Monday, 15 December 2014

EPL rights set to reach dizzying new heights of unreality

Back of the net. As widely predicted, the reality distortion field has been switched on and the English Premier League has submitted its invitation to tender to the UK broadcasters. The regulator is watching, however, though whether it will just succeed in driving the prices up again when and if it acts is another question entirely.

What remains astonishing about the EPL is how much the prices of the rights have gone up since Sky first bid a headline-grabbing but now paltry-looking £302m for them in 1992. Very conveniently for those of us who like statistical synchronicity, the rights awarded to a joint BT/Sky bid two decades later went for almost exactly ten times as much, namely £3.018bn, and they are currently and confidently forecast to top that again this time as some deep-pocketed players weigh in at the table, with Al Jazeera — a late withdrawal in 2012 — chief among them.

For the record, £302m is £569m in today’s prices.

It has, of course by no means been a smooth curve of ascendency, with the regulator having a pronounced impact on pricing, almost always to the EPL’s benefit. Back in 2005 Gordon Brown, for it was he, was instrumental in getting the anti-monopolistic hounds of the EC to back off the EPL, the league promising to package its rights for sale to two broadcasters as a minimum as a result. That opened some very weighty floodgates, with the £1.25bn or 77% jump from £1.77bn to £3.018bn between 2009 and 2012 being particularly eye-watering as BT became the first of the disruptive telcos to enter the fray and knock ESPN out of the game as a result.

Cost of Sky’s all-in package in 1992 = £16.99
Cost of Sky’s 1992 all-in package in today’s prices = £31.82
Actual cost of all-singing, all-dancing Sky package in 2014 = £76.25

This time round the regulator’s hand can be seen in the inclusion of some Friday night games in one of the packages, a bid to head off Virgin’s complaint to Ofcom that the number of live games on offer is kept artificially low, and thus prices artificially high, thanks to the Saturday 3pm blackout.

All in all the live rights to 168 matches, 14 more than the current deal, split into seven packages are on the table, with no single buyer allowed to acquire more than 126 matches. There is also a near live long-form package containing 212 matches aimed at the on-demand market and an IP-based clips package for all matches. These will be sold in a second wave, with the main activity on the live matches expected to take four months and drag on to a decision in March.

And the cost? Deloitte has predicted a 14% hike in premium sports rights this year and the expectation is that will be happily blown apart and the rights might rise as high as £4.5bn; not quite the 77% of the 2009/2012 period, but at 67%, not too far off either.

Will Ofcom interfere? Will the BBC lose Match of the Day to an ITV aggressively chasing the highlights package? While it’s hardly comparing like with like — there are more matches, online to consider, etc etc — it’s an instructive exercise to wind back time and calculate how much Sky would have had to have paid for the rights in 1992 at today’s prices. The answer is a whopping £2.4bn. In other words, it’s highly doubtful if this whole careening bandwagon would have been unhitched and set off on its path at all if screening football cost as much then as it does today.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Why Sky investigating VR is good for VR

According to Broadcast, following its £400k investment in Silicon Valley start-up Jaunt last year Sky plans to conduct immersive VR trials on up to 15 shows next year to discover more about the technology’s potential. This is a profoundly good thing. Stereo 3D might have crashed and burned in the marketplace but Sky did it better than anyone and its pedigree for investigating new tech is pretty exemplary.

Of course, it also has a pronounced commercial edge, but it does seem to be able to pull off the neat trick of being able to explore new tech without the shackles of having to demonstrate value to license payers, for instance, while also doing it well. Arguably one of the reasons stereo 3D failed was because there was so much awful content out there. Indeed, we have it on good authority that most of the stereo 3D content provided by ESPN to Sky as the result of various contra deals between the to companies actually broke most of Sky’s QC rules and, to European eyes, was close to unusable.

European eyes, you say? Yes, it does seem that there was a powerful Atlantic rift between the US deployment of the technology and the European, with pronounced differences in the way that convergence was treated at the heart of it. Whether that was down to personal taste in the upper echelons or whether it was down to the dominance of the Cameron | Pace group’s kit in the US market and the way that that tended to work as opposed to the (arguably superior) 3Ality Technica driven Europe is a bit of a moot point. Either ways, it wasn’t very good.

Just because you can make Avatar doesn’t mean you can capture a baseball game.

