Things Annoying Me Right Now

  • People labelling their Tweets “Breaking” before highlighting a story they believe is more important than others.
  • People you generally respect getting so annoyed that a news organisation doesn’t reflect their personal choices, that the news organisation is suddenly worthless.
  • Left-leaning British commentators weighing in pointlessly against right-leaning US gun advocates on Twitter. It’s not that I disagree with those commentators about gun control. Obviously I completely agree. But we’re talking about a people that did precisely nothing when 20 six and seven year olds were shot, and then did precisely nothing else when another 58 people were murdered and another 851 were injured at a music festival. And that’s aside from the thousands more who die needlessly on an ongoing basis. But outrage on Twitter can feel like King Canute trying to turn back the tide. A different approach is needed. Sadly, I don’t know what that approach is.
  • That politicians fear their own parties so much, they can’t actually say what they genuinely believe.

Mostly I’m annoyed at the entrenchment in all kinds of political discourse everywhere. From factions within the Tory party over Brexit, to the ability of Northern Ireland to form a government, and yes, for the ability of US politicians to reign in gun violence in any way whatsoever.

I don’t think it’s completely the fault of social media, or the internet in general, but political discourse and the idea that there might be some middle ground between two entrenched viewpoints seems to have diminished. And that’s bad for society.

Premier League Rights Update

Yesterday evening came news that the bulk of the Premier League packages for 2019-2022 have been sold to the incumbents, Sky and BT. But revenues are actually down this time around.

Sky is paying less than it was previously for a package of 128 matches across the year, both in overall terms, and in the price per game that it pays. Indeed it has a handful more games this time around despite paying less. But that still gets it all the first picks and many of the second ones, and it includes the new Saturday night kick off package.

BT is also paying a little less for the package it currently does for the Saturday lunchtime games, although there are fewer of them this time around which means the price per game goes up.

Overall, with two rights packages still be finalised, total revenues are £4.464bn compared with a final figure of £5.1bn last time around.

The final two packages are still to be determined, with the Premier League saying that there are “multiple” bidders – for which I read that as meaning more than one.

BT is certainly one of these, and it’s conceivable that Amazon would be the other. There’s no real value in Sky buying more – it has enough to persuade subscribers of the value of its package.

But there is a massive problem with these packages, and I’m still really unclear about how the Premier League formulated them.

One package is made up of Bank Holiday fixtures, and a complete midweek round of the Premier League, while the other contains two complete rounds of the Premier League.

Those complete rounds are surely problematical for any bidder? As I said previously, the winning broadcaster gets only two real bites of the cherry for each round of the Premier League. That assumes that matches are split across a Tuesday and Wednesday. So whoever buys the rights has a very limited window to monetise them. The package that includes Bank Holiday games is a little more attractive, since they’re spread out. But the value per game to broadcasters has to be substantially lower than for any other package.

But I wonder if the real reason that these have not been sold yet is because broadcasters are valuing them lower than Premier League does? The Premier League does set a reserve. That’s precisely what the FT is reporting (£) based on its sources.

It’s still possible that Amazon would come in and buy a package:

“Buy a Fire TV stick this Christmas and get free access to Boxing Day football – only with Amazon.”

But digital rights holders would also want to spread those games out across a longer period, and ideally want global rights, not just UK rights.

There’s no way that the final packages raising anything close to the £600m or so that would at least equal what the Premier League achieved last time around.

Unquestionably, these two package were badly formulated by the Premier League. They somehow believed that they would attract digital players who would hand over their hundreds of millions unquestionably, without weighing up the true value of the opportunity. And that hasn’t happened.

Shutting Down AM

Today, Ofcom published a short consultation based on a request from Absolute Radio to shut down a number of AM transmitters and reduce the power on some others.

In essence the request, which I confidently expect to be quickly agreed to, has three main details:

  • They want to close down completely 12 AM sites, and reduce the power of another 5 transmitters, leaving 20 transmitters in total.
  • These closures and reductions in power will see national AM coverage fall from 90.5% of the population to 85.4% of the population.
  • This would save Bauer Radio, Absolute’s owners, just over 50% of their costs.

So for a relatively small reduction in coverage, Bauer saves a lot of money for a service that is largely also available in one or more of DAB, FM, digital television or the internet in all the affected locations. I think it’s only fair to note that there are FM alternatives wherever the BBC is shutting down an AM station. But the point is still valid, especially with regards to music stations.

Bauer points out that the BBC has been shutting down a number of AM transmitters across its local radio network, and that AM music listening in particular is in massive decline.

This all seems eminently sensible to me. Indeed there’s a fairly incendiary line in Ofcom’s consultation:

“Absolute Radio has made these proposals in the context of declining listening to AM radio and increasing transmission costs and noted that, if it is not able to make these changes, it may have to consider shutting down Absolute Radio’s entire AM network and surrendering its national licence.” [My emphasis]

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that when I was previously employed by Absolute Radio, I too looked very closely at the AM transmitter issue, and we were also very close to shutting down the AM network and handing back the national licence.

While that might seem dramatic, in reality the business is driven by digital and FM. At the time FM was only in London, but Bauer switched its West Midlands licence to FM as well. And it had always been in the interests of first Virgin and later Absolute to transition its listeners to DAB as quickly as possible.

For me, the larger question is whether the entire AM network shouldn’t be shut down, allowing Bauer to make savings of those other 50% of AM costs?

Lots of stations are on lots of platforms, but there is a cost to every additional platform a station goes on, and most stations will try to break down those costs to come up with some kind of cost per listener-hour by platform.
For the average local station, for example, FM is relatively cheap. In many cases it’s a single transmitter somewhere on a hill, and the kit and running costs are relatively. For any transmitter you also have to factor in electricity costs, and these are also relatively low for FM.

