October, 2018

Surface Go – Review

SurfaceGo-1

In 2015 Microsoft released the Surface 3 and I bought one. It wasn’t the most powerful Windows PC ever. Indeed, it was very much under-powered. But it was light, portable and ran full Windows applications. I bought it to allow me to run full Windows applications when I was travelling. Although it had limited on-board disc space, I managed to use both Lightroom and Adobe Audition on it without problem. I would never have wanted to run anything too powerful, but for doing some edits on-the-go, before importing my temporary Lightroom catalogue into my main one when I returned home, it was fine.

While tablets are great, and Chromebooks are wonderful, they simply can’t do everything, and in particular run more powerful applications like Lightroom and Audition. Even with the inclusion of Android apps, in my experience, they’re not enough. 

So the arrival of the Surface Go was intriguing for me. I’ll say at the start that I certainly don’t think this device is right for everyone. If you’re more of a consumer rather than a creator, then I suspect an iPad is your best bet – perhaps with a keyboard attachment for emails.

The previous Surface 3 had an Intel Atom processor which meant it was slow. However, even then, I could run Lightroom and I certainly edited audio quite happily in Audition. I was even able to run bespoke software that crunched radio ratings figures in a fairly acceptable timeframe. It ran Office applications at an acceptable speed. 

Given that the Surface 3 basically got me over the line with my needs, why did I feel the need to update? Well it was by no means perfect. The keyboard was below average and the battery power was very iffy. On a recent trip I would find it randomly dropping from 60% to 0% in a few minutes – essentially shutting down on me. I’d be scared to take it anywhere without a wall-socket. It was also very slow. Slow to boot and slow to launch applications.

SurfaceGo-2

Microsoft sells the new Surface Go in two versions: the headline £379 version, and the version that you should actually buy at £509. That extra cost gets you double the RAM – 8GB instead of 4GB – and double the drive space – 128GB SSD instead of 64GB eMMC. I can’t think of a reason why anyone apart from the lightest of web-user would want the cheaper model.

The processor is an Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y. I confess that the name ‘Pentium’ concerned me a little, since it’s not a processor that I’ve come across since my old desktop days. But it’s a Kaby Lake era processor with dual core. 

The actual device itself feels very premium indeed. A lovely solid aluminium body with a kickstand that folds out to your preferred angle (the Surface 3 had three fixed positions, limiting your choices). The screen is gorgeous and of course touch sensitive. It’s an 1800×1200 panel covered in Gorilla Glass 3. So not quite full HD, but then this is a 10 inch device, so that would really be overkill. 

I bought one of Microsoft’s £125 Type Covers. There’s a £100 black model and then a few choices of colours which use Alcantara – a material that does feel nice on the hand. As with previous Surface devices, a powerful magnet ensures that the keyboard and Surface Go are locked into position properly. To separate them, you just firmly pull the two apart. They keyboard is a significant improvement on the Surface 3 keyboard in that the touchpad is bigger and better, while the keys are firmer, as is the case itself. Given the size of the device, this is a small keyboard. But it doesn’t take long to get up to speed with it. 

The only slight negative I have is that it’s not a backlit keyboard – my Surface Go keyboard was. [Update: Ignore this. The keyboard absolutely is backlit.]

SurfaceGo-3

I’ve yet to buy a new Surface Pen because the one I used with my previous Surface 3 works absolutely fine. In truth, I didn’t use that pen a great deal, because it wasn’t a terrific device for taking notes or trying to draw with (I am not an artist). However, the slightly smaller form factor of the Surface Go means that writing on it is more achievable. But I confess that I’m still looking for that perfect note-taking app. I’d also like a “learn to draw” app while I’m at it!

You can launch one of a selection of apps by clicking the button on the top of your pen. The app that allows you to annotate a webpage can be especially useful. But there is minimal lag when writing on the screen, and Microsoft’s in-built handwriting-to-text converter is pretty decent. How well it works for you will partly depend on your handwriting.

The front facing camera on the Surface Go has built in Windows Hello, meaning that you can use it to unlock the device. I found it to work superbly in even very poor light. 

The Surface Go comes in Windows S mode – a limited version of Windows that only allows you to install applications from the Windows Store. This is of no use to me as I wanted to install Chrome and applications from Adobe’s Creative Cloud, neither of which are in the Store. Fortunately it is relatively simple to switch to Windows 10 Home, and I was happily installing the apps I wanted. 

I found that Chrome runs seamlessly and I detected no slowdown or delays even with plenty of tabs open. Microsoft Edge is a very ‘needy’ application of course, and you’ll get plenty of notices suggesting you give it a go, but Chrome works very well across multiple devices for me. 

But perhaps more usefully, here are my experiences of running more powerful Adobe applications. It’s the ability to run these apps that made want to still have a portable Windows machine that’s powerful enough to do some creative work.

Adobe Audition – Unless you’re in radio or podcasts, this might be a bit niche, but it’s an application that I use regularly on the go. The Surface Go accomplishes this with ease – although I should note I probably don’t use more than six tracks simultaneously. Your mileage may vary if you’re creating a 128 track masterpiece with lots of processor intensive 

Lightroom Classic CC – This is perfectly useable. I was able to use Lightroom on my old Surface 3, so this didn’t come as a surprise. Again, it depends what you’re trying to do with the application. As mentioned previously, I create small temporary catalogues on the Surface Go, and then import them into my main catalogue when I get home. The application launches fairly fast, and it really only slows down if you’re trying to do a lot of batch processing – e.g. applying a filter to every photo you import. Your bigger concern will be how many RAW files, for example, you can store on the machine while you’re using it. It’s entirely possible the cards in your cameras will be larger than the space available on the Surface Go.

Photoshop CC – You can actually use Photoshop reasonably well. I wouldn’t recommend it on a mega-pixel image. And obviously there are some screen constraints (although these go away if you plug in an external monitor). I wouldn’t want to do anything too intensive – 3D for example. But some quick editing of images on the go, it’ll work just fine. The slowest part of using it is actually launching it. In my tests, it takes around 30 second to start up. It’s worth noting that Adobe has a Touch interface for Photoshop, with touch gestures as well as support for the Surface Pen.

Illustrator CC – This is an application that you might well want to use if  you’re artistically inclined. As with Photoshop, there’s a Touch interface which by default launches when you remove the keyboard. Again, I found Illustrator useable on the Surface Go. I suspect that other lighter applications, such as the pre-installed Sketchable are better suited for pure drawing (the app is free, but many premium features need to be unlocked at a cost of £24.74).

Premiere Pro CC – This is probably at the extreme end of what I’d want to attempt with a machine of this power. It’s clearly not designed for high-end video editing. But you may be out and about, and want to put something together. You might want to think twice about editing 4k 360 video on this, or anything. As with Photoshop and Illustrator, it takes a while to launch. As with other Adobe CC apps, Premiere takes about 40 seconds to load, and I did run into a difficulty. It seems that the Open CL GPU Acceleration on the supplied Intel video driver is incompatible with the current version of Premiere (and After Effects). This is instantly noticeable because it my tests, the video was streaked in green and pink. The workaround is to enable the Software Only playback engine. That’s probably not great long-term solution however. With any luck either an updated Intel driver and/or an updated version of Premiere (which is due to be released within the next week or so) will solve the problem long term. I did look for updated drivers on the Microsoft site, but couldn’t even find Surface Go drivers listed.

