The Not-Live BAFTA Awards

In 2002, Ant and Dec remade the famous “No Hiding Place” episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads. This was a classic episode of the sitcom where the “lads” tried to avoid learning the result of an away England game, before highlights were shown later that evening on TV.

Something that made some sense when the original version aired in 1974, and when there would have been no live TV options for such a game, made less sense in 2002 when if you didn’t subscribe to the right channel at home, you could just pop around to your local pub to catch the game.

In 2019, there are still those who stay oblivious to the day’s football results until Match of the Day is on, but that means not watching Soccer Saturday or Final Score, not listening to Sports Report or 606, not watching the news, avoiding mobile alerts on your phone, and definitely staying away from social media.

We live in an information obsessed society, where the young especially want to know what’s happening now.

So it’s good to know that there’s still a real throwback to a bygone age that eschews the need to share information instantly. Instead, it’s something that takes a much more lackadaisical attitude to audiences.

I’m talking about The British Academy Film Awards.

Last night saw this annual event, these days coming not live from the Royal Albert Hall. As ever, the actual awards in the RAH start at around 7.00pm, but the TV transmission doesn’t start until 9.00pm.

Some of the consequences of this include:

  • ITV News broadcast the major award winners in their 10pm bulletin, ahead of those awards being shown on BBC One.
  • Ditto Sky News.
  • Anyone with a non-BBC news app installed on their phone could get alerts ahead of those awards being seen on TV. (The BBC’s own news outlets were “self-censoring” the news to avoid spoilers. You could still get the results in real time from the website and app however.)
  • Anyone with any kind of social media account could get the results. It’s not exactly unheard of for someone to open up Twitter when they settle in to an awards show on their sofa, perhaps to critique speeches or outfits with their friends. If you opened Twitter at 9pm last night, most of the results were there.

It’s not as though those in entertainment television don’t understand the importance of live. Series like Strictly, The Voice, X-Factor and many others all have their finals live. Yes – they need viewer votes to work, but they also understand the importance of social media. They want you to share hashtags and keep the conversation going with your friends. If you’re not watching, and your friends are, there can be a FOMO effect. The hosts repeatedly remind the audience that they are LIVE.

I bang on about this every year, and I genuinely don’t understand why changes aren’t made. Not because I moan about it, but because the audience itself moans about it.

I continue to note that in the US, The Oscars, Emmys and Grammys are live. Even the BRITs with all their bad-boys and girls are live on ITV.

I’d love to understand the reasoning for holding out on the whole live thing. Is it:

  • The BBC only wanting a show no earlier than 9pm (Call the Midlife is a ratings hit after all)?
  • BAFTA not being willing to start the show any later than 7pm?
  • Stars not wanting to go to after-parties as late as 11pm? (Have you tried getting home late at night on a Sunday?)
  • Everyone scared that the talent will say something that simply must be edited out?
  • Concern that the show will run long, bumping the news back to 11.30pm?
  • All of the above?

For what it’s worth, the overnight ratings for last night’s BAFTA awards are the lowest ever, with just 3.53m watching. This is despite inheriting an audience of close to 7m from Call the Midlife. Over on ITV, over 5m watched the first episode of a new series of Endeavour.

To put this in context, the audience for these awards has been slipping year after year since around 2013. Could the growth of social media and smartphone app usage negate the need to watch a non-live results show?

I wouldn’t pretend that some of the reasons for the low numbers aren’t related to larger TV audience issues, and this year the big winners were a non-English language film (Roma) and a strange comedy of manners about one of our lesser-known monarchs (The Favourite). But it’s not like big film stars didn’t turn out.

My solution for making the BAFTAs relevant again?

  • Live. Live. Live.
  • Start the show at 7pm and then go live on TV into the main awards at 8pm. You can still show an edited reel of the “lesser” award winners handed out in the 7-8pm hour at a break point later in the show. The Oscars manages to do this.
  • Keep the show simple. No need for elaborate and unfunny sketches. Get straight into handing out awards.
  • Beyond a few nominated songs, and an RIP reel, strip back most of the rest.
  • Turn the Rising Star award into a phone vote. It’s an audience vote anyway, so you may as well galvanise the audience to vote on the evening rather than ahead of time. The award is sponsored by a phone company after all! This seems to work fine with things like Sports Personality of the Year.
  • The presenter’s job should really just be to keep things moving. Comedians tend to work well because they can think on their feet.
  • Plan for a tight two-hour TV show. The UK TV industry should not be short of execs who can work within the constraints of live television.
  • Work with any recipients of lifetime achievement awards in advance to ensure their speeches are the right length.

Otherwise, just remove the thing from TV, and hand out all the awards on a weekday lunchtime at a restaurant somewhere, sending out a press release with all the winners afterwards.

[A Bit Later] The Guardian publishes a very similar article to this one.

“The time delay meant viewers could not tweet along with a live broadcast and feel like they were taking part in the show, something that has helped other live events.”

And from their Winners and Losers page:

“Everybody moans about it, but nothing seems to change: the baffling practice of the Bafta telecast running two and a quarter hours later than real-world events sucks almost every scrap of excitement out of watching the thing. In the age of spoiler-tastic social media, everyone knows the results, so why bother? Presumably the BBC don’t want to give up a prime piece of early Sunday evening TV real estate, and the Baftas want to catch the morning papers’ first editions, but something has got to change. Watching the tuxed and gowned beautiful people spout sententious truisms while thanking their agents is only bearable if there’s actual excitement to be had; the Baftas appear to doing their level best to avoid anything like that happening.”

The Desperate Telegraph

The Daily Telegraph is not doing well right now. It only sells 363,000 paid copies of the printed paper, having long since been overtaken by The Times. Despite being one of the earliest news providers in the UK to have a web presence – eTelegraph anyone? – it feels somehow left behind now. Titles like The Guardian and The Times have much better digital offerings.

Recently the paper has launched a marketing campaign that I’ve particularly spotted on Twitter, and I have a number of problems with it.

It started with this ad which I saw on a fairly regular basis for several days.

This relates to an interview with the former Olympic cyclist that the Telegraph had published recently. The story was newsworthy, and undoubtedly important.

But I really felt very uncomfortable seeing someone’s personal mental health issues being used blatantly for advertising.

As I say, it’s absolutely right that mental health issues are addressed, and stories can absolutely provide useful resources for readers who might face similar issues.

But making those stories clickbait adverts feels really uncomfortable.

Then I began to see this ad.

Oh good. Let’s start wading into the world of trans issues with our ads shall we? If there’s an angrier bit of the internet, I’ve yet to see it. But this is obviously a top clickbait advert. I’ve resisted and have no idea who is making what argument.

By now we’re moving away from more usual clickbait and straight into that “bottom of the internet” crap you find everywhere supplied by companies like Taboola. Low rent garbage indeed.

Most recently the downward spiral continues with this frankly laughable advertisement. Is this the Daily Telegraph or Chat magazine? The stock photo of the woman drinking coffee and reading her phone isn’t quite as gaudy as those weekly magazines, but the story is lifted straight from one of their cover lines.

The Telegraph has been a shadow of its former self for a long time. But this marketing campaign is just awful. Where are its news values? What is it actually trying to sell here?

Considering that these are targeted ads, I’ve no idea who has done the targeting. I mean, I might wonder if they were trying to target women with these ads, in which case they’ve missed massively in my case.

