November, 2014

Twitter is Searchable: My Early Timeline

Twitter has finally built a full search engine for its archived Tweets. That’s important because it has been incredibly hard in the past to find specific Tweets.

I’m on Twitter of course, and have been since sometime in December 2006. But this search engine fills in a few blanks.

My first Tweet was not the most exciting ever:

That was December 13. I then didn’t do anything for about three months when I published this helpfully:

The first actual thing of interest was a few days later:

I’m honestly not sure what that might have been.

Then this was squarely aimed at the only other people I really knew on Twitter – the tech guys at One Golden Square:

Martin Collins is on the early shift at Magic these days – and back in One Golden Square. I’m not sure if he’s still using Carmina Burana…

Yahoo Pipes!

Then I started doing something that I’d completely forgotten. I started using Twitter in the third-person. I’m honestly not sure why, and I suspect that it’s because other people were doing that. I certainly didn’t have someone Tweeting for me!

I’ve kicked The Apprentice habit you’ll be pleased to learn. And I still think it’s unwise to advertise your hangover on social media if your work colleagues follow you – particularly your boss.

Sometime in the second half of 2007, a lot of us at Virgin Radio started using Twitter in a different way, although most didn’t realise that they’d set up a Twitter account.

Twitter at the time let you receive free SMS messages from specific accounts. It still does (although it’s operator specific and Vodafone has recently cancelled this service).

Using a combination of the Virgin Radio shortcode for texting, and Twitter, James Cridland got everyone in the company to sign up to Twitter with their mobile phones ahead of our weekend away in Dublin.

Here’s what happened. You followed a Virgin Radio account and enabled SMS messaging from it. Then you sent a message to the Virgin Radio text number with a prefix (so that it skipped the studio inbox). That was then “posted” as a Virgin Radio Tweet. And everyone following that account then got an SMS with said Tweet.

Free SMS group messaging for everyone in the company while we went on our jaunt to the Emerald Isle!

Well there were a few issues.

Firstly, it was anonymous, since all the Tweets were coming from the Virgin Radio account. And people quickly realised this. You could make “humorous” comments about your colleagues and they wouldn’t know who was broadcasting them.

Secondly, the volume of texts that everyone was getting meant that before we’d reached Heathrow Airport on the way out, a lot of people’s phones were dead or clogged up with texts, and they were desperately asking how to unsubscribe!

I’m not sure how any of this is related and whether I somehow got accounts muddled for a while, but my Twitter timeline goes quiet now until early 2008.

(I’ll save you a click – it’s a live blog of the BAFTAs).

(You can still listen to this here or download it from this page)

The key thing to note is that I was no longer Tweeting in the third person.

Anyway, I don’t propose to run through all 12,900 or so Tweets from there to date, but it’s fun using Twitter search to see how things have changed.

One final thing to say is that I don’t know if old Tweets come with the

Podcast Numbers – Does Serial Tell Us Anything?

In a world where there are so many metrics available, there’s often a curious shortage of figures in some parts of the tech industry where you’d like there to be. Amazon won’t tell you how many Kindles its sold. Netflix won’t say how many episodes of House of Cards it has streamed. And so on.

So it’s interesting to read today that Apple has said that it has delivered over 5m downloads or streams of Serial so far. This is the fastest ever podcast to reach that number. But what does that really say?

Well so far there have been 8 episodes of Serial, so if everyone who used iTunes to listen to Serial, dutifully listened to each episode, that’d mean 625,000 downloads of each episode.

In reality, I suspect that the first episode has been delivered more than any other. Despite it being “the Breaking Bad of radio,” not everyone will get on with it and might drop out after a handful of episodes.

Here’s a possible breakdown of listening by episode based on nothing more than random guesswork taking that thesis into account:

One way or another, I expect the chart would look more like this than a fist line.

This does of course ignore the fact that once subscribed, you might not unsubscribe and just ignore podcasts piling up on your device. They still get credited as a download.

But unfortunately, in the scheme of things, we don’t really know what this all means. While Serial has been sitting at the top of the US and UK iTunes podcast chart for the last couple of months, that doesn’t really tell you anything.

iTunes tries to keep its podcast charts dynamic. If it didn’t, then the top performers would fill the slots repeatedly. So it’s never a question of just how many podcasts have been downloaded over a given time period, but they inject some secret sauce into their formula that almost certainly looks at the rate of growth of a particular podcast, and factor that in too.

And it’s important to note that not all podcasts are delivered via iTunes. You can stream many podcasts direct from the websites of those podcasts, and if you’re using a phone – particularly a non-iPhone – there are any number of podcast apps that you might use to download your listening. Stitcher is one popular one. I currently use Pocket Casts on Android for my own listening. But there are many others.

Depending on your own set-up, if you have your own podcast, you might be able to get your analytics software to determine where your audience is coming from. iTunes is almost certainly the biggest single delivery mechanism, but others are important too, even if cumulatively.

But how does your podcast compare with others out there? Well that’s where you run into difficulties. Certainly you can look at the iTunes podcast charts, but they’re flawed as I’ve mentioned.