AM transmitters require vastly more power, and the costs can be significant. DAB is relatively cost efficient, but it usually requires more sites than FM, with the advantage that digital transmission lets you “fill in” gaps without causing interference. You can’t do that with AM or FM, hence secondary analogue transmitters have to be on different frequencies.

It’s not always easy to figure out those costs per listener-hour since RAJAR doesn’t break things down to quite a low enough level. For example, if you broadcast on both AM and FM, RAJAR can’t really differentiate beyond making assumptions using geography. Similarly, there are several TV platforms (Freeview, Freesat, Sky, Virgin Media etc), but RAJAR just reports “Digital Television” in general. If your favourite station isn’t on your preferred TV platform, it might well be because the station can’t really work out whether it’s worth going onto that platform.

Returning to AM, and Absolute in particular, there are some interesting things in the consultation document. The sites that are proposed to be closed are largely in rural areas, those close to FM coverage, or those with high DAB penetration. Obviously Bauer has done a fair bit of analysis to come up with this list.

They estimate that 19,000 current listeners on AM will lose access to the AM signal following these changes. A small cost in listeners compared to monetary savings.

Ofcom notes that this represents 4% of the total AM audience of 472,000. But I think that Ofcom’s figure is slightly misleading, and it’s to do with the way that RAJAR is measured.

I would hypothesise that the actual number of AM listeners is much lower than this for a few reasons:

  • All local London stations, including Absolute Radio, report with a common London transmission area (TSA). Think of the area as essentially being that encompassed by the M25. But anyone who lives just outside the area knows that FM signals actually reach much further than that. It’s possible to just about listen to a London FM station all the way to Swindon as you drive down the M4. So an Absolute Radio listener, somewhere in the commuter belt around London, who listens on an FM radio, has to tick the FM/AM box in a RAJAR diary. And from a reporting perspective, they’ll be thought of as an AM listener. (You might ask why London stations don’t change their TSAs to accurately reflect their coverage, but these things are complicated – all the more so with the fact that London FM stations all use the same TSA to make it easier for London advertising agencies to reach the valuable audience. Outside of London, stations are far more likelier to fine tune their TSAs according to actual geography.)
  • RAJAR determines your listening dependent on where you live. That’s fine in areas where people don’t travel too far to work. But think of someone who lives in, say, Cambridge and commutes into London. If they listen to Absolute on an FM radio all day at work, analysis of their RAJAR data will that listening must be AM because of where they live. You might think this is an edge case, but London has a substantial commuter belt with hundreds of thousands coming into Greater London daily.
  • There will be similar, if less extreme, patterns around the West Midlands.
  • Finally, we know that respondents aren’t necessarily fantastic at filling out RAJAR diaries correctly, and while there are lots of checks to ensure that platforms are correctly recorded, I strongly believe that some listening recorded as AM/FM should actually be recorded as DAB. Most people don’t think about radio transmission formats as much as the average reader of this blog!

When you take into account all of that, I think you could substantially reduce the number of true AM listeners that Ofcom suggests Absolute has. Indeed it’s notable that Bauer doesn’t make this claim itself.

That’s not to say that these closures and reductions won’t have any affect. In rural areas, particularly those with lots of hills, AM (and LW) signals are about the only ones that get through. While the DAB has been built out to reach a large part of the population, there are still pockets with either only the BBC DAB multiplex or perhaps no DAB coverage at all. While satellite TV can fill in the gap at home, that’s not much use if you’re in a vehicle – especially one without DAB.

So turning off the AM network entirely would lose some listeners. But I suspect that it’s far fewer than the RAJAR numbers Ofcom suggests.

Finally, if Absolute was to hand back its AM licence, what would that mean? Well probably not a great deal for the station. It would continue on DAB and all the other platforms. It wouldn’t affect its FM listening in London or the West Midlands. Those are entirely separate licences.

But I believe that Ofcom would have to re-advertise the licence. I think primary legislation would require them to, whether or not they really wanted to. And I suspect that there would be a taker or two. The most obvious would be a Christian station – they often crowdfund their running costs. But there are others who would have a look.

This wouldn’t be a cheap option. Those electricity costs alone are significant. And it’s true that having that licence does allow the owner to get onto the D1 national DAB multiplex. That might be problematical in itself, since the mux is basically full!

And then there are the kit costs. One of the reasons Bauer gives for shutting down many of these transmitters is that the transmission kit is now very old. It dates from BBC ownership prior to the launch of independent national commercial radio, when those frequencies belonged to Radio 3. Replacing that kit is going to cost money, and it seems like an odd investment to be making in 2018.

By the way, have you actually tried to buy an AM radio recently? It’s not that easy…

RAJAR Q4 2017

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.

49.9%, hey?

49.9%.

That’s the percentage of listening that is now digital. So very close to 50%, but just not quite. But I’ll come back to that shortly.

These are a few thoughts on the final RAJAR results for 2017 that are now in, representing the period up to and including 18th December 2017.

Overall radio listening remains at 90% of the UK population listening at least once a week, listening for over a billion hours cumulatively. Those listening hours are down a small amount however, falling 0.9% on the year.

For the record, the mean age of a radio listener is 48 (up from 47) a year ago. But averages are something of a brute instrument to measure listening, particularly when you consider that the population is ageing.

A more useful measure is to look at the number of hours age groups listen to over time. The chart below compares listening by age demo over the last five years, comparing similar quarters.

In general terms the story isn’t too bad, with the notable exception of 15-24s for whom there is a clear downward trend. The reach for this demographic is down to 80.3%, the lowest it has ever been. This is a “problem” group for radio.

