Robert Freeman's whole Media, Business and Technology thing. Sorted.

Archive for November 2006

British Telecom – A good PR stunt is worth repeating

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46 years later

How the media snapped at this week’s announcement that the telephone has finally made it to Wales. Goodness knows what they’ve doing up till now, smoke signals, morse code, or just climbing up a hill and yelling. Maybe that explains why the Welsh produce such marvellous singers with superb lung power.

However, having a schoolgirl ring up the bishop of St Asaph isn’t nearly as good as the last time BT tried this stunt. It was 1958 and they got the Queen to Bristol to ring up Edinburgh. She dialled the call herself – truly a feat in the days when the local operator had total control over the process. You can read what was said here. (I bet the Wick-St Asaph conversation wasn’t half as interesting.)

And just like the problem many businesses today have, the introduction of subscriber trunk dialling was necessary to make the phone system scalable. It was completely uneconomic to go on adding more and more operators to connect the growing number of subscribers.

If you, like me, enjoy reading about the development of phone technology, try here.

And this is a marvellously niche blog, sadly no longer maintained, about the early use of local exchange dialling codes. In the 1960s, WHItehall 1212 would connect you to Scotland Yard.


Written by Robert

29 November, 2006 at 8:22 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

Sony Pictures chief skips the ads

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Michael Lynton watches TV like I do

This week’s Broadcast magazine features an interview with the chief executive of Sony Pictures, maker of programmes like Seinfeld and The Nanny, as well as recent Bond film Casino Royale.

Broadcast lead with Michael Lynton‘s fears over Google’s potential to control over half the ad spend for online video.

“People are very concerned that Google will do in the video space what it has accomplished in the text space. If it does, there won’t be a viable competitor … that is quite concerning for everyone.

More interesting I think is that Lynton has exactly the same TV viewing habits as me.  Since we got PVRs, we both stopped watching live television, and when we watch something off the PVR, we skip the advertising.

Now I had assumed that this was widespread and completely natural behaviour. But apparently Michael and I are atypical, because recent research suggests that only 4% of viewing is recorded!

I am amazed at this figure. I knew I was an early adopter, but are Michael Lynton and I really so far ahead? If this research is anything to go by, traditional TV business models are safe for a few more years to come.

Written by Robert

29 November, 2006 at 6:52 pm

Press Gazette is dead – but the blog could live on

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Even though the Press Gazette publication is gone, it looks as though a part of it may live on. Martin Stabe aims to move the informative blog to his own site.

I’ve met Martin on several occasions and he’s one of those people who ‘gets it’. He largely single-handedly, brought a wave of innovation to the PG website and his weekly commentary on how new media meets traditional publishing is always a worthwhile read.

Martin, good luck for the future and I’ll keep reading as long as you’re publishing, even if it’s only your weblinks!  🙂

(The other area of the site I enjoyed was the AOL-sponsored Discuss Journalism. The Press Gazette hosted discussion area is seperate from the AOL one of the same topic, which is confusing, but I hope one of them stays around.)

Rob McGibbon writes:

I can’t help but think there is a dark, foreboding irony that the newspaper industry’s trade magazine should fold at this time . . . What could prove to be a metaphor for newspapers across the land has just happened in microcosm with Press Gazette’s hollow death. And it all happened with barely a shrug.

Written by Robert

27 November, 2006 at 7:04 pm

Posted in Blogroll

CBBC wants to extend hours. Where’s the bandwidth?

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Head of CBBC (and a former boss of the author) Richard Deverell wants to increase CBBC’s transmission up to 10pm. There’s a very good technical reason why CBBC stops just before 7pm: it shares the same space in the terrestrial multiplex (Freeview) with BBC Three. When one stops the other can start.

This is because at the launch of digital TV, the BBC had one multiplex (called multiplex A) and had to fit all of its channels into it. At the time Greg Dyke saw this as a natural constraint to the BBC’s services.

Have at look at this Melvyn Bragg piece, dug out from the Observer. He quotes the former DG :

We have to limit our ambitions. It is as if Disraeli had said to Queen Victoria: ‘Let’s not bother with India, the Empire’s too big already.’

