December, 2007

DVD Screeners of I Am Legend

Sometimes I wonder about the sanity of the film industry.
The torrent sites currently have for download a high quality copy of a “DVD Screener” of the big new Will Smith film, I Am Legend. The film has only just opened in the UK, and has only been out about three weeks in the US where it’s been doing fantastic business.
What’s happened is that someone has got hold of a DVD version of the film and ripped it. But what I want to know is this: why are film companies even making DVD screeners of their big films? These discs very existance increases the likelihood of high quality pirate goods getting out.
In actual fact, the only real reasons for doing it are either to pass to critics who are too lazy to go to the cinema to watch the films, or to hand to members of the various groups like the Academy and BAFTA, who give films awards. You see these people, despite having cards that get them free into cinemas, and having special screenings laid on all the time, still can’t be bothered to get off their fat backsides and go out to see films the way they were made to be seen. So film companies send them DVD copies to watch at home, in the hope that they might vote for Will Smith as Best Actor or whatever (this is the same industry that openly campaigns for votes with those For Your Consideration ads in the trade press – again a waste of money benefiting only the companies who publish those trade publications).
What the companies are saying is this: it’s more important that they win an Oscar than it is that they might suffer significant financial setback if a high quality DVD gets out.
Before Christmas, the film companies were heavily promoting a campaign to persuade us not to be “Knock-off Nigels” and buy pirate DVDs. Yet at the same time, they actively produce DVD versions of films. So while there’s little to stop dreadful camcorder versions of films, they’re basically giving “Knock-off Nigel” a leg-up by making them.
The whole industry needs a massive kicking to get into the 21st century. They need to stop spending millions on advertising and DVD production for a handful of crusty old fuddy-duddies who can’t be bothered to go to the cinema a bit more. And they’re fighting a losing battle with internet piracy and dodgy DVD sales.
Personally, I believe that they should be selling DVDs to cinema goers on the way out of the theatre – can you imagine how many parents would have picked up copies of Enchanted on the way out? And the whole awards industry needs a ground up reworking. If members can’t be bothered to see films, then they shouldn’t be able to vote. And they should be seeing those films in cinemas. Shortlists of films can be put together by committee, and then voted on by the mass electorate once we know for certain that they’ve seen all the nominated titles.

John Woodruff

I read an obituary about this man the other day, and he’s someone I’d never heard of. He was a compatriot of Jesse Owens who ran in 1936 Olympics. Like Owens, he was also black:
John Woodruff, who has died aged 92, was the first black to win gold in Berlin. His triumph in the 800 metres, though overshadowed by Owens’ later feats, was one of the most remarkable in Olympic history. To counter the favourite, Italy’s European champion Mario Lanzi, Canada’s Phil Edwards set an exceptionally slow pace. After 300 metres, Woodruff, an inexperienced 21-year-old college freshman, found himself boxed in. So he stopped. After the field had passed, he restarted in the outside lane, and, within 100 metres, took the lead. A gangly 6ft 3ins, with a 10-foot stride, Woodruff was nicknamed Long John, and though Edwards moved ahead on the back straight, Woodruff strode past him on the final turn, then held off a late charge by Lanzi to win in 1min 52.9secs.
He died a while ago, but his life is certainly one worth celebrating.

Happy Christmas

Christmas Lights in Lawson Way, Sheringham
Happy Christmas everyone.
I’ve not exactly sent a lot of Christmas cards this year, so please treat this as your Christmas greeting.
Anyway, I’m off to watch the Doctor Who special, and all those Fred & Ginger films they’re showing on BBC Four.

Terrible Misfortune

There was a Charlie Brooker Screenwipe end of year special this week And if you read this entry before Saturday 29 December, you can see it here. Alternatively, find it on YouTube.
Anyway, Brooker took a well aimed swipe at The Jeremy Kyle Show, and you can’t really fault him for doing so. He concentrated on a paedophile special in which the audience just seemed to shout at two unreconstructed paedophiles who were shown only in silhouette on a TV monitor.
I didn’t catch that beauty, but this week I was unfortunate enough to see a few seconds of Wednesday’s show. Kyle has been out and about in a big tour bus, visiting people in their homes rather than taking them before the baying crowd in a TV studio. The first story – the only one I saw – involved two separated people and their child. The man or the woman – I forget which – weren’t doing their parenting bit, or were being stopped from doing so. To be honest, it doesn’t matter, because I was too busy drawing breath after Kyle introduced the father, and then said: “I know this week’s been very difficult for you, because you’ve just buried your third child. But we’re not talking about them. We’re talking about…”
The man has just buried his child, and then he’s going to take part in this monstrosity of a programme. It defies belief. It really does.

