Bauer Buys Jazz FM

Bauer today announced it was buying Jazz FM, which is good news for the continued existence of a musically important station. I imagine that they’ll be squeezing into Golden Square away from their current Margaret Street studios which will save some money. But I suspect that the key thing in this deal is that Bauer’s national sales team will be able to monetise the brand pretty well.

I’m not completely certain who they’re represented by currently, but in the past First Radio Sales has done the job for them. The problem is that as both Global and Bauer have grown, they’ve squeezed out other operators. While Global might have around 45% of the UK commercial market place, they probably demand more. Assume that Bauer does the same, and those not represented by the Global and Bauer sales teams get squeezed.

Jazz is now inside the Bauer tent, and it gets to profit.

As far as the station itself goes, I trust they won’t mess around too much with the current formula. They have 672,000 reach and around 3m listening hours at the moment which are decent. But there might be some envy about how well Smooth is doing. Although it benefits from some good FM transmitters, it brings in 5.6m reach. 

Bauer’s press release sounds like it’s going to be respectful of the format, and that’s a good thing. 

The other interesting thing about Jazz FM is that just over 40% of its listening is via the internet. Bauer notes in its press release that they’ll be using their InStream technology to monetise this, and that should work will with a service with such a strong internet presence.

Overall an interesting move by Bauer, going to show that it’s not just Global out acquiring stations right now.

Overly Mannered Podcast Presentation

I wrote this as a podcast thread last week, but thought it was worth re-visiting a little more here.

If there is one thing I hate in many podcasts (or radio programmes), it’s a presentation style that I would describe as overly mannered.

What I’m talking about is a podcast that’s likely to be scripted, but where the delivery is over-emphasised, often in an attempt to sound empathetic.

There is one podcast – no names, no pack drill – that I’m getting close to stopping listening to at all, because although the subject matter is fascinating, and it explores subjects I’m really interested in, the presenter speaks in such a s-l-o-w deliberate and affected manner that it becomes painful to listen to.

Other examples are those voices that feel like they should instead be reading a story to a kindergarten class. While podcasts are said to always be about telling stories (except that sometimes that’s not true, but we’ll park that thought for another day), they don’t need to adopt the same vocal stylisations of a presenter of Jackanory or Story Time on CBeebies.

This certainly isn’t an attach on scripted podcasts. And nor is it an attack on high production values. I don’t think every podcast should adopt the soundscape that a series like Radiolab creates, but I would certainly not complain about beautiful layered audio.

I think the problem with stilted or unnatural delivery tones stems in part from a kind of ‘learned behaviour’ that almost certainly derives from US public radio. I’m not a historian of US public radio, but I suspect that this kind of delivery has become the standard for many years.

And of course, much of the talent in, especially, the US podcasting sector today, was honed and trained in a US public radio sphere. That’s no doubt changing, but I still feel that a certain tone of voice is what is expected, and so is what is delivered.

To give a related example, consider the Smashie and Nicey characters created by Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse. That trans-atlantic ‘pop-tastic’ style was a vicious take on a generation of pop DJs on British radio who honestly did speak like that. It became the norm until it became a parody of itself. Yes, radio presenters have always ‘turned it on’ to an extent when the mic goes live, but that was an era when presenters were practically making up new personas.

Note that these kinds of ‘learned behaviours aren’t unique to US public radio. In the past the same could be said to be true for many Radio 4 presentation and delivery styles. I think they’re less of a problem now, but I know that some, for example, struggle with the generic delivery of British radio drama.

I’m also absolutely not talking about so-called ‘Vocal Fry’ which some listeners seem to take exception to. You have the voice that you have. I’m talking about speech patterns as much as anything else.

I know that reading from a script can be a challenge. There are elements of annunciation, the forcefulness of delivery and tone of voice to get right. But just because others have a certain tone of voice, it doesn’t mean that those should be adopted by all.

With podcasts in particular, listeners have made a conscious choice to hear the output, and they’re often listening directly via headphones.

I just want podcast and radio presenters to be a little more original, and mostly natural.

Succession

I’ve been keenly awaiting Succession for a while. It comes from Jesse Armstrong who created Peep Show and more recently has done a lot of work with Armando Ianucci on things like The Thick of It and Veep, the latter being from HBO as this is.

What’s interesting is that, simplistically, this is a fictionalised version of the Murdoch family, with a powerful patriarch and his squabbling offspring. And of course, Sky Atlantic, who have an output deal with HBO giving them rights to much of the company’s programming, are in a large part owned by the Murdochs. Indeed right now there’s a complicated chain of acquisitions going on with Disney buying Fox, including its Sky assets, while Comcast tries to buy Sky and sneak it out of Disney’s hands.

I was initially surprised when this big budget drama didn’t instantly appear on Sky Atlantic. Surely they weren’t having cold feet about it? 

It turned out that Sky Atlantic wanted to put the whole series out in one go, so they waited until the end of its US transmission and all the episodes were available. And more to the point, although the series has the venere of being about the Murdochs, it’s somewhat more than that.

