2018 Media Predictions

It’s that time of year when, because not a lot else is going on, and pages need to be filled, everyone is busily predicting what might happen in 2018.

So here are my bold and not so bold predictions in the coming year across the media industry.

  • A streamer will win some Premier League rights. Having written at length about this process, and not really come to a strong conclusion that it makes sense for any of the big players to get involved in the Premier League rights auction, I can still foresee 1-2 packages going to them just because the Premier League probably thinks it has rinsed as much as it really can out of BT and Sky.
  • Digital advertising will continue to grow, but continue to have major questions asked of it. How much of digital advertising is fraud? How much of it actually works? Does anyone at all actually click on an advert unless it’s a mistake? Google Chrome is introducing it’s “ad-blocker” in February, and advertising that doesn’t adhere to the Coalition for Better Ads guidelines will get blocked. That will clean up part of the problem, in that the worst offenders will be disincentivised some of the worst practices. But that’s not really enough. Lots of agencies are getting asked lots of questions, and yet the money keeps flowing their way. Incidentally, an ever greater part of the digital advertising world is becoming owned by IT services companies like Accenture. Could Publicis or WPP actually get bought by one of these?
  • Radio listening among younger audiences will decline. I don’t think I’m letting the cat out of the bag with this one. While overall reach has held, and probably will continue to hold up, time spent listening to those services will decline amongst younger audiences. They’re spending too much time on YouTube, Spotify and Amazon. See every RAJAR summary I’ve published in the last couple of years for more.
  • Smart speakers will be everywhere. With the basic models going for £35 this Christmas, and near enough every portable BlueTooth speaker likely to include either Google Assistant or Alexa in the coming months, these speakers will be everywhere regardless of whether you think you need one or not. I’m not certain that everyone will be controlling their lighting and heating with them, as that involves spending considerably more money on technology, but it does make audio listening easier, and for things like news, sport and weather, they’re terrific. Some naysayers think the impact is overblown, but while they won’t reach everywhere, they definitely will be of use to a decent proportion of the population. And you can definitely expect an uptick in internet listening overall. I’m less certain that devices like the Amazon Show or worse, the Amazon Spot (alarm clock with an internet connected camera that you’re supposed to put on your bedside table) will quite hit the mark however.
  • No real changes in UK radio’s structure. DCMS recently published a fairly groundbreaking document that sets out to remove most regulation surrounding UK local radio. Stations will broadly speaking be able to do what they want. So expect Capital and Heart to go fully networked for example, while programmers will be able to play whatever music (or speech) they deem their audience wants to hear. Except that none of this will happen in 2018. Primary legislation is required to do it, and for the most part, Brexit is tying up nearly every part of Government. If anything, the pressure is only going to ramp up in 2018 to get that work done. “Unimportant” things like radio deregulation will have to sit and wait.
  • We will reach “Peak TV.” Many might think that we’re already at “Peak TV” with every network under the sun commissioning “original content” as a way to stand out against IP delivered interlopers like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. But now Apple and Facebook are entering the game, and the volumes will be ridiculous. I do think that some of these players will be challenged. Facebook isn’t going to be able to do edgy fare, so it will find it as hard to cut through as a US network might. In other words, it will take many attempts to get a hit. I don’t see Apple really having the ability to do that either. It’s worth remembering that you don’t just make good TV by throwing money at the problem. And making these shows work globally is near impossible. Different parts of the world have very different expectations. Nonetheless, TV reviewers are going to have their work cut out. In the meantime, as Disney swallows Fox (including Sky TV and Star TV), they will be transitioning their business from broadcast to IP at a faster rate. Others will follow.
  • Local news will reach a crisis point. More major stories will be missed in UK regions because, aside from the BBC, and a handful of modestly sized regional news operations, there will be no journalists to cover them.

From my own perspective, I’m vowing to do at least some of the following:

  • Watch back everything that’s still saved up on my Sky+ unwatched (including a couple of things recorded off the BBC HD channel!)
  • Get through a few more DVD boxsets that I have kicking around.
  • Books. Always books to be read.
  • Listen to more radio – in particular music radio. I spend too much time listening to speech, and while I listen to both my own music and streaming music, it doesn’t introduce me to nearly as much new music as the radio can, by placing it in context.

Programmes I Know I Should Have Seen But Haven’t – Stuck in Draft #6

Here’s a slightly enlarged piece I wrote back in 2015 or so, but never got around to finishing. So I’ve had a bit more of a bash at it, but still feel it makes the grade as part of my Stuck in Draft series.

In David Lodge’s Changing Places, the English faculty play a game called Humiliation. Basically, they have to name classic of English literature that they’ve not themselves actually read. The winner is the person who’s not read the biggest acknowledged classic.