Now however, you can look to see whether your last eight podcasts have delivered 5 million downloads or streams via iTunes. If they have then congratulations – your podcast is as big as Serial. Why haven’t I read about it in the weekend broadsheet press?

And if your last eight podcasts were delivered 50,000 times in total by iTunes, then congratulations – your podcasts is 1% the size Serial. We do at least have a comparator!

Breaking News: Most People Still Watch Linear Television Most of the Time

If you’re reading this, you’re probably not normal. And neither am I.

You and I probably have a bit of an unhealthy interest in all things media – radio in particular.

You probably don’t watch an enormous amount of television – less than the 3 hours and 52 minutes a day that was the average viewing time in 2013.

You might not even own a TV – watching iPlayer or Netflix on your tablet or laptop.

But you are not normal.

Sorry. But it’s true.

I do get slightly fed up when I repeatedly hear that “people don’t watch television any more” or similar claims. There does seem to be a prevailing view amongst some – in the technology industry in particular – that people are effectively watching all their TV viewing on demand. That might be via their PVR, or it might be via iPlayer/Netflix/Amazon.

Most recently I heard the claim in discussion about the “Dapper Laughs” furore. Surely being on television makes no difference in this YouTube/Vine world? Who watches live TV any more?

Well, er, TV really does matter.

Most people in the UK watch television (94.4% of the population in the most recent week on the BARB website).

Most of the time they spend watching TV it is live (89% of all viewing in 2013 according to BARB, as reported by Ofcom).

It might seem incredible. But it’s true. You and I might pick and choose all our viewing in advance, and largely watch it back on-demand, with perhaps exceptions for news, sports or big reality shows (the latter being less an issue for me).

But let me reiterate: we’re not normal.

Even though PVR ownership, and access to services like the iPlayer have grown enormously, viewers have not shifted as fast as people sometimes think they have.

And that’s really important when we make broad brush-stroke comments about the importance of TV.

Here are some charts from the annual Ofcom Communications Market Report 2014:


This shows that of the average 232 minutes a day UK individuals spent watching television in 2013, 206 minutes (89%) were live.

Even if you break that down and look at viewing by age, you can see that even in the demo that does the most time-shifted viewing (25-34s), 83% of viewing is still live:


OK. Not every home has a PVR (or DVR as Ofcom calls it). So what about if we limit our analysis to homes that are more capable of watching time-shifted viewing (which kind of ignores iPlayer and 4OD apps), the story is broadly the same – 83% of viewing is live:


And the trends show that this isn’t actually changing all that fast. There will be changes in the future. You’d expect that if the BBC Trust allows BBC 3 to go online only, that’ll make a difference. And increased availability of PVR-functionality or access to IP delivered on-demand streaming, will also make a difference. But it’s not as fast as you’d think.

How Effective is the Charity Single in 2014?

In the last full series of More or Less, there was a really interesting episode that looked at charity giving and what is the most effective way to give money. It is not an easy question to answer as the programme clearly addresses.

I was thinking about this over the weekend when Bob Geldof was gathering another group of musicians, artists, and assorted famous folk, to record a new Band Aid version of Do They Know It’s Christmas?, this time to raise money to combat Ebola.

A fine cause undoubtedly, and the intentions behind this new charity recording are very good.

In 1984, the first recording was a phenomenal success, raising $24m and selling 3.75m singles to raise money to fight famine in Africa. This was followed, of course, by the even more successful Live Aid.

Charity records probably weren’t new then, and certainly haven’t been since. We’ve seen a succession of records raising money for charity with varying degrees of success. Indeed, the current number one is Gareth Malone’s latest in aid of BBC Children in Need (£32.6m raised this year).

But this is what got me thinking. In 1984, if I’d bought the Band Aid single (someone in our family did as we had a copy at home), it’d have cost about 99p to buy the 7″ in the shops.

Today, if I go to Amazon or iTunes, it’ll still only cost me 99p. Sure, the CD single will be more like £4, but there’s barely anywhere left to buy CD singles, and the majority of sales will surely be downloads [Disclaimer: It’s possible that supermarkets will give this heavy promotion in stores, shifting the balance a bit towards the physical product.].

According to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, £1 in 1984 was worth £2.80 in 2013.

This highlights:

1. How cheap music is today in real terms compared with 30 years ago.
2. How relatively little you’re giving in 2014 when you buy a charity single download for 99p compared to what you would have done previously.
3. That if you’re going to buy the track, you really should wait and buy the CD (except it’s not out for another three weeks, while the download is on-sale now, and the track will surely be number 1 next weekend).
4. And that you really shouldn’t stream the track as a proxy to buying it – revenues that way will be paltry. At least buy it on CD when it comes out if you’re streaming it in the meantime.

With the single being VAT free, and retailers unlikely to take their cuts, we can assume that nearly all the money raised from sales will go directly to charity. And there is no doubt that the million pounds or so Geldof says has already been raised is probably a million pounds that wouldn’t have been raised without this single.