As an aside, it was entertaining hearing Matthew Macfayden on The One Show earlier this week, explaining that in the US there were a number of media families.

This is all true, but the Roy family is remarkably similar in structure to the Murdochs. At the head of the family is Brian Cox as Logan Roy – a cracking role. As with Murdoch, he originates from the ‘colonies.’ Scotland in this instance. He’s showing signs of age, and some of his children question some of his decision making. His heir apparent, is Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), the most business focused of the children. The eldest son, Connor (Alan Ruck) is a free-spririted libertarian, spending his time on a farm, not doing a great deal apart from overseeing the company’s annual fundraising gala dinner, and living with sort-of-girlfriend, who he’s sort-of-paying to be his sort-of-girlfriend.

Roman Roy (Keiran Culkin) is a waster who spends his time not taking anything too seriously, but it does mean he gets all the zingers. He’s only really in the business because he’s a son and therefore part of the family. Shiv (Sarah Snook) is the one family member trying to fashion her own career as a political consultant. But she’s still close. Her husband to be is the charmless social climber Tom (fantastically played by Matthew Macfayden), who knows he’s marrying into wealth… and power.

And then there’s Marcia (Hiam Abbas), Logan’s third wife, who’s mysterious background tends to make you wonder if she’s all she seems. 

Waystar Royco, the business that everything revolves around seems to have a publishing arm, a TV arm (including a news channel), a movie studio and a theme park business – the latter being the only bit that Murdoch doesn’t really have.

Given all this, how can anyone possibly equate Logan with Rupert, Kendall and Roman with James and Lachlan, Shiv with Elisabeth, and Marcia with Wendi Deng/Jerry Hall?

In fact, despite the similarities in the familial structures, the series goes off in some slightly different directions. The tone is, for the most part, surprisingly light. This is a soapy cousin of Veep, with many of the cast being caricatures to an extent. Culkin and Macfayden both get to have a lot of fun with their characters, as does Nicholas Braun who plays the dim-witted great nephew of Logan, and being pushed into the family business by his mother. There’s a fantastic scene when Tom takes him on a night out and they end up in a nightclub where Tom steers them up into an exclusive, and entirely empty, VIP section. Learning as he goes, he wonders allowed if it’s sort of like the rest of the nightclub, but without all the fun stuff on the dance floor down below. They sit there drinking from their $2000 bottle of vodka in silence.

But this isn’t solely a comedy, and there are serious questions being asked at times. I won’t spoil the season ending, but it’s played out remarkably well. 

In the end, this is a family drama with set amongst a particularly dysfunctional family. Yes, the setting is all sleek corporate offices and palatial apartments; private helicopters and glossy functions. But they’re the same kinds of rows, just played at a higher order.

I was hooked and can’t wait for season 2 next year.

RAJAR Q2 2018

RAJAR
As ever, this post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the past 9 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.

We’re into the depths of summer, and many people are on holiday. But there’s still a new set of RAJAR results to look at.

Earlier this week a new Advertising Association/WARC report said that radio was the fastest growing medium, with growth of 12.5%. Commercially, radio is in a good place, but how about audiences?

Radio Listening

Overall radio listening has fallen a small amount this quarter, down 0.7% on the quarter in reach, and down 0.8% on the year. Reach is down to 89% from 90% for the last few quarters.

Of bigger concern (see all previous RAJAR pieces I’ve written), is the drop in hours. They’re down 0.9% on the quarter and down 1.7% on the year to 1.015bn hours a week (the lowest since the start of 2016). Average hours per radio listener remains constant at 20.8 hours a week, although that remains a record low.

The BBC’s reach has fallen slightly to 34.47m (down 1.5% on the quarter and down 1.4% on the year), with Commercial Radio also falling a little to 35.51m listeners (down 1.3% on the quarter and down 1.0% on the year). Commercial Radio reach remains higher than the BBC’s reach as it has done for the past few quarters.

In terms of listening hours, the BBC remains bigger with 51.7% of radio listening compared with Commercial Radio’s 45.7%. For the BBC, listening hours have fallen – down 1.2% on the quarter and 2.7% on the year. Commercial Radio has grown a little however, up 0.9% in hours on quarter, although down a fractional 0.1% on the year. A reminder that the missing bit in the middle to get to 100% includes stations not measured directly by RAJAR including some internet radio stations, smaller local stations and community stations.

Digital listening was the big thing last time around, with the 50% mark broken reaching 50.9%. This quarter it has slipped back a little to 50.2%, but the numbers can bounce around a little so I’m not too concerned about that. It’s always the longer term trends that really show what’s happening, and they’re upwards.

National and Digital

This hasn’t been a great quarter for Radio 1, which has fallen 2.4% in reach on the quarter, and is down 3.7% on the year. It now reaches 9.236m listeners a week (15+), the second lowest its reach has ever been.

Listening hours are a slightly different story however, with hours up 4.6% on the quarter, although down 7.3% on the year.

The big programming news is the forthcoming switch between Nick Grimshaw at Breakfast and Greg James on Drive. They don’t start their new shifts until September, but I thought it was worth having a look at their final full quarters

In his last full quarter on Breakfast at Radio 1, Nick Grimshaw is up 3.8% in reach to 5.3m, although down 3.8% on this time last year.