However since then, interactive TV has blossomed and more space was needed for ‘red button’ multiscreens for news and sport, as well as extra editions of programmes.

But on the collapse of ITV Digital, the BBC was handed another multiplex (B), which has now been filled with other TV channels and radio stations, in fact it’s also expanded into the so-called ‘commercial’ multiplexes A and D. Here you can see exactly what is running on all these multiplexes.

Satellite bandwidth is still available, but the BBC clearly cannot say goodbye to universal service, so that means having to find extra space on the DTT multiplex. And that either means knocking something else off, or squeezing the bitrates down as it has already done to the detriment of with DAB Radio.

In my opinion DTT bandwidths are already squeezed as low as they can go, without compromising the quality of the picture. DVD bandwidth is probably the benchmark for the public, and DVDs can run at a healthy 6-9 Mbits per second. DTT bandwidths can be less than half that.

The folks at DigitalSpy have been working out how this change might be accomodated.

Personally I cannot wait for the day when broadcasters only have to send a programme once. It is then recorded locally by your TV. Then they just transmit control metadata which creates a linear channel by playing the first-run stuff live, and anything repeated comes off the local recording. That would end all our bandwidth issues at a stroke!

… And don’t get me started on MPEG-4 compression!

Written by Robert

21 November, 2006 at 7:23 pm

Posted in Media, Technology

Million dollar video search available free

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Why I love Motionbox

Broadcasting companies have been developing video content management systems for the last decade. These are big expensive systems which cost millions of dollars to develop and several hundred thousand to buy.

Names that spring to mind include Quantel, Avid, Dalet, Blue Order, Omnibus.

And then there’s Motionbox. Which provides a good deal of what the above companies provide for absolutely nothing: thumbnails, timelines, scrubbing, tagging, search, linking. (Add Jumpcut into the mix and you also have editing)

Yes it’s not in broadcast quality, but that’s just a matter of time.

Motionbox typifies exactly why big media is (or should be) worried. The tools they have collectively spent billions to create, are now available direct to the public for free. In some cases the features in Motionbox are more refined than the ‘professional’ versions.

If there was a paid version of Motionbox which held media in high-quality somewhere and still allowed it to be viewed and tagged and linked-to around a secure extranet, I can think of a dozen clients I’d recommend it to immediately!

Written by Robert

19 November, 2006 at 3:30 pm

Times changes font ; not many dead

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The Times is changing its typeface, for the first time in 4 years – shock!

Is it just me? The importance of this story goes right over my head. I’m sure that keeping the paper looking fresh is important, but how many of its readers might notice this change? And why is the Press Gazette giving it such prominence?

The new font is meant to “encapsulate the paper’s heritage while adapting to the demands of the new compact format.”

Guys … it’s just a font.

Explanatory note to headline

In the 1920s, Claud Cockburn came up with what was judged the the most boring headline. It was published in The Times : “Small Earthquake in Chile; Not Many Dead”.

Written by Robert

16 November, 2006 at 4:25 pm

Posted in Media

New virtual newsreader threatens 24-hour news channels

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Ananova lives!

Northwestern University’s Infolab, just north of Chicago has recently started a project to create customised news bulletins which are created based on individual user preferences.

Star of the show is a virtual newsreader. This all seems very reminiscent of Ananova, a Press Association project in the late 90s. Ananova was basically a novel front-end to web news, driven by data feeds. (It was sold to Orange in 2000, but the avatar appears to have been abandoned some years ago)

The Infolab project goes a step further in that as well as looking at the text data, it searches the web for associated media to wrap in with the story (like Google News perhaps). The aim is to present a completely automated video news bulletin.

If this works, the triumph with be the technology, might it mean that continuous news channels would be freed from having to fill 60 minutes an hour, 24 hours a day, when there isn’t much on? Professional reporters could get on with finding stories and let the computer do the rest!

I’m a little skeptical about whether an avatar reading the news is a suitable substitute for a real human, but I suppose we have to wait and see what the results are like at the conclusion of the project.

Written by Robert

16 November, 2006 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Convergence, Technology