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Archive for the ‘Convergence’ Category

My radio apps choices for Radio Festival’s Techcon14

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On behalf of the BBC Blue Room, I’m presenting a couple of sessions at The Radio Festival and Techcon (for engineers and technicians).

This morning I outlined some apps I think show interesting trends for the radio and audio industries, and for reference, here they are, with a couple of additions I didn’t get a chance to show.

The first three are all examples of text-to-speech developments. There are many organisations trying to achieve reliable mechanisms to automatically create speech radio.

Soundgecko – for Android and iOS

This takes any webpage or RSS feed and turns it into speech. The computer voice is surprisingly listenable!

Newsbeat – for Android and iOS

Newsbeat adds many more options for customisation and features a combination of computer speech and real human voices to. Weirdly, I find it hard to tell the difference sometimes, not because the computer voices are so good, but because the human voices can be very robotic.

Umano – for Android and iOS

This requires subscription to unlock all the features, but even without a mobile you can get a good idea of what’s it’s like by looking at their website.

Umano is fully human speech. How do they achieve this? The power of crowd-sourcing! You can audition to become an Umano reader, and then upload your finished readings. The users themselves select the stories they think should be turned into audio.

A couple of examples of content companies who have looked at the trends in online music listening and are seeing how they can use those in speech radio.


NPR diligently tag all their live radio and their app creates a live-sounding news and current affairs station. You can tell it what you like, it will start to give you more of that. I like it a lot.

CBC Radio – just for iOS so far

It doesn’t have the personalisation features of NPR, but if you want programme segments, rather than hour-long chunks of radio, this is a nice way of doing it.

Storytelling with audio at the core

Operation Ajax – a comicbook-style docustory. Listen with headphones. I would happily plug in and spend hours going through, not just the story, but all the supporting material as well. An excellent example of genuinely multimedia storytelling.


Vio, is a live vocal processor for iOS. Headphones are a must. Hate the sound of your own voice? You won’t with this!

There must be many other interesting apps for audio and radio, if you know of others that you think are progressive or innovative, do let me know in the comments 🙂



Written by Robert

13 October, 2014 at 10:27 am

Farewell the original UK Tivo

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One bit of kit I probably won’t be able to keep going much longer

In the midst of my zeal to get more value out of some of my older electronics I’ve just had a setback.

This morning I turned on my Tivo and got this screen:

Tivo UK Series 1 - end of life

No more predictions for me

To be honest, I’ve been expecting this news. There were always going to be two options. Either the hardware was going to expire (something I’d tried to mitigate already 3 years ago by upgrading the hard disc, the only mechanical component), or Tivo itself would turn the system off.

Option two happened first. Yes, I am an early adopter. Tivo launched in Britain in October 2000. But in having my Tivo for something like 8 years, I’m surprised that they waited quite this long.

The thing about Tivo which makes it different from other hard disc recorders is that it depends on a regular download of TV and radio programme data provided by Tivo itself. No EPG data, and the box becomes a dumb VHS device you have to laboriously set for each recording.

Tivo was something that Sky brought in to help navigate their hundreds of satellite channels. But a year later Sky realised it was something they could do themselves and launched the Sky+ box in 2001.

Tivo lingered for a little while but decided to stop selling their device at the start of 2003.

All that time it was actually Sky which maintained the Tivo platform. You never needed a Sky subscription however, Tivo worked perfectly well with Freeview, which is what I used it with. If you had a problem with your subscription it’s  Sky’s call centre you get put through to.

I actually bought a Topfield Freeview Plus recorder a year ago and I have been running the two side by side. I’d been trying to wean myself off Tivo because I knew my hardware didn’t have a future although I still use it on a daily basis. The reason why is significant and it’s something that today’s manufacturers still need to pay attention to.

1) Tivo is really simple to use.

2) The box predicts what I want to watch and if I forget to record something, it normally does it anyway.

And that’s it. That’s what’s kept me using it for 8 years. Many’s the time I’ve been on the train in the morning and while flicking through the free paper realised there was something on TV that night I wanted to watch. Dammit, I’d think. I wish I’d set the recorder.

Imagine my delight when I got home and discovered that this gorgeous box had done it for me! There was always something on TV I wanted to watch. I stopped watching linear TV (and advertisements) the same week, and I’ve never gone back. That knack of prediction is something Freeview and Sky never managed to replicate.

Compared with the Topfield device I have now, even 8 years on, the original Tivo interface is a *lot* easier to use.

I shall miss it.

But Tivo is about to  re-launch on a new platform and want rid of legacies like my old box. Although I imagine that with Tivo now being associated with Virgin Media , Sky don’t want to keep it going any longer. Maybe there are contractual issues. Who knows.

It would be interesting to know how many of the original Thomson Scenium devices are still out there, and what proportion of them are still paying £10 a month for the EPG download (there was also an option to buy a ‘lifetime’ EPG subscription for £300).

I will now have to try and make the best of the last few months of my Tivo’s life. It’s an analogue device so keeping it going beyond digital switchover was another issue on my mind. Getting out of the habit of tagging programmes I like or dislike will be a struggle.

But viewing has moved on. My next TV will be HD, as will the recording box I buy with it. It will have at least 5x the recording space, although the number of TV channels coming into it will stay about the same (I intend staying on Freeview)

My entertainment choice will still change though. My next TV will be able to download directly from the web and playback media from any device within a WiFi radius.

What won’t change is the amount of time I have to be able to watch the damn thing!

Written by Robert

15 February, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Why Sun Talk can’t survive

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At least not in this form

The Sun have started up an online radio show, Sun Talk and it’s now been running just over a week.

