May 2009 Archives
The most recent issue of The Word magazine, and most recent edition of their podcast both discuss "Monkey Tennis" - the phenomenon best illustrated by the Alan Partridge clip where he desperately attempts to win a commission from a BBC controller:
Jump to 4:55 for the really good stuff - although it's all excellent.
In both the article and podcast Aris Roussinos talks about exactly how TV programmes are commissioned and frankly that Alan Partridge pitch seems pretty accurate. It's horrifying, it really is.
Commissioners have such a low opinion of the general public that all those "says what it is on the tin" series which clutter up most channels these days. I've said before that I'll never watch another show, no matter how brilliant, if it's called "The Real..." anything.
Flicking through this week's Broadcast, just brought more of the same. The big story is Shine US's commission of something called The Marriage Ref. Despite having the input of Jerry Seinfeld, this show in which a comedian judges which of a husband or wife is right in a discussion sounds like lowbrow daytime television rather than primetime entertainment.
But what other great TV have we got to look forward to?
Virgin 1 has commissioned The Naked Office, in which a Newcastle ad agency has run an "experiment" that involved everyone removing clothes to "improve communication and break down hierarchies in the office." It's being considered for a potential series. And it's not just an excuse to look at people naked.
They've already commissioned a programme about Jim Davidson entitled So You Think I'm An Arsehole. Actually, I'm more inclined to believe that of the commissioner... And there's also Why Men Watch Porn in which "medical experts" try to measure the effect of watching lots of pornography. Groundbreaking stuff.
Still, that's all Virgin 1. What about the BBC? You wouldn't get that kind of garbage on a licence fee funded channel would you?
Well BBC 3 is sending Snog, Marry, Avoid overseas for 12 episodes with an ex-Atomic Kitten. Challenging stuff. And the same channel has commissioned Clever v Stupid: "Clever v Stupid explores the notion that you can be brilliant without engaging with Aristotle" according to the executive producer. Just as well, since Aristotle died over 2,300 years ago which is going to make "engaging" with him quite challenging right now.
And there's yet more BBC 3 news - their budgets must have just been agreed or something. Dancing On Wheels will pair wheelchair users with able bodied partners in a dance competition. I've no problem per se with this - if I honestly thought that it was being commissioned for the right reasons. You just know that the programme title was created first, and a format shoe-horned into it.
Over on ITV, following her success with the Gurkhas, Joanna Lumley is presenting Cat Woman. Sounds enthralling. Well it would perhaps, if it was a remake of either 1942 or 1982 versions of Cat People. Sadly, I think this is more about her looking at, well, cats. Let me know when the DVD's out.
I know that nobody has any cash on TV at the moment - although ITV should at least have earned a pound or two this week, but coming up with halfway decent programmes which cost
Incidentally, tonight on BBC1 is a documentary called Tourettes: I Swear I Can't Help It. As we all know, this medical condition never gets any airtime, and this must surely be the first documentary covering this subject? Well, apart from Teenage Tourettes Camp (ITV), Tourette de France (C4), Tourettes on the Job (Five) and Extraordinary People: Tourette's Rewired (Five) all of which have aired in the last three years. Then there was the Big Brother contestant suffering from it.
I'm sure that this wasn't commissioned just because there'll be an audience for people swearing at inappropriate moments.
Here are a couple of nice pieces of audio from recent programmes. The first comes courtesy of Axegrinder at Press Gazette, and considers what those scary Yorkshire folk have been up to:
Bearing in mind that BBC Radio Five Live is shortly to move to Manchester, not with entirely unanimous support of everyone who works there, have a listen to this recent extract of Simon Mayo when Jason Isaacs came in a month ago:
Well they amused me anyway...
I've seen some great concerts recently which were all very different, but all worth mentioning here.
15 May saw Icelandic "Music Through Unconventional Means" which featured the Southbank's artist in residence, Shlomo, who's a beatboxer, performing with one of my favourite groups, Amiina, and another Icelandic performer, Valgeir Sigurdsson.
The first half of the concert allowed each of the groups to perform a couple of songs of their own, on their own. As I say, it was Amiina who I was really looking forward to seeing, and they had a fabulous array of instruments. As for Shlomo? Well I'd not seen beatboxing before and he gave us a gentle, and fascinating introduction to it. It's amazing what you can do with the human voice.
The second half was where it got really creative, with various combinations of artists working together, on one anothers' songs, and also on a couple of completely new pieces. I really enjoyed it.
The following Sunday was another unique experience with the (BBC) Radiophonic Workshop performing live in concert. OK - that's a bit of a strange thing to say about a group that was built large of individuals and based almost completely in various studios.
But this was the coming together of several members who worked there over the years, backed by a team of talented musicians. An excellent evening of electronic music.
There aren't many times where you hear excerpts of music you remember as the original John Craven's Newsround theme, alongside those of Words and Pictures, and of course Doctor Who. We had many other less familiar pieces of music too - unfamiliar unless you've got hold of the excellent recent releases and re-releases of Radiophonic music.
Over the course of the evening we saw short videos with music of some of the other forces of the Workshop including John Baker (check out the recent Trunk Records releases) and, of course, Delia Derbyshire.
As well as the videos, there were some excellent graphics and lighting to enliven what would otherwise have been middle-aged men playing synthesisers.
Earlier, I was fortunate to get into a fun Q&A with the performers who were able to give us a bit more background and understanding.
And I must admit that I really enjoyed the support - Andrea Parker remixing music from Daphne Oram; enough that I went out and got a recent CD of hers afterwards.
The following Wednesday it was off to revisit Ane Brun who was back in town and back in the Union Chapel where I saw her a couple of months ago. She was back, and this time had better support (although the chapel wasn't as full as it had been previously).
She played some of the same songs, but also a few different ones. And she was again joined by her "Diamonds" - who are all singers in their own rights. In particular we heard Rebekka and Jennie Abrahamson do a few support songs each.
But she's a terrific performer, and worth watching next time she's in town.
What has The Guardian done to its daily listings this week? They've got substantially worse - especially for radio.
To give you an idea what I'm talking about, here's an example of last Thursday's radio page:
And here's the equivalent page today:
The more observant may notice that it's now only half a page. We've lost the Pick of the Day column which used to highlight one or more programmes to listen out for.
We've also lost loads of stations. Previously, The Guardian had detailed and easy to read listings for Radio 3, Radio 4 and Radio 7 - arguably the three channels that needed that detail the most. Then there werer also schedules for Radio 1, Radio 2, Five Live, 6Music, Classic FM, TalkSport, 1Xtra, Asian Network, Absolute Radio, BBC London, Xfm, Capital Radio (these latter in my London edition) and the World Service. A total of 16 services.
Today's edition carries just Radio 3 and Radio 4. That's your lot. The detail for these is about the same as before, but of the other 14 services, there's no coverage.
This comes at a time when more people are listening to the radio than ever before. And a quick run of the figures shows that of people who "almost always" read The Guardian, 165,000 are Radio 1 listeners, 282,000 are Radio 2 listeners, 224,000 are Five Live listeners, 53,000 are 6Music listeners, 75,000 are Radio 7 listeners, 191,000 are Classic FM listeners, 38,000 are Absolute Radio listeners and 33,000 are Talksport listeners. That's a lot of readers who are no longer served (Source: RAJAR Q1 2009).
