April, 2008

UKTV Gold Rebrand

So following the story that emerged a couple of weeks ago about Richard and Judy defecting to UKTV for their next chatshow, the question was which channel would they end up on.
Well today we learn that it is UKTV Gold that’s going to get the “Dave” treatment. Dave, you’ll recall, was previously called UKTV G2 or some such nonsense. But it got rebranded Dave, and importantly (though rarely mentioned) it booted UKTV History off its full Freeview slot to get massive exposure. Then, by carefully repeating lots of Top Gear, Have I Got News For You, Dragons’ Den and QI, it became very successful as a free to air channel.
UKTV is going to try the same trick, and obviously the first question is what girls’ name will they adopt? Kylie? Tracey? Clare? Sonya? ‘Chelle?
Entertainingly, “the rebranded channel will aim to appeal to women under 30.” Seemingly, the best way of doing this is to employ a couple of people who have been doyens of daytime TV for years, and will be 52 and 60 this year. Obvious really.

RAJAR – And the Digital Age

I should preface this entry by saying that it could be a little dull if you’re not interested in radio research; that the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect my employer; and that I have no particular insider knowledge, beyond having used RAJAR for a long time.
RAJAR is the organisation that publishes radio listening figures in the UK. Figures are currently collected by carefully giving out over 130,000 diaries to people to keep for a single week over the course of a year. This is obviously a vast undertaking, but the UK has several hundred radio stations, the majority of which are local; so each locality has to have a representative sample of diaries if radio listening for those stations is to be accurately recorded.
The nature of this methodology means that listening figures are produced quarterly – and this Thursday at 7am, Q1 2008 figures will be published. Radio stations across the country are eagerly awaiting them!
Back in the mists of time – well 1998 – Kelvin MacKenzie, once editor of The Sun bought the station then known as Talk Radio. He rebranded it talkSPORT, but he had a problem. He felt that the RAJAR diary methodology discriminated against his station. In particular, he felt audiences were perhaps listening to his station but writing BBC Radio Five Live in their diaries. BBC stations on the whole have better awareness amongst the public, and that’s especially the case for national services compared to their commercial competitors who don’t have the marketing muscle of Auntie. On top of that, the diary methodology doesn’t work well for one-off events – by its very nature, it’s a 12 or 13 week average. So if you buy the rights to, say, a boxing match on a given Saturday night, you can’t tell if you achieved an increased audience as a result for that one-off event. Sports rights aren’t cheap, and aside from things like the Premier League, they don’t always run every week at the same time.
So he sought help with a research company called GfK who had a sister company that produced a special kind of watch. GfK took audio captures of all the services they were monitoring, while the watches also regularly captured the ambient sound of wherever the watch wearer was. By examining the uploaded audio the watch had captured alongside the time of capture, and comparing it to its big database of radio (and TV) audio, the idea was that the system could tell you what service, if any, was being listened to.
Kelvin’s company paid for the implementation of this technology, and he even took to publishing an alternative set of ratings. These showed far more people listening to his, as well as other services.
But in testing, the watch methodology didn’t pass muster. So while he’d undoubtedly put meters on the map, and stirred up the industry, which led to plenty of calls to adopt metering, the system he’d adopted simply wasn’t up to scratch. It also didn’t really help his cause that he showed that BBC2 was getting more viewers than ITV – unlikely given the popularity of such trifling shows as Coronation Street, X Factor/Idol or Emmerdale.
The other viable system in the marketplace was from Arbitron, a massive US research group who are responsible for American radio ratings. They had their people meter (PPM), and over the last few years it has been tested extensively in the UK.
Arbitron’s technology differed because it relied on a hidden signal embedded into stations’ output. This signal is inaudible to listeners, but the pager-style devices Arbitron manufactured were able to detect them, and thus measure what station a listener was listening to and when.