I can’t see it lasting.

Let’s qualify this. I applaud any newspaper’s efforts to meet the challenge of winning new audiences in digital spaces, but you don’t do that by merely matching what your analogue competition does. To stand out and stay ahead, you need to leapfrog your competition.

Sun Talk sounds like a standard analogue radio format pushed on the web.

It’s very linear. Three hours realtime, and the ‘listen again’ is one big block of three hours too.  There’s no way to skip to bits that might interest you specifically, even though the Sun list some highlights text in their player console.

The audio-drag bar doesn’t even give you any timing so you can’t see how far along the programme you are, even if you knew where to jump to.

Given that this is not traditional radio, part of the online effect is that you tend to get more people listening on-demand than live. But the show isn’t structured in a way that means the Sun can take advantage of this, by packaging segments up and offering them discretely.

The show needs to have the podcast listeners in mind, more than the live ones, but this is currently round the wrong way.

The jingles are fun, but again very old radio and I think they’ll get on your nerves after a while, particularly as there doesn’t appear to be any dynamic compression, so the levels constantly jump up and down.

Amazingly there’s no interaction between the website and the audio show, witnessed by the fact that Jon Gaunt references stories in the paper … (actually *in* the paper, you can see him pick it up in the studio and read it)

“Did you see that story in the paper? Go out and get it if you didn’t!”

I don’t need to go out and get it Jon, I’m on the internet. I can surf to the story, if you send out some data streams with the audio, or just stick a link to the story on a page, or in the player perhaps?

Equally I smiled when Jon broke into a guest’s answer to remind people who he was and what they were listening too, as if I’d just been tuning up and down the dial and happened across him.

There’s a huge banner on my screen with that information!

Who’s listening? Internet chatter is strangly muted. There’s a spike on launch day and then very little. Apart from a great wrap of the first programme from John Plunkett, the blogs are quiet – this can’t be good.

What it good about this project is it gets the Sun journos used to producing, regularly, more than just a newspaper and website.

However, listening to columnist after columnist gets a bit boring, particularly when the Sun, the paper, is positively alive with interesting and fun material. The Sun in audio format, this is not.

Radio’s a great medium to experiment in because it’s so cheap, but hugely competitive because there are so few barriers to entry.

It’s daring because many of the core group of Sun readers wouldn’t be online radio listeners, so maybe there’s a new audience to attract here.

Yes, it’s a good exercise in brand extension, but it’s not a way to make money, and in this form, it’s not really doing anything innovative … yet.

Written by Robert

28 April, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Internet set to dominate ad spend in Sweden

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UK next?

A GroupM report estimates that 2008 will be the year when ad spend on the internet will overtake budgets spent on TV in Sweden.

Mediaguardian has more on this, although concentrating on the fact that UK will probably be the first major economy where internet overtakes TV advertising, but not till 2009.

I was more interested in the swedish figures actually, but can’t find those. Oh Well.

Written by Robert

5 January, 2008 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Business, Convergence, Media

Current flashy new interface takes linear non-linear

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Have you seen the beta site for the new Current (formerly Current TV)?

They have neatly incorporated a new design which means they can pop their linear tv programme out of the tv and onto an on-demand environment on the web.

Now if only I could do that with continuous tv news, I could skip just to the part of the hour I want, instead of having to sit through a bunch of stuff that doesn’t interest me.

Written by Robert

22 October, 2007 at 5:54 pm

Posted in Convergence, Media

Guardian Unlimited Video

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The button was quietly pushed a little after 11am this morning.

Have you checked it out yet?

Written by Robert

4 September, 2007 at 9:49 pm

Macquarie’s next natural step is to buy Technicolor

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Macquarie is a fascinating group of companies which seem to have the good old-fashioned principle of vertical integration at its heart, and watching the company’s buying strategy is like a good game of Monopoly.

With their recent purchase of National Grid Wireless (formerly the BBC’s transmitter network) they’ve bought Mayfair. They already had Park Lane (Arqiva) and with both of those blue cards they can start adding houses and hotels!

So it’s worth looking at the different bits of Macquarie and how important they’ve become to the media industry.

Macquarie Communications Infrastructure Group is majority owner of Arqiva (formerly the ITV transmitter network) and Broadcast Australia. Both run broadcasting transmission facilities.

Arqiva also has production capability, cameras, studios etc, partly due to its purchase of Inmedia in 2005. Arqiva bought part of BT’s satellite business in November 2006.

Macquarie Capital Alliance Group is majority owner of Red Bee Media (formerly BBC Broadcast) which runs TV channel playout on behalf of the BBC and various broadcasters.

With Red Bee and Inmedia already in their hand, Macquarie could add a third playout facility or transmitter infrastructure company and complete the set. They’ve two to choose:

VT Communications (formerly the BBC World Service international transmitter network)

Technicolor Network Services (who run playout for ITV, and others)

Technicolor would be bursting with the same money-saving integration opportunities as NGW/Arqiva, but would mean that Macquarie would then own all the infrastructure and all the playout for the UK’s major broadcasters, potentially a real monopoly which would be frowned on.

The Times reports that Macquarie is considering purchasing the UK’s emergency radio network, Airwave (more masts and transmitters) from Telefonica.

*Update 19Apr, this is now confirmed.

There also Macquarie Media Group, which has recently bought American Consolidated Media, its first print acquisition.

And that’s just the broadcasting assets, other pies the group has fingers in include energy trading and car parks and it is also London’s water supplier.

Written by Robert

14 April, 2007 at 11:03 am

Posted in Business, Convergence