteen of those new Hearts. In effect, while these stations can share the same name with the London and East Midlands stations of the same name, they can't directly share the same music logs.

In response, Global Radio has said "We do not accept this finding, and are considering our position."

Ofcom's obviously upset, and Global's repsonding robustly, I think it's fair to say. I think I'll just stand at the sidelines and watch the outcome.

Matt Deegan also has some useful thoughts, and Paul Easton's comments on the same blog are useful too.

And Radio Today has an interesting piece in an editorial sent to its mailing list this morning. Sadly, I can't find it on their website, but they highlight the difference between UK markets and New York, where K-ROCK rebranded as a chart station last week with barely a murmur of dissent. But we still have formats in the UK, and while you can change name, you have to ask permission to change formats.

Ane Brun

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Ane Brun (7 of 12)

For some reason - two weeks after I went to see the gig, I haven't mentioned that I saw Ane Brun at the always wonderful Union Chapel.

It was absolutely superb - it's really hard to explain how wonderful the sound was. Brun has a recent album out, possibly re-released recently with a couple of extra cover tracks.

Anyway, I can only recommend that you get hold of a copy of Changing Seasons.

And check out the session she did for Geoff at Absolute Radio.

Radio Sales

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This evening's Archive on 4 documentary was a terrific piece based around radio advertising in the UK through the ages.

Presented by, the much missed Brian Hayes, it started with ads way before LBC and Capital Radio became the first legitimate UK commercial radio stations in 1973.

Listen to it on the iPlayer, or catch the Monday afternoon repeat.

There were some great pieces of advertising that I'd never heard - commercial radio in particular is particularly bad at looking after its own heritage in my opinion. If it wasn't for "radio anoraks" recording stuff, we'd have lost loads of early radio (and frankly, we're probably still not saving it).

I must admit that I do always think that more "worthy" advertising messages can more easily be adapted into excellent ads - hence award winning ads for charities and passing on various prevention messages.

But have a listen.

And finally, I simply don't believe that "Super Screen" ad is only from 2004 (surely it'd have been selling DVDs and not videos in 2004, and it's unlikely that portable TVs would have cost 49.99 then). The RAB had it around then, because that's when I got a copy. But it evidently dates from closer to 2000 or even earlier.

Google Ad Preferences

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So the big question: is Google's new advertising initiative actually as bad as Phorm? Sir Tim Berners-Lee doesn't like it, and neither do I.

Do I really have to visit this site from every browser I use to opt out?

That's not something I appreciate.

This site is also worth visiting.

I understand how advertising works and how it supports many of the sites I visit and use. But I prefer to see adverts on the basis of where I visit rather than on the basis of where I've been.

Secondary Ticketing

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What a foul expression "secondary ticketing" is. It's the terminology used to refer to those sites that let the "fans" resell their tickets.

Sites such as Seatwave and Viagogo allow you to buy and sell tickets safely and securely. They've grown out from the eBay ticket selling business. But are they really for the "fans"?

Seatwave calls itself the "fan to fan ticket exchange" while Viagogo offers "real tickets for real fans."

But this is just formalised touting. Undoubtedly you have more recourse to buying duds and fakes than perhaps you would on eBay, but the sites would have you think that they're doing the fans a service.

They're not. They're letting everyone become a tout.

Case in point: Michael Jackson.

Jacko is about to embark on what we are told will be his final UK (or at least O2) tour, and more dates are being announced by the minute. At time of writing, there are 28 dates available.

Tickets are selling briskly even during the "presale" period open to people who've pre-registered their interest or are O2 customers. The general sale doesn't even begin until Friday via Ticketmaster.

Tickets have only been on presale for a day or two, yet a cursory glance at Seatwave reveals hundreds of tickets already on sale. Goodness - haven't a lot of fans been buying tickets and then realising they've inadvertently bought more than they need, or perhaps their purchase clashes with a holiday?

Of course they haven't. The "fan to fan" ticket exchange is allowing "fans" to sell on their tickets for several hundred pounds - well above the top price of £75 that's being charged.

