All 9 entries tagged Broadcasting

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January 05, 2009

All hail homogeneity

It’s a sad day for radio today. The first of several dozen local radio stations are losing their identity and becoming Heart.

Global Radio bought GCap Media last year, and today some of the former GCap stations start using the new name.

I’ll be particularly sad to see Chiltern FM go. I grew up listening to it in the years that Radio 1 was full of loud rubbish. From today, it’s just Heart.

The changes go beyond the name though. There’ll be less local news, fewer local presenters and more ‘networked’ programming. The long and short of it is that it’s less likely the next Chris Moyles or Scott Mills will come from commercial radio.

Moyles presented a brilliantly funny show on Chiltern around ten years ago. Today a presenter on the station wouldn’t be allowed to talk for more than thirty seconds between songs, let alone try to be funny.

I’m not upset that Heart, as a national brand, is coming into being. It should have happened years ago. Commercial radio would have had a much more successful decade if it had a national, contemporary music station broadcasting on FM. All it has had up to now is Classic FM.

But using local radio frequencies to create this national brand is sad, and not what they were designed for. They might have been full of local people trying to imitate Radio 2, but at least they were local.

January 02, 2009

The future of news… BYOB

Time for a gaze into my crystal ball.

I think I’ve seen the future of television news… and it’s called BYOB.

Nothing to do with beer, though. It’s my acronym for Build Your Own Bulletin.

The more TV news bulletins I watch, the more frustrated I get. There’s next to never any technology news, increasingly little foreign affairs and too much speculative ‘cure for cancer’ health news.

TV news is also frustrating because I’ve got a fair idea how expensive it is to produce. The number of people sat in a room behind Huw Edwards or Fiona Bruce would beggar belief. Running a 24-hour news channel is a mammoth undertaking. BBC News 24 costs somewhere between £40-50m per year, Sky News a little less.

So, what’s the alternative?

Rather than a linear, 24-hour operation with 30-minute showcase ‘bulletins’ at regular intervals, the televisual equivalent of RSS feeds. Seamlessly stitched together in a Flash video (like BBC iPlayer), a series of news reports, pre-recorded two-ways and interviews selected according to your tastes. You choose the type of story you’re interested in (UK, Politics, Health, Sport) and rank them according to importance. Then a broadcaster (let’s call it the BBC) makes stories for each of those categories, and ranks them according to their editorial importance. Some sort of algorithm works out how to order your news bulletin, and with the help of some recorded studio links for each piece, a 5, 15 or 30 minute news bulletin is delivered to your computer screen or TV. The unfussy could just choose a generic ‘top stories’ bulletin.

The best bit of all of this is the cheap method of distribution means there’s more money to go out and do journalism. Lengthy news packages might come back into fashion, and consumers would have far greater choice. Imagine a world where every Premiership football game has its own TV preview, every major speech in Parliament gets the analysis it deserves and every important judicial decision is explained in full.

My idea would have seemed a bit implausible a couple of years ago. But things have changed. IPTV (internet protocol television) is a reality, and works. It’s like YouTube on your telly, and it’s not sci-fi. I’ve got it at home and it’s great. It’ll be popular within a year, and widespread within five.

So after 75 years, linear TV channels could become a thing of the past. But surely the news channel, with its enormous costs, small audiences and one-size-fits-all model to news, should be the first to go.

December 11, 2008

How many TV execs does it take to waste £945m?

Reading Andy Duncan’s (the boss of Channel 4) reaction to the BBC’s post-Media Apocalypse plans, you kind of have to respect the guy’s nerve.

[Their proposals are] overdue recognition from the BBC that it should be using its privileged position to help support the broader public service ecology.

Andy Duncan, you see, seems to view Channel 4 not as a commercial broadcaster, owned by the nation, but as a charity.

How the company makes £945m in revenue each year and only manages to generate a profit of £1.6m* is beyond me. Is it being run like a 1960s cannabis-filled temple of peace and love, or a business?

Its public service obligations aren’t an enormous burden – a few hours on just one of its four channels. So how are they managing to drag the whole company down to the point where it’s only just breaking even?

One possible solution being bandied around is to give them BBC Worldwide. It, in stark contrast to C4, makes £916m in revenue each year, of which £112m is profit.

Based on Channel 4’s financial performance to date, it would be a bit like letting Zippy, George and Bungle take over Google.

*Yes, I know they’re a publicly-owned company and so don’t make profit in the traditional sense, but the figure suggests they’re only just about scraping by.

February 20, 2007

OFCOM: Capitalism at its stoopidest


They lurve ‘market forces’. They like auctioning off radio spectrum to the highest bidder and “letting the market decide”. It doesn’t quite work like that, of course. If Rupert Murdoch wanted to launch an unprofitable right-wing opinion station, he could. And he could outbid anyone. But OFCOM wouldn’t care that much, because “the market” would have decided.

Well now they’ve outshone themselves.

They want to auction off the spectrum currently used by those nasty socialist theatre performers and broadcasters. They tend not to make a profit, so rather than bleed them dry, OFCOM’s just going to make life really hard for them.

You see, radio microphones use the spectrum inbetween other channels. They don’t take up much space, but OFCOM doesn’t mind that, because they’re just worried that the commies are getting away with something for free.

They’d quite like to auction that small bit of space off to mobile phone companies or broadcasters. Even though it would make virtually every theatre production in the country practically unworkable.

