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Premier League TV Rights – 2019-2022

The new Premier League TV rights auction for the UK has just got under way, with bids due in at the end of January, and the results announced in early February. Such are the scale of these rights now, that the announcement tends to be made to accommodate the stock market. If a PLC is spending several billion pounds on something, this is “of note.”

Where do we stand, and where are we likely to go?

At first glance, there really doesn’t feel like an enormous growth left in the UK market. Last time around, the value of UK live rights rose a colossal 70%, from £3bn to £5.1bn!

This increase in cost didn’t come without consequences. Subscribers to both Sky and BT have seen increases in their subscriptions, while Sky in particular (who’s packages increase the most in value), has cut costs elsewhere, reducing some coverage – notably tennis.

But different players have different needs from Premier League football.

Sky

As the bid from 21st Century Fox for complete ownership of Sky continues to navigate regulatory hurdles, Rupert Murdoch himself is selling out to Disney. While the Disney deal itself will need to overcome any US regulatory concerns, the general feeling is that it will get through unscathed (While it shouldn’t involve the US President, Trump is reportedly more concerned about the future of Fox News than anything else, and Murdoch keeps ownership of that). Meanwhile, the prospect of Sky News being a Disney property rather than a 100% Murdoch owned, is probably more palatable to more people. The separation organisationally from the unsavoury practices at Fox News is probably helpful too. There perhaps remains a question of when the various deals go through, so that waving the Sky deal through before the details of the Disney deal have been finalised might be problematic.

But returning to the Premier League, for Sky the rights are an important – not to say critical – part of its overall offering. Sports also remain an important part of Disney’s offering.

ESPN has for many years been a substantial revenue generator, but of late it has began to suffer. So-called “cable cutters” don’t all want ESPN. It had been regularly bundled into all basic cable offerings, taking a substantial share of a household’s monthly cable bill, regardless of whether that household actually wanted to watch sport. As such, it became a cash cow. That’s still the case, but as younger subscribers choose their digital offerings in a piecemeal way – Netflix here, HBO Now there – ESPN was beginning to miss out. It was losing overall subscribers, and has of late announced a series of redundancies to cut costs.

In part to bolster that, Disney has picked up Fox’s regional sports networks as part of the Fox acquisition, qne they provide very solid ratings revenues.

The problem with all sports for broadcasters is that in large part, they are not actually owned by the networks. Every few years, the rights are put out to tender, and the rights owners tend to expect big increases.

That extends from the Premier League to the NFL, the IOC, the ICC, the NBA and so on. Sport has become disproportionately important because for the most part, the value is in live rights, and an audience that advertisers love being unable to skip the built-in advertising.

Sky needs the Premier League, and it has to pull out all the stops to maintain the crown jewels of the packages offered. But at some level there will be a red line beyond which it doesn’t make sense to bid.

BT

BT is in a slightly different position, as it built its TV offering as much as anything to support its broadband proposition. This has developed further when BT trumped Sky to buy Champions’ League and Europa League rights. Unlike previous minority rights holders of Premier League football, BT was clearly a serious player with serious cash available. By offering sport initially free, and later at a discount to its broadband customers, it was able to stem the flow to other broadband providers.

In TV terms, BT does still feels like a smaller player in the wider marketplace.

There may be a slight shift at BT now, as it develops a stronger TV offering built around IP delivery, but the company is really in the business of running wires and cables into your home.

Sky and BT Making Up

Interestingly, Sky and BT have recently reached an agreement to properly wholesale their packages to each others’ customers. While BT Sport has been available to Sky customers since launch, viewers had to deal separately with BT to view the channel on their Sky box. The new agreement will make it easier for Sky customers to add BT Sport to their existing Sky package, buying it directly through Sky. In return, BT will make available Sky’s Now TV offer via its own BT TV platform. That effectively provides a mechanism for BT to offer the full range of Sky Sports channels through its platform.

Commentators have suggested that the pair have reached this agreement in part to mitigate the chances of the pair outbidding one another in the upcoming auction. While I doubt they’d collude (which may be illegal anyway), it’s likely that the status quo would suit both parties just fine. The pair do potentially face some opposition however…

Sidenote: One curious consequence of the Disney takeover of Fox (and in turn Sky), is that BT currently has a deal with ESPN for much of its US sports programming. In essence this leaves Disney with at least a small foot in both camps.

The Packages

Note: This is based on published information. Precise details of first picks is likely to appear in the tender documents which aren’t ordinarily made publicly available.

Under this contract, we will be up from 168 matches to 200 of the 380 total Premier League fixtures being broadcast live on UK TV.

Previously, there were five packages of 28 games, and two packages of 14 games. BT won the rights to 28 Saturday 1730 fixtures, as well as a further 6 midweek matches and 8 Saturday matches. Sky won all the remaining fixtures.