I'm sure that The Guardian would point you in the direction of The Guide and say there's more coverage in its Saturday listings supplement, but that wasn't as detailed as we used to get.
In fairness I should say that the loss isn't just radio's. Many digital TVservices have lost their listings too. Gone are all the TV sports channels listings (seemingly a subject so popular it deserves a daily section, but not any listings info), Comedy Central, Sky Movies Premiere, Sky Movies Indie, Sky Movies Drama, Sky Movies Comedy, Sky Movies Action Thriller, Hallmark, and GOLD. There's also no longer a daily film pick selection - perhaps unsurprising since so many film channels are no longer included.
I suspect that overall page saved is something to do with decreasing revenues and expensive newsprint, but I'm sure those savings could come from elsewhere.
[Disclaimer: Yes, I work for a commercial radio station, Absolute Radio, but I'm writing in my personal capacity here]
Last night BBC Two aired the first in a three part series - Who's Watching You. It examines the surveillance state that we've been walking headlong into over the last few years.
Despite a very annoying production technique of sending everything in and out of focus like a small child was operating the camera, it put together a fair - sometimes "too" fair - look at what's happening and how that data is being used.
I was thinking about a very similar subject when I stood atop Beacon Hill yesterday surveying the Chilterns and beyond. I took this photo:
It's not in any way Photoshopped (beyond usual processing stuff).
It's only fair to add, that I later realised that my walk took me along the edge of the Chequers estate, and it's entirely possible that this very subtle CCTV camera is part of that estate's security system. Despite thinking that Gordon Brown doesn't use Chequers, it turns out that he does most weekends so I expect he was off somewhere behind where I took this photo.
Given the fact that I took about a dozen photos, and the propensity of our law enforcement officials to approach people taking pictures of the most innocent subjects, I should count myself lucky to continue my journey unscathed (or perhaps they missed me because I took photos of the back of the camera!).
I'd completely forgotten this, but then I saw last week's edition of Have I Got News For You presented this week by Alexander Armstrong.
The MPs' expenses scandal is the gift that keeps on giving as far as satirical programmes go, but when illustrating the resignation of the Speaker, Armstrong pointed out that programmes like this one were explicitly not allowed to use parliamentary footage. (He went on to use an "artist's illustration" to make the point).
I've just been looking around, and that's completely true:
no extracts of Parliamentary proceedings may be used in any light entertainment programme or in a programme of political satire;
I really hadn't thought about this for years. But it's in the Rules of Coverage.
So while over on More4 we can nightly watch Jon Stewart mercilessly taking apart C-Span coverage of US politicians, we're simply not allowed to the same here.
Interestingly, this doesn't prevent magazines such as Private Eye, taking stills from the video feed and putting them on the front cover with words coming out of the speakers' mouths.
Meanwhile Sky News is running a promo for itself which uses an extract of the (soon to be retired) Speaker saying nice things about it. Curious in itself, but seemingly not against the rules:
no extracts of Parliamentary proceedings may be used in any form of advertising, promotion or other form of publicity, except in the form of trailers for programmes which use extracts within the requirement of these guidelines and where the trailers also comply with those requirements;
As Sky News obviously can run extracts, it can use extracts to promote itself.
Here's The Daily Show's take on it:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||M - Th 11p / 10c|
(Not at its best to be honest) But they didn't use clips from Parliament - probably more by luck than judgement.
It's worth noting that More4 will make the odd edit - there's a rant about that over here.
Now I've genuinely been looking forward to a decent competitor to Apple's iTunes App store, so today's launch of the Ovi store by Nokia has been something to look forward to.
Sadly, all is not that great with it.
Early in the day there were issues of too many people hitting the servers too frequently. The store was falling over. That's partially Nokia's fault and partially not in my view. Yes - lots of people coming from high traffic tech sites like Engadget or Slashdot mean that even the most robust sites can struggle, but this is the biggest mobile phone operator in the world we're talking about. Nokia really should be able to cope.
Accessing the store can be done in three ways as far as I can see. You can either visit via a PC, visit by going to the site with your mobile's browser, or use a specially designed app that lets you browse the store.
My first problem was logging in: I have a Nokia account, had a MOSH account, and also have an Ovi account - that is, the Ovi that was there to sync data and let me backup contacts etc. Earlier today, using my current details just didn't work. That was fixed later in the day, but the site still seems to know very little about me. In particular, it took a while before acknowledging what phone I have, despite me having tied a model to my account previously. Again, that now seems fixed.
OK - never mind all that. What about getting an "application." As others have noticed, there are a lot of videos and ringtones amidst these apps. And Nokia seems keenest to push it's various Star Trek related downloads - the worst thing about the recent Star Trek film was the clunky product placement. Is it really worth film companies' while doing these deals?
From the website on my PC's browser, there's a handy "Send to mobile" link that sends a text message to your phone with a direct over-the-air link. The first time I tried it there was a significant delay of about fifteen minutes, but the next time it arrived fairly promptly. But on neither occassion could I download the application. The first time around, I was told that it was no longer available. Well it had been fifteen minutes earlier. There was not a lot I could do.
The second time, it was available, but wanted me to log-in with my registered details. I'd done this on the website anyway, but now I had to do it again on the phone's browser. But it wouldn't let me: "Sorry, you cannot sign in at this time. Try again later."
So no download.
There's no PC download ability even though I have the requisite cable. They're pushing over-the-air downloads and I just can't get them to work for this log-in reason.
While I'm moaning about that, I'd have thought it'd be nice for Nokia's text messages to come from the "Ovi store" or similar. Instead, they come from "1234."
There's one other way of getting to the store. That's via their application. I know that others either already have the Ovi app pre-installed (on recent phones), or can get to it via the Download! application. I have the latter, but no matter how much refreshing I do, it doens't make the Ovi app appear. And searching for Ovi on the Ovi store doesn't seem to show the app itself (not that I'd be able to download it anyway).
So as it stands, I can get to the store one of two ways - but they all route to my mobile browser. But I can't log in when I get there for no obvious reason preventing me from downloading anything.
Now it's early days, and some of these problems can be fixed. But really they should have been ironed out during beta testing. I really want someone to take on the Apple app store. I get enormously fed up that people consider the iPhone to be the only smartphone on the market - perhaps alongside the Blackberry. So I can't tell you how frustrating this all is.
I know they'll get this sorted out, but how quickly? And will I bother going back.
As an aside, isn't it a ridiculously stupid thing for Palm to make their Pre available solely on O2? That puts it in competition with the iPhone which is also exclusive to that network. Even if, as rumoured, the iPhone goes non-exclusive, that leaves a lot of people on two-year iPhone contracts unable to upgrade, and everyone who already wanted a state of the art smartphone, already on the iPhone.
Surely going to another network would have been best for Palm if they really had to do an exclusive deal?
Or how about this - going on all networks to build market share? It really seems daft deliberately limiting your market share unless you really don't think you can reach projected sales levels beyond a single network. If Kellogg's launches a new cereal, they don't tend to do an "exclusive" deal with Tesco. Not if they want to shift lots of boxes. So why do the same with phones? I know others have done deals in the past, but I don't mind so much if the Nokia xyz is available "exclusively in black on Orange." I don't change my electricity provider because I want to use a Sony Vaio. And I won't change my mobile supplier just for a handset.
