December, 2014

How Retail Works… I Think

Judging from my inbox, this how retail works towards the end of the year:


Only x number of days to go. Buy now.


Offers. Buy now.
Black Friday (Actually a full week)
Cyber Monday (Another full week)


Buy buy buy.
Twelve days of Christmas (despite 12 Days of Christmas being after Christmas)
Limited offers.
Daily specials.
We match everyone else’s one-day sales.
Last order dates – get your orders in now (and hope we don’t use Yodel)
Seriously. You can still order from us. Use next-day delivery!
Orders for Christmas until 7pm tonight!
Still taking orders. Use click and collect!
We can sell you vouchers!

Days before Christmas Eve

Our sale has started.

Christmas Eve

Many more sales start.

Christmas Day

Shop! Seriously! Our sales have started. What else were going to do today? Talk to friends and family?

Boxing Day

A handful of other retailers “finally” start their sales.
Our stores are all open at 4am!

27th December

Further reductions!

New Year’s Day

Have you seen our Easter promotion?

Spotify and Meghan Trainor

A week or so ago I popped in for a couple of sessions of an interesting music tech conference held in the BBC Radio Theatre called On the Beat.

One of the sessions included a presentation by the always interesting Will Page, Director of Economics at Spotify. He was examining the interaction of Spotify, Shazam, radio and sales in the case of the big international hit All About That Base by Meghan Trainor. And Spotify has just published the details from Page’s presentation. It’s well worth a read.

This was a track that was massive in the US before reaching the UK. What was particularly unusual was the delay in it being released to buy in the UK. Spotify made great play of that in the UK, having the track for a month and a half before consumers could buy it.

The key UK chart is probably this one:

UK performance

The theory goes something like this. When people first hear a song they don’t know, they Shazam it, quite probably from some kind of broadcast media. Then they might either listen to it via Spotify or buy it somewhere like iTunes. But of course, if you can’t buy it, but can rent it on Spotify, then that’s what you do.

And the key thing with this track was that it was the first song to make the UK charts via streams alone. The chart rules changed this year, and 100 streams = 1 sale under the new rules.

Spotify’s case study very properly suggests that withholding the song from retail may have well damaged sales, and that the music industry should be borderless, not holding back tracks artificially on a territory by territory basis.

But I do have a little bit of an issue with the charts. You see, for market sensitivity reasons, you’ll notice that there are no numbers on the y axis. The numbers have all been normalised. The peak number of Shazams is not equal to the peak number of streams which is not equal to the peak sales. And most relevantly, nor is the amount of airplay listens coming from radio.

Because if you look at the chart above, it looks like radio came to the game very late with this release. Aside from a small number of Spotify listens very early on (before the track was on Spotify?), it’s Shazam that seems to lead the way. But what are people Shazam-ing?

They could be hearing it in clubs. That was the suggestion given in the room when someone raised a similar point. Other data shown at the conference by Shazam show very clearly that club tracks get heavily Shazam-ed at weekends. But put in context of a massive hit record like this, I’m unconvinced it’s purely clubs.

But I wonder if the detail isn’t in the normalisation? Radio gets thoroughly flattened by the process. But a handful of plays on some key shows when the chart is “normalised” might appear hidden. Because without the artificial flattening, I’m certain that radio would have the biggest peak, followed by streaming/Spotify, then sales and then Shazam. And those might be quite substantial differences in scale (See my piece on possible artist earnings from radio to get an idea of that scale).

So a few key plays on Radio 1 or Kiss early on, may have led to a lot of Shazam-ing among music influencers, which certainly then meant a lot of Spotify listening (since that was one of the few places you could hear the track), before sales only came in pretty late in the day once the label had released.

Because if people are Shazam-ing your song, they’re hearing it somewhere without the ability to find out the track’s name (i.e. probably not online). And clubs aside, that usually means radio.

I wouldn’t deny that radio, like the label, was late to the party with this track. However radio always stays with a song longer than sales do (“I’ve already bought the track, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to hear it”). But I wonder if it wasn’t early as well?

Geminids and Startrails

Startrails Wideangle

Last night was the peak of the Geminids meteor shower. So I headed out from the lights of my part of suburbia to rural Bayford (a 10 minute train ride). To be honest, there are still plenty of city lights on the horizon, but it’s the best I can do easily.

