Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The social centre of the British Isles

If you've ever tried to search Twitter for UK-related tweets, you'll know that the 'within xx km of place y' location functionality is a bit of a pain - even if you can run English-language only searches. I'm currently demo-ing a few brand tracking packages, and realised that if I'm paying for them then I'm going to have to do a bit more work on the actual location that I should be searching. So here it is: the geographic centre of the British Isles: Whitehaven. (or if you are using ViralHeat then Whitehaven, Cumbria, UK.The circle has a radius of 500km, and neatly covers the UK & Ireland.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Penguin reinvent the concept of 'books'. Coming soon to an iPad near you

After all the anticipation that preceded Apple's unveiling of the iPad, it is not really any surprise that the actual device seemed a bit of an anticlimax. After all, anything that didn't actually appear to be magic wouldn't have lived up to the hype. And because that isn't the way that Apple do business. For example:

Version 1 of Apple mobile products are down-specced, as millions of fans will buy them anyway. See iPhone non-3G/non cut&paste/non MMS, etc. It also means there is an easy upgrade option.

Multi-tasking apps are a software upgrade: they don't need to be there when you buy the hardware. And Apple aren't going to let them happen until the next generation of iPhone battery is ready to run them too.

But more importantly, the device seemed a bit of an anticlimax because most of the launch event was all about the device. And the exciting bit of how Apple revolutionise things isn't about devices, it's about experiences. iPods were just pretty MP3 players without iTunes. iPhones were an expensive niche until the App Store. Macbook hardware is no different to a top notch pc, except it runs OSX not Windows.

So if the software that iPads are designed for is all about content, then this should be where the magic appears. This is an example of how Penguin are thinking about books in future

This isn't the Apple approved way of thinking about books - the iBooks approach seems to be a more colourful version of the Kindle, basically a digital version of paper. Penguin are rethinking what 'book' means. And to them is means audio, video, augmented reality, live chat, 3D, communities, and anything else that is limited only by their imaginations, not by the medium. It will live in the app store rather than iTunes, and by the looks of it it will be utterly awesome. Apple's role is in creating the hardware and the ecosystem on which reinvention and imagination can flourish,

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The Transfer Window

A couple of weeks ago Belgium's ad agency community went on virtual strike as a response to the ever increasing amount of speculative work going into client pitch processes. It got a lot of coverage and is pretty old news now. I was having a chat with the smart folk from 7th Chamber today about the spate of media accounts changing hands over the last few months and we jokingly referred to it as the transfer window. Which got me thinking about what they are trying to do in Belgium. Because if there was a transfer window in agency world, then no-one would have the human resources to go for every piece of business. Which would mean that everyone would prioritise what to pitch for, based on a set of criteria which would in most cases benefit the clients. So there would be less agencies pitching for each account and spending less money on wasteful pitch process, which would make agencies more profitable without any adverse effects on their clients. And clients would know that anyone that they were seeing had put an awful lot of thought into why they wanted to be in the room. And that whoever they appointed wouldn't spend the next 6 months looking at their watches because they had a pitch to get back to. There's no reason why this can't happen. So what shall we say? January?

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Save 6Music. At the expense of what?

If anyone has ever scrolled all the way down the side of this blog to the LastFM widget, they would probably guess that I listen to 6Music as well. It's basically where they let all the most opinionated and passionate music fans on the BBC payroll (Steve Lamacq, Marc Riley, Lauren Laverne, Jarvis Cocker, etc) do what they want, in return for doing what the BBC wants the rest of the time. And as has been widely reported, and widely criticised, the BBC are closing it as part of a radical programme of cuts.

To me this raises are few interesting questions. Firstly, the fact that popular and cross party political opinion leaves the BBC no choice but to make cuts to defend its licence fee. Before the recession an ambitious BBC could defend its increasing commercialisation of brands like Top Gear and CBeebies (which owe their popularity to having initially been licence-fee funded) by having to compete with ad-funded competition. Since ad-funded competition has all but disappeared in a perfect storm of disappearing ad revenues and pension deficit disasters (not to mention a distinct lack of leadership/recruitment crisis at critical moments from the main terrestrial competition), this argument has vanished, and probably won't return.

So the BBC is left with a healthy licence fee income while ITV and C4 slash programming budgets and staff. As the newspaper industry goes to town on stories of rampant expenditure on salaries (management as well as Wossy) and Broadcasting House refurbishment, defending the BBC's sole use of licence fee income becomes impossible without cuts of some kind.

On one hand, 6Music is exactly what the BBC should be producing - things that appeal to niche audiences where there is no commercial alternative. While the remit of a licence fee funded media company has to cover the whole country, there is no excuse in the 21st century for thinking that this has to be in one place. The BBC shouldn't need to care about the ratings of individual programmes, simply about their cumulative reach across the whole country every month. In lots of little, personally relevant chunks.

Looking at it from that perspective, the cost saving opportunities become more obvious. ITV makes better soaps that the BBC (or it makes, Corrie, which is better than Eastenders). It also makes better Saturday night peak - Pop Idol vs Celebrity Come Dancing. So those are my opinions, but they are backed by viewing figures most weeks. Anyway, there are more popular alternatives commercially available. Why not cut the expensive stuff that commercial broadcasters do better, and concentrate on the niches.

On the other hand, it is quite possible that there would be commercial alternatives to the niche personal stuff that the BBC makes, if only they didn't make it. ITV still has a business model when BBC1 exists, as does News Int to compete with (although Murdoch doesn't seem to agree). Perhaps the commercially funded 6Music couldn't exist as it could never escape the shadow of Radio 1. All 6Music really is
is an aggregation of the music tastes and opinions of some well respected music industry professionals, backed by the marketing support of Radio 1. Intriguingly, the barriers to those individuals continuing to curate their opinions and tastes for an hour a week are pretty small: Ricky Gervais pretty much wrote the manual on this in podcasting terms, but there are all sorts of ways of dicing this up through iTunes, LastFM, and hundreds of other routes. The technology and distribution costs are tiny. The streaming rights are all in place on Spotify. LastFM, We7, etc. So do the people involved in 6Music think it is worth saving?

Personally I'm signing all the petitions to #Save6Music. Not because I like it - I do, but that's irrelevant. We should save it because it represents what the BBC should do far better than Eastenders or anything on Saturday night peak BBC1. But if it isn't saved by the BBC then I hope that the curators who made it what it is can prove that it is commercially viable.