June, 2008

Dave’s Success

As the sale of Virgin Radio nears completion, thoughts turn to the rebranding exercise to be carried out by Albion.
One of the most obvious, and spectacularly successful media rebrands of recent years was that of UK TV G2 into Dave which took place back in October 2007.
I wrote a piece on Dave’s success back in December last year, where I thought it was particularly important to note that a major part of the new brands success, in my view came from it becoming available on Freeview. Adding close to 10 million new homes into the mix is always going to help. And with strong programming like Top Gear and QI repeats, that has helped it leap into the position it now finds itself.
Compare and contrast with Virgin1, another new channel launch from last year (launching 1st October 2007) which has also benefitted from being available on Freeview replacing the previous channel ftn.

Source: BARB
Note that I’ve not included their sister “+1” channels for which I don’t have full data, and which don’t broadcast on Freeview in any case. Also note that these share figures do include cable and satellite viewing and aren’t solely Freeview, although I truly believe that Freeview availability is core to their success.
Although Dave’s initial lustre is beginning to tarnish a little, it’s still significantly stronger than it was at the start. It’s no surpise that UK TV Gold is next to be relaunched with Richard & Judy signed up for a nightly 8pm show. Finding a Freeview slot will be critical though, as currently UK TV Gold is subscription only on Freeview boxes with programming available only through Top Up TV (there’s not really a fully available channel space for it).
Virgin1 which launched a couple of weeks before Dave has benefitted from US acquisitions like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (how they must hate the US writers for going on strike and only producing nine episodes) and The Riches. They’ve also taken Star Trek programming away from Sky One. But their lack of UK programming is perhaps a factor is their relative performance compared with Dave. That said, there appears to be some growth there, and they’ve just gone widescreen which I think is vital for all significant non-terrestrial channels to use. Sci-Fi, I’m looking at you as possibly the most significant non-widescreen channel currently broadcasting, but Eurosport could do with it too – especially since they’re in the process of going HD too.
But I digress. The key thing for both these channels’ successes is not just strong branding and impactful advertising, but good programming. And home grown seems to trump a few acquisitions, albeit good ones.
And, no, Virgin Radio’s not going to be renamed “Radio Dave.”

Science on TV

Another old favourite. There’s good news that the BBC is going to produce a new popular science show for BBC1 provisionally titled “What? Where? Why?” to replace the late, and sometimes lamented, Tomorrow’s World. Science has been critically missing from our screens for too long now. We certainly get plenty of natural history, but that’s only part of the story. Hopefully that’ll also allow some of the more frivalous topics that Horizon’s covered of late be incorporated into a more popular show and provide some serious, and more difficult science over on BBC2.
These days, the only place you can get really good and consistent science coverage is actually on the radio, where Radio 4 does a good job as does the Guardian’s Science Weekly podcast.
There was a cracking In Our Time last week on probability, incidentally – it’s available to listen again to here.

Privatising Radio 1 and Radio 2… Again

I know I keep returning to this having written about it back in February when Peter Bazalgette raised the idea, and again following the Radio 3.0 conference a couple of weeks ago when GCap’s outgoing chairman Richard Eyre also raised the issue in a personal capacity.
So it was interesting yesterday that Enders Analysis who report on all things media and technological, released a paper entitled “Privatising Radios One and Two: how to kill commercial radio with kindness.” No prizes for guessing that Enders share my opinions on the issue.
I’d love to link to the full paper, but Enders is a subscription service, so I’ll just report their summary finding from their website:
The privatisation of the BBC’s two national music radio networks – Radio One and Radio Two – is in the news again and is being proposed by certain commentators as a potential solution to the current problems facing the UK commercial radio industry. This report argues that, far from being a solution, unleashing these two highly successful BBC stations on the commercial sector will imperil the existence of many stations. This would dramatically increase the volume of advertising time available, at a time of glut, and draw advertising spend away from many stations.
Enders note that if the two services were to be privatised the volume of commercial radio inventory would at a stroke increase by 66%. Even though such massive players would undoubtedly introduce new advertising money to the radio market, there’s no chance that they’d make up that colossal shortfall, particularly at a time where there’s already plenty of space available. However money would flow to the two new giants, from both national commercial radio, and also from the national commercial stations (disclosure: that’d obviously affect my employer) as well as national revenue from local commercial stations.
It’s important to explain what that means. When you listen to local commercial radio, you’re sometimes put off by the local ads for garden centres, tile centres and car dealerships. But in fact, there’s more advertising for national brands which comes via a central sales team for that group.
Here’s a chart showing just how important this cash is to a local commercial station:

Source: RAB
Losing a large chunk of that cash would be devastating to the industry. And that’s not even the whole picture. On top of that is money for promotions and sponsorship. It’s an important part of a commercial station’s revenue stream, and becoming more so.