This isn’t quite the same for me since I’m not teaching “contemporary television” or whatever such a course might be called. But I’ll admit that there are a lot of shows that I’ve not seen which others will be shocked/disgusted/surprised/pitiful that I’ve not seen. Or perhaps I’ve only watched an episode or so, but given up far too early.

Here’s some of the list, concentrating for the most part on drama, and excluding soaps (never seen an episode of Coronation Street) or reality shows (have never watched Gogglebox, for example):

  • Breaking Bad
  • Futurama
  • Mad Men
  • The Good Wife
  • The Crown
  • Peaky Blinders
  • Wolf Hall
  • Big Little Lies
  • The Leftovers
  • Catastrophe
  • Orange is the New Black
  • Modern Family
  • Last Tango in Halifax
  • Boardwalk Empire
  • Deadwood
  • Queer as Folk

Some of these I will get around to, and many I won’t. It’s not a complete list, and just because something’s not on it, it doesn’t mean that I’ve seen all of it. For example, I bailed on The Sopranos before it ended, I got lost with Lost, and I’ve never seen the final season of The West Wing.

At least two of those series are sitting with every episode on my Sky+, while for two others I have DVDs or Bluray boxsets to attack at some point.

But there’s so much decent TV now, let alone all the rubbish TV we would put up with in between the good stuff!

11 Reasons I Hate Listicles – Stuck in Draft #5

Here’s a short piece I wrote years ago. Published here as part of my Stuck in Draft series.

First things first – I’m not even sure that “listicles” is a real word. However I expect it pop up in the OED in due course because so much “journalism” is today being built around lists. So I’ll use the word anyway.

  1. Listicles are those things that sites like Buzzfeed has made inordinately popular. Although popularised on the web, they really come from magazines where lists have been a staple for many years. There was a time when the average woman’s magazine had to have lots of numbers all over the front cover to persuade readers to buy it.

Wait, wait, wait.

I’m not going to continue in list format, especially as it’s so reductive.

The main problem I have with this list-format of writing is that it’s very simplistic and doesn’t allow writers to build or develop arguments. Instead there are 15 reasons for this, or 7 reasons for that. There are the best 38 things of a certain type. It’s arbitrary, and is a pointless marketing exercise. Has anyone read the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.

Yes, they become very easy to read, and for a certain type of website, they drive an awful lot of page views. It’s impossible to imagine Buzzfeed even existing without listicles.

Lists have their place. They can be an effective way of managing or presenting information. The top ten is indeed a list, in order, of the best selling tracks this week (assuming it’s based on sales). In that regard it’s a useful and accurate portrayal of something. A list of the longest rivers in the world makes a great deal of sense (assuming you can determine where the sources of either the Amazon or the Nile truly are). But arbitrary lists based on the whim of an author working desperately to deadline are just a waste of space.

Wicken Fen: A Cycle Ride from Ely to Cambridge – Stuck in Draft #4

Here’s a cycle ride I took in April 2016. I think the winter and spring months are quite a nice time to do this ride. It’s not especially demanding and is easy to reach from London with direct trains from King’s Cross. Another in my series, Stuck in Draft.

Reading Rain recently, I realised that it had been a while since I last visited Wicken Fen, the National Trust owned wetland fen in rural Cambridgeshire. It’s a wonderful little paradise that shows how the fens would have looked before they were managed by man. The fenlands are very arable, so over years, a complicated system of ditches, dykes, pumps and droves has led to the marshes being drained and many crops being grown.

At Wicken Fen the National Trust has a 100 year vision to take over more of the land between Wicken and Cambridge and to preserve a unique natural habitat.

I suspect that most people drive to Wicken, but it’s pretty easy to get to via bike, which is of course how I travelled there. The closest station to the reserve is at Ely, but it’s a nice ride to continue on afterwards back to Cambridge. Ely is very easy to get to from central London, with three trains an hour leaving King’s Cross, the fastest taking a little over an hour.

The route I took, shown on the linked Strava map below, is actually not the one I’d fully recommend. My route took me along the A142 from Ely a bit too much, and although this isn’t a terrible road to cycle along, traffic does past you at speed. It’s worth noting that much of the landscape here is very exposed, so even a slight wind will be felt by you.

I’d instead recommend following the Sustrans National Cycling Route 11 which runs along the Ouse before turning SE and towards Wicken. The only thing to note about this, and other parts of the route, is that they’re not suitable for cyclist with skinny racing tyres.

My slightly duller route joined up with Route 11 at Barway, where a large grocery packing plant sits alone in the fens. An adjacent hostel suggests that many of the workers are not local. And continuing on, a sign in both English and Polish warning drivers to be on the lookout for cyclists, backs that up.

It only takes a little over half an hour to reach the reserve itself, down a short road in the village of Wicken itself. You pass a car park and several houses before reaching the visitor centre.