This time around the seven packages are built somewhat differently, with Saturday evening primetime being added into the mix, as well as some intriguing midweek packages.

2019-2022 Packages
Package A: 32 matches on Saturdays at 12:30
Package B: 32 matches on Saturdays at 17:30
Package C: 24 matches on Sundays at 14:00 and eight matches on Saturdays at 19:45
Package D: 32 matches on Sundays at 16:30
Package E: 24 matches on Mondays at 20:00 or Fridays at 19:30/20:00 and eight matches on Sundays at 14:00
Package F: 20 matches from one Bank Holiday and one midweek fixture programme
Package G: 20 matches from two midweek fixture programmes

Packages A and B are the same as before, but increase from 28 to 32 games. Package C had previously been exclusively 2pm fixtures, but now has eight primetime Saturday night games.

Package D tends to be the most valuable package, in the past containing the majority of first picks (in other words, broadcasters can put the biggest matches in this slot, other considerations such as police advice notwithstanding).

Package E now gets some 14:00 Sunday games as well as Monday and Friday night football.

But, beyond an overall increase in fixtures and the Saturday night slot opening up, it’s packages E and F that see the biggest changes. Previously these were a mix of mid-week and Bank Holiday fixtures throughout the season. But under this auction they will account for four individual programmes. For example, when there’s a full midweek fixture list, all games are usually played on a Tuesday and Wednesday. But by offering rights to all these games in a given week, any one viewer can only really watch two of them, since multiple games take place simultaneously. So while there are 40 games in total across the two packages, there are potentially only 8 opportunities for a viewer to watch a game, with the other 32 happening during one of those 8 timeslots

So while it’s technically innovative, you wouldn’t expect this package to go for a vast amount of money compared with the others. It’s fewer games than other packages for starters. But it also seems squarely aimed at getting streaming services involved.

Both Sky and BT would be able to offer this choice – they both did or do similar things with Champions’ League group stages. But a decent number of the games are not fixtures a broadcaster might ordinarily choose to televise – think of those matches towards the end of an average edition of Match of the Day.

But if this is aimed at getting digital players involved, it would seem to require an awful lot of marketing for just 8 opportunities to watch on as few as 7 individual days.

The Premier League can only really show all its fixtures in midweek slots because there’s a blackout during Saturdays at 3pm to support the wider football world. But I wonder whether by 2022, we’ll see every Premier League game played outside the 3pm Saturday window? That would enable all matches to be shown live, and perhaps a 2pm Sunday slot having the majority of fixtures.

Potential New Entrants

A bit like the broadcasters, different digital groups have different reasons to use video. Are they looking to increase dwell time on their services, are they looking to grow their user numbers, or are they looking for something else altogether?

Sport isn’t out the question with streaming services, bringing with it loyal fans. But it also brings issues with having a robust technical backbone, and excludes those who don’t have solid broadband.

Furthermore, only UK rights are being sold. While the UK remains an important market for most of the big players, being able to offer streaming to multiple territories is preferable to global operators. The Premier League, of course, sees greater value in selling international rights in different territories to different operators rather than bundle them all together.

What is certain is that the Premier League is desperate for one or more of these companies to enter the market. If Sky and BT would be prepared to stick with the status quo and only offer modest increases in their bids compared with last time, it would take a third party entering to push bids upwards. The only possible existing TV group who might be persuaded would be Discovery via its Eurosport channel. But it’s just not clear that the rights make sense for that brand. While Discovery has spent big on the Olympics, it doesn’t have much of a UK footprint at all in football beyond various secondary UEFA and FIFA competitions.

Facebook

Facebook notably did bid for Indian Premier League cricket rights for a large number of territories, but the deal the IPL eventually did with Star India (also being sold to Disney as part of the Fox deal) included global streaming rights, so they lost out.

You wouldn’t count out Facebook from bidding for Premier League football, but the challenge for them is that these are UK rights. While Premier League football potentially offers increased dwell time on the platform, assuming that the games are broadcast free to viewers, there’s relatively little in it for Facebook in terms of gaining new subscribers.

However Facebook is investing in premium video, and they have money to burn, so a bid isn’t out of the question.

Google/YouTube

YouTube has bought sports rights in the past – cricket immediately springs to mind. Google is constantly evolving its offerings, with a rumoured reversioning of its music offering in both audio and video terms, due to be launched soon.

As with Facebook, Google doesn’t face any problems in being able to afford rights, but it’s not clear what it really gains for them. YouTube is already phenomenally successful, and Google’s reach is nearly complete.

Again, that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t bid, it’s not entirely clear why they would.

Apple

Apple is also making a play to develop a premium video offering, but it hasn’t as yet entered the sports arena. It’s platform is much less developed in the UK, and if made available exclusively via Apple apps or devices, any bid would curtail audiences a bit.