Viagogo, if anything, is worse. That's because it's the official secondary ticketing outlet. The official site has a link to Ticketmaster and Viagogo for each date. Ticketmaster is there for "pre-sale tickets" while Viagogo is the outlet for the "fan to fan ticket exchange."

What this really means is that the promoters/Jackson is getting some of the backend of that secondary sales.

It's really annoyed promoters/artists that they're not getting a piece of that backend, and suddenly secondary ticketing outlets are allowing it.

I'd like to know whether Viagogo, as was the case for the upcoming Madonna tour, is actually selling a batch of tickets that were never made available for public sale at all.

If an artist wants to essentially auction tickets to the highest bidder, then that's fine, but be honest about it. Say something like "all the best tickets will be sold to the highest bidder."

But of course an artist who says that is a brave man or woman.

Another option is the premium package with hotels, top seats, pre and post drinks, and perhaps even "meet and greets". But at that's all up front. If one of my favourite groups does that I might think: wow what a great opportunity to meet my favourite artist - something I'd never otherwise get the opportunity to do. Or I might think: cash in...

Of course "live" is where the action is these days. And given the decline in recorded music sales, maximising that revenue is fine. But be honest about it.

Secondary ticketing really is no better to me than the guy outside the venue. I might have slightly more of a guarantee that the ticket is genuine, and I'll happily concede that internet rip-offs are a massive problem.

A recent Word Magazine podcast addressed this to an extent and mentioned that the FT's Undercover Economist Tim Harford had addressed this problem recently and had summised that from an economic point of view, artists simply weren't charging the market prices. If they were, then many tickets for a concert series like this would be in the multiple hundreds of pounds.

I guess that the airline ticketing model is an interesting one with elastic pricing adjusted according to demand. Of course, there's not a great market in me selling my 1p Ryanair flight on to someone else the day before the flight who might otherwise have to pay £100. Airlines tend to charge if you want to change a name, and they probably wouldn't be happy with me putting my ticket on eBay.

But if an artist is honest, then perhaps these foul sites wouldn't exist.

[UPDATE]

I see that the Michael Jackson site now titles the two ticket purchasing options as "Ticket Option 1" and "Ticket Option 2".

I'd still be very curious to learn the details of this deal - especially as there are now upwards of 50 concerts being sold.

David Mitchell on Digital Radio

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Last Monday's Just A Minute included a round on the subject of digital radio.

David Mitchell isn't a fan...





Listen again to the whole show on the BBC iPlayer (by next Monday).

YouTube and PRS

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Wherever music collection agencies and internet sites exist, there are problems.

The latest disagreement is the very public falling out between Google, owners of YouTube and PRS the UK collection agency. And when that story reaches the Ten O'Clock News, you know that it's a significant one.

When thousands of music videos start to disappear from YouTube, you know they have a serious disagreement.

My natural inclination is to think it's the music companies being stupid and to side with YouTube, but nothing's ever quite that simple.

It's clear from what PRS is saying that Google has decided unilaterally to pull the music videos:

PRS for Music is outraged on behalf of consumers and songwriters that Google has chosen to close down access to music videos on YouTube in the UK...

This action has been taken without any consultation with PRS for Music and in the middle of negotiations between the two parties. PRS for Music has not requested Google to do this and urges them to reconsider their decision as a matter of urgency.

I can't find a Google press release - only what they've said in news stories. [UPDATE] The YouTube statement is here.

Our previous licence from PRS for Music has expired, and we've been unable so far to come to an agreement to renew it on terms that are economically sustainable for us. There are two obstacles in these negotiations: prohibitive licensing fees and lack of transparency. We value the creativity of musicians and songwriters and have worked hard with rights-holders to generate significant online revenue for them and to respect copyright. But PRS is now asking us to pay many, many times more for our licence than before. The costs are simply prohibitive for us - under PRS's proposed terms we would lose significant amounts of money with every playback. In addition, PRS is unwilling to tell us what songs are included in the license they can provide so that we can identify those works on YouTube -- that's like asking a consumer to buy an unmarked CD without knowing what musicians are on it.

