Normal People by Sally Rooney

When a book receives as much hype as Sally Rooney’s Booker longlisted, Costa winning and Waterstones winning novel, it can have a reverse reaction for me. The book sounds like it’s being over-hyped. I begin to think that it can’t possibly live up to expectations. I tend to actively avoid such titles.

But then, I heard an interview with Rooney, and thought I should give it a go. I picked up a copy over Christmas to add to my teetering pile(s) of unread books, and this week settled down to it.

I confess that I really enjoyed it.

The novel is the story of Connell and Marianne, following them from their school days in a small Irish town, through to their time in Trinity College Dublin.

Connell is one of the cool kids – centre forward for his school’s football team and hanging out with the similar types. He’s also smart, doing well in his exams. He has been brought up by his single mother who earns a living as a cleaner at Marianne’s house. Marianne goes to the same school as Connell and is also very smart. But she’s not one of the cool kids. She’s alone at school – perhaps even aloof. Her family has money, but that doesn’t matter – and she’s not part of scene.

Connell and Marianne develop a secret relationship; a relationship that Connell is unwilling to make public for fear of humiliation in front of his peers.

Later, when they’re at university, the tables are turned. Marianne is much more in her element, and it’s Connell who has become more of an outsider.

The novel is told is short fragmentary pieces; we jump a few weeks here – a few months there. Marianne and Connell’s relationship is complex, and their intentions don’t always make sense. But that’s real life, and their story does feel “real.”

I’ve seen some reviews suggest more of this tale

Is the book over-hyped? Quite probably. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good book. I enjoyed it enormously, and it had a very satisfactory conclusion.

Turbulence by David Szalay

This is essentially a book of short stories with a clever over-arching mechanic that links them. Each chapter tells a different story about someone who is somehow travelling between airports.

So the first chapter starts with a flight from London to Madrid. The next story will take us from Madrid to Dakar. And so we will keep travelling until eventually we arrive back in London.

Each story stands alone, but a character met in the last story will feature in the following one. The stories are very readable little sketches. For the most part nothing too life changing happens, yet the sketch is enough that we get a flavour of the lives of the characters. And just as you’re getting comfortable, the story moves on to the next destination and the next character.

It’s a clever construction and while the book is slight, some of the stories will stay with you.

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Ghost Wall was a book that seemed to come up in quite a few of Best of 2018 blogs and articles that I read over Christmas, so I was eager to read this.

It’s an incredibly slim volume, running to around 150 pages, but in packs an absolute punch. I read it across a single day.

Silvie has been dragged along by her father to take part in an archaeological re-enactment in a remote bit of Northumbrian countryside one summer. Her domineering father is a bus-driver by trade, but a man who loves ancient British history to the point that Silvie’s true name is Sulevia, after an ancient British goddess.

Silvie’s mother has also been dragged into spending the time living as an iron-age family might have done, hunting and gathering their own food, living in a period-appropriate hut.

The project is being overseen by a local professor who has also brought a handful of students along for the summer too. But none of them are being forced to endure the full hardship that Silvie’s father is insisting on.

While he’s undoubtedly a fan of iron age history, he is not a nice man. The family have no choice about taking part in the re-enactment.

There’s inherent sexism going on. Silvie’s and her mother are expected to do domestic things while others get to do the more interesting stuff. Her father is slightly distrusting of the students. And more importantly, everything is becoming a little unhinged as the professor and Silvie’s father plot and scheme about some of the less pleasant aspects of iron age society.

Highly recommended.

Man at the Helm and Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe

When Love Nina came out a few years ago, I thought it was one of the funniest books I’d ever read. Nina Stibbe was a young girl from Leicester who’d come down to London to become a nanny. The book is made up of letters sent home describing the goings on the Gloucester Place household. Stibbe was working in the household of Mary-Kay Wilmers, editor of the London Review of Books, and she had a plethora of interesting guests and goings on, as Stibbe becomes to become more aware of the world around her. “Faux naif” would be the wrong way to describe it, because Stibbe absolutely isn’t “faux.”

The book was something of a sensation, and there was even a pretty decent BBC One version made with Faye Marsay and Helena Bonham Carter. Stibbe’s writing career took off and she’s since had a few books published.

Now I have to make an admission. I can be a little like a butterfly when it comes to books, and even something I’m enjoying can be cast aside because there’s something else even more urgent that I simply have to read this instant.

For some reason, that became the case with Man at the Helm, Stibbe’s follow-up novel. Ahead of an upcoming new novel, I picked this back up recently and started afresh. Indeed, I fairly raced through it.

Although this time the book was fiction, I suspect that there are more than one elements of truth in this book. Lizzie is our narrator, and she lives with her sister and younger brother with their mother in a small Leicester village. Her mother is newly divorced, with their father having recently decided he was gay, and a split subsequently happening. The family has moved into a large house in the village, but they are not immediately accepted. A single mother is not someone to move in polite society.

The two daughters decide that the solution is to find a man to take the helm of the household. They draw up a shortlist of suitable nearby men, and begin their matchmaking process.

The book is shot through with humour, with the girls often landing themselves in trouble. The seventies setting is beautifully drawn and certainly feel accurate and of its time. Stibbe has a wicked ear – capturing the kinds of things that sound frankly ridiculous to 21st century ears. Did she keep a diary in her younger years too?

The girls’ mother is a great character. There are scattered excerpt of “plays” that she keeps writing as an outlet of her frustrations – the plays invariably featuring Roderick and Adele discussing the most menial of things.

Paradise Lodge is a direct sequel to Man at the Helm, although you can happily read one without the other. Lizzie is a little older now, having reached her teenage years. She’s not doing fantastically at school to the dismay of her teachers, but she decides to take a job with her best friend at the local old people’s home, Paradise Lodge.

The home seems to be something of a ramshackle affair, run by a man who’s singularly unsuitable to be running such a place. But this also means that the cast of characters who inhabit the place are enormous fun.