Since the start of 2007, a test has been conducted in London, initially in partnership with the TV ratings company BARB and RAJAR. UK TV ratings rely on boxes in around 5,100 panellists’ homes. The boxes also measure replayed material via video or PVR devices. But they do miss out on out-of-home viewing, e.g. watching the football in a pub. For some major games in large tournaments, that can be a substantial audience. Think of England featuring in the recent Rugby World Cup Final – a game played at 8pm in the evening.
But although theoretically with PPMs all seems fine, there are still issues that need to be addressed before metering can work, and RAJAR has now determined that they’re not easy to overcome in the short term, so they’re ending the project despite having spent £3.5m to date.
As RAJAR states, there are some key elements that PPMs seemed unable to cope with to a satisfactory extent. Foremost of these is the breakfast peak. Unlike television, which sees peak audiences in the evening, radio’s natural peak is at breakfast time. Most people live relatively busy lives and breakfast doesn’t afford much leisure time; they’re getting washed, dressed, eating breakfast, getting themselves or other family members off to work or school, and so on. So radio is the natural partner for keeping you entertained and informed. You can listen in the bedroom, the bathroom, your kitchen or living room. You may well then listen in the car on the commute to work, or on a portable radio or mobile phone on a train journey. So far, so obvious.
Yet PPMs seem to have under-reported this peak – to the point where this is no peak. In all likelihood that’s because people simply don’t take their pager devices into the bathroom with them, and then into the kitchen or living room. Thus listening at radio’s most critical time of the day is missed out by them.
On top of that there are other issues: the devices can’t cope with listening via earphones especially easily. And they’re simply not convenient to carry everywhere you go. Panellists are expected to take them everywhere, but would you carry one on an evening out, or on a shopping trip on a Saturday? If you forget your pager half-way to the station in the morning, would you return to the house to collect it, or leave it at home and not record a day’s listening? Short of implanting a chip in your head (not something the libertarian in me is desperately looking forward to), or perhaps using a mobile phone solution (since that’s a single device that you just might carry everywhere), it’s hard to see how meters will ever work in a fully satisfactory manner.
As a consequence, RAJAR has pulled out of this development for the time being, and is looking to other methodologies going forward. In the first instance, they’re examaning the use of online diary completion technologies.
Some people are going to be disappointed – not least Kelvin Mackenzie (no longer directly involved in radio) who has called it “an absolutely shocking decision.” He points to TV having used electronic boxes for years.
But Mackenzie is simply wrong, and his comparison with TV is specious. He knows that TV is viewed in a limited number of locations. And he well understands that the methodology that medium uses is also weak for smaller stations (the sample isn’t really big enough for full figures for every programme on every niche channel in a multi-channel world), and nor does it properly cope with out-of-home viewing, as mentioned above.
I have a feeling that Mackenzie’s won’t be the only dissenting voice we hear over the coming days, but until we have something that’s proven to work, the £600m commercial radio industry cannot rely on a device that doesn’t even recognise the most important listening time of the day. And it’s not just commercial radio that recognises this – Jenny Abramsky of the BBC is similarly supportive. It’s going to be very easy to give radio a kicking over this, but RAJAR is absolutely doing the right thing in launching a thorough industry wide review under Morag Blazey.
Interestingly, yesterday saw Media Guardian’s Radio Reborn conference (I didn’t go, but James’ notes seem very fine), which I believe included some Arbitron data to prove some points. Unfortunate timing for them really given yesterday was the day RAJAR made these announcements.
However it should be noted that at the same time, Canada is adopting PPMs to a greater extent.
But there are still ongoing issues in Arbitron’s home US territory, where some groups – particularly those catering to ethnic stations – are still facing difficulties with PPM technology.
There’s certainly still a watching brief over PPMs. But in the short term, they’re not an adequate replacement methodology in the UK.