Now perhaps Google believes that those negotiations were going nowhere which is why they've pulled the videos. Google is big and powerful enough to be able to do that and the record companies are the ones who are most affected by the fallout.

It's not in the interests of record companies to have their music unavailable at YouTube. It's the go-to place for finding a song or video that you suddenly have an urge to see. Think of artists with albums coming out in the coming weeks. If I was a record company I'd have the video of any singles or songs from that album up there and would be watching the stats very closely to see how the buzz was. How many plays is the song getting? And so on...

I'd have thought Michael Jackson's people would be closely watching the video play stats for his music right now as well to see how well his O2 concerts are likely to go down.

For the record industry, YouTube is important, in the same way that radio's important. Of course the collection agencies want to maximise their revenues from these outlets, particularly in light of an overall declining market, but playing Russian Roulette with Google is a dangerous game. These negotiations are big, and they've seemingly gone on for months.

Like iTunes, YouTube is an important arena where record companies are essentially held over a barrel - they are nearly completely reliant on others. And basically YouTube still costs Google lots of cash rather than being a cash cow.

Could the record companies set up their own platform for their videos? The must-visit destination for music videos? They could. It's not too late. Ironically, they might get stung my the Competition Commission if they did and locked out others (as Project Kangaroo recently discovered). But as sites like Hulu in the US has discovered, if you have the right mix, people will come. Include all the features that YouTube has like allowing embedding, including adverts (ironically, Google is the biggest player here), and links to allow you to actually buy the music or videos alongside (something YouTube's only recently really added in). You might be able to get a replacement service into the wild.

Fundamentally, YouTube is still costing Google rather than generating significant cash, and as such they don't want to pay very much for their music videos. PRS is trying to maximise revenues for its members as CD revenues fall faster than digital revenues make up for it.

Catch 22.

Seeing how it pans out will be interesting.

[UPDATE]

A nice piece by Mark Mulligan, better worded, but arguing similar points here. But he also addresses the issue that Google wants to know exactly which artists PRS represents.

As Mulligan notes, this whole arena is getting very fragmentary, and not every musician is represented by PRS in every arena.

Indeed there are some very interesting developments at a European level that may mean that going to a different collection agency altogether is an option.

Of course if Google is to pay for every play of every song on their system, then it's only fair that PRS lets them know precisely which ones it should be earning cash from and which it shouldn't.

[UPDATE 2] Amended further to include a link to the YouTube statement on the disagreement as well as quotation from that statement.

Comic Relief - The Other Channels

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This Friday is Comic Relief night, and I shan't go on my usual rant about all the plugs that amount to free primetime advertising for Sainsburys, Rymans, Subway, TK Maxx and other participating retailers will receive on BBC1 that evening. Oh...

Anyway, what I have noticed is that traditionally the other channels tended to sit back a little and not try too hard for ratings. Primarily, that means not running major dramas or particularly comedy up against the charity programming.

But we live in financially difficult times, and ITV seems to be doing the complete opposite this year.

Last time around, in 2007, there was the regular episode of Emmerdale followed by a single Coronation Street, before a repeat of A Touch of Frost provided safe alternative programming against the all star fun and appeals over on BBC1.

In 2005, ITV ran a Bond film - Tomorrow Never Dies. It was a repeat, and the evening was rounded out with All New TV's Naughtiest Blunders which was never going to trouble the ratings people.

This year, however, things are different. ITV1 is running its regularly scheduled Friday evening with a major plotline involving a wedding on Coronation Street(don't ask me details - I've never watched the show). They're actively plugging Friday the 13th on-air, and you can hear it advertised on commercial radio too. And both the 7.30pm and 8.30pm episodes are present and correct. ITV wants a big audience.

Then at 9.00pm the new series of Moving Wallpaper continues featuring the excellent Ben Miller. Miller, of course, can be seen on BBC1 as well taking part in various skits. According to the Radio Times, his segment with comic partner Alexander Armstrong and Mitchell & Webb, isn't due to air until 11.30pm, but nonetheless, he's multi-tasking as far as the viewer's concerned that evening.