Source: RAB
The Enders report makes some other valid points including the fact that no current radio player is probably in a position to spend the £1 billion that these stations would make. But interestingly, they see another hidden aspect to this: that perhaps Channel 4 would get ownership of them. Richard Eyre is quoted as saying ““Radio One and Radio Two should certainly not be awarded to the highest commercial bidder.” So what does that mean?
We’re back to top-slicing the licence fee. And let’s throw into the frying pan the news yesterday that the EU is minded to block the BBC’s support on C4’s switch to digital as potentially falling foul of state aid, then suddenly things don’t look quite as simple.
But returning, finally I hope, to the subject of Radio 1 and Radio 2’s proposed privatisation, I suppose the most disturbing factor is the number of people in UK commercial radio who do think it’s a good idea.
[UPDATE – I’ve removed a quote from a select committee report, which although accurately reported, might seem to imply that RadioCentre is in favour of privatising the two services.] [UPDATE 2 – Richard Eyre’s comments are spelt out in a comment piece he wrote for this week’s Media Week. He’s still wrong.]

Something to Watch on iTunes

If you were a UK resident and rushed out and bought an Apple TV device after they were announced in autumn 2006, you’d have been sorely disappointed when you got home and plugged it in. Certainly you could listen to you iTunes library through your TV, as well as any video podcasts you subscribed to. But actual films or TV programmes were in short supply.
Over the past few months, that situation has improved, and you can buy episodes of Ashes to Ashes or Gavin and Stacey (ahead of a DVD release) availble to buy, but films have been in short supply, with some Pixar shorts being the main offerings.
ITV has been less forthcoming with its iTunes offering, with the feeling that they’re holding back programming until after the launch of Kangaroo or SeeSaw or whatever the joint BBC Worldwide/ITV/Channel 4 venture ends up being called.
But back to films. Today, Apple’s finally gotten around to making films available, and entertainingly, for the UK market, they’re promoted on the iTunes store front page as being “films” even if they end up appearing in your iTunes library as “movies”.
I’m not sure that I’m going to bother though. OK – so I don’t have an Apple TV, iPhone, iPod Touch or even an iPod Classic, so aside from watching on my laptop screen, there’s not a great deal of value me buying. Yet even if I did have one of the devices, the prices don’t really do it for me.
First off there are rentals priced at £2.49 or £3.49 for catalogue and new releases respectively. So The Matrix will cost be £2.49 to rent. Yet the price of the DVD at Amazon to buy is only £2.98. Certainly there’s a postage charge to come, but I’ve got Amazon Prime so it’d be here tomorrow for no extra cost!
Let’s choose another film at random (Honestly – I am looking at random. I’m not just looking for examples to prove my point): School of Rock. Well, for some reason, that’s not available to rent. But I can buy it for £6.99 as it’s a catalogue title. At Amazon it’s £4.97. Team America: World Police? Well it’s on C4 this Saturday but again only available to buy at £6.99. £4.98 at Amazon.
A Mighty Heart? Well that doesn’t count as a catalogue title because it’s priced at £10.99. It’s £6.98 on Amazon for the DVD.
I drew all these titles at random from the carousel on iTunes films homepage. I’m sure that there are films I can rent cheaper than I can buy them at Amazon, but then I could probably rent those at Blockbuster or Love Film or whatever too.
Maybe the situation’s better for newer titles, since £10.99 compares well with new DVD’s typically priced around fifteen quid on the high street in their week of release. National Treasure 2, brand new on DVD, is priced at £10.99 on iTunes. What about Amazon? 99p more expensive at £11.98. iTunes wins!
Of course you don’t get the extras with iTunes, and the 1.4GB download might into your bandwidth capacity if you’ve got a cap. It’s also more than likely to take you a while download. The size isn’t suprising since the resolution is 640 by 480. Mind you PAL DVDs are 720 by 576, so iTune’s resolution is inferior.
Then there’s the sound – iTunes offers Dolby surround. Most DVDs offer Dolby Digital 5.1 sound – again vastly superior, especially if you have a home cinema set-up.
If buying movie downloads is to become as “successful” as it has been with music, then the price has to be more attractive. DVD prices are undoubtedly on a downward spiral (I use quotes because the growth in download revenues does not make up for the loss of CD revenues), with new released reaching the 3 for £20 price point ever faster, and even the movie companies realise that sales may well have peaked overall. But if they want to pick up some of the slack, then the pricing needs to be competitive. I don’t think that it currently is. I could also go into a great rant about DRM, but I’ll leave that for others. Needless to say, that alone is reason enough for me not to buy.
So in summary, iTunes movies are more restrictive than DVDs (you can’t lend them to friends or sell them on eBay), are worse quality than DVDs, have fewer features than DVDs (no extras or commentaries), and as often than not more expensive than their DVD equivalents.
This won’t matter to some people who’ll be glad to find something that they can easily and legally put on their brand new 3G iPhones (coming soon we’re promised), but overall I’m not convinced. Buy the DVD – you can use it in lots of hardware, and grab a copy of Handbrake. Drop the file onto your iPod Touch, PSP, Asus EEE, Xbox 360 or whatever, and watch it how you like.

