April, 2015

Near Miss (Not Me)

Diamond Geezer published these thoughts on “Guerilla Pedestrians” yesterday.

Let me relate what I saw happen – and what very nearly happened – this morning, because it scared me.

I was walking across the Euston Road – crossing at the pedestrian crossing between St Pancras station and the Burger King just opposite.

The crossing is one of those two-stage affairs, and the lights are never in sync to let you cross all the way. Nevertheless, I was waiting on the north side of the road with the traffic still flowing when a minicab swerved violently. A young girl had stepped right into the traffic. The cab driver missed her, avoided hitting another car, and let out a blast on his horn.

I could see his face.

It was a look of fear.

He’d nearly killed a small child.

How had she been allowed to step out like that? Only now was [someone I assume was] the father grabbing her hand. It looked like he was taking her and two other boys, to school on the other side of the road where there’s a primary school.

But he wasn’t using the pedestrian crossing – the crossing right there!

No he was using the middle of the road – making use of Keep Clear bit of the road that is there for cyclists and has no pedestrian markings.

This was just madness. Even after his daughter had nearly been run over, there he was, marching out into the road with all three kids rather than use the perfectly good pedestrian crossing 10m away.

Now I don’t want to be all “health and safety” – but that father really needs to learn some basic parenting.

In retrospect I wish I’d run over to him and told him off. I can only hope that the near miss made him think twice about his responsibilities.

Should We Be Surprised That 60% of TV Programmes Get Zero Ratings?

On Twitter James Cridland highlighted a stat reported within a Media Guardian story on Local TV:

Is this a shocking number? Are vast swathes of television going unwatched by anybody at all?

Let’s have a closer look.

If we compare to radio stations (with which, like James, readers of this blog may be more familiar), then zero rated slots are relatively few. Smaller stations might do poorly in some overnights. But without getting into sub-demos, there’s usually an audience for major dayparts.

But RAJAR and BARB work very differently. RAJAR in particular is actually set up to measure sometimes very small stations within their local area. It has to because many stations sell advertising by daypart. To do this it must get upwards of 110,000 respondents per year to complete a diary nationally. The smallest of stations will use a full year’s worth of data to deliver a quarter’s audience, while the biggest local and national stations use completely fresh samples each quarter.

Within any given area, there are usually a limited number of local services, all of whom will get some kind of audience, and a wider selection of national services, some of which may actually be zero rated in your area, but who do have listeners nationally.

So small stations usually get respectable audiences locally, and national stations – even small ones – end up with respectable audiences on a national scale.

On the other hand, BARB has a panel of 5,100 homes (representing 11,500 people) measuring around 300 services, nearly all of whom are measured nationally – no matter how small.

In the most recent data on the BARB website (w/c 6 April at time of writing) 33 of those 300 or so channels accounted for a 75% share of viewing. Indeed BBC1, BBC2, ITV, C4 and C5 alone accounted for a 48% share of all viewing alone.

What this means is that viewing is seriously skewed towards bigger channels.

At the other extreme, 267 channels have less than a 0.5% share each across the week, with 192 gaining a 0.1% share or less.*

If your channel is achieving less than a 0.1% share, then that means even when you have a panel of 5,100 homes, there’s a high probability that the panel won’t pick up big chunks of that small amount of viewing. The panel size just isn’t big enough. So if you start looking at individual programme data from these channels, you’re going to find a sea of zeroes (or more often, stars).

Importantly, that doesn’t mean nobody is watching at all at those times. It just means the number is small enough that a panel of 5,100 homes isn’t able to pick up that viewing. There are about 26.5m homes in the UK after all.

So how do these channels exist commercially with all these zero ratings?

Well they don’t sell advertising on the basis of individual programmes, but overall share. And that share is measured across a week or maybe a month. And they don’t sell by channel, but groups of channels. The more you aggregate upwards, the more robust the data becomes.

So while MTV Dance might only have a 0.02% share, you have to add in the 0.02% share that MTV Base gets, and the 0.02% share that VH1 gets, and so on. You end up with something that an advertiser might be interested in. As long as the costs aren’t too high for creating additional channels (and you factor in any revenues that Sky/Virgin might give you from their subscriber fees), then your network remains profitable.

And nobody cares that BARB failed to record any viewing for your channel between 0600 and 0630 on Tuesday morning.**

So that 60% stat?

In some ways, I’m surprised that it’s as low as 60% when the vast majority of channels actually have relatively minuscule shares. But aggregate those tiny shares up, and you end up with profitable businesses.

This also explains why service providers bundle channels and don’t let you pick and choose them individually. The model falls over if we all get to choose precisely which channels we want to watch. That’s called “A La Carte” and it’s a big issue at the moment in US TV particularly where a new generation of viewers might choose just to buy Netflix and HBO Now instead of a full cable package. But that’s a blog for another day.

* It looks like a handful of temporary channels are included in this list, so they may not have been broadcasting during the week I highlighted including some temporary BBC and Sky red button services.

** For all I know, music channels do well at this time. I don’t have the data. But you get the point.

Twitter List Wrangling

[NB. This is really to help anyone having the same problem as I had trying to add many accounts to a Twitter list in one go using a third party application. You may wish to skip this entry!]

Twitter has had lists for years, but I’ve never made any real effort to use them.

It’s never really easy to categorise people. I follow some people because they’re friends, I follow others because they work in “the industry”, I follow some because they have a shared interest in cycling, or photography, or football, or they’re famous and I’m interested in them. And then there are those who fall into multiple camps or something else entirely.

I currently follow around 2,000 people, with some barely ever Tweeting and effectively being dormant accounts, while others seemingly live and breathe Twitter.

For a bit of a test, I thought I’d try to coral all the cycling related accounts into a single list.

I know there are public lists that others have carefully built. But I tend to prefer my own mix of cycling activists, friends interested in cycling, cycling media, and cyclists and their teams themselves. That’s fine as it suits my interests which are as much about London cycling infrastructure as they are the Tour de France.

What quickly becomes clear is that Twitter itself isn’t really great for doing this.

I first tried Twitter owned Tweetdeck which is my go-to way to use Twitter in a desktop browser, buy that doesn’t really help since you’re only really able to get to accounts as they appear in your stream.