The book is great fun, and the naivety of our heroine is again deliciously served.

Books, Books, Books

Tsundoku Canvas Bags

If you’re a reader of this blog via an RSS reader like Feedly then two things are of note:

  • You are very sensible. RSS readers are still excellent ways to stay on top of numerous websites.
  • You are going to see a deluge of book reviews sometime around about now. Read on to discover why.

The reason for the latter is that I’ve been trying to get myself to read a bit more, and so far this year, I’ve been doing a fairly decent job of it.

Partly that’s a consequence of me actually going to get an eye test towards the latter part of last year, and getting some reading glasses. I really hadn’t clocked how uncomfortable it had become reading. As a result, I wasn’t doing as much as I should.

And partly it’s a consequence of me signing up with Netgalley.

Now to be clear, the last thing on earth I need is more books. I think that if I was bed-bound and had no access to the internet or television, I could happily survive on existing unread books for many months and quite possible a year or two. And that’s based on reading voraciously! But Netgalley is something that I was aware of but hadn’t really followed up on until recently. Essentially it’s a way for publishers to get early feedback on new books and to seed some buzz about new titles in a busy publishing environment.

The deal is that users get free access to new books, assuming the publishers provide it, and in return readers offer unbiased and honest reviews which publishers also ask to be posted in places like Amazon. Netgalley is aimed at reviewers, bloggers, librarians and so on. I’ll let you work out how I fit into the mix.

I will always point out when I’ve been provided with a free copy of a book. If I don’t then you can safely assumed that I bought the title myself. The books you get through Netgalley are invariably digital copies, so I read them on a Kindle. You have to request titles on Netgalley, and publishers make their own decisions about whether or not to offer titles. While I’ve been reasonably successful in being given access to most of the titles I’ve requested, that hasn’t been the case 100% of the time. In any event, I only request access to titles that I’d be likely to read anyway.

The one thing I do try to do, is read the book ahead of the title’s publication date. And that “pressure” has definitely seen me read a lot more as a result. That said, the next book I’ll be reading from Netgalley is actually published today so I might miss my target on at least one title. Often, titles are made available on Netgalley months before their publication. I tend to publish here when I’ve read the book, although my cross-posted reviews on Amazon tend to wait until publication day.

Interestingly, all this reading activity means that I’m reading more than just on my commute. In any event, my commute has me battling between choosing to read or listen to podcasts. So much to do and so little time. I carve out reading time elsewhere.

All titles I read on Netgalley will be reviewed here, and usually on Amazon and Goodreads. Feel free to read or scroll past them as you choose. But rest assured that blog is not becoming a book site. It will as always continue to be somewhere where I write about media, post photos and videos, annotated Radio Times pages and anything else I feel like writing about.

In the recent past, I’ve not been so good about logging everything I’m reading, and I’m trying to do more of this now. So you are likely to see more book reviews appearing. In particular, shortly after I post this, there’s likely to be a fair deluge of reviews of other books I’ve read in the first six weeks or so of this year, beyond those already published. For a variety of reasons they’ve been stacking up in draft form, and I need to get them out there. I’ll let you, dear reader, decide whether that’s a threat or a promise!

The Not-Live BAFTA Awards

In 2002, Ant and Dec remade the famous “No Hiding Place” episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads. This was a classic episode of the sitcom where the “lads” tried to avoid learning the result of an away England game, before highlights were shown later that evening on TV.

Something that made some sense when the original version aired in 1974, and when there would have been no live TV options for such a game, made less sense in 2002 when if you didn’t subscribe to the right channel at home, you could just pop around to your local pub to catch the game.

In 2019, there are still those who stay oblivious to the day’s football results until Match of the Day is on, but that means not watching Soccer Saturday or Final Score, not listening to Sports Report or 606, not watching the news, avoiding mobile alerts on your phone, and definitely staying away from social media.

We live in an information obsessed society, where the young especially want to know what’s happening now.

So it’s good to know that there’s still a real throwback to a bygone age that eschews the need to share information instantly. Instead, it’s something that takes a much more lackadaisical attitude to audiences.

I’m talking about The British Academy Film Awards.

Last night saw this annual event, these days coming not live from the Royal Albert Hall. As ever, the actual awards in the RAH start at around 7.00pm, but the TV transmission doesn’t start until 9.00pm.

Some of the consequences of this include:

  • ITV News broadcast the major award winners in their 10pm bulletin, ahead of those awards being shown on BBC One.
  • Ditto Sky News.
  • Anyone with a non-BBC news app installed on their phone could get alerts ahead of those awards being seen on TV. (The BBC’s own news outlets were “self-censoring” the news to avoid spoilers. You could still get the results in real time from the website and app however.)
  • Anyone with any kind of social media account could get the results. It’s not exactly unheard of for someone to open up Twitter when they settle in to an awards show on their sofa, perhaps to critique speeches or outfits with their friends. If you opened Twitter at 9pm last night, most of the results were there.

It’s not as though those in entertainment television don’t understand the importance of live. Series like Strictly, The Voice, X-Factor and many others all have their finals live. Yes – they need viewer votes to work, but they also understand the importance of social media. They want you to share hashtags and keep the conversation going with your friends. If you’re not watching, and your friends are, there can be a FOMO effect. The hosts repeatedly remind the audience that they are LIVE.

I bang on about this every year, and I genuinely don’t understand why changes aren’t made. Not because I moan about it, but because the audience itself moans about it.

I continue to note that in the US, The Oscars, Emmys and Grammys are live. Even the BRITs with all their bad-boys and girls are live on ITV.

I’d love to understand the reasoning for holding out on the whole live thing. Is it:

  • The BBC only wanting a show no earlier than 9pm (Call the Midlife is a ratings hit after all)?
  • BAFTA not being willing to start the show any later than 7pm?
  • Stars not wanting to go to after-parties as late as 11pm? (Have you tried getting home late at night on a Sunday?)
  • Everyone scared that the talent will say something that simply must be edited out?
  • Concern that the show will run long, bumping the news back to 11.30pm?
  • All of the above?