More on the Virgin Radio Sale And Other Radio News

A couple of people have asked me why I haven’t blogged more on the sale of Virgin Radio to TIML that was announced on Friday evening.
The problem is that you have to tread very carefully when blogging about your employer. So I’m not going to say a great deal more, but as ever, what I do say represents my personal thoughts and not necessarily those of my employer.
Anyway, I suggest you go and read James Cridland’s thoughts on the sale which, unsurprisingly, are balanced and fair.
I was slightly amused by this:
A few weeks ago I met someone from Virgin Media, and he noted that Virgin Radio, my previous employer, had rather unhelpfully accepted sponsorship from Sky for their breakfast show just when Virgin Media was launching.
This does highlight the issue that Virgin Radio has always faced – the use of the Virgin brand name can be both a blessing and a curse. The assumption often made by both the public and other businesses is that all the Virgin brands are related, when in fact they’re largely all licencees of the Virgin Group. This has led to problems in the past with some brands not willing to advertise on Virgin Radio because we are considered a partner to one of their brands’ competitors. For example, at times both British Airways and Coca-Cola wouldn’t spend because of the existance of Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Cola, despite Virgin Radio having nothing to do with them (Entertainingly, we’ve always had the fridge at work stocked with “the real thing”).
John Plunkett at Media Guardain has a blog on the sale too. Although note to John: in the last year, Fat Bottomed Girls by Queen has been played precisely once on Virgin Radio (Sunday March 9 at 8.50pm – he must have been listening). And I’ve refrained from pointing out to one commentator that at 160kbps, Virgin Radio is second only to Radio 3 as having the highest bitrate of any UK DAB station (alongside Classic FM).
Elsewhere it’s been a busy time for radio in the past few days. Planet Rock has been sold to an entrepreneur named Malcolm Bluemel, much to Brian May’s chagrin. It will continue to be named Planet Rock.
And Xfm South Wales has been sold to Town and Country Broadcasting headed up by Jason Bryant – late of these parts. The issue for GCap with that particular station was that they weren’t going to be able to network its programming as they’re able to on other Xfm services in Manchester, London and Scotland. Since the station only launched at the end of last year, and its format promised lots of local programming, Ofcom rules mean that they’re not able to back out of that promise for a couple of years. If other Town and Country services are anything to go by, making the service truly local will be a key aim for the newly renamed Nation Radio.
Meanwhile Moz Dee at Talksport has been busy signing up people. Stan Collymore has joined for a show and co-commentator work. Despite his, er, eratic private life, he’s actually a really good football summariser. He’ll be missed by Five Live. And today they announced that Danny Kelly’s joining Talksport. He’s going to be sharing presenting duties with Collymore – Talksport having just pulled off a classic “double-dip” piece of PR, by announcing the two halves of the deal separately!
Sadly, this probably means that the Baker and Kelly show probably isn’t going to be returning imminently following the Wippit fiasco of last year. In the meantime, Danny Baker’s back doing 606 on Five Live during Euro 2008.
Finally, NME Radio has begun test transmissions. They’ve got plenty of their own stunt broadcasting through their launch period with Ricky Gervais doing a show, and the first DJs being announced. At time of writing, it’s not on DAB in London, but I’ll keep looking out for it. I note that they’ve got a promotional RSL in NW London due later in the year.
Actually, the list of upcoming RSLs is fascinating. I see that for the Wimbledon tennis tournament, instead of the usual single FM service running in parallel with the fortnight, they’ve got two additional services covering centre court and number one court. The other unmissable service coming soon is surely Watchtower radio – RSLs covering various Jehovah’s Witness conventions. They have a grand total of thirteen services due to come on stream. Also noteworthy is Lune Valley & Barrow Agility FM which will be covering a dog ability show.
Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough now. But If you’ve stumbled across this blog because you saw Kathryn Jacob’s My Media piece in Media Guardian today, then hello! I hope there’s something of interest here and I’m not too obscure for you.
[UPDATE] This Media Guardian interview with Clive Dickens is well worth a read. And there’s another piece giving some background on Times of India.
If you’re interested, Albion are the people who’ll be coming up with the new brand. When the new brand is announced, you’ll read about it here, er, well, second/third/fifth/something like that. In other words, once it’s public knowledge. They’ve got domains to register after all!