Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

I’ve been following the stories surrounding Cambridge Analytica and Facebook for some months now, and in recent days, following stories from The Observer, The New York Times and Channel 4, the story has really blown up.

However, I do think that the story, while completely valid, and asking some really critical questions, perhaps over emphasises some aspects at the expense of others. It’s true – I tend to see cock-up rather than conspiracy in most things. But here are some of my thoughts on the two key players in this instance.

On Cambridge Analytica

My underlying belief is that Cambridge Analytica is a company that claims it’s more powerful than it actually is, and uses the “digital voodoo” to win business in the murky world of political consulting.

If nothing else, tonight’s Channel 4 News exclusive shows that aside from stories about how powerfully the company is able to target voters using sophisticated social media targeting, more than anything they’re an ethically dubious political consulting group who will do just about anything to see that their paymasters win.

On Newsnight, their CEO Alexander Nix somewhat disingenuously claimed that he was being targeted by British media. That’s certainly not what came across in the Channel 4 video.

As they themselves will admit, it’s clear that Cambridge Analytica did indeed use Facebook targeting to try to micro-target individual voters during the last US presidential election, with advertising that pushed the right buttons with those voters. So if they thought that you might be swayed with promises about jobs, then that’s the hook that they would use to get you to vote Trump. But I also think it’s true that previous campaigns have done the same – notably Obama’s.

Of course we’ve not really had many elections in the time of social media to truly measure the impact, but while the data does allow a political party or its supporters to make potentially hundreds or even thousands of different pieces of copy that might tick the right boxes amongst voters, I think that it’s incredibly naive to believe that so many are willing to change their voting intentions on the basis of a few Facebook ads. It takes more than that.

That being said, this is clearly the narrative that Cambridge Analytica have painted for themselves. They worked for a campaign that wasn’t seen as likely to win the US election and yet it did. That means that they can go out and win lots more business all over the world with the suggestion that it was them “wot won it,” – as the Sun once claimed after the Conservatives won the 1992 UK General Election.

It’s a great gimmick. Nix has been able to go out and proclaim that his company has discovered the secret to winning elections. And campaigns of every hue have been queuing up at his doorstep.*

Beyond that, it does sound as though the company has been, if not bending the rules further than it should, taking and using data it really isn’t allowed to. After months of questionning, as the big stories came out over the weekend, Facebook finally pulled Cambridge Analytica’s access to use the platform and says that it will be conducting a forensic audit on how the data was being used. Meanwhile the UK’s Information Commissioner is seeking a warrant to look at the company’s servers and databases.

I wouldn’t in any way excuse the company. If the claims made by both whistleblowers and others are proved to be true, then the book needs throwing at the company.

But I still need a lot of convincing that the company is as powerful as it would like to portray itself. Instead, I see a company who has decided to lead on it being an expert at data science in the world of political consulting to give it an edge over its rivals. And given the scale of social media networks and the way that users and the networks themselves use this data, we are more willing to believe that they are more powerful than they truly are.

On Facebook

I think Facebook has some real problems that are largely of their own making. This boils down to a few key areas, all of which they really only have themselves to blame for.

Privacy Settings

Facebook’s privacy settings have always been a nightmare for users. With a network as complicated as the one it has built, relatively few really understand what they’re sharing and who it is with. The settings change relatively frequently meaning it’s hard even for the most assiduous privacy minded user to keep up with who has access to what. What stories you like; who your photos are shared with; who your friends can further share things with and so on. It’s truly complicated.

Some people manage to lock their accounts down quite a lot, but they’re the exception rather than the rule. Who can friend you? Who can share things with you? Who sees things that others have shared with you? Can you be found with your email or phone number and who can find you that way? Are you searchable via Google? When you like a company’s page, how much data is that company able to capture on you? What about when you enter a competition?

Lack of Control

Such is the breadth of the data that Facebook is able to capture, that one of the most troubling aspects of this story is the general lack of control the company seems to have. One part of this story concerns the use of a personality prediction “app” on Facebook called thisisyourdigitallife. The questionnaire was completed by 270,000 users but the data captured wasn’t just for those users, but for many of their friends as well. In total that gave data for over 50 million users. Facebook refers to these as “friends who had their privacy settings set to allow it.” But just how many of those people who didn’t complete the survey remember, truly realised that this kind of data could be captured? While it may only be how that data was subsequently used that broke Facebook’s terms and conditions, it’s worrying that someone is able to capture that level of data regardless of whether they’re using in accordance with those rules.

And I suspect that a very small minority of users realised just what kind of catnip they’re giving to companies like Cambridge Analytica when they complete “fun” surveys such as this. For most users they’re just communicating in a fun environment with their friends.


Facebook has built one of the most powerful digital platforms in the world; a platform that reaches billions and one which generates nearly all its revenue from advertising. That advertising is targeted using a massive database that it has generated based on user data that the company would say users have volunteered themselves. That in itself might be troubling considering that users largely don’t really consider how that data about themselves is used. But even worse is the idea that third parties can come in and use that data to target individuals without it even being revealed who is paying for those ads. We’ve seen that with ads paid for by Russian sources during the Clinton/Trump election campaign, and we’ve seen it in other campaigns. Channel 4 News highlighted last year’s Kenyan election for example.

It’s surely critical for any platform that runs advertising to be up front and honest about who is actually paying for that advertising.


Facebook captures enormous amounts of data and it’s not simply when you use the Facebook website. You might be sharing your location with Facebook via its mobile app. Third party websites incorporate what is known as the Facebook Pixel. As with other advertising networks including Google, it means that Facebook knows where else you are outside of its own network. All those helpful sites that let you log in with your Facebook account? That’s more data you’re sharing with Facebook on top of the thousands of fields of information it is already keeping about you.

This can all make it seem to users that Facebook is actually doing nefarious things like using the microphone on your phone to listen in to your conversations. It’s almost certainly not, but as I said in a piece last year, if the company is so uncannily accurate, then the perception trumps the reality.


This is serious story – scandal even. And as much as anything, I’d like to think that this is a wake up call that gives people a greater understanding about how their data is being captured used, and potentially misused.

But I suspect that Cambridge Analytica is really just another political consulting company who’s USP is that they target voters with social media. They hit the big time by working for the Trump campaign, and being allied with Steve Bannon. Yet as a result, their marketing claims have become so hyperbolic that it has led to a widespread disdain for what they do, and since this story has begun to unravel, they’ve been rowing back how impactful this aspect of what they do actually is.

Instead, based on evidence from Channel 4 News, the company is perhaps more about the grubby world of sending prostitutes to the homes of political opponents and capturing it on video, or giving the appearance of having developers pay backhanders for property deals. This is all as low rent as you like.

Facebook’s problem is that it has too much data to the point that nobody seems to be able to keep on top of things. They have so much that some users suspect them of actually listening in to them via their phones. But they truly do follow you around the internet. The danger for Facebook, beyond what are likely to be short term falls in their stock value, is that users do start to rebel and close down their accounts.