I would say that I’d arrived early, but the site is open from dawn to dusk, and now that we’re on British Summertime, that would have meant 6:30am – far too early for me to reach Wicken via public transport from London. Nonetheless, even a little past 9:00am, there were few about.

A helpful staff member pointed out the various routes around the reserve, and where was currently accessible. As these are wetlands, much of the land is inaccessible for large parts of the year. Sedge Fen has a Boardwalk allowing access year around, and that’s where most visitors go. Beyond that there is the longer loop that takes in a couple of the bigger hides that tower over the nearby fens. When I visited this was an out-and-back walk since the ground was still too wet towards the back of the reserve.

The National Trust also has cycle hire, a nice little café where I got a snack for lunch, and a well stocked shop. You can do short boat trips, and they even have some geocaches hidden around the reserve!

One solution for being able to get into the reserve early might be to camp, and I note that there’s a wild camp nearby that you can reserve for a group – especially good for families.

I got back on my bike and headed south, still in Trust-owned fens. The cycle route is well signed and you’re soon out in open land.

I’d brought my kite with me since I thought it might be fun to try some more kite aerial photography. There wasn’t a great deal of wind, but it was enough to get my camera up into the air. Not as fancy as my drone, but it’s much more packable in a runsack, and I’m not sure that the Trust would have been happy with me buzzing around with rotors, whereas a kite is harmless.

The cycle route is also called the Lodes Way, because it reaches the pretty village of Lode near another National Trust property, Anglesey Abbey. But also because lodes are what the manmade waterways that criss-cross the countryside in these parts are called. Lode is a pretty little village, filled with thatched cottages (alongside some more recent buildings). I’d have called in at the Abbey, but the car-park suggested that it was quite busy, so I decided to give it a miss.

From Anglesey Abbey, I should have perhaps headed south a little further to the village of Bottisham, before joining National Cycle Route 51, but I instead cycled along the B1102 through the village of Stow cum Quy before rejoining the route and riding into Cambridge. If you’re lucky you might pass the end of Cambridge Airport’s runway when something interesting lands.

The massive new CyclePoint at Cambridge Station has recently opened, with room for nearly 3,000 cycles, perhaps the closest anywhere in Britain to those enormous cycle parks you see near Dutch train stations. In due course there will also be an attached shop. But the whole area around the front of the station is still something of a work-site at the moment.

The whole trip at 36 km (22 miles) is a nice day out – especially if the weather is good.

Google and Podcasts – Stuck in Draft #3

This is another of my Stuck in Drafts series – where I dig into things I had largely written months or even years ago – and get around to publishing them. This one is a little unusual in that it was penned back in April 2016, and I’ve left it alone. However, I’ve added some extra notes detailing where things have moved on a little, or where they haven’t.

So finally, months after first announcing that they were coming, podcasts have landed at Google Play Music – the inelegantly named platform that Google uses to distribute audio.

As a matter of fact, podcasts have arrived in the US and Canada. For the rest of us, they’re a way off. Nobody quite knows how far off though. December 2017 update: They’re still now here.

So if you live in North America, or can fire up a VPN to make it look like you live in North America, you get a new look Google Play Music website. Actually, everyone gets a new look GPM (can I shorten it to that?) because they’ve adopted a new logo.

Regular readers will know that I use GPM for my general music playing. As well as offering a music store, and a Spotify-a-like £9.99 all-you-can-eat streaming service, they allow you to store your music collection of up to 50,000 tracks in the cloud.

GPM has also adopted Songza quite widely. In the US, you can listen to free “radio” services based on time of day, location and genre of music. Outside the US, these stations are only available to paid subscribers, but they’re smart and are well tailored to what you might be looking for – Party Music on a Friday night, or Soundtracks to get through the work day.

As well as gaining an extra tab on the left labelled Podcasts, North American users now also have a choice of podcast playlists/”radio stations. These might be labelled “Learning Something New” or “Getting Lost in a Story,” and pull together individual episodes of podcasts into a playlist of thematically related material.

You can also subscribe to podcasts as you do regularly with other providers. Discovery of podcasts remains a major issue, with often static iTunes charts being the key way to surface new material. But the range and breadth of podcasts being made is far wider than those charts often show users. So the opportunity for Google to point listeners in new podcasts directions is not to be under-estimated.

That all said, I was a little underwhelmed by the whole thing, and it felt a little like a soft-launch of a product. So while I might be sitting in the UK slightly miffed at not being able to shift to a Google platform just yet, I’m not sure I’d be ready to anyway.

As ever, the real issue with a potentially massive inventory is finding a way to reveal your wares to customers in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them. It’s the same issue that iTunes and Netflix have, and Google hasn’t cracked this nut yet.

Initially you see just a handful of podcasts available. A drop-down reveals a selection of familiar categorisations, each of which reveals a further limited selections of offerings within those categories.