That all said, editing a 30fps 4K video from my phone was fairly painless, and for quick edits, I’d be happy to use this machine. Again, I would avoid anything too processor intensive such as stabilisation effects with Premiere, but otherwise, it’s very usable. The bigger problem you’re likely to face is having much storage space for video editing. Video will eat up the limited space very quickly – especially on the 64GB model. One option would be to use a USB-C SSD such as the Samsung T5 range. 

I didn’t try After Effects because that would have been daft to attempt. I suspect that this is the most processor hungry application I use, and it can sometimes struggle on my i7 enabled Dell XPS with 16GB of RAM. That said, I would expect the same short-term video issue as above.

NB. I’ll let others tell you whether or not you can play games on this machine. Personally, I’d be looking elsewhere for a gaming machine. I’ve done some very occasional PC gaming in the past, but this wouldn’t be my go to. 

There are two other things you’ll probably want to buy alongside the keyboard. The first is some kind of case. I ended up with a case that was designed for an iPad Pro. I bought a Tomtoc 10.5 inch sleeve which fits the Surface Go perfectly. It has a super-soft interior which should fully protect your device, and there’s a zip pocket at the front which is able to accommodate a Pen (assuming you have the older non-magnetic one like me), and a dongle. 

The great thing about the Surface Go’s size is that even in this case, it feels very small, and will happily slip into all but the very smallest of bags. Even “fully-loaded” with the Surface Go, case, pen and dongle, the weight only comes to 1020g. The Surface Go on its own, excluding the Type Cover, is 522g, but I think 1020g is a more realistic “real world” weight that you’ll be carrying around.

Dongle? Yes – this device comes with a micro-SD port (into which I put a 128 GB micro-SD card for additional storage), and a single USB-C connector. While the Surface Go comes with its own bespoke Surface charger, with a unique connector, the device can also be charged using a USB-C charger. In practice I found that my Pixel 2 charger worked absolutely fine. That’s really useful if you want to travel light. But that also means that to get USB-A ports (e.g. for USB dongles), or external video connections, you’re going to need a dongle. I bought a Lenovo dongle that had just about the right connectivity options for me at a reasonable price. In my case, that was SD, micro-SD, USB-A and HDMI. It also has a USB-C through power connector. Pricier versions are bigger but include Ethernet and even VGA connectivity, which might be useful when presenting on the road. Note that the USB-C port is just that. It’s not a Thunderbolt 3 port. So don’t think of plugging an eGPU into it (You wouldn’t want to do that anyway, but it’s worth saying).

Still, I won’t complain too much about the USB-C inclusion. Microsoft has since refreshed the rest of its high-end Surface line, and none of those devices include so much as a single USB-C port! 

One issue I did have with the Surface Go was during my initial Windows 10 set-up. My finger slipped on an early dropdown, and I selected Germany rather than the UK. This then sent the set-up into German, and didn’t allow me to go back and correct my mistake! I couldn’t escape out of it, and had to complete my set-up in German. Then, although I should have been able to change language to English, I didn’t fully get the machine working in English. Some system messages still came up in German. 

After fighting with this for a while, I ran a Windows ‘Reset’ which after some time, put my machine back into it’s initial state. This time I managed to click the right country and set-up continued unhindered. 

This is more a problem with Windows 10 rather than the Surface Go. Why no back button?

Battery life seems good. Microsoft claims 9 hours of video playback, but I’m wary of too many claims on battery life since it’ll clearly depend on what you’re doing and how old the device is. But I think that there’s probably enough battery to get you through a non-intensive day.

Pros

This thing is small and light. You can put it into just about bag, or even a large pocket, and not really notice you’ve got it.  The screen is excellent, and the keyboard is very usable – a step up from that on the older Surface 3.

The Surface Go is very capable at most basic tasks. Microsoft Office runs well, so for those for whom either the online versions of Office or Google Docs aren’t quite enough or are too reliant on connectivity, this will do very nicely. I’d say that it’s perfect for travel, fitting neatly onto fold-up tray tables on trains and planes.

You can actually run some quite power-hungry applications with relative success. And Windows Hello is amazing – even if I’m not looking face on to the camera, it recognises me, and logs me straight in.

Cons

You do need to buy a few accessories. First off, there’s the keyboard. Since the whole device is smaller than the Surface 3, my Surface 3 keyboard doesn’t fit – the connectors are different. So you’ll need to spend another £100-£125 for that. And if you want to use a mouse, be sure to get a Bluetooth model – not the more commonly available wireless mice that use a USB-A dongle. I found a nice Microsoft Surface Mouse in a matching cobalt for £30 at Argos.

I wish there was more on-board storage and that Microsoft had made 128GB and 256GB models. But you can use a micro-SD card which should be sufficient for video and music download needs.

You can obviously get cheaper laptops that are more powerful than this. But they’re not as portable. So getting a Surface Go is very dependent on your specific use case.

Summary

If you want a highly portable full-fat Windows laptop for browsing and Office-type tasks, then this is the perfect machine. It really isn’t much bigger than an iPad, but with that much more flexibility that full Windows applications allow. Throw it in your bag and go.

Obviously if you don’t need fully featured Windows applications, then an iPad and keyboard might work better for you (I remain unconvinced about the need for an iPad Pro). But for my use case, which involves a wider array of applications from Office to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, this actually works really well.

It wouldn’t be my primary PC by any means, but as a portable addition, it’s excellent.

Of note: Microsoft subsequently announced its new range of Surface laptops and an upgraded Surface Studio targeted at designers. These are respectively Ultrabooks and aimed at graphic designers and artists. As such, they don’t really compete, and are not comparable. In any event, as things stand, I prefer Dell’s XPS line to Microsoft’s Surface line for this class of PC. Asisde from anything else, they come with USB-C, as the Surface Go does!

For the Missing by Lina Bengtsdotter

The search for a missing girl in rural Sweden forms the backdrop to this intelligent crime story from Lina Bengtsdotter. A teenager, Anabelle, has not returned home from a wild party in a down-at-heel town in deepest Sweden. DI Charline “Charlie” Lager and her colleague Anders have been sent to investigate.

Nearly everyone involved in this procedural is troubled. We first meet Charlie recovering from a monumental hangover and one-night stand. But that’s as nothing to the goings on in Gullspång, where the town’s teenagers are drinking nearly as much as their parents, everyone reliant on the local paper mill for a living, and under-age sex and drugs are very much on the cards.

Inevitably the police initially get nowhere, but not everyone is being as helpful as they might. At the same time, Charlie is facing up to the face that she’s returning to the town of her childhood – somewhere she hoped she would never return to again.

Everywhere you turn in this novel, there are ghosts of what happened before, and it probably wasn’t pretty.

The book moves along quite nicely, and it has a structure that sends the reader forwards and backwards in time as we learn what really happened. I found the book highly readable, with it portraying a depressing picture of a part of the Swedish countryside that I found convincing.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Orion, for an ARC. For the Missing is published on 13 December.