I’ve always had a problem trusting Facebook. I don’t think they’re evil as such. But they have played too fast and too loose, and have ended up in a powerful position. As a by-product – alongside Google – they have just about completely cornered the digital advertising market which brings with it its own problems for society in general.

I’m not going to underestimate the problems with “fake news” and the ability of propaganda to spread like wildfire on social media platforms. There are some serious questions to be asked about how these platforms can and should be regulated, particularly in regard to elections where we have seen continuing problems.

On the other hand, just because I can be micro-targeted using all this data, it doesn’t necessarily win elections.

People who work in advertising always love to tell you about how their methods work – explaining that they built the biggest brand in the sector using their methods. That’s the same in politics too. Saatchi & Saatchi were widely credited with helping Margaret Thatcher win the 1979 General Election with their famous “Labour Isn’t Working” outdoor poster. The poster did indeed sum up very nicely the prevailing political landscape. But did it actually win the election, or was the country moving away from Labour anyway? It was a sizeable win for Tories. I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t a poster “wot won it” that time, and I’m pretty sure that a company led by an old Etonian with some Facebook data wasn’t actually responsible for Trump (or Brexit) either.

Further Reading:

A really decent piece from the New Statesman that seems to accurately summarise the full Facebook data part of the story.

It’s been said in some more breathless quarters of the internet that this is the “data breach” that could have “caused Brexit”. Given it was a US-focused bit of harvesting, that would be the most astonishing piece of political advertising success in history – especially as among the big players in the political and broader online advertising world, Cambridge Analytica are not well regarded: some of the people who are best at this regard them as little more than “snake oil salesmen”.

A Verge piece that really gets into psychographics and microtargetting and what it can and cannot do.

Taken altogether, it seems like Facebook was taken in by a shady firm that misused data and lied about it. When Facebook found out, it did nothing. And making matters worse, we can’t even point at Cambridge Analytica’s deception as the reason Trump was elected: a closer look at its methods suggests they might not even work.

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing says that he doesn’t think Cambridge Analytica is actually able to do what they say they can.

So, as I’ve written before, we should take Cambridge Analytica’s claims to Svengali-like mind-control with a boulder of salt, because until Sunday, they made these claims to drum up business (now they’re busily declaring that they are no more persuasive than any other ad agency, of course, because they’ve gotten in trouble for it).

Antonio García Martínez at Wired magazine on the noisy fallacies of psychographic targeting.

For the impatient, my fundamental thesis is this: Cambridge Analytica’s data theft and targeting efforts probably didn’t even work, but Facebook should be embarrassed anyhow.

* In a strange radio related twist, Cambridge Analytica’s offices at 55 New Oxford Street are in the same building as many of the UK radio industry’s offices including Radiocentre, RAJAR and Digital Radio UK! But it’s a largish office, and other companies share the building too.

The Business Models of MoviePass and cPass

Over the weekend, a new company raised its heads above the parapets. cPass is a new subscription cinema going scheme that allows members to see one film a day at the cinema for a monthly fee of £9.95.

Cinema membership schemes aren’t unheard of, but they tend to be more expensive. Cineworld has its Unlimited scheme that costs £17.90 a month, rising to £20.40 if you want to include central London cinemas. My local suburban Cineworld charges £12.10 for a regular ticket in peak times. So I need to see 2 or more films a month to make a Cineworld membership worthwhile for me. But under the cPass scheme I’d only need to see one film to start making savings.

Odeon has it’s Limitless scheme and it’s very similar to the Cineworld offering. It costs £17.99 a month, or £19.99 if you want central London cinemas included. Note that the flagship Odeon Leicester Square is currently closed for renovations, although a single visit to that cinema can easily exceed £19.99 alone. However my nearest suburban Odeon charges £12.50 for a regular ticket in peak time. So as with Cineworld, I’d need to see two films a month for it to be worthwhile.

So how is cPass offering a seemingly better deal than either of two of the UK’s largest chains offer on their own, with the advantage that I can see films in any cinema (subject to terms)?

Well, they’re copying nearly precisely the US MoviePass model. That is, they’re not working directly with the cinema chains at all. What they do is send their members a debit card – I assume either Visa or Mastercard – and when someone books a ticket on their app, it puts some money in the debit card’s account for a limited time and lets you buy a ticket as you would with any regular debit card. The cinema gets paid, and you get a ticket.

But if I’m paying £12.50 for a ticket, yet have only paid £9.95 for an entire month, how does that make any business sense?

The Recode Media podcast recently interviewed the CEO of MoviePass to try to understand the model, and a few things emerge, whilst others remain unsaid.

The Gym Membership

Part of the model is the assumption that we won’t all be trying to see 31 films in a calendar month. The average person probably sees 2-4 films a year. i.e. not that many. Everyone knows that gyms are packed in January and then settle back down to a more manageable level shortly thereafter. Gyms have more memberships than members they can cater for. They hope that while some are going 5 days a week, more are going much less frequently and are too lazy to cancel their memberships. We’ve all heard the tales of onerous cancellation procedures – there was a whole Friends episode about this.

MoviePass are quite honest about the fact that when members first get their cards, they rush to see lots. But fairly quickly they drop back to a more modest level of film going.

We’ve all got subscriptions to things we don’t use as much as we should. Part of MoviePass’s model relies on that.

Different Areas – Different Prices

I live in Greater London and the price of a visit to my local cinemas is just more than £12. Other parts of the country may charge closer to £6. So the maths can be different, and even if they make a loss in London, it could be offset elsewhere.

That all said, cPass says it’s launching in the capital.

Growing the Market

On this week’s Kermode and Mayo podcast, the thorny subject of film piracy was raised again. It’s clear that lots of people are using dodgy streams to serve pirated films – much more so that downloading torrents of a few years ago. Kodi boxes with the right (i.e. “wrong”) plugins have made it simple to watch recent releases on your TV at home, perhaps having to suffer some dodgy pre-roll adverts.

Mark Kermode’s solution to this is the day and date multi-format release. That way, you could choose to buy the DVD or Blu Ray, stream for a fee on your preferred service, or go to the cinema.

I suspect that wouldn’t work very well and would swiftly see the end of cinemas altogether. How many families would honestly spend £25-30 or more for a trip to the cinema with all the add-ons when they could get the DVD, Blu Ray or legal stream for closer to £10? Visits to the cinema would drop away massively, and they would start closing. I don’t deny that the right film seen with a large audience is great fun, but I’m uncertain that this is enough to prevent a serious dent in cinema attendance.

While I’m not certain that the music model is quite right at the moment, it is true that the likes of Spotify have removed the reasons for downloading music illegally. You get high quality music either for free with ads, or for a relatively modest monthly sum, ad free.

Part of the cPass/MoviePass model is that more people will go and see more films. They grow the overall market and encourage those who see relatively few films to see more. In turn that generates more tertiary revenues for cinemas – i.e. popcorn sales.