So, it’s good to know that Sky is taking a point position on VR, another paradigm leap with a whole new visual lexicon and capturing a range of genres from sports to LE and drama to test out the way it works. So far it seems, the results have been mixed, with one of the keys to success from the viewer’s point of view apparently resting in having a lot to look at. Visually busy comedy Trollied = good, Arcticly bleak drama Fortitude = bad. Having to build 360º sets to accommodate all this = expensive.

One of the interesting things that is cropping up too is that the audience needs plenty of audio cues to direct their gaze. Once the director no longer has complete control of the viewer’s perspective  they can wander all over the place and techniques such as reveals have to be engineered in a much more finessed way: grab their attention in one direction, sneak in an actor behind them, yell boo! etc.

For our money, this is a technology that has nature docos written all over it. Sport?  That might prove to be a bit too quick in the end, which given the normal pay-TV business plan might cause some problems. It might well go on to find a niche in the adult, one-handed audience too. But all the arguments about viewers being reluctant to wear glasses were only rehearsals for the derision that will be heaped upon VR headsets, not to mention the attendant lawsuits when little Jonny trips over the cat. But, even despite all there caveats, it will be genuinely fascinating to watch the trials as they progress.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Of Ofcom, the NFL, blackouts, and the future of football rights in the UK

Rights, rights, baby: Following a complaint by Virgin Media, Ofcom has opened an investigation into how the EPL sells domestic live rights for matches. With the reputation of the football business in as parless a current state as Sunderland’s defence, you can only hope it will have more teeth than Fifa’s latest whitewash. But events in the US show that change may be in the air.

The next Premier League rights tender is expected to kick off in the new year with the next tranche of three-year deals announced before the end of the current 2014-15 football season. BSkyB and BT Sport are the current incumbents. BT acquired two of the seven available rights packages in the three-year cycle from 2013-14 to 2015-16, for £246m per season, with Sky acquiring the other five packages for £760m per season.

Yes, that’s £1bn per season. Find another £100m — less than the annual wage bill at Manchester City — and you could fund ESA to send a Rosetta probe to a comet every year if you so wished. And the price is only going to head upwards from there, with all sorts of fevered speculation regarding how much they will go for in the next round of bidding as BT and Sky continue to slug it out for viewer eyeballs.

So, why the investigation? Well, Virgin (currently priced out of the comeptition) says the current arrangements for the collective selling are in breach of competition law and, in particular, that the proportion of matches made available for live television broadcast (41%) is pegged artificially lower than other European leagues.

Now, a lot of this stems from a historic edict designed to protect attendance at football matches that sees rights holders barred from broadcasting matches that kick-off at 15.00 on a Saturday. This sort of thing happens across sports and continents, but in the new media landscape such protectionism is is no longer guaranteed.

In 1975, for example, US regulator the FCC passed a blackout rule which meant that any NFL games that failed to sell enough tickets could not be shown on free television in the home team's own local market. 39 years ago, as a result almost 60% of NFL games were blacked out on broadcast TV because not enough fans were showing up at stadiums. Today, less than one percent are blacked out — two games in the entire 2013 season and 15 in 2012 — and TV contracts contribute “a substantial majority of the NFL’s revenues,” according to FCC Commissioner, Ajit Pai.

The FCC rule change doesn’t mean blackouts will disappear just yet because the NFL has clauses written into existing contracts with regional broadcasters that guarantee them, and many of those contracts last until the early 2020s. But it will certainly have great trouble enforcing them once more after the next contract negotiations and the whole thing does at least set a precedent.

Of course, the NFL can argue that it’s the existence of the blackouts that have ensured those currently healthy attendances. But, if that is the case, perhaps they can be seen to have done their work now. And returning to this side of the Atlantic, you certainly cannot argue that the top flight of the EPL, with their season ticket waiting lists and extremely deep pockets, are in imminent danger of fan desertion if their match just happens to be shown live at 15.00 on a Saturday afternoon.

Yes, gate receipts go down, but payments more than compensate. Research undertaken by Adam Cox in Broadcasting live matches and stadium attendance (2012) estimates that gate revenue is reduced by an average of 19.7%, or £232,237 based on the average gate revenue for all clubs when a match is broadcast live. Payments to each club from the EPL, meanwhile, total on average £4.12m per game broadcast (2007-08 season figures, now substantially more).