Earlier this evening I attended an interesting event organised by the research and analysis company MIDiA, exploring radio in a streaming world. One of the metrics they talked about was the number of listening events people have during the week. While MIDiA’s research compares radio to streaming services which isn’t something that RAJAR allows, RAJAR does let you explore what’s happening with listening events.

This chart is another good way to explain things.

What it shows is the number of different listening events someone has in the course of a week. While a given listening event might be just a few minutes, or conversely many hours, the number of times someone turns to the radio is a decent indicator about how radio is doing as a medium in someone’s life.

I’ve just compared 15-24s with all adults in the above chart, and you can quickly see that there is a decline in the number of times the average 15-24 year old turns on the radio over a relatively short period of time. It’s now less than twice a day. The all adult number is steadier, but the key here is to make it easier for that number to be bumped up, and that will be the challenge radio has to face up to. Can smart speakers introduce more listening events?

But let’s get back to that digital listening figure, as it’s incredibly close to the point whereby half of all listening is through a digital platform.

49.9% is clearly the highest amount of digital listening we’ve yet seen, and I would confidently expect the 50% figure to be breached as soon as next quarter, in the main because I think we’re about see significant growth in radio listening via smart speakers.

Google reported selling 6m speakers globally between October and December, many of them heavily discounted. Amazon doesn’t give out numbers, but reported that the Echo was the biggest selling item on its site over Christmas.

A lot of speakers were sold, and these make very convenient voice controlled radios.

That’s why I think we’ll get to 50% digital listening as soon as the next quarter. But it is also true that these speakers make listening to services like Spotify also much easier. So there’s give and take there.

(It’s worth noting that I’m absolutely not going to round 49.9% up to 50% because we’ve been looking at this number closely for years, and always reporting it to the nearest .1%. To round up now would be wrong and somewhat misleading.)

What I’m not saying is that a great deal will happen very quickly once the 50% mark is breached. While theoretically allows processes to begin for an analogue to digital switchover for radio, I just don’t see that happening very soon. Generally speaking other things are using up lots of Parliamentary time at the moment. Similarly, I suspect that recently announced radio deregulation will take longer than many might hope, because there just isn’t time to fit in the primary legislation required to do anything.

If you dig a little further into the digital figures, then you find that commercial radio is ahead of the BBC in going digital. Commercial radio is 51.6% digital compared with BBC radio at 48.3%. This isn’t too surprising when you consider that BBC radio is generally older than commercial radio – the average of a listener is 50 v 45 for commercial radio. The older you are, the less likely you are to have switched to digital.

National and Digital

Radio 1 had a good quarter this time around, climbing to over 9.8m in reach, representing growth on both the previous quarter and year. Hours spent listening climbed too. The only very slight downside is that the average age of the audience crept up very slightly to 36. But I do think it’s harder to break music listening into age groups as much as would have been the case in the past. Nick Grimshaw also had his best performance at breakfast since Q3 2015, with 5.7m listeners.

Radio 2’s results were decent as well, with reach up 0.8% on the quarter and 2.9% on the year. While hours were up a very healthy 3.6% and 4.5% respectively. 190m listening hours is a new record for Radio 2, and represents 18.3% of all UK radio listening.

Radio 3 was down fractionally in reach on the quarter, but more so on the year. It was a similar picture in terms of hours, but it’s worth noting that Q4 2016 for Radio 3 was something of a freak result, particularly in terms of hours. Radio 3 also had some schedule changes take place during this quarter.

Radio 4 is fractionally up in reach on the quarter and fractionally down on the year. Hours are down 0.8% on the quarter, and a much more significant 8.1% down on the year. But of course, Q4 2016 was a US Presidential election quarter!

Radio 4 Extra reported some record figures being healthily up in reach and hours on both the previous quarter and previous year. It reached 2.26m reach and 13.3m hours this time around.

Five Live had quite a decent bounce from last quarter, up 7.6% in reach. That’s still 4.6% down on the previous year, but there’s a relatively new daytime schedule still bedding in, with some recent further tweaks that won’t yet have hit RAJAR.

Five Live Sports Extra had a small amount of Ashes commentaries in this quarter, although much of the Australian tour will come in Q1. What’s more, there was more summer sport in Q3, so this quarter saw sizeable falls.

6 Music didn’t have a record set of numbers! It was down a little in reach, although up on the quarter in hours. It ticks along very nicely.

Classic FM had a really good set of numbers, up 4.4% on the quarter in reach (up 5.7% on the year), and even greater gains in terms of hours.

Absolute Radio had a good set of numbers too, with reach up 10.9% on the quarter (up 5.9% on the year) and hours up 5.9% on the quarter (up 16.3% on the year). That represents easily the best reach the station has had since it rebranded as Absolute Radio back in 2008. Hours are also at a record level.

Talksport falls a little from last quarter in reach, down 2.2% on the quarter (down 4.8% on the year). More worryingly, hours fell 17.5% on the quarter (down 8.8%) on the year. The only thing I’d note is that there was quite a big swing last quarter, so some of this might be “correction.” The station is benefiting from News UK cross-promotions however, with regular ads to be found in both The Sun and The Times, but I wonder if it needs further refreshment?

It’s sister station Talksport 2 remains a little challenged, with reach down 9.1% on the quarter (but up 5.8% on the year) at 311,000. Hours are more stable, but there is still work to be done in establishing what the station really is – since it’s more than simply a spillover station as Five Live Sports Extra is.

The last few weeks have seen some big changes in the Talkradio line-up with some significant programming investment going into the station – not least signing up Eamonn Holmes, and moving Julia Hartley-Brewer to breakfast in place of Paul Ross. Of course, we’ll have to wait until next quarter to see the first fruits of these changes. In the meantime reach fell 5.5% on the quarter (down 4.0% on the year), while hours rose 6.9% on the quarter (and more than doubled on the year).