Where the Truth Lies by M J Lee

Ten years ago, a junior detective accidentally captures “The Beast of Manchester.” In the present day a series of dead prostitutes in turning up on the streets of Manchester. Is there a relation between the two in this pacey police thriller?

Now a Detective Inspector, Ridpath is recovering from treatment to cancer and has been given the task of working as an officer for coroner’s court. This should be an easier route back into full-time detective work, but things don’t quite go as easily as planned. When an exhumation of the body of one of the Beast’s victims reveals an empty coffin, things are turned upside down.

This first in a new series of books is set in and around Manchester, and we get a good flavour of the area: snarled up traffic on the Oxford Road; the emptiness of Media City. Being set in the world of the coroner’s court is unusual and creates a point of difference from other police series.

The book is real page-turner, with short punchy chapters jumping between Ridpath, another young detective, DS Clark, and the evil doers. The story is fast paced, never standing still for more than a few moments. Ridpath’s recovery from cancer is omnipresent, but it’s his wife who is more worried about it than him. And the police world around the story feels authentic.

This isn’t a book for the squeamish, but it rattles along and it reaches a very satisfying conclusion.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Canelo. Where the Truth Lies is out now.

The Dark Ages of Film History?

I was recently talking to a some colleagues at work about one of my favourite films of all time, the classic Howard Hawks screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby.

Made in 1938, it stars two of Hollywood’s biggest ever stars, Kathryn Hepburn and Cary Grant, both giving terrific performances in a classic of the genre.

How can we see this film I was asked by my colleagues? 

Both of them have Netflix and Amazon, and one has Now TV from Sky. Needless to say that Bringing Up Baby is on none of these platforms. It’s not available to buy in the UK iTunes Store, it’s not on the Google Play Store, and nor is it available to buy from Amazon’s streaming platform.

There is a DVD available on Amazon, but the price  has been fluctuating wildly. When I looked for it at the time of my conversation it was £26.89, and according to Camelcamelcamel has been retailing for as much as £30! It has now dropped back to £11.99.

That’s for a third party “Fufilled by Amazon” copy.

There are cheaper non-UK copies of the film on DVD, but they’re mostly NTSC, and are sometimes region-locked. That’s assuming that either of my colleagues still have a DVD player at all.

Bringing Up Baby is listed by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time. But you essentially it’s incredibly hard to get a legal copy of it in the UK in 2018.

That hasn’t always been the case. That disc that’s being sold for nearly £27 was released by Universal Home Video in the UK in 2007, and for many years it sold for between £2 and £5. Judging from the chart at CamelCamelCamel, sometime around late 2014, the title went out of print at Universal and over time the dwindling remaining stock in circulation saw its price rise.

But in recent years, DVD sales have fallen off a cliff, and there are fewer and fewer retail outlets selling physical discs. Aside from Amazon, there are just HMV and Fopp left on the High Street – both with many fewer stores than in years gone by. Big releases still sell decent quantities via supermarkets. But with the exception of specialist mail order sites and labels, that’s about it. 

The answer should be that all these titles have moved to digital. And with the bigger budget blockbusters, that’s been the case. But significant chunks of the archive have not been uploaded.

They’ve not been leased to the streaming giants like Netflix or Amazon Prime, and nor have they been made available to buy from the Google Play Store or Apple iTunes Store.

It’s as though we’ve entered a “dark ages” period, where unless the title was made recently, it’s lost to us and is no longer available. It feels as though there are fewer titles available to watch than DVD and Blu Rays sales peak in 2007/8.

The chart above, based on data from a Netflix scraping website, shows you the number of films, by release year that Netflix UK offers subscribers. Obviously this data will change daily, but at the time of writing, of the 3,522 films with release dates (all bar one film), 73% were made 2010 onwards.

This second chart summarises this by decade. 

To be specific, there is one film from the 1920s on Netflix – Cecil B DeMille’s first version of The Ten Commandments. 

There are zero films from the 1930s, and the 17 films from the 1940s are nearly all war films, I believe mostly to accompany a 2017 three part WWII documentary from Steven Spielberg, Five Came Back. You won’t find any Oscar Best Picture winners from this period on Netflix.

There are fewer films from the 1950s than the 1940s – just 13. But they’re all minor titles with only Some Like It Hot and Touch of Evil being especially notable.

From there, things slowly improve, with more classics finding their way into the catalogue. But it’s a lean selection.

(I should again emphasise that I’m critiquing the UK selection. US reader may well have a deeper and better stocked catalogue.)

While as a Netflix subscriber, I can and will moan about the selection, they’ve never set themselves up as a classic movie service. And to an ever greater extent, they’re moving towards owning more of their own properties and relying less on renting catalogue material from studios. So I expect that the paltry fare currently offered will actually further diminish over time.

Now it’s true – there is the BFI Player. And while researching this piece, I came across FilmStruck which notably has access to the Criterion Collection (although the latter’s UK catalogue is vastly smaller than its US cousin). But today we learnt that Warner Media is shutting down FilmStruck. Whether on its own it was uneconomical, or whether this is more a move by TimeWarner ahead of it building a more singular streaming vision led by HBO; we don’t yet know.

Both the BFI Player and FilmStruck are/was rental offerings. And from the abrupt closure of FilmStruck, we can see the issue. A corporate change of direction and suddenly there’s no place in the market for classic films.

Also streaming services invariably don’t have the range or consistency of offerings. A film that there this month is gone next month. If I want to see The Maltese Falcon, I’m going to have search a lot of different services to see who has it available – if anyone.

Another operator who specialises in quality classic films, MUBI, goes out of its way to minimise choice to a rolling list of 30 films that sees one title added and one removed every day. Intelligent cinema, yes, but an incredibly limited choice. If I’ve got something in mind to see, these aren’t necessarily the places I’d go.

Films are less of an overall offering of the bigger free-to-air channels – BBC2 is more likely to be showing repeats of Bargain Hunt than an old black and white film. And while we have got the welcome addition of Talking Pictures TV, the quality of the prints they show can vary (Seriously! Get the Criterion Collection Blu Ray of His Girl Friday, or the Columbia Classics DVD. Don’t watch the “public domain” copy that Talking Pictures TV uses, or that can be found on Amazon), and they have a relatively low bit-rate for broadcasting which doesn’t help either.

Other channels tend to keep the same popular fare repeated on hard rotation. You’ll know when you hit ITV4 if you go channel surfing at 9pm.

The problem is that the retail model made sense for a lot of studios. Over the years, they dug deeper into their libraries and they released just about anything they thought they could sell. Costs were relatively contained, and even manufacture and storage costs were lowered as just-in-time manufacture of discs became more achievable. The Warner Archive Collection is a great example of this.

In theory, that should have followed through to the digital sales stores of iTunes, Amazon and Google. If you’ve gone to the ‘trouble’ of digitising a film you own the rights to, why wouldn’t you just upload copies to iTunes, Amazon, Google Play Movies and others? Set a price and watch those sales trickle in. 

Sure, nobody’s going to get rich overnight, but you’re working your assets, and fulfilling demand.