Either way, an obnoxious campaign.

RAJAR Q4 2018


This post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the many years, and it’s my favourite RAJAR analysis tool. So I am delighted that I continue to be able to bring you this RAJAR analysis in association with RALF. For more details on the product, contact Deryck Pritchard via this link or phone 07545 425677.

Legacy media isn’t supposed to be this interesting. In the last few weeks we’ve seen the following:

  • A wholesale change in some of the biggest (and smallest) breakfast shows in the land, with Zoe Ball taking the reigns at Radio 2, Lauren Laverne doing the same at 6 Music, and Chris Evans stepping into sort-of-old-shoes by “returning” to Virgin Radio.
  • Bauer launched Greatest Hits Radio.
  • Bauer then announced the launch of a brand new classical music station headlined by Simon Mayo. This will probably be packaged alongside previous purchase Jazz FM to provide a compelling offering to agencies.
  • Deloitte highlighted radio has having a good 2019 despite all its external challenges.
  • And yesterday, Bauer (them again) went out and bought two of the remaining small commercial radio groups in Celador Radio and Lincs FM Group, giving it a little extra market share to close the gap on commercial leader Global Radio.

None of this impacts on radio listening this quarter, with none of the new shows really getting any proper numbers until the May RAJAR release, and more completely in August (Since for all these new breakfast shows. there is at least one week of Q1 19 when they weren’t on).

But this is all indicative of a strong sector. There are likely to have been strong smart speaker sales over the Christmas period, with new form factors like Google’s Home Hub likely to have proved popular. Radio remains a strong offering on these devices, and some – not least the BBC – are investing in much more comprehensive voice offerings.

So after all that positivity, it’s a little disappointing to report this quarter’s RAJARs are down fairly comprehensively across the board.

All Radio reach is down 0.4% on the quarter and down 0.9% on the year to 48.4m. Fractional, but it means that we’re now at 88% of the population listening each week (from 89%).

More concerning is listening, which regular readers will know I’ve been keeping a close eye on for a while now. All Radio listening is down 2.3% on the quarter and down 3.5% on the year to 1.002 billion hours a week.

That all equates to around 20.7 hours per week of radio for each listener. That’s an all time low.

That overall fall in listening inevitably gets reflected in individual station results.

National and Brands

Radio 1 slips away from last quarter’s decent results, and is down 2.3% on the quarter and down 4.7% on the year to 9.375m listeners. In hours terms, the drop is starker, down 7.1% on the quarter and down 8.0% on the year to 56.9m hours. These numbers almost in themselves spell out the importance of BBC Sounds.

Radio 1 Xtra did a little better, with reach up 1.9% on the quarter and down 0.8% on the year. Hours were 10.0% up on the quarter and down 12.4% on the year.

Radio 2 marked the end of an era which saw Chris Evans depart breakfast, and Simon Mayo and Jo Whiley depart drivetime, the former leaving altogether like Evans. The station itself was bucked the overall trend being up 1.7% on the quarter, although down 3.9% on the year in reach terms, with 14.9m listeners. Listening hours were a similar story, being up 3.3% on the quarter but down 4.4% on the year to 181.7m.

It wasn’t the best quarter for Radio 3 which was down 5.6% on the quarter and down 6.4% on the year in reach. That said, 1.8m listeners isn’t far off the usual 1.9m listeners. The launch of Scala will be interesting to examine later in the year. In terms of hours, they were down 5.1% on the quarter although up 6.9% on the year to 12.0m

Radio 4 was down 1.5% on the quarter, and down 6.8% on the year to 10.5m listeners. Hours are more worrying, down 5.0% on the quarter and down 7.8% on the year, to 112.6m, the lowest listening figure since Q2 2006. Brexit fatigue? The growth of podcast listening? Rival stations? All things to be investigated and examined closely by whoever becomes the new controller of the station following the announcement in January that current controller Gwyneth Williams is leaving.

Sister station Radio 4 Extra fares better with its reach up 6.0% on the quarter, but down 5.9% on the year to 2.1m. Hours are up – up 5.5% on the quarter and up 9.1% on the year to a record high of 14.5m hours. Perhaps some of those hours do come at the cost of listening to the mothership station. [A gentle reminder that with RAJAR you can never definitively say that listeners left from Station X and went to Station Y between quarters because RAJAR respondents are different each quarter.]

Radio 5 Live has not prospered too well this quarter with reach down 1.3% on the quarter and down 8.9% on the year to 5.0m. Hours are also down, falling 6.5% on the quarter and 6.9% on the year to 32.7m.

No records for 6 Music this quarter – no obvious ones anyway. Reach fell 16.1% on the quarter, although it remains up 0.3% on the year, with 1.5m listeners. Hours were also down on the quarter, down 3.0%, but up up 17.9% on the year. Again, these were the last figures for the station before a slight reshuffling of the decks.

It’s fair to mention that the BBC World Service has had a good quarter in the UK – up 5.3% on the quarter and up 3.0% on the year to 1.6m reach. Hours are up 9.2% on the quarter and up 11.9% on the year to 8.2m.

Perhaps the best performing commercial station this time around was LBC which achieved a record reach across its national network of 2.2m. For reach, it was up 5.6% on the quarter and up 9.3% on the year. In hours, it was up 5.8% on the quarter and up 6.8% on the year to 21.7m.

This was the first quarter that saw Eddie Mair takeover their drivetime show, and his move away from Radio 4 was supported by a reasonably sized marketing campaign. Comparisons need to be made carefully because LBC nationally reports using 6-month data, but the Q4 2018 data shows a 7.4% increase in reach for Mair’s 4-6pm weekday slot, to 715,000 (Over in his old 5-6pm Radio 4 stomping ground, Evan Davies saw a 2.0% drop in reach to 3.8m).

Classic FM feels like it’s going to be more in the frame than Radio 3 from the arrival of Scala, but until we hear the new station, it’s probably too early to say. Classic FM is a very solid performer, and that’s the same this quarter, with reach up 2.4% on the quarter, down 6.4% on the year to 5.3m listeners. That’s where the station has consistently sat for a number of years now. Hours were up 2.7% on the quarter and down 8.6% on the year to 36.4m. A strong legacy brand, with an unrivalled commercial FM network means that this is not going anywhere fast. Global continues to invest in name talent – picking up Moira Stuart from the Radio 2 breakfast show most recently.

Talksport’s numbers were pretty solid this quarter. Reach was flat on the quarter (literally the same 2.959m as last quarter) but up 0.6% on the year. Hours were up 0.3% on the quarter and up 5.4% on the year at 19.3m. You still feel reach should be north of 3m and hours above 20m, but the station continues to poach sports exclusives including overseas cricket commentaries. And separately, parent Wireless Group tries to bash 5 Live by commissioning a report that says that 5 Live doesn’t do enough hard news. Mandy Rice-Davies’ famous quote springs to mind.

Over on Talksport 2, reach has grown 16.8% on the quarter (flat on the year) and hours are up 22.7% on the quarter and up 56.7% on the year – but those are all from modest bases.

No Chris Evans figures yet, but Virgin Radio is worth looking at. It has seen its reach increase 8.0% on the quarter, down 7.5% on the year to 447,000. Whether the station needs to get 2m, 3m, 4m or more, there’s a way to go yet. Again, the serious marketing only began in January, so this is really just a baseline measure. Better news in terms of hours, which were up 25.2% on the quarter and up 17.6% on the year to a still modest 1.7m hours overall.