Anyway, Ofcom, while acknowledging that an investigation could have an impact on the next tender process, is going to look and see whether there has a breach of the UK and/or EU competition law.

“Ofcom is mindful of the likely timing of the next auction of live UK audio-visual media rights, and is open to discussion with the Premier League about its plans,” said a statement. “Ofcom understands that the scheduling of football games is important to many football fans, in particular attending 3pm kick-offs on Saturdays. The investigation will take this into account and Ofcom plans to approach the Football Supporters' Federation and certain other supporters' groups to understand their views.”

One to watch…

Monday, 17 November 2014

100m reasons why Sony could succeed in owning the world’s living rooms

I am the one and Sony. In many ways OTT is a technology that has been successful in spite of its best efforts. Competing services offer limited and exclusive bouquets of content, different STBs may or may not allow you to stream your DRM-protected content around your house, and all these services are buried in user interfaces that look and function like they’ve been designed by one-armed gibbons, and not very bright ones at that. Can PlayStation Vue really change that?

In a word: perhaps. Which might sound a tad qualified, but is positively glowing compared to many of their rivals. Certainly it has there important factors in its favour: existing numbers, content and experience.

For starters, the numbers that Sony can command in the living room space are impressive. The Vue service, which is rolling out slowly across the US initially, can eventually expand to reach 80m Playstation 3s and somewhere in the region of 14m PS4s worldwide (liable to be 20m or thereabouts by the time the service gets beyond beta).

So, let's call that an installed base of 100m devices. In the meantime, it's gaming-oriented PlayStation Network has 110m users in 63 countries worldwide, so it also has demonstrated experience in scaling up for this sort of thing in its favour

Plus, of course, it owns some interesting properties on the content front. In fact, when the whole concept of OTT first appeared on industry radars a handful of years ago, Sony was one of the  companies that appeared at the top of everyone's list of corporations that could really leverage them there synergies.

It's taken the company a long time to fulfil that promise, but it seems to have learned from the mistakes of those that have gone before. Licensing deals have been struck with Discovery Communications, Fox, NBCUniversal, Scripps Network Interactive and Viacom, while it will also offer some live linear programming from CBS and affiliates among the 75 or so channels available. Three days’ worth of programming appears on demand in the EPG, while Sony is also making much of the service's advanced recommendation and smart search facilities.

Interestingly for its long-term health, the online TV service will also become available on iPad fairly rapidly and later will appear on more Sony and non-Sony devices.

So, why might Sony succeed where the might of others — Google, Apple, Amazon et al — does not necessarily guarantee success? Because it’s already the incumbent, basically. 100m Vue-capable consoles are already linked to TV screens worldwide — the majority of them in living rooms as befits seventh and eighth generation gaming machines rather than languishing in bedrooms. No reprogramming, no changing settings, no faffing and fiddling about with cables: 100m machines hooked up and ready to go.

Price it right and the beleaguered corporation could have something to smile about again. And seeing as how we’re using a pic of the Big Bang Theory to illustrate all this: Bazinga!

Monday, 10 November 2014

The latest US OTT machinations

A quick update to the update: Obama wades in:

There is so much news coming-out of the OTT market in the US at the moment that we’ve had to create it its own graphic. Today: the latest developments in the on-going net neutrality debate coupled with a small Canadian codicil.

First up, net neutrality. The FCC is, as we and the rest of the entire internet has mentioned before, looking at reclassifying broadband provision as a public utility in an attempt to effectively wrest back control of the whole concept from the open market.

As an ISP quite looking forward to the extra payments a two or even three speed internet would unlock, Verizon (the ruling in whose favour sent the whole edifice tumbling down and kick-started the debate at the start of the year) is somewhat opposed to this. Hence a bit of sabre-rattling and some veiled threats that the whole thing could be heading back to court sometime soon unless the FCC changes its stance.

Poor old Tom Wheeler and the FCC though are caught in something of a cleft stick. Not reclassifying ISPs as telecoms providers will probably lead to the development of the fast lane/s and be good for the ISPs and bad for consumers; while an attempt at reclassifying will be good for the content providers, bad for the ISPs and good for the consumer that’s seeking choice.