Yet for some reason, it doesn’t seem to have been worthwhile for studios to do any of this. It’s hard to understand. Unlike physical products, there’s no warehousing cost, or indeed physical manufacture of any sort. You take a digital asset, upload it to the sites and even if the film only earns a few dollars a year, that’s money that would be left on the table otherwise. But there are a vast range of films, including some relatively recent titles, that simply haven’t been uploaded to these services.

The trouble is that in the meantime, consumers have moved increasingly towards subscription models for all their entertainment. They rent their music, and they rent their TV and movies. And there isn’t necessarily room for all that many competing services. There is ‘subscription fatigue’ when you realise just how many things you’re subscribed to.

The real difference between the movie/TV model and music is that Spotify and Apple Music make all the music available (or nearly all, anyway). Now that just about all the biggest holdouts have given in, you don’t tend to see albums or artists drift in and out of the service the way movies do on Netflix. I know that I’ll be able to hear The Beatles on Spotify today, tomorrow and next year (probably).

What I don’t know is where I can watch Inception, or Star Wars, or Psycho, or Gone with the Wind, or Bringing Up Baby on any given day. Are they on Netflix or Amazon? Maybe. Maybe not.

For at least one of those films, I know it’s not on any of the services.

And that’s surely a problem. I shouldn’t have to wait until the BFI runs another screwball season to watch a film I want to see.

Localness

Ofcom has published an update today on what it considers localness in commercial radio.

The tl;dr is that it’s not very local any more.

Your mileage may vary on whether this is a good thing or not. But for now, stations that provide local news regularly throughout the day, must only broadcast three hours between 6am and 7pm on weekdays within their local area (more on those shortly).

If you only provide local news at breakfast and drive, then you have to make six hours of programming locally between 6am and 7pm.

The really big news is that breakfast no longer has to be local.

In other words, the big groups – Capital and Heart instantly spring to mind – can start networking a single breakfast show across the country. Previously, I hypothesised that News UK might simulcast Chris Evans on their FM stations once he’s started on Virgin Radio. They’ve since said that they’ve no plans to do this, but then, until today, they wouldn’t have been allowed to (It’s also worth saying, simulcasting Evans wouldn’t necessarily mean rebranding all those station as Virgin).

Any stations that want to make changes will have to request a format change from Ofcom to do this, but that should be eminently achievable.

Will some do this? Yes. Of course they will!

Breakfast is a key show on any station, and you tend to put the biggest and best names you can on the show. So there will be some careful consideration before anyone throws out their market-leading local breakfast presenter and just networks someone in from London (or Manchester).

And they still have to do three hours locally somewhere. The cynic in me suspects that this might not be drive, but either mid-mornings or afternoons.

Networking breakfast means a few things that could see bigger and stronger breakfast shows:

  • Bigger guests on breakfast – getting on a networked Capital or Heart breakfast will be more appealing to PRs wanting to reach larger audiences.
  • Better and more creative promotions – at the moment, it’s quite complicated for a national promotion to run on a station like Capital. You need to keep mechanics simple and replicable across the country. You can do smarter, cleverer and more impressive things if you do it once everywhere.
  • Global and Bauer can take on the BBC at breakfast – with Radio 2 changing shortly and Greg James still fresh at Radio 1, they can begin to get the BBC in their sites. In my RAJAR summary the other day, I mentioned that Global was likely to have a certain amount of house inventory as a result of its shopping spree of outdoor companies. They could go hard to take on the BBC at breakfast.
  • Local stations that aren’t part of a big group can trumpet their localness on air. That goes for BBC Local Radio too.

So good news all round? 

Well, if you’re a commercial radio group, then probably. You can save some money – perhaps lose a few more local presenters, but at the same time build some bigger and stronger shows that could become more profitable at the same time.

It’s not great news if you work on breakfast. You may well be kept on – they need someone for that three hour block after all. But will it be the whole breakfast crew that you have currently? Will you even have a producer when you’re doing mid-morning or afternoons?

And there’s a larger philosophical question. What does Independent Local Commercial radio mean any more?

Some of the ads are still local, yes. There’s some local news. A bit anyway. There are station trails and junctions that mention local towns and cities. Perhaps. But “Local”? Really?

It’s not even as though you can easily go through some kind of beauty parade and win a licence against an incumbent. It happens very occasionally, but when was the last time a London licence even came up?

Commercial radio has always complained that it’s vastly more regulated compared with other media.  That’s definitely true. But analogue spectrum in particular is scarce, and the reality is that new entrants find it very hard to get a leg up. DAB sorts a lot of that out, and digital continues its upwards march. But FM spectrum remains valuable. How much would an FM station go for if it had a London frequency?

Over the years we have ended up with national brands broadcasting nationally. In many respects that’s fine. That’s market forces at work. And yet licence rollovers tied to DAB simulcasting have meant that new entrants who might want to offer a more local service are never even given a opportunity to compete for a licence.

To be clear, grabbing 95.8 FM in London, would be vastly more powerful than securing a London DAB slot.

Ofcom has also defined some ‘Approved Areas’:

In essence, if you make your programme within an approved area then it counts as locally made. These have been around for a while, and have been used to create production hubs around the country. There’s a lot of sense in that – having regional clusters of stations coming from one building.

These new areas are a lot bigger – Southampton is a 220 mile drive from Penzance, but they’re both in the same area. Canterbury and Northampton would seem to be very different places, but they’re in the same area (circling, but excluding, London).

We’re approaching winter, and last winter the ‘beast from the east’ meant a lot of snow and a lot of disruption around the country. Local TV bulletins had their biggest audiences during this period. RAJAR doesn’t measure radio on a day by day basis, but it’s fair to assume that some stations will have had their biggest audiences on those snow days.

Next time around what happens? BBC Local Radio is becoming more local, dropping the networked evening show.

Yes, some commercial stations in bigger groups will no doubt drop networked programming to stay local, but they won’t truly have the staff or resources to really do a great deal. In truth, that’s already the case. Should we just drop the word ‘local’ altogether?

She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge

In 1983, seven teenagers go into the wood and only six come out. Thirty years later, a body is found and DCI Sheens instantly realises it must be Aurora, the teenager who disappeared all those years ago, but who was never found.

Aided by his small team, including the novice DC Hanson, we revisit the characters thirty years on. Did one of them do it? Are they covering up for one another?

Set in and around Southampton and the New Forest, this is a page-turner, with the narrative flipping backwards and forward between 1983 and the present day, as we learn more about the teens and their lives and friendships from the time.

The dynamic between Sheens and Hanson is interesting and unusual. Is Sheens, who went to school with the victim, covering something up himself? The distrusting Hanson has some issues her life too.

Gytha Lodge has created a story with some all-too relevant themes, with characters who exhibit some of the complexities and contradictions that people do have.

Overall, an intriguing tale, that kept me gripped until the end.

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin UK for my ARC. She Lies in Wait is published on 21 March 2019.

RAJAR Q3 2018

RAJAR
As ever, this post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the past 9 years, and it’s my favourite RAJAR analysis tool. So I am delighted that I continue to be able to bring you this RAJAR analysis in association with RALF. For more details on the product, contact Deryck Pritchard via this link or phone 07545 425677.