The Twitter website is better. But that involves many clicks per account to add a particular account to a particular list. So not only would I have to scan through all the accounts I currently follow, but then click a further several times to add them to a list.

Surely there’s a way to do this in bulk?

There is. A nice site called Twitlistmanager does exactly what you need. Once you’ve authorised it, it presents a long list of the people you follow on Twitter, while across the top of the screen are your lists. Just tick the boxes to put people into lists.

The site presents you with 100 follwers per page – so about 20 pages of accounts in my case.

I dutifully went through the list adding all my cycling related accounts to my list, and after a lot of work, I was done.

Or so I thought.

Back in Tweetdeck, I couldn’t help noticing that cycling accounts I’d certainly added from my main feed weren’t showing up in my Cycling list. Did it take time to propagate? I relaunched Tweetdeck. Still no dice.

There was a problem. I found one account and tried to manually add it again to my list. It seemed to work, but wasn’t.

I headed over to Twitter to see if I could it there. But I got a very strange error message.

“Your account may not be allowed to perform this action.”

A bit of Googling revealed that this error can come up for a variety of reasons, but mostly it was due to Twitter’s rate-limiting. Twitter has limits on how many times you can post updates – especially via third party tools using their APIs.

Twitter lists its limits here. But none of those listed limits appeared to refer to what I’d been doing.

A bit more digging got to this page which details that the REST API is used for Twitter lists, and it talks of 150 or 350 calls to the API per hour depending on whether access has been allowed to the application.

This seemed to be problem I was encountering. Although I hadn’t added – or tried to add – more than 200 accounts to a list, I’d somehow exceeded their limits and unfortunately Twitlistmanager hadn’t told me that.

The solution was to wait an hour (or the rest of an hour) for the count to reset and then go through the list again. This time I could see from Twitlistmanager that some additions had stuck but others hadn’t. That meant I had to go through the full 2,000 accounts for a second time to make sure nothing had been missed (the exclusions weren’t simply at the end).

I’m not blaming the app – the developer presents it free of charge for single users.

But I’m writing this because it’s worth knowing should you ever try a bit of spring cleaning on your Twitter account, or list wrangling in my case, and run up against problems. I haven’t found anyone else suffering quite the same issue, so it’s nice to write about it in case others are Googling the same problem.

I’m pleased with my new Cycling list. But I must admit I’m not in a hurry to produce a full “radio people” list just yet…

Paris – Roubaix 2015

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When I visited Gent six weeks or so ago, it was to see the city and take in a little bit of cycling. Hence I got to watch Omloop Het Nieuswblad and Kuurne Brussels Kuurne. The former was a more interesting race and I duly found a nice bit of a cobbled ‘berg to view the race from.

I enjoyed my day out, and I wanted to see more. Paris-Roubaix has always held massive appeal to me – the cobbles, the Arenberg Forest, the dust, the pounding punishment taken by bikes and riders. I wanted to go and see that. But how?

My natural inclination is to work out how to do it myself. Google Maps revealed that Lille is handily situated for a number of cobbled sectors. There are 27 separate sectors totalling around 53km of the 254km total race. Sectors are rated on a five-star system for their degree of difficulty. Many of these routes are really farm tracks that get little car traffic when there isn’t a race going through. So they’re rough roads with tougher pavé than in Flanders.

But there were problems with the DIY option. Getting to Lille is obviously easy via Eurostar, and it has plenty of hotels. But getting to the cobbled sectors isn’t so easy when local trains are severely compromised by the race. As has widely been reported, this year’s race saw the riders come across a closing level crossing to let a TGV come through. Some trains just don’t stop for a cycle race.

In Flanders, I used my Brompton to get around, and this was a possibility, but I started searching to see if there was an alternative. A group tour seemed to be a good compromise. So I booked with Sports Tours International who run a couple of spectator only coaches for the race (they also have different tours for those doing the sportive, and I think some more exclusive tours).

Even with an organised group, it’s all still something of an undertaking. I met the coach at a service station on the M25, but others had come down from Leeds. We headed on down to Dover, crossed on a ferry, and then drove south to a perfectly decent budget hotel not far from the start town in Senis. We were sharing our hotel with the Bretagne Seche-Environment team – a French squad with a single Brit amongst them! So it was good to be able to see the mechanics assembling bikes around the back first thing in the morning, and to see that although the team had their own breakfast room, they were eating from the same buffet that we were!

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There were two further budget hotels next door, each with their own team staying there: Bora-Argon and Ag2r La Mondiale.

We headed out ridiculously early from our hotel on Sunday morning, and reached Compiègne where the race actually starts, some 80km from Paris. Sports Tours International have run these trips for years, so they know where to park the coach to ensure a swift departure.

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The theme of the day would be trying to make sure we got away from any given location to allow time to get to the next one before the riders arrived or roads got shut.

One of the best things about cycling is that you can usually get right in amongst the team warm-up areas. The buses get parked and mechanics put out the bikes and do any last minute tinkering. Fans look on hoping for either a souvenir or an autograph (I guess “selfie” these days too). In Gent, the town square had been given over and it was a complete throng. But Paris-Roubaix is an ASO event, and they know how to get maximum return from their races. So there are lots of “exclusive” areas with access to those who have the right passes. And unfortunately, that included vast tranches of the town square where the coaches were arriving and parking up. If you had the right lanyard you could inspect the 28mm tyres and see what modifications teams had made to their bikes for this race. But for us nobodies, we had to lean over barriers around the edge. OK – it wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t the free-for-all that I experienced in Gent.

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However, not all the buses fitted into the partitioned square, so like many other Brits, I headed to the Team Sky bus to see if I could catch a glimpse of Sir Brad, for whom this would be his final race in Team Sky colours. While his form didn’t seem to much, you could never tell. And this was the man who caused me to buy a last minute flight to Paris in 2012 when it looked like he’d be the first ever British Tour de France winner.

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There really was a throng outside his bus. Partly because it was outside the gated area in the square, and partly because it was Wiggo’s last race.

We were on a tight timetable as I’ve mentioned, and our instructions were to leave the square at 10:10, 10 minutes before the scheduled race departure. In fact, the departure was delayed 10 minutes because a strong tailwind was likely to lead to a fast race. This would have repercussions.