Is is a genuine regulatory crossroads but one of the key arguments, one reiterated by everyone from the White House to the CEOs of the likes of Kickstarter, is that there is a wider issue here too and that a free and open internet is about more than just being able to watch 4K films from Netflix in bed. That paradigm of greater consumer choice extends out to the whole internet in all of its multifarious and diverse uses.

Should the FCC prioritise its duty of care to consumers, or should it be looking to encourage the growth of industry? Answers on the back of a postcard please…And as to the implications for the rest of us, the chances are that it will put a very large cat amongst a flock of rather nervous pigeons.

Neelie Kroes, the European Union’s commissioner for the digital agenda tweeted earlier this year “Maybe I shd invite newly disadvantaged US startups to EU, so they have a fair chance.”

Not so much runaway productions as an entire runaway industry…

But then they have to be careful where they run to. Canadian lawmakers, for instance, are reportedly thinking about extending the production quotas that require all broadcasters to carry roughly one third of Canadian-produced content on to the OTT providers; not to mention asking them to contribute to the general pot that everyone else pays into to shore up the Canadian production industry. Netflix and Google have gone on record as saying they’re rather unimpressed.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Amazon’s Echo: genius or hubris?

Can you hear me at the back? Amazon’s new Echo is one of those rarest of tech beasts: a new launch that genuinely seems to have caught everyone on the hop. And, as per usual with tech giants nowadays, it’s either an astounding innovation or something destined for landfill and a quiet disposal of inventory somewhere rather remote.

When it boils right down to its essentials, Echo is simply a WiFi-connected standalone speaker (or “a crazy speaker that talks to you” as The Verge adroitly put it). Currently available only in the US, it comes with a $199 price tag, or will be available for a limited time for $99 for those Prime members that secure an invite.

Here’s why it’s interesting:

  • It takes the battle for the living room out of the, er, living room, and round the rest of the house by decoupling it’s service from the TV. Much of the promo material has an Echo sitting resplendent in the kitchen…
  • It exemplifies the scatter-gun approach of major tech companies nowadays that seem to be operating on a ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. Amazon is currently sitting on a whole heap of unsold Fire Phones. How many? The company’s Q3 results included a $170m write-down due to "Fire Phone inventory valuation and supplier commitment costs.”
  • It’s platform agnostic. While it is, of course, deeply tied in to Amazon music serbices, it will also stream material from iTunes etc via Bluetooth
  • If it can get the technology right it signifies a mass market entrance by one of the biggest players in the field into the home automation field.

The last is especially interesting. If the voice recognition is reliable and good — at least as good as the much improved Siri — then it’s not hard to imagine this becoming just a component of a house-wide system. Amazon’s promo bumph has users firing questions at it such as How many teaspoons in a tablespoon, what the weather will be like in Runcorn this weekend (okay, I admit it, I localised that one somewhat) and so on.

A recent survey suggested that by 2020 the average house in the averagely developed world will have an average of 60 internet-connected devices. Being the gate-keeper that provides access to them would be a powerful position.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see what the reviews make of it when they start rolling in. Key will be audio quality and what Amazon says is the ability to fill a room with 360º music. If the company has cracked that at the price point and in the form factor, then it could have a hit on its hands in the here and now.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Constantine: a game-changer for UK TV?

Almost without herald, the new series of Constantine has premiered in the UK on Amazon Prime. One chain-smoking Scouse exorcist and dabbler of the dark arts later, the TV landscape looks subtly different.

The roots of all this lie back in February earlier this year, back before Amazon Prime Video launched, when Amazon and Warner Bros. International Television Distribution inked a deal for streaming rights to a brace of properties (Arrow, The Following, Hostages, Revolution and The 100) following their linear UK broadcast runs.

Constantine, as anybody who has read the original source material will tell you, has somewhat upped the ante as is his wont; the show debuting exclusively in the UK hours after its US first screening.

Presumably Amazon has some first look rights to the show as part of its wider deal with Warner Bros. — owners of DC comics, incidentally, Constantine’s original home — and as an untried proposition from a largely untried stable it might not have attracted the same sort of bidding attention as some other US properties. But it does signal a certain amount of intent and the historical precedent is that when the number of bidders sitting round a table rises, so the price does too.

And yes, Amazon has done this before earlier this year with the 13-part Extant from CBS. But then it made a righteous song and a dance about it. The fact that so little fanfare attended Constantine suggests that there will be more of this thing in the future.