But I guess what I’m wondering is whether the charity single is the most effective way of raising money in 2014?

They probably get fans of some of the performers to buy the single when they wouldn’t have otherwise given to, say, the DEC appeal, which reported about a week ago that it had raised £20m in the UK. And we’ve seen Facebook in recent days add very prominent buttons on its desktop and mobile applications to allow users to give generously. The mobile networks let you donate very quickly via text to the DEC, and Paypal lets you donate via your account. All of these are very convenient and easy ways to give. They also make it easy for UK tax-payers to Gift Aid their contributions thereby increasing the value of their donation.

I have no solution, but I do think that we need new ways to generate serious money through popular culture beyond the charity single.

I look at the success of “totalisers” for things like successful Kickstarter appeals, or the amazing success of Stephen Sutton, the teenager who tragically died of cancer, but dedicated the last months of his life to raising funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust – up to nearly £4.5m.

I wonder if there’s a new model that can generate bigger amounts?

In the meantime, I’m not knocking Bob Geldof or the artists and performers in involved remaking this Band Aid single. They’re doing what they do best, and trying to raise much needed funds to fight the Ebola outbreak.

And just to put thing in perspective, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that nearly $1bn is needed to properly fight the outbreak. To date $685m of this has been funded (Note: not all money given to Ebola causes will necessarily flow through the UN – see this edition of More or Less for a bit more on that). That gives an idea of the enormity of the issue we’re facing. In particular, many of the BRIC countries need to step up according to British officials in this FT report.

Addendum: I must say, I really didn’t like the public “naming and shaming” of artists who chose not to take part in Band Aid 30. It is always up to any individual how he or she wishes to give to charity and the form that is right for them. Calling people out for not doing what you wanted is completely unacceptable.

PS A significant proportion of the comments at the bottom of this review of the Band Aid 30 single in The Guardian single pretty much encapsulate why the bottom of the internet is sadly no longer worth reading in mass publication titles. But that’s a blog for another day.

Podcasts – A Rebirth?

Earlier this year, I was sad when The Guardian shut-down a number of podcasts including the Media Talk Podcast (Phoenix style, an entirely independent-of-the-Guardian podcast, The Media Podcast, rose from the ashes through a Kickstarter – I’m a backer).

But with a certain amount of irony, the final episode of the Guardian’s iteration included contributions from Emily Bell and Matt Wells, Media Talk alumni, who both noted that podcasting was enjoying something of a resurgence on the other side of the pond.

And it certainly seems that there has been a rebirth.

There is some astonishingly good material showing up as podcasts. The other day I sang the praises of Serial (as has the whole world now); and we’re into the last few days of Radiotopia’s Kickstarter fundraising activity that will see not just 99% Invisible funded, but a total of 10 different podcasts funded for the next year. And that includes a podcast from Helen Zaltzman amongst them! They’re at over $540,000 at time of writing, and are just a handful short of 20,000 backers (Getting to 20,000 unlocks another $25,000 so put a $1 in why don’t you? As I hit publish they’re about 200 people off their target).

A week or so ago, New York magazine had a piece about podcasting’s renaissance and the growth in popular and high quality podcasting.

The key suggestion in the magazine article is the growth of the connected car. At its simplest, the fact that pretty much any car built in the last five years has the ability for you to connect your phone to your car’s audio system via either Bluetooth or an auxiliary socket.

Now it should be said that there are some fundamental differences between the UK and the US. We don’t spend as much time in our cars for starters. As I’ve written before, only 20% of our radio listening (a reasonable, but no way perfect, proxy for the ability to listen to podcasts). Direct comparisons with the US are difficult, but a 2008 survey suggested that 35.5% of US listening was in car. Although at the time, 38.9% of listening was at home and today it’s just 28%. So with 72% of listening out of home, it’s likely that US in-car listening has grown substantially since 2008.

Americans also buy a lot of new cars. 15.6m cars were sold in the US in 2013, which means about 4.9% of the population bought a car last year. In the UK, 2.3m cars were sold – about 3.5% of the population. This isn’t surprising. But the conclusion, assuming that cars filter through the population in similar manners, is that of the cars on the road, more will be connected faster in the US than the UK.

And of course, this all means that Americans drive a lot – just over twice as much as the British (13,476 miles a year compared with 6,691 miles miles a year).

The other key difference is willingness to pay. Matt Deegan talked about this in a recent blog post, and it came up in a Radio Academy session on podcasting earlier this year. Put bluntly, if you’re the sort of person who listens to fully-produced speech radio, of the non-right-wing hatemonger variety, then you’re probably listening to NPR. And if you listen to NPR, you know that it’s heavily funded by its listeners. Furthermore, you expect that at certain times through the year, you are going to heavily pressured into supporting the station.

Compare and contrast with the UK where everyone who listens to Radio 4 knows that they’ve already paid for it via their licence fee. The idea of even taking on the BBC with high quality speech radio – or audio – is something of an anathma.

There are attempts of course. There’s a burgeoning talking book market, with Amazon subsidy Audible selling a good number of subscription packages, and then there are genre specific companies like Big Finish, producing SF audio dramas.