Talk Radio still really doesn’t seem to have found its feet, although its numbers are up this quarter. Reach is up 15.7% on the quarter and up 26.9% on the year to 302,000. Hours are up 24.1% on the quarter and up 30.9% on the year to 1.3m.

Magic was also a big commercial winner, across both the main station and their network of services. You may recall that Magic took the somewhat bold decision to go 100% Christmas songs from 30 November. Previously, only digital stations had changed their playlists quite this radically. And although this change will have only contributed a couple of weeks’ worth of data into the quarter, since the measurement period ended on the 16th December, you suspect that this wasn’t a terrible decision. Magic saw its reach grow 7.1% on the quarter and 7.4% on the year to 3.44m, while hours were up 1.7% on the quarter and up 9.7% on the year to 18.45m.

Across the whole Magic Network including Mellow Magic and Magic Chilled, they had a record reach figure of 4.22m, up 4.0% on the quarter and up 8.3% on the year. Hours were up 3.9% on the quarter and up 15.5% on the year.

I wonder if we’ll see a Global station – Smooth perhaps – replicate this move next year?

In yet another change, this was the final quarter in which Rickie, Melvyn and Charlie were on Kiss breakfast, before they up and move over to Charlie Sloth’s old slot on Radio 1. However figures for the station were disappointing, with reach down 8.6% on the quarter and down 12.4% on the year to 4.1m. Hours were down 9.9% on the quarter and down 18.2% on the year to 18.4m.

Over at Absolute Radio there were decreases on the main station with reach down 1.6% on the quarter and down 8.5% on the year to 2.4m. Hours were down 11.0% on the quarter and down 8.3% on the year to 17.0m. Across the Absolute Radio Network things were a little better with reach down 2.1% on the quarter but up 1.1% on the year to 4.8m, while hours were down 2.1% on the quarter and down 0.5% on the year to 33.8m. Interestingly, Absolute 90s had its best ever reach figures with 969,000 (up 6.1% on the quarter and up 30.1% on the year). Yet Bauer has just removed Absolute 90s from D1 switching it with Kisstory which moves across from D2. Kisstory is twice the size, so the switch makes sense, although the time is definitely right for a 90s station.

Capital Network has seen small falls with reach down 2.3% on both the quarter and the year to 7.3m. Hours are down 1.1% on the quarter but down 10.6% on the year to 36.2m. Capital XTRA performs pretty well despite being 2.6% down in reach on the quarter. It’s still up 14.9% on the year with 1.8m listeners. Meanwhile, hours are strong with a 9.7% increase on the quarter and a 13.4% increase on the year to 7.3m. Between them the Capital Brand has done OK nationally – down 1.9% on the quarter and down 0.5% on the year to finish with a reach of 8.3m. Hours are up 0.6% on the quarter but down 7.3% on the year to 43.4m.

Heart Network is modestly up with reach gains of 0.7% on the quarter and 4.1% on the year to 8.5m. Hours are basically flat, up 1.3% on the quarter and down 0.5% on the year to 57.6m. Add its digital sister stations into the mix, and the overall Heart Brand is up 0.8% on the quarter and up 6.2% on the year with a reach of 9.7m, while hours are up 1.1% on the quarter and up 0.7% on the year to 65.7m. A very solid powerhouse in UK radio then.

The Smooth Radio Network is up 2.0% on the quarter and up 4.3% on the year to a very good 5.1m, while hours are up 5.7% on the quarter and 12.9% on the year to 37.7m. Across the overall Smooth Brand there are modest gains too with overall reach and hours figures of 5.8m and 43.0m. You never entirely feel that Smooth is Global’s most loved brand, and yet it’s an incredibly strong performer.

Finally, Radio X Network is down 4.0% on the quarter, but up 4.3% on the year with a reach of 1.6m. Hours are up 0.5% on the quarter and up 22.9% on the year to 14.4m.

London Radio

In London. Radio 4 remains the biggest station in the city, just ahead of Radio 2. Radio 4’s reach in London was up 2.6% on the quarter but down 10.4% on the year to 2.48m. Hours were down 2.5% on the quarter and down 5.6% on the year to 27.8m. Radio 2’s reach is at 2.26m, down 3.2% on the quarter and down 8.2% on the year, while hours are at 24.8m, down 4.7% on the quarter and down 5.2% on the year.

Capital London has taken a bit of a tumble this quarter, with reach down 10.0% on the quarter and down 11.5% on the year to 1.87m. That still makes it the biggest commercial station in London in terms of reach. Hours were down 4.0% on the quarter and down 22.6% on the year to 7.6m.

By contrast, Heart London’s reach is up 7.3% on the quarter and down 2.3% on the year to 1.52m. Hours are up 20.9% on the quarter and up 4.2% on the year to 9.4m.

This quarter saw Kiss take a bit of a hit in London, reach down 16.7% on the quarter and down 19.4% on the year to 1.63m. Hours were similarly down 15.7% on the quarter and 30.4% on the year to 7.4m. That’s part of a slightly worrying trend for the station in London which has seen its hours fall each quarter for the last four consecutive quarters.

For the first time in a while, LBC hasn’t had as good quarter as the station has nationally. Reach was down 11.8% on the quarter and down 5.6% on the year, now at 1.1m in the capital. Hours were down 19.5% on the quarter and down 0.5% on the year to 11.1m. That keeps it as the biggest commercial service in London by listeners. However, I’m not wholly convinced that Remain-voting London is going to find new signing Jacob Rees-Mogg will add all that many additional hours…

Absolute Radio didn’t have a good set of London numbers, down 15.5% on the quarter and down 20.9% on the year to 726,000. Hours are down 24.2% on the quarter and down 2.2% on the year to 4.9m.

Magic in London made some gains in reach, up 2.9% on the quarter and up 2.7% on the year to 1.6m, while hours fell 12.0% on the quarter and down 5.7% on the year to 8.1m.

Radio X had a decent quarter in London, up 34.1% on the quarter (down 5.7% on the year) to a reach of 480,000. Hours were up 35.2% on the quarter and up 8.4% on the year to 3.5m.

Mixed results for Smooth London, down 12.8% on the quarter but up 8.9% on the year to 818,000 reach. Hours were up 18.4% on the quarter and up 44.3% on the year to 6.0m hours.

Further Reading

A quick plug for a piece I just published on podcasts and exclusivity.

For more RAJAR analysis, I’d recommend the following sites:

The official RAJAR site and their infographic
Radio Today for a digest of all the main news
Go to Media.Info for lots of numbers and charts
Mediatel’s Newsline will have lots of figures and analysis
Paul Easton for more lots analysis including London charts
Matt Deegan will have some great analysis
The BBC Mediacentre for BBC Radio stats and findings
Bauer Media’s corporate site
Global Radio’s corporate site

All my previous RAJAR analyses are here.

Source: RAJAR/Ipsos MORI/RSMB, period ending 16 December 2018, Adults 15+.

Disclaimer: These are my views alone and do not represent those of anyone else, including my employer. Any errors (I hope there aren’t any!) are mine alone. Drop me a note if you want clarifications on anything. Access to the RAJAR data is via RALF from DP Software as mentioned at the top of this post.