They’ve already said they won’t ring-fence any space for High Definition TV services on Freeview. Instead we’ll have to pay – you guessed it – Rupert Murdoch for the privilege of shiny picture quality on our TV sets.

OFCOM’s policy on “letting the market decide” is complete madness. Hopefully even they’ll see sense on this one and realise that theatre companies aren’t going to pay millions of pounds for a tiny bit of the radio spectrum.

January 31, 2007

BBC iPlayer a step closer

The BBC iPlayer might revolutionise television. It’s potentially bigger than Digital TV. And it’s coming. Because today the BBC’s Trust approved the software.

You’ll be able to watch all of the BBC’s programmes online, live. And then you’ll be able to download them to your computer for 30 days. You can set series links and keep hold of series like Doctor Who and watch them all at once.

They’ve made a few changes, some good and some bad. You won’t be able to download some classical music, or keep hold of certain radio plays. But it will have to be content neutral (initially it was Microsoft-only). This is great, but might delay the product launch. It’s already looking like late-2007, early-2008.

It’s what broadband was made for, and I can’t wait.

November 23, 2006

Nick Clarke

Nick ClarkeThe presenter of Radio 4’s The World at One Nick Clarke, has died of cancer aged 58.

I never really heard his programme – I’ve only recently started switching between Radios 1 and 4 – but from the number and level of tributes to him, it’s clear he was a journalist to aspire to.

Tony Blair, Margaret Beckett, Jack Straw and all of the names from journalism have paid tribute, only half an hour after his death was announced. Listening to a special edition of The World at One this lunchtime, their respect for Nick makes it pretty clear he was a fearsome journalistic opponent who didn’t go in for some of the ‘nasty’ tactics of his fellow broadcasters.

November 16, 2006

Al Jazeera's first 24 hours

I wrote a couple of days ago about the launch of al-Jazeera English, the latest addition to the long list of international news channels.

But if its first 24 hours are anything to go by, it’ll soon be headed to the top of that list. Watching it makes you feel like this is what BBC World and CNN should be like. Perhaps half of its journalists are British, many of them having left the Beeb, and so it doesn’t feel like it’s a Qatar-based news channel.

But it does feel very international. Its first stories (after it had reported its own inception) were about Israel, Darfur, Iran, Zimbabwe and Brazil. My only criticism of its very first hour was that it was very scripted, and didn’t make much room for the reported tsunami off the Eastern coast of Japan.

Every time I dip into it, it’s clear they’ve invested in serious, reporter-led journalism which you only see glimpses of in Britain. And one of its greatest assets, which other news organisations should invest in more heavily, is having studios around the world, meaning European stories can be anchored from Europe, and Asian stories anchored from there too. CNN does this to an extent, although it feels like the only reason they do is to avoid paying anyone extra for night shifts.

The only shame about the channel is its accessibility. It’s available on Sky Digital and online, but the online option either lets you watch 15 minutes of poor quality video, or makes you pay for it. Not a good idea for a channel struggling to get into people’s homes.

Having said that, al-Jazeera’s approach is clearly going to leave some of its larger competitors in its wake over the coming months as its unique approach to internationalism leaves others looking too Westernised.

Don't touch that dial!

From BroadcastNow (subscription required)

Ofcom has signalled the end of FM radio with a report suggesting the spectrum could be used to make way for digital radio and mobile TV. The Future of Radio report outlines the changing landscape of radio and says the spectrum occupied by FM radio (VHF Band II) could be used for other things as listeners move to digital platforms.

Hold your horses a second, OFCOM!

As Jack Schofield points out in his TechnologyGuardian column today:

British consumers are being short-changed by the BBC’s support for low-quality audio… Recently I’ve been pointing out that the technology used in the UK for DAB (digital audio broadcasting) is obsolete, that the sound quality is inferior to FM radio and that we should be preparing to move to a new DAB2 standard.

FM generally gives better audio quality than DAB. Yet OFCOM want to get rid of FM before sorting out a decent replacement. Nutters.

As Schofield rightly says, the British radio industry needs to make the painful decision to jettison DAB and bring in a better version, using modern compression techniques. Only when that’s bedded in should they start thinking about getting rid of the FM dial, rather than trying to flog as much spectrum as they can to the highest bidder (as is happening with Digital TV).

November 14, 2006

Al Jazeera looks West

Al Jazeera LogoTomorrow sees the launch of “Al Jazeera English”, the international offshoot of the best known Middle Eastern broadcaster.

It’s been a rocky launch and has taken them a year longer than planned, causing untold costs as many of their staff were hired back in 2005. They’ve lost their distributor in the United States and today they announced a last-minute rebrand. They were originally to be known as Al Jazeera International, but it was noted the Arabic version isn’t exactly domestic in its outlook.

I’m looking forward to the channel launching though. AJE, as I’m sure it will be known, could well get similar viewers to CNN, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it beating BBC World fairly soon. Their only problem might be distribution in hotels where CNN and the BBC have a long history of dominance. But they’re well resourced and have poached a number of well-known faces from the BBC and elsewhere – most notably the Beeb’s Darren Jordon and Rageh Omaar.

Al Jazeera’s been criticised many times in the past for being too close to terrorism, but much of the time it’s little more than a caricature. All I can suggest is that people turn to Sky channel 514 tomorrow or watch online, and see for themselves.

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