It seems much less likely that Apple would bid compared with other digital players.

Amazon

Amazon may be interested. Their model is slightly different, and they’ve not yet achieved the prestige in the video marketplace that others have. They’re certainly jealous that Netflix has developed stronger video brands than they have. The recent acquisition of The Lord of the Rings rights shows their ambition in this area – spending $250m on the rights alone to make a series, before they spend a single cent on production.

Notably they have now bought a range of tennis rights, outbidding Sky for the men’s ATP tour rights, as well as buying US Open rights. However we should be careful here. The entire ATP rights package cost Amazon less than Sky pays for a single Premier League fixture.

Tennis feels like a toe in the water for Amazon. They also stream Thursday night NFL games – something Twitter did previously, but outside the US you may not have noticed (games happen after 1am local time in the UK, and 2am in central Europe). It should also be remembered that Thursday night NFL is the least valuable package, and Amazon shares the rights with CBS and NBC in broadcast.

Amazon certainly has the technology to offer streaming, both via its Amazon Prime Video platform, as well as Twitch, potentially allowing it to reach a younger audience.

As such, it feels the likeliest bidder of all the digital platforms, even if the strange nature of packages F and G don’t really seem to make sense for anybody.

Twitter

Twitter has played with live streaming, offering everything from an alternative election night programme with Buzzfeed, to eSports and, as mentioned above, some NFL games last season.

Of all the digital players, it feels like Twitter perhaps has the most to gain in terms of getting new sign-ups from something like this. However it’s not trivial to get Twitter video onto your TV set.

As a company, Twitter is a scale lower than other digital businesses (see also Snapchat, who I’ve not even considered here), and so cost may be an issue.

Netflix

This feels to be the least likely digital bidder. Their business has not been built on sport, and as mentioned above, the real problem with sport is its lack of repeat-ability. If you’re paying £10m+ for a property, then they want to sweat that asset over a number of years. The value of a live match is a one-time thing, and really doesn’t seem to fit their model.

Outcome

We’ll find out the answers to all these questions in a couple of months’ time. Would the Premier League leave Sky and/or BT without games or a severely reduced offering? If the money was right, then yes. How would pubs show games “broadcast” on Twitter? Someone’s phone hooked up to a TV set?

Just because these businesses have the cash, it doesn’t mean that it makes sense for them to bid for rights. There has to be a reason. It might be adding value to a wider package such as Amazon Prime; it might be growing the number of users, or increasing a site’s dwell time. But many of these services are doing quite nicely already.

I can’t see BT and Sky increasing their bids at anything near the level they’ve previously managed. The value just isn’t there. Sky has managed to diversify its offering with originals and exclusive deals with providers like HBO. Renewing that HBO deal feels almost as important as doing another Premier League deal.

In the end, it’s probably best not to second guess these things too much. All will become clearer in February when consumers will discover just how many subscriptions they need to get the full range of Premier League football on television.

Celebrity RIP Tweets

We have just come through 2016, and for many, it won’t be fondly remembered. Election and referendum results notwithstanding, there were a number of deaths – often of people very much revered.

Today, when someone dies, we learn about it almost instantly. The news will turn up in social feeds. Alerts on our smartphones will tell us about breaking news.

And if you don’t personally get the news that way, it’s entirely probable that someone near you will hear it that way. Then you might switch to a 24 hour news channel or put on the radio.

We live in a continuous 24 hour news cycle.

The old idea of news cycles has long since gone. And that means that when something happens, we need instant analysis and reporting.

Yet the reporting of someone’s death can really grate with me. If the name is big enough – say, David Bowie – then everything stops.

Breakfast TV and radio that day was thrown over to rolling news and reaction to his death, with the announcement having come at around 7am UK time.

But actual details about the death are initially likely to be limited. A manager will have perhaps put out a brief two-line statement saying that the person died peacefully in their sleep, and that’ll be about the long and short of it. It’s possible that it was well known that the person had been ill for some time, or it might come as quite a shock – an unforeseen heart attack perhaps.

However, the media has hours of airtime to fill. Fans want to remember their heroes.

The first thing that reports of a celebrity death will include is quotes from their peers. And these now tend to come from social media – especially Twitter.

The problem is that it can almost feel like there’s a rush on for other famous, and not-so-famous people to have their say. Now of course, the democracy of the internet means that we can all have our say, and while another artist may have been friends and worked with the deceased star, someone else might have been inspired by that person, or perhaps just loved their work.

But in the media, he who shouts first, gets quoted first. So instead of a carefully curated collection of thoughts of those who perhaps we’d be most interested in hearing eulogies from, we get the thoughts of those who happen to be Tweeting soonest.