Podcast Exclusivity

Fortunately… returns as an RSS delivered podcast

As always, these are my personal views, but it’s probably worth reiterating at the outset.

I am not a fan of exclusivity, for a number of reasons.

Let’s start by looking at the streaming music market. We continue to see fairly significant growth in this sector with companies like Spotify, Apple, Deezer, Google Play Music and Tidal all attempting to grow themselves. One of the key ways that they tried to do this was with exclusivity – having unique access to a particular artist’s new music.

Tidal could do this, because of their relationship with artists; Spotify could do it because they were big in the sector; Apple could do it because, well, they’re Apple and could hire the Roundhouse in London for a month and fill it with music stars.

But by and large, exclusivity has disappeared from music streaming services, and they instead fight on things like features and the communities they create. It’s not consumer friendly for me to need to go to Tidal for one artist’s album, but Apple for another’s. Some of the record labels ended up rejecting the idea – notably Universal.

In the end it was seen as anti-competitive and harmed both the audience and artist. None of this stops a service offering exclusive live sets, interviews or introductions, but in general terms you can hear the same music across most of the services.

We don’t expect to get one set of TV exclusives if we buy a Samsung TV and another set of exclusives if we buy a Sony TV. As a consumer, I make a choice of what TV I buy based on a number of criteria, and then can watch whichever services I like on that TV.

(The comparison with TV does become tricky, however, with Amazon rejecting Google’s software and hardware – not selling Chromecasts or building Cast technology into their software. Meanwhile, until very recently, Apple resisted allowing anyone embedding Apple software into their smart TVs – something that is changing with some new 2019 models.)

But let’s drag this back to audio, and in particular podcasts. Until fairly recently, podcasts were defined by their technological delivery mechanism – i.e. RSS feeds. I would argue that this is still the case.

However, as the podcast industry continues to grow, we have seen, and continue to see, a lot of attempts at driving consumption to a particular platform by making podcasts exclusive to that platform.

Stitcher, for example, kept its Wolverine podcast exclusive to its platform for many months – employing what is commonly known as a ‘windowing’ strategy. If you want to listen immediately, you have to use their platform. Later, they made the podcast available as a conventional RSS feed and thus listenable on any podcatcher.

Amazon’s Audible service has always been a subscription service, and continues to evolve. It has recently released The Last Days of August exclusively to its subscribers. This follows a previous podcast also written and presented by Jon Ronson, The Butterfly Effect. That series was similarly an Audible exclusive before later being released in an advertising-funded form as a regular RSS-delivered podcast.

In a recent Hotpod newsletter, Nick Quah notes that both Spotify and Pandora are attempting to use podcasts to both retain listeners to their platforms and keep them listening longer.

Previously Spotify only offered a limited number of podcasts that they essentially curated. But that just meant that a Spotify listener who wanted to hear their own choice of podcast had to open a different app to hear all the podcasts of their choice.

So in October, Spotify opened up their platform to all podcasts. Spotify has already become the [distant] number two platform to Apple Podcasts, but that does mean that as a podcast producer, you probably want to list your podcast on Spotify.

[There’s potentially an advantage to Spotify including podcasts, and that’s that every minute a user spends within Spotify but not streaming music, means that theoretically, Spotify is incurring less music rights costs. However, until those music rights deals are renegotiated this is probably moot since Spotify’s costs aren’t so much related to consumption volumes as a proportion of revenues. In other words, if I listen to one song and 99 podcasts, or 99 songs and one podcast, music rights holders still take the same percentage of my flat $/£9.99 fee.]

Spotify has commissioned exclusive podcasts series from time to time. Recently, for example, there was The Joe Budden Podcast which was exclusively on the platform. On the other hand, another Spotify original, Amy Schumer Presents: 3 Girls, 1 Keith, was available on all platforms.

Now Spotify has bought Gimlet Media for an amount thought to be $230m. Gimlet, the maker of podcasts including Reply All, Homecoming, Startup and Crimetown, positions itself as a top-end podcast producer. More than once I’ve heard it described as the HBO of podcast makers.

Spotify has also bought Anchor, a podcast creation platform that tries to streamline the process that allows podcast creators to add advertising to their podcasts.

Spotify is now in possession of one of the best podcasting companies in the world. But the purported price is high and it’s interesting to explore what’s in it for Spotify. In Daniel Ek’s blog, he says that he expects that 20% of Spotify listening will in due course be non-music listening.

Will all of Gimlet’s podcasts become Spotify exclusives? Or will they use windowing? (Note that Crimetown season 2 was a Spotify exclusive under a previous deal.)

And what about advertising? How will that model work?

Will all Gimlet’s podcasts be on Spotify’s free platform? Or will some be kept exclusive for Spotify paid subscribers?

So many questions.

This paragraph from Spotify’s 4th Quarter results is probably instructive:

“Today we announced that we have entered into definitive agreements to acquire two of the leading players in the emerging podcast marketplace. We want to acquire more, and have line-of-sight on total spend of $400-$500M on multiple acquisitions in 2019. Growing podcast listening on Spotify is an important strategy for driving top of funnel growth, increased user engagement, lower churn, faster revenue growth, and higher margins. We intend to lean into this strategy in 2019, both to acquire exclusive content and to increase investment in the production of content in-house. The more successful we are, the more we’ll lean into the strategy to accelerate our growth, in which case we would update guidance accordingly.” [My emphasis]

On the other hand, Recode Media’s Peter Kafka, one of those who initially broke the story, suggested on today’s Media Show that Spotify was looking to give Wall St a new revenue stream. Going fully exclusive on their platform will necessarily limit any new advertising revenues.

In the meantime, closer to home, the BBC last year launched BBC Sounds in the UK, and gave it a massive marketing push. Part of that is also keeping some audio exclusive to the Sounds app. So far they’ve mostly adopted a 30 day windowing approach, launching new podcasts like End of Days exclusively on Sounds before making them available more widely. However, at the start of this year, heckles were raised by moving a previously freely available RSS-delivered podcast, Fortunately…, exclusively into Sounds – at least for a few weeks. Fortunately… has just reappeared in RSS feeds and now seems to be fast-forwarding through the delayed episodes that were previously only on BBC Sounds by releasing those episodes one every couple of days!

BBC Sounds, of course, is a much more complicated offer, since it offers “Music, radio and podcasts.” ‘Music’ is a new BBC offering – a limited number of playlists not directly related to radio (although often more loosely connected, e.g. a Match of the Day Mix). Whereas ‘Radio’ is a complete on-demand offering of all BBC Radio’s output, including full music tracks.

‘Podcasts’ is interesting, because although it gets its own section in Sounds, it becomes hard to discern where an on-demand radio programme ends and a podcast begins. Notably, the podcast section includes a limited number of non-BBC podcasts. However, as with Audible and Spotify-exclusive ‘podcasts’ before them, none of these are true ‘podcasts’ in the sense that they’re not delivered via public-facing RSS feeds.

What we’re ending up with, is a world where lots of different applications are trying to ‘own’ audio. They want to be the place on your mobile device where you spend most of your time listening.

And in the commercial world, they want your money too.

They might be using AI algorithms to recommend you new listening based on previous consumption, and some are attempting to disaggregate audio to give you more bite sized listening – think the audio equivalent of having less full length programmes on Netflix, but more 4-5 minute YouTube videos.

However, does this really work for the consumer?

