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BBC Three moving online is a massive audience gamble

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BBC3 EPG online

Not quite gone, not yet


By the time you read this, the television part of BBC 3 will be dead.

The reasons are well documented: the UK Government – which controls the BBC’s funding – has effectively cut the BBC’s budget by 25% over the last six years.

Imagine your income dropping by a quarter, what you would stop doing? Eating out? Buy fewer new clothes? Spend less on media?

The BBC is cutting right across the board. For instance, while the BBC 3 decision has been getting all the attention there are significant cuts to other youth services. Radio 1 live events coverage has been slashed by over 80%.

BBC 3’s TV stats are very good. It gets nearly a quarter of the UK 16-34 age group watching every week, for well over 2 hours. It has the 2nd highest audience appreciation rating, just behind BBC 4.  That is an enormous amount of attention that has just been abandoned.

BBC 3’s problem now is to remain discoverable by its audience, and that’s a huge, huge challenge.

With so much choice available to the target audience this is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind problem. We are decades into a multi-channel TV world but most people watch fewer than 17 channels regularly (US data).  Similarly the number of close friends you have in the real world is around 15.

BBC Brands in iPlayer

In a post-TV environment BBC 3 is planning its own smartphone application, separate from the main iPlayer one.  This is sensible, it needs a big bold front page and you can see above iPlayer has too many different brands to represent as it is.

However the human usage limits of TV channels also apply to apps.

You probably have dozens on your phone, but how many do you regularly use? Again, US data suggests only around 25, although the time you spend using them is increasing, but it’s nowhere near TV watching hours.

Our media usage is limited because there’s a limit to the amount of information your brain can process, and the number of hours in the day aren’t increasing.

Which is why I think losing the TV part of this brand is an enormous risk. The advantage of having the anchor of a TV channel is that it is still a useful way to stand out.  Even if you don’t watch it (although the stats say millions do) seeing it on the EPG, or encountering it during a channel flick reminds you that it exists.

By going online-only BBC 3 is competing with every other piece of content on the internet, and there’s a lot more internet than there is BBC 3.

I’m being picky here, but the recent name / logo change doesn’t help. When personal referral is so important, how do you expect people new to the brand to tell their friends, when the mark is unpronounceable?

Question: ‘Where did that come from?

Answer: ‘It’s on the line-line-exclamation-mark channel on YouTube’. Not helpful.

Getting your audience to remember you are there is most of the battle, and unfortunately, due to constant media noise, it’s a battle you can’t stop fighting lest something new comes along to distract your audience.

Getting someone to install an app on their phone is one thing. Getting them to remember to use it regularly is quite another.

Our brains are hard-wired to pay attention to new things and the brain rewards us with feel-good chemicals. To make this worse, we also suffer from recency bias: the brain puts more importance on new things when making decisions.

For marketing budgets, its expensive to acquire a new customer and you have to keep spending to retain them. I predict BBC 3 is going to have to spend far more on external advertising than it thinks it does if it’s going to keep its audience share the way it is.

Unfortunately that is more money not being spent on programmes, precisely the opposite of what the corporation wants.



Written by Robert

16 February, 2016 at 1:02 am

Top consumer trends from Ericsson #MyThoughts

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Ericsson's trends


I love documents based on prediction, because they are beautifully hard to disprove, after all anything might happen.  I’ve just read Ericsson’s ConsumerLab report on the consumer trends of this year and it’s a fascinating look not into what scientists think is going to happen, but what the general public predict.

The problem with asking the (mainly non-science trained) general public about what they expect to happen in matters of science and technology is that they will always apply much shorter timescales to things than are generally realistic. I am possible only marginally more informed than the random sample, but here’s my reaction.

Ericsson says: Early adopters are less important

Absolutely. Innovation now happens so fast (because it has become much cheaper for people and companies to innovate) leading to so much choice, making it difficult to discern a consumer trend. This is because as soon as one product iteration has been released, it is just a few days before another spurt-of-the-new confuses the public all over again.

“Successful new products and services now reach the mass market in only a matter of years”

I think Ericsson are off with their timescales here.

