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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

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

The sale of stuff from TV Centre – Valuable? Or Junk?

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Useless things – worth more than they cost to make

The contents of a building where I used to work are being slowly sold off.

The closure and sale of BBC Television Centre has ignited strong emotions and there was a protest to prevent planning permission for a redevelopment, involving some high-profile celebrities of British culture, to no avail.

As an armchair economist it’s fascinating to pick out a couple of results of some of the completed parts of the auction, because for me at least, the prices just don’t make any sense.

Take for example, lots 1455, and 1456. These are what’s left of some of the interior signs.

TV interior sign sold for £660

Lot 1456 sold for £423

They sold for a combined total of over £1,000!

I’m amazed, particularly as there’s not much about these which is scarce. The BBC still occupies three buildings across the road from TV Centre – I’m in one of them most weeks – and there’s still a machine that makes these signs and labels. If they’re worth this much money, someone should be running that machine night and day cranking more of them out!

How about lot 1444:

SFX door


£55 for a door to nowhere, and you could surely make this for half that price with bits from a DIY shop. With this piece though, I can understand more why it is valued highly

It would be interesting to know the history of this door. It’s possible it was originally made for radio drama and came over to Wood Lane if it was needed to re-dub sound effects for TV. Or it could have a longer heritage and started life in a film dubbing suite, maybe in Ealing, or in Lime Grove. It could however just as easily been knocked up in 20 mins by a TV Centre carpenter in the 1980s.

It’s clearly the possibilities of this history, and the unusualness of the item which make it worth more.

Time for a reality check though.  TV Centre was also full of functioning valuable equipment. Great for radio stations, universities, or small TV / film companies.  Let’s take a look at the going rate for something still being used, like a professional digital videotape recorder.

Sony digi beta recorder

New, they are sold for thousands. Even second-hand, you’ll get hundreds for them. There were many like these for sale in TV Centre’s auction. Here’s lot 1505.

Lot 1505 - Digi beta recorder

I think ‘thetoplens’ got a bargain there!

The sale of stuff from TV Centre isn’t over yet!  Two more auctions are scheduled, more equipment here, and you can still buy the satellite dishes and comms equipment. Although being unmaintained and exposed to the elements for well over two years, I’m not sure how much operational value there’s left in them. Plus for a domestic bidder in need of a new birdbath, you’re going to need a very large garden, and probably planning permission!


flickr / peterdaniel

Let me know in the comments if you got a bargain, or whether you consider you got something valuable, no matter what you paid.






Written by Robert

21 August, 2014 at 4:07 pm

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

Computers can’t curate

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Zeebox screen grab

Because Breakfast <> Breakfast

I’m looking at many, many mobile apps at the moment. One which came across my radar and is currently having very heavy promotion on Apple’s App store is Zeebox.

Just for the web and iPads currently, although a phone version is promised, it’s an EPG with social features.  The major social feature being Twitter.

Zeebox promotes itself as a clever companion to TV viewing, although it wasn’t all that clever when I turned it on while watching BBC1’s ‘Breakfast’ earlier this week.

Anyone who’s ever watched BBC1 in the morning will tell you that a 3 hour show about having breakfast is hard to sustain (which is why it’s primarily a morning news show instead)

However, no one’s told Zeebox that, and as you can see from the photo above, it takes the name of the programme literally, helpfully giving me links to everything food related, and picking up everyone on Twitter burbling about what they’re eating.

I’m also not entirely sure how having a lot of keywords thrown at you represents usefulness, when you could almost as easily just put the word you were actually interested into a search engine, but what do I know, T3 loved it.

Now I could see the benefit of an app like this in the Breakfast TV gallery. Working the other way round, and scooping up info and ideas to enable the live producers to make the programme more interesting.

Incidentally, I notice that Yahoo bought a social TV app, IntoNow, earlier this year. It doesn’t do a lot yet either.

Got a useful TV app? Let me know in the comments.

Written by Robert

2 November, 2011 at 1:26 am

Posted in social, tv

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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

OFCOM’s 9 day consultation period??

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Get in quick or lose HD on Freeview

OFCOM are currently requesting comment from stakeholders in the UK’s digital terrestrial TV network.  As tax and licence-fee payers, that’s most of us.

They are being asked by the BBC to authorise a change in the way the new high definition multiplexes are operated to allow for the use of encryption.

I’m not a fan of this plan, many others aren’t either, including Tom Watson MP and other vocal bloggers.

Encrypting HD-DTT risks stunting the growth of high-definition in this country and threatens to criminalise anyone who’s using any sort of non-standard cheap-and-cheerful reception equipment (which by law you are required to have a TV licence for).  If you’re using open source receiver software, you can kiss that goodbye should this change go through.

What amazes me is that OFCOM published their letter on the 3rd of September and want  comments back by the 16th. Err, that’s today!

That’s 9 working days to get comments in on a proposal that has far-reaching ramifications on the way the system of TV distribution works in Britain. Does this indicate that OFCOM doesn’t grasp the serious implications of this change, that it just writes to the ‘industry’ and allows such a short time for responses?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a good background to why this request is being made.

And if you’re still reading this today, get some comments off to

Written by Robert

16 September, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Posted in legal, Software, Technology, tv

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