I set myself up in a field, and thanks to the red torch of my headlamp, I then spent the thick end of two hours in a field. A fine way to spend a Saturday.

I had two cameras set up, both taking 20-30 second exposures in different parts of the sky. The photo at the top had a wide-angle lens on it, and that photo, which includes Polaris (the pole star) shows the stars leaving circular trails around it. The camera stopped at one point, hence the slight break in every trail. I also learnt that I need something to fight the dew if you stay out that long. I hadn’t noticed that both cameras had fogged up by the end of the evening, leaving me with useless pictures. It appears that a cheap way to fight this is to use chemical hand warmers…

The photo is made up of about 60 images, stacked inside Startrails.

The photos below are a couple of shots of something like 20-25 meteors that I observed in different parts of the sky. Unfortunately, the don’t always appear in the right places, or be to faint to be visible in photographs. Perhaps I just need a faster lens?

Geminids 02

Geminids 01

Finally, here’s another startrail photo made up of 118 images including parts of some of the images above. I need to persevere with this!

Startrail 02

Administrative Note

I’ve just updated my WordPress theme to make it responsive.

There may be the odd thing broken around here. If there is, then I apologise. But do feel free to drop me a note if you find anything that seems a bit odd. Hopefully I’ll be able to use some slightly bigger pictures and generally not have that somewhat overbearing header image any more.

We’ll see how things go.

Radio Extra

Earlier this week, Global announced that it would soon be launching Heart Extra on national DAB. This is the first of a big DAB push.

They already have Smooth Christmas running on the platform, and that rebrands as Smooth Extra from December 27th. They also have Capital XTRA, LBC and Classic FM all on the same DAB multiplex. The press release also promises “more to come,” although it’s not clear how many more stations “more” means.

Anyway, for Global to add one additional station to the D1 line-up, something has to give. That means one current station has to go to make way for Heart Extra. We know a Global station isn’t going. And Bauer has announced longer term plans for its digital portfolio, including replacing Absolute Radio 90s with Magic.

And we can be certain too that Talksport isn’t going anywhere.

So that leaves three independent services: BFBS, Premier Christian Radio and UCB Christian radio. I believe that at least one of those has to go to make room for Heart.

Furthermore, depending on what kind of bitrate Global wants to run Heart Extra at, they may have to play around with the bitrates of their other stations if they want to broadcast Heart Extra at 80k mono.

For all things bitrate and multiplex related, the go-to site is Wohnort DAB, so I’ve used their reports of the current state of play as a jumping off point.

Here’s a view of what the radio services look like currently, and what they’ll possibly look like in 2015 once Heart Extra is on-air.

Current StationOwnerCurrent Bitrate Possible Station 2015OwnerPossible Bitrate
Absolute RadioBauer112 kbit/sAbsolute RadioBauer112 kbit/s
Absolute 80sBauer64 kbit/sAbsolute 80sBauer64 kbit/s
Absolute Radio 90sBauer64 kbit/sMagicBauer64 kbit/s
KISSBauer80 kbit/sKISSBauer80 kbit/s
Planet RockBauer80 kbit/sPlanet RockBauer80 kbit/s
Capital XTRAGlobal112 kbit/sCapital XTRAGlobal112/80 kbit/s
Classic FMGlobal128 kbit/sClassic FMGlobal128/112 kbit/s
LBCGlobal64 kbit/sLBCGlobal64 kbit/s
Smooth XmasGlobal80 kbit/sSmooth ExtraGlobal80 kbit/s
Heart ExtraGlobal80/64 kbit/s
talkSPORTUTV64 kbit/stalkSPORTUTV64 kbit/s
BFBS RadioBFBS80 kbit/sBFBS RadioBFBS80 kbit/s
Premier Christian RadioPremier64 kbit/sPremier Christian RadioPremier64 kbit/s
UCB UK ChristianUCB64 kbit/sUCB UK ChristianUCB64 kbit/s

The three at risk stations are italicised at the bottom of the right hand side of the table.

Furthermore, for Global to launch another DAB service right now, then a second of these stations would need to go as well.

Another thing to consider is the forthcoming “D2” multiplex. There was a late extension from Ofcom for applications, strongly suggesting that we will see at least two competitive bids by the closing date at the end of January. That said, you may see some of the same services crop up on both bids.