With services particularly (I’m thinking software) this can actually happen in months.  The report notices the increased speed of mass adoption ‘the network effect’, but consumers are becoming more fickle. The ever changing market is teaching us to be technology magpies and we flit from one new shiny thing to another. Today it’s a smart watch, before that, Flappy Bird.

 ” as the speed of technology adoption increases, mass-market use becomes the norm much quicker than before”

I sense a tremendous marketing opportunity for services which can appear to be exclusive, whilst still benefiting from the economies of scale of a very broad appeal product. Blackberry used to know what this was like. Remember when ‘important people’ had a Blackberry handset? It was a status symbol which thanks to a quirk of its messaging service became hugely popular with the younger crowd. But then it became uncool (because we are fickle) and the brand was tarnished at the same time. The exclusivity was gone.

TV companies definitely know what this is like, and it’s why a broadcaster like ITV has diversified into a clutch of sub-brands each known for a particular specialism. ITV2 for new and trendy, ITV3 for people who prefer the way television used to be.

The kids are watching video on the internet – Streaming Natives

I fail to see why this is still worth mentioning. Its so obvious when you compare with another market like, well a market. Would you prefer to shop at the single butcher, baker or grocer for the limited amount of time they are open, or would you prefer to go to a big supermarket and do everything at once and benefit from the increased choice, the lower prices and the longer opening hours?

20% of 16-19 year olds watch more than 3 hours on YT daily

People like television, kids particularly so. When I was in my teens, my mum was forever trying to get me to stop watching TV. I watch even more TV now than I did then, mostly because it’s so much more convenient (and because I don’t live with my mum anymore and she can’t tell me off).

AI ends the screen age

No it won’t. At least not in the 5 year term predicted. First we will get more versatile screens that are bigger and that we can fold up in our pockets. As for talking to an artificial intelligent assistant. We already do that. Except we don’t. When Siri and her ilk appeared, my friends loved to experiment with it. They don’t do that anymore. (We are fickle).

Short instructions to AI systems seem to work much better. Telling my Echo speaker “Play BBC Radio 4” never gets old because I like listening to Radio 4.

50 percent of consumers think holographic screens will be mainstream within 5 years

Here’s that problem about the general public and timescales.

50 percent of consumers think holographic screens will be mainstream within 5 years? Really?  This is a technology that has yet to see life outside a lab. I have my doubts that internet-connected light bulbs will be mainstream in 5 years, and you can buy those today!

AI poll results chart

Strangely, the one thing that the general public thinks the least good of the ideas is the one I think will massively take off. VR dating. What a time-saver for the initial sift of potential spouses to happen remotely! No more uncomfortable and expensive dinners with people who are obviously not a match.

55 percent of smartphone users believe that homes will have embedded sensors within 5 years

Hooray, something I believe will happen. However, given the speed it takes to build and replenish housing stock, I don’t see this becoming anything like mass market for another decade. In the meantime, we will have to cope with a competing bunch of home sensor systems that will harm early adoption, along with the threat that your home can be hacked.

65 percent of smartphone owners are interested in an emergency app, which would alert them in a crisis or disaster, and provide verified, rumor free information

Only 65%? I wonder what the rest wanted? This is clearly a new and necessary role for public service broadcasters. I see a renewed need for organisations like the EBU (aka Eurovision) to provide links between trustworthy newsrooms and maybe have direct access into their various apps to provide and share exactly this kind of infomation.

Everything gets hacked

It’s fascinating that people have caught onto the probability that consumer electronics security is an if not when event. I know many professionals who haven’t worked that one out. Although again, the thing they rate as least likely, wearables, I rate the opposite.

Hacking poll results chart

I wonder if people are actually rating the effect a hack might have on them and seeing wearables as immaterial. Either way, they are wrong.

One statistic stands out to me: 43 percent think we will be required to identify ourselves whenever we use the internet within the next 3 years. The creeping surveillance state propaganda appears to be working.

