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February 2011

Sports special: t The money-go-round t Sky Sports at 20 t Skeletons in the press box Plus: H  ow Cameron learned to love Ofcom t Social TV: a user’s guide The battle for Middle East news t The rise and rise of the Twitterati With: A lex Connock t Torin Douglas t Steve Hewlett Philip Reevell t Toby Syfret t Theresa Wise


Previous grant winners

Do you need

£2,000

for a

history of television project?

Simon Vaughan, archivist of the Alexandra Palace Television Society

Apply now for the 2011

Shiers Trust Award

Steve Arnold is digitizing back issues of the Radio Times to make a searchable online archive of articles and schedules

Susanne Hammacher for the RAI: the Mursi tribe of Ethiopia watch a previous film about them by Disappearing World

The Trust can make a grant of up to £2,000 towards publishing work on any aspect of the history of television

Objectives

Leslie Woodhead, Hutchison Library

The promotion of public education through the study and research of the history of ­television in all its aspects and without regard to country of origin, including the d­ evelopment and encouragement of publications and associated projects such as b­ ibliographies and monographs on particular aspects, provided that the results of such study and research shall be published and that the contribution made by the Trust shall be suitably acknowledged in any publication.

Criteria Don McLean compiled an authentically accurate audio two-CD presentation of the beginnings of television in Britain.

John Grist has written a biography of Grace Wyndham Goldie, the first Head of BBC Television News and Current Affairs

BBC

George Shiers BBC

George Shiers, a distinguished US television historian, was a long-­standing member of the RTS. Before his death in 1983, he and his wife May p­ rovided for a bequest in their wills. The Shiers Trust grant, now in its eleventh year, is normally worth £2,000. Grants will be consid­ered and approved by the Trustees who may, at their d­ iscretion, consult appropriate experts to assist their decisions. In assessing priorities, the Trustees will take into account the sums of money available.

Application procedure

Ronald Sandell, a key planner of the analogue terrestrial transmitter network, is researching a book, Seventy Years Before the Masts

John Wyver is writing a book on the presentation of theatre plays on British television, Screen Plays

Grants will be given to assist in the ­completion of new or unfinished projects, work or literature specific to the objectives of the trust. ‘Literature’ is defined as including audio-visual media such as CD-Roms and websites. The Trustees must be satisfied that the work they are supporting either could not be finished or p­ ublished without the grant and that, with it, the work will be c­ ompleted, or, the grant will provide the i­nitial phase of a project that will be c­ ontinued and completed with other i­dentified funding. Applications will be considered broadly in support of research, development, writing, editing or publication. Grants for research will require that the results of the work will be made known and accessible through appropriate means. In the case of literature, projects must have a real prospect of publication. Applicants must demonstrate that their work will have a clear e­ xpectation of making a s­ ignificant contribution to the objectives of the Trust. Applicants will be required to satisfy the Trustees of the soundness of their projects, and identify any grants from other sources. The Trustees will not make commitments to support re­curring funding, nor make grants to cover fees or maintenance of students undertaking courses.

Applications are now invited and should be submitted to the Trustees by 31 March 2011 on an official ­application form (available from the RTS, address below). Applications should set out the nature of the project in not more than 500 words. Supporting d­ ocumentation may also be included. Details of your experience or qualifications should be provided. Applicants should ensure that their project conforms to all the criteria. Applications should be accompanied by a budget that clearly identifies the sum being requested for a grant and the p­ urposes for which it will be used. Application forms are available from the RTS and should be returned to the same address.

Clare Colvin, archivist Royal Television Society Kildare House 3 Dorset Rise London EC4Y 8EN clare@rts.org.uk BBC


Contents

04 RTS news Listings and reports of RTS Centre events around the UK and the Republic of Ireland

Television

06 Steve Hewlett’s TV diary

Journal of the Royal Television Society

07 Skeletons in the press box

February 2011 Volume 48/2

FROM THE EDITOR Sky Sports celebrates its 20th anniversary in April. To underline what the service has achieved Ross Biddiscombe and Theresa Wise provide different perspectives on a network that has transformed coverage of television sports in the UK. As demonstrators in Egypt join Tunisia in attempting to usher in a more democratic regime, Raymond Snoddy looks at the prospects for television news channels in the Middle East. Back home, Maggie Brown gets under the skin of Ofcom to examine how the regulator reinvented itself for an age of austerity. As the News of the World phone hacking row returned to the top of the news agenda, this month’s diarist Steve Hewlett occupied a ring-side seat. He provides a peerless perspective on a story that refused to die.

Editor

Steve Clarke smclarke_333@hotmail.com

Production and design

Gordon Jamieson gordon.jamieson.01@googlemail.com

Advertising

Gordon Jamieson gordon.jamieson.01@googlemail.com

Royal Television Society

RTS, Kildare House, 3 Dorset Rise, London EC4Y 8EN T: 020 7822 2810 F: 020 7822 2811 E: info@rts.org.uk W: www.rts.org.uk

Subscription rates

UK £95 Overseas (surface) £115 Overseas (airmail) £135 Enquiries: publication@rts.org.uk

Printing

ISSN 0308-454X Printer: FE Burman, 20 Crimscott Street, London, SE1 5TP ©Royal Television Society 2011. The views expressed in Television are not necessarily those of the RTS (Registered Charity 313728)

Television | www.rts.org.uk | February 2011

In a torrid week for News Corp, Steve Hewlett finds media bosses don’t have as much power to bury bad news as their critics imagine – and socks it to his own boss on air

Do lazy sports reporters give corrupt officials a soft ride? Matthew Bell enjoys a good punch-up as the Fourth Estate settles the argument

10 Game changer Sky Sports was the biggest sporting bet of all time, but it has paid off handsomely for both BSkyB and a host of sporting bodies, says Ross Biddiscombe

12 All aboard the money-go-round Theresa Wise examines the financial model pioneered by Sky Sports and looks at the threats to its dominance

14 The evolution of media power Malcolm Baird commends a clear-sighted analysis of how new media rise and mature – and how they fear extinction from later newcomers

15 Our Friend in the North New Television columnist Alex Connock asks if the BBC’s financial investment in Salford will be matched by a commitment to local decision-making by the corporation and independents

16 Cowell, Clegg and communal TV A handful of network-defining shows were more important than ever in 2010. Philip Reevell examines how rival channels shaped up over the past 12 months

18 How to handle a two-screen conversation Meg Carter examines the rapid rise of interactive ‘social TV’ shows that integrate social media into the viewer experience

20 How Ofcom changed its spots Ofcom looked a likely candidate to join the ‘bonfire of the quangos’, but instead the regulator has shrewdly reinvented itself for the age of austerity, reports Maggie Brown

22 It’s good to Tweet Torin Douglas says Twitter has become not just an essential newsgathering tool but an additional dimension to all television viewing

24 3DTV: a plan that can’t fail Too many hardware and entertainment companies have committed to the new format to let mere public indifference thwart their ambitions. Toby Syfret follows the smart money

26 The lure of Arabia Sky News Arabia HD has committed to launching next year, but how will it carve a distinctive space for itself in such a crowded marketplace? asks Raymond Snoddy

28 Cooking with gas Stuart Levine samples the Scripps Networks recipe for exporting entertaining cookery and DIY channels

3


RTS news National events

LONDON Wednesday 16 February

RTS Awards Wednesday 23 February RTS Television Journalism Awards 2009/10 Venue: London Hilton, Park Lane, London W1K 1BE ☎ Jamie O’Neill 020 7822 2820 * Jamie@rts.org.uk

Tuesday 15 March RTS Programme Awards 2010 Venue: Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London W1K 7TN ☎ Jamie O’Neill 020 7822 2820 * Jamie@rts.org.uk

RTS Veterans Tuesday 5 April Sir David Nicholas in conversation with Sir Paul Fox 12:30pm for 1:00pm Venue: House of Lords, London SW1A 0PW ☎ Jo Mitchell 020 7822 2820 * jo@rts.org.uk

Memorial Wednesday 2 March Roy Addison 1944-2010

A service of thanksgiving to celebrate the life of Roy Addison will be held at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street at 3:30 pm. Donations, if desired, to the Royal Marsden Cancer Campaign www.royalmarsden.org Venue: St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, London EC4Y 8AU ☎ Steve Clarke 0207 731 4447 * smclarke_333@hotmail.com

Local events

Craft skills – the creativity of post

‘We’ll sort it out in post’ is a frequent cry, but it is rarely the best use of the editor and it incurs extra costs. Two experienced editors illustrate the difference between producers making things easy or difficult for the post team across a range of genres. You must register for this free event by going to www.rts.org. uk/london and clicking on ‘Events’ and using the registration system, or phoning 020 8892 8151. 6:30pm (tea and coffee) for 7:00pm Venue: Embankment Room, London Television Centre, Upper Ground, London SE1 9LT

What’s happening in television?

As new management makes its mark in ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five and the Government reviews the broadcasting environment, RTS London asks what is in store for UK television through DSO and BBC Charter renewal. You must register for this free event by going to www.rts.org.uk/london and clicking on ‘Events’ and using the registration system, or phoning 020 8892 8151. 6:30pm (tea and coffee) for 7:00pm Venue: Embankment Room, London Television Centre, Upper Ground, London SE1 9LT

Wednesday 16 March Production focus

Details TBC Venue: Embankment Room, London Television Centre, Upper Ground, London SE1 9LT ☎ Norman Green 020 8892 8151 * ngreen4093@aol.com

MIDLANDS ☎ Mars Elkins 07763 031546

* mars.elkins@googlemail.com

NORTH EAST & THE BORDER

BRISTOL

Freesat

Tuesday 15 February

Saturday 12 March

Student Awards

Annual Awards

Venue: TBC

Venue: The Sage Gateshead, St Mary’s Square, Gateshead Quays, Gateshead NE8 2JR

Annual Awards Venue: Cinema de Lux, Cabot Circus, Bristol BS1 3BX ☎ Denis Lomax 07740 444573 * denis.lomax@bbc.co.uk

DEVON & CORNWALL ☎ Jeremy Hibbard

* jeremy@televisionary.co.uk

EAST ANGLIA ☎ Mark Wells 01603 727771 * mark.wells@epic-tv.com

4

Coronation Street was the big winner at the North West Centre’s Annual Awards, presented at a glittering ceremony in Manchester’s Hilton and hosted by comedian Justin Moorhouse. The show’s creator, Tony Warren, and it’s only remaining original cast member, Bill Roach, collected the coveted Judges’ Award, commemorating all those who have played a role in the soap’s success over the past 50 years. The show also picked up the award for Best Continuing Drama, beating stiff competition from Shameless and Hollyoaks. Red Production Company took home three awards for its BBC2 drama, Worried About the Boy, while Nine Lives Media won two for Small Teen Big World and A History of the World: A Tale of Two Cities. The spoils were shared in the regional news battle as Granada Reports won Best Regional News and Best Regional Story, while Ranvir Singh (pictured, left) secured Best Regional On Screen Talent for BBC North West Tonight.