Sky paid HBO £150m back in 2010 for a five-year deal to snap up the exclusive UK and Irish TV rights to HBO's archive, new programming and a first-look deal on all co-productions, and earlier this year paid an undisclosed sum to extend that to 2020 (Sky Deutschland did a similar thing in September). Sky must be fervently hoping that Amazon, and a few other OTT rivals, will have fallen by the wayside by the time it comes to extend again…

(As for Constantine, the first show was great, the second was might have to raise its game to make another season.)

Sunday, 2 November 2014

What the FCC did next - Part 1

Press releases are all very well, but it seems that to signify a proper change in policy what one needs nowadays is a blog post. At least that seems to have been Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman’s thinking last week when he lit the blue touch paper under a potential rule change that could make internet TV really take off. And, somewhat predictably, not everyone is happy.

Not for the first time, but perhaps this time it might have loaded the bases in its favour, the FCC in the US is floating a rule change that would put internet TV providers — multichannel video programming distributors (MVPD) in the jargon — on the same footing as cable companies when it comes to certain key regulations. Critically, it would mean that broadcasters wouldn't be able to refuse to let an internet TV provider carry their own content.

"Consumers have long complained about how their cable service forces them to buy channels they never watch,” wrote Wheeler. "The move of video onto the internet can do something about that frustration – but first internet video services need access to the programmes. Today the FCC takes the first step to open access to cable programmes as well as local television."

The FCC hopes to fulfil its avowedly free-market mantra of 'Competition, competition, competition' and give consumers in the US the ability to buy the programmes they want from the suppliers they want.

This is nothing really new. Congress put in place similar rules to help the then nascent US satellite industry in the early 1990s, and this is just an extension of the same; taking the requirement of having a facilities-based transmission path out of the equation. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck.

"The definition of an MVPD should turn on the services that a provider offers, not on how those services reach viewers. Twenty-first century consumers shouldn’t be shackled to rules that only recognise 20th century technology,” writes Wheeler.

As you might surmise, this has not gone down well in certain quarters, namely the head ones of the US National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA). “Redefining what it means to be an MVPD raises profound questions about how government will extend regulation to Internet video services and how any would-be virtual MVPDs will meet their 'social compact' obligations,” it thundered.

Now this is interesting. The social compact dates back to 1934 and is largely guff, and unenforced guff at that. In exchange for their licensed airwaves, broadcasters were to be required to fulfil the standard (at the time) Reithian doctrine of airing programming that served the “public convenience, interest, or necessity.”

This has evolved over the years to paying lip service to locally-oriented public affairs and political, educational, and cultural programming, but with no minimum standards set or enforced it is largely ignored. How about this for a takedown of the whole thing:

“Most broadcasters today air very little of this sort of public interest programming, and some air none of it at all. Nevertheless, Congress and the FCC continue to confer onto broadcasters all of the privileges of public trusteeship, including, most recently, the assignment of a new, lucrative digital television channel at no cost to them. By contrast, other FCC licensees, including landline and wireless telecommunications providers, paid in excess of $23 billion for certain digital licenses in spectrum auctions conducted over a four-year period in the 1990s.”

(Anthony E. Varona - University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform)

Perhaps the likes of the NCTA really ought to be careful what they wish for…

Friday, 24 October 2014

House of Shards

If you will forgive the mixing of media metaphors, it seems that House HBO is preparing to enter a full scale war for the Kings Landing living room with House Netflix, while in the meantime casually pulling the rug out from House Amazon Prime ahead of a probable beheading. George RR Martin might not be writing the script for corporate entertainment America, but there’s still blood on the walls and you never know quite who’s going to end up on the losing side.

So, finally finally, HBO has announced that it will offer a standalone OTT service for customers who don’t have cable subscriptions, immediately prompting a flurry of articles and posts about cord-cutting and even reposts of the Death of Traditional Broadcasting zombie feature that refuses to die.

So, who are the winners and the losers in all this? Frankly, apart from one notable loser it’s too early to tell: the US resembles Westeros at the end of the second book in Martin’s series. HBO is entering the market at a premium price (a rumoured $15 per month, $6 above Netflix’ most popular subscription tier) but then so are a lot of other people at the moment. Dish, Sony and Verizon are all imminently entering the OTT market featuring content libraries from the likes of Viacom and Disney; ESPN has signed a nine-year licensing deal with the NBA to launch a dedicated online service for live basketball; and CBS has cracked open its vaults and current offerings in a fairly limited fashion and launched CBS All Access.