Then at 9.30pm ITV's sketch show, Al Murray's Multiple Personality Disorder is also on in its regularly scheduled slot. As I say - there's been no let up in ITV's drive to win ratings.

Of course C4 used to sit aside as well. But its Friday night line-up is not the comedy powerhouse it once was. So this week, the only real comedy they're running is Free Agents at 10.00pm which is neatly up against the news on BBC1 (Although "Comic Relief Does Top of the Pops is on BBC2. Oh, how I hate the grammatically dreadful "Does" that they use).

In 2007 the BBC averaged 9.73m viewers between 7pm and 10pm on Comic Relief night. Will ITV diminish that this time around, and will that mean a reduced amount of cash raised as a result?

Naked = Ratings

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When Horizon is good, it's very good. But when it's bad, it's terrible.

And tonight we had possibly the worst Horizon I've seen in quite a while. What's The Problem With Nudity was as blatant an example of ratings grabbing as I've seen in a long time.

Did nobody see that excellent recent Screen Wipe in which Charlie Brooker gave Trinny and Susannah a mauling over their recent programme in which for no reason at all lots of people took off their clothes to titillate a prime time ITV audience. And then there's the various Gok Wan series that always seem to involve people getting their kit off.

According to Horizon this was a "unique study."

No it wasn't. They admitted that everybody who took part knew that the programme was going to be about nudity. They all knew that they'd be taking their clothes off.

Evidently nobody had been watching BBC Three. They've been making the same specious arguments on Naked. Each week, for no obvious reason, a group of people who share only the same occupation spend a week building up the courage to take their clothes off for a photo shoot, or a catwalk or whatever. Apparently it's in some way really important to get your clothes off in public.

Or could it be a cheap way to get a decent sized audience on the otherwise troubled BBC Three. This would be the same channel that a while back also had Dawn Gets... Naked, culminating in an open-top bus load of naked women.

I can understand why a mostly poor channel like BBC Three carries this nonsense. But Horizon? Really?

As I keep banging on, there was once a popular science show called QED for which this nonsense could just about be justified. But for the BBC's flagship science show it's a travesty.

Incidentally - why is there no Horizon website these days? It use to be a good resource for transcripts, additional video and even further reading. This is supposed to be science isn't it?

[I should probably mention that BBC Three has nearly earned the right to its existance by showing Being Human which has been excellent.]

The Convention on Modern Liberty

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28 February 2009

On Saturday I attended what I genuinely believe was an important event - The Convention on Modern Liberty in London. Satellite events were taking place all over the country, with the plenary sessions and keynote addresses.

It was a great day with a vast array of speakers. We had to pick and choose which sessions we went to over the course of the day, with the main sessions taking place in a room nearly large enough for everyone to squeeze in.

I suppose that if I'm going to highlight a few speeches, I must mention the keynotes from Philip Pullman and David Davis.

As soon as videos for both of these become available I'll embed them here.

Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty, opened procedings with the day's first keynote, followed by the first plenary as The Guardian's Georgina Henry struggled to keep a very angry Helena Kennedy QC under control. When the long list of things that we're no longer allowed to do starts to get expressed, you begin to realise exactly what we're missing.

Phil Booth of NO2ID spoke to us to ensure that we write to our MPs immediately about Clause 152 of the Criminal and Justice Bill.

This little clause essentially allows the Government to pass any information about you to whoever it wants to.

There are full details here (PDF).

I then attended the Press Freedom session chaired by Joanne Cash QC (and prospective Conservative Party candidate).

The first panellist was Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, who pointed out that libel in the UK costs roughly 140x more than anywhere else in Europe. He spoke about the recent case The Guardian had had with Tesco, where they did make some mistakes but tried to right them as quickly as possibly. Because it was in the elaborate area of company tax law, the end result was an £800,000 bill which included £350,000 for Tesco's accountants to explain to Tesco's lawyers what it was they were doing.

The concern is that we no longer investigate these kinds of things, because it's simply to expensive. Rusbridger went on to say that their recent week long series of reports on company tax had cost £100,000 "to legal." Most media organisations simply won't bother investigating in the first place. Tax avoidance schemes will simply go unreported.