I'd completely missed the fact that this book existed until I saw a reference to a Daily Mail extract via a friend's blog (obviously I wouldn't ordinarily link to a Daily Mail extract - it's not as though I was surfing the site or something).
Written by John Osborne - no, not our John Osborne - it details one man trying to liven up his dull data-entry job by listening to a different radio station each day.
The radio anorak in me, meant that I had to read this book. I really do love radio. It's why I work where I work - and I'd listen to lots of radio wherever I happened to be.
When the book arrived, the first thing I had to do was see if there was a reference to the station where I work. The list of contents didn't show Absolute Radio, and I was scouring it for Virgin Radio - surely it must be there - when I realised that it formed Osborne's very first chapter.
And so we get a listener's experience of Virgin Radio, as it was about a year or so ago, from Christian O'Connell at Breakfast to Geoff in his then late show. He seemed to quite like the station, but he especially enjoyed a caller to Christian's show who's story transcended the entire show that day - a woman had basically married a complete stranger; and as a man of good taste, he loved The Geoff Show.
We get a canter through plenty of other stations in a fairly breezy way including Asian Network, TalkSport, theJazz (that helps date it a bit), and Resonance.
Osborne has also managed to get interviews with various people to talk about the importance of radio to them. He spends time at the Radio Times, drops into Manchester to see Mark Radcliffe, chats to Tommy Boyd, Nicholas Parsons and Five Live's Arlo White.
Against all this, is the backstory about his dreadful sounding office, where all he has to do is enter data and fantasise about an attractive co-worked. The only place to walk to at lunchtime is an out-of-town branch of Comet. No wonder he started writing this book.
What truly becomes apparant from reading this book is the tremendously dull everyday stuff that some DJs fill their programmes with. Jo Whiley is quoted as having enjoyed watching Lost on DVD, and asking listeners to text in some of their favourite TV shows. That's really not a great radio feature.
Osborne seems to find Radio 4 slightly scary (ironically given it's current serlialisation - see below), and doesn't seem to be able to make it through a full day of Classic FM or Radio 3.
But overall the book's a galloping read and doesn't take that long to read at all.
My only complaint with the book is that there are more than one or two typos throughout it. It really hasn't been properly proofed. Since it's from a mainstream publisher - Simon & Schuster UK - that's really not acceptable in a book with a £9.99 cover price. There are couple of real clangers. At the start of one chapter, the word "I" is replaced by two words from the previous paragraph. And in another place, "presenting" appears as "preventing" which is slightly different.
Oh, and the cover could be better. While they've chosen a perfectly good picture of a radio on the cover in a caravan park, it's got a poorly Photoshopped Union Jack stuck on its antenna. Even worse, the font for the author's name seems to be Comic Sans (and despite what The Guardian wrote recently, that's a crime), while the rest of the title is in seemingly whatever random font they first came up with, with a curious white stroke and a drop shadow. It just makes the book appear to be self-published as opposed to something that's from a major publisher with national newspaper and Radio 4 seralisations.
Don't let those things put you off though!
As I mentioned, the book is currently the Radio 4 Book of the Week. The first episode, aired yesterday, and featured Virgin Radio (although the nice bit about The Geoff Show was cut from Radio 4's adaptation) while today's features Wogan and TalkSport.
Over at Media Guardian, their big Ofcom news is that C4 has been cleared of any bullying on Celebrity Big Brother, but I don't think that's the big news from Ofcom today.
The really interesting news is the changes in advertising that are being announced. There are some smaller changes like the number of breaks allowed in programmes longer than an hour - they're going up for PSB channels. So if you thought that you saw more breaks in longer form programmes in the multi-channel world than you did in the "terrestrial" world - you're right. You did.
But the really interesting/disheartening news is the relaxations on shopping channels.
Against the background of falling advertising revenues, Ofcom has made changes to allow broadcasters to generate additional revenues from teleshopping.
It will be allowed for the first time on PSB channels, but only between midnight and 6am. The rule that limits non-PSB channels to broadcast only three hours of teleshopping a day will be relaxed.
In limiting teleshopping on PSB channels to overnight transmissions, Ofcom balanced the recognition that teleshopping services could contribute to PSB funding with its view that teleshopping content does not contribute to the public service remit.
In other words, you might soon see shopping after dark on ITV, C4 or Five.
In some respects, that can only be better than the dreadful Quiz Call which still pervades on Five when they're not showing overseas sport. But as anyone who's seen daytime TV on many digital channels will tell you, the extended "advertorials" for exercise machines and cleaning fluids are pretty tawdry. They're not QVC quality.
Anyway, my prediction is that ITV puts together a decently produced show with a "name" presenter fairly quickly. We'll have to wait and see.
Channel 4's Chief Executive, Andy Duncan, has been appearing in front the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee.
He's been complaining about the BBC buying acquired - that is to say, American - programming.
C4 was outbid for the 13 episode Harper's Island, which is still to air here.
That may be so, but overall his argument really doesn't hold water. The BBC's acquired programming basically comprises of Heroes, Mad Men, Damages, Medium, The Wire, and Family Guy.
Damages and Mad Men had no competing bids when they were acquired. And Heroes was first picked up by the SciFi channel in the UK. That means they got it for relative peanuts. The BBC came in later and bought terrestrial rights with no competitors at that point.
The Wire has been run in full by FX, and been available on DVD for some time. Was C4 really going to bid now?
I suspect that only Family Guy might have had some competition.
Of course, as shows become popular, then others are interested (see my last post), but that's not really the BBC's fault.
C4 outbid the BBC for both The Simpsons and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Although Duncan says foreign acquisitions, he really means American. Because if BBC Four didn't show Spiral, the Swedish version of Wallander or the Inspector Montalbano shows we had before Christmas, you can be certain C4 won't be (once upon a time it did run foreign shows!).
The US distributors wouldn't like the market distorted. And as the BBC has already said when C4 came at this before, only 1.5% of its programming is acquired.
In fact - and I'm sure Duncan knows this - the competitors for acquired programming are Five, Sky One, ITV's digital channels as well as secondary channels like Virgin 1, FX et al. Lost started out on C4 after all, but they couldn't afford both it and Desperate Housewives at the same time.
If I thought C4 treated the imports it has had with more respect then I might have more time for them. But they're run in the small hours if at all when the channel loses interest in them. Why doens't The Big Bang Theory run at 10.00pm on a Friday night for example?
The idea that C4 would have bought The Wire at this late stage is laughable. I'm still bitter from the fact that the channel stopped showing David Simon's earlier series, Homicide: Life on the Street before the series ended. It took Hallmark to air those last episodes first. E4 was the first channel to show The Corner - Simon's mini-series that predates The Wire. But they buried it. FX is showing it now, with much more gusto!
Acquired programming has a place on Channel 4 like it does everywhere else, but if they hadn't paid so much more to Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal than they'd been getting at the BBC, and not spent quite so much money on the overblown and very-long-in-the-tooth Big Brother, they might be able to make a US acquisition work well for them.
Maybe they could have bought the fun HBO vampire series True Blood. But they let FX get that.
As far as I know, nobody's showing Friday Night Lights in the UK.