In summarising, the report (like many) quotes William Gibson: the future is already here. Though it suggests that future is much more evenly distributed this time round.  I am not so sure.

The things that still matter, are still the things which require the most effort, or the most money, or both: A breakthrough medicine for HIV, replacements for the ticking timebomb of antibiotics, a reusable rocket, the self driving car or what we end up doing with our rubbish.


Written by Robert

19 January, 2016 at 8:57 pm

No more NBC Nightly News podcasts. The bigger loser? NBC News.

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NBC NIghtly News podcast in iTunes

Soon to be available nightly, zero days a week

The flexibility of being able to download audio and video programmes to my mobile devices is one of the things that’s revolutionised by media consumption in the last decade. I have a 64GB ipod which is pretty much dedicated to podcasts, and it’s usually complaining that I’m about to run out of space.

I’m a massive consumer of documentary and current affairs, but I watch very little on-the-day TV news. And thanks to NBC’s decision to kill the podcast feed of Nightly News, I’ll now be watching even less.

I’ve been downloading NBC Nightly News pretty much every day for the last couple of years. It’s a great contrast to UK daily news programmes. I enjoy the different presentational style, I enjoy the different editorial decisions. But I also enjoy the very traditional collection of ‘stuff that happened today’ packaged into one simple bulletin.

NBC Nightly News discontinued

There’s a helpful announcement pointing me in the direction of other ways to watch, via the dedicated app, or on the web, but here’s why the other options don’t work for me:

Both the app and website options need a live internet connection.  I don’t always have one. The fantastic thing about a podcast or download is that it works wherever you are, even when your connection is patchy. I’m almost always enroute somewhere when I’m watching, hence my internet is always patchy.

Neither the app or wesbite options allow me to watch at anything other than real-time. I have something like 35 programmes on my device and in order to fit everything in, I almost always play things back at a faster speed.

This may seem extremely geeky (and I admit it probably is) but I often listen or watch up to 5 hours of media in a day, and I only have about three hours to do so. The ability to compress time is really valuable.

NBC Nightly News screengrab

I chose an ipod specifically because is has the best implementation of this that I’ve found so far, as it attempts to keep the pitch the same, while increasing the speed. It doesn’t sound normal, but it isn’t so strange that you can’t listen or understand for quite long periods. A 30 minute show magically becomes 15 minutes long and I have 15 minutes to watch something else.

The audio version of Nightly News will still be available yes, and I could download that and play it back at a higher speed. However, without the pictures, I would do better with a dedicated radio programme instead, radio reporters don’t constantly refer to things you cannot see.

I don’t know the reason NBC are getting rid of Nightly News in video, but in doing so, mainstream TV loses another viewer and they hurt their overall accessibility at a time when ease-of-access is one of the most important things for a media producer. Make it harder for people to get to your offer, and the majority just won’t bother.

If I had the time, I could probably do a screen-scrape of their web video and get the programme back, but there’s so much competition out there, I’ll probably just switch to something else.

I never cease to be amazed at how organisations suffering from audience-flight make decisions which will exacerbate the problem, but at least my ipod has a bit more space now.

Score: Innovation 1, mainstream media nil. Again.

Written by Robert

1 February, 2015 at 10:13 pm

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

Why crowd-sourced films are the biggest disruptive force I’ve seen in years

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Vyclone screenshot

Warning: Severe disruption ahead

Something new for entertainment executives to stress over

Over the last few days, I’ve been playing around with a mobile video app called Vyclone.

Check the site, download and play, but I urge you to play with other people who have the app in the same room. It’s really important you do, or you just won’t get it.

If you’ve ever been to a large event, videoed it, and have then been disappointed at the results, you’ll love this app. If you’ve experience of storytelling in video, the possibilities will probably charm you.

If you work for a commercial broadcaster, or in electronic distribution rights for events, it will probably stop you sleeping at night.

Vyclone finds all the other people in the same place as you, recording the same thing, and stitches their videos together into a multi-camera shoot. If you don’t like what it does automatically, you can make your own camera mix.

It’s the most disruptive, fascinating, troubling, creative, delicious, innovation I’ve seen in years. This is a game-changer.