The downside is that the likeliest people to take up something like cPass are those who already go to the cinema a lot. Indeed, subscribers to current unlimited schemes would surely swiftly cancel their current memberships and move to the cheaper model.

Scale and the New Normal

Scale is what it’s really all about. These companies want to become dominant in the market place and have their members become a significant part of the overall audience. That gives them an awful lot of power with the chains (see next section).

You need deep pockets to play this game, and the backers of these services are clearly spending to get to a certain level whereby they can start to use this scale to their own advantage. This is the familiar Silicon Valley model of spending heavily to get an audience or user base, and then turn it around to monetise it.

At the same time $9.95/£9.95 becomes the new normal for pricing schemes. As alluded to at the top, this is close to half the price of existing schemes that are generally limited to a single chain. It instantly becomes harder for Cineworld to market Unlimited when there’s a cheaper, better option out there.

As it stands the chains know who you are, how often you’re going and what you’re watching. That’s valuable data. They instantly lose that as patrons move to the cheaper non-affiliated deal.

Deals with Chains

This is the big unspoken bit. MoviePass in the US is already negotiating with smaller chains and indies to get both discounted tickets and even kickbacks from sales of food and drink.

If a large proportion of the population is using something like cPass or MoviePass, then a certain amount of power is wielded by those companies. They might try to “incentivise” members to use one chain over another by temporarily or permanently removing certain cinemas.

If this result in sizeable declines in box office takings at the removed cinemas, these companies could throw their weight around and “force” the chains to provide them with deep discounts.

This has happened in the US with MoviePass, who have excluded some AMC locations, seemingly to pressure AMC into giving it discounts.

It’s worth noting that deep discounts do already exist in the marketplace. Many corporate “perks” websites and other third-party membership deals offer significant discounts to cinema tickets. 50% discounts aren’t unheard of. You can safely expect that these pass companies will be pushing to get discounts at least as deep as these, because they can redirect audiences away from anyone who doesn’t play ball with them.

It’s a fine line of course, since if none of the chains play the game, then the pass companies could be left out in the cold, haemorrhaging money. But it’s going to be interesting to watch.

Would the chains consider themselves as being “held to ransom,” and being forced to co-operate when they don’t want to?

Marketing Opportunities

These pass companies will also be chasing revenues from film distribution companies as well. They can do deals to heavily promote certain titles and push their audiences towards them.

The data they collect on their subscribers viewing habits could potentially be used to point consumers to relevant films – or at least do as good a job as people like Netflix can.


This isn’t by any means a proven business model, and if the big chains hold firm on their pricing, then it’s unclear how it can ever be. If lots of people don’t go and see many films yet continue to pay $9.95/£9.95 a month, then the sums work anyway, but I suspect it’ll take more than that. Particularly if these cards become popular among the younger demographics for whom money is tight, but demand is high.

The strange thing is that cinema owning isn’t as profitable as it might be. Deals with distributors mean that for big releases a large proportion of the ticket revenue, particularly in early weeks of a release. It was reported that in North America Disney wanted 65% of box office revenues for The Last Jedi, and also required that the film played for at least four weeks in the largest auditorium. Failure to do this meant that the share would rise to 70%!

Lots of cinema chains are desperately seeking reasons to get people to upgrade their seats and spend more. We have premium seats, 3D films, IMAX and more recently 4DX – all trying to get you to spend more. These pass schemes mostly push for the cheapest tickets. Does this work against the needs of the chains?

And what does this mean for overall box offices? If tickets are being sold at cheaper price points, then even if there are more people on seats, the overall value might fall if a high proportion of movie goers are paying what are effectively discounted prices.

The pass companies would counter that they’re about growing the market. And that might be the case. But as mentioned above,the first group of people who are likely to jump on these schemes are regular cinema goers who can quickly save lots of money. Just as the early adopters of Spotify were those who in the past had spent a lot of money each week on music, now only had to spend a tenner a month for the same quantity!

A really interesting scenario would be if some of the UK chains formed their own cross-chain pass. In other words, merge Unlimited and Limitless with any other schemes out there. It’d potentially be cheaper to operate since you wouldn’t need to get any banks involved and all the costs of processing debit cards.

Making those unlimited/limitless cards cheaper would certainly grow the market, but would distributors be happy? Do the sums add up to fuller cinemas and a net increase in box office?

I find the whole model curious, and I’m really uncertain that it’ll work. But I’ll be paying close attention!

Netflix: $8 Billion and 700 NEW Shows?

How much programming is Netflix actually making?

The answer is a lot, but I think that the widely reported numbers are a little misleading.

Heavily retweeted earlier today was this:

I’m not trying to pick on one person; these are figures that have been reported elsewhere.

Most pieces reference a Variety story: Netflix Eyeing Total of About 700 Original Series in 2018. But you’ll note that the Variety headline includes the word “total” in it.

The key section of Variety’s report is this:

The “700-range” figure [Netflix CFO, David Wells] cited includes 80 non-English-language original productions from outside the U.S., such as psychological thriller “Dark” from Germany and “Club de Cuervos” from Mexico. The total encompasses both new and existing original series (such as “Orange Is the New Black” and “Narcos”). [My emphasis]

In other words, this is a cumulative figure and represents the total number of original series on the platform.

It does not mean an additional 700 originals!

The Variety report is based on an investment call that Netflix had, and as is the way with these things, the transcript of the call is available online.

Here’s the relevant section:

Unidentified Analyst
Right. So moving from maybe the big-picture stuff to more into here now. What are your priorities for 2018? Where are you focused and where is the team focused in making sure the company executes this year?

David B. Wells – Netflix, Inc. – CFO & Principal Accounting Officer
Well, I think — a lot of what you hear many of us say is internal execution, right? So we think we have a large market. We just talked about there’s so many more nonmembers than there are members, and so our focus is really to continue to improve the product that we have. We’ll be adding increasingly more and more of our originals in our global content. This year, we’ll have 80 originals in the global category, meaning these are non-English language original produced content things, like Club de Cuervos, Dark — O Mecanismo is a new one coming from Brazil. And so the — our muscle in that area is increasingly being built and exercised, and I’m excited about lots of great stories coming from different parts of the world. And again, people seem to love high production quality and a good story. It doesn’t really matter where it comes from. So I think our focus is building out our production muscle, building out our global production muscle, increasing our product in various parts of the world. We’re the newest in Asia. So I’d say it’s continuing to sort of localize pieces in Asia, continue to improve the product there. But we also have an eye towards not losing our leadership position in other parts of the world as well. So it’s not like we’re not also improving the Americas.

Unidentified Analyst
You mentioned 80 global originals. That’s TV series, so that’s distinct from your film strategy?

David B. Wells – Netflix, Inc. – CFO & Principal Accounting Officer
Yes. That’s distinct to film, and it’s even distinct from television series that you might describe as sort of global, like Orange Is the New Black or Narcos. These are things that are produced in a non-English language market. So I just want to make that distinction. So there’s even more than 80 that are sort of for the global market. If you think about the total number, it might be somewhere in the 700 range.