It can be as simple as whoever wakes up and hears the news first is the person who’s thoughts lead the news bulletins over the next few hours.

“Tributes have been coming in for Deceased_Star. Talent_Show_Winner said, ‘I always looked up to them. I was really proud that I was able to sing one of their songs in the semi-final of Talent_Show. They inspired me.’ Meanwhile Twitter_Loving_Comedian said, ‘It was a privilege to work with them at Charity_Event.'”

Well, thanks for that.

I’m not saying that the comments made by said famous folk aren’t heartfelt and don’t count. I can’t tell you whether someone is posting something on Twitter because it makes them look good and relevant that they comment, or whether it’s just an earnest tribute towards someone who was important to them in whatever way.

But at 7.15am there are scores of journalists scouring Tweetdeck looking for anything any famous person says. So a politician with a reactive PR person gets in early, but older and wiser people – who would previously either actually been called by a journalist, or released a statement via an agent – don’t get heard early on. (Read a great piece by Andrew Collins based on one particular Tweet here.)

I understand the difficulty on the other side of the fence. You’re a music journalist, and suddenly every broadcast outlet and newspaper is calling you asking you to either speak on air, or write 1,500 words for tomorrow’s edition – and needing to be online by lunchtime.

There’s a brilliantly funny story by ex-Word editor and Whistle Test presenter, Mark Ellen, in his book Rock Stars Stole My Life, who relates being called by broadcasters everywhere to comment on the death of Michael Jackson. The running gag was that Paul Gambaccini – seemingly always on top of every news producer’s contact list when a musician dies – was stuck in traffic in a cab.

But they’re journalists, and that’s to be expected. And anyway, I’m not really talking about them.

I’m talking about news reports that are full of basically random famous folk. Yes, the facts can probably be summarised in a couple of lines, but there are hours to fill! And so we get pretty much whoever’s available at short notice and whoever happened to hit Twitter first.

In due course, over the following few hours, a better selection of comments is gathered. Relevant friends and artists have their thoughts collected. And the TV channels stop using the same B-roll footage that they found on YouTube, archivists delivering much better quality, interesting and relevant pictures*.

* Although this is likely to be the subject of a future blog. Despite having a vast wealth of digital material at our fingertips, it’s disheartening how many television obituary packages seem to consist of badly captured and screen-grabbed footage. When Liz Smith died recently, ITV News’ obit seemed to consist of footage simply grabbed from the BBC iPlayer of a recent Royle Family reairing. Even allowing for this being over Christmas, surely a higher quality source could have been found?

NFL on Twitter… in the UK

Earlier this year, Twitter signed a deal with the NFL to stream 10 Thursday Night Football games. They paid around $10m, and the NFL noted that theirs wasn’t the highest offer on the table.

I’m not going to get into the whys and wherefores of Twitter’s strategy. For the NFL, it’s about reaching harder to get audiences – “millennials.” Twitter was looking to grow its platform, and the NFL, in the US, might seem a sensible option.

Now it’s worth noting that the Thursday night games are perhaps the least desired packages, but that they’re also broadcast on the NFL Network, and shared between broadcast networks NBC and CBS. So these games are widely available over the air.

When the deal was announced, it was noted that Twitter had global rights to these games, and so, because I was up late last Thursday, I thought I’d see what was available. I use Twitter extensively, but I don’t consider it a video streaming platform. How would I go about watching the game?

Well it wasn’t at all obvious. The game was being shown by Sky Sports in the UK, but I wanted to see it on my phone. I went to Moments, the lightning bolt icon that I never normally touch (I’m afraid Moments is only marginally less useful than Facebook’s recently launched sub-sub-eBay Marketplace “feature.”)

There was no sign of the NFL, even under Sports which looked like was regionalised for UK tastes.

Perhaps it wasn’t really available?

Finally I searched “NFL” and that led me to a Tweet which seemed to have embedded video. After briefly being led in circles being redirected to a website, with the site then suggesting I open the Twitter app I’d just come from, I opened the stream and it seemed to work well. I was served with the straight NBC/NFL Network feed, and the coverage was good. But I was curious. What would happen in the ad breaks?

Well I didn’t get to see US ads. Instead, I got some promos for the NFL Shop, and some generic Twitter videos. And then I got them again. And again. It was awful. There were maybe five videos, and they looped and looped, often multiple times in the same break.

If you don’t watch NFL, then you won’t know quite how many breaks there are. But a game that’s played for an hour lasts a good three or more hours on TV. And much of that is commercial time.

One way or another, Twitter wasn’t serving UK specific ads, so we got the same cruddy filler endlessly. It was unbearable. It didn’t help that one of the videos featured Obama, Clinton and Cameron, and urged us to #Vote. For whom, or when was unclear. Post Trump’s win, I think I might have retired that video.