But for the most part, in the UK we do expect our audio to come free of charge. I’ve written before about the difficulties there are commercialising podcasts when you have next to no information about how they were consumed beyond the fact that you have some download stats. And then there still seems to be a lack of engagement beyond companies like Square Space, for people to support podcasts.

I can’t stress enough that anyone who’s gone to the effort of searching out a podcast, setting up a subscription on their computer or mobile device, and then listening to said podcast, has made far more of an effort than 95% of media consumption. These have to be some of the most engaged people you can reach. And of course, you have a high level of targeting reaching precisely the kind of consumers that most media can’t dream of reaching. There’s even a tacit understanding that by getting their podcasts free, consumers accept advertising – particularly when it can be easily embedded into programming to an extent Ofcom would never allow on the radio.

The sale of Stitcher to Deezer a few weeks ago is also an important point. While I’m not certain about the longterm viability of the music streaming market (I think subscriptions are going to have to go up, or the flat-rate pricing model adjusted, because artists aren’t making enough in return), I think the acknowledgement that simply offering music – even vaguely curated music – isn’t enough. While I disagree with some of what Felix Salmon wrote on Medium last week about streaming services, the fact that anyone can do the same deal with the majors and offer a streaming service priced at the same level as the current players in the market probably doesn’t help anybody. Stitcher will offer a point of difference. We don’t all want to hear music all the time, and of course podcasts don’t incur pricey copyright fees (although putting your adverts in front of someone else’s podcast is a whole different question).

The UK does need some more help to sustain a vibrant podcasting sector though. As I’ve argued, partly the success that America has is down to an acceptance that you have to put your hand directly in your pocket to pay for what you want. But let’s not forget about the size of the country. Although podcasts are global in reach, cultural differences still count. A non-league football podcast is probably going to have limited appeal beyond these waters.

And then there’s the breadth of radio the UK already offers. Far be it for me to cast aspersions on US radio. But if it’s speech radio that you want, then there’s NPR, sports radio, and rapid hard right wingnuts. And if you compare NPR and Radio 4, you can see that they’re constructed in different ways (e.g. Radio 4 v NPR): NPR has more two hour and one hour programmes. Outside of the Today programme, Radio 4’s programmes are mostly less than one hour – indeed thirty minutes or less. That does mean more variety (for better or worse). Yes, I realise that there are lots of interesting features within some of those larger two hour NPR blocks, but the point still stands.

I notice that the Radiotopia gang have felt the need to include a London party along with major US cities (and Dublin) in one of their stretch goals. That means that a significant number of UK listeners have contributed.

It’d be great to think that this will mean in future more UK podcasts will be funded either through crowdfunding, advertising, live events (e.g. Richard Herring’s podcast), and a plethora of other models that will stretch podcasting beyond being a hobby, and into becoming a career in audio.

But I’ve got to say that it is quite an exciting time to be podcasting.

Now where did I put my copy of The Guardian’s Do Something supplement from the weekend where Helen Zaltzman explains how to make a podcast?

The Future of The Radio Academy

On Friday, The Radio Academy released an unusual press release that detailed how next year’s Radio Academy Awards were being cancelled, as was the Radio Festival. Furthermore, buried at the end, was news that the “Executive Unit” was being closed down. A new, unspecified London-based event, would replace both the Awards and Festival in due course.

What did all this mean?

First of all, I have no specific knowledge of what the underlying problem might be, but let’s go through some of them in turn.

Ending the Radio Academy Awards, aka The Sony Awards is very sad indeed. Sony themselves, ended their very long sponsorship run in 2013, and this year the awards didn’t have a headline sponsor, instead having a number of category sponsors.

I’ve always been a big fan of the Sony Awards (I even compiled a complete list of every Sony/Radio Academy Award ever), because they were the one place where both BBC and commercial radio competed together for excellence in UK radio. There were always fights and divisions over whether the BBC did unfairly well because the award categories were biased towards them, but in recent years newer categories meant that for the most part commercial radio could compete (and if it wasn’t winning awards, might that be because a lot of their radio wasn’t good enough?). Anyway, while I’m not privy to discussions surrounding it, I don’t tend to hear ITV moaning that the BBC has won too many BAFTA Awards.

And let’s be clear, the cancellation of the Sony’s is the equivalent of BAFTA deciding not to bother with the television awards. A Sony win always ends up on the CV of anybody lucky enough to get one, and it certainly did anything but good for someone’s future. For many, the Sony’s were the truest recognition of radio excellence among their peers. Commercial Radio has its Arqivas, and BBC Local Radio has its Gillards, but the Sony’s were the one thing that everyone fought for.

Furthermore, last time I checked, Award ceremonies usually made money. Although the details aren’t clear from the Charity Commission’s website for the Radio Academy, even allowing for the cost of feeding the radio industry with luke warm chicken in a Park Lane hotel, the entry fees and attendance costs for the night itself, should mean a profitable enterprise. Indeed many awards ceremonies outlive anything that they were previously tied to because they’re profitable in their own right.