Fatima Bhutto came from Pakistan to explain what media censorship laws meant there including details behind the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act there.

Andrew Gilligan is best known for his report on "the September Dossier" on The Today Programme in 2003. He now writes for the Evening Standard. He said that there were three areas that were of massive concern to journalists at the moment: the state's laws, the decisions of judges and the economic climate that media outlets are now finding themselves in.

He said that confidential sources would find it near to impossible to provide journalists with information with their cars followed via licence plates, and their phone and email records retained. He said that the Government was really cracking down on whistleblowers.

Some of the antics in the past of the red-top tabloids means that worrying about the freedom of the press is not a large concern amongst the public.

Nick Cohen writes himself about what he said at the session. He talked about libel tourism including the cases of Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz and Roman Polanski. It's clear that libel needs reform. Otherwise all over the world we must worry about Schillings, Carter-Ruck and Justice Eady.

And he though that the blogosphere couldn't fight this: the first sight of a legal letter will mean that either the blogger (or perhaps more likely, their host) will fold and take the offending item down.

There was then an ongoing discussion in the packed room about what needed to be done. We were told (well I didn't know about it anyway) the Reynolds defence, and the differences between paper publishing and internet publishing (1 year from printing for paper, 1 year from the date that the article is removed from the internet for libel cases!). The case of Indian artist M F Hussain was spoken about - an exhibition was cancelled following complaints from a small pressure group.

The next session I attended was The Database State. Guy Herbert from NO2ID chaired this and explained in some detail what was happening.

Sam Talbot Rice from the Centre for Policy Studies talked about the cost, and the data loss. I'll read their publication "Who Do They Think We Are" published last year.

He referred to Jack Straw, who has most recently been explaining to us that we don't live in a police state. He regularly puts forward the case that in the instance when someone dies, you have to inform various parts of government. But of course we can give explicit permission for that. We don't want to tell the government everything.

Tony Bunyan from Statewatch spoke from a European perspective. Discussions have to take place at a European level first. He talked about the worrying rise of hard right and even fascist elements across Europe.

He said that the forms of terrorism we've experienced in recent times will never destroy our way of life and liberty, but some of these new laws will! These would never have been introduced during the Cold War - because they're too similar to what took place behind the Iron Curtain (earlier, a Polish attendee drew excellent light on this comparison).

Simon Davies from Privacy International was furious and talked about naming names. He feels that there are specific individuals within the Civil Service who's power is too great as we slide into the Database State.

Finally Christina Zaba of the NUJ showed us her father's old post-WWII ID card and said that too many people thought that this was what we were talking about when we spoke of ID cards. It's not the card - it's the database. Airside workers will be the first to need ID cards later this year as part of their jobs: the river is starting to flow.

Convention on Modern Liberty - David Davis Keynote

I noticed on my way out of the Database State session that Neil Tennant had been sitting behind me. He wasn't alone - there were lots of members of the great and the good. Brian Eno was on the final panel, and Billy Bragg spoke in a session I didn't attend. David Elstein and Peter Bazalgette were there as was Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing. There were lots of writers around too, and I'm sure that there were many more in amongst the everyday members of the public like myself.

After the final panel session, we heard from David Davis who did give an excellent speech. He does believe in this stuff.

All in all a worthwhile day. I could probably have done without the poor England performance in the rugby afterwards, but that wasn't the convention's fault. Although there was the suspicion that it was just a large group of Guardian readers convening, in fact all of the major political parties were represented and not everyone's ideas were the same. What was and is clear is that we're slipping into something we really don't want, and we need to act now, because as Davis said, by the time we're actually in a police state, it's too late.

[More links and embeds to follow]

David Simon Article

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If you enjoyed The Wire, and in particular the fifth season, then you'll really find this piece by David Simon worth reading.

It's food for though next time somebody says that bloggers or citizen journalists will fill in what traditional media is no longer able to.

With UK regional newspapers falling nearly as fast as US ones, it's a concerning time for all of us.