But by 10:10 none of the riders had emerged. I saw fellow members of our party still hoping to grab a picture or get an autograph. It was more like 10:15, just as I was leaving, when he finally came out with his team. Bad photos from the back of the crown taken, and it was time to high-tail it back to the bus.

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Then we began the theme of the day. The bus raced onwards and we would hope that we could make the next stopping point at Inchy – the first of the cobbled sectors. The riders actually get the thick end of 100km on regular roads before the cobbles begin. And we needed that time to race ahead of them. On Twitter I was seeing that the tailwind meant that riders completed the first 50km in an hour!

Our viewing point in Inchy was pretty busy when our coach pulled up and we had to troop across a ploughed field to reach the old track that ran in a bit of a trench. Position suitably found, we didn’t have long until the riders came through. As is the norm, a break had formed and a group of no-hopers were a couple of minutes or so ahead of the peleton.

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This wasn’t the worst cobbled sector, but the riders were flying over it. The sunshine meant that they – and the accompanying fleet of vehicles, were kicking up masses of dust. I grabbed as many photos as possible, and then once the main group was through, we were under strict instructions to head quickly back to the coach. No hanging around to see if any stragglers were trying to get back on. This was obviously less of an issue here, but would become a bigger one later on.

Karl, our tour rep had told us that the tailwind might mean that we’d have to skip our second section of pavé, but in fact, we were OK, and would be able to make it. Although the riders had to race 90km or so, getting a coach around the French countryside is no mean feat. We were heading to Sars-et-Rosières, a few sectors beyond the the Trouée d’Arenberg. The cobbles that form a straight line through the Arenberg forest are easily the race’s most famous sector. They run some 2.4km, and races have been won there in the past as someone has ridden off the front.

But it’s also packed with spectators and hard to get in and out of quickly. So we were leaving it alone and finding a quieter section.

Another parked coach and another walk – this time through a small French village (this is one of the poorer parts of France, but this village definitely bucked that trend with lots of smart new-builds) – to reach what ordinarily would be a farm track. I found a reasonable place to try to snatch some photos, although the direction of the race means that riders are coming out of the sun all day long, and it was a very sunny day.

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The break still had quite a healthy advantage. It was only later that I realised that this was because of the now famous level crossing incident, after which the race was neutralised for a while to allow riders to get back into the peleton.

My mobile data hadn’t been working for a while (I would somehow manage to burn through 150GB, largely on Twitter. And yes I’m very suspicious about how mobile operators account for data when abroad.), so wasn’t aware of any of this.

When the main peleton came through, Omega Pharma Quickstep were driving it, and Wiggins in particular was well back in the group – not the place to be. Worst than that, Geraint Thomas was off the back a bit. I learnt that this was because of both a crash and a puncture. He didn’t look happy.

Amusingly, it was also here that one of the Mavic neutral service cars itself suffered a puncture!

Riders were pretty strung out now, but we couldn’t stay to watch them come through, as we were going to try to get to the velodrome in Roubaix for finale. Uniquely, Paris-Roubaix ends with 1.5 laps of the famous of old open-air velodrome. It’s free to get into, and TV pictures in recent years showed me that it wasn’t full.

Two chaps on the coach in the row behind me were on their third trip with Sports Tours International, and said that the first year they had made it to the velodrome, but last year they hadn’t. They’d ended up being dropped off close by – but had watched the racers in the streets of Roubaix about 500m short.

It was more a question of when the police shut the roads than when the riders reached the finish.

For us, it was so near and yet so far. I’d got Twitter working again and Wiggins had attacked. And then been caught. But there were several riders in a group 30km to go. Then 20km. We were still on the coach. The roads were closed – we couldn’t get close to the velodrome. Google Maps said it was a 45 min walk to it. The race would be here in minutes. So we hopped out and watched it on course. I didn’t see a sign, but reckon it was at about 5km to go.

A lovely French lady, having established I was English (as were a couple of Sky-attired riders who weren’t part of our group), told be about her English themed house which was on the route. She had a few riders she was interested in circled, and having learnt I worked for the BBC told me how much she enjoyed Woman’s Hour and the Daily Service on LW. She then said the Lord’s Prayer in English to prove it!

But the riders would be upon us. Many of the residents had radios out – and one enterprising lad had a laptop streaming the race. I was relying on a radio with my very limited French (garbled sports commentaries aren’t the easiest place to gather information if you don’t really understand the language), and Twitter.

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And then they were upon us – a leading three (who would win) – followed by a handful more (who would catch the leaders, but still not make the podium). Luke Rowe from Sky was doing well, but Wiggo’s attempts had come to naught and even a final kick wasn’t enough to get him up to the leaders as they entered the velodrome. There John Degenkolb became the first German to win Paris-Roubaix since 1896. He was presented with a mounted piece of pavé.

However we were now racing back to Calais to see if we could get on an earlier ferry (we could), and where some of our party would have tea with Phil Liggett (not an organised thing – they just bumped into him). The coach driver popped on “I Am Sailing” as we drove up the ramp to the ferry.

I was home by 23:45 which was pretty decent – particularly as the schedule had mentioned a 02:45 drop-off!

Would I do it again? Perhaps. The organisation was excellent, and we were treated well with decent food in the clean budget hotel.

With a car, a GPS, and good maps of the area, you could do it yourself – and probably get into Roubaix too. In essence you’re really pretty limited about where you can go if you want to see multiple stages, with traffic getting in and out of the towns and villages, and factoring in enough time to leap frog ahead of the race. In many respect, it appears that some of the Flanders races are better suited with loops built in that assist spectating. (The chaps from Blaze report seeing the race in the Arenberg Forest and at the Velodrome before racing home).

I would still like to go and see a good Alpine or Pyranean stage of the Tour de France. And I think perhaps that of the one-day classics, the Tour of Flanders is probably next on my to-do list. I think there are ways of seeing that race a few times, and being able to see live TV pictures at the same time.

Cycle races are of course better seen on TV than live to fully appreciate. You invariably go home and watch the recordings of races you’ve spectated at – and not only to see if you can see yourself. But the same could be said of most sports. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to be there!

However Twitter is a godsend. Follow plenty of teams, cycling journalists and broadcasters, and you’ll get a good idea of what’s happening as long as you’ve got reception.