The Absolute Radio Network had a great set of figures, closing in on nearly 5m a week across the portfolio of services – a new record. The network was up 4.4% on the quarter (up 3.7% on the year), while hours were up 2.9% on the quarter (up 2.7% on the year). The main Absolute Radio service was the best performer, but it’s notable that Absolute Radio 90s has just won “promotion” to the national D1 multiplex. It’s interesting that Bauer chose not to shuffle the deck a bit and put Absolute 80s back on D1, and put 90s on D2 which has lower coverage. Absolute 80s launched in 2009, and we are now nearly ten years on. Does that mean that 90s is the new 80s, and 80s is in fact what we’d have previously called a “gold” format?

I tend to think that Absolute is being quite smart making a play for 90s, as demographics mean that those in their 30s-40s today grew up with 90s music in their teenage years.

As for Absolute 80s? Well it’s battling on with Heart 80s, and while it’s still ahead, things are getting tight. Recall that Heart 80s has the better D1 coverage.

Absolute 80s fell 3.8% in reach on the quarter (down 3.6% on the year), to 1.47m. Hours fell more down 12.6% on the quarter (down nearly 27% on the year) to 6.4m.

Heart 80s is still on a few months old, but it grew 7.4% in reach to 1.17m, while hours grew 25.3m to 6.1m. That means that the station is on course to overtake Absolute 80s in terms of listening perhaps as soon as next quarter. We’ll have to wait and see about reach.

That raises some interesting questions about loyalty. It turns out that only 200,000 people listen to both stations, suggesting that there’s more than simply having “80s” in your station name. But Heart does seem to be persuading people to make the switch.

Returning to Absolute Radio for a moment, the big question there must be who replaces Christian O’Connell who has recently announced that he will be moving to Australia to take up a new challenge in Melbourne. His reach of 2.1m is second only to Rickie, Melvin and Charlie on Kiss in the commercial radio world, and he’s going to be a tough act to follow. The obvious choice would be Dave Berry who looks to have quickly settled in at Drive on Absolute. But changes in breakfast presenters are always tricky times.

Elsewhere in Bauer, the Magic Network performed well with both reach and hours up. The 3.9m reach of the network is a new record for them. The main Magic station is also doing well.

Kiss is largely speaking flat on the quarter with only small changes, although it’s up on the year. Kisstory is down in reach and hours on the quarter, but it up on the year. Kiss Fresh starts from a lower based, but it up in reach and hours both on the quarter and the year.

Over with Global, the Heart Network saw some falls, with reach down 5.1% on the quarter (down 8.3% on the year), while hours fell 2.9% on the quarter (down 10.2% on the year). There’s a similar story with the Heart Brand which incorporates more than the main network. In London, there’s certainly been some marketing activity recently – I noticed that some of the current bus ads have actually put the FM frequency on them, something that many radio brand ads have shied away from in recent years. But I can’t definitively pinpoint what marketing was done in this quarter nationally.

Capital too has a current marketing campaign underway, in London at least, where they are still trying to bed in Roman Kemp on their breakfast show. Nationally, as with Heart, the network is down a bit, with reach down 4.1% on the quarter (down 4.5% on the year), while hours fell 7.5% on the quarter (down 5.0% on the year).

Radio X is doing well nationally with its best ever figures. Reach is up 3.7% on the quarter (and up a massive 26% on the year), while it’s also up 11.7% on the quarter (and up 26% on the year). Global has invested heavily here, and it looks to be beginning to pay off for them.

LBC is down a little on the quarter, but still up nearly 20% in reach on the year. It seems to have settled at just over 2m listeners a week nationally.

Overall commercial radio fell from 45.3% of all radio listening last quarter to 44.2% of listening this quarter. (It’s still up from last year’s 43.9% however).

On the other hand BBC radio grew from 52.1% of listening to 52.8% of listening this quarter. However it was at 53.5% this time last year.

London

As ever, London sees a certain amount of movement. Things are tight amongst the commercial stations with Capital London just pipping Kiss for the biggest audience in terms of reach.

Capital was down fractionally to 2.1m (although up nearly 22% on the year), while Kiss had a big 8.2% jump to 2.0m reach (up 8.8% on the year).

The tables are turned in terms of listening time however, with Kiss coming out ahead of Capital. Kiss actually saw a fall of 7.2% on the quarter (and a rise of 13.5% on the year), showing just how changeable the London marketplace is. On the other hand Capital’s hours fell more, down 9.2% on the quarter (but up 28% on the year!).

However, LBC still owns the commercial listening crown in London despite also seeing a fall in hours of 7.6% (down 1.6% on the year). Reach was nicely up 9.5% on the quarter (up 15.2% on the year) to 1.2m.

Absolute Radio had a decent reach result in London, up 5.0% on the quarter (up 22% on the year), although hours were down nearly 21% on the quarter (up 22% on the year).

The other station to note in London is Radio X, with its strongest London performance since it rebranded from Xfm. Reach grew 6.5% on the quarter (up 18% on the year), while hours jumped 31% on the quarter (up 12% on the year).

Finally BBC London had a good quarter, increasing 26% in reach on the quarter (and 60% on the year), while hours were up 59% on the quarter (and 99% on the year). It has to be said that BBC London’s figures have been all over the place in recent quarters, hence some of those gains. But reach is in line with recent quarters even if hours seem remarkably high.

Overall those BBC London figures contributed towards a better quarter for the BBC in London than commercial radio. While commercial radio is still ahead of the BBC with 50.3% listening in the capital, it has fallen back from 54.7% last quarter. However it’s still better for commercial than a year ago when the BBC had a rare victory in London.

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 [probably*] 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 18 December 2017, 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 day RAJAR comes out probably isn’t the best time to go for a meal and still leave yourself time to write up what’s happening!