I've just started watching DVDs of the excellent HBO show In Treatment. No UK channel has picked this up, and it must surely be pretty cheap. Writing aside, the cast is either two or three people for each episode, and there's a single set. Series 1 had 42 episodes. It'd work beautifully on More4.
I've not seen Eastbound & Down, the new HBO Will Ferrell comedy, but surely a UK channel's interested?
Better Off Ted, a new ABC sitcom, is showing promise. It has no UK home that I know of.
Southland, the new NBC cop drama, sounds a little out of the ordinary and has a strong cast and comes from John Wells who made ER. No UK interest so far.
Showtime's United States of Tara comes from Diablo Cody who wrote Juno, has Steven Spielberg as Executive Producer, and stars Toni Collette. Why is it not on UK screens?
Oh, and FX has just let its contract to buy The Colbert Report lapse. Can someone please buy this for me. Otherwise I just have to go looking elsewhere.
Loads of US programming. None of it - to the best of my knowledge - yet acquired by a UK station. And Duncan moans that he couldn't get Harper's Island which is only going to run for 13 episodes as a closed series anyway. Everything else I've mentioned here is certainly aiming to be a repeating series. And that's what C4 wants.
Except they seemingly have no cash to buy a series this year anyway. So I'm not sure what the complaint is.
The Stage had a great piece on all this earlier in the year.
Broadcast magazine has a story about Sky One (or should that be Sky 1?) trying to lure Harry Hill from ITV1 to its channel with his BAFTA winning TV Burp.
ITV has the series signed up for the autumn and winter, but beyond that I guess that negotiations remain open with indepedent producer Avalon.
The story goes on to say that the channel tried to get the third series of Gavin and Stacey! I find it incredible that they'd have even had a chance to get that. Although it's made by indie, Baby Cow, it's surely a BBC TV show as much as anything.
Similarly, ITV has shown great support for TV Burp over the years, sticking with the show when ratings weren't perhaps as strong as they might have been. Now it's a storming success for the channel - and unmissable TV.
In the past Sky One's taken imported shows that first became hits on free-to-air channels and plucked them off as their value increases. So Channel 4 let Lost go, 24 went from BBC2, and Five lost Prison Break. Most recently House has left Five to move to Sky One. I don't know how much of that was Five not wanting to pay top dollar for the fifth season, and how much was it just trying to save cash by sticking with the newer and less tested Mentalist. Channels can do life of series deals to guarantee that they don't get
If I was making a popular comedy show like Harry Hill or Gavin and Stacey, I'd think very carefully before going to the relative backwaters of Sky. Kids won't be repeating your catchphrases in the playground if your audience is close to one million than ten million.
Remember when Harry Enfield went to Sky? Harry Enfield's Brand Spanking New Show didn't help Enfield's career greatly, and it's only recently that his mainstream sketch shows have proved popular again with Harry and Paul. That didn't work too well did it? And Sky gave Al Murray a go with Time Gentleman Please. It ran for a couple of series and did better - but at least Sky was producing a new show.
To think that back in 1985, there was outrage when Thames Television did a deal with the prodcuers of Dallas to outbid the BBC for the series. Such was the outrage at the time, both within the BBC and in other ITV companies, that the BBC held back episodes it already purchased and promised to run them opposite Thames' newly purchased episodes. In the end Thames backed down, and Dallas remained on the BBC.
Getting back to Sky One, the Broadcast story has a quote from a Sky spokesperson saying that they strive "to provide our customers with the best content. We continue to invest in programming and are examining a number of high-profile programmes that have a natural fit with Sky 1."
Creating new programming is great. Their big budget stuff like Skellig shown over Easter, is fine programming to be encourage. Ross Kemp's Afghanistan trips are very good too. And picking up programmes, particularly imports, is fine - although I think that hijacking proven popular successes is just lazy.
Every so often, somebody at Sky will liken the channel to HBO or at least draw parallels between the two. But you can't imagine HBO picking off The Mentalist or CSI from CBS because they'd proved popular (it couldn't happen anyway, because you can imagine that contracts with the networks are pretty water-tight). There are instances of programmes in the US moving between networks - most recently Scrubs. But that's more a question of a series not being wanted by one network, and wanted by another.
Create a few must-see programmes, and the audience will follow.
I must admit that although the enormous build up for this film had left others frantic with excitement, I'd not really been one of them.
But by the time it arrived in cinemas at the weekend, I was certainly intrigued enough to want to go and see this "reboot" of the Star Trek franchise.
I've never been a massive Star Trek fan. I enjoy it and I'm sure that I've seen all the original series. I've also seen many of the Next Generation, but Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise only ever saw me dipping in and out.
I'd also begun to wonder if JJ Abrams had been taking on too much recently. I've actually stopped watching Lost - not having caught any of this series, and only really watched the last series half-heartedly. Perhaps I'll catch up with it on DVD. Then there's Fringe which is basically a new take on The X-Files although perfectly decent for all that.
Then we've also had Cloverfield, another cancelled TV series, and any number of unnamed projects associated with Abrams on IMDB.
That said, I thought his edition of Mission Impossible was pretty decent and word of mouth sounded good.
The new Star Trek film is actually really good. The story they've come up with lets them move on without what has come before (or will happen), and the characters are all pretty much as we grew up with them (assuming you grew up with the old 60s series). The action is good, and the effects are excellent. This isn't a mess like even the trailer for Transfomers 2 before this film was.
Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto completely inhabit Kirk and Spock and were it not for the fact that Leonard Nimoy's in this film (and it feels much more than a cameo by the way), you'd almost forget they existed.
They've even managed to pull off things like updating the uniforms while retaining the feel of the sixties originals. The overall feel of the film is right - the scale's right for the big screen yet it feels like it has some relation to the original series.
I'm sure I didn't spot half the hidden fan references littered throughout the film, but that was all to the good, because you could come in fresh and watch this film without knowing anything else about the Star Trek universe.
It's not the best science fiction film you'll ever see, but it's set the bar high for the rest of the summer's blockbusters, and it's certainly the best Star Trek film.
Back in 2005 I read a book called The Oxford Murders which was a perfectly enjoyable thriller set in Oxford around mathematics and murders by Argentinian author Guillermo Martinez.
In the meantime, it's been made into a film which I've not seen, and wasn't exactly well reviewed.
Now comes The Book of Murder, which is another tale quickly told. Told from the viewpoint of a unnamed, sometime novelist, and old aquaintance, Luciana, makes contact with him to tell him an unlikely story. Another, very successful novelist, Kloster, is murdering her family. And nobody will believe her.
The set-up is pretty good, but sadly the story doesn't really go anywhere, and as you dash through the 200 or so pages, you begin to realise just that.
Martinez paints a pretty good picture of a bitter Argentianian literary society that you feel he's probably well aware of. Has he experienced some of the success that Kloster has experienced - you don't get all that many Argentinian authors translated into English after all.
He also tries to inject some maths into this, with some discussions on the nature of chance, but it feels a little worked upon.
The Book of Murder is a perfectlty fine tale, but you might find yourself coming away from it a little underwhelmed.
I picked this interesting little title up after reading a review of it in The Guardian a week or so ago.