Although I’ve included a lot of photos here, there are even more on Flickr.

And I employed the slow motion functionality of my Sony Xperia Z3 to shoot this. It’s all a bit other-worldly, and it lasts a while. But particularly in one of the later shots, you can really see how much the riders bounce around. And although it looks like I put my phone in a very dangerous position, it really was out of the riders’ way.

Paris Roubaix 2015 Slow Motion from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

“Now Available to Download”

There was mass hysteria* yesterday when Disney and Fox announced that all six Star Wars films would be available to download in HD from Friday!

Goodness, how very lucky we are. I mean, how else was I going to be able to watch any of the films? It’s not as though they haven’t been released once or twice before.

George Lucas was always pretty canny with his release strategy, but now that Disney owns the rights, the franchise has been handed on to the past masters of re-releasing video. Who else could re-release their best-selling Frozen in a sing-along version and sell it to parents again – which as far as I can see, just means turning subtitles on by default?**

And these new videos are really “priced to go” aren’t they? £20 each or £69 for all six films!

Suddenly that Secret Cinema airing of The Empire Strikes Back seems reasonable at £75. Of course, you can buy the exact same quality films on BluRay for £49 currently at Amazon. Sure you’ll have to rip the video yourself somehow if you want to play the films on a tablet. But then why are you watching films on a tablet or smartphone you fool? Seriously, you shouldn’t be watching films on portable devices with Facebook notifications popping up, and listening via the bundled headphones you got with it.***

These downloads come with loads of “new” bonus material. And I’m sure that it’ll somehow be different to the bonus material that has previously been released on DVDs and BluRays. I mean they have definitely held back the best stuff until now, haven’t they?

Sadly, the one thing that they could have done to interest me even slightly in these downloads, they’ve completely avoided. That, of course, is to release the original trilogy in their original versions****, but digitally cleaned up and rescanned. Instead we have to put up with Lucas’ “tinkered versions” or go hunting around on the web for fans who’ve “de-specialised” the films themselves.

No doubt these versions will come out in due course, since it’d be money left on the table from Disney’s perspective if they didn’t. And leaving tables left covered with money doesn’t feel like a Disney sort of thing to do. But I hope we don’t first have to wait for the 3D versions to pass through. Remember them? They started with The Phantom Menace, “Remastering” it in 3D. Or as I like to think of it, “Getting teams of people working frame by frame in Photoshop somewhere like India, to fake-up 3D.”

At time of writing, the Amazon ranking for these new digital releases is one star, with every commenter giving the price as the reason for their lowly ratings.

Star Wars is just the latest example of this bizarre media excitement when something that hadn’t previously been made available digitally, is, er, made available digitally. We’ve had bands from The Beatles to AC/DC on iTunes, and Harry Potter on the Kindle amongst many others. The only reason these properties have been held back is for marketing reasons. Why are we playing their game? What kind of person was holding out on listening to The Beatles or watching Star Wars because they weren’t available in their preferred format? “Sure, I could buy Sgt. Pepper on CD and rip it myself, but I’m hanging in there until Apple rips it for me!”

In the meantime, this is another reason to hang on to devices capable of playing physical media before totally going digital. A bit like back those catalogue CDs that somehow are cheaper in a physical format than the digital album on Amazon (At time of writing Bridge Over Troubled Water is £3.00 on CD, which includes a bundled mp3 version, or £6.39 for just the mp3! And this was literally the first example search I tried.)

Me? I might have to go back to my Laserdisc of Return of the Jedi.

* OK – mild comment may be more accurate.

** OK – there may be a dancing ball or something that runs along the words.

*** OK – you might be watching via Apple TV or Chromecast or something on your big TV. In which case, good. And yes, whiling away the hours on a long flight with a film is good. But you’re probably not truly appreciating the majesty of some of these films on a 5 inch screen.

**** And no, I don’t buy the oft-given argument that these versions no longer exist and that somehow they were destroyed in the making of Lucas’ other editions.

Around the Web

They’ve been there a while now.

At first, just a few.

But now they’re everywhere.

And the invasion is growing.

What am I talking about?

Content Discovery Platforms” typified by those “Around the Web” discovery link panels you often see on news sites and advertising supported blogs.

Essentially, these are the tables of links that sit under articles on many websites. You reach the bottom of an article and want to read some more. “Well, we’ve already thought of that!” In an Amazon-style of you-liked-that-so-you-might-like-this, they push you to click on the links.

Except that they’re not necessarily links to other stories on the same website. They’re links to paid-for “content” on other sites.

Now to be clear, there are many ways that this can work. Some sites insist that three out of four, or five out of six links are internal. It’ll just be the final click that’s external.

But other sites just have a list of links that are all external, and usually tangential at best to what you were reading about.

Essentially, they’re designed to look like the bottom of a MailOnline article, and indeed they usually feature the sort of stories that might easily pop-up on a tawdry site like that.

“Controversial ‘skinny’ pill”, “12 fun facts that are complete and utter lies”, “Local mums reveal EXTREME weight-loss trick.”

There are a variety of companies that market these things, with Taboola and Outbrain being particularly virulent popular.

More recently, I’ve noticed a lot of blogs that use Disqus to power their comments now appear with “sponsored content” within their comment sections.

Now it’s all very easy for me to take the moral high ground on this kind of thing. This blog isn’t here to make money – it costs me some money to host it. The most commercial thing you’re going to see is a very occasional Amazon link with affiliate coding for a book or DVD (although there have been so few of them, that Amazon has never cut me a cheque).

I know that many websites and blogs need advertising revenue to make ends meet. But it’s the lack of intelligence used by these plugins. The stories and articles they link to are the lowest of low-rent clickbait. They invariably feature women in a state of some undress, or unlikely bargains. In general, they actually bring the website I’m visiting into disrepute. I’m reading some smart piece of writing, and there at the bottom is a link to “50 of the Sexiest Scarlett Johansson Photos You’ll Ever See.” Really tawdry stuff. Why have you let this garbage onto your site?

Let’s put it this way, if this were the “cost” of running Disqus for my blog’s discussions, I would be seeking another supplier forthwith. Or frankly I’d do without comments altogether.