Then there’s the Radio Festival. For the last few years, this had settled into a new home in Salford – attempting to replicate the Edinburgh TV Festival model of making a permanent home. Previously it had floated around for a few years. Salford was never perfect, with a decent chunk of the industry having to come up from the south, but the area is hardly out of reach, being a couple of hours away on the train.

This year’s Festival was the first for ages that I’d missed, but I heard very good things about it, and having subsequently spoken to a number of attendees, many thought that it was the best Festival in years.

I confess that I am slightly biased having sat for the last couple of years on the TechCon committee, the technical sub-conference that takes place annually, also under the auspices of the Radio Academy. But that too was a useful place for a discrete group of radio “techies” to get together and discuss what they’re doing and what the future holds.

I suspect that the finances of the Radio Festival are harder to calculate. It’s never cheap hiring out somewhere like the Lowry theatre for several days (this being a working theatre that usually accommodates week-long touring productions), as well as attendant costs surrounding staffing, technology, and so on. Some of this is probably mitigated by sponsorship, but I suspect that the overall event is break-even at best.

Radio does need its own conference. However uncertain our industry is at the moment, with new technologies delivering audio and fighting for our “ears” – we still need somewhere to talk about things honestly, hear best practices and celebrate our medium. And make no mistake, it wouldn’t be that hard for someone else to fill in the void – particularly if a conference was to be broadened out to include other streaming and audio services. “RadioDays UK” anyone?

Let’s hope that a new event that encompasses the Awards and the Festival does really achieve that. I would, however, point out that attendees of the Sony Awards and Radio Festival were not the same people. Yes the very senior-most probably get to go to both. But the Sony’s were primarily there for those who actually make radio. So presenters, producers and those who help craft the audio were those we truly celebrated. It’s not for nothing that I only ever got to go to the Sony’s once – and then at short notice when someone dropped out. On the other hand, at the Festival, it was more the “suits” – the executives who delivered new strategies or ways of thinking and doing business. Certainly the art of radio was also discussed, but for the most part, the only “talent” attending the Festival were there to speak rather than to sit in the audience.

So whatever this new event is to be, it’s important to remember that there are different constituencies that the Awards and Festival used to serve.

Then there’s the closure of the “Executive Unit” – the four fulltime staff who sit in the Academy’s small London office, neighbours of DRUK, RadioCentre and RAJAR. These are the people who actually put these events on, and administer the things that the Radio Academy has been doing. I’m not at all clear how this new event (or the others that continue under the Academy’s auspices) will take place without a staff to administer it. Certainly you can outsource your events management, and I assume that’s what the Trustees have decided is better value. But that comes at the cost of knowledge.

And I’m not at all clear what this means for the regional events side of the Academy, and the Masterclasses that they organised to help people learn how to get into the industry. All those meetings where you could sit and learn about what we do as a medium. Will those continue? Who will organise them? Indeed with only a part-time CEO left, I’m not sure what the Radio Academy is going to be able to do for itself. While many of these events have local volunteer committees, it’s the guiding hand of an overall Academy that helps them achieve their aims.

Indeed, the more I think about it, the more misleading the release we had on Friday really is. This isn’t just an amendment to a couple of events; this is a fundamental change, and arguably, is the dismantling of the Radio Academy. It’s particularly vague to say that the Academy has “an ambition” to create a new event. We all have “ambitions” don’t we? Whether we get close to achieving them is something altogether different.

Now I’m not going to argue that the Academy was perfect. Over the summer, the Radio Academy’s Chairman, Ben Cooper, asked “what does it mean to you”?

And here is what I wrote back:

Dear Ben,

What does the Radio Academy mean to me?

To put my thoughts into context, I’ll begin by saying a little about me. I worked at Absolute Radio (and Virgin Radio) for 17 years until earlier this year latterly as Head of Strategy & Planning. I have sat on the TechCon committee for the last three years, I was very briefly on the London committee, and I regularly attended both London Radio Academy events and the Radio Festival for the last few years.

At the moment, I am on a six month contract in News Strategy at the BBC – so indirectly with radio since the World Service is one of the areas I’m looking at.

From a practical perspective, the Radio Academy to me is – or should be – made up of several areas:

  • A place where the industry can meet and exchange views and ideas

  • Somewhere we can celebrate our industry in all its forms

  • A body that can help promote the strengths of the medium to wider audience

  • Somewhere to help people both begin and progress their careers

Beyond these, and in more detail, I have a number of observations. It should be noted that although I’ve been working in radio for more than 17 years, I probably only “discovered” the Radio Academy in the last eight or so.