Wednesday 2 March

Wednesday 9 March

Thursday 10 March

Home win for Corrie team

Venue: Sunderland University

Wednesday/Thursday 11/12 May Young People’s Media Festival 11 Venue: Teesside University ☎ Tony Edwards 01207 560689 * tonyalto9@googlemail.com

NORTH WEST ☎ Rachel Pinkey 07966 230639 * rachelpinkey@yahoo.co.uk

NORTHERN IRELAND ☎ John Mitchell

* mitch.mvbroadcast@btinternet.com

Victoria Owens

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

the face of television as we know it? Venue: Pincents Manor Hotel, Reading RG31 4UQ

Tuesday 8 February

Wednesday 9 March

Student Awards

Visit to Surrey University

Venue: RTÉ

Date TBC Promo, promo, promo

Presentation by Jim Booth, creative director RTÉ Promotions, postponed from 7 December Venue: RTÉ

Date TBC 3DTV Venue: RTÉ ☎ Charles Byrne (00353) 87251 3092 * byrnecd@iol.ie

SCOTLAND ☎ Henry Eagles: 07788 438692

The Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing (CVSSP) is one of the major research centres of the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences of the University of Surrey. Its aim is to advance the state of the art in multimedia signal processing and computer vision, with a focus on image, video and audio applications. The centre’s expertise and activities include multimedia applications, digital broadcast production, speech and audio processing. Booking is required. Please contact Vivienne Roberts on info@rtstvc.org. uk or 01635 44991. Venue: Surrey University CVSSP ☎ Jennie Evans 01635 44991 * jennie@manormarketing.tv

WALES

* henrye@skillset.org

Thursday February 10

SOUTHERN

Making the unnecessary necessary

Friday 18 February Annual Awards and Student Awards Venue: Guildhall, Winchester SO23 9GH ☎ Gordon Cooper * gcooper@bournemouth.ac.uk

Writer, broadcaster and stand-up Daniel Glyn will argue the case for the unnecessary in comedy, shoehorning some of his favourite clips from television and film into his presentation – unnecessarily. 7:00pm Venue: Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff CF5 1QE

Friday February 11 Student Television Awards

THAMES VALLEY Wednesday 23 February BBC Research & Development: vision and projects

Presentation by Daniel Pike, head of technology transfer, BBC R&D. BBC Kingswood Warren has been vacated and a new era in research and development begins. With teams relocated to London and Manchester, what are the new directions and the priority projects changing

Details TBC: please see the website Venue: Ffresh Festival, ATRiuM, University of Glamorgan, Cardiff CF37 4BD ☎ Mari Griffith 01446 795658 * mari.griffith@hotmail.co.uk

YORKSHIRE ☎ Lisa McManus

* lisa.mcmanus@yahoo.com

February 2011 | www.rts.org.uk | Television


Cost-effective television in the Cloud

High achiever Arqiva Helicopter lowering DTT transmission modules onto the top of an Arqiva transmitter mast

Arqiva

Arqiva attracted a record audience to a London Centre event to hear how it has been engineering the switchover from analogue to digital terrestrial TV. Arqiva owns and operates the UK terrestrial TV network – some 80 major transmitters and more than 1,000 small relays – and has supply contracts with all the main UK broadcasters. Digital switchover will cost around £700m over seven years. This year sees the most intensive activity, as one third of the UK population will be switched to DTT. Some 800,000 homes a week will be switched in a 35-week programme from April to November. By then, 65% of the UK population will be covered by DTT. One of the complications of the process is that the switchover takes place on live sites – there’s no disruption of the broadcast service. This requires careful co-ordination with all Arqiva’s customers – not just the primary broadcasters but also many other users of the transmission masts. Peter Heslop, Arqiva’s DSO director, said the weather is always an issue, as replacement antennae are progressively fitted to some of the tallest masts in Europe, “and 2007 to 2009 saw some of the wettest summers on record”. So an important part of ensuring the switchover plan stays on track has been the use of helicopters to replace the analogue antennae components with digital units on the high masts. “The UK has been very slow in adopting helicopters for construction projects – there are no

specialist companies here – so we contracted companies from Norway and Switzerland to carry out the heavy lifting work on our masts. It transformed the process, and it’s proved very cost-effective,” Heslop said. The alternative would be mobile cranes, which could take days to set up and dismantle. “Using helicopters means the antenna replacements on the major masts can be done in a day, rather than taking weeks using other methods,” he said. Protecting the frequencies

of other regions and countries is part of the process, but that hasn’t been the only “protection” activity required from Arqiva. Several of the UK’s rarest flora and fauna breed or grow within the remote antenna sites. “The nesting grasshopper warbler was one – we had to delay our activities until its young had fledged – but we still completed on time,” said Heslop. “Some of the locations of the rare bird sites are so secret, even the RSPB won’t reveal where they are.”

Nick Radlo

Pilgrim Award for London trailblazer One of the founders of the London Centre, Norman Green, has been awarded the Tony Pilgrim Award for services to the Society. “He has had a distinguished career in the forefront of television engineering for more than a generation. He was in colour when the rest of the industry was in black and white. He was into HD when others were still using 16mm film,” said David Lowen, who presented the award in January. “Most important, he’s been able to understand and communicate why the technical changes are so important in creating opportunities and change in the non-

engineering aspects of television.” Green started his career at EMI Research Laboratories before joining the Engineering Department of ABC Television, where he worked on investigations into various colour systems for film in TV. He later designed and built the first computer-controlled presentation and master control system in Europe for Thames Television. He managed the development of the first all-digital video studio control suite in the world and designed Europe’s first mobile HDTV production and post production facility. As head of technology for ITV,

Television | www.rts.org.uk | February 2011

Green was a member of many national and international committees concerned with the technical standardisation of tele­ vision. At the EBU Bureau he represented all British broadcasters, including the BBC. On leaving ITV in 1995 he became a consultant, and worked for the ITC, ITFC and the DTI. At the last he project-managed the Interactive Multimedia Digital Test Bed Project that supported many efforts related to digital television and DVB. He was made an RTS Fellow for his outstanding contribution to the development of television.

As broadcasting moves towards the era of tapeless television, with TV programmes moved around as data files, Thames Valley Centre’s Annual Colloquium explored what might be the logical conclusion of the process – “Television in the Cloud”. Cloud computing is about outsourcing some or all of the operations run on a company’s computer infrastructure to servers accessed via the internet – and paying only for the resources used. There was a fair amount of scepticism expressed at the event, especially around the issues of security and live, uninterrupted broadcasting, but some areas in television can benefit. Forbidden Technology’s webbased editing system, FORscene, uses the concept and CEO Stephen Streater claimed 1 million hours of TV footage have now been edited using its online editing system, “at a twentieth of the cost of hiring an Avid editing suite”. According to Andrew Davies from TSL in Dubai, cloud computing or “virtualisation” isn’t suitable for all broadcasting applications, but it can be easier and more cost-effective for some. “Operations involving scheduling, rights, traffic and ad sales are excellent candidates for virtualisation, but tasks such as transcoding , where you need every last ounce of power out of your CPU, would be the last thing you’d want to virtualise,” he said. One important area where virtualisation offers remarkable savings is disaster recovery. All broadcasters have to do it, and a full back-up system in the cloud can be done very cheaply, according to Davies. A low-resolution copy is made of every file passing to the main transmission server, and held in a cloud-based playout system – a channel in a box. This can send the entire broadcast schedule to the station’s uplink site, in the event the main SDI feed dies, as a DVB-compliant transport stream at 2Mb/sec or 3Mb/sec, with all the right timing information. Davies said: “It’s very, very cheap to do – and just compare the cost with what broadcasters are currently paying for disaster recovery sites.”

Nick Radlo

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Steve Hewlett’s TV Diary

In a torrid week for News Corp, Steve Hewlett finds media bosses don’t have as much power to bury bad news as their critics imagine – and socks it to his own boss on air

T

here I was minding my own business, chatting with radio producer Terry O’Neill prior to interviewing Andrew Neil for a package on phone hacking for the Today programme when the news dropped. Andy Coulson had resigned – and one of the most extraordinary media weeks I can remember had begun. Andrew Neil was great: “There are only two sorts of currency in News International, cash and gossip, and Rupert Murdoch is the biggest gossip of all.”

7.00am at Today. Terry still lashed to desk (is he listening carefully or dozing under those headphones?) but nearly done. 8:10am prime slot, nine-minute package plus four minutes live with J Naughtie and then off to Sky News to talk hacking and review the papers. Very impressed with their coverage. They were quick to the story and really stuck with it. Few signs of all-controlling Murdoch here, or is that what we were meant to think?

Off to U15 Rugby versus Amersham. Meanwhile, another story’s starting to brew, something to do with Andy Gray. More phonehacking revelations? Er no... the female lino, or rather what Gray and host Richard Keys had to say about her. Beat Amersham by quite a lot. Call from Sky News: would I do a turn on Sunrise, Monday morning to reprise phonehacking? What time? 7:10am. Car is to pick me up at 5:30am.

Lines from our Today piece re demands for an outside force to review the Met’s efforts and that allegations are spreading beyond News of the World to other papers still have traction. And Andy Gray’s in big trouble, not least

6

TV diary thanks to the Sun’s front page, which offers yet more evidence of poor behaviour. No sign of all-controlling Murdoch here either. Could it be that different parts of the News Corp family secretly enjoy each other’s discomfort? Wouldn’t happen at the BBC, obviously. Off to RTS Television Journalism Awards Jury Chairs’ meeting. In terms of nominations, ITN has done brilliantly, Sky very well and the BBC – er, not so well. More to do with what they chose to enter (or not) than any underlying weakness in the output. Andy Gray suspended. Are Sky management playing hardball because he’s a phonehacking claimant against NOTW? Seductive but unlikely. Not even the very powerful Mr Murdoch could have arranged this. Much more likely his own team that did for him.

Lying in bed at 7:20am when Peston pops up on Today. Jeremy Hunt is to delay referral of News Corp’s bid for the 61% of Sky it doesn’t already own to the CC (as recommended by Ofcom) to allow discussion of potential remedies. All phones start ringing. Lie-in over. Requests for interviews piling up. The third major Murdoch story in as many days. Ofcom evidence on plurality well worth a read. Maybe not quite as clear cut as opponents of the deal might have wished. Afternoon at BBC preparing for Radio 4 Media Show interview with Mark Thompson.

Rumours of big cuts in World Service. Maybe this will knock Murdoch off the top of the running orders?

Media Show day. Feisty interview with the boss (is there another organisation in the world that would allow a mere underling to accuse the chief executive of indulging in “double speak” on national radio?) If a 16% cut in World Service funding cost more than 25% of the jobs, was there a readacross for the licence-fee settlement (16% minimum cutback) and the rest of the BBC? But just when Rupert might have thought he could pause for breath, News of The World sacks its previously suspended assistant editor, Ian Edmonson, and the police announce “significant” new evidence and a new criminal enquiry on the basis of information in the NOTW’s email system all along. Oh dear. At 11:00pm an email arrives containing a court order revealing that Sienna Miller’s stepmom designer, Kelly Hoppen, is suing the NOTW and one of its journalists for hacking her phone as recently as last year. Is this a scoop?

Car at 5:30 am (again). Listen to 6:00am R4 bulletin and, yes, there it is right at the top. New evidence of hacking continuing as recently as last year. Morning turns into a blur, running (literally, half the time) from studio to studio. Sky results are absolutely stellar, but even this isn’t unalloyed good news for RM, since it means he’ll have to pay more to buy it. Mannion calls: would I do ITV News live at lunchtime? As a starving freelance what else could I say? Feels like I’ve been living with Rupert Murdoch for a week. Who says Britain’s lost its sense of humour?

Steve Hewlett is a broadcaster and media consultant.