Meanwhile Drive was down slightly (measured on 4pm – 7pm inclusive), reaching 4.05m this quarter – down 4.3% on last quarter and down 3.2% on last year.

It’ll take a while for the new shows to settle, and indeed it won’t be until the Q4 results are in that we’ll even be able to see how the new presenters are doing.

Over on Radio 2, reach has fallen a bit this quarter, down 3.1% to 14.93m listeners (But up 0.3% on the year). Hours are more positive, up 0.6% on the quarter and up 4.3% on the year to 181.48m a week.

The big news on Radio 2 is the new Drive show, with Simon Mayo now joined by Jo Whiley. As is the way of these things, there were a few negative stories surrounding the change – even though this was obviously a way for Radio 2 to get at least one woman into the peak daytime schedule. I would just point out that the more popular a show is, the more reaction there is from listeners when there are changes. And that it of course takes time for a new show to bed down.

The new show only began midway through the RAJAR quarter, with roughly half the figures reflecting Mayo’s solo show.

The other key thing is that Mayo’s previous show was for two hours – 5.00pm – 7.00pm daily. The new show runs three hours – 5.00pm to 8.00pm daily, except Fridays when it is two hours. I’ve used the new hours of the show for a point of comparison, even though that would have included specialist music shows in the 7pm hour previously.

Reach for the show is up on last quarter, with 6.31m listeners compared with an equivalent timeslot of 6.23m last quarter. That’s up 1.3% in reach on the quarter, but down 0.6% on the year.

Radio 3 is down 1.3% in reach on the quarter, and down 7.5% on the year. In terms of hours it’s down 3.3% on the quarter, and down 9.1% on the year.

Radio 4 has seen some falls this quarter, down 2.9% in reach on the quarter (and down 8.3% on the year), while hours are down 3.2% on the quarter (and 6.2%) on the year. That’s the lowest reach since Q2 2015, although in overall terms the Radio 4 audience is relatively consistent over the longer period.

The Today programme has seen a certain amount of attention shone on it in some circles recently. There was a long piece in The Observer a few weeks ago by Miranda Sawyer which took clear aim at the programme. And in these politically charged times, different presenters cause different reactions to different parts of the audience.

To be clear, I don’t believe in using your own social media network to determine the relative success or failure of a particular programme. But looking at listening figures can be useful.

Considering the Monday-Friday edition of the programme, running 6am-9am, the reach is down 3.6% to 6.82m a week. Year on year, this is down 11.0%. On the other hand, this time last year was the Today programme’s biggest ever audience. As recently as Q1 2016, the Today audience was lower than it is today. It might be useful to include a chart here to show, that in fact, Today is a pretty consistent performer.

I’d also point out that only Chris Evans has a higher audience in either radio or television at that time of day.

This quarter included the end of a not especially competitive Premier League season and about ten days of what would prove to be a very lively World Cup. However neither were enough to stop Five Live’s reach falling 8.0% to 4.73m (and down 11.0% on the year). Hours were down 1.7% on the quarter and down 10.6% on the year.

By way of comparison, Talksport was also down, falling 7.2% in reach on the quarter, and down 3.2% on the year. However it was up last year, climbing 10.4% on the quarter and up 31.8% on the year. It should be said that last year’s Q2 Talksport figures were pretty poor, and quite likely “rogue” as I said at the time.

The main question each quarter with 6 Music is whether it has broken any records this time around?

Well, it has.

Reach has dipped a little, down 3.4% on the quarter to 2.44m. But it’s still up 9.4% on the year. But hours are a new record, up 0.5% on the quarter to 24.28m (and up 25.3% on the year).

BBC World Service English is up 5.7% on the quarter, but down 5.0% on the year to a consistent 1.51m reach. Hours are down a little however – down 2.8% on the quarter and down 22.6% on the year (although last year’s hours were exceptionally high).

Classic FM’s reach is a little disappointing – down 7.6% on the quarter and down 10.9% on the year to 5.15m. That’s the lowest reach since Q1 2016, and the second lowest reach the station’s had in all time.

Hours are also down for the station – down 7.6% on the quarter and down 12.2% on the year – to 35.34m

I’ve already mentioned Talksport, but stablemate Talksport 2 is still struggling, with reach down 13.1% on the quarter and down 18.8% on the year, to 273,000. Hours were down 40.0% on the quarter and down 31.4% on the year to 681,000.

LBC has been riding high for the last few quarters, but this quarter has seen a small dip. Reach was down 2.8% on the quarter to 2.1m, but that’s still up 3.0% on the year.

Hours were down 0.7% on the quarter and down 6.1% on the year.

The big question with LBC is where they’re planning to put their major new signing Eddie Mair, who is leaving the BBC and the PM programme on Radio 4, that he has made his own. You imagine that he’s going to get quite a big slot somewhere on the station. Nick Ferrari has been in the breakfast slot on LBC since the start of 2004 – a run over more than 14 years now. With 1.13m listeners, he’s a solid performer, up very slightly on both the quarter and the year. But how much longer does he want to go on in that slot? You certainly feel that LBC is likely to reshuffle the deck a little.