The story involves an unnamed housekeeper who is assigned by her agency to look after the professor. He had an accident years earlier, and now his memory only lasts 80 minutes. That means he can't remember who his housekeeper is everyday when she arrives. But he does remember all the mathematics that got him to where he is prior to his accident.
So an intriguing plot and a healthy dose of maths - that'll be me hooked then!
The housekeeper's son, known only as "Root" (as in "square root" because of his flat head) also plays an interesting part in the story, which gets into baseball and lots of basic maths.
From primes to perfect numbers, and various points inbetween, all are mentioned, leaving the reader ever amazed by the relationships we have between numbers. It's well worth reading, and I hadn't even mentioned that it's a Japanese translation.
...or rather the Sony Radio Academy Awards as they should be known, but aren't really.
The radio "Oscars" were held last night in London. Quite why every award ceremony has to be compared to the awfulness of the Oscars is a good question. And they were held at the Grosvenor House Hotel ballroom, a room that broadly speaking, sees a similar type of ceremony practically every night of the year. Indeed, this Saturday, Radio 4 has a documntary - Getting the Gongs - exploring this very phenomenon.
But these awards are the biggest awards in UK radio, and as usual they try to tread a fineline between commercial and BBC radio so that everyone gets a fair crack of the whip. What's more, as well as being shortlisted as a nominee (and therefore having to buy a table at the ceremony), most categories award Gold, Silver and Bronze awards. The Golds are the ones that get to go up on stage, but everyone loves an award don't they?
What this means is that alongside the News & Current Affairs Award and the Drama Award, which are only ever realistically going to be won by BBC services, we get The Breakfast Show Award and the Listener Participation Award, and even The Competition Award.
The latter particularly intrigued me, since the BBC got a nomination in a year that it basically wasn't allowed to do any competitions.
My employer, Absolute Radio, had seven nominations. Careful examination of a large binder of Sony nominations and winners (kindly supplied by the Sony Awards organisation last year), revealed that only twice before had a single commercial station had so many nominations in a single year - with Kiss and Capital 95.8 equalling the achievement.
Anyway, Absolute Coldplay won Gold in the Live Event category, with Iain Lee getting a Silver award in the Listener Particpiation category, our production guys getting a Bronze in the Promo category and Tim Shaw getting a Bronze in the Entertainment Award category. That was particularly tough as Tim was up against Christian O'Connell and Geoff Lloyd in the same category. But Chris Evans won out with Adam & Joe taking silver.
Chris Evans, who hosted the awards, did well, also taking home Gold in the The Music Radio Personality of the Year award, while Adam & Joe, who were up for four awards came away with no Golds.
With a remarkable piece of prescience, Sunday Times radio journalist, Paul Donovan, wrote the following on Sunday, the day before the awards:
Radio 3 will confound history tomorrow when it is crowned UK Station of the Year for the first time in the Sony Radio Academy Awards...
It's as remarkable that Radio 3 hasn't previously won this award, as it is that Donovan was so certain that they'd carry home the trophy ahead of time. But they did, and it's well deserved.
Five Live did very well at the awards. So well indeed, that they produced the following package which aired just before the 8am news this morning. Immodest? I'll let you decide...
What I will say is that the awards were well deserved (And I do regularly listen to two of their winning programmes - the breakfast show, and of course, the peerless Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode. Someone came in and said hello on the show today).
Paul Brown received a thoroughly deserved Special Award for the tireless work he's done for radio, and commercial radio especially, over the years.
The most curious winner of the evening was Electric Radio Brixton that gained four nominations across various categories and ended up with two Golds and two Bronzes. I've not heard any of the output and it may be well deserved. On the other hand, it's not very likely that many prison radio operations would even be able to put together the entry fee for Sony Awards. I trust that it won its awards for the right reasons...
Count Arthur Strong won the comedy award - I've not really been a listener, but long time readers will probably know that my favourite Radio 4 comedy is Ed Reardon's Week, and that didn't even get a nomination.
I haven't heard any of the Drama Award nominees either, but hopefully, at least the winner, Mr Larkin's Awkward Day, will get a repeat.
I could tot up all the commercial and all the BBC awards but I'm not sure to what ends that would be. The BBC has vastly more money to spend on its output than commercial radio. That's even more the case now as the Sony Awards mention in their press release:
"Commercial radio, which has experienced a challenging 12 months..."
That said - good radio is good radio, and it can come from anywhere.
Interesting news from Five Live.
Danny Baker's going to be doing the Saturday morning show, replacing Eamonn Holmes. Meanwhile Absolute Radio's own Christian O'Connell is returning to Five Live to present an as yet un-named topical news comedy programme.
I'm glad that Danny Baker's 606 has been acknowledged for the triumph that it is, and he's getting a decent length show on the station.
Christian used to present Fighting Talk until he took over as the then host of the Virgin Radio breakfast show. At that point, Colin Murray was given the Fighting Talk gig - probably because Christian was just a bit too high profile for Five Live's controller's liking. Before him, the same had happened when Johnny Vaughan got the Capital FM breakfast show, and he also left the Fighting Talk host (although it's his production company that still produces the show).
Speaking of production companies, I thought that this was interesting:
"5 Live will invite independent production companies and in-house production areas to pitch for the opportunity to produce this show and the best ideas and formats will win out!"
Talk about an open pitch...
If you just went by this blog, you might think that I've stopped reading books. Well that's not true. I just stopped writing about them here. Quite why, I couldn't really say, but I intend to right that wrong. So let's start with a book I read a few months ago, and its sequel that I just finished today.
Child 44 is the first book in a series by Tom Rob Smith featuring Leo Demidov, an MGB (the precursor to the KGB) agent for the Russian state under Stalin. He does what's required of him, arresting subversives and anyone deemed to have broken the rules, for them to be tortured or sent off to prison or camps.
Against this backdrop, children across a wide part of the country are disappearing. But this is state where murder is unknown. The idea that there might be a serial killer is unconscionable.
How does someone investigate a crime, when that crime does not exist because the state says so. That's the central tenet of Child 44.
The backdrop is fascinating and the book reads like a thriller. Well, it is a thriller. And it's a superbly told thriller, that keeps you turning the pages, as the full horror of events slowly unfolds.
The book's been a best seller in the UK, and according to the author on a recent edition of the Simon Mayo Book programme, has sold over 250,000 copies in Japan. When I was in Prague recently, I saw posters all over the underground advertising the Czech edition. Ridley Scott has the film rights (although he's got such a large slate on his plate just now with Robin Hood, Monopoly, The Forgotten War and this, that goodness knows when he'll get this done).
Anyway, a cracking read, and well worth looking out.
Last month the book's sequel, The Secret Speech came out. And it's more of the same - in the very best way possible.
But first a warning - you might not want to read the following if you've not read Child 44 yet, but I don't give a great deal away.
We find Demidov hoping that he's finally put his old life behind him, and he's heading up the new homicide division of the Moscow police - even though it's not officially recognised. But Stalin has died and Khrushchev is in power. He makes his Secret Speech - something I knew nothing about - and suddenly everything changes. What happens to people who have behaved one way under Stalin, and now must change their ways? What happens when some of those imprisoned are now released?
Demidov gets personally involved and his family is disintegrating. Before we know it, he's going into a Gulag undercover and things are not going well for him.