Dates For Your Diaries

Well… dates for my diary anyway. But I thought that I’d share them (it’s that time of year after all). A couple of programmes coming up that seem well worth listening to and watching:
Sunday 6 January 2008, BBC Four – BBC Proms featuring the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. This is the performance that was received rapturously earlier in the year. Hopefully this will be the full thing, including the final encores that weren’t broadcast at the time.
Sunday 24 February 2008, BBC Radio 3 – Drama on 3: Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland, adapted by Dan Rebellato. I loved the novel, so I’m really looking forward to this play. And I must get around to reading Coupland’s most recent book, The Gum Thief.


In Media Guardian’s review of the year, they’ve got a piece celebrating the success of “Dave.”
Dave, you’ll no doubt recall, is the channel previously known as UK TV G2. And in an “inspired” piece of marketing, it was renamed Dave; minimal changes were made to programming, and success has followed.
The numbers are hard to refute. In November 2007, Dave achieved a 1.2% share of total viewing in multi-channel homes. That mind sound poor, but that puts it ahead of Sky One, BBC Three, E4 and ITV4 amongst many others. Indeed, aside from the terrestrial channels, only ITV2, Sky Sports 1, Cbeebies and ITV3 are ahead of it. And compare it with November 2006, when the channel was only achieving 0.4%.
So an unqualified success.
Well, a success, yes. But a qualified one. There are a couple more factors. According to Nielsen Media Research, Dave spent about £700,000 marketing themselves in the press and on posters. Then there were all the ads for the service across the UK TV network, and Virgin Media channels. These were probably worth millions more.
Finally, even with all that marketing, the real reason for Dave’s success is Freeview. That’s not a word that appears in the Media Guardian piece. Basically UK TV rejigged their Freeview offering, dumping UK TV Bright Ideas from its daytime only slot. UK TV History replaced that service, and Dave took on the far better 24 hour slot that History had been using.
At a stroke then, Dave was suddenly available in 9.1m Freeview homes.
And let’s not forget the elephant in the room (to use a phrase popular in the current series of QI) – Dave is basically all BBC2’s popular shows in one place.

Danny Baker Ends Podcasts

Thanks to commenter Richard Miller for drawing my attention to the notices on Danny Baker’s All Day Breakfast Show and Baker & Kelly websites.
Danny has posted a note to say that there will be no more podcasts following an “irreversible and utter breakdown between the on-air team and the company who have, with varying degrees of success, provided it to you online.”
Like undoubtedly many others, Richard wants to know about getting a refund on his £50 annual subscription that he was encouraged to take out.
I must admit that following the first break in transmission, I never continued to subscribe and had only paid by the week. It now seems that not one penny of that cash has found its way to any of the “on-air” team or the producers of the shows.
A couple of weeks ago I attended a radio industry event held by the Radio Academy called Radio at the Edge which was all about the exciting new frontiers, opportunities and realities that radio (and audio) broadcasters are now facing. Should radio go DAB? Is the future in some kind of internet distribution? How should radio address social networks.
Paul Myers from Wippit was on one of the panels, explaining that he thought that the future was podcasting with its ability to go anywhere. Of course, if presenters don’t get paid or least shows don’t find sponsors, then as a professional model, that doesn’t work.
So here ends another experiment in subscription “radio.”
Is there another subscription radio service? There are certainly paid for audio books from the likes of Audible, eMusic and Silk Sound Books amongst others, but they’re not the same thing.
London radio station LBC offers LBC Plus – a premium podcasting proposition which offers full length programmes for between £3 and £4 a month depending on subscription length. And we still have those Ricky Gervais podcasts sold via Audible (and now for sale as audio CDs too).
I still believe that a paid for podcasting model can work – but what this episode has made very clear is that you need to be very certain about the technical backend that you have in place. I doubt that I was the only person who neglected to come back after the initial breakdown in production (however much or little that may have also been due to some personal circumstances in DB’s life).
I guess for Baker, it’s back to his show on BBC London. The question now is whether or not he’ll have a BBC podcast made available. Vanessa Feltz has one for goodness’ sake.
As for the Baker and Kelly show – I think someone somewhere is missing a trick with this. The Times sponsored a World Cup series of podcasts last year, and I think that sponsorship is the way to go with this show. I actually mentioned it to a friend who procures sponsorship deals commercially as something that they might like to look at for one of their clients. If I was working at an independent radio production house, I think I’d be trying to put a project together to make a 50 minute weekly show that comes with a sponsor and that’s available as a podcast and also available to independent radio stations.
But what do I know…?