That makes clear that there are 80 original “global” originals – non-English language originals. And there are 700 in total. They obviously measure movies differently, and categorise them separately, but then they are still both commissioning original movies and also buying them outright after festivals such as Sundance, beyond the regular licencing of movies from studios. Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer has previously said that they will release 80 original movies in 2018.

But how do you even determine what is a Netflix original? It’s not that simple.

Stranger Things or Narcos are relatively simple. They’re 100% Netflix. But for others it’s less clear. For example, in the US, the science fiction series The Expanse appears on SyFy, but it counts as a Netflix original in much of the rest of the world. Star Trek: Discovery appears in the US on the CBS All Access streaming platform. Everywhere else it’s a Netflix Original. Troy: Fall of a City is currently airing on BBC One and was co-commissioned by both the BBC and Netflix where it’ll appear globally.

Even seemingly homegrown series like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, aren’t strictly Netflix exclusive. Orange is the New Black is currently airing on the Sony Crime channel in the UK, having done a deal with Lionsgate the producers. In France House of Cards originally aired on Canal+ since there was no Netflix in France and the producer, MRC, was able to sell it to them. On more recent 100% Netflix commissions, it has reportedly tightened contracts to prevent that programming appearing elsewhere – unless they choose to allow it.

In any event, a Mashable report makes clear that this 700 number includes some of these co-commissioned series:

A Netflix representative told Mashable that this content budget includes properties we already know and love like Stranger Things, as well as licensing content from partners like AMC’s The Walking Dead.

Note that The Walking Dead is not available on, for example, UK Netflix, because Fox International has the rights and they distribute it on Sky’s platform in boxsets.

It should also be pointed out that “originals” can include one-offs as well as series or seasons of shows. Think about all the stand-up comedy specials that Netflix is commissioning.

So to summarise, there will be 700 originals in total at the end of 2018, which includes new commissions, previous commissions and co-commissions.

Netflix is definitely spending a lot, although it’s in the ballpark of what other large media companies also spend each year. But it’s not launching new series at the rate of two a day!

They’re also losing money – negative free cash flow in the parlance. I’m not arguing that there isn’t an underlying business model that makes sense, but it’s worth noting all the same. The theory is that as they build up their library of originals, they don’t have to licence as much third party material (See also the recent news that Disney won’t renew their Netflix deal and will shift their output to their own new streaming platform).

Netflix faces the issue of needing to have relevant programming in multiple local territories, and while there’s value in older series, viewers will continue to seek new programming. Netflix will have complex calculations about how much it needs to spend on new programming versus catalogue versus subscriber growth versus how much it licences. It’s a complex grid.

Snow and Mist

Snow and Mist from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

The country has been covered with snow for the last week or so, but it’s not straightforward to get some spectacular drone shots because of the weather. Consumer drones aren’t capable of flying while it’s snowing. And you also have to consider wind speed, and there’s been quite a lot of that.

So my only practicable solution was to get up very early in the morning. Although a fresh fall of snow had been dropped the previous afternoon, and overnight the temperatures had remained sub-zero, but this morning the melt was very much on.

I shot this video and these pictures during a misty dawn. There was still plenty of snow on the ground, although it would disappear fairly rapidly as the day went on. The key thing to always remember with snow photography is that you need to increase the exposure beyond where the camera thinks it should be.

On Sky Q, Netflix and BARB

Note: This is a subject likely to be of even more niche interest than many of my other blogs here. You have been warned!

Yesterday Sky announced that it had reached agreement with Netflix to add Netflix to their Sky Q platform. What this means is that Netflix programmes will appear within the wider Sky Q ecosystem. It means that individual programmes will be promoted without necessarily having to dive into a Netflix “app” as you would on many TV platforms.

On Twitter this raised a few questions: Sky’s on BARB, so might we see ratings for Netflix in due course? Does this mean that Sky will know what their customers are watching on Netflix?

The first thing to say is that this Sky deal isn’t unique. On Amazon’s Fire TV platform, for example, individual Netflix programmes are recommended alongside Amazon’s own shows. You can dive straight into an episode of Stranger Things if you want to (and have obviously previously logged into your Netflix account). And that probably means that Amazon has some idea of what programmes their customers are watching.

I’ve no doubt that the carriage agreement between Netflix and Amazon stipulates that data can’t be shared, since as we all know, Netflix doesn’t publish ratings figures. But Amazon probably has some view on that. Of course, it’s only a partial view since there are a multiplicity of ways to get Netflix on your TV, from built in Smart TV apps, to games consoles, Chromecast, Apple TV and many others. But you know, if you have a big enough sample… I’ll return to samples later.

It’s worth noting that a multiplicity of companies potentially have some kind of awareness of how Netflix is performing. Netflix has a complex Content Delivery Network (CDN) globally to ensure that you get what you want when you want it and where you want it. More importantly, some larger Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are part of Netflix’s Open Connect network. In other words, the ISPs cache Netflix’s programming locally on their own data servers, speeding up delivery time to viewers, but also saving the ISPs money in terms of connectivity with the wider internet. Both the CDNs and ISPs have the potential to understand in great detail what is being consumed (albeit there may be encryption and obfuscation to limit or prevent this).

One thing that Netflix being on Sky doesn’t mean is that there will be BARB data. Recall that Netflix is already on other TV platforms such as Virgin Media. It’s also worth noting that even if all parties wanted to, BARB isn’t really set-up to provide meaningful data at this granularity, and that’s to do with sample sizes.

There are about 26m TV households in the UK, each of which has one or more people. BARB is the UK TV ratings organisation and it recruits a panel of households that provide detailed viewer data which is used to determine overall ratings. There are roughly 5,100 BARB households, with each BARB household representing around 5,000 other households.

That’s a decent sample; it’s large enough to provide robust data on programmes across the larger TV networks. (Things do get a bit more complex with smaller channels, and I’m always wary of anyone telling you how few people watched a show on a minority interest channel, since the sample doesn’t really cater for it). BARB has to work across each TV region, since advertising is sold on a regional basis.

But back to samples, and specifically Sky Q. How many Sky Q households are there in the UK?

In late January, Sky’s results for the six months until 31 December 2017 revealed that there are now 2m Sky Q homes in the UK and Ireland. BARB only measures UK TV viewing, but we’ll use 2m as a working number, alongside 26m TV homes. BARB needs to make sure that it’s panel is reflective of how people actually watch TV – the right number of Freeview, Sky Q, Sky+, Freesat, Virgin Media homes and so on.

Sky’s figures suggest that 7.7% of UK homes, roughly, have Sky Q. If that’s replicated in BARB’s 5,100 panel, then we’re talking about 392 BARB households with Sky Q.

In a paper published in January 2018, BARB says that 7.5m homes have Netflix subscriptions in the UK, or 22% of homes (This is based on a large survey that BARB conducts called the BARB Establishment Survey. It’s used to ensure that BARB knows properly how the UK public is watching TV and video).