BBC Three Sitcoms

There’s a fun “debate” over at The Guardian about whether or not Pulling is actually better than the much feted Gavin & Stacey.
I like them both. I missed out on Gavin & Stacey initially, for the most part because it’s on the demented BBC Three which, as you probably know, I’m a massive fan of. But then BBC Two ran the whole first series one Saturday night, and I warmed to it immediately, watching all the episodes back to back.
Pulling is just riotous fun, with believable characters – albeit at the extreme of things.
I’m not sure about the wisdom of running the two back to back for the past few Sunday evenings. Gavin & Stacey is much the safer sitcom, and frankly could be running on BBC One or BBC Two. Pulling is edgier fare, and the lower ratings it has been attaining reflect that. You could just about watch Gavin & Stacey with your mum. I’m not sure she’d appreciate Pulling as much.
Still all this pales into insignificance as we learn that Two Pints of Lager… has been recommissioned…

ITV on iTunes

ITV is dipping its toe in the iTunes water by making available some of its back catalogue on the iTunes television store.
This is no bad thing, but I think that it does again highlight some of the issues that dealing with Apple can introduce. Despite some of the series being over forty years old (The Saint – series 4), the price of each episode is fixed at £1.89. That’s just too much.
Last year the Daily Mail actually gave away the whole of Brideshead Revisited, so charging £1.89 an episode feels steep. Certainly there are savings to made by buying the whole series, but at &17.99 its still a couple of quid more than the boxed set on Amazon. The DVDs, of course, work in many more places than in iTunes and on an iPod. They’re also in higher resolution, and come with various extras all of which are lacking from the iTunes store version.
Now I don’t want to poo-poo this venture, as it’s genuinely a good idea to get these programmes out into as many places as possible. But it’s quite telling that no current programmes are being made available. The most up to date show that has been released so far (and to be fair, today’s day one) is Lewis – series 1, obviously. Wouldn’t want to let series 2 out of the gate just yet.
I think the problem really still lies with iTunes insisting on a fixed price for a programme, be it a brand new one hour drama or a decades old half hour comedy. Retailers should be able to adjust their prices as bricks and mortar retailers do. It may be that you can sell this week’s Headbangers for 49p, but Foyles War should cost £3.50.
It’s undoubtedly an experiment, and ITV is to be applauded. But what we’re all waiting for is Kangaroo – the joint BBC Worldwide/ITV/Channel 4 service that Ashley Highfield is leaving the BBC to run. Kangaroo is going to try to effectively be a commercial version of the iPlayer. While details remain unclear, I’d expect both paid and ad-funded models to be tested. Video DRM is always going to be more of an issue, but even if all the service does is put everyone’s programming in one place and playable with one piece of software, then it’s got to be better than the piecemeal channel by channel approach that’s taken place so far.
Of course a cynic might wonder whether Kangaroo is the reason that only archive programming is being made available to iTunes at the moment. If I can buy Foyles War on iTunes for one price, and on Kangaroo at another price, then there’s true competition. But ITV doesn’t want the service it owns part of to be undercut by someone else. Nor does it want Apple to run away with a nascent market before it’s had a go itself – that’s something the music industry has come to regret on an enormous scale.
By the way, if all this talk of Brideshead Revisited makes you want to watch the series again, there’s a free route: ITV.com has the whole series available to stream on demand. It tends to only work with Windows and using Internet Explorer, and it’s ad-funded. But there it is, free of charge.
In fact ITV.com has a great deal of classic drama, comedy and kids programming available to stream including Press Gang, The Jewel in the Crown, Rising Damp, Cracker, Morse, Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Prime Suspect and much more. The interface is clunky, and it’s hard to work out what’s there, but they’ve got a great deal.

Random Musings

I can’t help but agree with Roy Greenslade on the subject of London’s evening freesheets. They’re both still uniformly abysmal with not a single thing to read. The trouble is that even the paid for Evening Standard is woeful with its ridiculous vendetta against Ken Livingstone and Mail-lite features. A bit more news would be nice. I actually have an “Eros” smartcard charged up with enough cash for ten copies and I’ve still not bought an issue for ages (aside from the day they were giving away a free Nicci French novel).
And while I know that London Underground is paid handsomely to allow distribution of both The London Paper and Metro in its stations, does that revenue really cover the vast cost of clearing up the mess? Despite signs telling people not to, every morning there’s a pile of read/discarded copies of the paper at the bottom of central London escalators. These just go on to get jammed into the mechanism of the escalators causing un-needed delays to exiting the station when they go out of service.
[Update: Love this] Meanwhile in further parochial news from this parish, our local Soho Post Office is closing. Or rather, it’s moving to the other side of Oxford Street and into WH Smiths. The net result will be that Soho – home to a rather large media and creative industry – will not have a single Post Office left.
I realise that at least I’m lucky enough to still have a Post Office within walking distance, with many planned closures leaving whole communities without access to one at all. But the Soho Post Office is regularly jammed with people. On a recent trip, my knowledge of Key Stage 3 Science increased enormously as the queue snaked around slowly – I read the only interesting literature on offer whilst for a window to become free.
So there’s enormous demand, and yet economics dictate that it’s cheaper to sit inside another store where I very much doubt there’ll be room for as many counters. Ironically, Soho will still have drop-off points for DHL and FedEx deliveries. Is it any wonder that the Royal Mail struggles?

UK Advertising Revenues 2003-2008

On Friday, The Guardian published a very good chart showing the relative growth of each of the major media in the UK’s advertising revenues.
The chart ends with a 2008 estimate that internet advertising will outstrip the whole of TV.
Yet I think we need to be a little careful here, and make sure that we’re not comparing apples with oranges.
While I don’t doubt that the sums being talked about are accurate, as we enter a recession it seems very odd that so much new money is entering the advertising market. While other media are showing either flat revenues or very slight declines, the internet is seemingly outstripping the entire market by a large factor.
Without the numbers behind the chart, it’s hard to tell the exact numbers, but broadly speaking, the cumulative effect of this chart seems to show overall advertising growth of around 7% between 2007 and 2008. Obviously these are estimates, but with a struggling retail sector, I’d be amazed if this was truly the case.
The main thing to know is that the revenues being reported here for most media are display. And while there’s a lot of display coming into online, that’s still probably not where the bulk of Google’s revenue growth is coming from. AdWords and the like are more akin to classified advertising which isn’t included in the newspaper figure. This has certainly taken a pummeling in the local, regional and even national press, and I’d be surprised if even the Yellow Pages hasn’t taken a significant hit.
Anyway, an interesting chart – but treat with caution. Advertising money does not grow on trees even if you are the internet.