January 2011 | www.rts.org.uk | Television


TV sport 1: The journalism

Do lazy sports reporters give corrupt officials a soft ride? Matthew Bell enjoys a good punch-up as the Fourth Estate settles the argument

Television | www.rts.org.uk | February 2011

T

he RTS event – “What’s wrong with sports reporting?” – saw TV and print heavyweights slug it out, delivering a few knockout punches but rather too many low blows. Former culture secretary Tessa Jowell was referee for the evening. The opening shots landed by Andrew Jennings and Tom Bower set the scene for what proved a bruising encounter. Veteran investigative reporter Jennings referred to “idle reporters sitting on their bums”, while high-profile biographer Bower argued that sports journalists were too timid because they “fear to bite off the hand that feeds them”. Dodging the punches on the panel were Times journalist Ashling O’Connor and the BBC’s Olympics director, Roger Mosey. But it was the sports writers in the audience who came out swinging. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard so much garbage in my life from Andrew Jennings and Tom Bower,” said Daily Mail columnist Charlie Sale. “If Tom knew anything – his example was the FA – he’d know that three chief executives, [Graham] Kelly, [Adam] Crozier and [Mark] Palios, have left because of newspaper revelations. “Andrew Jennings is a self-serving self­ publicist. It’s quite appalling that they should be allowed to criticise probably the best sports journalists in the world.” Bower replied that Palios quit the FA in the fall-out from an affair, not because of any mismanagement of the FA. “You’re not approaching the management of the FA as a political and financial story, which it is,” said Bower. Instead, he continued, sports reporters would prefer to report on “the sex exploits of [ex-England manager] Sven [Göran Eriksson]”. “I don’t think Tom reads the newspapers. Things like the political reform of the FA are reported on a daily basis,” replied Sale. The Daily Telegraph’s chief sports reporter, Paul Kelso, jumped into the ring: “I’ve heard Tom and Andrew, both of whose work I respect, and I feel what they’ve set out is

iStockPhoto

Skeletons in the press box entirely specious. They’re stuck in the past. “The idea that we’re a bunch of ee-ayeadios, who trot off to the game with our typewriters and a fag in our mouths, not interested in how much money the chairman’s taking out the back, is entirely outdated.” Admitting that he was “agitated”, Kelso added: “The thing that disappoints me most of all is that Tom and Andrew are both serious players, giants you might argue, in our profession. But, particularly Andrew; every time one of his Panoramas comes around it’s as predictable as the sun rising tomorrow: a week later there will be an attack on people like me and my colleagues in this room who do the daily grunt work, day in, day out. “I think for someone who was once a beacon of journalism it’s disgraceful that you should attack your peers. Frankly, I think we’re owed an apology.” Reuters reporter Mike Collett argued that there was a fundamental difference between Jennings’s investigative work, which has seen him barred from Fifa events, and daily sports reporting. “I would be doing my company, myself and the huge number of subscribers that Reuters serves throughout the world a massive disservice if I were to get myself banned from covering Fifa,” said Collett. “I try to keep a balance and not, because we can’t, alienate that particular body to an extent that we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs. That balance is a crucial one in this debate.” Continuing with this theme, O’Connor asked Bower about his latest biography, No Angel – The Secret Life of Bernie Ecclestone: “You started [writing] an unauthorised biography and then you found yourself embraced by the man yourself. Did you have to make compromises?” “I was surprised when he gave me access. I did exploit it because I found it fascinating to be on the inside,” replied Bower. “I have had an extraordinary, privileged access. Whether I’ve maintained my dispassion and objectivity, you’ll be the judges. I think I have.” Meanwhile, messages of solidarity were u8

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TV sport 1: The journalism In the challengers’ corner

In the commentary b

Get off your bum and get the story Andrew Jennings fingered Fifa executives for corruption on BBC 1 last November in Panorama: Fifa’s Dirty Secrets. The Football Association and various politicians attacked the programme, fearing it would damage England’s – forlorn, as it proved – bid to host the World Cup in 2018. ‘Journalism is about unearthing contradictions and mendacity in public life. We are the watchdogs; we do the scrutiny. As the great Louis Heren at the Times told his reporters: “Find out why the lying bastards are lying to you.” But who will tell these stories when the reporters, or some of them, are complicit in the cover-ups? ‘If Kelvin [MacKenzie,

former editor of the Sun] had been running the newsrooms during the crap that Panorama got from the sports news reporters through November, these untrue stories of all these things we were doing and not doing… ‘Can you imagine [him] standing in the newsroom and tolerating a bunch of idle reporters sitting on their bums? He’d have told them: “Don’t wait for the programme, get the fuck out there, scoop the pointy-headed BBC bastards, and get the story. ‘And they didn’t. There’s no will to get the story that the readers, the viewers and the listeners want to know, and it’s a tragedy for British journalism.’

Charlie Sale Daily Mail

Andrew Jennings is a selfserving self-publicist. It’s quite appalling that they should be allowed to criticise probably the best sports journalists in the world

Andrew Jennings Investigative journalist

There’s no will to get the story that the readers, the viewers and the listeners want to know, and it’s a tragedy for British journalism Tom Bower Investigative writer

There’s a fear among journalists that they may lose their access if they report things truthfully and accurately

Bite the hand that’s feeding you lies Tom Bower won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award for Broken Dreams, an investigation into corruption in English football. A former television producer, his biography, No Angel – The Secret Life of Bernie Ecclestone, is published this month. ‘The great problem that journalists have in reporting sport is that they fear to bite off the hand that feeds them. Both in football and Formula One, the two sports that I have written and know about, if you criticise the owners of

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the [clubs] or the FA, or if you criticise Bernie Ecclestone too much, you don’t get access to the football grounds or to the paddock… ‘The inability of the FA… to regulate football has been to the detriment of English football. The reason for its lack of leadership, the reason why it was unable to control the Premier League… its inability to stamp out corruption by the agents … is because, in the end, the Fourth Estate has not put enough pressure on the leaders of the FA.’

7 u coming thick and fast from hacks in the audience. The Guardian’s Owen Gibson said his sports colleagues were “feisty, intelligent and as prepared to ask the difficult questions of those in power as in any other sphere of journalism”. Rob Harris from the Associated Press added more support, recalling the FA briefing he attended recently, where the shortcomings of England boss Fabio Capello were aired: “There are people from the FA here who will bear witness that we gave FA officials a torrid time.” Stuart Mawhinney, from the punch-drunk FA, refuted one of Bower’s earlier claims that “there’s a fear among journalists that they may lose their access if they report things truthfully and accurately”. The FA, he said, does not bar any members of the press. Sky Sports News boss Andy Cairns maintained that now was “the best time to be a sports journalist. We have some of the best sports journalists in the world. Twenty years ago there was hardly any sports news on the main TV bulletins; newspapers had just a few journalists. It was quite a matey little group.” Jennings, though, was convinced the old guard still set the mark. He namechecked Sunday Times journalists Brian Glanvillle, Rob Hughes and Keith Botsford, who “went after the crooks at Fifa and Uefa and did a fantastic job, and showed you could be a sports reporter and a damn fine investigator. So, they were better 20 years ago because they did both.” Bower compared today’s sports journalists, unfavourably, with their political counterparts: “If the people running the FA were

February 2011 | www.rts.org.uk | Television


ox

In the defenders’ corner Paul Kelso Daily Telegraph

For someone who was once a beacon of journalism it’s disgraceful that you should attack your peers. Frankly, I think we’re owed an apology

Sports pack can outgun lobby hacks Ashling O’Connor is sports news correspondent for the Times, covering the business of sport and the Olympics. ‘The picture Andrew paints of sports journalism is not one I recognise or the one I operate in… Sports governing bodies in this country get a much rougher ride than they do in Spain, for example. ‘I don’t remember seeing much scrutiny of its bid ahead of the 2018 decision, and certainly not the volumes that were written about the England bid… ‘We ask the hard questions and this is reflected everyday in the newspapers. If you picked up the Guardian today, you saw David Conn’s series on super agents – I’m sure you

would never have read that in the sports pages of a British newspaper 20 years ago. ‘One of the reasons I crossed over from the Financial Times, where I was a financial journalist, to sports journalism was because the area was wide open. This was 10 years ago and very few people were writing about it. ‘You could break stories quite easily: I did on [former Leeds chairman Peter] Ridsdale’s resignation and the implosion of Leeds United. Now people are all over those stories. ‘The Liverpool takeover is a perfect example of that: I don’t think (then-Liverpool owners Tom Hicks and [George] Gillett would have left this country £140m to the worse were it not for the intensity of reporting every day on that story.’

Ashling O’Connor The Times

the British Government, can you imagine the Westminster lobby tolerating that sort of incompetence, parochialism and stupidity? They wouldn’t survive a week.” O’Connor was quick to defend her trade: “Presumably this is the same Westminster lobby for whom second homes and duck houses were just the way that MPs did business until an IT consultant thought otherwise and sold the data to the Daily Telegraph?” “I think the lobby do a good job, but are they asking the hard questions of politicians as much as we’re asking the questions of football administrators?” she asked. Returning to the question posed at the RTS event, Mosey denied there was a “crisis in sports journalism. I think the calibre of the people in this room, the standard of what they do, is evident every day. “It’s lively, it’s disputatious and it’s awkward; that’s how it should be.” But sport, he added, is more than journalism: “[It’s] about entertainment. In the end, audiences want Lineker and Hansen on the World Cup rather than Andrew, much as we love him.” Wrapping up proceedings, Jowell admitted: “We’ve generated quite a lot of heat; we may have generated a little bit of light.” But, she added: “If journalism is not offensive, then you’re probably letting the blighters off too easily.” n

‘What’s wrong with sports reporting?’ was an RTS early evening event held in central London on 18 January. The producer was Sue Robertson.

Television | www.rts.org.uk | February 2011

All pictures: Simon Albury

Sports governing bodies in this country get a much rougher ride than they do in Spain, for example Roger Mosey BBC

This idea that there’s complicity between people who buy sports rights and reporting… is not true

We also need to be entertainers In a long and varied career at the corporation, dating back to 1980, Roger Mosey has run TV news, Radio Five Live and BBC Sport. He is currently BBC director, London 2012. ‘This idea that there’s complicity between people who buy sports rights and reporting… is not true. If you look at the BBC, we have broadcast programmes from our news and sports news divisions, which are profoundly uncomfortable for rights holders and governing bodies… ‘The standard of sports journalism in Britain is very high… In broadcast we were often behind the newspapers in not having the same

range and depth and that’s something we’ve tried to put right… ‘It is important to have a balance here… audiences want some stuff about [players’] groin strains or [whether] it’s going to be Avram Grant at West Ham or Martin O’Neill and they want sport business. ‘Our sport business coverage in recent years has grown markedly better… And people want some investigative journalism as well… but you can’t put everything Fifa does through the prism of [Fifa president Sepp] Blatter and the alleged corruption in Fifa. I think what audiences want is an extensive menu.’

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TV sports 2: Sky Sports at 20

Game changer Sky Sports was the biggest sporting bet of all time, but it has paid off handsomely for both BSkyB and a host of sporting bodies, says Ross Biddiscombe

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F

or millions of UK armchair sports fans, it is hard to remember what the sporting TV landscape looked like 20 years ago because the changes in those two decades have been so profound. Where once sport was mostly shoe-horned into terrestrial schedules and a major live sporting event was a rare treat, nowadays pay-TV audiences are offered as many as 29 dedicated sports channels, some broadcasting 24 hours a day. Live sport is available every single day of the year. And aside from the traditional giants of football and cricket, more minority interests such as speedway and netball are catered for. One of the greatest success stories of the past two decades has been Sky Sports, which cele­brates its 20th birthday in April. While the sports rights market has, inevitably, been cut-throat, the competition between Sky Sports and its rivals has raised the bar in terms of the range of sports that can be seen and how these sports are covered. Sky Sports has been a leader in both these areas. As for the extent of coverage, Sky Sports’ total annual broadcasting hours has grown tenfold in 20 years – from 4,278 hours in 1991 to 44,212 last year.