As things stand then, assuming that Netflix subscribers are spread evenly across all TV platforms (a massive “if”), then we need to further reduce our sample to find Sky Q homes who currently have Netflix. It seems likely that current subscribers would be able to link their accounts to the Sky Q platform, and of course Sky and Netflix would like to see subscriber growth coming from those homes.

Let’s be generous and assume that instead of 22% of Sky Q homes having Netflix, it’s likelier to be closer to 50%, based on the greater disposable incomes of those households and them likelier to be earlier adopters. That means our sample is down to 196 homes. And that’s a very small sample to start trying to model what those households are watching on the Netflix platform.

This is all moot anyway, since unless Netflix changes tack radically, they don’t need to join ratings bodies like BARB. They’re not an advertising led business (the reason commercial services need BARB), and they know precisely how much their shows were streamed.

These digital providers are rolling big dice. Netflix says that it will spend close to $8bn on programming this year. Amazon is expected to spend $5bn. Facebook and Apple have promised to spend big too.

Recode has an interesting chart that puts 2017 spends in context.

But we probably need to contextualise that a little because Netflix and Amazon are spending globally, while many of the other players on this chart are predominantly US companies with relatively little ex-US programme spending.

I’m not sure where any of this gets us except that these digital streaming platforms are going to be everywhere even more, and we’ll probably never get a clear picture of how popular much of their programming really is.

Things Annoying Me Right Now

  • People labelling their Tweets “Breaking” before highlighting a story they believe is more important than others.
  • People you generally respect getting so annoyed that a news organisation doesn’t reflect their personal choices, that the news organisation is suddenly worthless.
  • Left-leaning British commentators weighing in pointlessly against right-leaning US gun advocates on Twitter. It’s not that I disagree with those commentators about gun control. Obviously I completely agree. But we’re talking about a people that did precisely nothing when 20 six and seven year olds were shot, and then did precisely nothing else when another 58 people were murdered and another 851 were injured at a music festival. And that’s aside from the thousands more who die needlessly on an ongoing basis. But outrage on Twitter can feel like King Canute trying to turn back the tide. A different approach is needed. Sadly, I don’t know what that approach is.
  • That politicians fear their own parties so much, they can’t actually say what they genuinely believe.

Mostly I’m annoyed at the entrenchment in all kinds of political discourse everywhere. From factions within the Tory party over Brexit, to the ability of Northern Ireland to form a government, and yes, for the ability of US politicians to reign in gun violence in any way whatsoever.

I don’t think it’s completely the fault of social media, or the internet in general, but political discourse and the idea that there might be some middle ground between two entrenched viewpoints seems to have diminished. And that’s bad for society.

Premier League Rights Update

Yesterday evening came news that the bulk of the Premier League packages for 2019-2022 have been sold to the incumbents, Sky and BT. But revenues are actually down this time around.

Sky is paying less than it was previously for a package of 128 matches across the year, both in overall terms, and in the price per game that it pays. Indeed it has a handful more games this time around despite paying less. But that still gets it all the first picks and many of the second ones, and it includes the new Saturday night kick off package.

BT is also paying a little less for the package it currently does for the Saturday lunchtime games, although there are fewer of them this time around which means the price per game goes up.

Overall, with two rights packages still be finalised, total revenues are £4.464bn compared with a final figure of £5.1bn last time around.

The final two packages are still to be determined, with the Premier League saying that there are “multiple” bidders – for which I read that as meaning more than one.

BT is certainly one of these, and it’s conceivable that Amazon would be the other. There’s no real value in Sky buying more – it has enough to persuade subscribers of the value of its package.

But there is a massive problem with these packages, and I’m still really unclear about how the Premier League formulated them.

One package is made up of Bank Holiday fixtures, and a complete midweek round of the Premier League, while the other contains two complete rounds of the Premier League.

Those complete rounds are surely problematical for any bidder? As I said previously, the winning broadcaster gets only two real bites of the cherry for each round of the Premier League. That assumes that matches are split across a Tuesday and Wednesday. So whoever buys the rights has a very limited window to monetise them. The package that includes Bank Holiday games is a little more attractive, since they’re spread out. But the value per game to broadcasters has to be substantially lower than for any other package.

But I wonder if the real reason that these have not been sold yet is because broadcasters are valuing them lower than Premier League does? The Premier League does set a reserve. That’s precisely what the FT is reporting (£) based on its sources.

It’s still possible that Amazon would come in and buy a package:

“Buy a Fire TV stick this Christmas and get free access to Boxing Day football – only with Amazon.”

But digital rights holders would also want to spread those games out across a longer period, and ideally want global rights, not just UK rights.

There’s no way that the final packages raising anything close to the £600m or so that would at least equal what the Premier League achieved last time around.

Unquestionably, these two package were badly formulated by the Premier League. They somehow believed that they would attract digital players who would hand over their hundreds of millions unquestionably, without weighing up the true value of the opportunity. And that hasn’t happened.

Shutting Down AM

Today, Ofcom published a short consultation based on a request from Absolute Radio to shut down a number of AM transmitters and reduce the power on some others.

In essence the request, which I confidently expect to be quickly agreed to, has three main details:

  • They want to close down completely 12 AM sites, and reduce the power of another 5 transmitters, leaving 20 transmitters in total.
  • These closures and reductions in power will see national AM coverage fall from 90.5% of the population to 85.4% of the population.
  • This would save Bauer Radio, Absolute’s owners, just over 50% of their costs.

So for a relatively small reduction in coverage, Bauer saves a lot of money for a service that is largely also available in one or more of DAB, FM, digital television or the internet in all the affected locations. I think it’s only fair to note that there are FM alternatives wherever the BBC is shutting down an AM station. But the point is still valid, especially with regards to music stations.

Bauer points out that the BBC has been shutting down a number of AM transmitters across its local radio network, and that AM music listening in particular is in massive decline.

This all seems eminently sensible to me. Indeed there’s a fairly incendiary line in Ofcom’s consultation:

“Absolute Radio has made these proposals in the context of declining listening to AM radio and increasing transmission costs and noted that, if it is not able to make these changes, it may have to consider shutting down Absolute Radio’s entire AM network and surrendering its national licence.” [My emphasis]

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that when I was previously employed by Absolute Radio, I too looked very closely at the AM transmitter issue, and we were also very close to shutting down the AM network and handing back the national licence.

While that might seem dramatic, in reality the business is driven by digital and FM. At the time FM was only in London, but Bauer switched its West Midlands licence to FM as well. And it had always been in the interests of first Virgin and later Absolute to transition its listeners to DAB as quickly as possible.

For me, the larger question is whether the entire AM network shouldn’t be shut down, allowing Bauer to make savings of those other 50% of AM costs?

Lots of stations are on lots of platforms, but there is a cost to every additional platform a station goes on, and most stations will try to break down those costs to come up with some kind of cost per listener-hour by platform.
For the average local station, for example, FM is relatively cheap. In many cases it’s a single transmitter somewhere on a hill, and the kit and running costs are relatively. For any transmitter you also have to factor in electricity costs, and these are also relatively low for FM.