His Girl Friday’s Fast

As you may or may not know, His Girl Friday is one of my favourite films of all time. The film is screwball comedy and was made in 1940, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. It was written by Charles Lederer, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, the latter two of which had written the play, The Front Page, on which it was based.
The wonderful Howard Hawks directed it, and it famously has possibly the fastest dialogue in any film ever made. The characters regularly speak over the top of one another, and indeed the final screenplay ran to 191 pages for a 92 minute film. Usually, screenplays run at around a minute a page.
In 1940, you had to record the sound all at once without multi-track capabilities, so a sound mixer had to switch between microphones as the characters spoke the lines.
Anyway, a link on Waxy’s Links the other day pointed to a version of the film edited a couple of years by Valentin Spirik which removes all the film’s dialogue. The end result is an 8:25 edit of the film. It’s also embedded below:

What we’re left with is very revealing about the speed of the film with jump cuts aplenty that mightn’t seem out of place in a 21st century reality show.
The full original film is in the public domain by the way. That means that you can stream it or download it yourself at the Internet Archive.
The public domain nature of the film means that you’ll see plenty of ridiculously cheap DVDs kicking around of it. The problem is that they mostly come from poor prints. So I do recommend the Columbia Classics DVD which is pretty cheap itself and uses an excellent print (ignore the comment that says otherwise at Amazon – I suspect that they’re looking at a different DVD – there are many around).
For more on Howard Hawks, I’d also recommend Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood by Todd McCarthy.

A Bit Of Audio To Listen To

I’ve heard a few really entertaining media related pieces of audio in the last couple of days.
The first is a Daily Mayo podcast from last week when Gabby Logan was sitting in for Simon Mayo. She was interviewing ITV Executive Chairman, Michael Grade.
Unfortunately, because it was last week, and the BBC only keeps their podcasts alive for a week, it’s no longer there. But fear not – readers of adambowie.com can listen in using the player below (at least until someone gets annoyed and tells me not to).
In the interview Logan gave Grade a really robust grilling and covered pretty much all the ITV issues of the day. I’d say that he gave a fairly full and frank account of himself. It’s all well worth a listen.

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The other great piece of audio is a recording of Tim Robbins keynote speech from the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas on Monday. Robbins being Robbins he didn’t bother sticking to the topic he was supposed to be talking about, but instead gets into the moral turpitude of much of the media today. It’s actually a very funny speech.

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(It’s a bit lo-fi I’m afraid, but then it was obviously recorded on a dictaphone or something. There’s another version here (via Graham Linehan) in case the one above breaks).
Finally, not a piece of audio, but an interesting piece from The Guardian about Global Radio’s recent announcement that Heart and Galaxy will be networking much more in the future. Broadly speaking, they’re going to maximise the amount of networking they can do under the recent changes to the rules regarding local programming announced by Ofcom. It’s fair to say that we expect to see much more of this in the future.
[NB. Some readers, especially those who see this blog’s RSS feed, may have seen an “early version” of this entry a day or so ago. This subsequently disappeared while I sorted a couple of technical issues out. These have been resolved now.]

Today’s Most Entertaining Media Stories

Two stories have tickled me today from Broadcast magazine (“The Voice of British Broadcasting” – but mostly TV. Radio’s on p14 folks!):
Ian Wright has “quit” as a BBC pundit. He’s claiming that the BBC’s coverage of football is too stuffy. And he feels as though he’s the “comedy jester” of the team. In response, the BBC said “we wish Ian Wright all the best in his career with TalkSport” which is rather dry… I rather suspect that the reason that Wright is “quitting” is because his BBC gig has basically ended now that the BBC has no live football to broadcast. Yes, there’s Euro 2008 coming up, but Wright’s TalkSport gig might have precluded him from taking part in that anyway. So all in all, a little disingenuous?
The other utterly bizarre news is that those doyens of daytime television, Richard and Judy, who had previously announced the end of their spell with Channel 4, are now moving to… wait for it… UKTV!
Yup. They’ll be on an as yet unannounced new UKTV channel and will be appearing on a daily chat show from later this year and all of next year. Quite what this channel is, remains unclear. You’d expect it to appear on Freeview as well as Sky and cable, but there’s not really an obvious channel choice. UKTV currently only has Dave as a 24 hour channel having bumped UKTV History into a daytime only slot.
It’s possible that they could remove UKTV History from Freeview altogether, but given that there’s surely some significant investment being put into Richard and Judy, they’d probably want to get an early evening repeat of the show on air, so unless they can grab some extra capacity from another channel, I don’t know what they’re planning to do. All will undoubtedly be revealed.