What you quickly notice is that the vast majority of podcasts visible are American.

This is perhaps unsurprising for a number of reasons:

– The majority of podcasts in English are probably American
– The new service is targeted at North Americans
– The portal for podcasters to list their podcasts is geo-blocked to North American IP addresses

Of course that doesn’t mean that there aren’t workarounds including keen non-American podcasters using VPNs to get their shows listed, but it certainly mitigates against the wider world.

Given that most podcasts find significant audiences in North America, that means that American users probably aren’t in a position to migrate to Google from their current suppliers unless they’re happy to have an incomplete experience.

But Google is perhaps looking at the bigger picture and not really trying to replace services that already exist. I couldn’t say with any certainty that I will be ditching PocketCasts as my preferred podcasting solution anytime soon, even if podcasts are made available in the UK, and the “catalogue” is as complete as iTunes’/PocketCasts one one is.

The bigger opportunity is for those who don’t currently listen to podcasts, and find the situation complicated and confusing. For those new users, this might be open up a new world of audio.

And putting podcasts into search could be massive. If a Google search reveals a relevant episode of a podcast, that could be a massive driver of discovery and growth. With speech to text improving all the time, Google might have the ability to index audio and deliver programmes in a smart way.

December 2017 addendum: Podcasts still haven’t found their way into Google Play Music, but there are rumours afoot that that GPM is due a major upgrade and perhaps podcasts will form part of that. There remains a massive opportunity for podcasts were Google to place a standard app on its phones as part of the Android ecosystem. But that’s obviously also a threat for third-party podcast providers.

What Google does now do is surface podcasts in search. If you ask something like a Google Home Mini to play a podcast, it can do so. The same on your phone. It’ll remember where you are and let you continue. It’s by no means a perfect experience, but Google is at least surfacing podcasts for its users, and that can only help even if they’re not really providing a very good overall experience.

This topic deserves a bigger return to it in 2018.

The Olympics: Celebrating Success or Jingoism? – Stuck in Draft #2

I wrote this over a year ago, and never quite got around to publishing it. Hence it now forms part of my Stuck in Draft series.

And so another Olympics have concluded and from where I sit it has been a success.

Let me clarify that a little. Team GB has undoubtedly been successful. But there’s a much wider context when you look at the Olympics.

These include:

  • The cost to the host nation of holding the Olympics
  • The IOC
  • The wider geo-politics of the Olympics (e.g. Russia’s participation)
  • The commercialism
  • The zika virus
  • A green diving pool
  • Competing nations’ reactions

And there are many more besides.

It’s clear that hosting the Olympics is just ridiculously expensive, and it will be interesting to see what happens in upcoming Olympic cycles. Brazil probably thought it could afford the Olympics when they won in 2006, but ten years on, and the world economy had changed not least in Brazil itself.

So while state employees weren’t being paid, and poverty is endemic, millions are being spent, perhaps unnecessarily. Winning both the World Cup and Olympics in a short space of time seems one too many global sports events at the same time.

Beyond that we’ve had the spectre of empty seats in nearly every arena. We know that tickets are vastly expensive for the local population, but surely filling those seats should be a massive priority for any organising committee? Give the tickets away if need be. Surely you make some money back on over-priced snack concessions.

It’s somehow hilarious that Irish IOC member, Patrick Hickey, was arrested for ticket-touting when from several thousand miles away it seemed that availability of tickets really wasn’t a problem (with the exception of the Maracaña for the men’s football final).

And with a reported 12% of Paralympic ticket sales sold so far, there’ll be even more blue empty seats next time around. Recall that Brazil sent the fourth largest team to London in 2012 and were 7th on the medal table. Those would suggest that it’s taken seriously.

The IOC have shown themselves to be essentially unreformed. They couldn’t take decisive action against state doping carried out by Russia, leaving it to the Paralympic Committee to show who had some balls. Sadly the Paralympics are suffering a dire shortage of cash. The IOC is rolling it, but don’t expect any bailouts. “Nothing to do with us squire…”

And they treated the whistleblower of state-sponsored Russian doping, Yuliya Stepanova, with distain. Already in hiding in the US, and not allowed to compete at these games (plenty of other ex-dopers did compete), the president of the IOC, Thomas Bach actually said the following: “We are not responsible for dangers to which Ms. Stepanova may be exposed.”

So to the average Brazilian, the Olympics may or may not have been a sideshow – at least until they won the men’s football final with a Neymar penalty, or the men’s volleyball final. But that doesn’t automatically make the Olympics per se a bad thing.

The British team has done superbly, exceeding the medal total for 2012 – something that’s never previously been achieved after a home Olympics.

They finished second in the medals table (the table being unofficial, and weighted towards gold medals), notably ahead of China.

There are two key reasons for these things: lottery money and China under-performing.