AM transmitters require vastly more power, and the costs can be significant. DAB is relatively cost efficient, but it usually requires more sites than FM, with the advantage that digital transmission lets you “fill in” gaps without causing interference. You can’t do that with AM or FM, hence secondary analogue transmitters have to be on different frequencies.

It’s not always easy to figure out those costs per listener-hour since RAJAR doesn’t break things down to quite a low enough level. For example, if you broadcast on both AM and FM, RAJAR can’t really differentiate beyond making assumptions using geography. Similarly, there are several TV platforms (Freeview, Freesat, Sky, Virgin Media etc), but RAJAR just reports “Digital Television” in general. If your favourite station isn’t on your preferred TV platform, it might well be because the station can’t really work out whether it’s worth going onto that platform.

Returning to AM, and Absolute in particular, there are some interesting things in the consultation document. The sites that are proposed to be closed are largely in rural areas, those close to FM coverage, or those with high DAB penetration. Obviously Bauer has done a fair bit of analysis to come up with this list.

They estimate that 19,000 current listeners on AM will lose access to the AM signal following these changes. A small cost in listeners compared to monetary savings.

Ofcom notes that this represents 4% of the total AM audience of 472,000. But I think that Ofcom’s figure is slightly misleading, and it’s to do with the way that RAJAR is measured.

I would hypothesise that the actual number of AM listeners is much lower than this for a few reasons:

  • All local London stations, including Absolute Radio, report with a common London transmission area (TSA). Think of the area as essentially being that encompassed by the M25. But anyone who lives just outside the area knows that FM signals actually reach much further than that. It’s possible to just about listen to a London FM station all the way to Swindon as you drive down the M4. So an Absolute Radio listener, somewhere in the commuter belt around London, who listens on an FM radio, has to tick the FM/AM box in a RAJAR diary. And from a reporting perspective, they’ll be thought of as an AM listener. (You might ask why London stations don’t change their TSAs to accurately reflect their coverage, but these things are complicated – all the more so with the fact that London FM stations all use the same TSA to make it easier for London advertising agencies to reach the valuable audience. Outside of London, stations are far more likelier to fine tune their TSAs according to actual geography.)
  • RAJAR determines your listening dependent on where you live. That’s fine in areas where people don’t travel too far to work. But think of someone who lives in, say, Cambridge and commutes into London. If they listen to Absolute on an FM radio all day at work, analysis of their RAJAR data will that listening must be AM because of where they live. You might think this is an edge case, but London has a substantial commuter belt with hundreds of thousands coming into Greater London daily.
  • There will be similar, if less extreme, patterns around the West Midlands.
  • Finally, we know that respondents aren’t necessarily fantastic at filling out RAJAR diaries correctly, and while there are lots of checks to ensure that platforms are correctly recorded, I strongly believe that some listening recorded as AM/FM should actually be recorded as DAB. Most people don’t think about radio transmission formats as much as the average reader of this blog!

When you take into account all of that, I think you could substantially reduce the number of true AM listeners that Ofcom suggests Absolute has. Indeed it’s notable that Bauer doesn’t make this claim itself.

That’s not to say that these closures and reductions won’t have any affect. In rural areas, particularly those with lots of hills, AM (and LW) signals are about the only ones that get through. While the DAB has been built out to reach a large part of the population, there are still pockets with either only the BBC DAB multiplex or perhaps no DAB coverage at all. While satellite TV can fill in the gap at home, that’s not much use if you’re in a vehicle – especially one without DAB.

So turning off the AM network entirely would lose some listeners. But I suspect that it’s far fewer than the RAJAR numbers Ofcom suggests.

Finally, if Absolute was to hand back its AM licence, what would that mean? Well probably not a great deal for the station. It would continue on DAB and all the other platforms. It wouldn’t affect its FM listening in London or the West Midlands. Those are entirely separate licences.

But I believe that Ofcom would have to re-advertise the licence. I think primary legislation would require them to, whether or not they really wanted to. And I suspect that there would be a taker or two. The most obvious would be a Christian station – they often crowdfund their running costs. But there are others who would have a look.

This wouldn’t be a cheap option. Those electricity costs alone are significant. And it’s true that having that licence does allow the owner to get onto the D1 national DAB multiplex. That might be problematical in itself, since the mux is basically full!

And then there are the kit costs. One of the reasons Bauer gives for shutting down many of these transmitters is that the transmission kit is now very old. It dates from BBC ownership prior to the launch of independent national commercial radio, when those frequencies belonged to Radio 3. Replacing that kit is going to cost money, and it seems like an odd investment to be making in 2018.

By the way, have you actually tried to buy an AM radio recently? It’s not that easy…

RAJAR Q4 2017


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.

49.9%, hey?


That’s the percentage of listening that is now digital. So very close to 50%, but just not quite. But I’ll come back to that shortly.

These are a few thoughts on the final RAJAR results for 2017 that are now in, representing the period up to and including 18th December 2017.

Overall radio listening remains at 90% of the UK population listening at least once a week, listening for over a billion hours cumulatively. Those listening hours are down a small amount however, falling 0.9% on the year.

For the record, the mean age of a radio listener is 48 (up from 47) a year ago. But averages are something of a brute instrument to measure listening, particularly when you consider that the population is ageing.

A more useful measure is to look at the number of hours age groups listen to over time. The chart below compares listening by age demo over the last five years, comparing similar quarters.

In general terms the story isn’t too bad, with the notable exception of 15-24s for whom there is a clear downward trend. The reach for this demographic is down to 80.3%, the lowest it has ever been. This is a “problem” group for radio.

Earlier this evening I attended an interesting event organised by the research and analysis company MIDiA, exploring radio in a streaming world. One of the metrics they talked about was the number of listening events people have during the week. While MIDiA’s research compares radio to streaming services which isn’t something that RAJAR allows, RAJAR does let you explore what’s happening with listening events.

This chart is another good way to explain things.

What it shows is the number of different listening events someone has in the course of a week. While a given listening event might be just a few minutes, or conversely many hours, the number of times someone turns to the radio is a decent indicator about how radio is doing as a medium in someone’s life.

I’ve just compared 15-24s with all adults in the above chart, and you can quickly see that there is a decline in the number of times the average 15-24 year old turns on the radio over a relatively short period of time. It’s now less than twice a day. The all adult number is steadier, but the key here is to make it easier for that number to be bumped up, and that will be the challenge radio has to face up to. Can smart speakers introduce more listening events?

But let’s get back to that digital listening figure, as it’s incredibly close to the point whereby half of all listening is through a digital platform.

49.9% is clearly the highest amount of digital listening we’ve yet seen, and I would confidently expect the 50% figure to be breached as soon as next quarter, in the main because I think we’re about see significant growth in radio listening via smart speakers.

Google reported selling 6m speakers globally between October and December, many of them heavily discounted. Amazon doesn’t give out numbers, but reported that the Echo was the biggest selling item on its site over Christmas.