6 Music and RAJAR

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A week or so ago, Media Guardian got very excited about some RAJAR figures. They had the half hour figures for some BBC 6Music programmes.

These figures showed that the peak listening for the "controversial" George Lamb was 40,000 while Adam and Joe on a Saturday morning peaked at 69,000 - the highest of the station.

The peace also highlighted the peak listening points for other services like Planet Rock and Absolute Radio Xtreme.

But mainly, I think the point of the piece was to note these relatively low numbers and the cost of the services. The article pointed out that 6Music costs £7.5m a year to fund. And that is quite a lot, especially compared to the commercial sector. But then Radio 1's budget is £43.1m, so that puts it in perspective a little.

BBC 6 Music does reach a fairly impressive 619,000 people a week - and this is the number you'll see quoted a lot more. To put that in perspective, BBC Radio 3 reaches 1,981,000 a week - just over three times that. BBC Radio 3 has a far larger budget and more importantly, and FM transmitter network (as well as digital). But I'm not hearing clamours for that station to be closed down.

And in the most recent Mediaguardian Media Talk, Matt Wells brings the subject up, seemingly pleased that radio correspondent John Plunkett has got hold of the figures. They're not actually private though: if The Guardian wants to subscribe to RAJAR it's free to do so - like it must do for its overnight TV ratings. There a few systems out there like Telmar, Octagon and RALPH. Just pay your money and, as long as they follow the publication code, they can analyse RAJAR like the rest of us.

The figures that Plunkett's piece quoted from came from a big list of spreadsheets that all RAJAR subscribers have access to - for every station.

Matt Wells did make a few mistakes in the podcast: "6Music's George Lamb gets just 40,000 listeners on the morning show." That's not true. He gets 40,000 listeners at one point on the show. But listeners are tuning in and out all morning. In the next half hour, some of those listeners have stopped and others have tuned in.

And of course DAB gets another mention. Well 6Music is broadcast on other platforms too. It's a digital station not just a DAB station.

During the podcast, the question was asked: "How many of the BBC 6Music listeners are unique [from Radio 1 and Radio 2]?"

Well I'll answer that because I know. Of the 619,000 weekly reach, 192,000 are unique. That is, they don't listen to either Radio 1 or Radio 2.

Just short of a third of them then. Given that Radio 1 reaches 10.5m and Radio 2 reaches 13.5m - you're actually doing very well to not listen to either of them! A third of 6Music listeners not listening to either service is actually not that bad at all.

A broader question might be why so many older/younger listeners are listening to Radios 1 and 2, rather than having a pop at 6Music listeners.

PS. I wish Media Talk would stop going on about the ages of the various channel controllers. Age discrimination is illegal in the workplace in the UK. Just because someone in charge of Radio 1 is older than 30 doesn't mean that they have no idea what their listeners want. CBeebies isn't run by toddlers after all.

As ever, this piece is written in a personal capacity and does not reflect the opinions of my employer or RAJAR.

TV Formats

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Have you seen the new ITV gameshow presented by Chris Tarrant yet? It's called The Colour of Money and has nothing to do with the Terry Pratchett novel of the same name.

ITV's clearly very excited by it. It's presenter comes from the global phenomenom that was Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and the production company behind it 12 Yard is owned by ITV and has the team who were also responsible for another highly successful format - The Weakest Link (although I believe the BBC retains the rights to that format).

A couple of weeks ago there was a good Money Programme looking into the format business Media Revolution: Tomorrow's TV (it wasn't actually called The Money Programme, and you might only have known that it was from that if you'd recognised the theme tune). That looked at global formats that come from the UK like Millionaire, The Weakest Link and Dancing With The Stars (aka Strictly Come Dancing). They all feed lots of cash back to a burgeoning production sector.

So ITV undoubtedly has high hopes for The Colour of Money - not just as a popular early evening Saturday night gameshow that leads into Ant and Dec, but the production fees payable from all over the world as local versions are made.

I looked carefully at the credits of the show, because I wanted to know one thing - was Capital Radio responsible for it?