At the same time, on-screen innovations that began simply with more cameras being deployed at an event have culminated in the recent launches of HD and 3D. Coverage of overseas sporting events such as English Test Match cricket and British Lions rugby tours have helped define Sky Sports. So, too, has a plethora of live UK and foreign football, virtually non-existent when terrestrial-TV channels had sport to themselves. Brian Barwick, former CEO of the Football Association, was head of BBC football when Sky Sports launched, subsequently running sport at both the BBC and ITV. He says: “There is no question that the standard of British sports broadcasting, with BBC and ITV coverage, was very high at the time Sky Sports came along. But you can’t deny that Sky Sports was fresh and that it had deep pockets so it could set new styles and standards. And it simply had more time to broadcast.” Even before Sky Sports was launched, Sky One had hinted at the extent of its sporting ambition by screening Test Match cricket live from the West Indies, a broadcasting first. By the time English football’s structure changed with the creation of the Premier League in 1992, Sky Sports was on hand to grab the rights and take full advantage of

February 2011 | www.rts.org.uk | Television


James Pickles Sports TV analyst

iStockPhoto

UEFA will tell you privately that Sky Sports coverage of the Champions League is the benchmark for its partners around the world this watershed moment in the history of the national game. “There has not been a live Premier League game on any UK terrestrial channel since the birth of Sky Sports and that has been a huge reason for its success,” says Barwick. “And football – along with lots of other sports – has benefited because terrestrial channels could not usually give live sport enough time to breathe on air. BBC and ITV will always be in a rush to get to a Doctor Who or a Coronation Street.” Sky Sports not only brought extra cameras to more live events, but OB directors could practise with how to best use steady-cams or slo-mo replays almost every day in a way that their terrestrial counterparts could not. “Sky Sports got very slick very quickly,” says Barwick. And while there were innovations that were quickly forgotten – “Playercam (a mini camera attached to players) never had me worried,” says Barwick – the channel’s sheer volume of sports broadcasting meant viewers were more forgiving, he says. By 1999 the number of Sky Sports channels had risen to four, excluding Sky Sports News, From the outset the ever-increasing number of broadcast hours available caught the attention of every sports body. While the government continued to protect the so-called crown-jewel events (such as Wimbledon tennis, the FA Cup final and the Grand National) for free-to-air terrestrial audiences, the sports themselves wanted to take advantage of more broadcast hours. Sports such as golf, with its four-day tournaments played on international courses, was one of many to become a willing partner with Sky Sports. George O’Grady, chief executive of the PGA European Tour, says Sky Sports made golf more glamorous and showed the sport in its entirety and in depth. “Sky Sports came along during a golden era for British golf, with Nick Faldo and the rest, and then brought to the screen all the unique places that European golf goes to, from the Swiss mountains to the Middle East and Asia,” he says. But, for him, the effects of those many extra hours of golf on TV led not only to a new audience, but gave birth to the golfing stars of the future. “If you ask the top young British and European players of today, such as Rory McIlroy, how they got driven into the game, then it was watching their heroes on Sky Sports,” says O’Grady. In fact, it seems the relationship between

Television | www.rts.org.uk | February 2011

Sky Sports and most British sporting bodies (both large and small) grows stronger all the time. Even when Ofcom last year ordered Sky Sports to provide two of its channels to rival platforms at cheaper prices, sporting organisations such as the Rugby Football Union, the Premier League, the Lawn Tennis Association and the English Cricket Board protested long and loud. They claimed that a dilution of competition for TV sports rights that this move could trigger would be a disaster for grass-roots development of sports. Sports TV analyst James Pickles says Sky Sports has changed the face of sports TV in many ways. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a sports body that was unhappy with Sky Sports,” he says. “In fact, Uefa will tell you privately that the Sky Sports coverage of the Champions League is the benchmark for its partners around the world. When free-to-air campaigners criticised it, the ECB paid a fortune for research to show that if broadcasting revenue from Sky Sports was taken away, grassroots programmes would suffer most.” Current Sky Sports managing director Barney Francis emphasises the sheer eclecticism that his channels can provide. “Only we have the time to show events such as Ashes warmup games, which we did for the first time last year,” he says. Francis adds: “At the outset, people thought that if sport went to Sky then it would be a bad thing and it wouldn’t be seen. That’s not the case anymore.” He is happy that the perception of Sky Sports has changed among the various sporting fraternities. “I was at an annual cricket dinner for the Lord’s Taverners recently and Sky Sports got a special cheer from the audience. Ten years ago that wouldn’t have happened. We don’t want to be seen as the establishment, but we want people to like what we do.” With almost 90 different sports broadcast across Sky Sports each year, he insists his channels are still keen to take risks despite the possibility of upsetting a loyal audience. “We rolled the dice 20 years ago by buying live Premier League, and every negotiation for a new contract is a risk,” says Francis. “But we want to continue to take risks on the sports we broadcast or on the kind of coverage we deliver. “Being the first broadcaster to screen football live in 3D last year was a calculated gamble. We know now the results weren’t hugely impressive, but taking risks is in our DNA.” n

Sky Sports timeline 1991 Begins broadcasting as the first sportonly television channel in the UK, with 4,278 hours of sport 1992 W  ins a deal to screen exclusive live coverage of Premier League football beginning in September 1992 1994 Launches Sky Sports 2 1996 Launches Sky Sports 3 and makes Frank Bruno’s world heavyweight championship title fight the first live UK pay-perview event 1997 Shows every match of the British Lions Rugby Union tour to South Africa in the UK live for the first time 1998 Launches Sky Sports News 1999 Launches fourth sports channel, originally known as Sky Sports Xtra 2003 Becomes first broadcaster to screen every match live from an ICC cricket World Cup 2004 Introduces super slo-mo camera for the first time during England’s cricket tour of the West Indies 2006 Launches two HD sports channels 2008 Screens 5,000th live football match (Bolton vs Liverpool) 2010 Becomes world’s first live 3D sports TV broadcaster with Arsenal vs Manchester United Premier League game.

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TV sport 3: The economics

All aboard the money go round Theresa Wise examines the financial model pioneered by Sky Sports and looks at the threats to its dominance

I

magine that you are running a pay-TV satellite broadcaster. Losses are in the order of £759m on revenues of about £100m. To make matters worse, your parent company has recently escaped bankruptcy by a hair’s breadth. The elite clubs of British football’s prestigious First Division, tempted by the prospects of huge fees for exclusive TV rights, consider setting up a Premier League. But surely it would be a risk too far to spend £60m per season for four years on an unproven offer? The fledgling BSkyB did just that in 1991 and its Sports Channel was rebranded as Sky Sports. Overnight, the fundamental economics of UK pay-TV, football and many associated markets (such as the games industry and sports merchandising), would never be the same again. Consider the following examples of how Sky Sports changed those economics. From 1991 to 1993 the average Premier League player was paid a mere £75,000 per season. Last year he was paid £1.1m (the highest paid player in the league is rumoured to be Manchester City’s Emmanuel Adebayor, reputed to earn £7.4m per season). In 1992 broadcast rights for the Premier League brought in around £60m per year. The figure is now £1.2bn – it accounts for 49% of the English Premier League’s total revenues of £2bn and is the main reason why this organisation generates the highest revenues of any national football league on the planet. In contrast to that 1991 loss of £759m, the UK pay-TV sector now makes profits of around £1bn on revenues in the region of £8bn. The social implications of this extraordinary economic success story are far from insignificant. We might not have enjoyed Shed

Productions’ excellent Footballers’ Wives were it not for the committed expenditure of the newly enriched WAGs of the Premier League players.

We could still be finding the national game more compelling and of higher quality than the current crop of Premier League games. And – with due respect for the separate Scottish leagues – we could still have have teams managed mostly by English managers with largely English players were it not for the sea change wrought by Sky Sports. However, the core of must-see product aside, there are a number of other aspects that have made Sky Sports such an iconic part of the UK television landscape. Premier League Football, of course, was the biggest single driver of the British pay-TV market, but top-flight soccer was by no means sufficient by itself for a suite of sports channels.

The highest paid player in the Premier League is believed to be Manchester City’s Emmanuel Adebayor, on an estimated £7.4m per season

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February 2011 | www.rts.org.uk | Television


Theresa Wise T Wise Consulting

Theresa Wise T Wise Consulting

Sport as a genre lends itself extremely well to technology-led improvements in the customer experience as it is both fast-moving and detail-hungry

We might not have enjoyed… the excellent Footballers’ Wives were it not for the committed expenditure of the newly enriched WAGs of the Premier League players

ITV

Footballers’ Wives

Getty Images

To support Sky Sports 2 (launched in 1994, followed in 1996 by a third, and in 1999 by a fourth, dedicated sports channel), other sports deals were needed. Cricket plays a key role in maintaining interest during the summer months, although not quite enough to prevent the annual increase in churn in this period. As for that all-important question of brand, there are few television sports brands in the world with Sky Sports’ stature – the notable exception is ESPN in the US. Such is the power of the Sky Sports brand that research indicated that customers who sign up to cable competitors believe they are getting a pay-TV service from Sky because they receive Sky Sports via cable. Sports passion brands, led by Premier League football, have also had a substantial overspill into the overall Sky brand. This gives the broadcaster a male and aspirational quality that other mass-market television offerings – ITV comes to mind – find hard to achieve because they reflect the skew of mass-market television to the older, female demographic. Critical to Sky Sports’ – and Sky’s – aspirational and hightech positioning has been the development of the offer over the years. Sport as a genre lends itself extremely well to technology-led

Television | www.rts.org.uk | February 2011

improvements in the customer experience as it is both fast-moving and detail-hungry. Aside from a more contemporary editorial tone, Sky Sports developed innovative on-screen ways to show sports performance. There were some excellent examples in the recent Ashes series, such as the “flower” pattern from the batsman, not forgetting television betting, high definition and, latterly, 3D. Across the board these have raised the game for the broadcasting of British sports. Critically, they have kept Sky Sports at the brand leading edge for the genre. Early on in its life, BSkyB, never a company to miss a commercial trick, understood that the sports viewer and the pub goer were overlapping markets. Moreover, pubs – facing competition from other places where drinkers could raise a glass or two – were desperate to maintain the number of customers coming through their doors in order to support their “wet take” (beer consumption). Sky Sports focused considerable effort and smart pricing to develop this as a highly profitable segment. It has succeeded to the extent that many commentators agree that, while the consumer-channel service does not deliver a profit on a standalone basis, the pubs service delivers very satisfactory margins. Sky Sports has had, and not always intentionally, a helping hand from the singular nature of the British television market. Unlike Germany, which remains a challenging market for Sky Deutschland, the British only had access to four channels in 1991. Moreover, in Germany key league games were listed, unlike the UK, so pay-TV could not show them exclusively. In Spain and Greece, many of the top teams negotiate their own rights (rather than going through their league). The result is that league packages are very challenging to piece together for the bidding broadcaster. To date, we have had a scenario where the fortunes of Sky Sports and those of the English Premier League are symbiotic. The English Premier League depends on Sky for around 20% of its substantial revenues and for Sky’s role as a market maker for rights pricing. Sky depends on a level of exclusivity for

Premier League games to keep its economic structure stable. This is in part because a Sky subscriber cannot receive most of the Premier League matches without subscribing to a profitable basic-tier package. And, as we might expect from the general level of economic activity, we are finally coming out of the period of sports-rights hyperinflation. The UK market in general appears to have become more rational. There have been fewer bids of the type that Hutchison 3G made for rights to mobile, which expired before the network was even rolled out, and fewer bidders in general. Consequently, some of the juice has been taken out of the market. We have even seen some sports-rights deflation in the non-English Premier League areas since Setanta exited the market in 2009. In the coming years a bidder with a different set of economic imperatives might decide it is in its interests to bid above Sky, and to offer unbundled matches to customers – in which case the current structure could unravel. But at the moment it is difficult to imagine this occurring. However, hypothetically, if BT decided that offering Premier League games exclusively to customers could bring it a large number of broadband customers (and the lifetime value of these was well in excess of the admittedly substantial price of the rights) then one could envisage a structural change. Currently, the numbers would not support a bid like this, but we have seen some activity on this theme in France, where Orange has now exited the sports-rights market, and in Germany. In 2009 Deutsche Telekom acquired the Bundesliga rights exclusively. Despite these recent changes and potential future challenges, it is worth asking ourselves whether any of the other players in the market have the stomach for the early risks that Sky took. That DNA may serve Sky Sports very well for the next generation of business battles. n

Theresa Wise runs T Wise Consulting and is a former executive at Walt Disney and partner at Accenture.