For what it’s worth, the overnight ratings for last night’s BAFTA awards are the lowest ever, with just 3.53m watching. This is despite inheriting an audience of close to 7m from Call the Midlife. Over on ITV, over 5m watched the first episode of a new series of Endeavour.

To put this in context, the audience for these awards has been slipping year after year since around 2013. Could the growth of social media and smartphone app usage negate the need to watch a non-live results show?

I wouldn’t pretend that some of the reasons for the low numbers aren’t related to larger TV audience issues, and this year the big winners were a non-English language film (Roma) and a strange comedy of manners about one of our lesser-known monarchs (The Favourite). But it’s not like big film stars didn’t turn out.

My solution for making the BAFTAs relevant again?

  • Live. Live. Live.
  • Start the show at 7pm and then go live on TV into the main awards at 8pm. You can still show an edited reel of the “lesser” award winners handed out in the 7-8pm hour at a break point later in the show. The Oscars manages to do this.
  • Keep the show simple. No need for elaborate and unfunny sketches. Get straight into handing out awards.
  • Beyond a few nominated songs, and an RIP reel, strip back most of the rest.
  • Turn the Rising Star award into a phone vote. It’s an audience vote anyway, so you may as well galvanise the audience to vote on the evening rather than ahead of time. The award is sponsored by a phone company after all! This seems to work fine with things like Sports Personality of the Year.
  • The presenter’s job should really just be to keep things moving. Comedians tend to work well because they can think on their feet.
  • Plan for a tight two-hour TV show. The UK TV industry should not be short of execs who can work within the constraints of live television.
  • Work with any recipients of lifetime achievement awards in advance to ensure their speeches are the right length.

Otherwise, just remove the thing from TV, and hand out all the awards on a weekday lunchtime at a restaurant somewhere, sending out a press release with all the winners afterwards.

[A Bit Later] The Guardian publishes a very similar article to this one.

“The time delay meant viewers could not tweet along with a live broadcast and feel like they were taking part in the show, something that has helped other live events.”

And from their Winners and Losers page:

“Everybody moans about it, but nothing seems to change: the baffling practice of the Bafta telecast running two and a quarter hours later than real-world events sucks almost every scrap of excitement out of watching the thing. In the age of spoiler-tastic social media, everyone knows the results, so why bother? Presumably the BBC don’t want to give up a prime piece of early Sunday evening TV real estate, and the Baftas want to catch the morning papers’ first editions, but something has got to change. Watching the tuxed and gowned beautiful people spout sententious truisms while thanking their agents is only bearable if there’s actual excitement to be had; the Baftas appear to doing their level best to avoid anything like that happening.”

The Desperate Telegraph

The Daily Telegraph is not doing well right now. It only sells 363,000 paid copies of the printed paper, having long since been overtaken by The Times. Despite being one of the earliest news providers in the UK to have a web presence – eTelegraph anyone? – it feels somehow left behind now. Titles like The Guardian and The Times have much better digital offerings.

Recently the paper has launched a marketing campaign that I’ve particularly spotted on Twitter, and I have a number of problems with it.

It started with this ad which I saw on a fairly regular basis for several days.

This relates to an interview with the former Olympic cyclist that the Telegraph had published recently. The story was newsworthy, and undoubtedly important.

But I really felt very uncomfortable seeing someone’s personal mental health issues being used blatantly for advertising.

As I say, it’s absolutely right that mental health issues are addressed, and stories can absolutely provide useful resources for readers who might face similar issues.

But making those stories clickbait adverts feels really uncomfortable.

Then I began to see this ad.

Oh good. Let’s start wading into the world of trans issues with our ads shall we? If there’s an angrier bit of the internet, I’ve yet to see it. But this is obviously a top clickbait advert. I’ve resisted and have no idea who is making what argument.

By now we’re moving away from more usual clickbait and straight into that “bottom of the internet” crap you find everywhere supplied by companies like Taboola. Low rent garbage indeed.

Most recently the downward spiral continues with this frankly laughable advertisement. Is this the Daily Telegraph or Chat magazine? The stock photo of the woman drinking coffee and reading her phone isn’t quite as gaudy as those weekly magazines, but the story is lifted straight from one of their cover lines.

The Telegraph has been a shadow of its former self for a long time. But this marketing campaign is just awful. Where are its news values? What is it actually trying to sell here?

Considering that these are targeted ads, I’ve no idea who has done the targeting. I mean, I might wonder if they were trying to target women with these ads, in which case they’ve missed massively in my case.

Either way, an obnoxious campaign.

RAJAR Q4 2018


This post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the many 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.

Legacy media isn’t supposed to be this interesting. In the last few weeks we’ve seen the following:

  • A wholesale change in some of the biggest (and smallest) breakfast shows in the land, with Zoe Ball taking the reigns at Radio 2, Lauren Laverne doing the same at 6 Music, and Chris Evans stepping into sort-of-old-shoes by “returning” to Virgin Radio.
  • Bauer launched Greatest Hits Radio.
  • Bauer then announced the launch of a brand new classical music station headlined by Simon Mayo. This will probably be packaged alongside previous purchase Jazz FM to provide a compelling offering to agencies.
  • Deloitte highlighted radio has having a good 2019 despite all its external challenges.
  • And yesterday, Bauer (them again) went out and bought two of the remaining small commercial radio groups in Celador Radio and Lincs FM Group, giving it a little extra market share to close the gap on commercial leader Global Radio.

None of this impacts on radio listening this quarter, with none of the new shows really getting any proper numbers until the May RAJAR release, and more completely in August (Since for all these new breakfast shows. there is at least one week of Q1 19 when they weren’t on).