In Christian O’Connell’s final RAJAR quarter, Absolute Radio saw an increase in reach of 5.0% to 2.54m. Year on year, the increase was a very healthy 20.9%. Hours were down 6.0% on the quarter, but up 1.8% on the year.

O’Connell’s final show was at the midway point of the RAJAR quarter, but his final set of numbers showed a 6.1% increase in reach to 2.15m. That’s also up 16.6% on the year. Note that O’Connell’s show was carried across the entire Absolute Radio Network, and those figures are calculated on 6 month basis. Of course Dave Berry also has a claim on some of those figures, and Bauer can position his show as the biggest breakfast show on commercial radio.

The Absolute Radio Network itself is growing very nicely with a reach of 4.74m, up 4.2% on the quarter and 10.3% on the year. Hours are also growing, up 6.0% on the quarter and up 4.0% on the year to 34.44m. Those are both record highs for the network!

After the main service, Absolute 80s is the next biggest constituent part of the network, and it was fractionally down this quarter in reach. With 1.54m listeners it was down 1.5% on the quarter, but up 1.6% on the year. However hours are up both on the quarter (up 11.0%) and the year (up 8.8%) to 8.06m.

(Close competitor Heart 80s did less well this quarter, with reach falling 16.3% on the quarter to 1.17m, but up 37.4% on the year. Hours were better, up 4.7% on the quarter and 55.3% on the year. A reminder that Heart 80s has better distribution than Absolute 80s in terms of DAB, because its multiplex has better coverage.)

It’s also worth having a look at Absolute Radio 90s, because – well – the nineties are becoming the new eighties. If you were 15 in 1995, you’d be 38 today and hitting that moment when you get nostalgic about the music of your adolescence.

Absolute Radio 90s has just had its record reach and hours audiences. Its reach of 822,000 is up 20.2% on the quarter and up 26.3% on the year. Hours are up a massive 42.0% on the quarter and 34.4% on the year. This follows the station rejoining the D1 national multiplex back at the start of the year, having spent three years on local muxes. This rejig by Bauer would seem to be paying dividends, and I suspect that this is a station to watch.

Bauer has had a good quarter with all its national brands.

Kiss is up 3.3% in reach on the quarter (and down 0.6% on the year) to 4.58m reach. Hours are up 2.1% on the quarter and up 2.5% on the year to 20.89m.

The Kiss Network is up 1.9% in reach on the quarter (up 4.4% on the year), and down 0.4% in hours on the quarter (up 4.8% on the year). Kisstory continues to do well, up 9.5% on the quarter (and up 21.1% on the year) to 1.94m reach. Hours are up 12.9% on the quarter and up 14.0% on the year. On the other hand Kiss Fresh sees declines across the board.

Meanwhile Magic is up 10.9% on the quarter and up 11.6% on the year to 3.29m in reach. Its hours are also strong, up 8.4% on the quarter and up 18.9% on the year. The overall Magic Network is up in reach and hours – up 3.0% in reach on the quarter (up 6.8% on the year), and up 2.7% in hours on the quarter (up 3.5% on the year). All three sub-brands are also up on the quarter.

Bauer has also rebranded Key 103 in Manchester to Hits Radio, at the same time creating the Hits Radio Brand which incorporates the Manchester FM station with all their other city FM stations (e.g. Clyde 1, Hallam FM, Radio City). However the rebrand only took place at the start of June, and those services as well as the Hits Radio Brand network are all 6 month reporting stations, so it’s not really worth examining closely just yet for any impact of the rebrand on RAJAR.

Overall Bauer Radio is up 1.2% in reach on the quarter and 2.6% in reach on the year – with 17.71m reach in total. In terms of hours, it’s up 0.6% on the quarter and 3.4% on the year – with 151.9m hours in total.

Over at Global, the overall reach for Total Global Radio (UK) is up very slightly to 23.69m – up 0.1% on the quarter, and up 1.5% on the year. Hours are down slightly to 207.5m – down 0.4% on the quarter and down 2.3% on the year. Global obviously remains the biggest commercial radio group with just over 50m more hours than Bauer. And it continues to grow through buying other stations. Only this week it bought 2BR in Lancashire. Earlier this year it has also bought Juice 107.2 in Brighton (Update: Which is to rebrand as Capital in September). At the end of last year it also bought two other stations in Lancashire – The Bay and Lakeland Radio.

As for Global’s main brands, Capital Brand UK (which includes Capital Xtra) is up 1.3% in reach on the quarter, and down 3.2% on the year to a total of 8.34m. Global is keenly waiting for the day that overtakes Radio 1’s figures. Hours are down 2.9% on the quarter and 12.5% on the year to 42.34m. So as with Radio 1, this is a challenging audience to maintain listening with, as more listeners spend more time with streaming services.

The slightly older Heart Brand UK fares slightly better, up 2.7% in reach on the quarter, and up 5.9% on the year to 9.76m. Hours are also up to 68.26m – up 2.6% on the quarter and up 1.8% on the year.