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Book review The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu is published by Alfred A Knopf, a division of Random House, priced $27.95. ISBN 978-0-30726993-5

Malcolm Baird commends a clearsighted analysis of how new media rise and mature – and how they fear extinction from later newcomers

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The

evolution

of media power

T

elevision history is often considered the preserve of retired technical people fighting yesterday’s battles. This book gives us a broader picture. Tim Wu is a professor of law at New York’s Columbia University and his book comes as a refreshingly useful contribution, not only for the general reader but for the think tanks that are trying to guide the great media organisations into an uncertain future. The book covers several electric or electronic communications media (phone, radio, film, television, the internet) from an evolutionary point of view. The “invention” of each medium is evoked vividly: for example, Alexander Graham Bell’s first phone call to his assistant Watson in the next room, and John Logie Baird’s flickery 30-line picture of a tailor’s dummy. However, the book’s primary themes are non-technical, namely business and economics, and, above all, corporate power. In The Master Switch Wu seeks to draw a parallel between the different media in a kind of evolutionary theory that starts out with a crucial invention, goes on to an “open” (freefor-all) state and then culminates in the domination of the industry by one or two large organisations. This evolutionary approach is attractive to the person who likes a neat formula that would fit into a sound bite. But there are notable exceptions, for example in the UK. The early development of broadcast radio (and later, television) was closely controlled by the government through the Post Office and the BBC, although the latter was not, strictly speaking, a government body. The monopoly control by the BBC was bro-

ken up only as late as the 1950s, and since then the radio and television broadcasting industries have gradually become more fragmented. In the US, the three great television networks are shadows of what they were, due to the rise of competition, be it cable or the fast-emerging online world. An alternative model to Wu’s evolutionary theory is one that is familiar to chemists: namely the concept of dynamic equilibrium. According to this, a mixture of different chemicals can react according to changes in external conditions, such as temperature and pressure. For the media, external conditions may include political factors (capitalism versus socialism), economic factors (boom versus recession) and, above all, technical innovation. Wu is right to focus on the ideas of the economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) on the role of innovation and the fear of innovation by large organisations because it rocks the boat. For many years the film industry was afraid of television; now, the television industry is afraid of the internet, which draws younger and better-educated users away from the traditional “lean-back” viewing of a screen. Although I have reservations about The Master Switch, I recommend it as a stimulus for media policy-makers and as a lucid exposition for the lay reader or student. As George Santayana said, those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Dare I suggest that this book might form the basis of a television documentary series? n

Malcolm Baird is a retired chemical engineer living in Canada. He is the son of John Logie Baird and he became a Life 
Member of the RTS in 1960. He is co-author (with Antony Kamm) of John Logie Baird: A Life (2002).

February 2011 | www.rts.org.uk | Television


Alex Connock New Television columnist Alex Connock asks if the BBC’s financial investment in Salford will be matched by a commitment to local decision making by the corporation and independents

Our Friend in S the North

ince Old Trafford looms over Media­ CityUK in Salford, and since BBC Sport is moving in, football clichés are permissible – so here goes. In 2011 the time for talking will be over. From now on, the North’s TV producers will show everyone what they can do on the pitch. And it’s a pretty good pitch, as a walk around the as-yet still unfeasibly coffee-stainfree edit suites and galleries, the eight gleaming studios, the padded-cell radio suites and the Philharmonic Orchestra’s curiously purple, sound-optimised new hall will confirm. The ghosts of show business future are everywhere to imagine in this huge complex: what dramas, what iconic moments, what farces, will echo within these digitally wired, omniscient buildings between now and the middle of the 21st Century? But for 2011, as everyone moves in, there are still some questions. It said in the Sun recently that Salford has 30.8% youth unemployment – one of the highest rates in the country. For all the talk of which cappuccino-sipping West Londoners would consent to make the well-paid journey north with the BBC, there has been very little so far about how the Salford project will deliver local employment on a substantive level. Beyond cleaners and security roles, how much opportunity, cultural and in raw job numbers, will the inner-cities of the North see? Are there unemployed 18-year-olds today in Salford Job Centres who, in 10 years’ time, could be day producers on BBC Breakfast? Let’s hope so. Meanwhile, if production is moving North, TV decision-making power is not fully doing so – yet. Big shows such as Breakfast have been commissioned in Manchester, but less commissioning is being done from here. Apart from 5 Live and BBC Children’s there are few channel commissioning editors coming North. Will BBC3 or Radio 1 eventually join in? Could ITV, apparently now with a

Television | www.rts.org.uk | February 2011

reinvigorated view of its Manchester operation, move commissioners here? Will Channel 4 move up North through its Nations and Regions strategy? And, indeed, will wider London dominance be eroded in TV, with Pact starting to hold council meetings somewhere other than Soho, or the RTS devolving full-time staff from EC4 to the regions? ITV and Salford University will soon be on site, and the MediaCity project has hit scale. But there are still very few indies. They’re holding off like oil contractors waiting for a profitable well to be sunk before signing up. How will the BBC deliver on driving the indigenous local indie sector across the North (including Yorkshire and the North East), and how will fragmented smaller producers coalesce to give the broadcasters the stable production platforms they need, and in the genres they need them? Commercial reference alert: in my company, Ten Alps, we are starting an entertainment formats production company in Media­ City, called Pretend. And finally, of course, the billion-pound question. Will great television actually be made here? One iconic (or counter-iconic – such a term does exist) show already set in Salford is Paul Abbott’s Shameless. Having been exported and recreated as a US show, it is currently doing well on Showtime. So it’s an export made globally from the North, without the cultural arbitration of London – like Man United selling shirts in Indonesia, without having to ask the permission of Chelsea FC first. The degree to which Salford can repeat that trick with other TV content over the next 20 years will define its cultural impact, the success of the project, and the return on the BBC’s impressive investment. n

Alex Connock is chair of the RTS North West Centre and CEO of Ten Alps.

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Ratings A handful of network-defining shows were more important than ever in 2010. Philip Reevell examines how rival channels shaped up over the past 12 months

Cowell, Clegg an

F

Wenn.com/FayesVision

or television in the UK, 2010 was an historic year. There was the firstever, live, three-way election debate, which not only turned out to be historic for TV, but also decisive for the politicians. By the autumn, however, the election debates were forgotten, as the nation spent its Saturday and Sunday evenings watching The X Factor. Some might say it is unfair to compare the two programmes, but in many respects they are the two poles around which broadcasting revolved in 2010. The X Factor, clearly, is an entertainment monster, with the highest ratings of the year – 16.5 million people tuned into the results programme. In contrast, 9.7 million tuned into the First Election Debate in April; people were following politics on TV with exceptional interest. Without wanting to make superficial comparisons (both programmes involve the nation voting for their favourites) there is something similar about the enthusiasm the public brought to the election debates (especially Nick Clegg) and the way that The X Factor developed momentum throughout its run. Week after week, X Factor improved on its 2009 audience, helped, in part, by the show being given a free run with no head-to-head competition from Strictly Come Dancing. That enthusiasm, enhanced by the immediacy of social media such as Facebook or Twitter, as users respond to what is broadcast, plays to the strengths of live television. There could have been another upsurge of enthusiasm in the summer if England’s football team had managed a decent performance – instead, the third-highest rating of the year came as Germany won comfortably to knock England out of the tournament. It was a shame in more senses than one, as a strong World Cup performance would have created a summer spike in viewing. Instead, we were left with anticlimax. But in television terms, the year now swings effortlessly from one live competition to another: Dancing On Ice in January with almost 10 million viewers, Britain’s Got Talent in the spring, with 13 million viewers, followed by the football anticlimax, before the autumn blockbusters – The X Factor, Strictly

16

Come Dancing peaking at 14 million, and I’m a Celebrity… with 12 million. One of the consequences of this sequence of event programmes is that other genres have to respond in kind. EastEnders hit a high of 16 million with its 25th anniversary programme in the first half of the year, while Coronation Street celebrated 50 years in December and laid on a spectacular storyline. There is a danger in this game of counterbidding on storylines, in that each escalation also chips away at the credibility of the soap’s realism. Explosive storylines involve considerable risk. Recall how Emmerdale’s air crash saved the show and how Brookside’s big story­lines boosted Channel 4. But in the context of today’s competitive environment, every time a soap delivers a super-story the bar is raised for the next occasion. Big, bigger, biggest? And then what? It would be churlish to begrudge Coronation Street its success at 50, although there might have been some at ITV who had hoped the birthday celebrations, including the live episode, would break ratings records. Greedy? Perhaps, but as the year ended it became apparent that the programme that has been at the heart of the network’s schedule for most of ITV’s history has been eclipsed by a more contemporary piece, in the shape of The X Factor. Where once it was Corrie’s fictional characters who defined the identity of the UK’s biggest commercial network, today it is the ordinary characters who “emerge” from X Factor’s carefully choreographed cocktail of entertainment and accompanying tabloid headlines. X Factor delivers not only a huge family audience, but also transfers a good number of them to ITV2, as well as to online and mobile – and all the other commercial schemes now incorporated into the programme. 
It’s fair to say that by the autumn of 2010, under Peter Fincham, ITV had got itself into the right place and that its audience was ready and waiting to embrace a fresh element. And so it proved, with the success of Downton Abbey, with 10 million viewers, a hugely well-received, fresh take on costume drama. What’s more, it grabbed the space before the BBC had a chance to play the return of

February 2011 | www.rts.org.uk | Television


Highest rated shows, 2010 Programme Viewers (millions) 1 The X Factor Results 16.553 2 EastEnders 16.407 3 World Cup 2010: England vs Germany 15.807 4 Strictly Come Dancing 14.278 5 Coronation Street 14.099 6 Britain’s Got Talent 12.826 7 Come Fly With Me 12.474 8 I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! 12.374 9 Doctor Who 12.110 10 The Royle Family 11.285 Source: Attentional/Barb