Lottery money is significant. At £4m a medal, there seems to be a fairly direct correlation between Olympic success and the amount a nation invests. In the UK this is funded by state lottery run by a for-profit organisation, Camelot. Most know that when they buy a lottery ticket, they know that some of their cash goes to these athletes and their programmes.

Indeed 25% of lottery money goes to “lottery projects” of which sport gets 20% – so about 10p of every £2 ticket.

And of course, we know that the money is targeted at sports who achieve returns on investment: cycling, rowing, yachting and gymnastics for example. Medals are targeted at almost all costs. In the track cycling, many wondered why the GB team had done poorly at the World Championships in London earlier this year, but so well in Rio. The fact was that even though the World Championships were on home turf, the team had focused on peaking their performances in Rio. If that meant under-performing before then, then so be it. Funding is dependent on Olympic success and no other!

Is that the right way of doing things? Probably not. If GB is unlikely to win medals in your sport no matter what (e.g. basketball), then don’t expect any cash coming your way soon. And while it’s great that we support our athletes and allow them to train rather than hold down multiple jobs while they compete in a world that is mostly unprofessional, that doesn’t necessarily help at grass roots levels. Those pitches and swimming pools still need to be there and accessible.

The scariest single statistic I’ve read in the last few week is that 52% of children leave school unable to swim 25m unaided. That’s simply shocking.

And what about China? Well they under-performed badly, and no doubt there’ll be inquests into why. Possibilities include a natural down-shift following a home Olympics. Everyone raises their game to perform well at home, later metaphorically breathing out when the games are over. GB seems to be bucking that trend, but Tokyo 2020 will be interesting.

There’s also the changes happening in Chinese society. Olympians are bigger stars now – and that brings with it distractions when you perhaps have some money when once you didn’t.

Finally, the cat and mouse game of drugs cheats and drug detection continues. Who knows if that is a reason.

The fact that a peak audience of around 7m people watched the British women’s hockey team defeat the Netherlands on Friday night, or that 2m stayed up until nearly 2am on Sunday morning to watch Mo Farah win the 5000m, shows that the Olympics do bring us together as a nation like no other sports event.

Newspapers are full of Olympic pull-outs and “Gold Medal special editions.” Welcome home parades are being planned for Manchester and London. The BBC Sport website saw record views with 68.3m unique browsers in the UK alone, compared with 39m in 2012.

Something to do with a post-Brexit proudness? I doubt it. If anything, the Olympics gives Britons a two-week holiday from unending political turmoil.

Are we getting value for money for our Olympic success? I’d answer yes. It’s not the be all and end all of what we need to do for sport on a wider level. The broader Olympic “legacy” of 2012 does not seem to have emerged in terms of participation. But I know I’m a lot happier seeing lottery money being spent on gold medals than public money on things like useless “garden” bridges across the Thames.

Finally, is the coverage celebratory or jingoistic? BBC coverage of the Olympics was clearly skewed towards events that the GB team does well in. How else to explain primetime Taekwondo? If you’re a fan of handball or archery, you had to look to the digital channels.

But we’re probably no different to any other nation in that regard. From speaking to friends across the Atlantic, it would seem that from an NBC perspective, there were no other nations aside from the US competing in any event! Then again, with so many US medalists, which you’d expect US TV to cover, that wouldn’t leave a lot of time for anything else.

At least we don’t get the X-Factor style sob-stories attached to every single athlete. How they overcome adversity to get to these games. Etc etc etc.

If I had a criticism, it would be a few too many montages that ran way too long, and were aired way too many times. And when commentators cross the line and become fans, that becomes awkward. That’s especially the case where they’re essentially hoping the non-British competitors make a mistake and get that dive wrong, or fail to clear that fence.

It’s always a problem when many of the commentators are either ex-competitors, and quite often friends of the athletes.

And there’s often too much expectation shown. Despite their quality, we can never be certain in events like Track Cycling or the 10,000m that our guy or gal is going to deliver the goods. Yet they sometimes were presented as nailed on certainties, and that’s simply not the case.

One other thing from a UK perspective.

Can’t we just shift Eastenders to BBC2 for a couple of weeks? It would stop a lot of needless channel changing. Stick the Ten O’Clock news there too. Then there wouldn’t be complaints about the news being delayed (complaints from people who for some reason had access to BBC 1 but curiously not the BBC News Channel, which was happily broadcasting the news at 10pm each night).

Sadly, I’m not sure that this will be an issue in four years’ time since the timings of the games will mean nothing live in peak, and it’s unclear how much digital coverage the BBC will be able to provide under their deal with Discovery/Eurosport.

Blade Runner 2049

Note: There will be spoiler elements to this. So if you’ve not yet seen Blade Runner 2049, and you plan on doing so, you may want to skip this piece.

I’ve been meaning to write about this for weeks now, having been both dreading and eagerly anticipating this film since I heard it was being made.