Amidst all that, you have to consider that Netflix is growing faster outside the US than inside (estimates being that two thirds of its expanding base in the last quarter were outside the contiguous states — sometimes well outside). And that consistent research shows that viewers are happy to run two services: a base level ‘traditional’ broadcast service which they then top up with OTT content as and when.

Whether HBO’s mooted premium pricing model will fit into that emergent behaviour or break some invisible ceiling is an unknown, but if anyone has the depth and quality to attract the consumer to such a deal it will be them. Which is where Amazon Prime Video is looking on increasingly unstable ground.

Much was made of a deal struck for the HBO back catalogue on the still-nascent service a few months ago and, while theoretically it still has years to run, the likelihood of their long term viability on the platform now has to be questioned. And Amazon, for all its clout, is finding the OTT space a difficult one to compete in, boasting an estimated 20m customers in the US as opposed to Netflix’ verified 50m.

In the US financial press the knives are already out. Already thoroughly unimpressed by the Fire Phone and its impact on profits, one survey has suggested that only around 13% of Prime subscribers are in it for the video and sentiments such as “AMZN stock investors should be pushing the corporation to kill the service ASAP” are starting to poke their heads above the parapets.

Can a beheading be far behind? As always, it’s best not to get too attached to the individual characters: you never know what fate might befall them.

Monday, 13 October 2014

BSkyB searches for Pluto

The Pluto UI in Minecraft action

BSkyB has managed to establish itself a fairly enviable reputation as a trend-spotter over recent years and, while this doesn’t always work out in its favour (stereo 3D for instance) it is prepared to invest to bring new technology to the market and onboard.

Its latest investment is $500,000 pushed towards LA-based online video aggregator Pluto.TV. Pluto.TV is an online television platform that aggregates video content from across the web (YouTube, Vimeo, Daily Motion, Funny or Die and more it says) and programs it into themed and curated TV channels.

It’s an eclectic mix. Out of the 100+ current free channels you’ll find plenty that wouldn’t find any room in a conventional broadcaster’s EPG — Channel 114 is currently dedicated to playing Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ 24 hours a day, while 707 World of Minecraft does exactly what it says on the tin — but that is, you suspect, the whole point. A recent upgrade has included the ability to save programmes to a list of favourites for time-shifting.

While freely available everywhere through a browser, the app and connected TV functionality (so far Fire TV, Chromecast, and Apple TV via Airplay and an iOS device) is currently limited to North America. But it is something that you could easily see folded into a mainstream EPG — especially when Sky rolls out its Project Ethan STB — and it certainly has the potential to crack the insidious and ongoing problems with Connected TV UIs. Much will depend on how good the curation is and whether it can surpass the ‘watch this’ algorithms all the big video players already deploy.

Other investments made by Sky this year include $750k in Californian VR start-up Jaunt and a whopping £5m in US advertising technology firm Sharethrough, while streaming specialist Roku, and digital distributor 1 Mainstream benefitted from its investment largesse in 2013.

Sharethrough is billed as a world leader in native advertising (which, if you haven’t stumbled across it yet, enables publishers to monetise their sites and apps with adverts that are non-interruptive and stylistically similar to the surrounding content) and Sky has been using it on Expect to see much more of that onscreen as Sky’s advertising sales house Sky Media will offer its clients access to Sharethrough as well as utilising it itself.

And expect to see much more of all of this sort of thing too. Earlier this year, Sky opened up a dedicated office in San Francisco - an investment SkunkWorks if you will - to help it continue to forge new partnerships with tech startups. It will be fascinating to see how much of what it invests in is purely speculative and how much leads to actual onscreen innovation. Compared to the BBC R&D budget (the Corporation’s failed DMI project alone cost £98.4m) the amounts are relatively small but, like Pluto, it will all depend on how good the custodians of the conduits are.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Gender Equality 0 Internet 1

This from The Verge: Emma Watson nude photo threats were apparently a plot to kill 4chan.