Smooth Brand UK also performed well this quarter, up 2.3% on the quarter and up 1.1% on the year in reach, while hours are up 4.7% on the quarter, and down 5.2% on the year.

Radio X is perhaps Global’s strongest performing brand in percentage, turning in another set of decent numbers across the network. Reach is up to 1.68m (up 6.3% on the quarter and up 20.7% on the year), while hours are up to 13.21m (up 8.7% on the quarter and 32.5% on the year). The station has had a set of solid upwards numbers over the last 12 months, and this would seem to be set to continue.

London

I’ll leave others to get into the detail for London, but I’ll highlight the biggest stations.

In terms of reach it’s Radio 4 with 2.46m although it’s down 10.1% this quarter (and down 14.3% this year). That leaves Radio 2 a close run second biggest station with 2.42m listeners (up 12.9% on the quarter and up 9.3% on the year).

Third placed is Kiss with 2.09m reach (up 7.1% on the quarter and up 1.9% on the year). It can claim the biggest commercial radio crown. It’s just ahead of Capital in fourth place with 2.06m reach (down 3.5% on the quarter and down 10.8% on the year).

The other stations with over 1m audiences in London are Radio 1 (1.49m – down 3.9% on the quarter, down 1.6% on the year), Magic (1.67m – up 21.6% on the quarter, up 7.8% on the year), Heart (1.40m – down 6.0% on the quarter, down 17.4% on the year), LBC (1.28m – up 2.0% on the quarter, down 9.3% on the year), Classic FM (1.12m – down 19.1% on the quarter, down 24.7% on the year), and Radio 5 Live (1.08m – down 3.9% on the quarter, down 6.5% on the year).

In terms of hours, it’s Radio 2 (27.4m hours – up 23.4% on the quarter, up 14.3% on the year), Radio 4 (25.9m hours – down 13.0% on the quarter, down 15.3% on the year), and LBC 97.3 (13.16m hours – up 17.9% on the quarter, down 16.1% on the year).

Overall radio listening in London is always something to keep an eye on, as trends in London often precede wider national trends. In fact reach in London is up very slightly this quarter to 10.74m. That’s up 1.0% on the quarter, although down 1.2% on the year. Reach in London is at 88%, just behind the national reach of 89%. In terms of hours, listening is down slightly to 204.9m hours. That’s down 0.8% on the quarter and down 1.2% on the year. That hours figure is going to be something worth keeping an eye on, as it is at its lowest since the start of 2016 – although its lowest ever figure was 198.0m at the start of 2015.

Further Reading

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 24 June 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.

The Death of MoviePass?

A few months ago, I tried to work out what the business model of MoviePass (and putative UK equivalent cPass) might be.

I concluded that the operators were going to need very deep pockets, and there was absolutely no certainty that the model works.

And that seems to have been an accurate prediction. The service recently nearly ran out of money, and had an emergency $5m injection last week. As Techcrunch reports, that wasn’t enough for the operators to block MoviePass subscribers from buying tickets to the weekend’s big new release – Mission Impossible: Fallout. And according to reports from a company meeting, the same restrictions will apply to some forthcoming big releases.

With the share price of MoviePass’ owner falling like a stone to below $1, the outlook is not good. I would imagine that at this point, the owners will be looking at some kind of fire sale. But even that doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

In the meantime AMC has launched its own subscription sevice – AMC Stubs A-List – which might be a mouthful, but offers three films a week for $19.95 a month. That puts it on a par with long standing subscription schemes in the UK like Cineworld’s Unlimited or Odeon’s Limitless offerings.

It’s unclear where that leaves cPass. They continue to offer a “waiting list” system to invite new subscribers. But I suspect that their investors will be carefully monitoring the losses of MoviePass, and may well decide to abandon ship rather than launch a loss-making product of their own.

It was hard to understand the business model of MoviePass in the first place, and that turns out to be because there really wasn’t a workable one. At least there wasn’t a workable one that accurately reflected movie-goers habits at a price point that made sense. All the more so, when MoviePass had deals with neither cinema chains, nor movie distributors.

The film industry does need disruption, but it’s already happening. It’s happening in how we watch films, and the type of films that get made. Most importantly its happening in where we watch films. As was highlighted in the book, The Big Picture it’s happening with Netflix and Amazon. Those mid-budget films are more and more skipping theatres, and showing up on their services. Cinemas are left with blockbusters at one end and art-house films at the other.

Will cinemas as we know them now survive another 10-20 years? I hope so, but I’m not certain. But MoviePass certainly won’t be the game changer it thought it’d be.

This is a fun read from The New York Times back in May.

RideLondon Classique 2018

This last weekend saw a massive collision of all things cycling. It was the final weekend of the Tour de France – fabulously won by Geraint Thomas. That had been pushed back a week to stay clear of the World Cup. Meanwhile it was also the Saturday night of the Dunwich Dynamo, from London Fields to Dunwich on the Suffolk coast. That always takes place around the July full moon. And then it was also RideLondon, with the FreeCycle on London’s closed roads on Saturday, followed by a series of races on a circuit around St James’ Park and Whitehall. RideLondon collided with the Tour de France this year, which was good in some ways – a likeable Brit/Welshman winning the Tour and getting front pages – but it meant that there was no avoiding the men’s RideLondon Classic finishing on the Mall at almost the exact moment that the Tour de France was finishing on the Champs Elysee.