If anything, the pace is even faster, but as in Child 44, it's a fascinating insight into something I certainly knew very little about. It's a scary world.
I rattled through this book in record time, and now realise that it's going to be at least a year before I can read more of Demidov's exploits. I look forward to them.
Last night the
NFT BFI Southbank had a showing of Coraline, the new stop motion film from Henry Selick (the director of "Tim Burton's" The Nightmare Before Christmas) and based on the book by Neil Gaiman.
Now I've not read the book, although I believe many have - and some of them were in the audience last night.
The film has a wonderful feel to it, with the hand crafted models beautifully animated. The 3D is superbly realised without the showy "coming-out-of-the-screen" effects too many 3D films in the past have been known for.
In the Q&A afterwards, Selick explained how the physical dimensions of the two worlds was actually different...
But I'm jumping ahead of myself. The story is about a little girl, Coraline, who's moved into the Pink Palace Apartments - basically a big house divided into three. Upstairs and downstairs are an array of colourful characters but when Coraline discovers a secret doorway it takes her into another world - the same, but different. Here, her parents spend time talking to her, and feed her lovely food. The small difference is that they have buttons for eyes.
There is, of course, much more to this world. Is it quite as wonderful as Coraline first imagines? What do you think?
The voicework is great, and the imagination is exceptional with wondeful flights of fancy all realised with inordinate creativity.
As I mentioned, we had a Q&A with Selick and Gaiman after the film, and it was informative hearing the genesis of film, the time it took to get into production (I'll give you a clue - it was years), and the various iterations of how the film would be made before it was produced in this form.
We also heard about the differences between the book and the film. And in the audience were Ian McShane (Bobinsky) and John Hodgman (Father and Other Father). Well, I say McShane was there. He actually left early. Hodgman, however, came up on stage and joined in the discussion.
It really is fascinating listening to a discussion about how much you can scare children. We've had the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and of course, the Daleks in Doctor Who. Children like being scared, and the "other parents" in Coraline are the latest iterations in a long line of scary villains. Buttons for eyes are intrinsically scary. And it's great that a film like this exists to scare a new generation of children.
And lots of adults should go and see this film too - preferably in 3D.
7am this morning saw the first RAJAR release of 2009, and with it came a pleasant surprise: overall radio listening is up. Indeed, since the current methodology was introduced, radio listening is at an all time high reaching 45.8m listeners a week with 251,000 additional listeners this quarter.
And even better news is that listening - the amount of time people actually spend listening to radio - is also up with 1.025 billion listening hours.
Source: RAJAR/Ipsos MORI/RSMB
This is great news, because we all have so many more options for watching, reading and listening than we've ever had in the past. I've long been concerned that radio would fall below the 1 billion hours a week figure, but the numbers remain strong. A number's just a number, but when we could be listening to our iPods, Last.fm, or Spotify, we could playing video games, surfing the net or watching a DVD, this is powerful news for the medium.
I suppose that it'd be fair to point out that as the population continues to increase, and get older, you'd hope that listening figures increase, but irrespective of that this remains good news. The one area of concern is amongst younger listeners.
That's up 1% on the quarter in terms of listening hours, but it's down on the year. This chart shows listening over the last five years.
Source: RAJAR/Ipsos MORI/RSMB
Keeping young people listening to the radio should be a major industry objective. 25+ year olds are well served by both the BBC and commercial radio. But is the industry really doing enough to get young listeners involved? Kids radio is all but non-existant, with CBeebies is on Radio 7 between the hours of 5am and 8am, and Radio 4 just killed its only childrens' show. There is just Fun Kids operating as a full service station for youngsters.
Radio 1 has grown older over the years with only really Switch specifically targeted at the younger end of its market, and even then it's not that young (The Radio Academy is discussing this next week).
20.1% of all radio listening is now via a digital platform - one in five hours. For some stations this is much higher - my own employer, Absolute Radio has now reached 50% of listening via a digital platform for its National service - i.e. amongst all listening to it excluding FM in London.
Source: RAJAR/Ipsos MORI/RSMB
That 20.1% is made up of 12.7% DAB, 3.4% DTV and 2.2% Internet (The mathematically astute will notice that doesn't add up to 20.1%. The remainer didn't specify which digital platform they were listening via).
From a commercial perspective we must be disappointed that the share of listening has slipped back in favour of the BBC. The BBC has 56.3% of listening while commercial radio has 41.6% (the difference is other listening including non-RAJAR services, and international listening, including via the internet).
Overall, with so many more distractions, it's good news that radio is still being listened to so much, by so many people.
As always, these views are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.
There are two interesting developments in the world of newspapers and digital today.
First up is Rupert Murdoch who's reported to be introducing a charge for reading currently free newspapers on the internet. He's looked at the model operated by the Wall Street Journal and wants to roll out some kind of system to his other newspapers.
Newspapers face the problem that as circulations fall and page impressions on websites rise, the advertising from their online offerings doesn't make up for the lost print revenue. Major US newspapers are crumbling (The Boston Globe was the latest teetering on the edge), and as the internet effectively has infinite inventory for advertising, if we're not careful, prices will only go in one direction - and it's not up.
From a consumer's point of view, news has become free. They're used to that model on TV and radio. And despite attempts from various publishers online, that's the case with the internet too. Even in print, many are able to read free newspapers.
The problem that Murdoch faces is that unless a lot of his competitors also introduce pay models, it's going to be hard for his titles to go it alone. If I can't read the story free on Timesonline, why don't I just go to Telegraph.co.uk? Then there's always BBC News...
The Wall Street Journal has valuable time sensitive data with an audience that will pay for it. The same can be said of the FT - it has put its cover price up from £1 to £2 in less than two years. Basically, FT readers are price insensitive to a large extent. They need the paper, and it's entirely possible that their office pays for it anyway. Like the Wall Street Journal, the FT charges beyond a certain level for access to its website.
But at the moment, news from News Corporation's websites can usually be found somewhere else free of charge. It's a dilemma.
I think the key to this will be to find a workable micropayment system, or a value-added subscription scheme. The Independent had a go for a while, but eventually failed. Charging small amounts via cards is not very workable. If The Times included access to its enormous archive (stretching back to 1785) then that'd be an interesting idea. It wouldn't work for everybody, because not all of us are interested in that kind of historic information. I'll wait with interest to see what Murdoch comes up with.
The other part of this story is the new Kindle that Amazon has announced in the US - the Kindle DX. This device is specifically aimed at reading magazines and newspapers. I've not tried a Kindle - they've not been released in the UK - but I understand that reading a newspaper on it required a bit too much scrolling or removed a lot of the serendipity of the printed page which had stories you mightn't look at until your eye was caught by them.
The price is pretty high at $489, but there will be "a steep discount on the Kindle if they buy a long term subscription and there is no home delivery in their area."
This is the model that I think is probably the future of these devices. Sell me it like a mobile phone - cheap or even free if I take an 18 month contract out. Then deliver the new edition early each morning automatically, and give me updates through the day - especially if there's breaking news.
The home delivery proviso is odd, and suggests that papers are still trying to hang on to their paper readership. Initially at least, those readers are more valuable, and the discounting scheme is to grow readership albeit earning less from those additional readers.
Exactly the extent of the discount doesn't seem to be known yet. But the mobile phone model is the one to look at.