In which, is revealed to be a hoax and a mightily murky one at that. But the thing that gets me is this:

The organizer says that reached 48 million visitors, 7 million Facebook shares and likes, and 3 million Twitter mentions.

As of 10:43 24/09/14, by comparison only 96,199 men (myself proudly included) have signed the #heforshe commitment.

These numbers are *seriously* out of whack.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Video killed the internet star

An interesting piece from The Verge.

What happens to literacy when the internet turns into a giant TV station?

Personally, I skip video in the same way that I used to skip jpegs on the web 20 years ago. It's far too slow a means of conveying information: I can skim read 200 words in about 10 seconds at a depth of understanding that's more than enough to know if I want to read any bits of it in more detail. Then I can lob it into Pocket or whatever. Video? Too clunky; too resistant to efficient archiving; too manipulative...too slow, frankly.

It's like 1995 all over again...

Sunday, 31 August 2014

It's all repeats nowadays - online mindfulness

[Reposting this one from last year in lieu of having the time to write anything new at the moment. Normal service will be resumed in a couple of weeks after IBC...]

One of the things I've been increasingly puzzling about recently is the disconnect between our online lives and our real ones; the personas if you like that we present to people in the real world and the ones that we forge for ourselves online.

There's a tradition of this, of course. Back in the early days of the internet, it was possible to have an enormous amount of fun in the Usenet groups you frequented by pretending to be a 16 year old schoolgirl from Helsinki. Certainly fun when troll-baiting. But with the rise of social media and its interconnecting webs of likes and dislikes, follows and retweets, our online personalities are designed to be much more faithful extensions of ourselves. The problem is, we don't treat them that way.

Maybe it's because our online relationships are mediated via the keyboard, and even with the rich complexities of language - and the less subtle interventions of emoticons - we are always a step removed. But it seems that this is particularly the case when it comes to mindfulness. A quick quip, a sarcastic is all too easy for us to participate in conversations that we perhaps wouldn't chose to in real life. I've lost count of the times I've been within a button press of tweeting something or commenting on something on Facebook and then pulled back and run through the usual quick Buddhist mantra: is it kind? Is it necessary?

Often it's not, and at least online there is a delete button (depending on how Facebook is running its privacy policy that week). But, again in Buddhist parlance, right thinking and right speech should also lead to right typing and our online relationships - ephemeral sometimes though they may be - are poorer when this isn't so.

Saturday, 5 July 2014


Despite having spent several years now writing about sports broadcasting's most prestigious events, I have never managed to write much about my personal favourite, Le Tour de France.

So, in the spirit of slight randomness, here's a picture of some sheep and a link to an article about Sony’s 4K World Cup Workflow instead which I wrote for the good people at Red Shark.

And with that, it's back to the IBC grindstone...

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Slenderman and creepypasta

An interesting piece from The Verge that lifts the lid on the collision of memes and teenagers and the possible creation of a moral panic (let's see if the Daily Mail jumps on this one).

I dunno, we just had to make do with mashing up D&D and The Diceman in my day...

'Slenderman' is the new 'devil made me do it'

Saturday, 7 June 2014

70 years on

Can think of few better illustrations of the difference that seven decades have made to Europe than this series of then and now pictures that the Huffington Post created…

More here: D-Day Landing Sites Then And Now: 11 Striking Images That Bring The Past And Present Together

Friday, 21 March 2014

Life - quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Technician, we want you to build a component...

A really interesting article from the Grauniad which details the activities of a firm in London that's using smartphone apps to track every waking moment of their employee's lives. Is it voluntary? No, not exactly (which raises some rather vexing human rights issues) but what's more it's seen as simply an extension of the quantified self movement where everything we do is analysed, measured and shared.

Me, I think I may pass. Have enjoyed checking my times on a couple of cycling apps, but this is all starting to get both too narcissistic and too creepy; another instance where we don't have to rely on governments collecting data on us as we're all too happy to volunteer it ourselves.

Bread and circuses? Seems all you need is an app that says 'well done'.

These companies are tracking the fitness of their employees

As English prog band Twelfth Night chanted on their excellent 'We are Sane' track back in the very early 1980s:

"Technician we want you to build a component
For each of our workers to be with them always
At all time watch closely so we can keep track of
Their actions their interests their morals their time out...
...The maintenance of power can be so fulfilling
Just as long as all the slaves are willing"