A lot of speakers were sold, and these make very convenient voice controlled radios.

That’s why I think we’ll get to 50% digital listening as soon as the next quarter. But it is also true that these speakers make listening to services like Spotify also much easier. So there’s give and take there.

(It’s worth noting that I’m absolutely not going to round 49.9% up to 50% because we’ve been looking at this number closely for years, and always reporting it to the nearest .1%. To round up now would be wrong and somewhat misleading.)

What I’m not saying is that a great deal will happen very quickly once the 50% mark is breached. While theoretically allows processes to begin for an analogue to digital switchover for radio, I just don’t see that happening very soon. Generally speaking other things are using up lots of Parliamentary time at the moment. Similarly, I suspect that recently announced radio deregulation will take longer than many might hope, because there just isn’t time to fit in the primary legislation required to do anything.

If you dig a little further into the digital figures, then you find that commercial radio is ahead of the BBC in going digital. Commercial radio is 51.6% digital compared with BBC radio at 48.3%. This isn’t too surprising when you consider that BBC radio is generally older than commercial radio – the average of a listener is 50 v 45 for commercial radio. The older you are, the less likely you are to have switched to digital.

National and Digital

Radio 1 had a good quarter this time around, climbing to over 9.8m in reach, representing growth on both the previous quarter and year. Hours spent listening climbed too. The only very slight downside is that the average age of the audience crept up very slightly to 36. But I do think it’s harder to break music listening into age groups as much as would have been the case in the past. Nick Grimshaw also had his best performance at breakfast since Q3 2015, with 5.7m listeners.

Radio 2’s results were decent as well, with reach up 0.8% on the quarter and 2.9% on the year. While hours were up a very healthy 3.6% and 4.5% respectively. 190m listening hours is a new record for Radio 2, and represents 18.3% of all UK radio listening.

Radio 3 was down fractionally in reach on the quarter, but more so on the year. It was a similar picture in terms of hours, but it’s worth noting that Q4 2016 for Radio 3 was something of a freak result, particularly in terms of hours. Radio 3 also had some schedule changes take place during this quarter.

Radio 4 is fractionally up in reach on the quarter and fractionally down on the year. Hours are down 0.8% on the quarter, and a much more significant 8.1% down on the year. But of course, Q4 2016 was a US Presidential election quarter!

Radio 4 Extra reported some record figures being healthily up in reach and hours on both the previous quarter and previous year. It reached 2.26m reach and 13.3m hours this time around.

Five Live had quite a decent bounce from last quarter, up 7.6% in reach. That’s still 4.6% down on the previous year, but there’s a relatively new daytime schedule still bedding in, with some recent further tweaks that won’t yet have hit RAJAR.

Five Live Sports Extra had a small amount of Ashes commentaries in this quarter, although much of the Australian tour will come in Q1. What’s more, there was more summer sport in Q3, so this quarter saw sizeable falls.

6 Music didn’t have a record set of numbers! It was down a little in reach, although up on the quarter in hours. It ticks along very nicely.

Classic FM had a really good set of numbers, up 4.4% on the quarter in reach (up 5.7% on the year), and even greater gains in terms of hours.

Absolute Radio had a good set of numbers too, with reach up 10.9% on the quarter (up 5.9% on the year) and hours up 5.9% on the quarter (up 16.3% on the year). That represents easily the best reach the station has had since it rebranded as Absolute Radio back in 2008. Hours are also at a record level.

Talksport falls a little from last quarter in reach, down 2.2% on the quarter (down 4.8% on the year). More worryingly, hours fell 17.5% on the quarter (down 8.8%) on the year. The only thing I’d note is that there was quite a big swing last quarter, so some of this might be “correction.” The station is benefiting from News UK cross-promotions however, with regular ads to be found in both The Sun and The Times, but I wonder if it needs further refreshment?

It’s sister station Talksport 2 remains a little challenged, with reach down 9.1% on the quarter (but up 5.8% on the year) at 311,000. Hours are more stable, but there is still work to be done in establishing what the station really is – since it’s more than simply a spillover station as Five Live Sports Extra is.

The last few weeks have seen some big changes in the Talkradio line-up with some significant programming investment going into the station – not least signing up Eamonn Holmes, and moving Julia Hartley-Brewer to breakfast in place of Paul Ross. Of course, we’ll have to wait until next quarter to see the first fruits of these changes. In the meantime reach fell 5.5% on the quarter (down 4.0% on the year), while hours rose 6.9% on the quarter (and more than doubled on the year).

The Absolute Radio Network had a great set of figures, closing in on nearly 5m a week across the portfolio of services – a new record. The network was up 4.4% on the quarter (up 3.7% on the year), while hours were up 2.9% on the quarter (up 2.7% on the year). The main Absolute Radio service was the best performer, but it’s notable that Absolute Radio 90s has just won “promotion” to the national D1 multiplex. It’s interesting that Bauer chose not to shuffle the deck a bit and put Absolute 80s back on D1, and put 90s on D2 which has lower coverage. Absolute 80s launched in 2009, and we are now nearly ten years on. Does that mean that 90s is the new 80s, and 80s is in fact what we’d have previously called a “gold” format?

I tend to think that Absolute is being quite smart making a play for 90s, as demographics mean that those in their 30s-40s today grew up with 90s music in their teenage years.

As for Absolute 80s? Well it’s battling on with Heart 80s, and while it’s still ahead, things are getting tight. Recall that Heart 80s has the better D1 coverage.

Absolute 80s fell 3.8% in reach on the quarter (down 3.6% on the year), to 1.47m. Hours fell more down 12.6% on the quarter (down nearly 27% on the year) to 6.4m.

Heart 80s is still on a few months old, but it grew 7.4% in reach to 1.17m, while hours grew 25.3m to 6.1m. That means that the station is on course to overtake Absolute 80s in terms of listening perhaps as soon as next quarter. We’ll have to wait and see about reach.

That raises some interesting questions about loyalty. It turns out that only 200,000 people listen to both stations, suggesting that there’s more than simply having “80s” in your station name. But Heart does seem to be persuading people to make the switch.

Returning to Absolute Radio for a moment, the big question there must be who replaces Christian O’Connell who has recently announced that he will be moving to Australia to take up a new challenge in Melbourne. His reach of 2.1m is second only to Rickie, Melvin and Charlie on Kiss in the commercial radio world, and he’s going to be a tough act to follow. The obvious choice would be Dave Berry who looks to have quickly settled in at Drive on Absolute. But changes in breakfast presenters are always tricky times.

Elsewhere in Bauer, the Magic Network performed well with both reach and hours up. The 3.9m reach of the network is a new record for them. The main Magic station is also doing well.

Kiss is largely speaking flat on the quarter with only small changes, although it’s up on the year. Kisstory is down in reach and hours on the quarter, but it up on the year. Kiss Fresh starts from a lower based, but it up in reach and hours both on the quarter and the year.