 Upstairs Downstairs, launched at Christmas with almost 9 million viewers. If the autumn belonged to ITV, this, arguably, was reflected in the changes at the top at BBC1, where Jay Hunt’s departure to Channel 4 led to promotion from BBC3 for Danny Cohen. Is it really so simple to explain this move? Taking its cue from Strictly Come Dancing, BBC1 is somewhat dependent on programmes that skew towards an older audience. This is, perhaps, dangerous if the network is to compete against ITV’s youngerskewing, rampant entertainment show. So bring in the guy whose channel targets younger viewers with programmes such as Underage and Pregnant and Don’t Tell the Bride. Too simplistic? It’s a big channel, and like a supertanker, will turn slowly. Across town at Horseferry Road, Channel 4’s 2010 schedule that Hunt will inherit is one in transition. The familiar gang of Channel 4 presenters – designer McCloud, property people Phil and Kirstie, fashion guru Gok, the chefs Heston, Jamie and Hugh – are there, along with the formats (Come Dine With Me, Undercover Boss, Secret Millionaire) and the comedians plus long-running drama Shameless. But the show that held it all together, Big Brother, finished in 2010. Now it’s all about renewal. The signs of emerging brands are there – Million Pound Drop, One Born Every Minute – but the question mark remains about the extent to which it will be the talent or new

Television | www.rts.org.uk | February 2011

formats that take the network forward in 2011. Strong formats are, however, essential to networks such as Channel 4 and BBC2. Indeed, it could be argued that the latter can be defined in just four titles – Top Gear, which won almost 7 million viewers for its Christmas special, Apprentice spin-off, You’re Fired, Coast and Newsnight. These shows are supported by Dragons’ Den, University Challenge and MasterChef: the Professionals. It’s a moot point as to whether the BBC2 presenters carry the channel more than Channel 4’s do. Would it be fair to say that Clarkson and Paxo sum up BBC2 in a way that cannot be matched by, say, Kevin and Jamie? Either way, Miranda has now been added to the roster. The show hit 4 million viewers and, for good measure, has started to grab awards. The programme represents a shift away from the blokeishness of BBC2’s traditional comedy (Mock the Week et al). No review of 2010 would be complete without a word about Channel Five. That word is – uncertainty. Its top programme is football. “Thursday night, Channel Five” being a popular, disparaging chant on the terraces for those teams who sit at the ITV1/Sky Champions League top table. But without football, Five is mainly acquired drama and movies. So, under new ownership, might it look very different this time next year? To be honest, I’m not really sure and will have to pass. It’s easier to assess Sky One, where a clutch of dance and music shows – Got to Dance, Must Be the Music – were pressed into action, but where the ratings honours went to the comedy, An Idiot Abroad. Additionally, popular recognition was achieved by the star of Pineapple Dance Studios, Louie Spence. It looks like a network that knows where it’s going – and knows that it’s going to need to spend a lot more on programming. One final word on digital channels. I write this on the day that the World Service announced huge budget cuts, so find it somewhat dispiriting that the top-rated programme on BBC4 last year was The Road to Coronation Street, seen by 990,000 viewers. There wasn’t exactly a shortage of Coronation Street-related programming in 2010. Call me old-fashioned, but wouldn’t that BBC4 budget be better spent on the World Service?
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WikiCommons

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Meg Carter examines the rapid rise of interactive ‘social TV’ shows that integrate social media into the viewer experience

How to handle a two-screen conversation 18

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he increasing habit of audiences interacting via social media while watching TV is providing fresh inspiration for new programme formats. Yet, despite a growing array of “two-screen” shows – with more due on air in the months ahead – many broadcasters and producers are still feeling their way in how best to realise the potential of what’s becoming known as “social TV”. The growth of two-screen viewing – watching content on both TV and a laptop or mobile simultaneously, a practice sometimes referred to as “media stacking” – has been both rapid and recent. Channel 4 has led the way in recent months with such shows as The Million Pound Drop, The Operation: Surgery Live and Seven Days. In the former, a live gameshow produced by Endemol that returns later this year, viewers play at home either alone or against online competitors. At the same time, their performance and comments are shared via social media with other players and members of the production team. In this way, viewer performance and individual responses are gathered and integrated into the programme as it airs. Viewer interaction through social media is also being deployed by Channel 4 in a growing number of factual formats. In The

February 2011 | www.rts.org.uk | Television

iStockPhoto

Social media


Operation: Live Surgery, produced by Windfall, viewers question surgeons as they perform an operation televised live, with the interactions included in the show. In Seven Days, the show briefly regarded as a potential successor to Big Brother, viewers were encouraged to interact directly with the characters featured in the series – offering feedback and even advice on their personal lives. This was possible as each episode was filmed by producer Studio Lambert in the week prior to transmission. Audience response through an array of social media was tracked and amalgamated using a special tool called ChatNav. It was developed for the series by Holler, the digital agency behind the ground-breaking, socialmedia marketing campaign for the launch of Skins. ChatNav helped Studio Lambert better manage viewers’ feedback via social media. This, in turn, helped shape the events that subsequently unfolded on-air. Social TV has emerged because two-screen viewing is “now mainstream”, says Matt Locke, acting head of cross-platform at Channel 4. “The rise of social media has massively lowered the barrier to encouraging, co-ordinating and amplifying viewer participation in TV shows. For the TV company, the question is how to harness that.” He adds: “Our conversations with programme makers now begin with the question: ‘What will people do around this show?’ Depending on whether they will play, chat, campaign or engage more deeply with the back story, we work to develop a social strategy to encourage this. Then we see how programme narrative can be structured to reward people by allowing them to join in.” The year ahead will see a number of new Channel 4 series incorporating social content, with live comedy as well as factual formats in development. One of the first things to focus attention on this shift in viewing behaviour was the prominence of X Factor-related Tweets during the live broadcast of the penultimate show in 2009. These Tweets accounted for 80% of all social-media chat while the programme was on air. More recently, consumer research published last November by Thinkbox/Decipher highlighted how widespread this behaviour has become. Some 60% of people surveyed claimed to watch TV while going online at least two to three times a week. Meanwhile, more than one in three (37%) claimed to simultaneously watch TV while using the internet every day; 44% of viewers said they had used social networks such as Facebook and Twitter while watching TV. Small wonder Locke now cautions that, “Building a Facebook page for your new show simply isn’t enough any more.” And this view is echoed by other broadcasters. At the BBC, experimentation extends across a number of programme genres. The Apprentice Predictor, for example, is a live

Television | www.rts.org.uk | February 2011

online game developed by real-time interactive specialist Monterosa for the show’s producer, TalkbackThames. This enables users to watch The Apprentice live on TV while playing and talking to other viewers in real time. More recently, for BBC2’s Stargazing Live, viewers’ social-media activity – comments, questions, pictures and video posted by viewers on social-media networks – was incorporated into the three live shows, which aired on consecutive nights in early January. Over at ITV, a range of social-media tools are made available on itv.com to encourage viewers’ social interaction on Facebook and Twitter around shows including, of course, The X Factor. The broadcaster already integrates viewer comments via social media into live segments in This Morning. Recently appointed ITV online and ondemand managing director Robin Pembrooke plans to oversee “a growing emphasis on social TV”, according to an ITV spokesperson. At Endemol an assessment of the social potential of all shows across its diverse programme portfolio is underway. “The aim is to build a social profile for each one, beginning with social-networking fan sites and then assessing how to integrate the viewer interactions and content generated, to a greater or lesser extent, into the fabric of each show,” explains Million Pound Drop executive producer David Flynn. FremantleMedia, meanwhile, is developing several social-TV ideas in partnership with a recently launched, online social-TV platform called starling.tv. Launched last year by Kevin Slavin, co-founder of leading US digital agency and games developer Area/Code, starling.tv is a tool designed to help TV companies to more easily amalgamate, track and make use of online audience interaction. “With The X Factor, especially, it can be hard to get a full list of interactions because not everyone posts comments online using the official X Factor hashtag,” says Claire Tavernier, head of Fremantle’s new-media division, FMX. Hashtag refers to the words preceded by a # that denote key topics under discussion on Twitter. Users’ frequent failure to employ the hashtag makes online social chat about the show harder to track. “Tools such as starling.tv will enable us to better gather that conversation. And this is becoming increasingly important at a time when – whether we want them to or not – audiences use social media to comment on and discuss what we do.” So far, social TV’s most obvious potential is to enhance live TV by creating a real sense of occasion. In the future, however, its value to TV companies and, increasingly, advertisers is likely to grow. But only if programme makers get the balance right, warns Tom McDonnell, founder of Monterosa, the interactive content specialist that enabled Endemol to develop the social side of Million Pound Drop. “People who vote on The X Factor are far more likely to remember the show’s sponsor

Matt Locke Channel 4

Our conversations with programme-makers now begin with the question: ‘What will people do around this show?’ than those who don’t,” he believes. “We are now developing a number of brand-backed formats because of the clear, commercial benefit that the advertiser and TV company can obtain from having an audience that is more deeply engaged.” However, while harnessing audience comments can make the viewing experience more entertaining and provide a clear reason to watch a show live rather than on-demand (so as not to miss out on the live chat it generates), Holler managing director James Kirkham urges caution. “It’s important to remember that, for the time being, while two-screen viewing is growing in popularity, most viewers are still watching one screen,” he says. “That makes it critical that social-TV ideas don’t compromise the traditional viewing experience.” To add value, social TV must be in line with programme content and audience expectations, Locke agrees. “Do viewers want to be encouraged into active, live, online interaction while watching great drama? I’m not so sure. And with a show like Secret Millionaire, which has its own perfect narrative, simply watching one screen leaves the audience emotionally spent.” “Moving forwards, every live show will, at the very least, have to more actively engage with social-media chat,” Tavernier says. “But just as important as how best to enhance this for certain shows, will be knowing when not to try.” n

Tom McDonnell Monterosa

People who vote on The X Factor are far more likely to remember the show’s sponsor than those who don’t 19


Regulation

Ofcom looked a likely candidate to join the ‘bonfire of the quangos’, but instead the regulator has shrewdly reinvented itself for the age of austerity, reports Maggie Brown

How Ofcom cha

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he story of Ofcom over the past 18 months is one of intelligent evolution as it raced to reinvent itself for an era of public-sector cuts whoever won the election. The key test is that the Coalition Government has listened to its advice on referring News Corporation’s controversial bid for complete control of BSkyB to the Competition Commission. Ofcom’s careful analysis of the case for referring the group’s disputed bid for the 61% of BSkyB it does not already own to the commission, was accordingly not brushed aside by secretary of state Jeremy Hunt, despite heavy lobbying by the Murdochs and News Corp’s lawyers. Nor was Ofcom CEO Ed Richards, who personally handled the process, snubbed. Hunt asked him to clarify aspects of the report, before confirming on 25 January: “I still intend to refer the merger to the Competition Commission.” The process of reinventing Ofcom can be dated, clinically, from the moment David Cameron appeared to want to get rid of it, on 9 July 2009. That’s what well-placed insiders observed. Cameron, then Opposition leader, spoke to BBC Breakfast about hacking back quangos. He singled out Ofcom and said he would take away its policy-making powers and cut back regulation “by a huge amount”. He would axe its communications department. Under a future Conservative government Ofcom would focus on technical func-

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tions, handing out licences and regulating content, albeit with a light touch. “But it shouldn’t be making policy.” Cameron also observed: “We could slim down that body and save a lot of money for taxpayers.” He attacked Richards for earning nearly £500,000 a year. Ofcom reacted like a sensitive sea anemone. Currently, it is about to enter year two of a pay freeze, ahead of the public sector, and Richards is about to take another 10% cut to his salary, more than a year ahead of the BBC Executive Board. Richards confirmed that he went to the Ofcom Board a year ago, before the election, and observed that redundancies and public-sector cuts were inevitable, regardless of the election outcome. He then initiated a six-month period of analysing how to make savings. He volunteered for a pay cut; he was paid £299,821 last year (his total package, with pension, is £392,056) and faces a further 10% cut this year, while staff endure a freeze. So, in the bonfire of the quangos during 2010, the regulator survived in goodish shape. It is also clear, in retrospect, that Ofcom had alienated a lot of people, and not just Conservative MPs. While the programme of savings was being shaped during 2010, Ofcom shut down its public activity. Richards, who used to be omnipresent at communications conferences, lay low. When he attended, he rarely spoke.