But this is all indicative of a strong sector. There are likely to have been strong smart speaker sales over the Christmas period, with new form factors like Google’s Home Hub likely to have proved popular. Radio remains a strong offering on these devices, and some – not least the BBC – are investing in much more comprehensive voice offerings.

So after all that positivity, it’s a little disappointing to report this quarter’s RAJARs are down fairly comprehensively across the board.

All Radio reach is down 0.4% on the quarter and down 0.9% on the year to 48.4m. Fractional, but it means that we’re now at 88% of the population listening each week (from 89%).

More concerning is listening, which regular readers will know I’ve been keeping a close eye on for a while now. All Radio listening is down 2.3% on the quarter and down 3.5% on the year to 1.002 billion hours a week.

That all equates to around 20.7 hours per week of radio for each listener. That’s an all time low.

That overall fall in listening inevitably gets reflected in individual station results.

National and Brands

Radio 1 slips away from last quarter’s decent results, and is down 2.3% on the quarter and down 4.7% on the year to 9.375m listeners. In hours terms, the drop is starker, down 7.1% on the quarter and down 8.0% on the year to 56.9m hours. These numbers almost in themselves spell out the importance of BBC Sounds.

Radio 1 Xtra did a little better, with reach up 1.9% on the quarter and down 0.8% on the year. Hours were 10.0% up on the quarter and down 12.4% on the year.

Radio 2 marked the end of an era which saw Chris Evans depart breakfast, and Simon Mayo and Jo Whiley depart drivetime, the former leaving altogether like Evans. The station itself was bucked the overall trend being up 1.7% on the quarter, although down 3.9% on the year in reach terms, with 14.9m listeners. Listening hours were a similar story, being up 3.3% on the quarter but down 4.4% on the year to 181.7m.

It wasn’t the best quarter for Radio 3 which was down 5.6% on the quarter and down 6.4% on the year in reach. That said, 1.8m listeners isn’t far off the usual 1.9m listeners. The launch of Scala will be interesting to examine later in the year. In terms of hours, they were down 5.1% on the quarter although up 6.9% on the year to 12.0m

Radio 4 was down 1.5% on the quarter, and down 6.8% on the year to 10.5m listeners. Hours are more worrying, down 5.0% on the quarter and down 7.8% on the year, to 112.6m, the lowest listening figure since Q2 2006. Brexit fatigue? The growth of podcast listening? Rival stations? All things to be investigated and examined closely by whoever becomes the new controller of the station following the announcement in January that current controller Gwyneth Williams is leaving.

Sister station Radio 4 Extra fares better with its reach up 6.0% on the quarter, but down 5.9% on the year to 2.1m. Hours are up – up 5.5% on the quarter and up 9.1% on the year to a record high of 14.5m hours. Perhaps some of those hours do come at the cost of listening to the mothership station. [A gentle reminder that with RAJAR you can never definitively say that listeners left from Station X and went to Station Y between quarters because RAJAR respondents are different each quarter.]

Radio 5 Live has not prospered too well this quarter with reach down 1.3% on the quarter and down 8.9% on the year to 5.0m. Hours are also down, falling 6.5% on the quarter and 6.9% on the year to 32.7m.

No records for 6 Music this quarter – no obvious ones anyway. Reach fell 16.1% on the quarter, although it remains up 0.3% on the year, with 1.5m listeners. Hours were also down on the quarter, down 3.0%, but up up 17.9% on the year. Again, these were the last figures for the station before a slight reshuffling of the decks.

It’s fair to mention that the BBC World Service has had a good quarter in the UK – up 5.3% on the quarter and up 3.0% on the year to 1.6m reach. Hours are up 9.2% on the quarter and up 11.9% on the year to 8.2m.

Perhaps the best performing commercial station this time around was LBC which achieved a record reach across its national network of 2.2m. For reach, it was up 5.6% on the quarter and up 9.3% on the year. In hours, it was up 5.8% on the quarter and up 6.8% on the year to 21.7m.

This was the first quarter that saw Eddie Mair takeover their drivetime show, and his move away from Radio 4 was supported by a reasonably sized marketing campaign. Comparisons need to be made carefully because LBC nationally reports using 6-month data, but the Q4 2018 data shows a 7.4% increase in reach for Mair’s 4-6pm weekday slot, to 715,000 (Over in his old 5-6pm Radio 4 stomping ground, Evan Davies saw a 2.0% drop in reach to 3.8m).

Classic FM feels like it’s going to be more in the frame than Radio 3 from the arrival of Scala, but until we hear the new station, it’s probably too early to say. Classic FM is a very solid performer, and that’s the same this quarter, with reach up 2.4% on the quarter, down 6.4% on the year to 5.3m listeners. That’s where the station has consistently sat for a number of years now. Hours were up 2.7% on the quarter and down 8.6% on the year to 36.4m. A strong legacy brand, with an unrivalled commercial FM network means that this is not going anywhere fast. Global continues to invest in name talent – picking up Moira Stuart from the Radio 2 breakfast show most recently.

Talksport’s numbers were pretty solid this quarter. Reach was flat on the quarter (literally the same 2.959m as last quarter) but up 0.6% on the year. Hours were up 0.3% on the quarter and up 5.4% on the year at 19.3m. You still feel reach should be north of 3m and hours above 20m, but the station continues to poach sports exclusives including overseas cricket commentaries. And separately, parent Wireless Group tries to bash 5 Live by commissioning a report that says that 5 Live doesn’t do enough hard news. Mandy Rice-Davies’ famous quote springs to mind.

Over on Talksport 2, reach has grown 16.8% on the quarter (flat on the year) and hours are up 22.7% on the quarter and up 56.7% on the year – but those are all from modest bases.