Over with Global, the Heart Network saw some falls, with reach down 5.1% on the quarter (down 8.3% on the year), while hours fell 2.9% on the quarter (down 10.2% on the year). There’s a similar story with the Heart Brand which incorporates more than the main network. In London, there’s certainly been some marketing activity recently – I noticed that some of the current bus ads have actually put the FM frequency on them, something that many radio brand ads have shied away from in recent years. But I can’t definitively pinpoint what marketing was done in this quarter nationally.

Capital too has a current marketing campaign underway, in London at least, where they are still trying to bed in Roman Kemp on their breakfast show. Nationally, as with Heart, the network is down a bit, with reach down 4.1% on the quarter (down 4.5% on the year), while hours fell 7.5% on the quarter (down 5.0% on the year).

Radio X is doing well nationally with its best ever figures. Reach is up 3.7% on the quarter (and up a massive 26% on the year), while it’s also up 11.7% on the quarter (and up 26% on the year). Global has invested heavily here, and it looks to be beginning to pay off for them.

LBC is down a little on the quarter, but still up nearly 20% in reach on the year. It seems to have settled at just over 2m listeners a week nationally.

Overall commercial radio fell from 45.3% of all radio listening last quarter to 44.2% of listening this quarter. (It’s still up from last year’s 43.9% however).

On the other hand BBC radio grew from 52.1% of listening to 52.8% of listening this quarter. However it was at 53.5% this time last year.


As ever, London sees a certain amount of movement. Things are tight amongst the commercial stations with Capital London just pipping Kiss for the biggest audience in terms of reach.

Capital was down fractionally to 2.1m (although up nearly 22% on the year), while Kiss had a big 8.2% jump to 2.0m reach (up 8.8% on the year).

The tables are turned in terms of listening time however, with Kiss coming out ahead of Capital. Kiss actually saw a fall of 7.2% on the quarter (and a rise of 13.5% on the year), showing just how changeable the London marketplace is. On the other hand Capital’s hours fell more, down 9.2% on the quarter (but up 28% on the year!).

However, LBC still owns the commercial listening crown in London despite also seeing a fall in hours of 7.6% (down 1.6% on the year). Reach was nicely up 9.5% on the quarter (up 15.2% on the year) to 1.2m.

Absolute Radio had a decent reach result in London, up 5.0% on the quarter (up 22% on the year), although hours were down nearly 21% on the quarter (up 22% on the year).

The other station to note in London is Radio X, with its strongest London performance since it rebranded from Xfm. Reach grew 6.5% on the quarter (up 18% on the year), while hours jumped 31% on the quarter (up 12% on the year).

Finally BBC London had a good quarter, increasing 26% in reach on the quarter (and 60% on the year), while hours were up 59% on the quarter (and 99% on the year). It has to be said that BBC London’s figures have been all over the place in recent quarters, hence some of those gains. But reach is in line with recent quarters even if hours seem remarkably high.

Overall those BBC London figures contributed towards a better quarter for the BBC in London than commercial radio. While commercial radio is still ahead of the BBC with 50.3% listening in the capital, it has fallen back from 54.7% last quarter. However it’s still better for commercial than a year ago when the BBC had a rare victory in London.

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 [probably*] 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 18 December 2017, 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.

* The day RAJAR comes out probably isn’t the best time to go for a meal and still leave yourself time to write up what’s happening!

No Sense of an Ending

Warning: This piece contains spoilers for the 2014 series Amber, 2014 series The Missing and 2018 series Kiri.

There has been a trend in recent years for drama series to give is slightly more nuanced endings than we have sometimes expected. Perhaps all the questions haven’t been answered. Perhaps its unclear by the end, which characters have behaved in a honourable fashion. We’ve had heroes. We’ve had anti-heroes.

And then there are series where the story just isn’t neatly wrapped up. Sometimes that might because the way the show was produced meant it wasn’t possible (e.g. Lost – where writers needing to write 20 episodes a year neither kept track nor really cared if there wasn’t an ending that made sense), or because the writer wanted to leave things that way.

We know that real life doesn’t come neatly packaged up. A terrible murder is committed, but the police never catch the killer. Years after someone is convicted, evidence shows a wrongful conviction and someone is freed. (How many other wrongful convictions are there?)

A good example of this would be the RTÉ 4-part series Amber. I saw it when it was broadcast on BBC Four in the UK. It follows the story of a young teenager who has gone missing. We saw the story over an extended period of time, starting in the immediate hours and days, and then running into weeks and months after the disappearance. In the end, we never truly discovered what happened to the girl. And that’s probably realistic in many cases of disappearance. Did the person run away? Were they murdered? Who knows.

BBC One’s The Missing also entered similar territory, again leaving us with no satisfying conclusion after eight hours of television.

It’s certainly brave television making. Audiences tend to expect murder series to resolve the key plot points – who murdered who and why. Ideally they also want to see the murderer caught.

I want my television to make demands of me. I know that murderers aren’t all caught, and missing people aren’t always found. There are miscarriages of justice, and there are cases of poor policing.

But that doesn’t really excuse not providing an ending of any kind after I’ve made an investment in a series. Jack Thorne’s Kiri is a case in point. The series is about the disappearance and murder of a young girl. She’s a black child living with white foster parents, but has let the child visit her birth grandparents where the child is able to meet her birth father despite the social worker believing the parent and grandparent to be estranged.

When the child is reported missing and then is found dead, suspicion falls on the father, who has been found guilty of neglect and other drug offences. He runs away, but is persuaded to hand himself in, and due process is then followed.

The tale is tragic on many levels, since a “good” social worker loses her job, the father is revealed not to have been the murderer and true murderer – the foster father – is never caught by the police, his family covering up his heinous crime.

The whole piece is immaculately acted by a strong cast, and the direction gives a good sense of setting around Bristol. This is a classy piece of work. It also examines race, class, social workers and the police. And the story is pacily told. This might be four hours of drama, but it never sits still. The dialogue is authentic and its genuinely a lean piece.

And yet, it didn’t have an ending that could be called in any way satisfying. As the true details of events were slowly released to us as viewers, we obviously rooted for the police to capture the true murderer, and yet as the clock ticked on towards 10pm in the final episode, it was clear that this wasn’t going to happen.

OK. So the murderer gets off. What about the innocent father? Things aren’t looking good for him, despite evidence existing that showed that the foster mother lied to police to put the blame squarely on him. Well we never find out, because the last we see of him is showing up at court.

Is he found guilty? We don’t know.

Does the foster mother, who has had the truth heavily hinted at by her oddball son, leave her murderous husband? We don’t know.

Does the son who knows everything, tell anyone what he knows? We don’t know.

I think it was the fact that we weren’t told the outcome to the trial that really annoys me. Of course life isn’t neatly wrapped up. But there is a court case, and we surely deserve the right to learn what happened. If the series was true to form, the birth father would have been wrongly found guilty, but even that we viewers were denied.

This just left me generally nonplussed by the entire story. While this wasn’t a police procedural, and a series of pat solutions would have been wrong, I just feel that the story really had no ending at all.