February 2011 | www.rts.org.uk | Television


Maggie Brown

anged its spots “But he didn’t need to be told to lower his profile, he’s a consummate political animal. He just did,” said an Ofcom colleague. For example, the annual Ofcom Lecture ceased with the departure of Labour peer David Currie, the first chair – replaced in 2009 by Colette Bowe. You have to scroll back to 2008 to observe the last high-level spat between the nowoutgoing BBC chair, Sir Michael Lyons, and Currie over issues such as BBC support for Channel 4 and top slicing of the licence fee. The historical context is that Ofcom was a New Labour creation. Stephen Carter, the founding chief executive, who left at the end of 2006, moved on eventually to become a government minister straddling the departments of Business and Culture, Media and Sport in a bid to enact the Digital Britain proposals. Fast forward to January 2011 and observe the new, depoliticised Ofcom. Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said at a Media Society/ Polis event at the London School of Economics that “there have been very important changes” at Ofcom. The key is that media policy will be made at the DCMS, not at Ofcom. He added that the regulator’s view of the changes demanded by the Government was “whole-hearted support”. The new Government, to make its point, last year invited Lazard merchant banker Nicholas Shott to lead a strategy team to examine the commercial prospects for local television. Ofcom was asked for technical support and how to define localness within public service broadcasting (a classic Ofcom activity). It is

Television | www.rts.org.uk | February 2011

expected to handle licensing. Since local television news is a project many think financially impractical, it is not unhelpful for Ofcom to be at arm’s length. What has gone on during a long period of silence is a refocusing on more minimalist duties. Ofcom’s principal duty remains furthering the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters and the interests of consumers in relevant markets by competition, where appropriate. But it has sounded the retreat from grey areas. The regulator’s plan for 2011/12 is highly strategic, dominated by consumer behaviour and new technologies, and looking forward to 2015. Ofcom will only focus on areas “where it has clear powers that enable us to make a difference”. There is currently an annual cap on the regulator’s spending of £143m. By 2014/15 it is proposing to have cut spending by 28.2% to £112m. One hundred and seventy posts are being made redundant, from a total of 860. Stakeholders currently bear 40% of running costs, the Government 60%. The six months of planning included: retendering for Ofcom’s entire IT services, which saved many millions; ending media-literacy activity, apart from research; and involvement in digital participation. It has taken an axe to its communications activities and rare press conferences. The key difference is that the high-profile strategy division, once led at full throttle by Richards, has been merged with the teams of the chief economist and technology u22

Gordon Jamieson

Ofcom has… cheerily dispensed with annual statements of programme policy from regulated broadcasters – regarded as worthless paper

Ofcom official

[Ed Richards] didn’t need to be told to lower his profile, he’s a consummate political animal. He just did 21


Regulation 21 u specialists. It means strategy partner Peter Phillips, who succeeded Richards, has left for Cambridge University Press, and is not being replaced. Strategy and research continue, and these experts have led work on BSkyB’s plurality test. One expert explained: “Strategy was the place all the think-tank pieces were done. Ed Richards ran it with a really big budget. It has a great track record, including work on broadband speeds, the digital day, how people use media, and communications.” The issue is whether its approach and knowledge is too important to lose. Richards, however, insists the research function is being preserved. The content team, until last summer led by partner Stewart Purvis, ex-ITN chief executive, is now merged with international and regulatory development, headed up by former BBC Trust executive and DTI official, Chris Woolard, never a programme maker. “The need, and public support, for content protection remains clear, despite convergence, making the role of content regulation more challenging,” said the 2011/12 Ofcom annual plan, pointing to the sharp rise in complaints about silent and abandoned calls. This group is set to handle preparatory work for the 2012 Communications White Paper. Ofcom also must police the new remit of Channel 4 and prepare new licences for ITV and Channel Five after 2014. All this suggests that Ofcom has been accepted as indispensable and useful. However, not everyone is reassured. Dr Damian Tambini of the London School of Economics deplores its loss of policy development and focus. He notes that this is “a period of a lot of confusion, and buck passing in policy making is continuing.” Tambini is concerned that, although Hunt talks of DCMS as the policy driver, it, too, is being cut and is also having to absorb the transfer of communications experts from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. The Public Bodies Bill of last October proposes a cut in the frequency of media ownership reviews to every three years, and public service broadcasting reviews to every five years. Their scope and timing will be decided by the secretary of state, not Ofcom. It has also, noticeably, remained silent about digital radio network issues and has cheerily dispensed with annual statements of programme policy from regulated broadcasters – regarded as worthless paper. Yet Ofcom’s competition wing has adopted a far from low profile. After three consultations on pay-TV it said BSkyB’s behaviour was limiting choice and innovation. Sky Sports 1 and 2 are now being sold at prices set by Ofcom, although BSkyB’s appeal will be heard later this year. It also made a reference to the Competition Commission, under the Enterprise Act 2002, on the subscription film sector, especially video-on-demand. On 19 January, a pragmatically lower-key Richards returned to the media circuit with a speech to the Oxford Media Convention. He said that Ofcom was “in a very good place” and it had needed to refresh and refocus itself. Ofcom has emerged as an essential regulator for the Coalition Government. n

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TV news

It’s good to tweet Torin Douglas says Twitter has become not just an essential newsgathering tool but an additional dimension to all television viewing

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hen ITV News was banned from a police news conference last month over its coverage of the Jo Yeates murder investigation, its first response came via the micro-blogging site, Twitter.
 In half a dozen tweets from her mobile phone, Sarah Vaughan-Brown, ITN’s communications director, showed just how much can be said in 140 characters:
 “ITN is hugely disappointed by Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s decision to exclude ITV News from today’s press conference. #JoannaYeates”
 “This decision will result in millions of viewers not being able to see new evidence or hear the latest police calls for witnesses.”
 The same morning, a stream of royal tweets emerged from Clarence House. 
 “Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton have made more decisions on their upcoming wedding. More tweets to follow”.
 Twitter, once dismissed as a tool for celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross to massage their egos and entertain their fans, is now the newsfeed of choice for the media world. A glittering array of presenters, editors, correspondents and publicists use it to break news, promote upcoming stories, find interviewees and information, and engage with audiences. 


They discuss programmes, politics and, in some cases, their personal lives. BBC Breakfast’s Susanna Reid hit the headlines recently when she told her followers she’d been burgled. Piers Morgan has given a running commentary about taking over from Larry King Live on CNN.
 Many see Twitter as more immediate and ubiquitous than Facebook. For those hoping it was another internet fad that would fall out of fashion, it can no longer be ignored.
 “Twitter became the prime source of information about the Jo Yeates case,” says Vaughan-Brown. 
 When England lost its bid to host the World Cup in 2018, sports journalists tweeted the news long before the announcement by Fifa president Seb Blatter. “Twitter, not Blatter, broke news of 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts,” proclaimed the Football Marketing website. BBC News has revamped its breaking news feed (@bbcbreaking) to incorporate the feeds of its Twitter pioneers, political correspondent Laura Kuennsberg and technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones. 
 The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, has ruled that Twitter can be used by court reporters, a move welcomed by John Ryley, head of Sky News: “The Lord Chief Justice is a moderniser who understands that, with the appropriate caveats, modern electronic communications can be used in courtrooms to

February 2011 | www.rts.org.uk | Television


Krishnan Guru-Murthy Channel 4 News

iStockPhoto

When I watch The X Factor, Question Time or The Event time-shifted, I feel like I’m missing out on the fun of watching it with my Twitter friends

Television | www.rts.org.uk | February 2011

long encouraged viewers to tweet. Traffic hit a high when the BNP leader, Nick Griffin, appeared, shortly after the Twitter storm over Jan Moir’s article on the death of Boyzone’s Stephen Gately.
 Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel 4 News recently blogged that he’s now gone back to watching programmes live, rather than timeshifted on the PVR. “It started with the General Election TV debates, where watching them with Twitter open on an iPad or laptop transformed the experience” he said. “Now it is spreading to more general TV viewing. When I watch The X Factor, Question Time or The Event timeshifted, I feel like I’m missing out on the fun of watching it with my Twitter friends.” 
 Dramas such as the BBC’s Sherlock and ITV’s Downton Abbey also get the Twitter treatment, with writers and producers learning how the audience is responding, as the show goes out. Followers get “rewarded” with personal updates such as this: 
 “@Markgatiss For those kindly asking, we start shooting the new series of #Sherlock in May. 3 x 90 mins again. Let’s hope viewers like it because if they don’t, the world will know very quickly.”

Torin Douglas is BBC News media correspondent. He writes a daily media brief for bbc.co.uk, linked from twitter.com/ BBCTorinD.

News 3.60% Pass-along value Spam 8.70% 3.75% Self-promotion 5.85% Conversational 37.55%

Pointless babble 40.55%

WikiCommons

inform the public without preventing justice being done.”
 All this has further quickened the pace of politics, according to John Kampfner, chief executive of Index on Censorship: “Whenever something goes wrong, politicians have to deal with it not within a day (as when 24-hour TV news began) but now, thanks to Twitter, within minutes. When Vince Cable was caught “declaring war” on Rupert Murdoch, David Cameron and Nick Clegg had to decide his fate forthwith.
 Inevitably, with such an instant medium, there are dangers. Twitter’s “retweet” facility means news can be passed on instantly, for good or ill. A lie – or just a mistake – really can be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.
 After the recent shooting of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the BBC, Reuters and other news organisations tweeted wrongly that she’d died. They corrected it just as quickly but there is now a debate over whether wrong tweets should be deleted, to stop them being retweeted.
 But, for the television world, Twitter is far more than just a newsfeed. 
Millions of viewers now regard it as an essential adjunct to their favourite programmes, watching two screens at once – the television and the laptop. BBC One’s Question Time (#bbcqt) has

Pear Analytics analysed a random 2,000 tweets in August 2009. ‘Pointless babble’ could also be described as ‘social grooming’

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3DTV

3DTV: a plan that can’t fail Too many hardware and entertainment companies have committed to the new format to let mere public indifference thwart their ambitions. Toby Syfret follows the smart money

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onnected TV and 3DTV have featured strongly at recent international trade shows covering the audiovisual electronics sector. The general verdict at January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was a hands-down win for connected TV. But, to date, 3DTV set sales have largely disappointed. Sales of 3DTV sets accounted for little over 1% of global TV set sales in 2010 and around 2%-3% during the Christmas season. The closing weeks of last year were also notable for a 30% reduction in pre-Christmas US box-office receipts, where none of the year’s 3D feature films came anywhere close to emulating the success of 2009’s Avatar, a sign, perhaps, of consumer fatigue. It is worth recalling that HDTV sets did not get off to a rocket start, either, following their launch in 2003. Despite the significant negatives, there are good reasons for believing that 3DTV will eventually become commonplace and overcome the obstacles that stand in its path. Certainly, 3DTV remains expensive, not least because the 3D experience relies on larger screen sizes plus investing in a pair of 3D specs at upwards of £50 for receiving non‑projected