London Events
It’s disappointing that relatively few people attend some of the London events. The number of people who work in radio in Central London must be a healthy four figure number, and yet you mostly only get the “regulars” who come to pretty much anything that the Academy puts on. They might have an interest in what’s being discussed, but they treat it more as a social event (I must confess to being in this group).
It’s not as though events aren’t “sold out” – but there could and should be a more diverse range of attendees. Indeed, the Academy should be desperately trying to find a bigger venue to meet demand!
Critical to the future of the Radio Academy is attracting a wider reach. I think it can act as a social gathering, but it mustn’t be a closed shop. It needs to be welcoming and try harder to reach the vast number of people who work in the industry and yet have never felt the need to come along.
I would personally forward emails to all staff detailing events that I thought would appeal to staff members. But even then it was like getting blood out of a stone.
Incidentally, I don’t think that this is an issue with the London committee who I know work hard to put on a wide range of events. I think it’s more of an organisational or cultural issue amongst patrons’ stations and groups.

Recognise The Breadth Of What We Do
A lot of time is spent on the craft and output of radio, and rarely on that important and dirty bit that affects half the industry – the commercial part. I suspect that the problem there is that half the Academy’s members might feel that it doesn’t affect them.
If 50% of commercial radio employees don’t feel that the organisation is relevant to them because it ignores what they do, can it really be said to be all encompassing? Similarly, aside from the odd speaker on the occasion, I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone from any agency that buys radio advertising bothering to attend the Radio Festival. A common complaint that’s rightly levelled against commercial radio is that the quality of creative in advertising is pretty poor. This isn’t the place to get into that, but the Radio Festival probably is the right place. And while I’m not sure that I’d see too many agency faces in Salford this October, I’m pretty sure that plenty of their television cousins are heading to Edinburgh in the next few days!
Even persuading people who work in sales teams that they were eligible to enter 30 Under 30 was a challenge.

Do Organisations’ Employees Know They’re Members?
All the big radio groups and many of the smaller groups are patron members, but does everyone within their groups know? And did they realise that they were entitled to attend? Is it part of the induction process when new staff join? How do people even discover the existence of the Radio Academy?
This was a constant battle I fought when I was at Absolute Radio, trying to get a wider group of people beyond “the usual suspects” to attend.

Essential For Your Career
The Radio Academy needs to present itself in a way that would seem to help people’s careers. There shouldn’t need to be a stick to get people along to things, but if sessions were framed in such a way as to help you get on in your chosen profession, then people would attend. Indeed, in a medium that has consolidated significantly, there are fewer jobs in radio, so progression becomes harder. Showing your face amongst your peers should necessarily help people within their careers.

Strengthen the Academy’s Masterclass offering. Last year I had the tiniest of roles in a terrific day co-organised by the BBC Academy and members of the TechCon committee – the Radio Technology Masterclass. The event was completely sold out, and there was a waiting list to get into it.
Yet the Masterclass, for reasons I’m not completely clear about, has not been repeated this year despite a general willingness of those involved to give up another day to do it again.
I believe that the Academy should have a regularly run series of classes that take place throughout the year. These needn’t be completely free, but modestly priced to cover some of the time and costs, and not solely in London or Salford.
Indeed maybe this should just be considered “training.” I don’t know how much training Global or Bauer manage internally, but I know that the BBC Academy is well used resource. Is working with the BBC Academy a way to broaden offerings and make training available to a wider group of people?

A CEO Who Will Last The Course
Appoint a Chief Executive who’s going to be there longer than a year.
I don’t mean to sound flippant or facile, but it feels that the Academy has been a little rudderless for the last couple of years, with CEOs who probably had too much on their plates to spend the right amount of time with the Academy – actually being in the office and attending meetings.
While the calibre of person the Academy needs and the salary that it can afford to pay perhaps means that a full time CEO is hard or impossible to achieve, when the Academy employs its next CEO it needs to ensure that they’re in it for the long haul – ideally at least three years.

Facilitate Cross-Fertilisation
I think that in some areas, technology springs to mind, there’s a good cross fertilisation of ideas between BBC and commercial people. Initiatives including RadioPlayer and the Radio Technology Group allow this. But I’m not at all sure that this is the case elsewhere.
For whatever reason, too many people seem to think that there’s nothing that they can learn from the “other side.” I still recall sitting next to someone I didn’t know on a bus to gala dinner in The Monastery in Gorton who turned out to be a producer on Radio 4’s Front Row. He didn’t listen to anything apart from Radio 4, and the whole experience of attending the Radio Festival had opened his eyes. He hadn’t realised what an incredible breadth and range of offerings that there were.
Similarly, I see all too few programming people from commercial groups believe that there’s anything they can learn from those not in the commercial sector – indeed even from others in the commercial sector.
This all creates a very narrow vision of what radio is and might be.

Clarify Charitable Status
I must admit that I do find the charitable status of the Radio Academy confusing. I’m sure that there must be a good reason for it, and perhaps it makes it easier for Patron organisations like the BBC or Global Radio able to support it. I just wonder if sometimes it makes it a burden, limiting what it can and can’t do.