You should probably know from the outset, that the original Blade Runner is one of my favourite films of all time. Even though I first fell in love with it when it still came with the awful Harrison Ford voiceover, and an ending that used B-roll footage from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, it was this film more than anything that

You do need to place the original Blade Runner in perspective. It came in the years following the massive success of the original Star Wars trilogy, and at the time, that set the tone for what life in a science fiction world would be like. Basically clean and lovely. You could also look to Star Trek or even Forbidden Planet for examples of this. Director Ridley Scott had added a lot of grunge to science fiction when he’d made Alien. No longer were spaceships brightly lit white corridors. Instead, we had an industrial setting, with dimly lit nights, steam, and echoing metallic clanging. It was more like a power station, and less like a hospital.

Then along came Blade Runner, and in a few opening shots, we had a fully featured world. Yes, there are flying cars, but everyone on earth who is able to, has already gone to one of the “off-world colonies.” Behind are left just those at the edges of society. This is inner-city science fiction. It’s also science fiction noir. Everything takes place at night – a heavy smog and near constant rain meaning that daylight really never shows its face. Androids and artificiality has taken over from nature. It’s a remarkable piece of world building, conjured up from Philip K Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

And Blade Runner is just beautiful. From the opening shot, as the camera reveals the Los Angeles 2019 skyline – a mix of skyscrapers and lights, with gas flares bursting high into the darkness, as a towering almost pyramidal Tyrell Corporation building is revealed.

When that scene was used in the recent V&A Postmodernism exhibition, it was perfectly placed.

Blade Runner changed how many film and television makers would envision the future. The dirty, grungy, neon-infused worlds that followed, all took their influence from Blade Runner. You could even argue that elements of the first part of the latest Star Wars trilogy takes influence from it. Think of those scenes depicting a crashed star destroyer on Jakku.

Blade Runner, then, made a massive impact on me. I didn’t see it in the cinema on release in 1982. Relatively few did, and in any case, I wasn’t old enough to see a AA film at that time. I think it was probably ITV’s first screening of the film in the mid eighties. It was a post News at Ten screening, and I recorded the broadcast – on cassette. I seem to remember that I knew I should be getting an early night because I had an exam the next day. But obviously I watched it all the way through to Rutger Hauer’s famous speech on the roof in the rain.

I quickly sought out the soundtrack; Vangelis’s music being a major part of the film. However, at the time, the only soundtrack available was a re-recorded version from a group called the New American Orchestra. This was an orchestral recording, eschewing the synthesisers actually used on the soundtrack. (It wouldn’t be until Themes, a Vangelis compilation album, that some actual cues from the film got released, followed by an official album in 1994 – 12 years after the film’s first release. A later 2007 release supplemented this with another 2 CDs’ worth of material).

By now the film had attained something of a cult status. I’d bought a VHS of the film shortly after I’d bought my first video cassette recorder. Later, I would re-buy the film on DVD, and then again on Blu-ray. Of course I’d read Philip K Dick’s novel, and I’d go on to read Paul M Sammon’s book, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner. I went on to watch Mark Kermode’s Channel 4 documentary On the Edge of Blade Runner.

In 1992 we got the Director’s Cut. The different versions of Blade Runner get their own Wikipedia article, from original workprints through to The Final Cut in 2007. But the 1992 release was the first commercially available that removed the widely reviled voiceover that had been foisted on the film by the studio, as well as the excision of the so-called “happy ending.”

The Final Cut was more of a hands-on by Ridley Scott, and the five disc home release included both this, previous versions and a three and a half hour documentary called Dangerous Days.

I saw both the Director’s Cut and the Final Cut in cinemas – the latter at least twice. This was a long way from watching on a 15″ colour TV in my bedroom.

Blade Runner has been with me for much of my life then. And I was wary about the new film.

The good news was that Denis Villeneuve would be directing. He was on a great run of form turning out superb work including Sicario and then the near perfect Arrival. While Scott was to be an executive producer on the film, you worried how much attention he could really give it when he was at the same time working on his latest Alien film, while also being responsible for a wide range of other film and television projects.

For the most part I avoided anything about the film. I didn’t want to watch the trailer or even have any idea of what the story might be about. I did know that Harrison Ford was back for it, although it seemed to me that his wouldn’t be the largest role in the film.

And so it was that I eagerly headed out to see it on its opening weekend. Later, I would go back and see it again, this time at the BFI Imax (ie. “proper” Imax). I should also note that I certainly wasn’t bothering with 3D – on the basis that the film was not made in 3D with stereoscopic cameras.

It’s just fantastic.

I can’t easily convey how much I loved this film. It would have been so easy to have made an average or even bad sequel, but Villeneuve and writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, Fancher having worked on the original film, have turned out something marvellous.