Anyway, the timings of evening games in the US means that worrying about watching live NFL coverage isn’t high on my European agenda. But if Twitter is going to get into video broadcasting seriously, then they need to work out a localisation strategy.

Blocked on Twitter by a Celebrity

Remarkably, I’ve been on Twitter since 2006 – so getting on for ten years. And in that time I’ve always tried to be cordial. I don’t get involved in slanging matches, or go looking for idiots to retweet exclaiming my “shock and anger” that there are in fact, fools with internet access.

That’s not to say that I haven’t spoken my mind on the platform. If I thought something was bad or poor, I’ve said so. But for the most part I like to think my existence on the platform has been a positive one. And broadly I won’t say anything about someone on the platform that I wouldn’t say to their face.

So it was very surprising when I came across a link suggesting that Matt Lucas – of Little Britain fame – was doing some funny stuff on Vine. I clicked through on his Twitter handle, since Vine is owned by Twitter, and Vines usually show up in someone’s Twitter timeline.

I was met by the following:

You are blocked from following @RealMattLucas and viewing @RealMattLucas’s Tweets.

I’ve never seen this before!

To be clear, if you block someone, you’ve actively done something – either found the account and clicked on block, or done so from a Tweet you’ve sought out.

What could I have done to offend him?

It should be said that I wasn’t a massive fan of Little Britain, finding it repetitive and childish. But I tend to talk and write about things that I like rather than don’t like. But looking back, I’ve made a couple of sniffy remarks about it over time: Here and here are the only two very mildly negative examples I can find.

On the other hand, I liked Lucas in Shooting Stars, and he’s an Arsenal fan which is always going in his favour (Although so is Piers Morgan so…). I did enjoy his turn in Doctor Who over Christmas as well.

I’ve never followed him on Twitter, and I’m certain that he’s never followed me.

But a bit of searching did lead me to this written in February 2013:

A bit negative, and not necessarily constructive. But really irritating is about the worst I’ve said about him which is certainly not the harshest criticism ever written of anybody. I suspect many people find me very irritating too at times. C’est la vie.

Would I have said it to his face? No. To be honest I wouldn’t have, at least not unless I knew him fairly well and could be honest about an appearance.

Note that I didn’t “@” him into the Tweet – which I think is really bad manners. And I’m aware of “subtweeting” – being rude about someone without mentioning them.

But I’d guess that either he, or a representative of his, has some kind of search running, and if you’re negative, you’re blocked.

Clearly the blocking took place nearly three years’ ago, and I’ve been in blissful ignorance about it until now. Some wear their blocks as a badge of honour, and others have to use the mechanism to stop bullying and other unsavoury things happening to them. There are clearly particularly malicious groups that roam the internet targeting people.

And I do have to confess to blocking a few people myself. Checking my account I see I’ve blocked 22 people in total. Nearly all are accounts that either were “dubious” and tried to follow me (e.g. porn), or were accounts that started out sensibly but perhaps were taken over by scam artists. I can only see one “proper” account that I’ve blocked, and that’s purely so I don’t see that person’s inanity retweeted by others. Yes, they are (arguably racist) idiots. No, I don’t need to see proof via retweets. It’s like avoiding the drunken racist fool in the corner of the pub. I wouldn’t go and sit near them, and I don’t need my timeline polluted by them.

Everyone is well within their rights to block someone. I find it slightly curious to block someone that you’ve not followed unless they’re in danger of being widely retweeted. But that’s your prerogative.

So there you have it.

I feel a little bit hurt somehow. Not enough that I won’t get over it though. And I won’t take it personally. For what it’s worth, judging from this week’s episode, I’ll be avoiding Miriam Margolyes on Graham Norton in future too. As will Matthew Perry I suspect. I suspect that she’s not on Twitter. But if she is, she’s welcome to block me.

“Join the conversation on Twitter…”

We’ve all heard this on air.

We’re extolled to get in touch with some programme using Twitter, Facebook, text or whatever. The presenter regularly lets the audience know what their social media handle is. Perhaps the programme has a hashtag.

“Let us know what you think!”

And then?

Well they don’t really use those contributions to any extent at all.

This is particularly the case in big national broadcasts – presumably because someone is looking a bit panicked at a speedily updating column in Tweetdeck. So they stick with the known. Time and again you see the obvious candidates’ Tweets get used: Gary Lineker; Rio Ferdinand; Stephen Fry.

I’ve absolutely nothing against those people, and like the fact that they’re big users of Twitter. But the entire audience is capable of finding out what they think they think already. You’ve just asked a potential audience of millions to get in touch, and then ignored them completely.

If you’re only going to use the Tweets of famous people on your programme, then you might as well ask the audience: “Send us your Tweets, and if you’re a professional sportsperson or once appeared on The Apprentice we’ll read them out!”