Radio 2

It has been something of a tumultuous period for radio in the last few months, and especially for Radio 2‘s line-up. First there was Chris Evans announcing he was upping and leaving Radio 2 to head to Virgin Radio, to be replaced by Zoe Ball in Wogan House. Then at the start of this week Simon Mayo announced he’d leaving his Radio 2 drivetime show where he had recently been paired with his “radio wife” Jo Whiley. He leaves the station altogether – although thankfully his Five Live show with Mark Kermode remains – while Whiley gets a new evening show, pushing Radio 2’s specialist music slightly later into the evening. Come January, the station is going to look and sound somewhat different to how it does today. No news yet on where Mayo might also go. The release on Monday mentioned a new two-book deal following the publication of his first adult novel, although he’s been writing young adult books for a number of years. I don’t think one precludes the other. Mayo also recently launched a book-focused podcast away from the BBC – I suspect that his Radio 2 book club, and the book review slot he had before that on Five Live, are both missed by publishers.

Digging a little into programmes is worthwhile. Chris Evans saw his show fall 2.4% on the quarter to 8.8m, but it’s down 5.7% on the year. Those are Evans’ lowest ratings in a while, although his announcement didn’t come in time to unduly affect them. In any case, I’d be amazed if we don’t see a bump in the next RAJAR release for his final shows.

There was a lot of interest in the Jo Whiley and Simon Mayo last time around, since if you believe the reviews, the show is not good – the chemistry between the pair reportedly wasn’t there (I don’t listen, so can’t really say). In spite of that, reach for the show increased last time around, not fitting the narrative. This time around it’s a different story. Reach is down 6.6% on the quarter and down 6.9% on the year – leaving the show with 6.0m listeners. Hours are also down, falling 6.7% on the quarter and 5.7% on the year. A little low for the slot?

Where does all this leave the station in the latest RAJAR – with all the current shows still in place? Well it’s down a little. Reach falls 2.0% to 14.6m on the quarter, although it’s down 4.7% on the year. Hours are broadly in line, down 3.1% on the quarter to 176m, while they’re down 4.2% on the year.

Before we go too much further, it’s worth reminding ourselves that this data is for summer 2018, from the 25th June until 16th September (at least for big national stations). Overall radio listening wasn’t too weather affected. Reach was down 0.4% on the quarter and down 0.9% on the year, but hours were up 1.0% on the quarter, but down 1.9% on the year. I remain most worried by that last number. Hours are still over 1 billion, and average hours are up slightly to 21.1 hours a week. The average age of a UK radio listener is 48.

That means that the Radio 2 has under-performed slightly compared with the radio as a whole. But it’s comfortably the UK’s largest station.

National and Brands

Over on Radio 1, Greg James moved into breakfast over halfway through this RAJAR period, so it’s not easy to say how he’s doing so far. However, Radio 1 itself, had a decent bump during the period. Reach was up 3.9% on the quarter to 9.6m listeners (although down 1.0% on the year), while hours were up 2.6% on the quarter (but down 0.5% on the year). Those are good numbers for Radio 1.

Elsewhere across the BBC, Radio 4 saw reach grow very slightly on the quarter, up 0.4%, but it’s down 5.1% on the year. Hours are down 0.6% on the quarter and 3.7% on the year. Brexit boredom? The data doesn’t say. (Today is down 0.4% on the quarter and down 3.9% on the year, while hours are up 2.3% on the quarter and down 3.9% on the year. But nor does the data indicate which presenters people like.) Will Eddie Mair’s departure for LBC, with Evan Davies replacing him make much difference to PM? Again it’s too early yet to say with Davis having only just started on the show.

Radio 3 got its Proms bump with reach up 1.4% to 1.9m (down 1.5% on the year). Hours were well up this quarter – up 10.3% on the quarter and up 13.7% on the year. I hate to disappoint Radio 3 listeners, but the jump looks a little too good to me, so expect some “correction” next quarter.

Five Live had quite a decent quarter. Most of the World Cup was over by the time data started being collected. Nonetheless, reach was up 6.3% on the quarter (down 0.7% on the year), while hours were up 11.7% on the quarter (down 0.3% on the year).

6 Music can’t claim to have broken any records this quarter! But with 2.5m listeners, it has its second highest ever reach, up 3.0% on the quarter and up 3.6% on the year. Hours were down 9.1% on the quarter, but up 5.3% on the year. Recall that Lauren Laverne is lined up to take over breakfast in January, but there’s still another final quarter of Shaun Keaveny before then.

Over at LBC, they have been busy trumpeting the arrival of Eddie Mair. They’re certainly spending in broadsheet newspapers promoting his new show which runs 4-6pm and goes head to head with his old slot in the second hour. Interestingly, away from radio, owners Global has bought no fewer than three different outdoor companies. Aside from going from zero to the joint largest outdoor company in the UK in only a couple of months, it does also mean that there might be a lot of inventory for cross promotion of other Global assets like its radio stations. Can we expect to see lots of LBC, Capital and Heart digital outdoors adverts? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Mair’s show didn’t start until September, so is not really measured in these figures (notice a theme?). Overall LBC was broadly flat – down 0.5% on the quarter in reach, but up 0.3% on the year with 2.1m listeners. Hours show a 1.4% increase on the quarter, but have fallen 9.6% on the year. They hover just over 20m a week.

Classic FM was broadly flat this quarter, up 0.6% in reach on the quarter but down 4.6% on the year. Meanwhile hours are up 0.4% on the quarter, but down 3.3% on the year.

Virgin Radio is obviously an interesting station to keep an eye on. We’ve not heard any more stories about presenters who might be joining Evans at the station. I think it’s safe to infer that Charlie Sloth (he of ARIAS stage invading infamy) isn’t heading there.

While we wait to see what plans owners News UK have in store for the station, reach has fallen 2.1% this quarter to 414,000. That’s a 25.5% decrease on the year. Hours meanwhile are down 9.4% on the quarter and down 13.9% on the year. However I think we can expect a massive marketing push once Evans arrives. As Private Eye has noted, newspapers like The Sun are already onside.

TalkSport has been busy buying up cricket rights to overseas England tours recently. Right now the station is the official rights holder for the tour of Sri Lanka, and they have more tours upcoming. Interestingly, the BBC’s TMS team has adopted something more akin to what TalkSport used to do when it didn’t have rights – doing unofficial quasi-commentaries “off-tube” (aka with TVs on silent). So we’ve had the Cricket Social which seems to actually be going down quite well.

But back to TalkSport. They had a decent quarter in reach terms, up 2.2% to 3.0m on the quarter (up 1.1% on the year). Hours aren’t quite as good, down 4.4% on the quarter and down 4.2% on the year, just dipping below 20m. Sister station TalkSport 2 bounces around much more because its listening is still very low. Reach was up 2.2% on the quarter but down 18.4% on the year, while hours are up 55.5% on the quarter and up 29.1% on the year.

TalkRadio is very similarly sized, but reach was up 10.1% on this quarter to 261,000 (up 2.0% on the year). Hours are up 24.3% on the quarter but down 7.6% on the year.