The final stage in Paris has ended up becoming an early evening affair in recent years, in large part because Tour organisers like to finish the race in the mountains, either the Alps, or this year, the Pyrenees. Both mountain ranges are a long way from Paris, and even though the riders get a plane transfer, much of the rest of the Tour’s infrastructure has to drive hundreds of kilometres across France. So a late start is essential.

Meanwhile in London, the professional race is run on many of the same roads as the amateur sportive earlier in the day. So the race takes place after the roads have been cleared of slower finishing riders.

This did mean the bizarre circumstances of men’s professional cycling being on both ITV (which had moved up coverage from ITV4 for this final stage of great interest nationally) and BBC One simultaneously. Indeed, the BBC had to make do without David Millar taking his usual place on the back of a motorcycle for their coverage (Yanto Barker ably filled in), while Chris Boardman was also in Paris and not alongside Jill Douglas. More complicated was the fact that the BBC’s coverage had to acknowledge Geraint Thomas’ win, while at the same time not pushing viewers to head over to ITV!

On the other hand, we did get a few sprinters in London who’d been forced to leave the tour when they didn’t make the time cut. Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipal were in London even if neither ended up on the podium.

But enough about Sunday – which was wet and windy, and I watched from the sofa rather than the streets. What about Saturday?

I headed over to the race just ahead of its start, and as usual there was good organisation out on the roads. The final FreeCycle riders were being cleared off the route, and the women’s teams were exploring the course of the circuit. It was a slight variant on previous courses with a start/finish on The Mall, heading up and down Constitution Hill, doing a 180 degree turn just ahead of Hyde Park Corner. Then it took a loop around St James’ Park before looping up and down Whitehall, back around Trafalgar Square and into The Mall.

It is a shame that the women only get to do what is essentially a glamorous criterium circuit. But for spectators, there are lots of chances to see the riders.

One thing those spectators need to spend some time working out, is how to navigate around the course, since there are limited crossing points and it’s not always obvious. Get a map in advance is my recommendation.

Saturday was a bright but very windy day. Dust clouds blew up from time to time, and although it was still the end of July, the wind had detached many leaves from their trees following 8 weeks of hot weather, and it had the look of autumn. The wind meant that at one point a Brompton branded gazebo blew over, while race organisers had left on the ground the signs indicating the last few hundred metres distance before the finish. It was too windy to keep them standing up.

Unfortunately, that wind also had an effect on the race which stayed together from start to finish. And there’s nothing worse that a criterium where no groups or people get away. There are a number of sprint competitions that were well contested along the way, but nobody ever got off the front, and that doesn’t make for a great race. The most exciting thing that I saw happen was a crash on a corner, which held up a number of Canyon SRAM riders including Alice Barnes. She drafted the neutral service car enough to make it back on, although others didn’t.

The final spring itself was a good one, with riders across the road. Marianne Vos’ Waow Deals team, marshalled by Dani Rowe were in a good position, Sunweb were trying to repeat last year’s win for Coryn Rivera, and Alice Barnes did manage to fight her way back into the mix. But in the end it was Wiggle High 5’s Kirsten Wild who won the race. That came in the week that team owner Rochelle Gilmore announced the end of the team (Although I’m slightly confused both by the way this was announced and what it actually means, since she slightly backtracked in the BBC’s coverage suggesting that although she wouldn’t be part of it, something else might emerge. We’ll have to wait and see).

I’m not too sure what needs to be done to make the race a better competition. Perhaps some kind of financial reward for the most aggressive rider or team? There’s a lot of cash in this race, which means they do get the entrants. But there wasn’t much of a break last year either as I recall. I wouldn’t underplay the effect of the wind on the weekend’s race, but it was a shame it wasn’t a better race.

I took plenty of photos, some of which are here, and the rest can be seen over at Flickr.

Geraint Thomas Wins the Tour

Geraint Thomas - Tour de France 2007 - London - Prologue

It has been thrilling over these last three weeks to see one of cycling’s real Mr Nice Guys win the Tour.

I couldn’t say exactly when I first became aware of him, but Britain’s success on the track meant that I’d seen him pick up medals ahead of his gold at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 as part of the Team Pursuit – something he was to repeat in 2012.

In 2007, he took part in his first Tour de France, as part of the Barloworld team that also featured a certain Chris Froome. I was out in London and the next day, Kent, to watch that Tour start in Britain that year, and digging through my pictures from the time, he features.

He finished second last in that Tour, but he was much heavier, and was only 21 (the same age as Egan Bernal is today – suggesting that the young Colombian will be an extraordinary future talent). But he did finish, which was the important point.