Or frankly don’t ask anyone at all to send in their thoughts.

You’re not “engaging” the audience by asking them to participate and then ignoring them when they do so.

Some TV presenters can be particularly poor at using social media in their programmes. Perhaps it’s because you need to create a quick graphic on-screen? Or because people’s handles don’t easily identify them: with a phone call you have “Steve from Leeds”; on Twitter you have “@laughingboy1992.” Not easy to use if they’re trying to make a serious point about something.

The other issue is that the programme’s running order is packed, and having asked the audience up front to contribute, nobody has time to read anything back out because you’re out of time.

Make time. Otherwise don’t ask.

Or try to be clever and use some kind of sentiment analysis of responses to a particular question. Then dash through some of them. Radio football phone-ins tend to be pretty good at piling through a load of responses quickly.

Yes, you might be deluged with comments. But you did ask for them! You need staff to be able to sift through to bring interesting contributions to the audience.

But if you’re not going to use social media properly as part of your programme, then don’t bother. You wouldn’t repeatedly give out the phone number for your phone-in if you’ve already got about 50 calls lined up on the switchboard. If you do that, you know that you’re just annoying listeners who haven’t got a hope of getting through to the studio. So treat the social audience the same.

(Oh, and you might at least want to have someone in the office favouriting or retweeting good comments, even if they’re not going to make it to air.)

Twitter List Wrangling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or so I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On “Internal Browsers” – And Twitter’s Recent Addition

A while back Facebook integrated a so-called internal or in-app browser into its mobile apps. The ideas is that when you click to see a website that somebody has shared on Facebook, instead of being taken out of the Facebook environment, the app would display the relevant page within its own browser.

The main reason they gave for doing this is that it’s faster. It’s true – they can even cache a page ahead of you clicking on it.

But I hated it.

First of all, the real reason for embedding your own browser into your app, is to increase dwell time. The app maker is worried that if someone shares, say, a Buzzfeed link, you’ll just end up reading more Buzzfeed stories, and not return to the social media app you’d started in.

This is true. But I’m an intelligent human being. Let me choose whether to return to the app I started in, or continue using the link ecology that makes the web so fascinating – and so open.

Other reasons for wanting not to use internal browsers include cookies (I have to log in again on sites like Amazon or the New York Times), and the inability to use bookmarks or other browser functionality. I regularly like to use Recent Tabs in Chrome to, say, read on a laptop, a long story that I opened in Chrome on my mobile.

It also denies other app users the ability to launch a page in their app – when I click on a Guardian story, I might prefer to see it in the Guardian app. Aside from anything else, the top banner on the story will end up being a promotional ad for said app.

Internal browsers also tend to eat screen real estate, something that’s important in mobile where every pixel counts.

This added “functionality” also tends to increase the overall size of apps. Not something you might worry about if you’re using a 32GB+ top of the range smartphone. But bear a thought for the vast majority of the world on inferior devices.

When Facebook introduced their internal browser, they did at least include a way to turn it off. It was just about the first thing I did when they installed it.

(Later I stopped using the Facebook app altogether when they started pulling it apart and insisting that I install their Messenger app. I don’t want another messaging app thanks. Your old app was fine for my purposes.)

This is all a roundabout way of noting that Twitter has recently added its own internal browser. Now I should note that I’m on an Android beta stream (Ver 5.48.0-beta.267), so it’s possible that you’ve not seen this. But the app version I’m using does not have the ability to switch off the internal browser (or if it does, it’s seriously well hidden, because believe me, I’ve looked).

Sure – I can launch the resulting internal browser page in my preferred Chrome browser. But that’s an extra couple of button presses – Menu > Open in Browser.

Look – I understand that social media companies like Twitter want to get me to spend more time in their ecosystem. But this is actively driving me away from their browser. If they don’t add a way to switch this “functionality” off, I’ll have to move to a third-party app altogether.

Please do the right thing Twitter, and let me switch off your internal browser.

[Update – March 10 2015] The latest Twitter beta has a setting to let you switch off its internal browser. Hurrah!

(Sadly, actually writing a Tweet requires 1-2 more button presses which seems odd)

Twitter is Searchable: My Early Timeline

Twitter has finally built a full search engine for its archived Tweets. That’s important because it has been incredibly hard in the past to find specific Tweets.

I’m on Twitter of course, and have been since sometime in December 2006. But this search engine fills in a few blanks.

My first Tweet was not the most exciting ever:

That was December 13. I then didn’t do anything for about three months when I published this helpfully:

The first actual thing of interest was a few days later:

I’m honestly not sure what that might have been.

Then this was squarely aimed at the only other people I really knew on Twitter – the tech guys at One Golden Square:

Martin Collins is on the early shift at Magic these days – and back in One Golden Square. I’m not sure if he’s still using Carmina Burana…

Yahoo Pipes!