Going back to the TV/video world only gets us so far. On my television I happen to do most of my viewing via my Sky Box. If it’s linear viewing, then it’ll definitely come from there. If it’s on-demand from one of the broadcasters, then it’ll probably come from there. iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, Sky Box Sets and so on, all come through the Sky Box. It’s the most convenient way to watch everything I’d like to watch. Except, that is, if I want to use something like Netflix, Amazon or YouTube.

If I want to watch shows or videos from those providers, then I change inputs on my TV and use my preferred streaming device. In my case, that’s an Nvidia Shield TV. From there, I can get Netflix, Amazon and YouTube – but also iPlayer, ITV Hub and so on. Except that I mostly only use it for the first three. The latter, as I mention, are more convenient on Sky.

Either way, there’s not a single way to get to everything. I could be using the smart functionality of my TV, but I tend not to. It’s much slower than bespoke devices. And in any case, the TV on its own might offer most of those services, but it doesn’t help with Sky.

[By the way, it’s notable that Sky Q (the box I am not in a rush to get) has both Netflix and YouTube on board. If it added Amazon, then that one place would serve most of my TV needs.]

Now let’s consider audio in a bit more detail. I break down my audio listening into three types, depending on time of day, mood etc.

  • Live radio
  • Music
  • Podcasts
[NB. There is also radio on demand – which basically means complete radio programmes with music, and it also basically means BBC radio programmes that for rights reasons, the BBC is unable to podcast. For these, BBC Sounds or iPlayer Radio are the only options.]

For Live Radio, I broadly speaking have the choice of a bespoke player from the broadcaster (e.g. BBC Sounds or iPlayer Radio (Hurrah -Chromecast!)) or a radio aggregator (e.g. RadioPlayer or TuneIn).

The former group tend to provide more detailed information about programming, and have deeper catch-up functionality. But if there’s a football match on Talksport I want to hear or a radio show on Absolute Radio, then they can’t help.

So there’s space for aggregators which can get me everything I want, and allow me to seamlessly jump between providers. An app like RadioPlayer lets me jump between football on Five Live, Talksport and local BBC stations as I need to. It’s much more convenient than downloading every broadcaster’s own app.

For Music it really boils down to my music provider of choice. Assuming that I’m a subscriber or free user of a music service like Spotify, Google Play Music or Apple Music, then my app of choice is defined. Neither Google nor Apple integrate podcasts into their audio offerings – Apple very pointedly separated podcasts away from music – so with those apps you are mostly living in a music world. Google for a while had podcasts within GPM in the US, but they too have been shifted them away into their own “sort-of” app.

Spotify and in the US, Pandora, are trying to do all things audio, including podcasts and music streams – well, except live radio.

For Podcasts, my preferred listening experience is to have everything in one place. I’ve spoken before about how I use Pocket Casts as my go-to player. For me, podcasts are a series discrete programmes of various lengths, and I listen to a broad range of them from a multiplicity of suppliers and producers. One minute I’m listening to a BBC podcast, then one from the FT, one from a US public radio station and then an independent. I flit around a lot.

Podcatching software has to meet a number of needs.

  • It should allow easy navigation around podcasts
  • It should include a complete catalogue of all available podcasts
  • I want to listen to be able to curate my own “journey” – in other words, I need to be able to choose what I listen to next after my current podcast
  • I want to be able to put together several podcasts into a “playlist” that will play back consecutively without me doing anything. That could be listening on a long car journey, or a long cycle ride.

I also like multi-platform support, the ability to listen in a browser or via a connected speaker (smart or otherwise). And it’d be great if I could socially share my choices in podcasts. This last thing is unnecessarily hard.

Recommendation from AI is fine as far as it goes, but I’ve written repeatedly, I’ve never seen anyone do it well. Given that I already have more podcasts that I can listen to, and I mostly want to hear all of them, getting dodgy recommendations is not top of my wish list of functionality.

I repeat – nobody is doing recommendation well.

The most critical thing for me is that I get as complete an offering as I can.

Pocket Casts does that.

Apple Podcasts does that.

Spotify actually doesn’t. It’s still up to podcast makers to get themselves listed.

BBC Sounds only has a very select list of non-BBC podcasts meaning that I simply can’t use it as a primary podcast player.

Also of note, Spotify is not available in every territory in the world. BBC Sounds remains UK only too. Going platform exclusive can mean going geographically exclusive. Spotify, for example, is only in a paltry five African countries. Nigeria has a population of nearly 200m, and Spotify isn’t available there. If you go Spotify-exclusive, you’ve removed the option to listen to the most populous country in Africa.

I understand that there are good reasons for what Spotify and BBC Sounds are doing around exclusivity. Spotify wants to be meet all your audio needs. The BBC wants young people to listen to its audio services and to replicate the success of iPlayer on television.

But as a non-Spotify subscriber, will I need to install the Spotify app in future to hear Reply All? Because that’s likely to just make Reply All just a little bit harder to listen to. Even if I do install the Spotify app, as a non-subscriber, I’ll rarely be inclined to open it.

It’s why I’ve not been listening to Fortunately… since it disappeared from regular RSS feeds. In that case, I do have the BBC Sounds app installed – it plays live BBC radio really fast. But it’s unlikely to become a destination for all things podcasting until it carries every podcast I listen to and has a feature set that beats the current class-leaders like Pocket Casts (IMHO). For me, it’s a handy way to listen to live radio. No more; no less.

Will an iPhone user, who had Apple Podcasts pre-installed on their phone, and now subscribes to Apple Music, go out and download another app so that they can hear Crimetown? The path of least resistance is to not notice a new Crimetown episode has been published and instead hear a true crime podcast that is available on Apple Podcasts. There are one or two around.

As an aside, it’ll be interesting to see how Apple packages up its upcoming video offering when it launches in the next few months. Could they supersize Apple Music subscriptions, giving them a leg up against Spotify which isn’t investing billions into TV projects with Jennifer Aniston and Reece Witherspoon?

Podcasts up until now have been mostly free, and if there’s one thing audiences have shown, it’s that they’re not super-keen on paying for audio. Recall that just because you and I have a paid for music streaming subscription service, the vast majority of the population doesn’t.

FM or DAB radio is free. While there undoubtedly need to be a variety of models to pay for audio services, it feels like we’re running before we can walk as everyone rushes in to try to dominate a space.

But my main argument is this:

Today, most of the population does not listen to podcasts.

For better or for worse, there is still a significant job to be done to teach large numbers of consumers how easy it is to actually get to podcasts.

However, instead of making that job easier, we’re quickly heading towards a place where it suddenly gets more complicated.

Instead of me directing a potential new podcast user to open Apple Podcasts on their iPhone, or download Pocket Casts on their Android phone, and then simply showing them how to add whatever they want to listen to, I’m instead going to have to ask them what they think they might want to hear, and then direct them to install multiple apps, create multiple user accounts and only then let them hear those podcasts.

That’s a bit like telling me that I need to use the Chrome browser to read The Guardian’s website, but must use Firefox to read The Times’ website. Oh, and I should install Edge if I want to read The Economist.

Anyway, if you take nothing else away from this, for goodness’ sake, don’t try to listen to the most recent episode of Fortunately immediately followed by an episode of Crimetown season 2. That can’t be done…

The Quaker by Liam McIlvanney

The Quaker is simply one of the best crime novels I’ve read for a long time. I devoured it.