No Sense of an Ending

Warning: This piece contains spoilers for the 2014 series Amber, 2014 series The Missing and 2018 series Kiri.

There has been a trend in recent years for drama series to give is slightly more nuanced endings than we have sometimes expected. Perhaps all the questions haven’t been answered. Perhaps its unclear by the end, which characters have behaved in a honourable fashion. We’ve had heroes. We’ve had anti-heroes.

And then there are series where the story just isn’t neatly wrapped up. Sometimes that might because the way the show was produced meant it wasn’t possible (e.g. Lost – where writers needing to write 20 episodes a year neither kept track nor really cared if there wasn’t an ending that made sense), or because the writer wanted to leave things that way.

We know that real life doesn’t come neatly packaged up. A terrible murder is committed, but the police never catch the killer. Years after someone is convicted, evidence shows a wrongful conviction and someone is freed. (How many other wrongful convictions are there?)

A good example of this would be the RTÉ 4-part series Amber. I saw it when it was broadcast on BBC Four in the UK. It follows the story of a young teenager who has gone missing. We saw the story over an extended period of time, starting in the immediate hours and days, and then running into weeks and months after the disappearance. In the end, we never truly discovered what happened to the girl. And that’s probably realistic in many cases of disappearance. Did the person run away? Were they murdered? Who knows.

BBC One’s The Missing also entered similar territory, again leaving us with no satisfying conclusion after eight hours of television.

It’s certainly brave television making. Audiences tend to expect murder series to resolve the key plot points – who murdered who and why. Ideally they also want to see the murderer caught.

I want my television to make demands of me. I know that murderers aren’t all caught, and missing people aren’t always found. There are miscarriages of justice, and there are cases of poor policing.

But that doesn’t really excuse not providing an ending of any kind after I’ve made an investment in a series. Jack Thorne’s Kiri is a case in point. The series is about the disappearance and murder of a young girl. She’s a black child living with white foster parents, but has let the child visit her birth grandparents where the child is able to meet her birth father despite the social worker believing the parent and grandparent to be estranged.

When the child is reported missing and then is found dead, suspicion falls on the father, who has been found guilty of neglect and other drug offences. He runs away, but is persuaded to hand himself in, and due process is then followed.

The tale is tragic on many levels, since a “good” social worker loses her job, the father is revealed not to have been the murderer and true murderer – the foster father – is never caught by the police, his family covering up his heinous crime.

The whole piece is immaculately acted by a strong cast, and the direction gives a good sense of setting around Bristol. This is a classy piece of work. It also examines race, class, social workers and the police. And the story is pacily told. This might be four hours of drama, but it never sits still. The dialogue is authentic and its genuinely a lean piece.

And yet, it didn’t have an ending that could be called in any way satisfying. As the true details of events were slowly released to us as viewers, we obviously rooted for the police to capture the true murderer, and yet as the clock ticked on towards 10pm in the final episode, it was clear that this wasn’t going to happen.

OK. So the murderer gets off. What about the innocent father? Things aren’t looking good for him, despite evidence existing that showed that the foster mother lied to police to put the blame squarely on him. Well we never find out, because the last we see of him is showing up at court.

Is he found guilty? We don’t know.

Does the foster mother, who has had the truth heavily hinted at by her oddball son, leave her murderous husband? We don’t know.

Does the son who knows everything, tell anyone what he knows? We don’t know.

I think it was the fact that we weren’t told the outcome to the trial that really annoys me. Of course life isn’t neatly wrapped up. But there is a court case, and we surely deserve the right to learn what happened. If the series was true to form, the birth father would have been wrongly found guilty, but even that we viewers were denied.

This just left me generally nonplussed by the entire story. While this wasn’t a police procedural, and a series of pat solutions would have been wrong, I just feel that the story really had no ending at all.

The Tabloid Guardian

It has now been over a week since The Guardian, and sister paper The Observer, both rebranded. Perhaps more saliently, they also reshaped themselves, moving from the unique “Berliner” format to a tabloid.

Now in some respects I feel unusual these days in still buying a physical printed paper.

“It’s all online.”

“You can get it free.”

“Why do you pay for it?”

These are some of the responses you get when people see you with a newspaper.

It’s true that my station has a well-stocked bin of Metros in the morning, and I can easily pick up an Evening Standard on the way home. That’s before you consider editions of Time Out, NME, Stylist, Shortlist or a load more freebies in central London.

I have a phone and a tablet, so I can get the news on that.

And it’s also true that sometimes when I get to the paper, even in the morning, I find I’ve already read the article on line the day before. Sometimes with arts material it can be several days before (The Guardian seem to put its book coverage up around Thursday ahead of the Saturday “Review” supplement).

But printed papers are great for lots of reasons. You can get them all over the place, and you can read them anywhere. They don’t go flat, and they (can) have powerful design.

There’s also the editorial nourishment. When presented with a digital list of stories, we tend to click on the things we’re interested in. Actually these days, we probably don’t even go to a homepage (although with Facebook’s recent announcement about downplaying news in people’s feeds, we may see a greater importance of these), but tend to get to stories via links shared in social media.

I buy The Guardian because it has strong editorial. Much of the news in free newspapers is bland agency copy. Metro is never going to invest in major investigations like The Paradise Papers for example.

A week in, my first impressions of the paper is that it looks an awful lot like The Independent did once it had gone tabloid. Not so much in content as in style. It seems slightly harder to differentiate papers in a tabloid world than it is in a broadsheet one.

The new version of the paper has obviously had a major redesign, beyond simply shrinking the paper, with a new masthead and new fonts. The Guardian has always been more likely to go through redesigns than other papers. When The Times went tabloid, it was more about how they could continue to use the same fonts and stylistic devices in the “compact” format.