Then I started doing something that I’d completely forgotten. I started using Twitter in the third-person. I’m honestly not sure why, and I suspect that it’s because other people were doing that. I certainly didn’t have someone Tweeting for me!

I’ve kicked The Apprentice habit you’ll be pleased to learn. And I still think it’s unwise to advertise your hangover on social media if your work colleagues follow you – particularly your boss.

Sometime in the second half of 2007, a lot of us at Virgin Radio started using Twitter in a different way, although most didn’t realise that they’d set up a Twitter account.

Twitter at the time let you receive free SMS messages from specific accounts. It still does (although it’s operator specific and Vodafone has recently cancelled this service).

Using a combination of the Virgin Radio shortcode for texting, and Twitter, James Cridland got everyone in the company to sign up to Twitter with their mobile phones ahead of our weekend away in Dublin.

Here’s what happened. You followed a Virgin Radio account and enabled SMS messaging from it. Then you sent a message to the Virgin Radio text number with a prefix (so that it skipped the studio inbox). That was then “posted” as a Virgin Radio Tweet. And everyone following that account then got an SMS with said Tweet.

Free SMS group messaging for everyone in the company while we went on our jaunt to the Emerald Isle!

Well there were a few issues.

Firstly, it was anonymous, since all the Tweets were coming from the Virgin Radio account. And people quickly realised this. You could make “humorous” comments about your colleagues and they wouldn’t know who was broadcasting them.

Secondly, the volume of texts that everyone was getting meant that before we’d reached Heathrow Airport on the way out, a lot of people’s phones were dead or clogged up with texts, and they were desperately asking how to unsubscribe!

I’m not sure how any of this is related and whether I somehow got accounts muddled for a while, but my Twitter timeline goes quiet now until early 2008.

(I’ll save you a click – it’s a live blog of the BAFTAs).

(You can still listen to this here or download it from this page)

The key thing to note is that I was no longer Tweeting in the third person.

Anyway, I don’t propose to run through all 12,900 or so Tweets from there to date, but it’s fun using Twitter search to see how things have changed.

One final thing to say is that I don’t know if old Tweets come with the

Putting YouTube and Twitter Into Perspective

Recently Enders Analysis released a report detailing why television advertising isn’t likely to be losing out to the internet in the near term. Enders believes that television will remain the key advertising medium for the foreseeable future.

Part of that reason is that its scale is unmatched. Ray Snoddy, on Mediatel, expanded a little and talked about the “hysteria” surrounding Over the Top (OTT) services like Netflix and Hulu.

It’s important to remember this, because I’ve seen a few instances recently where commentators have leapt a little too fast into a future that isn’t quite there yet.

Election Debates

A case in point is the ongoing discussion surrounding the leadership debates ahead of the 2015 General Election. There are currently two proposals on the table: a BBC/ITV/C4/Sky proposal that would see three debates featuring four, three and two leaders; and a Guardian/Telegraph/YouTube proposal.

The former has caused controversy because UKIP’s Nigel Farage would be invited to participate in one debate (yet no Green or SNP leaders), while another would see just Cameron and Miliband but no Clegg. I suspect that there is still some work to be done before any conclusions are reached.

The other debate(s) seems less clear. When the bid was announced earlier in the year, there was lots of talk about reaching more voters via YouTube and opening up the debates due to the lack of broadcasting regulations in the online world.

But it just doesn’t all hang together. A “YouTube” debate could be embedded into any site (“www.adambowie.com hosts a Prime Ministerial debate”), but could also be made available to any TV channel. Up to a point Lord Copper. A TV broadcaster could only carry it if it did abide with broadcasting regulations. And let’s not forget that the various parties need to agree to a debate’s rules. They will want to be wary of being blind-sided by someone randomly (e.g. Diana Gould and Margaret Thatcher in 1983).

That’s not to say that this hasn’t been done before. In the US there have been CNN/YouTube debates in the past as the Republicans and Democrats chose their leaders. They allowed people to upload video questions.

But importantly, the debates were also carried on CNN. I just don’t believe that YouTube alone would deliver the audiences that the parties would want.

The first election debate in 2010 on ITV was watched by 9.4m, the second on the much smaller Sky News (also simulcast on the free-to-air Sky 3 and BBC News) reached 4m, and the third on BBC1 8.6m according to Wikipedia. Cumulatively, 22.5m people watched at least 3 minutes of any one of the debates.

That reach is fundamental. YouTube just doesn’t have that (yet).

Let’s not even get into the value of comments in the YouTube community. While some newspapers have appallingly negative comments under stories, YouTube’s comments seem to be some of the most inane anywhere on the internet, despite Google’s attempts to clean them up. Will I really get a worthwhile discussion there?