Unusually the book begins several months after a series of murders has already taken place. Glasgow of the late sixties is in a state of flux. Families are being moved out of the slum tenements that are being pulled down; relocated to the new build flats further outside the centre of the city. And amidst this, three women have been murdered by a man that the press has dubbed The Quaker. There’s no link between the three victims or commonality, beyond them having been dancing at the Barrowlands dance hall.

Despite feverish press coverage, and an artist’s impression being on posters across the city, the investigation has dried up and the police have no new leads. And so, we’re introduced to DI Duncan McCormack, something of an outsider who comes from the Highlands, who is really there to see whether the case should be shut down after months of getting nowhere. It’s a no-win situation. The team on the case know why he’s there.

Elsewhere in Glasgow, a group of career criminals are planning the robbery of one of the city’s auction houses, where some valuable jewels will be going under the hammer. All of this in a city of gangsters that run or take cuts of most of the criminal activities that take place.

All of these stories will somehow collide in what is a masterful piece of fiction.

The sense of place in this book is fantastic: smokey pubs, phone boxes and lots of whisky. There’s sectarianism bobbing around just below the surface, and a smattering of Gaelic. This is seedy Glasgow through a noir lens.

Unusually, we get a first-person perspective from each of the murder victims. Author Liam McIlvanney (son of the famed Scottish crime writer William McIvanney and nephew of the late sports writer Hugh McIlvanney) says that he used this device to try to work around the problem that many crime novels have, of female victims being avenged by male detectives. Of course, all the detectives in Glasgow at the time would have been male, so there’s no getting around that. I think this was a smart decision.

The novel is, of course, based on the true-life murderer Bible John. I say “of course,” but in fact I didn’t really know the details of that case until I read about it afterwards – only vaguely recalling the name. I came into the novel cold, and while those who do know the details of that case will no doubt get a lot from it, it’s absolutely unnecessary to be acquainted with those horrible true events.

The book does veer away from the true-story and reaches a bracing conclusion.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins for my ARC. The Quaker is out now in hardback, with the paperback published on 1 February 2019.

Digital Movie Libraries in the UK

Buying a digital movie or TV series in the UK is an utter mess.

You can buy movies or TV series from a number of sites including: iTunes, Google Play Movies, Amazon, Sky Store and Rakuten.

But if you buy something in one of those places, you can only watch it via that company’s app and/or products. You run the risk of your hardware not being supported (e.g. no app for your new TV), or needing to buy new boxes or dongles to play a particular operator’s fare.

All taken together this means that it’s quite easy to have digital copies of films and TV series across a number of services.

And of course, if you are able to download offline copies of the films, they’re encrypted with DRM, and won’t play on other companies’ services or hardware.

Then there is the mess that is those codes that come with physical media. If you have bought a DVD or a BluRay over the last few years, it may well have come with a code on a slip of paper in the tray. You go to a website, enter that code, and get a digital copy. That’s the theory.

But this too is a complete mess.

Different studios have different options – some limit you to iTunes. Others, work only with Google Play Movies. Most commonly, you have to use Ultraviolet, which theoretically lets you then choose a service to view your films. In the UK, the reality is that this “choice” is Flixster. But this is insanely limited, in large part because they’ve shut down in the US. In the UK and elsewhere they continue to exist, but there are only very limited ways to watch films. You can use a mobile app, or via the web-browser. There’s no Android TV version available, and newer TVs don’t have a built in Flixster app any more. (And that’s before we get to the fact that you’ve probably created multiple accounts for the studio, Ultraviolet and Flixster, just to get to that point).

Further problems include unavailability of previously available films. For example, I bought a disc of the Frank Capra classic Lost Horizon which included a digital copy from Sony Pictures (owners of Columbia). This shows up in my Flixster library marked as unplayable. Clicking on it takes me to a broken insecure Sony Pictures website page. The digital copy seems to have disappeared. [Update: It turns out that I can view this film via Sony’s site. But not via Flixster for some reason, even though other Sony movies and TV are available on Flixster.]

Some studios just never played ball in the UK, with UltraViolet or anything. Notably Disney has never included digital codes in its DVDs or BluRays in the UK. The same is true for other smaller studios. It has not become the norm to include a digital copy of a film with physical media.

Anyone would think that the studios loved the idea that users had films scattered across the four winds of film services, with those services sometimes closing down or changing, and purchasers losing access to their films.

Now, in the US, UltraViolet is shutting down. There, they have Movies Anywhere, which is supposed to take all this pain away. You connect up all those disparate accounts across a number of services, and everything is available anywhere. So if I prefer to watch films via Google’s app, I can watch everything including purchases from my iTunes library.

It’s not clear that UltraViolet will be shutting down in the UK, although it’s certainly not encouraging [Update: Ultraviolet absolutely is closing down in the UK on the 31 July 2019 as with the US version of the service. See further update below]. Users instead are left with disparate collections of films across different services, playable via different devices, and generally confusing and a mess.

I find it interesting that last week, various studios got together to promote “Mega Movie Week”, a week of promotional pricing for a number of recent films. Recent titles like Crazy Rich Asians were being sold for £2.99 for a digital download. The pricing seemed consistent across the various different platforms, and it seemed like most major studios were participating. So they can play nicely together if they want to.

They just don’t seem to be able to settle on something sensible like Movies Anywhere outside the US. This may come back to haunt them in the fullness of time if a service ever shuts down and users lose access to their film and TV collections.

[Later Update] Shortly after publishing this, I got an email from UltraViolet confirming that the UK service is indeed shutting down on 31 July 2019.

The website suggests that you verify through their Retailers Services page that your library is connected to one of their services. In reality, this is a choice between Flixster, Sony Pictures and a company called
Kaleidescape who I was not previously familiar. The Sony site seems to just have the Sony owned films, while Flixster, in the UK at least, has everything else, with the exception of that one film, Lost Horizons. Interestingly, the site claims to be copyright of Warner Bros.

There’s certainly no ability to move your library to somewhere like iTunes, Google or Amazon. And there’s no sign of Movies Anywhere launching, which might take a lot of the pain out of UltraViolet closing down.

UltraViolet says that until 31 July, you can carry on redeeming movies the usual way, but that after that date, “You can continue to make online purchases and redeem codes, but these may only be available through that retailer, and will not be added to your UltraViolet Library.”

In other words, your library will become even more disaggregated.

More worrying it also says, “Your UltraViolet Library will automatically close and, in the majority of cases, your movies and TV shows will remain accessible at previously-linked retailers.” [My emphasis]

That’s not entirely reassuring is it?

Photography Portfolio

Cuddy's Crags view of Hadrian's Wall at Dawn

For those who are interested, I’ve just rebuilt my photography portfolio, which incorporates a bit of video and screen printing too.

The link at the top now takes you to an exciting new page, which has a much neater design asthetic. Yes, I’m using one of those new(ish) domains. And it should be full responsive too.

For those who are interested, I built this using the Adobe Porfolio tool which is part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud. The nice part is that I can decide which albums I want publishing within Lightroom, and then sync those across to the portfolio seamlessly.

I need to tidy up a few captions, but otherwise it seems good so far.

I do feel that this blog needs a bit of an overhaul too. But that’s for anther day…

Netflix Viewing Figures

Bird Box is Susanne Bier’s Netflix film the streaming service released just before Christmas. It stars Sandra Bullock as a mother who has to protect her children from an unseen entity. Furthermore, if she (or others) see it themselves, they are done for.

