December, 2012

Radio Times – 26 December 2012

Radio Times 26 December 2012 - TV
As a special extra treat (!), I’ve added Boxing Day to this year’s annotated Radio Times pages.
OK. The rest of the family was watching Downton, and it leaves me a little cold. I suspect that personally, I’ll be catching up with the thing I’m most looking forward to – The Girl – on iPlayer later since it clashes with Miranda. And about the only Miranda Hart we’ve not had over Christmas is her book.
As ever, it’s best viewed large.


Moscow 2012-3
I’ve just spent a few days in Moscow giving a talk to the Russian Academy of Radio at their annual get together.
Clearly, if I was going all the way to Moscow, I was going to be sure to find a bit of spare time to get out and take some photos, and the good news was that the hotel I was staying in was an excellent place to start. Thanks to Katherine at the Russian Academy of RadioI managed to get my room at the Baltschug Kempinski upgraded to a Kremlin/Red Square view. The hotel was just across the Moskva River!
I can’t pretend that a couple of days in Moscow has left me with a great deal of knowledge about the place, but I did learn the following:

  • The Champions’ League kicks off insanely late because of the four hour time difference. That means a 7.45pm UK timed game ends around 1.45am local time. That didn’t prevent me watching Celtic beat Spartak on my arrival.

  • Russians really do deal with snow exceptionally well (well nearly always). There’d just been the first significant snowfall of the year before I arrived, and bulldozers, dump trucks and men with pick axes and brushes were busy all over the city clearing away the snow and ensuring that Moscovites didn’t fall over on the ice, or that the traffic (slow at the best of times) was any worse than normal. Even at the airport, the deicing process was painless – even if it was slightly concerning that we were taking off in a quite decent amount of snow. I noted that Stansted and Luton had both been closed with much less snow the morning I’d departed.

  • The Metro really is fantastic. Even the paper tickets work with RFID chips at around 60p a trip. They tunnels are deep below ground, and the halls and vaults are massive. My only complaint is that everything is in Cyrillic. Obviously that’s not surprising in itself, but actually they seem pretty good at putting Latin-lettered versions of most signs up alongside Cyrillic versions. But on the Metro you’re on your own. You need to play close attention when you catch transport.

  • GUM may be the “State Department Store” but it’s more like Bond Street placed in one high class shopping mall. Every single shop was a designer brand of some description or another. Sadly, that meant that I couldn’t find anywhere in the centre of the city that wasn’t insanely over-priced. Regular Russians clearly shop out of town.

  • They really know how to light up their landmarks. It helped my photos no end.

  • Moscow 2012-26
  • There are something like 55 radio stations in Moscow. This really does seem like an awful lot. On the other hand, it means you see branded cars, co-promotes and so on all over the place.

  • There are some really poor dubs of some western films and TV series on some stations. To properly do a dub, you need to remove the dialogue track and replace it, leaving other sound elements like music and effects intact. However on more than one occasion, the English language dialogue track was simply lowered, and people spoke over the top of them. That leads to all dialogue having two voices at once, making it very hard to hear anything in any language. Still at least there is some good taste. The IT Crowd was being shown nightly (and it had been properly dubbed).

  • If you really must, you can get your photo taken with a Vladimir Putin lookalike in Red Square. On other hand, you can also get it taken with Mickey Mouse.

  • If you like ice skating, Gorky Park is exceptional in the winter. Not so much an ice rink as a full ice park.

  • Whoever has the Moscow Range Rover dealership is definitely doing very well for themselves.

Moscow 2012-80
Anyway, more photos here.
Moscow 2012-66
And since I was able to shoot video, here’s some of that.