In time, there'll be improved iterations of the Kindle and its rivals. Colour screens have to be next - newspapers have invested millions in full colour presses, so although digital copies are fully searchable, readers are missing out on photography.
But this is a fascinating development, and it'll be interesting to see who's first to try this model in the UK.
The Home Office has been having a hard time recently - and the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, especially so.
Yesterday, they came out all guns a blazing, with a list of people "named and shamed" who are to be excluded from entering Britain.
Obviously this is by no means a list of the only people we don't want to have in the country, but it's a list that shouts loudly that Britain doesn't want undesirables visiting these shores.
What could be wrong with that?
Well for the most part, these people aren't actually rabble rousers who are likely to cause injury or harm. They're largely full of stupid ideas, but by officially blocking them from entering the country, and making a big song and dance about it, you can be sure that they now all have a 'pulpit' to shout from.
It really does no good by not letting these people come. If they're criminals under UK law, then fair enough. And if they commit crimes when they get here, then arrest and charge them. But the idiots who feature in Louise Theroux programmes are suddenly legitimised by this behavious when really we should let them come over and have a good laugh at them.
The strangest person to be named in Michael Savage - a right-wing American talk show host - who may well say objectionable things, but no more so than any number of other right-wing American talk show hosts. In the US, they have freedom of speech (although incitement to hatred is still a crime). Quite why this man has been blocked is beyond me.
The growth of right-wing talk radio in the US is an interesting aspect of the medium - something that's not happened in the UK (let's face it, that kind of radio wouldn't be legal under our laws).
An interesting book I read last year was Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio which included a chapter on Michael Savage. He's not a pleasant person, and I wouldn't want to listen to his show. But I don't think I'd bar him from entering the country. Not unless he actually had done something illegal when he'd been here.
Instead he gets the oxygen of publicity, and can take quite a high-minded view - with talk of "suing Britain."
I'd recommend reading "Shock Jocks" for an insight into this phenomena. There is a lot of partisan commercial speech radio in the US, and while much of it's ugly, their constitution allows it. Would I want that "freedom" over here? I'm not sure I would. But that doesn't mean I'd block their presenters from visiting the UK. We're bigger than that. Who knows: maybe if Savage visited the country (he's not been here for something like 25 years, and had no plans to do so), he might actually have his views altered. He's unlikely to now.
Newspapers haven't been having the greatest time recently. Circulations continue to fall, and there's a generation growing up who gets its news from the web, perhaps with the odd bit of a 24-hour news channel thrown in.
But that's really paid-for newspapers. We also now have the free titles. Starting with Metro, and added to, in the capital at least, by the LondonPaper and London Lite. People probably read just about as many titles as they did before. The difference is that they're not paying for them. And ad revenues alone do not make great editorial.
Against this background, the Evening Standard has been sold to an ex-KGB member who wants to turn it around. Worringly, they've put the editor of The Tatler in place as its new editor, but things can only improve from its most recent iteration. But, as you can see above, the fascinating tack they've taken with their new advertising campaign is to actually apologise to Londoners for the negativity and aloofness the title had adopted in recent times.
When I first started working in London all those years ago, I'd always buy a paper in the morning - probably The Independent - and the Standard on the way home in the evening. Even though I didn't come from a household that religiously had had a daily paper delivered when I was growing up, I'd fallen in love with newspapers.
When The Independent launched in 1986, I was 16 years old and bought the first copy. I still have it. For many years the Indie carried me along - a title that fitted my hopes and beliefs, and delivered thoughtful news. Remember, at the time it was the only paper that refused to cover Royal stories in any meaningful way. It took science seriously. It had a fantastic Saturday magazine.
Roll forward a few years, and I was still in the newspaper habit. I'd by now worked for a local newspaper group, and that had done nothing to remove the habit.
In those first years in London, I enjoyed reading the Standard on the way home. Yes, it was lighter than The Independent, but it still had a bit of foreign news - they even had a couple of foreign correspondents. The paper had a decent supplement, its sports coverage of the capital's teams was second to none, arts coverage was excellent, and it was good value. It got me home.
Somewhere along the way, things changed. I switched to The Guardian when underinvestment at The Independent and an over-reliance on campaigns and news that wasn't really news led me away from it.
And at some point down the line, I stopped reading the Standard too. This was in spite of having people like Derek Malcolm write their film reviews. But there was page after page of columnists, and less news than there had been.
Yes, like everyone else, I get more of my news from the internet these days, but in actual fact, local news coverage is hard to come by on the internet. It's mostly just the same Press Association sources repeated all over the place. The reality is that most local news still surfaces in local newspapers. But the actual "news" part of the Standard had diminished. And I stopped being a reader long before the paper's more recent anti-Ken Livingstone hysteria and its seeming attempt to become an unloved younger sibling of the Daily Mail.
Associated tried lots of things to tempt me back. They brought out their quite innovative (and no doubt very expensive) smartcard payment system - I still have 8 credits left on my card. They gave away umbrellas (that fell apart), travel coffee mugs, and rucksacks (you can imagine how good they were). The only campaign that actually worked for me was when they gave away copies of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson to promote the hardback release of The Girl Who Played With Fire. I'd already read the book in hardback, but bought multiple copies of the Standard so that I could give the copies to friends and family who I thought might enjoy this excellent work. As it turns out, I think that Associated actually got paid to give this title away.
The interminable features and general interest in all things celebratory mean that the paper had stopped being of interest to me. On those rare occassions that I bought it - instead of lasting me all the way home, it was doing well to hold my attention for a couple of tube stops. The headlines, staring out from the sullen vendors became more hysterical. I'd maybe glance at the cover, but I wouldn't buy it.
I'll give the relaunched title a go. But I'm out of the habit of reading a paper on the way home. Other things fill my time - either book reading, or listening to podcasts (something that certainly wasn't an option to me when I started working in London). Others play portable gaming devices or watch videos on their media players. We have a range of options to pass the time, even in the deepest of tube tunnels.
The other problem the Standard faces are the free papers. When Metro started, I admit that I wasn't sure how well it'd do. For a start, they didn't deign to make it available where I lived, and not at my interchange either. But when I did pick up copies, I couldn't really see anything that the internet couldn't give me. It's a bland concotion of the main headlines plus an over-reliance of those "and finally" stories that TV used to relegate to the end of the news. Why would I want that? Others do, but I don't. It just causes litter at the top of escalators in the morning.
So I never got into the habit.
More recently the LondonPaper launched, and alongside it London Lite. While the LondonPaper had the better design, the reality is that both of them are literally garbage. When they started out, they were pretty poor and if anything, they've got worse. The tube and public transport in general is littered with them. I assume that some of my above inflation fare increase is going to pay for all the additional cleaners they must need to tidy up after them.
In W1 at least, there is no shortage of vendors who generally block the pavement and get in the way. I have to pass between six to eight of them between my office and the tube station.
On the rare occassion I've picked up someone else's copy, it just reinforces the feeling that I've been quite correct to leave them well alone. The titles' news values are near enough non-existant. They seem to think they're competing with low-rent magazines like Now or Heat. The quality is abysmal, and they're filled with either press-releases seemingly reprinted verbatim or copy straight from the Press Association wire. Ceefax has deeper news coverage.