Think of it as a visual companion to A Quiet Place.

I enjoyed it well enough, when I watched it over the Christmas period.

Subsequently, Netflix announced that 45m accounts had accessed the film in its opening week.

When questioned a little more, they explained that this count was derived from those accounts who had viewed at least 70% of the title, although that viewing may have occurred over different devices.

That left lots of people doing lots of maths.

Since then, Netflix has published its Q4 2018 results, which show that by the end of the quarter it had 139m subscriptions globally.

These updated some of those previous numbers some more. Netflix was now saying that 80m member households had watched Bird Box during its first four weeks on the service – and that they were seeing high repeat viewing.

Its Spanish school murder drama, Elite had 20m member households watching at least 70% of one episode, while Bodyguard, Baby (from Italy) and Protector (from Turkey) each had 10m member households watching an episode in each of their four weeks. NB. In the UK, the final episode of Bodyguard got a 17.8m 28-day viewership across all platforms, dwarfing the global ex-UK number of 10m over a similar period.

[Update 31 January – The BBC has just revealed that the most streaming requests from iPlayer in 2018. All of the top ten individual programmes were either Bodyguard or Killing Eve. Episode one of Bodyguard alone achieved 10.8m requests. Across the series it achieved an average of 7.1m iPlayer requests. And that’s streaming alone. A useful comparison with Netflix’s 10m number for the UK alone.

Note that it’s unclear how much of a video is sent before a request is counted, so these numbers can’t be directly compared with Netflix’s numbers.]

Finally, Netflix referred to You and Sex Education both of which they project to be viewed by 40m member households in the first four weeks (estimated, because neither had actually been on the service for four weeks at the time of the press release’s publication).

[Sidenote: You is now globally perceived as a “Netflix Original” when in fact it aired on Lifetime in the US where it was singularly unsuccessful. The New York Times explored this phenomenon, and tried to draw comparisons with regular TV viewing figures. However, as they note in their article 40m member households watching at least 70% of one episode globally is not remotely comparable to 12.7m people watching an episode of Big Bang Theory on CBS in the US. TV viewing numbers are averaged across the duration of a show and are per-minute. The cumulative “reach” of a show will be higher. And the number of people who watched 70% of one episode of Big Bang Theory across an entire season will be much higher again – very likely to top the 40m Netflix quote for You. And that’s just TV viewers in the US. If anyone can point me to a published reach of a big US TV series across an entire season, then please let me know in the comments.

UPDATE – 30 January: Joe Adalion tweeted the following from a CBS press release.

In particular, The Big Bang Theory has reached 51.7m people so far this season in the US. For 60 Minutes, that figure is 80m.

The Netflix numbers are global, and refer to households, but this is a useful reminder to show how big network TV still is.]

But these are all big numbers; so what do they mean?

First of all, they are global figures and not local ones. So make your comparisons carefully. And for series, they really show the power of Netflix’s own marketing. While 10m households might have watched [most of] episode one, we don’t know how many watched subsequent episodes.

These numbers represent households and not people. So viewership will be higher than these numbers. How much higher is hard to say. People watching on their phones are likely to be solo viewers. But on a big screen TV at home? I don’t know.

It’s again important to note that both the first week 45m and four week 80m figures quoted by Netflix are global figures.

But Netflix is suggesting that a over half its subscribing homes watched Bird Box which undoubtedly makes it a massive hit.

As others have noted, Netflix keeps it’s above-the-line real estate on the Netflix homepage exclusively for itself. The very first thing you see when you boot up Netflix, is whatever they want to promote. And they promoted Bird Box hard.

But compare and contrast with the figure of 26m that US ratings group Nielsen claim watched the film in the first week. Nielsen’s methodology is very different. It’s sample-based, but the sample is big enough to provide relatively robust numbers for a big hit like Bird Box. However, Nielsen doesn’t measure mobile viewing – notably on phones, tablets and laptops. So it certainly under-counts Netflix viewership. And note too that it is a US-only figure.

What all of this shows is that if Netflix goes gangbusters for a film like this, perhaps “forcing” every subscriber who opens Netflix to see it advertised – probably with an auto-playing trailer – it can generate a hit. How would that compare with a film that everybody agrees was a massive box-office hit?

In North America, Avengers: Infinity War achieved the highest opening weekend box office of all time, with $258m. By week four it had grossed $605m in North America, It would go on to gross over $2bn globally.

Money earned at the box office isn’t the same admission numbers – for one thing, ticket prices tend to increase over time. But, if we use the Box Office Mojo average ticket price for 2018 of $9.14, we get 66.2m admissions to the movie.

Now, 66.2m admissions doesn’t mean 66.2m different people. Some will have seen the film more than once – even across its opening weekend. But that’s an estimate of the seats sold in North America across a four week period for the biggest franchise currently in cinemas.

We can probably add tens of millions of more “foreign” (i.e. non-North American) viewers to that figure. Note that international box-office data is harder to come by.

We’re left with the following:

  • Globally, 80m households – perhaps 100-130m people – watched Bird Box in its first four weeks.
  • In North America, there were approximately 66.2m admissions to Avengers: Infinity War in its first four weeks – perhaps representing 40-50m individuals (assuming fans went to see it multiple times).
  • In China alone, Avengers earned nearly $360m, and using very rough calculations, might represent another 36m ticket sales there too.
  • Globally, you can probably safely double the US admissions number, and perhaps triple it, giving us perhaps 100-150m viewers in total.

Does that mean that Bird Box and Avengers: Infinity War were actually as successful as one another?

Probably not.

Bird Box will have been cheaper to make, but Netflix subscribers will have paid a fraction of the cost to see it. Netflix remains loss-making after-all, whereas last time I checked, Disney was incredibly profitable.

But Netflix is capable of launching a film with an internationally known star onto the global marketplace, and to achieve a viewership that can compared with the biggest cinema hit in recent memory.


Finding something new to watch on Netflix can be incredibly hit or miss. I’ve mentioned before that I think Netflix’s marketing leaves something to be desired. While the “above the fold” promotional spot on Netflix is highly important to them and clearly drives a lot of viewing to shows or films that get that position, it can be something of a crap shoot beyond that. Particularly once you move beyond the ‘obvious’ stuff that has more significant marketing and PR.

A case in point is Close a new British (ish) film that appeared on the service with basically zero fanfare a few days ago. I spotted it in the Trending section. There was a picture of Noomi Rapace, the actress best known for being in the original Lisbeth Salander in the The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo and its sequels.

At a shade over 90 minutes, it suited me for the time of the day. The trailer seemed to promise action, and another good actress, Indira Varma was in the cast too.

I settled in to watch.

Make no bones about it. Close is a poor film. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s a truly awful film, but it reminds me of the kind of film that you occasionally got suckered into watching when they had gone straight to DVD.

The film opens with Rapace looking after two quivering journalists when they’re under attack somewhere in the desert by an ISIS-type group. She shoots the bad guys dead, steals one of their trucks, and gets the journalists to safety.

Meanwhile in Britain, a very rich daughter is sulkily attending her father’s funeral. Her stepmother is ready to take control of the family’s mining business. With that business itself in competition to take over a lucrative African mining operation. The business TV news is full of nothing but this riveting news.