It wouldn’t be so bad if these adverts didn’t so heavily disguise themselves as editorial. In most media – magazine and television, for example – there has to be clear delineation between editorial and advertising. Occassionally you might see a piece that is an advertorial – written in the style of the publication, but clearly labelled as produced for a commercial partner. Or as everyone loves to call it these days “Native Advertising.”

This is becoming a problem. The editorial/advertising walls are being broken down, as we’ve seen from the recent accusations of the Telegraph from Peter Oborne.

In the case of Disqus, Outbrain and Taboola, it’s really not always the case that the reader knows they’re being subjected to advertising. Let’s face it – that’s why they do it.

Are you familiar with this logo?


To be honest, you might not recognise it. That’s because it usually appears much smaller. Here’s a version I captured on my phone. This isn’t going to look great on your QHD screen:


In fact these logos are all part of something called Ad Choices “where you’re in control of your Internet experience with interest-based advertising—ads that are intended for you, based on what you do online.”

Often, this is the only clue that you’re really being served advertising.

For example, Disqus sometimes labels its offering “Around the Web” and also has a discrete “What’s this?” If you click on it, it reads: “Disqus helps you find new and interesting content, discussions and products. Some sponsors and ecommerce sites may pay us for these recommendations and links. Learn more or give us feedback.”

So that took an action on my behalf to establish that this might be advertising. I’m pretty certain it’s all advertising.

Sites using Taboola might have a “Recommended for you” section with some internal site links, followed by “Recommended from the web” alongside a tiny “Sponsored links by Taboola.” Clicking on that pop-up revealed: “This content was picked for you by Taboola’s recommendation engine because we thought you may like it. This content is paid for by our advertiser and publisher clients.” But the majority of the pop-up was actually about marketing Taboola itself with sections for Marketers and Publishers!

Samples of “Recommended from the web” currently displayed to me include “The Best Way to Make Extra Money in the UK” and “UK Store Sells iPads and iPhones for Pennies” – yeah, right.

Looking at a sample site that uses Outbrain (and many of the web’s biggest sites do use it), I get a Promoted Stories section featuring four “stories.” Samples I’m presented with currently include “Want to beat jetlag? Try these 7 tricks,” “10 Daily Habits That Will Give You Incredible Willpower” and “4 Reasons Why MBA Degree Is The Best In The World” [sic] – that last one suggesting that an MBA doesn’t necessarily require you to have a full grasp of the English language.

Below these are four internal site links, followed by “Recommended by Outbrain.” Clicking on that brings up a detailed pop-up that includes:

“Outbrain is focused on one thing: helping people discover great, interesting content.

“Any time you see a recommendation from Outbrain, you can trust that it will send you to a piece of high quality content. Outbrain links will never take you to a blatant advertisement so you can rest assured that by clicking one of our links (“we recommend” or “from around the web”), you will only experience great content.”

Hmm. So they’re not “blatant” advertisements. Shall we say “discreet” advertisements then? Clicking through to that MBA ad took me to what was effectively a content farm of mostly worthless “education” pieces with liberal helpings of Google ads. Essentially it’s worth someone’s while to pay to Outbrain to deliver Google Ads by proxy. And they say digital advertising isn’t the Wild West?

Outbrain also uses the pop-up to promote its services.

I’m sure that these “Content Discovery Platforms” work for their clients in that they have an advertising model that works for both parties. But surely even calling their backends “recommendation engines” is disingenuous?

Personally I think that these things cheapen websites much more than other kinds of advertising. Even useless retargeting advertising at least is obviously advertising.

I suspect that the reason they proliferate is because they get higher click-through rates than regular advertising. And that’s because they’re misrepresenting themselves and people are clicking through without realising where they’re going. Or they’re blatant clickbait and it’s only after clicking through that people that they’re not going to get a cheap iPhone.

Digital advertising is getting through “formats” at a rapid pace as they try new things, they work for a bit, and then they stop working. “Content Discovery Platforms” are probably another example of this and in due course they’ll disappear because consumer behaviour will mean they stop “working.”

It seems to me that this is parter of a wider need to understand that most people don’t or won’t interact with most advertising. We take it on board and move on. We don’t instantly pick up the phone or visit a website. Yet advertising does work, it just can’t all be proved with metrics instantly.

As I was about to publish this I spotted this Tweet from scientist, writer and broadcaster Adam Rutherford featuring advertising at the foot of an Observer piece he wrote. Because it would make sense to link through to the Express for “science” stories…

Says it all really.

Top Tips for Podcasters

An upfront disclaimer: I’ve never made or distributed a podcast. However, I have been listening to them for many years – from a variety of providers.

Since podcasting is suddenly the hot new thing, some ten years after the name was first coined (and yes, I’m aware that they’re older than that), I thought I’d run through a little list of simple things that people could do to make their podcasts a little better. Not so much the audio – although there’s that too – but the process around it. And yes, I’ve come across all of these things since the start of 2015.

1. Make sure you have an RSS feed.

You might not really understand what one of these is, and despite them being very smart and versatile, it feels that many others have no idea either. But they’re essential if you plan to have anyone listen to more than a single episode of your podcast. So you need one, and you should make it visible. That allows people on mobile especially to add your podcast to their podcast apps.

2. If you’re using SoundCloud to host your podcast, then get on their, still beta, podcasting programme.

This is the same as #1 really. It gives you an RSS feed, which is essential for people subscribing to your podcast. Linking to your SoundCloud page is not good enough. That just lets me listen in a browser, which is not the most convenient way of listening.

3. A link to the iTunes store page of your podcast is not good enough.

Unless your podcast is aimed solely at Apple users, you need to have a page somewhere – probably a website – that points, yes to iTunes, but also to your RSS feed. Because although you and all your friends listen on iPhones, most of the world doesn’t have one, and you might like them to listen too. In any case…

4. You probably also want to have a stream available to listen via a PC somewhere on a website.

According to one recent piece I read, 40% of popular podcasts can still be delivered via direct streams. Aside from anything else, having a website gives you a place to link to when you’re directing people to back episodes, or to put detailed show notes and relevant links. There is no easy way to share podcasts across ecosystems at the moment, so directing other users via your site is perhaps the best way. So an individual page for each podcast you make is a good idea.