I've actually now begun to take offence at the vendors who thrust their papers at me. Do I look like someone who might read their tat?
I know that's a bit unfair. They're just earning a living. But these are rags in the truest sense. At least while there continues to be a battle between them, they're costing their respective proprietors money rather than making it. But is that a good thing for the future of the industry?
While I await the first newspaper to offer me a package that lets me buy an e-reader like the Sony or the Amazon Kindle, and get a year's subscription bundled in (think: the contract mobile phone model), I don't think the actual printed page is yet a dead technology. I'm still surprised that with just about everyone on full-colour presses, more isn't made of strong photography. The Guardian does it with Eyewitness and to be fair the Standard tries a bit too. But there's room for more. Tell me what's going on in this wonderful city!
Anyway, we'll have to wait and see what the new look Standard brings us. Until I've seen it, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt, but this is probably the last chance saloon for the title.
I see that the Webby Awards have been announced, and thank goodness, because I'm bored to tears with them.
The problem is that they still have this daft "People's Voice Winner," voted for by the public, in every category alongside the "Webby Award Winner" which is voted for by the illustrious sounding "The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences."
The awards are judged from those that enter. That, like most awards, means an entry fee. And over 100 categories mean lots of potential entry fees (over 10,000 entries in 2008).
Although the "Webbys" [sic] are seemingly global, nearly all the nominees seem to come from the English speaking world. Now perhaps we're that much ahead of the rest of the world, but I find it a tad unlikely.
Then there are all the ways you can buy your awards, certificates and nominations. Awards are always a profitable business. And it's not clear to me whether the Webby Awards are profit-making enterprise, or whether they have some kind of charitable status.
But I suppose my main criticism is the People's Voice category for each award. This is the public vote, and once your site has been nominated, it's then a bring-out-the-vote affair. The group that enables their audience to vote the most wins. And if you decide you do want to support the site that you visit and give them a vote, you're also asked to vote for other categories. But have you really been to all those sites nominated? While you're not forced to vote in other categories, you might well be inclined to vote for the larger more popular groups. Look in any category, and the "People's Voice" winner will tend to be the most trafficked site. And of course, those sites tend to keep on mentioning that they'd like you to vote for them. It's nearly enough to drive me away.
Public votes are always a mess. The recent BAFTA TV award determined by a public vote went to Skins - the series with the audience most likely to be digitally enabled and get out the vote.
I suppose we should all understand that it's a popularity contest, but it's a bit like awarding the Best Picture Oscar to the film that had the largest box office (2009 is looking like it'll be Monsters v Aliens at the moment, but we're only just entering blockbuster season).
A very strange story is in today's Times. The presenter of ITV1's Tonight programme, Jonathan Maitland, writes about product placement and sponsorship on TV.
First of all, Maitland seems to confuse product placement and sponsorship. As he says, Andy Burnham seems to have ruled out product placement, although I'm not sure that any shift in thinking by Ed Richards at Ofcom will really affect the issue. If there's not a government willingness to relax the rules, then they won't find Ofcom doing so.
However, product placement is very different to sponsorship, which is I think, what Maitland's really driving at. Product placement - the placing of sponsored products within the editorial of a programme - is surely near-impossible to do with current affairs or documentary programming. It's much more likely to find take-up, should it be legalised, in drama or light entertainment programmes.
The Ofcom Broadcasting Code does of course allow the sponsorship of TV programmes. However, there are certain types of programmes for which sponsorship is forbidden:
9.1 The following may not be sponsored:
* news bulletins and news desk presentations on radio; and
* news and current affairs programmes on television.
That means Tonight.
And there's worse news. Article 10 of the European Audiovisual Media Services Directive (which basically trumps UK law), also strictly prohibits this:
4. News and current affairs programmes shall not be sponsored.
So at a European level, it wouldn't be legal for Tonight to be funded by Maitland's un-named insurance company.
In some respects, TV is limited in what it can do compared to radio. Take sponsorship credits. In television, they're sold at a discount from spot airtime despite the fact that as more homes get PVRs and we fast-forward through commercials, sponsor break-bumpers become the things to look out for. But TV is limited in what it can do:
9.12 Sponsorship credits must be clearly separated from programmes by temporal or spatial means.
9.13 Sponsorship must be clearly separated from advertising. Sponsor credits must not contain advertising messages or calls to action. In particular, credits must not encourage the purchase or rental of the products or services of the sponsor or a third party.
Unfortunately, the Television Without Frontiers directive (the forerunner to the Audiovisual Media Services Directive) puts these stipulations in. Ofcom explained it all in a recent Broadcast Bulletin that took a close look at TV sponsorships and found some to be in breach of its Broadcast Code.
For example, PC World's sponsorship of The Gadget Show was found to be in breach because it used the following phrases:
* "Any TV big or small, it's at PC World"
* "A huge range of mp3 and mp4 players at PC World"
* "A wide choice of laptops with mobile broadband at PC World"
* "Take the internet anywhere with mobile broadband at PC World"
* "Any game and console, it's at PC World"
In this case, the credits consisted of animated shots of the sponsor's products combined with promotional language to describe the extensive range available, followed by a very brief identification of the sponsorship arrangement.
Ofcom considered that the predominant focus of the credits was on the products and range available from the sponsor, with the identification of the sponsorship arrangement appearing to be secondary. The credits were therefore in breach of Rule 9.13.
Now compare and contrast with the rules for sponsorship of radio, which doesn't fall under any of the European directives mentioned above:
9.8 During longer sponsored output, credits must be broadcast as appropriate to create the degree of transparency required.
9.9 Credits must be short branding statements. However, credits may contain legitimate advertising messages.
9.10 Credits must be cleared for broadcast in the same way as advertisements.
So on TV "sponsor credits must not contain advertising messages or calls to action" but on radio "credits may contain legitimate advertising messages." And there lies the difference.
Of course that works to the advantage of radio!
But after this entertaining diversion into the rules and regulations surrounding broadcast media sponsorship, let's return to Jonathan Maitland's piece. The unspoken part of this story is something that Broadcast reported this week: Tonight is facing its second major budget cut in six months. In November it had a 20% budget cut and made 12 of its 65 employees redundant. Now it has to cut a further 15% from its budget. Times are tough, and its undertstandable that Maitland believes in the programme and is perhaps fustrated that ITV can't benefit from sponsorship of the programme.
If my show had just received a cumulative 32% budget cut, then I'd be looking at new funding models.
The Peatbog Faeries are a band that I really came across when I was up in Skye last year. I'd seen posters for all over the place for a concert I wouldn't be able to make, and was vaguely aware that I'd seen coverage of them in things like the Celtic Connections TV programmes that occassionally grace our screens down south.
A chat with the proprietor of a record shop in Portree led me to buy a couple of CDs and they were great (Incidentally - isn't it great that in some places there are still record shops where you can talk to people and have music recommended to you?).
Last night in Dingwalls was my first experience of them live and it was great fun. Although the venue wasn't perhaps as full as it might have been, but everyone there seemed to be up for a good time. There were ten of them on stage, and the music was great fun. It's been a while since I've danced reels and swings with total strangers. I'd guess that their Hogmanay show in Inverness will be quite something.
And the support band, 6 Day Riot, was pretty good too!
(More photos on Flickr)