The Telegraph has not really had a major redesign at all. With the FT, it is now alone as a broadsheet (The Sunday Times notwithstanding). Of course, it is a hollow remnant of what it once was – a bit like one of those new-builds where they’re required to keep the front facade.

There’s a strapline above the masthead on the first day said that the paper had two pullout sections. Originally I thought that these might be G2 and Sport as previously. But Sport has returned to the back of the paper, which is probably a good place for it to be, since in truth, some days it really felt as though it was being padded out to fill even 8 pages.

G2 is a pullout as before, but the second pullout is Journal – essentially the opinion parts of the middle of the paper, alongside obituaries, and the puzzles that used to form the back of the main Berliner section of the paper. Indeed the back pages of both pullout sections contain puzzles now.

Having Journal as a pullout does mean that one of my favourite features of the Berliner format paper has been retained – Eyewitness, which acts as a double-page spread for a featured photo.

Seeing photos printed big is another reason that printed newspapers remain superior.

The new tabloid Guardian is now printed by Mirror Group presses – part of the cost savings that the shrinking of the paper is designed to help with. I was a little worried that the printing quality might deteriorate, but in fact it’s perfectly fine.

I’m less certain about the new masthead’s design, but as with previous iterations, it’ll no doubt grow on me. All lowercase does feel very “90s”, and the return to proper capitalisation is to be admired. But the change of font, masthead, paper size and overall design means that everything has changed at once. This isn’t a half-hearted measure.

What you can’t help noticing is the number of advertisements in the paper – or lack of them.

Print advertising continues to decline across the industry as digital advertising cleans up. While I think print always did well, over-achieving for its readership, advertising was and remains a vital part of the mix for a publisher, and those advertising declines must hurt.

Diamond Geezer notes that fewer “newsagents” carry print at all, becoming convenience stores rather than purveyors of printed material.

In fact, I don’t think lack of access is the real killer for newspapers, but it almost certainly is for magazines. Newsagents carry ever diminishing ranges of magazines, meaning that if you don’t subscribe to a title, you may struggle to find it on any shelf space anywhere. Even W H Smith, the last bastion of magazines in the High Street, seems to allocate less space to them. (W H Smith is a bit of a basket case anyway, not knowing really what it wants to be. Only the travel branches in stations and airports seem to have got the mix right, even if they wildly overcharge for confectionery)

Friday’s paper is always a late week highlight since it carries film and music reviews. The revamped G2 still carries these but somehow there feel, at least in the first week, to be fewer of them. Not so much films as music. Previously you could expect perhaps a couple of pages of pop/rock reviews and then a page of other music including classical, jazz and, well, non-pop music.

There seems less of that now, and I’m going to miss that. I still like reading printed music reviews, and while I know that I can find music blogs to help, they often feel like they serve certain niches. I want to read about a folk release alongside the big mainstream pop release, and a new classical album.

Saturday’s Guardian was always my favourite day of the week, even if I shed certain sections as quickly as I could. I barely ever opened the Family section, while the Travel section would only grab my attention if there was somewhere I was interested about on the cover. The Cook section would always get recycled unread. I’d flick through the magazine, and get stuck into The Guide. But key for me were a chunky main section, a good sport supplement and most important of all, the Review section.

The new-look paper has been rejigged a bit. Cook becomes Feast and is printed on higher quality paper. They expect people to hang onto these as they’re even selling boxes to collect them in! I must admit that it does look good, and they’ve poached Grace Dent as their restaurant critic, and she’s always worth a read.

The Guide is broadly speaking the same, although sadly it seems that David Hepworth’s radio column has bitten the dust. (It feels there are barely any radio critics left. Gillian Reynolds has just left the Telegraph after 42 years, although she’s apparently taking over Paul Donovan’s position at The Sunday Times, even though she’s 82! There’s also Miranda Sawyer at The Observer, who now covers podcasts as much as radio, if not more. Is there now actually anyone else?)

Sport is still in place, and the main section of the paper seems to be broadly unchanged. None of the features I liked to read seem to have gone anywhere.

And I’m especially pleased that although the Review section has had a massive redesign, it’s importance remains. It’s now printed on high quality paper and although it too may have slimmed a tiny amount, it treats its subject properly and is probably the best newspaper book section.

The Observer also has a new masthead, making it clear that it’s the Sunday edition of The Guardian rather than a separate entity. The main section stays largely in place, while sport is as good as ever, even if it has an unhealthily skewed belief in the importance of rugby union. The New Review is largely as it was before, just rejigged and resized. And the magazine remains largely unchanged, in that I rarely even bother to open it up (although it does at least review the odd bicycle alongside cars in their transport bit).

Also notable in the rebranding has been putting the new branding into all The Guardian’s various digital assets. That seemed to happen very smoothly even though you know it must have been a complex procedure.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with things. I’d like the new font to be a little more different to those used by The Times and The Independent (when it was still being published), and it’ll be interesting to see if they ever succumb to the temptation The Indie had to keep using the front page to cover single issues.

(As a sidenote, I saw The Post last weekend, the new Steven Spielberg film starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, covering the story of The Washington Post and the publication of the Pentagon Papers. What remains amazing to me, and is largely still the case today in the US with the New York Times and The Washington Post, is that even when you’re breaking the biggest story in a generation, the story shares the front page with a lot of other stories. Even today, that remains the case.)

What’s really key about all of this is that the paper stays on track in reducing its losses and gets to a break-even point so that the money in the coffers there to support the paper doesn’t run down.

Right Hooked – A Near Miss

A Ford Fiesta turns right oblivious of me being in a cycle lane along the right hand side of the road. This is known as a left-, or in this instance, right-hook. A near miss.