The film looks beautiful – a combination of Roger Deakins’ cinematography and some simply wonderful design and special effects. (It’s all beautifully captured in The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049.)

Years have passed since the original replicants were hunted down, and now K (Ryan Gosling), himself a next-generation replicant, is chasing down remaining escapees and retiring them. He finds Sapper Morton on a farm outside Los Angeles and after dealing with him realises that there are some bones buried under a dead tree. Thus we begin a story that opens a new chapter that is both independent of, and a sequel to the original film.

The beauty of the film is the way the story seamlessly dovetails into the original, while at the same time existing on its own terms. The Wallace Corporation has taken over from the Tyrell Corporation of the original film.

Although he’s a replicant, K is an interesting character. He’s despised wherever he goes – be it the LAPD or the people in his own apartment block. So he takes solace in an artificial intelligence holographic “bot” who can appear in projected form to him. This too is a product of the Wallace Corporation, with its eery Peter and the Wolf audio motif when it boots up.

The bones K has found lead others to believe that Tyrell may have made an incredible breakthrough before the company went bust. If the Wallace Corporation could get hold of it, they could build an army of slaves with even greater efficiency. They ruthlessly chase down the truth.

K meanwhile follows his nose, and in time, that eventually leads him to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), holed up in an abandoned Las Vegas. The design work here is exceptionally stunning. However, others are on K and Deckard’s tail…

The film beautifully captures the ethos of the original. It’s languorous in places, and it is beautifully constructed with a carefully woven plot that holds together with repeat viewing – something many films don’t manage.

It’s good to see that miniatures as well as other kinds of effects were used, because pure digital doesn’t always work. The music is also to be admired. While Jóhann Jóhannsson was originally going to work with Villeneuve as he’d previously done on other films, it didn’t work out and Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch stepped in to work on a version that works well alongside Vangelis’ original score.

Do ignore all the nonsense about how intelligent science fiction can’t work, and the general glee there is in the press when this film didn’t make megabucks. It’s a delight. It may have cost a lot, but it was worth it, and I’d be surprised if it didn’t make it up again in the long run. While the place to see a film like this was always going to be the big screen, the home release should see the filmmakers get their money back, if not turn an enormous profit.

The other thing that many have talked about is the lack of female characters, and the depiction of some of those in the film. While there might seem to be merit in those criticisms, I think that some are missing the point of the [moral] decay of the society being depicted. In any case, some of the strongest characters are female, including Robin Wright’s police chief, and Sylvia Hoecks’ enforcer. And although the main characters are main, women are at the heart of the film.

I’ve now seen the film twice now, and I look forward to seeing it again.

A sidenote on the Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack. As soon as I’d seen the film on the opening weekend, I knew I wanted the soundtrack. Now I still buy music as well as having succumbed to a streaming subscription. But because I may still give up that subscription at some point, I knew that I wanted to own the CD. Yet the a soundtrack was not made available to buy. I hunted around, and only a digital version of it seemed to be available.

There was some kind of limited edition CD soundtrack only available in the US, and limited to just 2049 copies. I went online, but the edition had sold out. However, there was now a second edition of another 2049 copies and I ordered one of these from the US. It wouldn’t ship for another 6 weeks or so, but there was a decent quality mp3 download made available for me to be getting on with.

While I understand music sales have plummeted in recent years, there still seems to be enough demand to warrant the duplication of CD soundtracks surely?

As it turns out, there was. While I was awaiting my limited edition CD, a regular CD release came along, and the album was now available on Amazon or over the counter in places like Fopp. Meanwhile, my CD got a nice customs surcharge as well as an £8 handling fee, which sent the cost of my limited edition CD sky rocketing.

I should have just waited a bit longer…

A Shopping Failure – Stuck in Drafts #1

Note: This was written several months ago, but for some reason I never published it at the time. Hence the “Stuck in Drafts” label.

I recently visited The Cycle Show at the Birmingham. It was an entertaining – if slightly tiring day. Obviously it’s a bit of a trek from my part of North London, heading into Euston and then out again on a Virgin train.

At the NEC itself, it’s always a healthy walk up and down escalators, staircases, and past closed food outlets, before finally reaching the venue. Let’s put it this way: I factored in 15 minutes to make my return train from the venue.

The show itself was pretty good. I headed straight to the interview stage where Vincenzo Nibali was being interviewed on stage by Ned Boulting, with occasional translation help from Matt Rendell. In fact Nibali’s English is pretty decent, but for the finer nuances, he obviously prefers to answer in Italian. And he wasn’t given a completely easy ride with questions about when you should have to wait for a leader who has a mechanical, or his notorious dismissal from the Vuelta when he got a tow. But overall, he was charming, dressed in a very dapper suit, and making a few gags.