No Chris Evans figures yet, but Virgin Radio is worth looking at. It has seen its reach increase 8.0% on the quarter, down 7.5% on the year to 447,000. Whether the station needs to get 2m, 3m, 4m or more, there’s a way to go yet. Again, the serious marketing only began in January, so this is really just a baseline measure. Better news in terms of hours, which were up 25.2% on the quarter and up 17.6% on the year to a still modest 1.7m hours overall.

Talk Radio still really doesn’t seem to have found its feet, although its numbers are up this quarter. Reach is up 15.7% on the quarter and up 26.9% on the year to 302,000. Hours are up 24.1% on the quarter and up 30.9% on the year to 1.3m.

Magic was also a big commercial winner, across both the main station and their network of services. You may recall that Magic took the somewhat bold decision to go 100% Christmas songs from 30 November. Previously, only digital stations had changed their playlists quite this radically. And although this change will have only contributed a couple of weeks’ worth of data into the quarter, since the measurement period ended on the 16th December, you suspect that this wasn’t a terrible decision. Magic saw its reach grow 7.1% on the quarter and 7.4% on the year to 3.44m, while hours were up 1.7% on the quarter and up 9.7% on the year to 18.45m.

Across the whole Magic Network including Mellow Magic and Magic Chilled, they had a record reach figure of 4.22m, up 4.0% on the quarter and up 8.3% on the year. Hours were up 3.9% on the quarter and up 15.5% on the year.

I wonder if we’ll see a Global station – Smooth perhaps – replicate this move next year?

In yet another change, this was the final quarter in which Rickie, Melvyn and Charlie were on Kiss breakfast, before they up and move over to Charlie Sloth’s old slot on Radio 1. However figures for the station were disappointing, with reach down 8.6% on the quarter and down 12.4% on the year to 4.1m. Hours were down 9.9% on the quarter and down 18.2% on the year to 18.4m.

Over at Absolute Radio there were decreases on the main station with reach down 1.6% on the quarter and down 8.5% on the year to 2.4m. Hours were down 11.0% on the quarter and down 8.3% on the year to 17.0m. Across the Absolute Radio Network things were a little better with reach down 2.1% on the quarter but up 1.1% on the year to 4.8m, while hours were down 2.1% on the quarter and down 0.5% on the year to 33.8m. Interestingly, Absolute 90s had its best ever reach figures with 969,000 (up 6.1% on the quarter and up 30.1% on the year). Yet Bauer has just removed Absolute 90s from D1 switching it with Kisstory which moves across from D2. Kisstory is twice the size, so the switch makes sense, although the time is definitely right for a 90s station.

Capital Network has seen small falls with reach down 2.3% on both the quarter and the year to 7.3m. Hours are down 1.1% on the quarter but down 10.6% on the year to 36.2m. Capital XTRA performs pretty well despite being 2.6% down in reach on the quarter. It’s still up 14.9% on the year with 1.8m listeners. Meanwhile, hours are strong with a 9.7% increase on the quarter and a 13.4% increase on the year to 7.3m. Between them the Capital Brand has done OK nationally – down 1.9% on the quarter and down 0.5% on the year to finish with a reach of 8.3m. Hours are up 0.6% on the quarter but down 7.3% on the year to 43.4m.

Heart Network is modestly up with reach gains of 0.7% on the quarter and 4.1% on the year to 8.5m. Hours are basically flat, up 1.3% on the quarter and down 0.5% on the year to 57.6m. Add its digital sister stations into the mix, and the overall Heart Brand is up 0.8% on the quarter and up 6.2% on the year with a reach of 9.7m, while hours are up 1.1% on the quarter and up 0.7% on the year to 65.7m. A very solid powerhouse in UK radio then.

The Smooth Radio Network is up 2.0% on the quarter and up 4.3% on the year to a very good 5.1m, while hours are up 5.7% on the quarter and 12.9% on the year to 37.7m. Across the overall Smooth Brand there are modest gains too with overall reach and hours figures of 5.8m and 43.0m. You never entirely feel that Smooth is Global’s most loved brand, and yet it’s an incredibly strong performer.

Finally, Radio X Network is down 4.0% on the quarter, but up 4.3% on the year with a reach of 1.6m. Hours are up 0.5% on the quarter and up 22.9% on the year to 14.4m.

London Radio

In London. Radio 4 remains the biggest station in the city, just ahead of Radio 2. Radio 4’s reach in London was up 2.6% on the quarter but down 10.4% on the year to 2.48m. Hours were down 2.5% on the quarter and down 5.6% on the year to 27.8m. Radio 2’s reach is at 2.26m, down 3.2% on the quarter and down 8.2% on the year, while hours are at 24.8m, down 4.7% on the quarter and down 5.2% on the year.

Capital London has taken a bit of a tumble this quarter, with reach down 10.0% on the quarter and down 11.5% on the year to 1.87m. That still makes it the biggest commercial station in London in terms of reach. Hours were down 4.0% on the quarter and down 22.6% on the year to 7.6m.

By contrast, Heart London’s reach is up 7.3% on the quarter and down 2.3% on the year to 1.52m. Hours are up 20.9% on the quarter and up 4.2% on the year to 9.4m.

This quarter saw Kiss take a bit of a hit in London, reach down 16.7% on the quarter and down 19.4% on the year to 1.63m. Hours were similarly down 15.7% on the quarter and 30.4% on the year to 7.4m. That’s part of a slightly worrying trend for the station in London which has seen its hours fall each quarter for the last four consecutive quarters.

For the first time in a while, LBC hasn’t had as good quarter as the station has nationally. Reach was down 11.8% on the quarter and down 5.6% on the year, now at 1.1m in the capital. Hours were down 19.5% on the quarter and down 0.5% on the year to 11.1m. That keeps it as the biggest commercial service in London by listeners. However, I’m not wholly convinced that Remain-voting London is going to find new signing Jacob Rees-Mogg will add all that many additional hours…

Absolute Radio didn’t have a good set of London numbers, down 15.5% on the quarter and down 20.9% on the year to 726,000. Hours are down 24.2% on the quarter and down 2.2% on the year to 4.9m.