What will happen?

I expect a debate will end up on YouTube. But importantly it’ll be broadcast on one of the main broadcast channels. Sky News is on YouTube anyway. BBC News has the iPlayer. I don’t think we’ll be in an STV position where somebody will broadcast something that many interested people can’t watch. The biggest issue would probably be around “sponsorship” of such a debate by YouTube, The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. That might cause an Ofcom headache for television broadcasters who want to carry it.

Question Time

Elsewhere, I’ve also heard the bald assertion that “everyone” is second-screening Question Time and taking part on social media.

Well, my personal Twitter timeline might light up around 10.35pm on Thursdays, but that just indicates that I follow a lot of “meeja” types. I am abnormal.

Over 40% of the Question Time audience is aged 65+, with another 20% being 55-64. I strongly suspect that a small group of people spend a lot of time on Twitter during the programme. Indeed, I’m sure that it “trends” upwards compared with other shows. But the vast majority of the audience are not using social media.

On the 9th October edition of the programme, Second Sync has Question Time ranked number 1, with more than twice as many Tweets as the second most Tweeted programme, Celebrity Juice on ITV2. That’s 32,450 Tweets, with a strong male skew.

But that episode was actually watched by 2.42m people, and the male/female ratio was 51.5% to 48.5% (based on consolidated BARB figures).

Even if we very generously assume that Tweeters only sent a single message each (which in my opinion is highly unlikely), that means that a maximum of 1.3% of the audience was on Twitter.

OK – this excludes Facebook and other social media. And many “view” Twitter and don’t participate. But that’s still the vast majority of the Question Time audience not participating online. And this is a show that actively encourages social media usage, with hashtags, an extra guest on Twitter, and a follow-up radio show on Five Live.

Digital Day

Back in August, Ofcom released their very useful, if dry sounding, Communications Market Report. It contains an awful lot of valuable research into the UK media landscape. And of particular interest is their Digital Day research.

Here’s how people spend their “watching” media time across the week. Live TV is still massively dominant.

Can you see that pale blue line right at the foot of the chart? That’s YouTube and similar. And the dark green line just above it? Netflix and Amazon Prime (or Lovefilm as it still was when this research took place).

While I don’t doubt that they will grow over time, they have a long way to go before they usurp “old” media.

But that chart is “All Adults”. Aren’t all those young people spending all their time online now?

Well, they spend more time with YouTube, but somehow I think they actually made up a decent chunk of last weekend’s live X-Factor and Strictly audiences.

The Ofcom data tends to support this [Play with the dropdown to try different age groups].


Average time spent is the total average daily time spent watching media, including simultaneous
activity

So do young people use digital media more than others? Certainly.

Does that mean you should switch all your focus to those new media to reach young people and to engage them? Well… not really.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do that as well. And for nebulous things like “engagement” it might be a really good way to reach people – but define what you really mean by the word “engagement”.

However, we need to recognise that actually “traditional” or “old” media still reach more people. And they still get the lion’s share of the time spent with media too.

[A question: I did spend a fair amount of time looking to find an open source of YouTube data online – specifically for UK audiences. I really couldn’t find it. I thought that Google might have it themselves, but even their case studies are decidedly out of date in places. Obviously there are people like ComScore who publish data, but that’s not open to all. Any suggestions would be welcome.]

Betas

One of the exciting things you can do in our digital world is become a beta tester. Lots of companies and organisations let you test out their new upgrades ahead of rolling them out to the population. It’s quite good fun if you like that sort of thing. They let you see features ahead of the population at large, and you can feed back your thoughts about a product – perhaps sorting out bugs and small problems before the push the product out more widely.

But they usually come with some kind of health warning. Things might break. Badly. It’s your choice.

I’m in the Android Twitter beta programme. The Twitter application gets refreshed quite a lot as their development team test out new features and ways of presenting things.

Unfortunately, their current Android app build is broken. It only broke for me at some point last night, but looking around – on Twitter, of course – it seems that others found it to be broken early during the weekend.

As things stand I can’t update my timeline or send a Tweet. I do have alternatives – the website for starters, and Tweetdeck on desktop (the Chrome app lives permanently in a tab). But I’m surprised how long Twitter has taken to sort out the issue. The easiest thing to do would be to roll back to the last working version. But as I write at 4.30pm on a Monday, it’s getting on for a full 24 hours that it has been broken for me.

A workaround is an uninstall/reinstall. But that only works for a quick refresh. Then the problem comes back.

A more permanent solution would be to drop out of the Twitter beta programme. If I was heavily reliant on their app, I would. But I’ll stick with it for now.

Such are the perils of being a beta-tester. And no Twitter on my phone for a bit is probably quite healthy (as long as I don’t go to Facebook/Instagram/Pinterest etc).