The timetable from the end of January is for Ofcom to look at the applications, fire lots of questions at the applicants and generally put everyone through the mill. Ofcom says that it will announce an award “as soon as practicable thereafter.” I would anticipate an announcement sometime during the summer. In reality, that means the earliest new services could get up and running would be sometime in early 2016, so there’s a while to go before any more new space appears.

What all this means is that if a service gets bumped off Digital One today (or outbid anyway), then it’s going to take them a while to get back onto a national DAB multiplex, because it’ll be another year before more space is available.

It’ll be interesting to see what Global and others do in the meantime.

[Update: 16 December 2014] It’s now official that Premier Christian Radio hasn’t secured an extension to its place on Digital One. Radio Today reports that Premier has a temporary extension allowing them to run from this weekend through Christmas until February. But it’s clear that Premier wants to remain on the multiplex, while Global claims to have “more to come.” Arqiva won’t be complaining then…


Last weekend, Triggertrap, the people who make smart phone adaptors for your DSLR cameras, organised an event called #LapseLondon. About forty of us assembled at their offices for some really interesting talks before heading out into a winter London.

I managed to not follow the right technical instructions with my first shoot on Carnaby Street (hence the slightly staccato appearance). But I managed to take a few sequences in various ways. I’ve no idea if any of these will make it to the final master video, but in the meantime I’m sharing mine!

The Price of Rental

I missed Guardians of the Galaxy in cinemas earlier this year. But it was well reviewed, and I did plan to catch it.

The good news is that it came out on “home video” recently. So I could either buy it on DVD or BluRay, or watch it in download/streaming.

If I choose to rent it, I have a few options.

I have a largish TV, so HD is my preferred option, and the industry continues to put some kind of quality premium on film rentals. But since I have a smart TV and a number of devices attached to my television, I have a few options as to where I get the film from.

Assuming they’re all much of a muchness with regards to quality, here are my options:

Google Play£3.49£4.49
Amazon Instant Video£3.49£4.49**£3.49£4.49
Sky Store£4.49£5.49

Huh? Why is Sky £1 more than all my other options?

It’s probably easiest since I tend to default to my Sky box when the TV is on, and Sky ensures that it downloads a healthy buffer so that once I start watching it, I won’t be interrupted by buffering. But I’m not so lazy as to not want to change inputs to either the Amazon or Wuaki apps on my TV, or Google Play via Chromecast on another HDMI port.

Maybe I’ve answered my own question. Of those who own smart TVs, x% (where x is a significant number) don’t use the apps on their smart TVs. And to use Google Play, I do need a Chromecast, albeit a relatively inexpensive device.

I tend to watch streaming services like Netflix or Amazon on my TV. Sure, I have the apps on my phone and tablet. But that big screen dominating one end of my living room, with the surround speakers is best for expensively made Hollywood films. For the most part, I don’t stream to mobile devices (downloads are different, and I might for travel).

And a recent report says that 78% of Netflix subscribers watch (at least some) programming on their TV.

But what I think this all boils down is that it’s laziness that allows Sky to charge another £1 more for their customers than anyone else!

Afterword: I watched the film via Google Play and my Chromecast. It’s not perfect as it’s streaming constantly so there was a buffering moment (and I have fibre). And there were occasional quality drops. So perhaps Sky does have a bit of a good hand to play. On the other hand, I’ve not noticed any discernible issues streaming either on Amazon or Netflix beyond an initial quality check.

* Actually, since I don’t have Apple TV, this would be the most awkward for me, requiring a laptop running iTunes connected to my TV via an HDMI cable. Still I include it for completeness.

** At the time I wrote this, there was something wrong with the website and Guardians of the Galaxy had a 404 error. However, were it to be available, it would almost certainly follow the same pricing as listed here because that’s the level at which they price the rest of their films.

Radio Academy AGM: Some Thoughts

Yesterday was a very interesting evening at the Radio Academy’s AGM. Ordinarily this is a rather dry affair formally closing the previous year’s accounts. It usually happens just ahead of a London event – if only to ensure that the meeting is quorate (a favourite word of Academy Chairman Ben Cooper, we learnt).

But last night was somewhat different. As you may well know, the Radio Academy is in something of a state of flux at the moment. Read my previous piece for a bit more on it.