Absolute Radio had a mixed set of results, with it’s reach down 4.6% on the quarter (but only down 1.4% on the year). However hours were up 9.6% on the quarter, but down 6.2% on the year. Across the entire Absolute Radio Network, reach was up 2.4% on the quarter and 7.8% on the year to 4.9m – the highest number ever achieved by the brand.

Good news at Absolute 80s where it achieved a record of 1.8m – up 14.7% on the quarter and 15.0% on the year Hours were down 3.5% on the quarter, and up 6.3% on the year. And Absolute Radio 90s also achieved record figures with 913,000 listeners – up 11.1% on the quarter and up 20.8% on the year, with hours even more impressively up 12.4% on the quarter and 31.3% on the year. A reminder that 90s are fast becoming the new 80s.

Kiss fell back a little this quarter, down 3.2% on the quarter and down 2.0% on the year, while hours were down 2.5% on the quarter and down 18.2% on the year. But the whole Kiss Network achieved its best ever figures with a combined 5.8m listeners.

Magic was down a little in reach, down 2.2% on the quarter and down 2.8% on the year. But hours are nicely up, increasing 11.4% on the quarter and up 11.1% on the year. But across the entire Magic Network, it was another record for Bauer with 4.1m listeners.

It’s also worth mentioning Jazz FM which has recently been bought by Bauer. They’ve not quite been moved into Golden Square just yet, but they’ll be bringing 657,000 listeners with them (down 2.2% on the quarter, but up 15.3% on the year), with 2.7m hours (down 10.6% on the quarter but up 18.9% on the year).

Overall Bauer did well this quarter, with a combined 18.165m listeners – up 2.6% on last quarter and up 2.1% on last year. They have 159m hours, up 4.4% on the quarter and up 3.2% on the year.

Over in Leicester Square, Global Radio doesn’t show an enormous amount of change this quarter. They’re essentially flat in reach and hours with 23.668m reach and 207m hours. (Note they sell slightly more than this, since some of the brands they sell aren’t actually owned by them).

The Capital Network shows no real changes on the quarter, but there are some falls on the year. Reach is essentially flat, up 0.2% on the quarter, but it’s down 4.2% on the year. Meanwhile hours are also up 0.2% on the quarter, but they’re down 16.3% on the year. The broader Capital Brand (i.e. including Capital Xtra) is similarly flat to slightly up on the quarter but down on the year.

The Heart Network didn’t perform fantastically this quarter, down 2.1% in reach on the quarter and down 1.9% on the year. More concerningly, hours were down 6.4% on the quarter and down 4.7% on the year. The picture improves across the entire Heart Brand which includes Heart 80s.

Heart 80s had some good results this quarter, up 15.9% on quarter and up 25.0% on the year. Hours were down 9.6% on the quarter while still being up 12.1% on the year.

Radio X saw another decent set of numbers with reach and hours both continuing to climb. At the moment, it’s probably the most improving brand Global has (although Smooth’s doing fine too). Reach was up 2.3% on the quarter and 12.7% on the year, with a reach of 1.7m, while hours were up 8.8% on the quarter and up 36.5% on the year.

Meanwhile the Smooth Brand reached 5.8m with reach up 3.5% on the quarter and up 2.5% on the year, while hours grew 6.2% on the quarter and were up 0.8% on the year.

Finally a word about Jack FM, which has just announced a national version of the station, Jack Radio, that will be 100% female in output. Recall that their existing national station Union Jack, is 100% British artists. While they’re doing some interesting things, you can’t help but wonder about the branding. More than once I’ve had to explain that Union Jack isn’t some kind of Brexit-favouring right leaning station. And I’m not sure that “Jack” shouts female listeners to me. In their Oxford home TSA, Jack continues to beat Heart which is a strong result. Nationally, reach was down a little to 111,000 for Union Jack, while hours grew to 508,000.

Digital

Digital listening continues to grow, reaching 52.4% of all listening this quarter. 34.4m people listen on a digital platform each week – 71% of the population.

Internet listening has reached a record level this quarter, with 11.1m listeners. That’s up 3.9% on last quarter and up 11.7% on last year. Average time spent listening is also growing – up from 8.4 hours a week to 8.9 hours a week. I suspect, but cannot prove, that this is a combination of the growth of smart speakers (Amazon Alexa, Google Home) and cheaper and bigger data bundles on mobile.

15-24s

There were actually slightly more 15-24s listening to the radio this quarter than last! 6.5m, up 1.0% on the quarter (although down 1.6% on the year). Listening hours for this group remain a concern, down 1.7% on the quarter and down 5.8% on the year.

Further Reading

For more RAJAR analysis, I’d recommend the following sites:

The official RAJAR site and their infographic
Radio Today for a digest of all the main news
Go to Media.Info for lots of numbers and charts
Mediatel’s Newsline will have lots of figures and analysis
Paul Easton for more lots analysis including London charts
Matt Deegan will have some great analysis
The BBC Mediacentre for BBC Radio stats and findings
Bauer Media’s corporate site
Global Radio’s corporate site

All my previous RAJAR analyses are here.


Source: RAJAR/Ipsos MORI/RSMB, period ending 16 September 2018, Adults 15+.

Disclaimer: These are my views alone and do not represent those of anyone else, including my employer. Any errors (I hope there aren’t any!) are mine alone. Drop me a note if you want clarifications on anything. Access to the RAJAR data is via RALF from DP Software as mentioned at the top of this post.

Apple Podcasts Charts

It appears that Apple’s podcast charts are somewhat broken. Or specifically, they had been broken for a period of time over the weekend while Apple perhaps tried a new algorithm to rank podcasts.

Behind the scenes we know that various bad actors have been attempting to game the system. In the same way that you can buy Twitter or Instagram followers, you can pay some dubious third party to push your podcast up the Apple chart. This might get your podcast, briefly, towards the top of the charts allowing you to boast that you are/were the number one podcast in whatever category. But those listeners aren’t real, and your podcast is likely to fall away pretty quickly again too.

In the last couple of days, a number of people have been asking big questions surrounding this.

Both are well worth reading, and here’s my take on the situation.

Let’s start with the hypothesis that charts are a good thing. They inform users about what podcasts other people are listening to, and they let everyone in the podcasting community see how their podcasts are doing against their peers.

Except that we know that Apple’s charts have never actually shown either of those things.

For the most part, a chart that simply displays who gets the most downloads/listens would be incredibly static. The same big podcasts would probably appear in roughly the same order week after week, month after month. Maybe one would drop down a little when it was between series, and occasionally a new hit would emerge. But basically the chart would be static. For a chart to be interesting, there has to be some dynamism.

From a consumer perspective, a mostly static chart is boring. The consumer is never going to find new podcasts to listen to, and so they’re unlikely to even have further looks at the chart once they’ve realised that there are few changes between editions.

Apple currently uses some kind of ‘new subscriber’ algorithm to determine its charts. Recency counts for more than long-term listeners or subscribers. (Other digital charts do similar things. The bestsellers on Amazon are collated on perhaps an hourly basis to keep things interesting there too.)