Some perspective: 15 years ago, worried rights-owners would try to ban people bringing video cameras into their events (some still do). They had already sold the TV rights to another company and were obliged to protect that sale.

With mobile phone video, there were too many people to police, but they quickly realised it wasn’t a threat because these individuals made rubbish content. They weren’t organised and had no scale or impact. The individual YouTube stats for the uploaded videos proved that.

These elements have now irrevocably changed. A crowd-source video app offers both organisation and scale, automatically.

Let’s say I’m at Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend music festival. I’m recording Nicki Minaj performing ‘Starships’

(top chune btw). My camera only gets a general view of the stage. But at the front, two other people I don’t even know are recording the left and right sides of the stage. One might have Minaj in full close-up. Yet another person is recording the crowd and their friends further back.

The app stitches all of those shots together into a music video.

If you’re a broadcast professional, I can already hear your say “it still won’t be as good as our planned, directed TV coverage”, and you are absolutely right. But, here’s the kicker:

It’ll be good enough.

YouTube doesn’t amass millions of eyeballs a day because it’s professional. It has content that for the most part, is just good enough for the few minutes those millions want to watch.

Now, take my music festival scenario and imagine instead a riot. Or a war zone. You see how powerful this might be for news gathering?

There’s still a long way to go obviously. For now, you actually have to be recording through an installed application for the auto-mix to work. There’s a limit of 4 other cameras in a single mix. The video quality is, well, from a mobile phone. All these will improve and become less restrictive.

But even now, it’s good enough.

There are fights to come. The technology raises massive issues about whether anyone can “own” the resulting video when anyone is free to remix and share the individual parts.

Given the massive, lucrative sporting event about to engulf my home city of London, I’ll give you one last scenario to imagine the impact of a crowd-sourced, non-owned, multiple camera recording:

The men’s 100 metre final.

I wish the International Olympics Committee a good night’s sleep.

Written by Robert

25 July, 2012 at 12:23 am

Google/Bing payments to Twitter are a double standard

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If Twitter, why not the news media?

Did you spot an item just before Christmas that Twitter is now supposed to have pushed into profit?

There’s comment on whether they are actually in profile, whether this will be enough to sustain Twitter and lots more on what else it might have to do, but I want to point out just one thing.

Twitter is (possibly) profitable because Google and Bing are between them giving Twitter $25m to access data which will then go into their search indices.

The data is mostly provided free by Twitter’s millions of users.

Contrast this deal with Google taking data from newspaper websites and putting that into its search engine.  But not giving the newspapers any money.

The news data comes from fairly expensive journalists who investigate stories, check facts and sometimes put their lives in danger.

Twitter, free data = $25m. News, expensive data = Zero.

Now I’m no fan of large news organisations some of whom may be confused about user behaviour on the web, but you know … this state of affairs seems a little strange.

Written by Robert

5 January, 2010 at 11:24 am

Norwegian broadcaster backs P2P

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And how!

Paidcontent have reported that the Norwegian broadcaster, NRK are setting up their own Bittorrent tracker server to enable people to search for their content and share it amongst themselves.

What this means is that they can release much higher quality versions of their programmes and it won’t cost them any extra to distribute them.  It also means that their content starts to become self-organising as the viewers and listeners can link and tag and store the stuff they want.

Already dedicated viewers of some of the material released are producing their own subtitles to translate the programmes into english, known as ‘fansubbing’.

Having your own tracker is also a great idea because it allows you to be free with your content and still retain some control as the tracker server will be accruing some vital statistics about what material is shared, when, by whom  and how widely.

Maybe in the future NRK won’t even need it’s own archives, as the material will all be distributed throughout the computers of the good people of Norway.  (This is clearly fanciful, it will never happen!)

I can’t help thinking that someone in the BBC is thinking that they’ve been beaten to a great idea. But why not make a start by putting every BBC Schools programme broadcast last year on a P2P network, accessed by the BBC’s own torrent tracker?

Written by Robert

11 March, 2009 at 1:41 am