He obviously wasn’t at the World Championships in Bergen, preferring to wait for next year’s Innsbruck event. But the show’s proximity to Birmingham International almost certainly helps in getting these big names into the event, as they can do a day return flight, make an appearance, and keep some sponsors happy.

After the interview, Nibali was to be found on the FSA stand signing posters and posing for selfies. I’m now the proud owner of such a poster.

Many – but not all – big brands appear at The Cycle Show. But not all. I was disappointed that Tacx weren’t in evidence, since I’m currently in the market for the quietest cycle trainer I can find, so that I can use one in my second floor flat without sounding like a cement mixer to my downstairs neighbours.

There are a few deals here and there to be had at the exhibition, and I busily snapped a few things that I might be interested in, in the future. Inevitably I came away with several bags worth of stuff, including a cleverly worked out way to protect my signed poster!

My only real complaint is that there is never any obvious coverage of the World Championships which always seem to clash with The Cycle Show. The Tour of Britain takes out a large area, which includes a place to sit down and have a cup of tea or a beer. They have a large screen on which they show… highlights of The Tour of Britain which had taken place weeks earlier. So no, you couldn’t see the women’s World Championship race. I watched highlights when I got in.

At the Madison stand I was intrigued by a shopping bag they were selling – the bikezac. Essentially a bag-for-life with hooks for a pannier rack, this seemed to be exactly what I need to do larger shops, as I’m not a car owner. I bought a pair for £10, being told that they will carry up to 10kg each. The next day I would put them to the test.

I cycled over to Sainsbury’s on my self-built bike, grabbed a trolley and went shopping. Now I do quite a lot of shopping with my bike. Mostly, however, it’s my Brompton being wheeled around in a shopping trolley. The key thing is to not buy more than you are able to carry home.

Each Bikezac is rated for 10kg as I mentioned, and I made sure not to buy too heavy products. They’re made of a material that feels similar to that which Ikea bags are made from, and have decent cloth handles. I packed the bags successfully, although a couple of additional items had to go into a regular carrier which I strapped to the top of my rack.

Sadly within 400m of Sainsbury’s, as I slowly cycled along a shared footpath (the A10 being no fun on a bike), a bag had fallen off. I retrieved it, and checked to make sure that it was securely fastened. On I travelled. Yet only another 100m or so further, and the same bag had fallen off once more.

This was annoying. Fortunately the bag that was slipping did not carry my eggs. As far as I could see, everything was still intact.

I walked the bike off the main road and onto a smaller road, where I gingerly set off again. The surface was smoother, and I cycled slowly to ensure that no bumps in the road would cause any problems.

You can guess what happened next.

Yes – it came off again. This time into the road with traffic swerving to avoid my quickly retrieved shopping. And now I seemed to have a leak. Closer examination revealed that the one litre orange juice carton was a bit beaten up and now no longer contained a litre of juice. Furthermore, it looked like I was planning to “shotgun” a can of Cherry Coke Zero. Those items ended up in the bin, and both the carriers came off the pannier.

I did manage to cycle home, but with both bags hanging off my handlebars.

The bikezacs ended up in the bin within less than 24 hours of me buying them.

So what went wrong? Well a number of things:

  • Open Hooks. The two hooks you use to attach the bag to the bike are open, meaning that any shake can judder the bag off. If you have smooth roads, this might not be a problem, but I found it was for me. Most decent panniers have a system that grabs hold of the pannier and closes things up. These didn’t.
  • Plastic hooks. The plastic used for the plastic used for the hooks bends a bit too much. Therefore, under weight it can give a little.
  • Incompatible Rack. Sadly, I think that my Blackburn rack was also partially the problem. The hooks were slightly in the wrong place to allow both hooks to be “inside” struts. Look carefully at the photo above and you can see one hook is at the rear, allowing the bag to slide along and then off.
  • No lower hook. There’s nothing to hold the bag to the side of the rack. So a knock lets the bag move too far from the side of the rack.

Now the bags do have some clever things like an elastic band to pull the bag shut, and another hook to help with that. But sadly, I simply cannot recommend these bags. While they’re foldable, portable and inexpensive, they just don’t do the job.

I will look for some alternatives. Ortlieb make the Bike Shopper but it’s nearly £70 for a single pannier.

Stuck in Draft

If you follow this blog on a regular basis, you’ll know that my publishing can be a bit hit and miss. Certainly there’ll be something about UK radio ratings at least four times a year (RAJAR), and there’ll be some annotated Radio Times – especially at Christmas. But otherwise, it’s as and when I feel like it.

What you may not know is that sometimes I draft articles and then either don’t quite get around to completing them, or forget to hit publish all together. At time of writing, I have 85 pieces in my draft folder. The majority won’t see the light of day, but some probably should. So during the gap between Christmas and New Year, I’m going to publish a few that I’ve been meaning to post, even if they’re not always as timely as they might have been.