However, when the will is read, it turns out that the daughter and not the stepmother will be getting all her father’s shares in the business. They don’t get on, and the stepmother heads to Morocco where their family business is based.

For reasons that I don’t really understand, an entirely separate ‘close’ (hence the film’s title) security detail is to look after the daughter, and they need a woman, since the last bloke ended up shagging her and having to leave in disgrace.

Step forward a reluctant Rapace. She has to accompany the daughter to the secure compound in Morocco where she will be safe. For completely unclear reasons, she’s travelling separately to her mother. But she gets a helicopter ride for the last leg of the journey, so that’s OK.

But what do you know? On the first night, there’s an attack on the premises and it’s only due to our heroic close protection officer that the daughter escapes with her life.

The rest of the film is broadly a series of chase scenes, interspersed with moodiness and fight scenes. And none of this is done very well.

The first sign that this film is going to be a bit rubbish is the expositional funeral oration. Whoever is leading the service seems to think that nobody in the church has the first idea of who’s died, so he explains it all to us. It’s lazy writing.

There are long pauses at times. Like someone in the editing booth was checking their Instagram feed rather than deciding which frames needed to be cut. Rapace’s character is clearly supposed to be monosyllabic, but it’s just boring and moodiness only gets you so far. She has her demons of course, but it’s just dull. Early on, when they’re being hunted by the police, she finds time to just stand on a rooftop having a fag and taking in the view.

The criminals are all cartoons, and they’re not very good at their job, even if that’s just supposed to be inflicting violence. At one point one of them has the upper hand in a fight, even though a knife is sticking out of his leg. Does he just put two bullets in the desperate close protection officer he has trapped on the floor? No. He spends more time standing over her needlessly until she knees him in the groin and turns the fight around.

The action sequences are badly directed too. Fight choreography isn’t simple, and telegraphing to the audience what’s going on isn’t easy. Early on, someone gets shot, and it takes a couple of unnecessary other camera angles until the shooter is revealed.

Moments of tension are missed. With the two women suspected of murdering a Moroccan policeman, finding somewhere to hide and staying hidden should be tenser than it ends up. Of course they get found in the end but there’s no build up despite the opportunity being there to ratchet things up.

Most laughable are the scenes involving Indira Varma’s business obsessed mother, and the takeover as reported on the fictional business TV channel. Hilariously, at one point there’s a shot of people in a Moroccan bar watching this English language channel, rather than say, sport or even local news. I know, I know. In reality you can’t move for North African bars that show CNBC all the time!

At another point, Varma’s character has given an interview, in the studio, with the channel. Amazingly, she has been happy to do this, with her rival bidder in the same studio at the same time. I mean, I’m sure that the channel would love to have the two rivals alongside each other arguing, but it’s unclear why any PR would let their CEO walk into such a trap. I don’t know where the channel is supposed to be based, but you can only assume that it must be somewhere in Morocco since travel times don’t really come into play, and all the characters are in Morocco.

You may also imagine that there might be regulatory issues about giving live interviews during a corporate takeovers. I mean, it could affect share prices for starters. Apparently not.

What’s even more entertaining is that it turns out that the interview was pre-recorded. So we watch Varma’s character sitting with her board watching the interview back when it’s played out. Except, she must know that it didn’t go well. Then she turns off the TV in disgust when she sees that it did in fact not go well… which she already knew.

At another point Rapace’s character and a villain have a fight and tumble into what looks like the hold of a fishing boat. We quickly discover that the hold is full of water. You might think that this would cause the boat to either sink or be in a sunken state at the harbour side. A flooded hold has no impact on this particular boat.

An underwater fight takes place. The water is crystal clear, which to be fair, isn’t a problem unique to this film, but there’s a shoal of quite large fish swimming around the massive hold. That turns out to be super useful since she effectively wins the underwater fight when her combatant gets totally confused and disorientated by all the fish that suddenly swarm around him. This disorientation goes on for quite a long time. None of it makes any sense.

In another scene towards the end of the film, Rapace’s character and the daughter have locked themselves in a safe-room and are trying to regain control of something. They have to guess a password. The daughter eventually works out that it’s her birthday – which it always is in such cases. A few moments later, the daughter has burst out to protect her stepmother (er, spoiler alert?!), despite having no combat training. She leaves her elite combat trained close protection officer in the room, and allows the door to be slammed behind her. Rapace’s character is locked in! She needs the password to release the door. That’d be the password that she saw the daughter type on the screen ten seconds earlier; the password that at this point even I, a disinterested viewer, can remember. But rather than recall the number we saw in massive letters on the screen a few seconds earlier (a somewhat obvious lapse in this security software), she has to wrack her brain to recall the birth-date from the file she has previously memorised.

The thing with this film is that it seems like there was some money behind it. While most of the film was shot in Morocco, it doesn’t look super-cheap. It’s just that the script, editing and direction are all off.

This isn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen, but it is 90 minutes I’ll never get back, although I confess that by the end, I was fast-forwarding a bit because frankly it was boring and didn’t deserve my time.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a good action film. I like a half-decent Liam Neeson film as much as the next person. Actors like Noomi Rapace and Indira Varma are good, but they can only work the material available. And in this instance it was poor.

The other day, Netflix got a Best Film nominations in the Oscars for Roma (Which I’ve not yet watched. Yes, I know I should have been watching that rather than wasting time on this rubbish!). And not every Netflix original film is going to be as good as every other one. But a few less direct-to-DVD titles, or clunkers that the studios offload on the platform (e.g. Cloverfield Paradox) might be a smart move for them.

Another Fine Mess by Tim Moore

Tim Moore seems to love setting himself unlikely challenges, often related to cycling. In French Revolutions he rode the route of the Tour de France a few weeks ahead of the race. In Gironomo! he did something similar, with the 1914 Giro d’Italia route, but used a bike from the era to do so.

Most recently in The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold, he followed a lesser known cycling route called The Iron Curtain Trail, down the frosty arctic north to the Black Sea. And he chose an East German shopping bike to attempt this task.

In Another Fine Mess he has left his bikes behind, and is instead embarking on a cross-country driving tour of the United States, in a vintage Model T Ford. The somewhat wandering route he is planning to take is planned to take in as many “red states” as he can exploring the people and places that voted for Donald Trump.

In reading this book, it’s not altogether clear that choosing a Model T to drive in has made life any easier than a bike would have done. On the plus side, it’s a conversation opener wherever he goes – especially when they hear a British accent as well. On the other hand, reliability in a near 100 year old car is not what you might get from a Toyota or VW in the early twenty-first century.

But this does mean that he gets to meet an awful lot of tinkerers and home mechanics, which lets us get a little under the skin of why someone like Trump might have ever been elected.

There are common themes: a hatred of government; a love of guns; a slower way of life that harks back to the foundation of modern America.

Alongside this, there’s an exploration of how America became the car country that it did. The mechanisation that Ford introduced starting with the Model T was extraordinary. The changes cars brought to the lives of a hitherto predominantly farming nation are also explored – not least the thousands of miles of road that were laid, including the life-changing introductions of inter-state highways that changed lives again.

The only thing missing really, is an exploration of where cars are going now. Detroit, as we know, is a shell of what it once was, and there is a large turning point in the auto industry ahead of us: self-driving and electric cars. Indeed, quite possibly the very model of private vehicular ownership is going to be challenged.

A really entertaining and insightful exploration of Trump’s heartland.