Since then, all four members of the “executive office” have been made redundant, and we’re no closer to really knowing what the future of the Academy is.

James Cridland live-Tweeted last night’s meeting, and he’s cleaned it all up a bit over on his site. It’s well worth reading in full.

In summary, these are the points I would take from the meeting:

  • The Academy only has money until the end of March next year.
  • The bulk of its money comes from its patrons – big companies like the BBC, Global and Bauer. Subscriptions from others don’t really come into play much.
  • Both the Radio Academy Awards (formerly the Sonys) and the Radio Festival lost money this year.
  • Getting a replacement sponsor for the “Sonys” is really hard since Sony was sole sponsor for 32 years (A new sponsor will get frustrated that people keep using the old sponsor’s name. Cf the “Perrier” Awards in Edinburgh.
  • It’s unlcear what, if any help will come to local and regional branches in the coming weeks and months to organise local events. Ben Cooper expressed a hope that Trustees would be able to help.
  • The Trustees are all stepping down in March and elections of some sort will be held for a new set of Trustees and/or the re-election of some of the current ones.
  • There are some key disagreements between different Trustees as to what the future of the Academy should be.
  • There will be an EGM early next year where members will be presented some views of what a future Radio Academy might look like.
  • There was a really good attendance last night, with a lot of longtime members who really care about the Academy’s future.
  • Ben Cooper does not take criticism lying down. When one questioner suggested that he was failing to show leadership, he gave a fairly impassioned defence of his time as Chairman; the fact that he’d been given a “hospital pass” from the previous Chairman (I assume Ashley Tabor), and that there were some fundamental differences in opinions.
  • Jez Nelson of Somethin’ Else alluded to some of the deeper divisions among Trustees, and got Ben Cooper to agree that those differences which have so far been kept private, need to come out into the open. This, he suggested would happen at the EGM next year.
  • Ben Cooper said that he would like a single day event, taking place in London (since that’s where most of the industry works, and transport and hotels have been identified as major hurdle in attending the Salford-based Festival) with a broader conference during the day, and renewed set of awards in the evening. The awards needn’t be the traditional sit-down meal in a Park Lane hotel. And the conference would include a wider group of attendees including those from “Silicon Roundabout” and the advertising agency community.

It was probably only towards the end of the meeting that we really got to the heart of the matter. There are some serious differences in what some of the big radio groups think the future of the Radio Academy should be. And because the big groups prop up the organisation, they have a lot of implicit control.

In a year when both the Awards and the Festival lost money, that means those groups have a lot of clout. And there’s no agreement between them. The Festival making or losing money is almost completely in the hands of the big boys. If they choose not to send as many representatives to the event, then who do you imagine is going to attend? Certainly times are tough and budgets are tight both commercially and within the BBC. But it can be make or break dependent on who comes. As for the Awards losing money? I’ve still no idea how that happens. Even without a headline sponsor, I’d give the Awards to a private company if that’s the case.

Because there’s been so much consolidation within the radio industry, we’ve ended up in this place, and seems to me that even if we get through this, that makes the organisation’s future untenable. So we’re left with two choices. Either fund the organisation from individual subscriptions (with perhaps small contributions from patrons), or broaden the membership of the group. I can’t see that we can avoid asking other “audio” groups to join a new “Audio Academy.” There is a demarcation of lines – where does radio start and stop any more in an on demand world? That doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a set of radio awards – awards given to programmes regardless of delivery mechanism. I look at television and note that Netflix and Amazon get nominations in the US Emmy Awards for example. The delivery mechanism is frankly irrelevant.

And that’s not to say that I don’t believe in a popular linear, mostly live radio listening experience.

But broadening the base would strengthen the industry. And if one group decides it’s not going to fund the organisation, then we have a wider financial backing to rely on. You can’t be held to ransom.

But in the meantime, it does feel like there are two different Radio Academies, and the Trustees aren’t perhaps as aware of the “other” one. There was a lot of talk about the Awards, the Festival, and the Hall of Fame dinner that took place only last week. I know how important it is for radio talent to be commemorated at such events.

But there also needs to be a realisation that the pool of people who can attend big expensive events like that is limited. Furthermore, the people who attend a radio conference are not necessarily the people who attend a radio awards ceremony.