BBC iPlayer Now Streaming

The Beeb has updated the iPlayer to incorporate Flash streaming versions of programmes as well as the Windows XP only downloads previously available. This makes programme watching available to Mac and Linux users which is good news.
It also means that I can link to a programme like last nights Can Gerry Robinson Fix The NHS which was a fantastic watch, and I’m only disappointed in myself for not watching the previous series. Although it’s only live for another six days despite being current affairs/documentary fare. It seems unlikely to me that too many Gerry Robinson box sets of DVDs will be sold!
Later in the evening, Robinson came up against David Nicholson, the Chief Executive of the NHS on Newsnight. That’s also worth a watch, but you’ll have to be quick as I believe that only one day’s programming is archived. And Newsnight isn’t available via the iPlayer. I assume that’s something to do with the rights to agency footage that might be included in reports. That said, I notice that NBC seems able to video podcast its Nightly News.
Last night’s Newsnight is worth it for a great piece of investigative journalism into a recent report from thinktank Policy Exchange into “The Hijacking of British Islam.”
Researchers for the Policy Exchange went into 100 mosques and claimed to find books and pamphlets available with pretty hateful material. Their report was widely reported, and Newsnight began their own report into what had been uncovered. But when they got hold of some of the receipts that researchers had from the various mosques to prove where the material had been purchased, there was something fishy. Some of the receipts had misspellings on them or subtly wrong addresses. And many also seemed to have been generated by inkjet printers – Newsnight employed a forensic scientist to look at the documents. They also determined that it was likely that the same handwriting was on more than one receipt. Finally, it appeared that one receipt had been written on top of another. When their reporter went around some of the mosques in question, it didn’t all stack.
Now this was an incendiary report, getting front page coverage. But if the research on which the report was based was indeed flawed, then that questions the report’s overall validity. There seems to have been limited opportunity to actually question the researchers themselves.
Now it does seem that some of this hateful material can be found in some of these places and bookshops. Although I suspect that there’s some “radical” thoughts from some Christian sects if you look hard enough in a Christian bookshop. But when the Policy Exchange’s director (Dean Godson) appeared on the programme, he was blind in his defence on the report despite it quite evidently being based on some very dodgy research. It probably doesn’t completely invalidate his findings, but for whatever reason he was unwilling to accept that his researchers had either misled him or lied to him. Paxman was on the attack and his blustering defence only made him dig himself deeper and deeper into a hole.
Policy Exchange has a press release currently on their homepage which continues to refute their findings and questioning Newsnight’s methodology and reporting. They end by saying that they’re meeting today to discuss legal proceedings against the BBC.
Surely a far smarter move would be to consider the obviously fabricated evidence that they were provided with, and to look more closely at how their evidence was collected. It seems apparent that incendiary material is available in some places. But a long legal case is only likely to end with them having derision heaped on them.
Newsnight’s 17 minute piece is here and the follow up interview is here.
[UPDATE] Newsnight editor Peter Barron responds to Godson’s accusations here.
[UPDATE 2] A Telegraph piece from the weekend is rebutted in today’s letters by Peter Barron.

Rewriting Yourself for the iPhone

Another website “optimises” itself for the iPhone. I do hope that every other gadget on the market gets a version of Picasa Webpages that makes best use of its own unique attributes.
As I said previously, I’m getting really fed up of everybody rushing to write iPhone specific versions of their sites. I’ve no problem with generic mobile versions, or “lite” versions of sites. But it’s really dangerous having to write new versions for every device.
I know that some sites that use lots of AJAX actually have browser dependent versions which differ depending on how Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer or Safari handle different elements, but there are a relatively limited number of browsers.

Reselling Concert Tickets

I find this astonishing.
Essentially what artists want is a cut of any resale money made from selling on concert tickets. The idea is that when tickets are resold, usually via websites these days, a proportion of the resale value would be passed on to a new body – The Resale Rights Society.
I find this simply staggering.
But there is a problem. Everyone knows that the live music scene is burgeoning, and with it comes a plethora of quickly sold out concerts. Sometimes, if it’s a big artist and a small venue, tickets will sell out in minutes, leaving many fans frustrated.
Along comes eBay, and concert specialists like Seatwave who allow fans to trade tickets… at a mark up. This in turn leads to plenty of ticket buying speculators. No longer is the only way of getting tickets to that sold out concert a question simply of handing over some cash to a dodgy looking bloke outside the venue itself. Instead there are a host of “home traders” who mark up the price and sell the tickets on.
At the moment Spice Girls and Led Zeppelin tickets are hot property.
There have been plenty of attempts to stop this; tickets are sold with no right to pass them on, and at festivals like Glastonbury, they attempt to stop resale by printing photos on the tickets.
The thing is, no matter how strict the rules are, rarely does anyone really check that you have the card you bought the ticket with – they’re just hustling you through the doors and into the venue.
Yet now we have this. Instead of trying to find a solution to fans losing out through this massive resale trade, the artists want a cut of the profits.
How about finding a route for stopping resale, yet letting people unable to make concerts be allowed to either trade at face value or return their tickets to the venue for a refund?
Another option is electronic ticketing, and releasing the tickets very close to the concert itself to minimise the chance that they can be “re-sold”.
But charging fans twice is not the answer.