May, 2011

New BBC News Blogs – A Retrograde Update

BBC News is seemingly completing its movement of correspondents’ blogs across to the a new system. And frankly, they’ve made some significantly retrograde steps.
I’d happily acknowledge that previously the blogs were somewhat hidden, and lots of website readers were probably missing out. And I know that this has meant a shift in the backend with an end to using Movable Type, and the use of a internal solution. I’ve no problem with either of those changes. And the blogs make much better use of the screen real-estate. Design-wise, I again have no problem.
But here are the significant issues I do have:

  • The pathetic 400 character limit for commenting. I rarely commented on BBC blogs, but nonetheless, much as I love Twitter, just under 3 x Tweets in length for making sometimes quite complex points isn’t enough. It certainly concentrates the mind, but frankly I think it panders to a society where complicated points have to be reduced to a soundbite. Reading the comments is what makes blogs different. I would never want comments under news stories (there are plenty of newspaper websites who go too far in this regard). But personal authored blogs are very different.
  • The lack of RSS feeds. In fact, it turns out that most of the blogs do have RSS feeds. But they’re hidden from browsers. My browser doesn’t auto-discover them (I’m using Firefox 4). A trivial piece of code in the header of the page would sort this out. Initially, they weren’t even there at all. Phil Coomes’ photography blog is a case in point. He’s been busily publishing, but I’ve missed him because RSS feeds weren’t ready when his blog moved. That was unforgiveable. I’m sure I’m not alone in having not kept track of his blog over the last week or two. People who use RSS feeds tend to use them a lot and follow sometimes hundreds of sites.
  • The lack of RSS feed redirection. GIven that it turns out that there are RSS feeds, why on earth didn’t the BBC use RSS re-direction? If I missed the message in the last blog under the old system that gave details of the move, I’ve effectively been unsubcribed from that blog.
  • The removal of full-text from the RSS feed. It’s not as though the BBC has to drive advertising and desperately needs the site traffic (Many commerical sites like The Guardian include full text and an ad in any case). A simple rule of thumb is that the less information you provide in your RSS feed, the less likely I am to read it – it’s much easier to click on through looking for something to read. Unless your blog has a very high publishing rate (and many of the main BBC news pages absolutely do fulfill this criteria), then it’s unlikely I’m going to find your musings – published at most two or three times in a day, and usually much less often – too much for my RSS reader. Indeed, by publishing the full text, and getting me engaged in the article, I’m actually more likely to click through and read the comments. This is quite possibly the worst step of all, and is already resulting in me reading less.

There are other things. I prefer my comments to flow in the order they were published. The reverse means that to follow the discussion, I have to first read the piece, then scroll to the bottom of the page, and then scroll back up. Of course with comment voting, that can mean comments can end up all over the place. Perhaps there’s a way for me to choose this option (as some websites offer)? I don’t know where it it is though. And surely by now, the BBC’s player should be able to work in RSS readers like Google Reader?
But those are trivial compared with the main points above. A real shame.

RAJAR – Q1 2011

RAJAR
It’s early May, and that means it’s another RAJAR – that exciting time when radio stations in the UK learn their new listening figures.
As ever, it’s a mixed bag, with ups and downs.
In the up box is radio listening overall. It’s once again recorded a record reach, with 91.6% of the population listening to the radio each week. Listening hours are also at record levels.
Nationally most of the BBC’s main services have had decent results. Only Five Live has experienced a bit of fall back from its record results last time around. And Radio 3 will probably be pleased with its growth in listening hours although reach is always more important to the BBC.
My employer, Absolute Radio, has seen a healthy increase in hours of 10.5% nationally, while Classic FM has seen a decent increase in reach, but is flat in hours. TalkSPORT, which also had record listening figures last time around (and is currently basking in the glory of a Sony Station of the Year award), saw a 5.2% increase in reach, while its hours dropped back 9.3%.
Of the national and quasi-national networks, this is the first time that the Capital Network is able to report a true reflection of itself since itse rebrand, with a modest increase in hours nationally. The Heart Network has slipped a little in hours.
The BBC’s clutch of digital services have all performed really well with significant increases in reach and hours for 1Xtra, 6Music, the reprieved Asian Network and Radio 7 (this is pre the 4Extra rebrand). 6Music’s reach and hours are now at record highs.
In London, Capital is firmly the most popular commercial station in London, squarely beating Heart and Magic for the crown. It has bounced back with an enormous 43% increase in listening hours, helped perhaps, by a significant marketing spend earlier in the year. Heart also had a very good RAJAR, although like Capital, this followed a poor quarter last time around. Absolute Radio in London shot up 83% in hours – again from a very poor result last time around. It too saw London marketing.
Smooth’s increase is notable too, with a 72% increase in hours, while Kiss was flat, and Magic lost 10% of its hours.
It’s worth noting that of late, London has seen a number of significant swings in reported numbers.
At breakfast, Chris Moyles continues to do well, and has seen a significant upswing in London, although he still sits behind Johnny and Lisa on Capital. Chris Evans has also put on the better part of 500,000 listeners on Radio 2.
As ever, I’ve completely ignored the rest of the country, and there are hundreds of local stories that I’ve not covered here, but hopefully it gives you a taster.
Now let’s get on to digital. This quarter the RAJAR publication code has changed, and for the first time individual stations’ digital listening figures can be put into the public domain. Overall, digital listening has risen from 25.0% to 26.5% – a new high. It’s worth remembering that digital listening always shows increases in the first quarter – due in no small amount to all those new DAB sets given at Christmas being turned on (it really is a key time of the year for purchases).
Here’s the chart that you might be familiar with demonstrating that growth:

But while 26.5% is the overall industry average for digital listening, not all stations are the same. My employer, Absolute Radio, has never been shy about talking up its number (32.2% of all listening to Absolute Radio is digital), but now comparisons can be drawn.
Here are some of the key national stations and a comparison of how they perform. (Note that all of these charts are interactive so hover your mouse over them for individual figures. And if someone can help me with the Google Charts “bug” that means some scales have lots of decimal places, drop me a note!):

I’ve compared 3 Month stations here, but here’s a separate chart for some other national brands that report on a 6 Month basis:

And here’s a snapshop of London:

What it really shows is that some stations have significantly different digital footprints to others. Radio 1 is 21.3% digital and Radio 2 is 22.7%, whereas Radio 3 is 29.4% and Five Live (which has barely mentioned its AM frequency in the last few years) is at 39.2%.
Youth brands like the Capital aren’t as attractive to digital listeners (given both their audience and strong FM signals) whereas Gold does very well having to live on AM in analogue world. Digital is a significant step up.
Obviously I’ve excluded 100% digital services like 6Music and Planet Rock. But I think this gives an interesting flavour. It also suggests that the youth stations are not as digital as we might imagine. That said, there are differences in how exactly that digital listening takes place. Capital Network is proportionately stronger online, whereas Heart does well on digital TV (it has a good presence on Freeview unlike many radio stations).
Find out more figures at RAJAR, or somewhere like Media UK.
Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB, period ending March 2011, adults 15+.
[Disclaimer: These are my own opinions, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer. However, this piece is based on work done for Absolute Radio, and the access I have to the data is only due to who I work for. Read about Absolute Radio’s results here.]

What Do I Do With My Music?

I’m facing a dilemma. I’m wondering whether I should ditch Apple for my music needs…
Here’s where I am, as Duncan Bannatyne might say:

  • I use iTunes to manage my music and audio. I have over 160GB of music/audio. Partly because I have a “reasonable” amount of music; partly because I rip that music at high quality from CD; partly because I save a lot of radio; and partly because I listen to audiobooks (again at high quality).
  • I have an iPod Classic, and it’s full. To get around this, I ensure that only the audiobooks that I need at any time are uploaded to it. And not every podcast makes the cut (Even then, I only have the most recent three on the device, but whole series of things like In Our Time exist in my library). But when all is said and done, my iPod is teetering – close to full.
  • I have four large boxes of CDs I have yet to rip. I won’t pretend that this is my most listened to music. It’s sitting in boxes after all. There are partworks that I once collected (Jazz Greats anyone?), or BBC Music Magazine cover CDs that I’ve collected. But at the very least I want to digitise them.

So what should I do?
Well carry on digitising for starters. But I have some issues with my current Apple solution:
Pros

  • iTunes is all-encompassing. It handles podcasts satisfactorily. I like Genius and its playlist functionality.
  • I use an Airport Express to play iTunes audio through my main stereo. It works well. I could use an Apple TV if I wanted to spend £99.
  • I use an old iPod Touch (2nd generation?) as a remote control. It all hooks together beautifully.
  • It works with Audible.
  • Third party NAS drives – like the one I have – offer iTunes Server.

Cons

  • iTunes is awful. It’s long overdue a root and branch rewrite from the ground up. It’s clunky. It’s unintuitive unless you know it intimately and are prepared to Google for hours. It’s sluggish on moderately powered PCs (yes – I’m using the PC version). But I will concede that you can get what you want done on it, even if it’s often unnecessarily complicated.
  • I’m concerned about the future of the iPod Classic. I’m not interested in an iPhone, or upgrading my iPod Touch. In any case the price of flash memory means that getting upwards of 160GB on one of these devices is still impossible, and would be frighteningly expensive even if Apple sold one. At time of writing, 64GB is the largest capacity iPod Touch available, but it costs 45% more than the much larger capacity Classic. And the Classic has not been updated in the last 18 months. It was not mentioned at all last September, and because it’s not touchy-shiny, you worry that it’s an unloved product at Apple. All you can really do with it is listen to music (even video watching isn’t much fun on that size screen).

The cloud locker services are coming. Amazon has launched in the US, and Google is rumoured to be launching any day now with its version. They’re both effectively hard-disks in the sky. Because record companies have yet to play ball (or at least agree on the “ball” rules), Google and Amazon are having to maintain multiple versions of the same tracks for each user. In the longer term, offering 50GB space really only works if the Lady Gaga track I’ve uploaded to my service is identical to the one being “uploaded” by thousands of other users. We can all share the same file.
At the moment, there’s nothing to really replace Apple that’s satisfactory. The cloud lockers are appealing, but not really fit for purpose right now (although we’ve yet to see details of Google’s offering). And uploading 200GB+ to one of the services is not appealing over ADSL.
So I’ll continue to use Apple for the forseeable future.
But if a new, larger iPod Classic is not forthcoming, I might have to fundamentally rethink my music future. There are other ways to get audio from my NAS to my hi-fi. My BluRay has an Android app to control it, so my aging iPod Touch could yet be consigned to dust.
We live in interesting times, to quote someone…