Magic in London made some gains in reach, up 2.9% on the quarter and up 2.7% on the year to 1.6m, while hours fell 12.0% on the quarter and down 5.7% on the year to 8.1m.

Radio X had a decent quarter in London, up 34.1% on the quarter (down 5.7% on the year) to a reach of 480,000. Hours were up 35.2% on the quarter and up 8.4% on the year to 3.5m.

Mixed results for Smooth London, down 12.8% on the quarter but up 8.9% on the year to 818,000 reach. Hours were up 18.4% on the quarter and up 44.3% on the year to 6.0m hours.

Further Reading

A quick plug for a piece I just published on podcasts and exclusivity.

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

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

All my previous RAJAR analyses are here.

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

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

Podcast Exclusivity

Fortunately… returns as an RSS delivered podcast

As always, these are my personal views, but it’s probably worth reiterating at the outset.

I am not a fan of exclusivity, for a number of reasons.

Let’s start by looking at the streaming music market. We continue to see fairly significant growth in this sector with companies like Spotify, Apple, Deezer, Google Play Music and Tidal all attempting to grow themselves. One of the key ways that they tried to do this was with exclusivity – having unique access to a particular artist’s new music.

Tidal could do this, because of their relationship with artists; Spotify could do it because they were big in the sector; Apple could do it because, well, they’re Apple and could hire the Roundhouse in London for a month and fill it with music stars.

But by and large, exclusivity has disappeared from music streaming services, and they instead fight on things like features and the communities they create. It’s not consumer friendly for me to need to go to Tidal for one artist’s album, but Apple for another’s. Some of the record labels ended up rejecting the idea – notably Universal.

In the end it was seen as anti-competitive and harmed both the audience and artist. None of this stops a service offering exclusive live sets, interviews or introductions, but in general terms you can hear the same music across most of the services.

We don’t expect to get one set of TV exclusives if we buy a Samsung TV and another set of exclusives if we buy a Sony TV. As a consumer, I make a choice of what TV I buy based on a number of criteria, and then can watch whichever services I like on that TV.

(The comparison with TV does become tricky, however, with Amazon rejecting Google’s software and hardware – not selling Chromecasts or building Cast technology into their software. Meanwhile, until very recently, Apple resisted allowing anyone embedding Apple software into their smart TVs – something that is changing with some new 2019 models.)

But let’s drag this back to audio, and in particular podcasts. Until fairly recently, podcasts were defined by their technological delivery mechanism – i.e. RSS feeds. I would argue that this is still the case.

However, as the podcast industry continues to grow, we have seen, and continue to see, a lot of attempts at driving consumption to a particular platform by making podcasts exclusive to that platform.

Stitcher, for example, kept its Wolverine podcast exclusive to its platform for many months – employing what is commonly known as a ‘windowing’ strategy. If you want to listen immediately, you have to use their platform. Later, they made the podcast available as a conventional RSS feed and thus listenable on any podcatcher.

Amazon’s Audible service has always been a subscription service, and continues to evolve. It has recently released The Last Days of August exclusively to its subscribers. This follows a previous podcast also written and presented by Jon Ronson, The Butterfly Effect. That series was similarly an Audible exclusive before later being released in an advertising-funded form as a regular RSS-delivered podcast.

In a recent Hotpod newsletter, Nick Quah notes that both Spotify and Pandora are attempting to use podcasts to both retain listeners to their platforms and keep them listening longer.

Previously Spotify only offered a limited number of podcasts that they essentially curated. But that just meant that a Spotify listener who wanted to hear their own choice of podcast had to open a different app to hear all the podcasts of their choice.

So in October, Spotify opened up their platform to all podcasts. Spotify has already become the [distant] number two platform to Apple Podcasts, but that does mean that as a podcast producer, you probably want to list your podcast on Spotify.

[There’s potentially an advantage to Spotify including podcasts, and that’s that every minute a user spends within Spotify but not streaming music, means that theoretically, Spotify is incurring less music rights costs. However, until those music rights deals are renegotiated this is probably moot since Spotify’s costs aren’t so much related to consumption volumes as a proportion of revenues. In other words, if I listen to one song and 99 podcasts, or 99 songs and one podcast, music rights holders still take the same percentage of my flat $/£9.99 fee.]

Spotify has commissioned exclusive podcasts series from time to time. Recently, for example, there was The Joe Budden Podcast which was exclusively on the platform. On the other hand, another Spotify original, Amy Schumer Presents: 3 Girls, 1 Keith, was available on all platforms.

Now Spotify has bought Gimlet Media for an amount thought to be $230m. Gimlet, the maker of podcasts including Reply All, Homecoming, Startup and Crimetown, positions itself as a top-end podcast producer. More than once I’ve heard it described as the HBO of podcast makers.

Spotify has also bought Anchor, a podcast creation platform that tries to streamline the process that allows podcast creators to add advertising to their podcasts.

Spotify is now in possession of one of the best podcasting companies in the world. But the purported price is high and it’s interesting to explore what’s in it for Spotify. In Daniel Ek’s blog, he says that he expects that 20% of Spotify listening will in due course be non-music listening.

Will all of Gimlet’s podcasts become Spotify exclusives? Or will they use windowing? (Note that Crimetown season 2 was a Spotify exclusive under a previous deal.)

And what about advertising? How will that model work?

Will all Gimlet’s podcasts be on Spotify’s free platform? Or will some be kept exclusive for Spotify paid subscribers?

So many questions.