Consider Broadening The Academy’s Membership
There’s a battle being fought at the moment over what the word “Radio” actually means. Digitally music services often describe themselves as “Radio” services. In the US, iTunes has co-opted the word for its Spotify equivalent – banishing “traditional” radio to the curious “Internet Radio” nomenclature!
These services aren’t the same as broadcast radio, but most realise that what our audiences want from radio is evolving. Once upon a time you either played an LP or single, or turned on Radio 1 on your AM radio. Today you listen to your music on iTunes, rent music from Spotify on your smartphone, or listen Radio 1 on FM, DAB or mobile, or one of any number of other devices. But the delineation is becoming blurred. Is Spotify fulfilling the CD/iTunes need? Or is it eating into broadcast radio? Or (most likely in my view), a bit of both?
Across the industry there are different views about how we ought to react to these new services. I think the Radio Academy needs to have that discussion too. Do we invite the likes of Spotify to become patrons too? Do we pretend these services don’t exist? Or do we compete with one another for listeners as the BBC, Global and Bauer already do? One way or another, it’s always worth having the discussion.

Talk To Your Members More
By now you’re probably getting bored of reading my screed! But I love the fact that as a member, I’ve been asked what I think the Radio Academy should be. I don’t know how many responses that you’ll get to this. I hope it’ll be a lot.
But also consider using questionnaires for the membership in the future – particularly when there’s a more structured response that you’re looking for.
Anyway, I hope at least some of this has been useful.

Adam Bowie

So as I said – no – the Radio Academy wasn’t perfect in my eyes. But neither did I think it was a basket case. There are lots of things I’d have done to improve things.

As I say, I don’t know what the reason for these drastic changes, but I’d be amazed if they weren’t all financial. The organisation is propped up by Patron members – the BBC, Global, Bauer and so on. And I’d be amazed if one or more of those organisations weren’t looking to cut how much they spend on the Academy.

Once you cut back to a certain level, you can’t keep on a staff. That makes Awards and a Festival harder to plan. So they’re going to look for a new model. The swift nature of the end of the “Executive Unit” means that they’re trying to achieve these savings rapidly.

It’s even sadder when you compare the Radio Academy with perhaps its closest equivalent in television, the Royal Television Society (RTS). The RTS is also largely funded by its patrons – the big broadcasters – but the industry is bigger, and from the looks of their Charity Commission returns, they have some significant assets (their building?).

So if it’s the broadcasters who are pulling funding for the Radio Academy, that’s profoundly sad. Because there really isn’t anywhere else to go – in particular for BBC and commercial people to meet and discuss ideas.

One thing is clear: members need a clearer message from the Radio Academy’s Trustees about its future. Friday’s release really wasn’t enough.

News by Email

On the one hand we keep hearing that email is dying. The young don’t use it, and anyway, we have an app for that.

On the other hand it still feels pretty much impossible to do a lot of things without email. Where do your online purchase confirmations go? A myriad of apps? What if my friend isn’t on Facebook or Twitter?

There seems to have been a bit of a flurry of emails recently in the quality end up the news market. A couple of weeks ago, the FT launched FirstFT – described as “your essential daily briefing.”

It launched two weeks’ ago, and is sent out via email at 6am each weekday morning with a quick summary of top stories both on the website, and elsewhere. It replaced some previous email offerings.

No sooner does that arrive then today we learn that The Economist has launched The Economist Espresso. This is both an early morning email, and an Android/iOS app that gives you a five minute summary of things that you need to know. Judging from their first day, no story is more than a couple of hundred words.

THe difference between the two is that the FT’s service is free to all, although FT stories do come out of the small number of stories non-FT subscribers can read a month. Other links may be free. The Economist’s service is either £2.49 a month on its own, or more usefully perhaps, free to current subscribers (of which I am).

So yes, with The Economist Espresso, there’s an app as well as an email, but I think it’s interesting that email is still so important. That’s perhaps not surprising because however much people suggest that we can get our stories from social media, that becomes a lot harder if you have a broad social media footprint following or friending many people. An email still offers the ability to coral an array of stories or links into one place.

For me, that one place has always most usefully been an RSS reader. That’s why I still use Feedly heavily – and indeed pay for a Pro account. But I’m aware that the wider community find something like a feed reader harder, even with apps like Flipboard taking some of that hard work out of the equation.

Of course the FT and Economist are two of the latest of many news organisations that offer emails – The Guardian has a wide range of automatically generated emails. And then there are more authorial ones like the excellent Fiver.

Bad Visualisations

There’s a really interesting piece to write about Taylor Swift, Spotify and iTunes revenues, and the music industry in general.

But this isn’t it.

I’m writing this because TechCrunch has an interesting piece about European Spotify earnings overtaking iTunes earnings.

The piece reports that Kobalt, a publishing company that collects music royalties on behalf of its clients, is collecting more revenues from Spotify now than it is from iTunes – the first time this has happened. Whether this is specific to Kobalt’s clients or is indicative of the whole industry in Europe isn’t clear. But the story it itself is highly relevant.

The story’s point is illustrated by the following chart:

Source: TechCrunch

This is a terrible chart.

Here’s why:

Kobalt has been trading since 2001, but this chart very much suggests that Kobalt was collecting precisely no revenues from iTunes or Spotify prior to Q3 2013. This is very unlikely. The chart also suggest that iTunes and Spotify revenue has fallen off a cliff post Q1 2014. This is also very unlikely.