And vitally, this also makes your show properly searchable. You do want people to find you via Google don’t you? (If you really wanted to go to town, then including a transcript of your show would be awesome, but also enormously time-consuming until technology can make a decent fist of it anyway, or there was a script in the first place).

5. Include show notes in your podcast.

There’s a place for them, and ideally they should say more than the name of your podcast. Different podcast players use or don’t use them to greater or lesser extents. But since you’re putting together some text for a page on the website (see #4 above), then put this in the show notes too. This should include links to other things you were talking about on your show. If you have advertisers then they’ll like you for linking to them too!

6. Make some artwork – and put some words in it.

Create a show logo for your podcast. We live in a visual world, and people will judge you a bit by your logo, so if you’re not able to make one, find someone who can make one for you. You can actually also create episode images which may be worthwhile, although not all podcast apps will make use of them. But be sure to include the name of your podcast in the logo. When a user is browsing visually in a podcasting app, they’re often presented with a sea of tiles, so ensure that your podcast is identifiable in that sea. You may think your logo is instantly identifiable, but to be honest, you’re not Coca Cola are you? So it really isn’t. For bonus points, ensure that what you call it in your logo matches what you call it in the text. This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised…

7. Unless there’s a very good reason, keep your podcasts alive in perpetuity.

To be honest, you’re probably going out of your way if you’re not making them permanently available. But it’s worth remembering that unless you’re already massive, there’s going to be a long-tail discovering your previous episodes, and depending on the timeliness of what your podcast is about, they may remain relevant for months or years.

Of course there may be rights arrangemnts that prevent this, or your may choose to monetise your back catalogue in some other way. But if you’re not doing those things, then why not make them permanently available?

8. Nobody is really happy with the name, and quite a few people aren’t happy with the technology, but don’t try to rebrand podcasts on your own.

You know who you are.

9. Can we all agree to ‘level’ our podcasts the same please?

This is getting better as production skills are improving, but nobody really wants to be dialling their volume up and down between different podcasts. There are lots of places online that will explain this.

10. Have you optimised the audio of your podcast?

Does your podcast need to be stereo? Does your mp3 need to be 320k? The answer to those questions will depend on what your podcast actually contains. But broadly speaking, if it’s simply two people speaking, then you probably don’t really need to be making a stereo podcast, so downmix it to mono, and save bandwidth for all concerned. On the other hand, if your podcast is all about music (and you have the appropriate rights to include it), then leave it as stereo and at a decent compression level.

Oh, and if you’re planning on dropping the occassional video into your podcast stream, think twice about including a 30 minute 1080p clip in your feed. It might look lovely on your tablet, but it’s going to fill a lot of your listeners’ smartphones, and they may not appreciate a 0.5GB video on their 16GB smartphone without warning.

Thoughts on Tidal and Streaming Music Services


I’m still not really clear about Tidal – the music streaming service. There was some kind of hideous press conference with lots of very successful – i.e. rich – artists talking banalities earlier this week in New York.

But at this stage, a streaming music service really needs to have a point of difference compared with rivals in the marketplace including Spotify, whatever-Apple/Beats-comes-up-with, and Google Play Music.

The first issue is price. There really isn’t a great deal of competition here. Paid for, or premium prices are pretty consistent across the board. So Tidal has a £10/$10 a month fee for Premium and a £20/$20 a month fee for HiFi. This is one of their two key points of difference from what I can tell. There’s no free tier, and they’re streaming using a lossless Flac format. That makes it the same quality as a CD, although it’s not the same as an album master. The format they’re using is still 16 bit and 44.1 khz sampling, whereas most studios record in higher defintions than that.

That all said, I’m not convinced that many beyond those with “golden ears” and seriously high-end audio kit are likely to notice the difference listening to most overly-compressed popular music.

So technologically they’ve got an interesting proposition, although you’re probably going to have to dial that back on a mobile device unless you’re using WiFi. But what else do they have?

Well they want their artists to give them exclusives.

Whether that’s achievable or not is another matter, and probably down to what contracts artists have with their labels. Is it in a label’s best interest to give one platform priority over another? Platforms do get exclusives of course. Spotify might get an album a week ahead of everyone else, or a “special edition” CD may only be available from a particular retailer. But that’s normally because the platform or retailer is promising something in return – maybe they’re heavily marketing the artist, or adding some kind of other added value.

Finally there’s the claim that Tidal will make more money for artists, and that’s the bit I really struggle with.

There are regularly cases of artists saying how relatively little Spotify has paid them for millions of plays of tracks. On the other hand, Spotify pays around 80% of all the money it earns in royalty fees and isn’t yet profitable globally.

If we assume that Spotify keeping 20% of its revenues is a fair amount, but that artists are not being fairly rewarded, then it also suggests that the current numbers just don’t really add up.

Spotify, of course, has an advertising platform, and that drags down the overall revenues it makes, since the advertising supported service returns less per track in revenue. But in terms of comparing paying subscribers, I can’t see how Tribal and Spotify can pay much differently on a per track streamed basis.

If I subscribe to each service and listen to the same amount of music on each, then rights holders are going to get paid the same share of my £10/$10 a month since Spotify and Tribal cost basically the same amount of money to me as a consumer.

And let’s not forget that those revenues are split between artist, songwriter and copyright holder – with the label often being the latter. If you “just” performed the song, then a decent chunk of revenues that Spotify or Tribal are passing on, are not making their way to you. That’s frequently the case with big hit records, and it’s worth taking into account when a performer is bemoaning what they’re getting. Did they write the song? On their own? And who owns the publishing rights of the song?

But if there was no free version of Spotify, I can’t see how Tribal would pay more out that Spotify, short of eating into that remaining 20% of revenues which have to cover overheads, technology, staffing and so on. And again, I’ll point out that Spotify is not yet profitable – the business model isn’t yet proven.

Ownership does pollute some of this. It’s thought that a number of artists were given shares in Tidal in order to help promote it. All the more reason for them to back this service. On the other hand, a number of big record labels have shares in Spotify, and hence they’re perhaps more likely to favour that service.

It seems to me that Tidal is unlikely to attract those who’ve been happy with the free version of Spotify, although it might tempt current premium Spotify users across.