The other key part of this is that Apple is seeing its position in the podcast ecosystem decline over time. Spotify, for example, is opening up significantly to podcasts – no longer caching them and properly serving them. They’ve just opened their platform up to everyone and they’ve become a fast growing #2 platform. They’re still a long way behind Apple, but they have an upward trajectory.

And Google is ‘doing’ podcasts more seriously now. They’ve not quite got around to pre-installing a true standalone podcast app on every Android device as Apple does. But they are moving in the right direction, and with the emergence of ‘Voice,’ podcasts become ever more important.

Both of these should mean that we’ll see a broader platform of iOS and Android devices being used to listen, more closely reflecting the true device ownership model. (Incidentally, that might also mean a change in the kinds of podcasts that are being made. Think beyond someone who can happily spend $/£1000 on a smartphone.)

Apple currently accounts for perhaps 55%-60% of the podcast market today, but that’s already considerably down from where it once was. To be clear, it’s not because Apple users are not listening any more, but there’s more diversity in the podcast platforms available, and in the main because Android was – and still is – under-represented.

Is Apple Still Important?

If we assume that Apple’s market dominance of podcasts is diminishing – albeit from a lofty position – then we also need to consider that any chart created by Apple is not actually representative of the whole podcast ecosystem. It’s entirely likely that we’ll see their share fall to below 50% in many markets. 

In some countries, like India, the iPhone represents a tiny fraction of the overall smartphone user-base. So in fact, while Apple’s podcast chart for India might be indicative of podcast listening there, it might also be very unrepresentative, perhaps more describing what only the very wealthiest couple of percent of Indians are truly listening to.

If we’re going to have a chart, then it needs to be wider than simply Apple’s share of the ecosystem, otherwise it’s going to be biased towards the people who own iPhones. And newsflash – that’s really not the population at large.

And then we run into the problem of how charts are created anyway.

How should a podcast chart be measured?

There are two major ways to find out what’s happening in a population: census or survey.

Apple has effectively been providing a census of its users. In other words, it has data that shows how all Apple users are consuming podcasts. A census sets out to measure everyone within a specific population. The results should be very accurate, but it can be hard to collate all that data, particularly if it comes from multiple places. It’s not for nothing that the UK population census only takes place every ten years. It’s a big and expensive undertaking.

Under the census chart model, you need to get accurate data from everywhere. In the podcast world, this means either approaching every podcast creator and asking for their server data, or approaching every podcatcher (i.e. all the podcast apps), and getting data from them. Neither is likely to be achievable. Herding cats comes to mind.

In the US, Podtrac has attempted the census method, embedding code into feeds to route requests through its servers. But only podcasts who choose to be measured on this system have their data captured. That tends to mean big US groups. But even then, there are some missing, choosing not to take part. Non-US podcast creators that might have sizeable listener-ships within the US are often missing too. It is by no means a complete picture of the US podcast listening market.

For a chart like this to work and for it to be truly representative, you need everybody on board, agreeing to a methodology, and being able to adopt the technical requirements that lead to measurement. It only takes one major group to choose not to play, and the chart is wrong.

Meanwhile, other tracking ideas are being posited using pingbacks, but they can be defeated by podcatchers that don’t play ball, and again require many parties to get on board.

Don’t forget that different groups very different business models. So they might not need to agree to a central methodology.

The other key way to measure is the survey option. In this case you use a subset of the podcast listening population, and get them to agree to being essentially monitored to see what they listen to. Companies like ComScore do this in the digital realm, while broadcast ratings bodies commonly use this kind of measurement to deliver television and radio ratings. 

As long as your sample is big enough, then you can say with a high degree of certainty that your results are fairly accurate. 

This would seem to be the more achievable model. You don’t need the direct participation of either podcast creators or podcatcher apps. Indeed, anyone could do it.

But of course there are problems. There’s the cost for starters. You will need to employ a company or people to do this for you. Then you need to persuade members of the public to agree to let them be measured. They may well say yes, but they’re also quite likely to want some kind of incentive: cash or other benefits in kind.

Next there’s the size of the sample, and the level to which you want to measure it. If there were only two podcasts in the world, then perhaps a 1,000 people might be enough to say with a high degree of confidence, how much one podcast was being listened to versus another (In fact, the sample required would depend on how similar or different their listening was. If the podcasts are very closely matched, then you need a bigger sample). Political polling often works like this, and of course it’s easier to poll when there are only two parties than when there are three, four or more. If the polls are tight, then a bigger sample is needed to determine who is actually ahead.

In a world where there are hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of podcasts, then depending on how far down the list you want to accurately measure them, your sample gets bigger and bigger. In the UK, to measure broadcast television, a sample of around 5,500 homes are measured. That means that the top performing programmes are quite accurately measured. But I wouldn’t trust the ratings for a programme that airs on a smaller non-mainstream channel. Indeed those channels don’t use programme ratings themselves so much as overall channel shares. The sample size for a given programme might be based on just a couple of viewers and that’s just not statistically significant. In other words, the census model breaks down when you stray beyond the bigger podcast, unless your sample grows quite substantially.

It’s also worth saying that you can take a combination of census and survey to create a hybrid model for your chart. You collect data from those podcast creators who agree to it, and mix it with survey data for a wider picture of the overall market. UKOM, the UK digital’s audience measurement body uses a hybrid approach. 

Before we settle on a methodology for our post-Apple chart, we need to answer another question.

What are podcast charts for anyway?

Charts have historically been about both capturing a cultural moment, but are also an exercise in marketing. When we look at music, film, book or game charts, it tends to be a combination of them both.

We might use the charts to measure the taste of the nation. Lots of people are loving this song, or seeing that film. That’s really useful to know. And what’s more, if lots of people are loving that film, maybe I should see it? For a recent case in point, see The Greatest Showman, which spent a remarkable 18 weeks in the UK Box Office Top Ten. While a lot of that was delivered by repeat viewing, and both word of mouth and wider marketing helped, the fact that the film reached number one in its sixth week of release is unprecedented in recent times. The film’s position in the box office top ten became part of its story and drove people to the film.

These days the UK Top 40 isn’t as important as it once was, but when Ed Sheeran managed to get 16 songs into the top 20 at the same time, it became a story. 

Beyond that, they’re also essential barometers for the industry. While some players might attempt to juice the system – releasing films earlier in the week to create long opening weekends, or in times past, releasing multiple remixes of songs to keep fans buying and keeping a song at number one – they inform creators about what’s selling and what perhaps they should be making in future. 

And if everyone else is reading a book, seeing a film or watching a TV series, we can feel that we’re missing a part of the cultural zeitgeist if we’re not doing the same. 

In the podcast world, charts have been designed in part with both of these things in mind. How is my football podcast doing against my competitors? And what should a listener choose to listen to next?

In fact, Apple’s iteration of a chart was pretty bad at the former. A new podcast might get a blast of heat as it gains traction amongst listeners, but because the chart was skewed towards new subscribers, you couldn’t really tell how well your podcast was doing against a competitors. Even today, many podcast creators spend a lot of time listening out for snippets of information dropped at conferences or in published articles, because there’s no real information out there in the public domain. “Serial got how many downloads with it’s first episode?”