Essentially this chart has six data points, and it shouldn’t have been presented using an area chart like this. Personally I think a simple bar chart would have sufficed. As it stands, this is grossly misleading.

Here’s a second chart in the piece:


I think this might be even worse. It certainly suggests that in the period prior to Q1 2012, Kobalt’s share of publishing income was zero. I suspect that was not the case – it’s something that has probably been growing over time given the age of the company and the fact that Spotify has been around since 2008 and had 10m users in 2010.

And again, it also suggests that by Q2 2014, their revenue share had plummeted to zero. Whereas I suspect that they’re a growing business. This is just another really bad chart.

Seriously, if you can’t do charts properly, just publish a table. There are three numbers in this chart, and charting them like this is simply useless.

Just because your graphics package lets you publish some data in a funky visualisation, it does not mean it’s right for the data. Visuals should help tell your story, not distort the data and ultimately misrepresent it.

The Helmet Debate

Tour de France 2014 - Stage 1 - Leeds to Harrogate-1

I have a confession to make. On my daily commute, cycling on my Brompton from King’s Cross Station to work, I don’t wear a cycling helmet.

Come to that, I don’t particularly “do” high-vis either.

I realise to some I must be dicing with death by behaving so recklessly.

Part of my reasoning is that I’m lucky that for much of my journey there are bike lanes – often segregated ones. So I don’t need to. I’m a confident cyclist, who will happily sit in the middle of a road lane rather than be pushed to the side. I never undertake left-turning or large vehicles. I have a bell and I need to use it a lot – usually because pedestrians aren’t looking and/or are engrossed with their phones/music.

I also like to wear normal clothes. I don’t cycle fast to work, and I don’t cycle too slowly. So I arrive in a state that lets me walk straight into the office without too much need for changing (things are different on hot summer days). I like to try to wear clothing that is suitable to cycle in, but isn’t out of place in the workplace.

I have a lovely jacket that I bought in REI when I was in the US earlier this year, and I have a couple of pairs of M&S cycling trousers that are more utilitarian than regular trousers, but look fine in the office.

I recently bought a rather nice Gore Bike Wear Element jacket – but I went for red rather than the high-vis yellow. You can still see me, but it’s not quite such a jarring colour.

My issue with high-vis yellow clothing is that it’s so common, it can actually make you a bit invisible because everyone is wearing similar clothing. Not only does every construction worker and delivery driver wear high-vis vests, but so do entire school parties. Wherever you look everyone is wearing high-vis clothing.

Here’s the deal. I’ll wear high-vis yellow the same day every car is forced to be painted in high-vis yellow as well. In 2013 there were 1,1713 deaths on UK roads (this is an all-time low!) and 21,657 serious injuries (Source: DfT). Obviously some people don’t spot some cars coming. But the solution is no more to paint every car yellow and have every driver wear a helmet, than it is to insist all cyclists wear yellow and ride with a helmet.

That’s not to say that there aren’t problems. When a lady – a nurse no less, judging by her uniform – recently pulled out into the bike lane without looking at all, I was very nearly hit. She slammed on the breaks at the very last second. That genuinely left me shaking for several hours. But I fear I could have been illuminated like Blackpool Tower and she still wouldn’t have seen me – she simply wasn’t looking at the bike lane. People drive their large metallic boxes into other large metallic boxes every day.

Things that I’ve seen in the last week that are far more dangerous than me not wearing a cycling helmet:

– The stupid number of people cycling without lights since the clocks changed. Lights just make sense. Even on well illuminated roads, you’re more visible. In the same way a car needs to have lights, so does a cyclist.

– The lady who sailed past a stationary me at a red traffic light yesterday morning, crossing in front of three lanes of traffic just as the lights were turning in their favour. She was wearing a helmet and a high-vis jacket. But neither of those are going to help much if you’re hit side-on by a double-decker bus.

– The people who wear a helmet, and then don’t wear it properly. You’re most likely to hit the front of your head. So your helmet needs to not be worn at a “jaunty angle”. It should come down to cover your forehead. But too many people don’t seem to know how to wear their helmets. It makes them next to useless.

I’m very much with Chris Boardman. He generated a certain amount of fuss when he didn’t wear a helmet on BBC Breakfast News on Monday. His piece on the British Cycling website pretty much echoes what I believe about the matter.

Cycling should be a normal safe thing to do, and insisting that we all “gear up” before we ever get on a bike won’t help. The whole Boris Bike scheme would fail to function for starters. While regulars can and do carry their own helmets, occasional users and visitors just wouldn’t bother. And yes, I know that you can buy a bike helmet for as little as £6.50!

I do wear a helmet sometimes. When I go out for longer rides I usually wear one. And headgear in general is very practical, especially as the temperatures drop – as they finally seem to be doing. That said, it’ll be wind and rain proof hats and cycling caps that I’ll be wearing this winter.

[Update: Interesting piece on the BBC News site today about this.]