To most members, the Radio Academy means their local/regional regular meetings with talks from people within the industry and events like quiz nights. And that does take some organisation. Someone has to let members know that there are meetings happening in London, Leeds or Glasgow. Someone has to find a venue, probably free of charge (especially hard in London and you’ve got 150 people coming). Someone has to manage numbers and put information on a website.

It’s that resource that the Academy is going to be lacking. There are clearly differences in how various regional branches are run, and that’ll be down to the people involved. London has its own branch committee, but it’s undoubtedly relied upon the resources of the Academy’s office to help out with venues (which need to be sizeable), and administration. Consequently, I completely understand Sandy Warr’s feeling at last night’s meeting that members have been left high and dry.

It does feel that the old Academy has been dismantled before anyone has any clear vision of what the new Academy will look like. And that’s probably the biggest frustration everyone has. We’re left with an interim CEO, Gloria Abramoff who with the best will in the world seems likely to struggle with some of the practical issues surrounding immediate Academy needs. And we’re left in a state of flux where there are clearly massively divergent views on what the Academy should look like, from different Trustees (Cooper was clear that it wasn’t a single outlier view). These need to be surfaced, because it’s clear that we’re not yet in full knowledge of the situation. Are some Trustees unhappy with the Awards which they feel they can’t win in their current guise? And what should the new membership structure look like? Do we move back to more reliance on individual subscriptions rather than “free” with your employer? If it’s the latter, then there needs to be rationale for people paying £25, £50 or £100 per year to be members.

But I’m not completely downbeat.

I think that there’s enough love for the Academy that something will come out the other side. But it’s going to have to change shape substantially. And it’s going to need a broader membership – both in terms of corporate patrons but also in terms of individuals. I still find it annoying that of the many thousands of people who work in radio in London, I see so few at Radio Academy events. Whether that’s a lack of relevance to their lives or a lack of knowledge, I’m not sure. But that’s an area that the Trustees really need to work at, because they all sit in the businesses where these people work, and where they can engage their staff.

Further Reading:

Comments beneath James’ piece
David Lloyd’s blog
John Collins’ blog

Cyclo Cross World Cup – Part 2 – Men’s Race

CXWC Milton Keynes 2014 Men-62

As well as photos of the women’s race I also took photos of the men’s race, the weekend before last in Milton Keynes.

CXWC Milton Keynes 2014 Men-49

Cyclo cross seems to have had something of a resurgence in the UK over the last few years. But then again, so has cycling in general. I’ve been going to the Rapha Supercross races, which are handily close to me, for the last few years (sadly I missed this year’s race).

And I keep looking at “CX” bikes as the next bike I buy (subject to the Rule 12 formula, where the correct number of bikes to own is n+1, where n is the number of bikes I own currently). I don’t think I could hack around the mud non-stop for 45 mins – an hour, but a CX bike might allow me some off-road fun, form the basis of a commuter, and allow panniers for touring (I should also mention that I currently have both a mountain bike for off-roading, and a converted mountain bike for touring).

CXWC Milton Keynes 2014 Men-69

But I was thinking back to the first time I saw cyclo cross, and I remembered being taken by my father to watch a race at Forty Hall in Enfield back in 1981. I know that it was quite a big race, and the grounds of the house are quite large – with plenty of space to run such a race. Later, the same grounds would be where my school had cross-country runs.

I can’t say I remember a great deal about the day, except that the course went through a stream, which any 11 year old boy thought sounded fun.

A bit of Googling suggests that the race I was watching was this race. It was won by Chris Wreghitt, who was five-times national British Cyclo Cross champion at the time.

I’m not quite sure what the race’s standing was, but I’m pretty certain that it wasn’t the national championship, since the runner-up was Belgian. That also suggests that it had an international field, and placing the race in the south of England made it easier for competitors from cyclo cross’s homeland to and from the site relatively easily.

I also think I saw a young Malcolm Elliott that day – I think I may have collected his autograph! I may be making this up though. I definitely collected someone’s autograph.

Here are some more photos, with plenty more on Flickr.

CXWC Milton Keynes 2014 Men-35

CXWC Milton Keynes 2014 Men-23

CXWC Milton Keynes 2014 Men-1

CXWC Milton Keynes 2014 Men-48