You see for many years, Capital Radio in London has had someting called The Bong Game. Listeners phone in, and perhaps after some kind of qualifying question they get to play for cash as a voice reads out cash amounts that get higher and higher until either the listener yells "Stop" or the dastardly bong comes in at a pre-determined point and the listener wins nothing. It's all about greed then.

In The Colour of Money, competitors are told that they must win a certain amount of cash and they have ten goes to reach that sum cumulatively. The "cash machines" they play against work just like the voice in the Bong Game, stopping at a pre-determined point. Competitors need to bank that cash a machine at a time until they've reached the sum they must reach. It's all or nothing.

So effectively it's like playing the Bong Game ten times in a row and getting to keep all the cash if there's enough of it.

There are other elements to the game of course. We get heartbreaking stories of each constestant explaining just why they need to win so much money. And the machines are all colour coded so that the element of sheer randomness becomes more akin to the bizarre reasoning behind contestants choosing boxes on Deal or No Deal. I'd love a constestant to play one of those games just going in numerical order or left to right. Let's get rid of this fake nonsense.

Interestingly, The Money Programme I referred to earlier explained that Millionaire had its roots in a Capital Radio game, and in particular a man called David Briggs who had worked on promotional games for the Capital Breakfast Show - presented by Chris Tarrant. He is also the man behind The Bong Game.

This is much more obviously based on the Bong Game format. But does Capital Radio, or its owners Global benefit?

Gameshow formats are an interesting thing, and unless you rip them off completely and in detail, it seems that they're hard to protect. Most of today's big talent shows like Idol, X-Factor and so on are essentially remakes of Opportunity Knocks. And many gameshow formats are deceptively familiar. Wikipedia notes that Who Wants To Be A Millionaire has had plenty of disputes over its format. And ownerships change. Celador sold the Millionaire format to 2waytraffic (although retaining the rights to use the format in films - hence Slumdog Millionaire produced by Celador). 2waytraffic was in turn swallowed up by Sony.

There's no David Briggs listed on the credits of The Colour of Money. Instead, six other people are credited with its creation.

But then if the Bong Game is renamed, as it has been, can other radio stations run it? Well they do. I've heard it in many guises and on many stations over the years. I hear that another radio format the "secret sound" has had lawyers chasing around in the past, but the idea that getting listeners to identify a mystery noise is copyrightable seems difficult to support. I'm sure that it's existed in radio for as many years as phone in competitions have taken place. It's probably best not to call it the "secret sound" however.

Anyway, I'm sure Global has enough lawyers to chase after any infringers of their copyright.

And finally, if you're looking for a great unproduced format: I still have one.

Just to be clear, in case any lawyers are reading this, I'm in no way suggesting that there's anything untoward about any of these formats or their ownership. I just find the whole area very interesting.

"The Real..."

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There's a documentary on Channel 4 this evening entitled "The Real Pink Panther" which, as The Stage points out, is completely misnamed, as "The Pink Panther" was a jewel and not the criminal ("The Phantom").

This was my comment for that story which wouldn't seem to post, but was worth putting here:

I've got a broader problem with programmes like this. It's the all round laziness in titling them. Seemingly, we can't cope with a more general title for this series of documentaries. We, the audience, are so stupid that we'll only watch docmentaries with the words "The Real..." in the title.

In the last week, we've had The Real Casino Royale and The Real Slumdog Millionaire on Sky One. Then there've been The Real Da Vinci Code, The Real James Bond, The Real Stephen Hawking, The Real Charlotte Greys, The Real John Betjamin, The Real Hustle, The Real Rain Man, The Real Dad's Army, The Real Exorcist... And on and on and on, across most of our broadcasters.

Obviously this is a lazy way to get a known brand/TV series/movie associated with your documentary. But enough's enough.

I don't care if you've carefully fashioned the most beautifully put together documentary since The Ascent of Man; if it reaches the screens entitled "The Real..." then I simply won't watch it.

Have we really reached the point where we can only use the Ronson "Says What It Is On The Tin" school of programme naming will let a documentary cut through? If we have, then we're in a very sorry place.

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