The road is Maple Street which, unusually, has a separated cycle lane along the right-hand side of the road rather than the left. I was well illuminated with two separate rear lights as well as a front light. The street was also well lit.

This was a pretty close call. As the driver went by I shouted in vain. He was wearing white iPhone-style headphones, and didn’t give me so much as a second glance. I don’t think he saw me at all.

Sadly, my cameras aren’t good enough to get a clear image of his licence plate, even putting some stills through Photoshop to improve them.

RAJAR MIDAS – Winter 2017 Results

There seems to have been a bit more noise made about this week’s release of RAJAR’s MIDAS data. Recent releases have perhaps appeared a little too closely to the main quarterly RAJAR release. MIDAS stands for “Measurement of Internet Delivered Audio Services” although it doe sa little more than this, particularly when comparing what platforms people are listening to.

The fieldwork for this data release was conducted in November 2017 and that’s important, because we know that bucket loads of connected speakers were sold at Christmas, with heavy discounting from the main players, Amazon and Google. It seems entirely possible that this will have some effect on overall listening behaviours down the line.

The publicly available MIDAS stats are available on the RAJAR website, although subscribers do have access to more detail. Nonetheless, there’s a lot to be looking at, and I’ve tried to add some trend data to the results, going back through previous releases. MIDAS data actually dates back some years, with publication of some that data beginning in 2014. However what is reported has changed over time, with different morsels served up each quarter to keep people interested. Over the last few years however, there has been a little more consistency allowing some trending.

In overall terms, it doesn’t look like a great deal is going on.

Here is the key Share of Audio chart, which breaks out how people listen to different forms of audio. (Hover over these charts with your mouse to see underlying data.)

Live radio is solidly consistent at around 75%, and everything else is far behind radio.

But zoom into the bottom of that first chart and have a closer look.

There is one line significantly on the rise there, and it has close to doubled since the start of 2015. On Demand Music streaming – aka Spotify and its ilk.

(NB. The numbers are all rounded, so 0% listening to vinyl is probably not quite true. It’s just less than 0.5% of all listening)

But the real story comes when you look at some of the sub-demos. I’ll just note that sub-demo data was only made available regularly from the end of 2016.

Here’s the chart for 15-24s:

There’s no need to zoom into the bottom of the chart for this one. Radio is going down. Digital tracks are going down. On Demand Streaming is rising. It has risen from 16% of listening at the start of 2017 to 28% by the year’s end.

As ever, the story for data like this is to be found in trends. In that context, the data for Winter 2016 seems like an outlier, and I’d be more inclined to look at the trend over the calendar year 2017.

Live radio looks set to fall to less than 50% of listening in 2018, and it’s not impossible that On Demand Streaming could overtake it in the next 2-3 years. That’s not completely certain of course, since not everyone in this demographic can afford to pay for premium services like Spotify. But there’s a free version, and family plans exist. Plus households with Amazon Prime get access to their bundled music offering. Plus there certainly doesn’t seem to be any sign of the growth slowing just yet. Radio brands targeting youth age groups take note.

Interestingly, there’s more CD and digital track listening amongst this group than there is among 25-34s. I would guess that this is a cost thing. Younger people with little money and perhaps no access to a streaming service (or the data plans that tend to be needed to listen on the go), are still relying on CDs and digital downloads.

For 25-34s, the story isn’t quite as extreme, and radio is still holding its own, if falling slightly. But again, On Demand Streaming services are rising over time and have become the second largest group, as listening to owned music declines. Also of note for this group is the fact that podcast listening is highest here, with 6% of overall listening is to podcasts. That’s ahead of CD listening for example.

As we get older, so radio becomes more dominant. On Demand Streaming isn’t so prevalent, although this feels like a ripe market for the providers to target, with much more ability to pay £10 a month for the service. CD and digital track ownership are very slightly decreasing, but at a much slower rate.

For the oldest listeners, radio is vastly the most significant form of audio, with only CDs and digital tracks being an alternative. They don’t listen to Spotify and they don’t listen to podcasts. Not yet anyway…

The other thing I’d take from all this data is that vinyl or even cassette listening is not significant. Yes, you can buy vinyl in Sainsburys, and yes the broadsheets are always talking about its revival. These figures would suggest that regardless of sales, its impact in terms of actually being listened to is minimal.

There are a couple more trend lines we can get from MIDAS data.

Podcasting listening is growing, which is as you might expect. 6.1m people listen to podcasts each week, with the smartphone being the most popular device.

Radio apps are also very popular, with 27m (50% of the population) having downloaded an app.

Where radio does have a significant role is in the use of voice activated speakers, and amongst those who use them, the primary uses are for Live Radio and On Demand music services. Radio has a slight advantage here.

Again, I’d note that this is before the slew of speakers sold over Christmas. Amazon said the Echo was its best-selling device, while Google says it has sold 6m since August.

Other bullets from the data:

  • Listen Again isn’t terribly popular, but it skews older, with 77% coming from 35+s
  • Podcasting skews male, with 62% male and 38% female. That’s more skewed than other key forms of listening. An opportunity for some podcasters perhaps?
  • Radio listening is likely to be a solitary affair, with 52% of people listening to the radio on their own. That changes significantly if you’re 15-24, when it’s much likelier to be a social experience. Just 38% of their listening is solo.

There’s more in the release, so have a look if you’re interested.

Methodological note: MIDAS samples tend to be around 2,200 people who are re-contacted by RAJAR’s fieldworkers, having previously completed a regular RAJAR diary. For the most recent release, the fieldwork was conducted in November 2017.

Digitising My Life in 2018

Life is digital. We’ve known that for a long time. Digital offers lots of convenience, but it brings with it complications. In particular, safe storage.

In 2018 I need to try to fix three or four problems/issues I have coming up.