The only real way it’s going to make more money is by getting people to pay more – and the £20/$20 price point is just that. But I’d be amazed if more than a fraction of subscribers go for the high-end option.

To me, it’s a question of acknowledging that perhaps $10 a month is too low if you want to get paid more. Although the rumours are that Apple would like its service to cost $8 a month – a battle that labels are currently fighting.

The real difficulty is that before we had these streaming services, there was a real range of different types of music consumption.

A large part of the population certainly didn’t spend as much as £120/$120 a year on music. The average person only bought about two albums a year. These are the people that make up the masses of Spotify’s free subscribers. If they only spent £20 a year on music before, they’re not suddenly going to spend 6 times that now. Worse, the record industry is probably only making pennies on the pound of that £20 they used to earn.

On the other hand, there are those who probably bought an album a week or more – your £50 man (remember them?). Now they’re only paying £10 a month for Spotify Premium. There weren’t nearly as many of these, but they sure did spend a lot on music. And the industry is losing out on revenue from those people. (That’s not to say that this was guaranteed of course. There are lots of demands for the leisure pound.)

However, now we’ve baselined everything. Everyone pays either nothing or £10/$10 regardless of how “into” music they really are. I just don’t think the “Netflix model” really works for the industry.

The question then is this. If Spotify Free was pulled tomorrow, what would those users do? Let’s assume nobody else had a free service they could shift to. (As an aside, I note that the EU is looking carefully at Apple’s agreements with record labels to prevent them forcing Spotify to do this very thing.)

A few would upgrade to Premium. But I think a lot of people would say, “Well it was nice while it lasted, but I’ll go back to the radio, YouTube or just buying a few songs ever now and again from iTunes.”

In the meantime, I’ll continue to buy physical CDs from bands I really like and want to support.

The other day on my commute to work, I noticed the woman next to me fumbling in her bag and pulling out a CD Walkman!

“How quaint,” I thought as she plugged it in. But of course, she was listening to her music “losslessly,” and whoever she was listening to had been fairly compensated. Maybe she isn’t behind the curve but ahead of it?

Update: Here’s a link to Paul Flower’s piece as mentioned in the comments.

The Failure of London Live

“Local TV” has not been a rip-roaring success. It was former Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt’s passion project, before a reshuffle saw him move to Health. But once the train had started rolling it couldn’t be stopped, and Ofcom has dutifully carried out DCMS’s wishes and rolled out a series of stations. It’s still doing so.

Hunt had misconstrued what television in America is – “If Birmingham, Alabama can have eight local TV stations, why not Birmingham, England?” He failed to really grasp that national broadcasters in the US are mostly networks – networks of local stations that affiliate with national networks. He also didn’t really understand the direction television is going. In essence, there is nothing to stop anybody launching a new TV channel today. But they’d probably choose to give it a specialism on a national scale, or choose a more optimal delivery platform on a local level.

Not every station has been a failure. To date, the standout appears to be STV Glasgow, owned by STV itself. But there it’s able to utilise both STV’s own library of programming at minimal cost, and share news resources with its older sibling. STV also has a strong local sales offering, meaning that advertising can be bundled with the local station, and there can be cross-promotion at programme junctions. STV Edinburgh has only recently come on stream, and I’d expect the same success. And I note that STV has also successfully won licences for Aberdeen, Ayr and Dundee.

But there is nobody else with quite the same opportunity. There are quasi-networks which save in costs, like Made in [Bristol / Cardiff / Tyne & Wear / Leeds / Teesside] and That’s [Oxford / Solent / Surrey / Reading / Salisbury]. But set against this is the case of Birmingham where the winning bidder collapsed before launch, and a replacement had to be found at short notice while adhering to many of the promises made by the previous bidder. And more than that, there are licences where Ofcom has rejected a sole bidder.

I don’t wish ill on any them, and hope that they are successful.

But I suppose the station that’s closest to home is the one that gets channel 8 in my region – London Live. It launched on 31 March 2014 with “Alright?” and has been basically struggling since then.

Probably the first issue they had is that they subscribed to BARB TV ratings, and journalists who get those ratings were suddenly posting some remarkably low viewing figures.

On the one hand, they felt they needed to subscribe to ratings because unlike most of their fellow Local TV stations, their broadcast area was close to an existing TV region, which is essential since BARB was designed and works on a regional TV level. And having those ratings potentially gives them access to national advertising from agencies. Advertising is a critical part of the financing of these channels.

The problem with taking BARB is that it isn’t really set up right for a channel of their scale, and their programmes are under-represented as a result. BARB locally is mostly used by the five major channels, in the most part for advertising and local news. But this all meant that their level of success or failure was instantly identifiable. They had overnights in the low thousands or even zero rated programmes.

Beyond their ratings problems, they’d made some big promises about how much local programming they’d deliver. As the original tender was partly a “beauty contest” – in that Ofcom considered the range of programming they would be offering – London Live offered a lot. They were up against four other bidders.

They went back to Ofcom for the right to reduce the levels on several occassions, most notably in the autumn of 2014 when they successfully petitioned for reductions in the number of hours of local programming they needed to broadast in peak-time.

I must admit that of all the bidders for the London local TV licence, I did think that London Live had the best chance of success. It’s owned by the Lebedevs who also own The Independent, and crucially, the Evening standard. Simply put, they have the opportunity to share news resources between their papers and their TV service.

But it’s not as simple as that. In Glasgow, STV is able run the very same package on both STV and STV Glasgow – perhaps airing a longer version for the Glasgow audience. In London, a reporter at a press conference probably can’t both write 500 words for the Standard, and then put together a TV package of the same story. Not in a timely manner anyway. TV production always takes longer than you think. And although the combined resources of the newspapers provide plenty of opportunities on-air, it’s not always that simple, and sometimes appears very awkward on-air.

However having the Standard did give London Live some essential free promotion which few others would be able to access. According to ABC, the Standard currently distributes 883,000 newspapers a day! It went free in 2009, and is now reported to be profitable. This is a promotional opportunity that is worth millions.

So not only did the channel launch with free wraparounds on the paper, regular advertising within it and even promotional paint jobs on the paper’s delivery vans, but the paper went one step further. It gave prime real estate to London Live in one of the most important places in any evening newspaper – it’s TV pages.