It’s also not clear that podcast charts have really helped listeners to discover new podcasts. Older podcasts with big listenerships might not sit high up the rankings, hiding their popularity, while newer podcasts might flame brightly in the charts. Mid-size podcasts might be hidden altogether. 

Almost certainly the most powerful points of discovery for podcasts are those editorially picked slots in apps like Apple Podcasts, and word of mouth. (The other key way to let listeners discover your new podcast is of course, to pop it into the feed of one of your already popular podcasts. But only the bigger players can do that.)

So what should a podcast chart look like?

I’m not sure there’s a simple answer to this. For many in the podcast creation community, an accurate set of metrics that lets one company compare its performance with other companies’ would be very useful. That’s the kind of information that might help advertisers. While undoubtedly advertisers are getting this information behind closed doors, there are still question marks about how one company measures its numbers compared with another’s.

You only have to look at the various different ways ‘video views’ have been measured by say Facebook and YouTube. Facebook has 3-second, 10-second and 100% metrics; YouTube prefers 30-second counts, but also provides metrics on 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% completed videos. How do you compare video performance on the two platforms?

A podcast chart would create a comparative measure between different companies; the measurement methodology would be consistent.

But this community probably just wants a straight count. How many downloads (or better yet, listens), did every podcast get in a particular week or month? Just rank them all, with rankings for sub-categories. The data might form the basis of a generally used currency by which podcasts are monetised.

From a listener’s perspective, a straight ranking like that would not be useful. I suspect that a methodology closer to Apple’s is more interesting. The UK music charts have had to fiddle with their methodology quite a lot since subscription streaming services like Spotify came along and were added into the mix. Because Spotify is both used to listen to new music (akin to buying new tracks), and as your music collection (akin to listening to your older music) then they face the ‘problem’ of older music regularly cropping up in the charts because it’s Christmas or whatever.

In truth, both an overall chart and a chart of ‘breaking podcasts’ would probably both be of interest to a wider community of listeners. If we posit that the purpose of the chart is in part to aid discovery of new podcasts, then we need to consider both bigger and newer podcasts.

There needs to be two charts.

So we’re really talking about two key issues within the podcast industry – measurement and discovery. Measurement is key for trading and selling advertising, while discovery is still one of the biggest issues that is limiting podcast growth.

While discussions are ongoing in many marketplaces, most territories do  not have a consistent agreement about how podcasts should be measured (Sweden is perhaps the exception).

In the meantime, podcast discovery is still akin to going to a bookshop that for some reason only has about half a dozen books out on display, with the remainder neatly lined up with only their spines showing from the shelves. Meanwhile a potential reader who doesn’t know much about books, but knows they want something to take on holiday, is being told: “Go on! We’ve got thousands of books in here. Just pick a couple!”

The bookshop’s top ten, meanwhile, is made up of The Bible, The Highway Code, a dictionary and The Da Vinci Code amongst others. All indubitably best-sellers, but…

Apple’s charts are flawed today, and they’re going to continue to be flawed. They’re neither fish nor fowl, and that’s not altogether their fault.

We probably need a couple of different types of charts, but precisely who does the measurement and what kind of measurement takes place is not a simple question to answer. But we probably do need to answer that question.

Fear by Bob Woodward and The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

Like many political watchers, I’ve been equally appalled and yet addicted to watching what is going on currently in US politics.

Right now there’s the dismal spectacle of Brett Kavanaugh being elected onto the US Supreme Court despite a number of serious accusations being made against him, few of which are truly being taken seriously. In the meantime, there’s Trump mocking the accuser at a rally (and then denying it despite all evidence to the contrary).

These two books, in their own separate ways, describe in some detail the ineptness of the Trump administration, the lack of focus and the general 

Bob Woodward’s Fear is currently riding high in the bestseller lists and for good reason. Woodward has written about presidents all the way back to Nixon, but this feels more urgent than probably any of those other titles. He has a very measured tone, rarely inserting his own authorial voice into the narrative he’s telling. Instead, he relies on first hand testimony of many people, usually speaking anonymously.

Woodward’s narrative is direct and steady. He paints Trump in a similar light to others – notably Michael Woolf in Fire and Fury earlier this year – in that Trump is like a toddler in the way he can be distracted and then completely forget about something. The book opens with an official simply lifting a letter that would start a trade war with South Korea and jeopardise US military intelligence in the region. Once the letter has gone (and Trump does love signing things), the President forgets about it. At least until someone else brings it up – perhaps either on Fox News, to which he’s addicted and gets much of his information, or from someone like Peter Navarro, an economist for whom, almost uniquely, trade is considered bad. 

The book repeatedly explores the lack of a basic understanding of how modern businesses are driven, how having a trade deficit with a country isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and just really simple things like how modern supply chains work. Trump, as we know, is obsessed with things like steel production, and has started a trade war with China that has almost instantly required the government to bail out farmers who have been hit by tit-for-tat tariffs.

The tone all the way through the book is measured and never breathless. And that just makes it all the more vital. 

Meanwhile the always very readable Michael Lewis has The Fifth Risk, which examines the workings of the US government following the Trump victory. He zooms in on a handful of departments, digging into the background stories of some of the people who work there, and explaining what the departments do, and why their work is often vital but undervalued. 

On more that one occasion, he relates stories of people who were being loaned government money without realising that it the government that was lending the money, as the money is often distributed via local banks. 

There are horrifying stories of the Trump’s dreadful transition team, coming into the various departments weeks or months after the election, rather than the next day, not being interested in what those departments actually did, and generally being very unsuited to the roles. 

It seems that another failing of US government is the level to which so many jobs are political appointees. Trump has been singularly bad at filling these vacancies, and when he does, they’re often people who have no interest in the subject at hand. Sometimes this is because they genuinely don’t know what the department does! You would think a quick search of Wikipedia might be in order before you enter the building.

In the meantime, these apparatchiks wander around getting government employees to stop using the term climate change.

Perhaps worse are people who do know what the department does, but in whose outside interests, a level of dismantling works in their favour. A case in point is Barry Myers, chief executive of AccuWeather, the private weather provider. Trump nominated him to oversee the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who run the US National Weather Service. AccuWeather uses data paid for and provided by the National Weather Service to bolster its forecasts. Yet it has fought hard to prevent the US Government widely publishing that weather themselves. There is no National Weather Service app, and that is no coincidence. AccuWeather’s app is very popular and delivers significant advertising revenue. Myers has fought hard to prevent that data being made widely available despite the fact that he personally benefits.

The books is full of stories like this. Lewis finds people who are working in the government sector, often for less money than they could earn elsewhere, because they believe they have a civic duty. How much is all of this going to be undone by Trump? Time will only tell. 

This was another book that was clearly published in a rush, and as such, it perhaps doesn’t hang together as much as some of his other books. And yet, the subject matter is probably much more important than that of his other books. Lasting damage could be done to millions of Americans by the actions of a few.

What both books make really clear is that there are a lot of people with no experience, no knowledge, and no wish to actually learn anything new. Being informed is somehow not a good trait within this administration. 

Note: Any spammy off-topic comments will be deleted. Particularly those from people who’ve never previously commented on my website and those which talk in condescending terms about the victims of sexual attacks. My blog. My rules.