This paragraph from Spotify’s 4th Quarter results is probably instructive:

“Today we announced that we have entered into definitive agreements to acquire two of the leading players in the emerging podcast marketplace. We want to acquire more, and have line-of-sight on total spend of $400-$500M on multiple acquisitions in 2019. Growing podcast listening on Spotify is an important strategy for driving top of funnel growth, increased user engagement, lower churn, faster revenue growth, and higher margins. We intend to lean into this strategy in 2019, both to acquire exclusive content and to increase investment in the production of content in-house. The more successful we are, the more we’ll lean into the strategy to accelerate our growth, in which case we would update guidance accordingly.” [My emphasis]

On the other hand, Recode Media’s Peter Kafka, one of those who initially broke the story, suggested on today’s Media Show that Spotify was looking to give Wall St a new revenue stream. Going fully exclusive on their platform will necessarily limit any new advertising revenues.

In the meantime, closer to home, the BBC last year launched BBC Sounds in the UK, and gave it a massive marketing push. Part of that is also keeping some audio exclusive to the Sounds app. So far they’ve mostly adopted a 30 day windowing approach, launching new podcasts like End of Days exclusively on Sounds before making them available more widely. However, at the start of this year, heckles were raised by moving a previously freely available RSS-delivered podcast, Fortunately…, exclusively into Sounds – at least for a few weeks. Fortunately… has just reappeared in RSS feeds and now seems to be fast-forwarding through the delayed episodes that were previously only on BBC Sounds by releasing those episodes one every couple of days!

BBC Sounds, of course, is a much more complicated offer, since it offers “Music, radio and podcasts.” ‘Music’ is a new BBC offering – a limited number of playlists not directly related to radio (although often more loosely connected, e.g. a Match of the Day Mix). Whereas ‘Radio’ is a complete on-demand offering of all BBC Radio’s output, including full music tracks.

‘Podcasts’ is interesting, because although it gets its own section in Sounds, it becomes hard to discern where an on-demand radio programme ends and a podcast begins. Notably, the podcast section includes a limited number of non-BBC podcasts. However, as with Audible and Spotify-exclusive ‘podcasts’ before them, none of these are true ‘podcasts’ in the sense that they’re not delivered via public-facing RSS feeds.

What we’re ending up with, is a world where lots of different applications are trying to ‘own’ audio. They want to be the place on your mobile device where you spend most of your time listening.

And in the commercial world, they want your money too.

They might be using AI algorithms to recommend you new listening based on previous consumption, and some are attempting to disaggregate audio to give you more bite sized listening – think the audio equivalent of having less full length programmes on Netflix, but more 4-5 minute YouTube videos.

However, does this really work for the consumer?

Going back to the TV/video world only gets us so far. On my television I happen to do most of my viewing via my Sky Box. If it’s linear viewing, then it’ll definitely come from there. If it’s on-demand from one of the broadcasters, then it’ll probably come from there. iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, Sky Box Sets and so on, all come through the Sky Box. It’s the most convenient way to watch everything I’d like to watch. Except, that is, if I want to use something like Netflix, Amazon or YouTube.

If I want to watch shows or videos from those providers, then I change inputs on my TV and use my preferred streaming device. In my case, that’s an Nvidia Shield TV. From there, I can get Netflix, Amazon and YouTube – but also iPlayer, ITV Hub and so on. Except that I mostly only use it for the first three. The latter, as I mention, are more convenient on Sky.

Either way, there’s not a single way to get to everything. I could be using the smart functionality of my TV, but I tend not to. It’s much slower than bespoke devices. And in any case, the TV on its own might offer most of those services, but it doesn’t help with Sky.

[By the way, it’s notable that Sky Q (the box I am not in a rush to get) has both Netflix and YouTube on board. If it added Amazon, then that one place would serve most of my TV needs.]

Now let’s consider audio in a bit more detail. I break down my audio listening into three types, depending on time of day, mood etc.

  • Live radio
  • Music
  • Podcasts
[NB. There is also radio on demand – which basically means complete radio programmes with music, and it also basically means BBC radio programmes that for rights reasons, the BBC is unable to podcast. For these, BBC Sounds or iPlayer Radio are the only options.]

For Live Radio, I broadly speaking have the choice of a bespoke player from the broadcaster (e.g. BBC Sounds or iPlayer Radio (Hurrah -Chromecast!)) or a radio aggregator (e.g. RadioPlayer or TuneIn).

The former group tend to provide more detailed information about programming, and have deeper catch-up functionality. But if there’s a football match on Talksport I want to hear or a radio show on Absolute Radio, then they can’t help.

So there’s space for aggregators which can get me everything I want, and allow me to seamlessly jump between providers. An app like RadioPlayer lets me jump between football on Five Live, Talksport and local BBC stations as I need to. It’s much more convenient than downloading every broadcaster’s own app.

For Music it really boils down to my music provider of choice. Assuming that I’m a subscriber or free user of a music service like Spotify, Google Play Music or Apple Music, then my app of choice is defined. Neither Google nor Apple integrate podcasts into their audio offerings – Apple very pointedly separated podcasts away from music – so with those apps you are mostly living in a music world. Google for a while had podcasts within GPM in the US, but they too have been shifted them away into their own “sort-of” app.

Spotify and in the US, Pandora, are trying to do all things audio, including podcasts and music streams – well, except live radio.

For Podcasts, my preferred listening experience is to have everything in one place. I’ve spoken before about how I use Pocket Casts as my go-to player. For me, podcasts are a series discrete programmes of various lengths, and I listen to a broad range of them from a multiplicity of suppliers and producers. One minute I’m listening to a BBC podcast, then one from the FT, one from a US public radio station and then an independent. I flit around a lot.

Podcatching software has to meet a number of needs.

  • It should allow easy navigation around podcasts
  • It should include a complete catalogue of all available podcasts
  • I want to listen to be able to curate my own “journey” – in other words, I need to be able to choose what I listen to next after my current podcast
  • I want to be able to put together several podcasts into a “playlist” that will play back consecutively without me doing anything. That could be listening on a long car journey, or a long cycle ride.

I also like multi-platform support, the ability to listen in a browser or via a connected speaker (smart or otherwise). And it’d be great if I could socially share my choices in podcasts. This last thing is unnecessarily hard.