We’re a bit old fashioned in how we present TV in newspapers in this country. Until digital switchover, it was mostly about channels 1-5. Other channels were mostly relegated to the smallprint. I remember when Rupert Murdoch’s Times started giving Sky 1 the sixth spot and thought it “a bit rum.” But it’s fine of course, and depending on a paper’s readers’ interests, channels like E4 or BBC Four get prime spots in listings today, just beyond Channel 5.

The Standard however, bumped everyone else down and gave London Live the first spot – despite everyone else basically listing channels in EPG order. It didn’t just feel awkward because the numbering was out of kilter, but because it was evident the channel was being run on a shoestring but should somehow be considered the equivalent of BBC1 or ITV.

I should point out that in times past, the Standard had very strong TV coverage – for example the excellent Victor Lewis Smith was its daily TV reviewer for many years. So when the TV preview column also clearly came under specific instructions to promote London Live’s programming it was awful.

In the early months of the channel, they did at least have some new programming to promote. It might have been cheaply made, but it was at least new. Today the channel has shifted nearly all its original programming out of primetime, where it relies heavily on acquired material. But the TV preview mostly has to promote the peak-time schedule – that’s when the paper’s readers are available to watch. And that leads to problems.

To give you an example, here’s a sample day’s peak time schedule:

1900-2000 Cookery School (Channel 4, 2011)
2000-2100 Made in Chelsea (Channel 4, 2012)
2100-2200 The Fried Chicken Shop (Channel 4, 2013)
2200-2300 Misfits (E4, 2013)
2300-0100 Dot The I (Film, 2003)

Also airing right now on other days and in other dayparts are episodes of Trigger Happy TV, River Cottage Life, Peep Show and London’s Burning. You will note that for the most part the schedule is drawn from C4’s archives.

And entertainingly, here are the three programmes that the same day’s Evening Standard highlighted as Pick of the Day:

Spaced (Channel 4, 1999, available on their website)
The Headline Interview: Iqbal Wahhab (London Live, tomorrow at 10am)

So all London Live programmes then? The Sky-sponsored Game of Thrones watch-along column is probably more appealing. OK – the entire “feature” says London Live at the top, but to the reader it’s an editorial piece with the most warped editorial judgment immaginable.

They do run news programming, but I’ll be honest and say that I’ve barely ever watched it – mostly because it’s not on when I’m in. They have 90 minutes between 0830 and 1000, another two hours at 1200, and a further 90 minutes at 1730.

This is basically madness.

They don’t have the local news resources that either the BBC or ITV has, yet they run their local news programming right up against that of their main rivals. At teatime, in particular, I would stay completely clear of the competition. Many Londoners with long commutes don’t get home in time for either ITV’s local bulletin at 1800 or the BBC’s at 1830. Why don’t they run something at 2000?

They did for a long time have “Not the One Show” which was probably a funny idea when someone wrote it on a whiteboard during a brainstorm, but really shouldn’t have made it through to commission. Not the Nine O’Clock News was first broadcast in 1979. In any case, it wasn’t news but, er, lighter stuff. So basically like The One Show then?

As it stands, the channel is basically a mish-mash of programming I can get anyway through Channel 4’s recently relaunched All 4 app. As a channel it’s just not a compelling offering. It’s neither fish nor fowl.

When you end up with a primetime full of reheated acquisitions, then other channels might fairly ask why London Live gets subsidised by the licence fee payer, and a very valuable prime EPG slot.

I’ve no idea how much the station is costing the Lebedevs to run, but they’re reported to have let a third of staff go at the start of the year, and frankly I’d prefer to see their money propping up The Independent than wasted on this.

There is a school of thought that says that London is too big to be local – that a viewer in Barnet doesn’t really care what’s happening in Ewell. And that’s probably true to an extent. But I think the bigger failing is being a mixed channel. These days you’ve got to be one thing or another. If you’re doing news, then just do news, really well. You don’t have to make it expensive if you cant afford it. Get a few good interviewers and put on regular hour long interview shows. You can re-run these a lot. Or run a 15 minute news sequence and then just repeat for several hours of the day. You’ll probably get a decent viewership for your traffic and weather alone (yes we all have apps for that, but us Brits still love this sort of thing, and can your app show you video of how busy the Dartford crossing is?).

Or if it’s acquired programming you’re going to run, then do it well. Get something exlusively. Run stuff that everyone likes, but nobody’s seen for years – Larry Sanders for example.

Find a niche and then fill it.

But programming that has been run to death on E4 and More4 isn’t the answer, and nor are films that your local pound shop couldn’t shift on DVD in the early 2000s.

Actually, if you want to start a local TV station today, don’t bother with winning Ofcom licences.

In the words of Wittertainment, if you want to start a local TV station, just start a local TV station.

Do it online.

Don’t try to fill a 24 hour schedule.

Make it mobile optimised, and make it social.

Meet a need, and make it better than anything anybody else is doing.

Because if it’s worse, then nobody apart from your mum is going to watch (and even she is only telling you she’s watching).



This weekend sees the Tour of Flanders, and next weekend is Paris – Roubaix. Since it’s been a while since I last did some screen printing, I thought I’d try to make a print based on the cobbled classics.

I’m quite pleased with the results, but I thought I’d run through my process.

I actually started from a photo that I took on the Molenberg at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad a few weeks ago. The same hill features in the Tour of Flanders.

Original Photo

From there I went into Photoshop and started masking off large parts of the picture that I didn’t need. This is quite slow, but masks work well for mistakes. In any case, I didn’t need perfection because I’d be adjusting the image pretty radically. So yes, I’ve not quite removed all the background through some of the bikes’ spokes.

Photoshop Edit

Next it was into Illustrator where I am a bit of a beginner. But the Image Trace function is superb and I played around a bit until I got something I was satisfied with. I took that back into Photoshop and added some lettering.

Image Traced in Lightroom and Text Added back in Photoshop

Then I made a screen. I tend to use Speedball materials, although I’ve bought third party screens and other bits and pieces.


Finally I printed my T-shirt (see top). But I also made a paper print too.


I’d love to tell you that prints were on sale for reasonable prices, but, er, I only made a couple of shirts and one paper print (I messed up the others). But if you really wanted one…