Geraint Thomas - Tour of Britain - London - 2008

In 2008 he was still riding for Barloworld at the Tour of Britain – Team Sky remaining at that point a twinkle in Dave Brailsford’s eye.

Geraint Thomas - 2014 National Road Race

Flash forward a few years, and Thomas was at the National Road Race in Abergavenny. I somehow managed to get there and back for a day trip to watch that competition. These days Sky doesn’t always let their riders race the nationals because it’s a week ahead of the Tour and injuries can happen. That day, the race was swamped with Sky riders – Peter Kennaugh beating the rest, with only the Yates brothers preventing complete Sky domination.

Geraint Thomas - 2015 Tour de France - Stage 10

A year later, and I was out at the Tour in the Pyrenees where with Froome already in yellow, they entered the mountain stages properly. It was very warm on the roadside that day – and had been when I’d ridden a few km up the mountain before pulling over to conserve energy and water, and to wait for the race.

A couple of years ago, his book came out and I went to an entertaining Q&A. As with these things, there was a long queue to get the book signed, and I was towards the back. The queue moved slowly because everyone wanted a picture – something he was happy to do. I wasn’t going to bother, but the guy next to me in the queue basically bullied me into it. I had to take a picture of him after all!

I’m quite pleased I got that photo! (I also got him to sign a copy of the photo just above, which now hangs on a wall at home.)

Me and Geraint Thomas

A great day, and a great rider. A fantastic sense of humour, and it doesn’t harm that he’s an Arsenal fan.

Virgin Media and UKTV (And ITV) – Continuation

On my commute to work this morning, I saw a digital outdoor sign advertising a programme on Yesterday. I can’t recall the programme, but I can tell you that at the bottom, a large blue strap had added “Not available on Virgin Media.”

Things are ramping up in Virgin Media and UKTV’s dispute. The Guardian reports that Virgin Media is now sending out letters to interested other broadcasters to bid for UKTV’s slots on their EPG.

That feels like quite a hardball move from Virgin Media, since once those channel slots are gone, they’re unlikely to return. It’s obviously supposed to drive UKTV back to the negotiating table.

However in the meantime, The Guardian is also reporting that ITV and Virgin Media are also in dispute, with ITV reportedly suggesting it might pull all its channels from the platform by this weekend. Loss of ITV would be massive, with the channel responsible for lots of the biggest programmes on television. Even the loss of ITV2 on its own, at a time when Love Island continues to ride high in the ratings, is enough to make most platforms reconsider.

You suspect that ITV is pushing home a strategic advantage at a time when Virgin Media is already weakened from a consumer perspective with the loss of UKTV’s channels. If ITV’s channels were to drop off the platform, then there’d be a massive hole in what Virgin Media is offering viewers.

Certainly, most of those channels would remain available to viewers on Freeview, but the loss of on demand and recording functionality, along with the annoyance of having to flick around to jump between DTT and Virgin Media, is a disincentive.

This seems to be the result of an ongoing dispute between Virgin Media and ITV going back months. Last year, the Telegraph reported that ITV wanted between £45m and £80m in retransmission fees following a change in the law.

In April last year, the 2017 Digital Economy Act came into law, and it allowed for retransmission fees from cable operators – but notably, not satellite. Fees paid to broadcasters for otherwise free-to-air channels are the norm in the US, but hadn’t been the case in the UK. Indeed, broadcasters tended to have to pay platforms to ensure their services were covered.

This had become something of a bone of contention among commercial broadcasters, and ITV has been moving ahead most strongly.

As well as fees, prominence in the EPG and how catch-up offerings are presented are likely to form part of the negotiations. (As an aside, I note that Sky has recently been giving significant promotion to BBC programming, something it has not previously done on a regular basis).

The fees issue with UKTV and retransmission fees issue with ITV suggests that Virgin Media, under owners Liberty Global, is playing a really tough game at the moment, beating down channel suppliers as much as possible.

Losing ITV as well as UKTV could be a massive challenge for Virgin Media. I would imagine that groups like Sky and BT TV will be moving up their summer advertising campaigns (usually built around the upcoming football season) as a result.

[UPDATE] – It’s really worth listening to Virgin Media and UKTV slug it out on-air in this week’s episode of The Media Show. Both sides make their case, with Virgin Media very happy to carry the free-to-air channels for no money. UKTV want to sell them the entire package of channels – free and paid for. From their perspective, Virgin Media charges viewers to receive the channels, so they should get some subscriber money.

There was no mention of plans to sell off UKTV’s slot numbers. Nor was there any mention of ITV’s dispute, although that only really re-emerged following the programme’s recording.

Virgin Media and UKTV

We seem to be in the middle of a real old-school rights agreement brouhaha at the moment. Virgin Media has just removed all UKTV’s channels from its platform after what we must assume was a lengthy period where the two parties failed to meet terms.

UKTV is 50% owned by the BBC, and 50% owned by Discovery (following Discovery’s recent completion of its acquisition of Scripps). And UKTV is pretty successful. It has trodden the line of being both a pay-TV and free-to-air operator very carefully. It has a total of eight channels: W, Dave, Alibi, Gold, Eden, Drama, Really, Good Food, Yesterday and Home. Of those, five are also available on free-to-air platforms like Freeview and Freesat. The remaining channels, including Gold, Alibi and W are only available on pay platforms.