Moscow – December 2012 from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

Television Scheduling Moans

Last week Channel 4 stripped their four part thriller, The Fear, across Monday to Thursday, nightly at 10pm. They ran lots of press advertising that I saw, even after the first episode had aired.
I’ve explained previously why I think TV channels that adopt this kind of scheduling are foolish. But rather than go through them again when you can read them at your leisure, I’ll just say that I had all four episodes saved up on my PVR, and having read The Observer’s review last weekend, and so they ended up deleted and unwatched. That’s a fate much less likely if there was only a single episode had been awaiting me. I’d at least give it a go.
At the same time, ITV was coming out of several interminable of weeks of nonentities stuck in a set – or “jungle” – somewhere in Australia. The same problem in reverse abounds. I’m not interested in that show, nor the weekend karaoke show, so the odd Champions’ League games aside, I’ve not watched ITV at all for weeks.
Therefore when ITV then launches some interesting sounding – as The Town, in retrospect, did – I simply don’t learn about it in advance. The most effective and cheapest way of a TV station telling me about their upcoming attractions is to promote them within their current ones. Unfortunately, if you’ve decided to hand your entire primetime schedule over to an admittedly popular, yet quite polarising programme, you can’t be surprised when viewers don’t return.
Oh, and this week the final episode of The Hour, which has aired on Wednesday evenings, went out on a Thursday for what are undoubtedly scheduling reasons. How many viewers missed that I wonder?
Anyone from Britain who’s ever visited the US may have noticed the vast amount of advertising for TV programmes. New York buses, taxis and billboards all regularly promote TV shows. If companies like ITV and Channel 4 are going to continue to adopt these strange scheduling decisions, then they’re going to need to do more marketing.
I literally had no idea The Town was on ITV. I hadn’t seen a single trailer. Yes, ITV no doubt rammed it down the throats of jungle/karaoke views, but while those shows reach perhaps 12m, there are more than the same again still available to view but who need to be told.
Newspapers can, and do, do a good job. But fewer of us are reading them.
Perhaps a better solution is not to turn over your entire schedule to a single show. While the short term ratings seem essential, I’m not sure that the longer term damage isn’t worse.
ITV has become almost entirely reliant on cycles of X Factor, I’m A Celebrity, Britain’s Got Talent and to an extent, Dancing on Ice. What happens, as is seeming to happen with The X Factor, when audiences begin to tire? You end up in the same position that Channel 4 found itself in a post Big Brother world. It continues to struggle despite excellent Paralympics work. Drama is slowly coming back now they’ve cancelled the interminable Shameless and are actually investing some cash. But they really need to take ownership of a slot so viewers learn to tune in on Mondays at 9pm or wherever, for a drama hit. To some extent Homeland does this a little, but it’s quickly become 24 and rubbish.
Finally, an noteworthy aside. I missed The Town, and ITV has no narrative repeat in the same week beyond the +1 channel the same night. So to watch it I used Sky’s catch-up service. Interestingly, this delivered me the show completely unencumbered by either advertising or sponsorship credits. Just 43 minutes of the actual programme. Great for the viewer, but perhaps not so great for ITV’s funding model.
On the other hand, the 4OD method of delivery is not the way to go. All I ever hear from people catching up on 4OD is that they just have too many adverts. Someone I know missed the last 20 minutes of an episode of Homeland so wanted to catch up. Because each “act” of a show has an unmissable set of 6×30 second ads, she had to watch TWELVE MINUTES of advertising before getting to what she wanted. Someone else said to me that they’ll just not watch the programme at all rather than use 4OD.
Again, I know that Channel 4 has to make money on its programming, but running its current extreme levels of unskippable advertising is not a long-term solution. Fewer, premium ads would seem a more sensible way to work.
PS Can be Comedy Central and BBC Three please stop their incessant on screen promos for the next programme while I’m still watching this one. That’s particularly the case when it blocks the captions on The Daily Show.
PPS For the benefit of BBC Three’s continuity announcers: “funny” is not a noun.

Newspapers and Tablets

The majority of the UK press has been vehemently reacting against the recommendations last week of the Leveson report, and in particular reject any kind of government legislation of their industry in spite of the systematic abuse that many titles have treated members of the public.
But as they do that, one wonders – with a great deal of concern – what the ultimate future of the printed press is. And to a greater extent, serious journalism overall. Are they fiddling while Rome burns?
Today we learnt that News Corporation is shutting down its fledgling tablet publication The Daily.
So far what we have learnt is that:

  • Paywalls don’t work

  • Giving everything away free and using advertising doesn’t work

  • Trying to use a single form of distribution – even tablets – doesn’t work

Being the critical resource in a specialised area and doing most of the above does work. Or at least it does if you’re the FT (or WSJ). And breaking the shackles of a store proprietor who wants 30% just for listing you is probably no bad thing (FT again).
Perhaps I’m being a little unfair with my bullets, but I think that’s fairly much the case to date. And well done if you’re breaking that mould.
Let me talk about my own news requirements for a moment.
I’m a paid up subscriber to The Guardian and its sister paper, The Observer. For a discounted rate, I buy tokens in advance that let me pick up printed papers at newsagents. Remember, this is the newspaper group that already puts all its editorial up online free of charge.
So why do I pay? Well for two reasons in the main. One, I know that if nobody buys their paper editions, then there won’t be a free ad-supported online version because the sums don’t yet add up. And two, I like paper. Aside from anything the editors of printed papers provide an excellent mechanism to give me a broad church of stories to read. My natural online tendency is not to stray too far from the Media Guardian section of their website, but the paper copy gives me a broader selection of stories, and I read things that I’d have never strayed across online.
So despite frequently reading stories online the night before I take physical ownership of the paper version, I still feel that I’m getting excellent value.
That said, I certainly could see myself moving to a digital edition, were I able to.
You see my subscription also entitles me to the iPad version of the paper. But that’s of no use to me. I don’t own an iPad (and have no intention of getting into the walled garden of apps that Apple deigns to let me install on a device that I have to pay for).
I do, however, have a Nexus 7 that I’ve become rather attached to it. Yet The Guardian doesn’t have an Android tablet app. So I’m left out. Yes there’s a generic mobile app. But it’s not optimised for a tablet form factor, and is essentially a mobile-optimised version of the website, without essential functionality like offline caching.
To be fair, there are hardly any mainstream Android apps for UK newspapers. That is to say, ones that are truly optimised to make use of the larger screen size, and feature essential functionality such as offline reading, and a scheduler for getting editorial delivered to the device.
The one exception seems to be The Times. I’ve not subscribed to it, so have no real experience of it working, having only used their standard mobile app on my phone. But I do find it very interesting that they’re currently offering a deal to let you pay £50 for a Nexus 7 if you subscribe for 18 months to The Times and Sunday Times for £4 a week (or £17.33 a month).
It’s got to be said that this sounds like an excellent deal, since that’s for the full 32GB version of a device that retails for £199. You end up paying a further £193 or just under £11 a month for your newspaper. And it’s cheaper still if you pay up front for the lot – £299.
This is precisely the kind of deal that I suggested newspapers should be making two and a half years ago.
I’d like to see a newspaper group really do something clever. A deal to give me a free iPad (or similar – because we all know that the iPad is vastly over-priced) if I take up a two year subscription – like my mobile phone company does.
Perhaps it has only been with the advent of inexpensive yet powerful tablets like the Nexus 7, that such deals become possible?
Which brings me onto my next issue. The lack of Android support – The Times excepted – across the newspaper industry. With the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire surely flying off shelves this Christmas, the likelihood is that they’re going to rapidly take a significant market share.
As a user, I believe that the 7 inch format is a much convenient one for travelling with and reading on the go. It slips into pockets and bags much more easily than 10 inch tablets do, and the price point makes it affordable to a much larger range of consumers.
Where once upon a time, it was entirely understandable that companies developed for the iPad first and then considered their options before moving onto another platform, it seems to me that it’s actually essential that today they develop in parallel for Android. Indeed, such is the state of play currently, they’ll probably have more standout in the Google Play Store than they will in Apple’s iTunes Store.
Newspapers are simply missing a trick by not pushing fully featured Android applications out.
Even worse – sometimes when they do it’s that most awful of things, an exclusive partner tie-up. Take for example The Guardian’s Eyewitness app. It’s available to buy on iTunes for £1.49 and presents a range of stunning photos in tablet form that builds from what’s available in the paper and online. One of the reasons I love the printed paper is the massive Eyewitness photos usually spread over the centre pages.The power of a photograph can never be underestimated.
Sadly, for what are clearly marketing purposes, The Guardian has only released an Android version of its Eyewitness app to users of the Amazon Kindle Fire. Despite being essentially an Android platform, it’s exclusively available for users of that device.
I’m waiting over here to pay good money for the app, but they don’t want it (or rather, they probably prefer Amazon’s slightly larger cheque). Ironically, because The Guardian has APIs, someone else has written an Android app that takes the available photos (not the full range that the paid apps deliver) and presents them to users in such a way as you might not realise that there was a premium app available.
Getting back to the start, what the closure of The Daily shows us is that solely appearing on tablets was a bit too much too soon. But that doesn’t mean that tablets – in some form or another – aren’t perhaps the most preferred way for newspaper to prosper in a digital age. The paper was clearly generating real revenue, as this excellent piece at the Nieman Journalism Lab points out. But the model didn’t work in a tablet-only environment. Multi-platform is essential for the scale to make paying for those journalists achievable.
Again, I’ve not read The Daily, because even though there seemingly was an Android version, I never heard about it. But I do know that if you’re not offering more than I can already get in the Metro or on websites built around agency copy, then you’ve not got a hope.
Put the resource in, and build good apps – for both iOS and Android. Ideally launching them simultaneously (it’s notable that Rovio launched the iOS and Android versions of Angry Birds Star Wars together, just as Xbox 360 and PS3 titles arrive together).
Use it to support your print proposition.
Be creative in how you market your offering. Heavily discounting devices is a great idea.
There still could be money to made here. Because if there isn’t, the industry really is in trouble.