1. Cloud Storage

As longtime readers might know, I have a couple of Synology NAS drives at home, each with a RAID 0 arrangement with pairs of matched hard drives storing my data. In total they store just over 4TB of data, with a further 1TB of headroom between the two NAS drives.

While I have local copies of music and other documents, space is really taken up by photos (in RAW format) and videos. As more devices move from HD to 4K, those video file sizes aren’t going to be coming down much any time soon.

All of this NAS drive storage is backed up to Amazon Cloud – more of which later.

Beyond this storage, I have a further 4TB drive of older files sitting on a new standalone 4TB external HD. This data is not backed up in the cloud, but is duplicated on a series of older “passport” sized portable HDs.

Amazon introduced its unlimited cloud storage system last year, and I jumped at spending £59.99 for a year’s worth of unlimited storage. I could use an app on my NAS drive to upload files in the background and keep the two in sync. My older NAS drive didn’t really work with this method, but I managed to create a virtual link between the two NAS drives from the drive that did work, and I safely backed up all my files.

But the writing was on the wall for the Amazon deal almost from the start. In the US, where they’d had the initiative for a longer time, Amazon had cancelled it because some users were storing vast quantities of data. It would only be a matter of time before Amazon UK followed suit, and sure enough, I got an email announcing the end of the scheme towards the end of last year.

Because Amazon will continue to store photos free of charge, I would only require 3TB of data for video and other files. Amazon prices that at £237 a year.

But that excludes my other 4TB of data. Even if some of that is also photos, I’m probably looking at 5TB at £400 a year to be fully backed up with Amazon.

So my first job is to find a robust backup provider that can help, ideally coming in at well below £400.

One alternative is to buy an 8TB external hard drive, sync my drives to it (I would estimate that will take at least a week), and then store that drive at work, returning it home fortnightly or monthly to do intermediate syncs.

Another suggestion via Twitter was:

I do kind of like the idea of this. In reality, I’m probably not going to find a friend with unlimited data willing to put my Raspberry Pi/USB HD combo under their stairs or wherever, but it’s definitely an idea. Nextcloud in particular seems interesting application to enable this.

I will continue to explore paid for options and see what I come up with.

2. Scanning Photos

Yes – just about every photo I take these days is digital, and even those shot on film get scans at the time, so I have digital copies of them. But I still have a few thousand (I think) printed photos.

Included amongst this is a historical archive of old Virgin Radio pictures – mostly press photos – saved from the bin around the time that Virgin Radio was rebranded as Absolute Radio.

I’ve been meaning to scan this trove for years. But I’ve always been stuck since although I have a reasonable scanner, it’s only USB 2.0 and doing a decent scan of a photo takes quite some time. Even if you place half a dozen or more photos on the flatbed at the time, it’s a painful process. Invariably I choose to scan at high quality – probably higher than I’ll ever need.

The other option would be to scan negatives – as I usually still have them. But that involves dust removal and other slow to process issues.

One popular alternative is to pay a third party company to do the scanning for me. That involves boxing the photos off, sending them off, and getting a digital download or USB stick back with the results. It’d safely cost me several hundred pounds.

My 2018 solution is to not be quite as fussy about the quality of my scans. Anything really worthwhile I may spend more time with. But in the main, we’re talking about photos that have barely seen the light of day since I took them (I’ve never really had physical photo albums).

I own a Fujitsu Scan Snap iX500 which I bought to scan a large number of documents. It’s really good at this, and I also save things like cycling or walking routes from magazines, or other things that might be useful to hang on to.

Importantly, it has a sheet feeder that means you can scan things pretty quickly. For documents I make searchable PDFs using optical character recognition at the time of the scan.

But I’d not used it for photos because – well – I was concerned about quality issues. But it will scan to 600 dpi, and while that might not be enough to print billboard sized photos from, it should be fine for regular use.

I will report back and let you know the findings.

[Update: Well I did a bit of a test run through with 800 Virgin Radio photos that I, er, acquired when the station rebranded as Absolute Radio, and it was fairly painless. The quality is decent and it didn’t take an inordinate amount of time to do. This should be very achievable.]

3. Digitising Video

I also have something approaching 100 MiniDV video tapes with various footage on them. While I’ve already captured and digitsed all my oldest Hi8 video footage, this MiniDV footage needs capturing. I have a working camera to play the tapes back from, but the only way to capture is in real time. In reality that means a dedicated PC (fortunately I have such a beast), and regularly running tapes through the camera to capture the material.

There are no short cuts for this one that I can see.

4. Supplemental

I found a load of 3.5″ floppy discs the other day. I suspect that there’s little to nothing I really need to keep from them, but I’ll probably pick up a cheap USB drive and run through them anyway. I’ll keep a handful for posterity, but probably ditch the others – especially the numerous covermount discs!

The other job I have is to properly digitise the family’s Super 8 films. Many years ago, I pointed a digital video camera at a projection screen and captured them that way. I have that now converted to mp4. But it’s dreadful quality. Again, third parties can do this, but the costs are high. I’ve been quoted £600-£1000. So at some point, getting a machine like this Reflecta Super 8 scanner might be a good idea. It looks like it’ll create HD video from footage, although a bit of post-production will be required to correct the frame rate.

5. Summary

One thing I’m aware of is that all the scanning and capturing from 2 and 3 will create a bigger haul to store in 1. Such is the way of these things.

I should also note that I still have unripped CDs to capture, old cassettes I might digitise, and never mind my ongoing DVD/BluRay collection just about none of which is in a pure digital format.

I can see format conversion and digitisation being a theme for the rest of my life somehow…

Note: Just because I’ve digitised something, it doesn’t mean I’ll be throwing the originals out. They don’t take an enormous amount of space, and it would be foolish to do so.