Recommendation from AI is fine as far as it goes, but I’ve written repeatedly, I’ve never seen anyone do it well. Given that I already have more podcasts that I can listen to, and I mostly want to hear all of them, getting dodgy recommendations is not top of my wish list of functionality.

I repeat – nobody is doing recommendation well.

The most critical thing for me is that I get as complete an offering as I can.

Pocket Casts does that.

Apple Podcasts does that.

Spotify actually doesn’t. It’s still up to podcast makers to get themselves listed.

BBC Sounds only has a very select list of non-BBC podcasts meaning that I simply can’t use it as a primary podcast player.

Also of note, Spotify is not available in every territory in the world. BBC Sounds remains UK only too. Going platform exclusive can mean going geographically exclusive. Spotify, for example, is only in a paltry five African countries. Nigeria has a population of nearly 200m, and Spotify isn’t available there. If you go Spotify-exclusive, you’ve removed the option to listen to the most populous country in Africa.

I understand that there are good reasons for what Spotify and BBC Sounds are doing around exclusivity. Spotify wants to be meet all your audio needs. The BBC wants young people to listen to its audio services and to replicate the success of iPlayer on television.

But as a non-Spotify subscriber, will I need to install the Spotify app in future to hear Reply All? Because that’s likely to just make Reply All just a little bit harder to listen to. Even if I do install the Spotify app, as a non-subscriber, I’ll rarely be inclined to open it.

It’s why I’ve not been listening to Fortunately… since it disappeared from regular RSS feeds. In that case, I do have the BBC Sounds app installed – it plays live BBC radio really fast. But it’s unlikely to become a destination for all things podcasting until it carries every podcast I listen to and has a feature set that beats the current class-leaders like Pocket Casts (IMHO). For me, it’s a handy way to listen to live radio. No more; no less.

Will an iPhone user, who had Apple Podcasts pre-installed on their phone, and now subscribes to Apple Music, go out and download another app so that they can hear Crimetown? The path of least resistance is to not notice a new Crimetown episode has been published and instead hear a true crime podcast that is available on Apple Podcasts. There are one or two around.

As an aside, it’ll be interesting to see how Apple packages up its upcoming video offering when it launches in the next few months. Could they supersize Apple Music subscriptions, giving them a leg up against Spotify which isn’t investing billions into TV projects with Jennifer Aniston and Reece Witherspoon?

Podcasts up until now have been mostly free, and if there’s one thing audiences have shown, it’s that they’re not super-keen on paying for audio. Recall that just because you and I have a paid for music streaming subscription service, the vast majority of the population doesn’t.

FM or DAB radio is free. While there undoubtedly need to be a variety of models to pay for audio services, it feels like we’re running before we can walk as everyone rushes in to try to dominate a space.

But my main argument is this:

Today, most of the population does not listen to podcasts.

For better or for worse, there is still a significant job to be done to teach large numbers of consumers how easy it is to actually get to podcasts.

However, instead of making that job easier, we’re quickly heading towards a place where it suddenly gets more complicated.

Instead of me directing a potential new podcast user to open Apple Podcasts on their iPhone, or download Pocket Casts on their Android phone, and then simply showing them how to add whatever they want to listen to, I’m instead going to have to ask them what they think they might want to hear, and then direct them to install multiple apps, create multiple user accounts and only then let them hear those podcasts.

That’s a bit like telling me that I need to use the Chrome browser to read The Guardian’s website, but must use Firefox to read The Times’ website. Oh, and I should install Edge if I want to read The Economist.

Anyway, if you take nothing else away from this, for goodness’ sake, don’t try to listen to the most recent episode of Fortunately immediately followed by an episode of Crimetown season 2. That can’t be done…

The Quaker by Liam McIlvanney

The Quaker is simply one of the best crime novels I’ve read for a long time. I devoured it.

Unusually the book begins several months after a series of murders has already taken place. Glasgow of the late sixties is in a state of flux. Families are being moved out of the slum tenements that are being pulled down; relocated to the new build flats further outside the centre of the city. And amidst this, three women have been murdered by a man that the press has dubbed The Quaker. There’s no link between the three victims or commonality, beyond them having been dancing at the Barrowlands dance hall.

Despite feverish press coverage, and an artist’s impression being on posters across the city, the investigation has dried up and the police have no new leads. And so, we’re introduced to DI Duncan McCormack, something of an outsider who comes from the Highlands, who is really there to see whether the case should be shut down after months of getting nowhere. It’s a no-win situation. The team on the case know why he’s there.

Elsewhere in Glasgow, a group of career criminals are planning the robbery of one of the city’s auction houses, where some valuable jewels will be going under the hammer. All of this in a city of gangsters that run or take cuts of most of the criminal activities that take place.

All of these stories will somehow collide in what is a masterful piece of fiction.

The sense of place in this book is fantastic: smokey pubs, phone boxes and lots of whisky. There’s sectarianism bobbing around just below the surface, and a smattering of Gaelic. This is seedy Glasgow through a noir lens.

Unusually, we get a first-person perspective from each of the murder victims. Author Liam McIlvanney (son of the famed Scottish crime writer William McIvanney and nephew of the late sports writer Hugh McIlvanney) says that he used this device to try to work around the problem that many crime novels have, of female victims being avenged by male detectives. Of course, all the detectives in Glasgow at the time would have been male, so there’s no getting around that. I think this was a smart decision.

The novel is, of course, based on the true-life murderer Bible John. I say “of course,” but in fact I didn’t really know the details of that case until I read about it afterwards – only vaguely recalling the name. I came into the novel cold, and while those who do know the details of that case will no doubt get a lot from it, it’s absolutely unnecessary to be acquainted with those horrible true events.

The book does veer away from the true-story and reaches a bracing conclusion.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins for my ARC. The Quaker is out now in hardback, with the paperback published on 1 February 2019.