When the entity that would become UKTV was first set-up, it was heavily reliant on licencing repeats of notably BBC programming. But in recent years, it has made a lot of headway commissioning its own exclusive programming, and acquiring exclusive programming, or contributing to production budgets of international programming. That mix has seen it deliver strong ratings and revenues.

According to BARB, over the first few months of this year, it has average between 5.0% and 5.5% of viewing, placing it sixth behind the BBC, ITV, C4, Sky and 5 groups of channels. The biggest channels are Drama and Dave, which each get about 1% of viewing. To put that in perspective, it usually makes them bigger than any of Sky’s own channels including Sky 1 or Sky Living.

So why is there is a fight with Virgin Media? Well it’s cash. Who knows what Virgin Media pays for UKTV’s channel bundle, but it’ll be a handful of pounds a month per subscriber. From press reports, Virgin Media is seeking a steep discount on what it has been paying and UKTV isn’t happy.

Virgin Media’s key argument is that UKTV isn’t able to offer on demand rights to much of their programming.

This is true. The BBC does place limits on what programming can go onto the UKTV Play platform. That’s because the BBC is also selling those rights to streamers like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. However, that doesn’t mean that UKTV play only carries their original programming or their acquisitions. You will find BBC programming on the platform. At time of writing, they have episodes of Sherlock, Silent Witness and Waking the Dead available to stream. However, there do seem to be limitations on what can appear in box sets. And obviously, UKTV’s own programming can stay available for much longer.

(Incidentally, this isn’t a situation unique to the UKTV/BBC agreement. Sky/Now TV sees HBO programming come and go in various windows. Game of Thrones will be there for a while; then it will drop off, perhaps coming back later in the year.)

However Virgin Media complaining is unlikely to change the BBC’s position. BBC Studios who maintains the stake in UKTV and also monetises programming on other platforms, is unlikely to budge just because Virgin Media would like it to.

In the short term, viewers lose out. Virgin Media is hoping that while it’ll lose some subscribers, they save money in the longer term. Their so-called replacements are, of course, nothing of the sort. And Sky will no doubt enjoy signing up a few new subscribers.

But this is a dangerous game. Channels like Dave and Drama are popular, and viewers will get upset. While those two are available on Freeview, others like Alibi and Gold aren’t. Some die-hard crime TV fans may indeed up and switch platforms. UKTV is an oddly powerful platform to have a falling out with. Perhaps they were pushing their luck with increased fees to support their continued investment in new programming. We may never know.

I suspect in due course, sense will prevail and a new agreement will be met. Recall that when Discovery and Sky had a big falling out about 18 months ago, it was resolved only at the 11th hour.

Radio is Fastest

If you wanted to know what was happening in Moscow as fast as possible last night, your best bet was the radio.

I’ve mentioned before that when a big fixture goes to penalties, I always listen on the radio, because I get the news first. More regularly, if there’s a match that’s both being covered by Five Live and Sky TV, I might have the TV switched on in my lounge, but the radio on in my kitchen. If I hear a goal described on the radio, I know that I can take my time strolling into my lounge to see the goal scored.

This was beautifully illustrated in a Tweet that showed some Brazilian fans watching a game on a big screen, with one fan listening to the radio:

During the England semi-final, at a point of tension, I decided to see what got me news from Russia fastest. Here are my non-scientific findings in order:

Fastest to Slowest

BBC Radio Five Live AM

— ~0.2 seconds ahead of —

BBC Radio Five Live DAB

— ~5 seconds ahead of —

ITV Freeview SD
ITV Freeview HD
ITV Sky HD

(All TV roughly the same)

I didn’t bother with streams because they introduce too many variables based on the technology I’m using, the internet speeds I have, and so on. But I do know that UHD is especially slower than other streaming options. I also noted earlier in the tournament that BBC’s VR experiment delivered video faster than regular iPlayer! (I was, however, completely underwhelmed by the VR experience)

Note that I can’t accurately measure the time because I comparing things I can see myself with things that are being described by a commentator. In other words, radio is perhaps even further ahead than I’m estimating here, since the radio commentator has had to see and describe something before I hear it. On TV, I can simply see the net bulge with a goal.

What’s more, I’m told that AM is deliberately delayed by about a second – perhaps to keep it closer in sync with DAB.

I suspect that the overall delay is closer to 10 seconds for events happening in a stadium and me seeing them on a television. There will be uplinks and downlinks from the venue to the broadcast centre, then more from the broadcast centre to the UK broadcaster’s playout systems. Then that signal too is probably propagated by satellite to many transmitters and direct-to-home satellites. Each satellite “hop” might take 250 milliseconds, and then there encoding and decoding delays to account for. Finally a broadcaster may deliberately introduce a delay to ensure that they can cut the picture in case something happens that they don’t want to show (the equivalent of the “dump” button in many radio studios).

All of this shows that if you want to know what’s happening fastest, radio gets there first.