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stereo images on TV sets in the home. Current prices from leading TV set manufacturers in the UK, such as Samsung, Sony, Panasonic and LG, start from £700. Many models cost more than £1,000. The second big negative is to do with the “pesky” spectacles, which, if the research is to be taken at face value, consumers hate. Although it is possible to create the 3D stereoscopic experience without specs, such solutions require viewers to stand or sit at the right distance from the screen in order for 3D fusions to take place. Otherwise, the 3D images pop back into 2D. No really satisfactory glassless solution has yet emerged. The prevailing view of the big manufacturers seems to be that it is much better to stick with the specs. Additionally, there are health concerns. At the Consumer Electronics Show Nintendo warned that children under six should not use its 3DS game console in 3D mode. It is also the case that a small percentage of the population (less than 5%) suffers from reduced stereo vision due to such conditions as amblyopia, which involves the underdevelopment of stereo neurons in the brain. A third, much-quoted negative is the present dearth of 3D product and the high costs

of re-mastering 2D content. Creating new content is not a simple matter, as the filming of football matches has demonstrated. One cannot shoot 2D and 3D from the same camera positions and edit in identical fashion. Account has to be taken of the fact that the stereo depth cues employed in 3DTV operate at relatively short distances. They also constitute only one out of 12 basic depth-cue categories, of which 2D television already uses nine. Several others (for example, occlusion and perspective) are arguably more powerful in generating depth perception, if not delivering quite the same sensation of volume for objects placed in the foreground. So what is the justification for believing that 3D has a bright future? To begin with, 3DTV appears to be an inevitable development once the move to HD has been achieved. Manufacturers have vied with one another to develop solutions that make 3D easy, simple and cost-effective to produce. It now costs almost no more to film in 3D than it does in 2D. Significantly, it makes almost no extra demands on transmission bandwidth. Moreover, 3D adds little to TV-set manufacturing costs. Just as full HD has superseded HD Ready to become a standard feature of TV sets, so 3D

February 2011 | www.rts.org.uk | Television


Dreamworks

Fiendishly clever animated 3D hit Megamind looks set to become a standard feature in the not-so-distant future. While some analysts forecast that during 2011 the 3D share of global TV-set sales will remain in low single digits, Panasonic announced at Las Vegas that it expects the 3D share to rise to 32% in 2014. Then there is the glasses question. Today, no clear non-spec solution is in sight, but manufacturers are trying out various technological solutions using stereoscopic specs. It will come as no surprise if the global industry agrees to common standards that result in both a more satisfactory visual experiences and cheaper specs. The 3D health hazards also await confirmation. Understandably, manufacturers such as Nintendo want to be cautious at the outset about potential health risks that might be jumped upon by the press. Yet, just as some articles have emphasised the negatives and quoted research purporting to demonstrate low public interest and even hostility towards 3DTV, other sources, including the admittedly hardly impartial Sky, have commented on the very positive reactions among those who have watched 3D transmissions in pubs. The 3DTV dream belongs not only to set

Television | www.rts.org.uk | February 2011

manufacturers but also to content creators and pay-TV operators. Avatar may have been the biggest box-office success of all time and captivated millions with its sheer technological wizardry and novelty, but its lacklustre plot attracted much criticism. This may help to explain the low appeal of the latest run of would-be 3D blockbusters. Imagine what might happen at the box office when strong narratives are matched to this new technology. Nor need the films necessarily be new. 3D remakes of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings could make for very exciting relaunches. None of this will be lost on the payTV operators. They will recognise the value of 3DTV in helping to position them at the forefront of technical innovation. In the UK, BSkyB’s ability to deliver 3D images may be seen as an important and long-lasting differentiator between itself and the free-to-air sector. It is likely to be good for maintaining the level of premium movie subscriptions and HD premium subscriptions as free-to-air broadcasters gradually expand their own HD transmissions. In January Mediaset launched the world’s

first terrestrial 3DTV service. It has deployed spare multiplex capacity to trickle-feed push-VoD 3D content to those customers whose set-top boxes have hard-disk storage, to allow them to play back the downloaded programmes later. From the channel-provider side, Discovery is poised to launch 3net, its 3D partnership with Sony and Imax. Aside from wildlife, other genres such as sports and arts (ballet is especially rewarding in 3D) have attracted strong 3D production interest. It is not hard to imagine the interest spreading to other forms of programming, such as interviews, where close-up images play an important role. In short, many interests ride on 3DTV. It seems only a matter of time before the volume of 3DTV content expands significantly. It is also worth recalling that when, in the 1980s, cable and satellite services launched in the UK and other European countries, industry experts questioned whether there would ever be enough programming to support ­multichannel pay-TV. With 3D there are several other, non-mainstream broadcast and on-demand 3D services that will steadily increase familiarity with, and demand for, the product. If internet viewing figures are anything to go by, adult content in 3D will attract plenty of viewers. But 3D also appears highly suited to many computer-games applications. These can run side by side with 2D on Bluray discs and may interest a large section of the public that possesses camcorders. And there is clear 3D value in e-commerce and certain educational applications, for example, in medicine. So 3DTV might not be a mass market within the next five years. However, it seems that awareness will build steadily, not just via film and TV content, but through an assortment of other uses. Give it 10 to 20 years and 3DTV could well be up there with connected TV – highly familiar, if not commonplace. n

Toby Syfret is television analyst at Enders Analysis.

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Television news

The lure of Arabia Sky News Arabia HD has committed to launching next year, but how will it carve a distinctive space for itself in such a crowded marketplace? asks Raymond Snoddy

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A

drian Wells, the head of Sky News’s foreign coverage, has never launched a new channel before. But he is now in Abu Dhabi with a blank sheet of paper, leading a small team that must get the free-to-air Sky News Arabia HD channel on air by March next year. Wells has an obvious suitability. He was once the BBC’s Middle East bureau chief. Even so, this is certainly the greatest challenge of his career. It is the first time that Sky News has gone for a large, international, vernacular language launch. News Corporation chair Rupert Murdoch has spotted a long-term opportunity and believes he has found the right partner in billionaire Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed alNahyan, whose interests range from racehorses to Manchester City football club. Somehow, Wells has to try to find a niche in the already mature, even overcrowded, Arabic-language television news market for the Sky News-branded channel, a 50-50 joint venture between BSkyB and Sheikh Mansour. “Welcome to the club. Welcome to the money-losing club,” commented Mazen Hayekon of al-Arabiya, the Saudi-backed news channel based in Dubai, reacting to the Sky announcement. The relatively liberal al-Arabiya is locked in a head-to-head struggle for viewers with the original, ground-breaking pioneer al-Jazeera, which has become increasingly controversial, and, some say, more Islamic in its ways in recent years. It burst back to form last month by leaking 1,800 documents on the Palestinian Authority’s peace talks with Israel, but was immediately accused by Palestinian officials of displaying the political motives of its Qatari backers. Then there is BBC Arabic, which launched nearly two years ago, and has struggled to meet its initial targets. The hope was to attract 20 million viewers a week by the end of last year, with 35 million users overall for the BBC’s TV, radio and online Arabic services. In fact, by then the BBC’s total multimedia Arabic audience had reached 22 million a week, with only 12 million regularly watching BBC Arabic television.

The foreign news television players in the region also include Washington’s al-Hurra, and Arabic-language services from France 24, Euronews, Russia Today and even China Central Television. Then there is the planned “moderate” Arabiclanguage news channel planned by Prince Alwaleed bin Taalal bin Abdulaziz, a long-term investor in Murdoch’s News Corporation. There were over-imaginative reports last year that Prince Alwaleed planned an Arabic version of the vehemently pro-Israeli Fox News in a joint venture with Murdoch. The unlikely story was quickly denied. The Prince is going it alone through his main corporate vehicle, Kingdom Holding, with a news channel aimed at the “young”, which could launch before the end of 2011. Further confusion was then caused by the television plans of an elder brother of Sheikh Mansour, Sheikh Mohamad bin Zayed, a vicepresident of Abu Dhabi, who is the financial backer of Baynouna TV. This, however, was intended to be a mixedgenre channel with news segments. In recent weeks, observers say, a rethink of the project has been ordered; if it goes ahead, the news element may be further down-played. On top of all that, national channels such as LBC in Lebanon carry the latest news by satellite throughout the Arab world. In a further complexity, most of the advertising in the region is assigned by Lebanese players, and there are allegations that politics enters into the process. Sky is now hoping to carve out its corner in an area where traditional, big-money players have tried to buy power and influence, and where there are taboo subjects such as the behaviour of the region’s extended Royal families. The Sky channel will be well-resourced but not on the same scale as the big battalions, such as al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya. There will be a total of 180 multimedia journalists, who will be based in new studios in Abu Dhabi’s twofour54 media zone – a specialist zone where Western regulatory values apply. There will be Sky News Arabia bureaux across the region and offices in London and Washington. The new channel will also be

February 2011 | www.rts.org.uk | Television


Mountain High Maps/Gordon Jamieson

The Arabic-speaking region is huge and diverse, but it is a crowded market for news channels

able to access Sky’s international network of correspondents. “Rather as in the UK, we will be ‘the small speedboat’ rather than the supertanker,” says one of those involved. The official pronouncements on the new channel naturally have said all the right things. James Murdoch, chair of BSkyB, noted that the Middle East and North Africa is “a highly attractive region for media investment”, while Abu Dhabi is an excellent location from which to enter this region.
 Dr Sultan al-Jaber, chair of Sheikh Mansour’s private investment company, Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation, insists that the new channel will be an important “independent voice for the Arab world”. John Ryley, head of Sky News, says the channel would build on Sky News’s reputation for “independent, impartial and innovative coverage”. It is clear that one of the most important items on the agenda in the joint-venture talks, apart from the finances, was ensuring the channel’s editorial independence was protected. Apart from money – though most of the investment, it is believed, will be in kind via supply deals – Sky News is putting its brand

Television | www.rts.org.uk | February 2011

Ali Jaafar Independent producer

[Sky] is coming to the game late, up against well-established channels

on the table and that is being taken seriously. Such principles, it is believed, have been enshrined, complete with guarantees, as carefully as possible in the constitution of the project. Wells is optimistic about the outcome while acknowledging that every country has its national and religious sensitivities. “However, a story is a story, so in a way it’s relatively simple. If it’s a good story that we consider important, then we report it. It’s the same, whether it is in Qatar, in the UAE, in Saudi Arabia or wherever,” says Wells, who expects that a director of news for Sky News Arabia will be appointed soon. Apart from taking advantage of the latest technology to maximise efficiency, the challenges that Wells faces include recruiting the right quality of staff in a highly competitive market and producing appropriate programming for the 22, often very different, countries, of the North Africa and Middle East region. The BBC, it is understood, found permanent recruiting difficult, partly because it is based in London – something that will not affect Sky. Wells also admits that it will be a challenge, for example, to appeal equally to viewers in Rabat and those in Kuwait City. “Has anyone cracked it? I don’t know but that is one of the big tasks. We have to design programming that will appeal across the region,” he says. Ali Jaafar, former Middle East editor of Variety, now an independent film producer, believes the Sky move could be “a very excit-

ing development for news coverage in the Middle East”, a region in which the existing channels usually have political alignments.
 Timing could be good, too, as recent events in Tunisia suggest the Arab world will be generating headlines for years to come. Has Sky chosen the right partner?
 “It remains to be seen. He certainly has the capital and I imagine he has the patience because these news channels generally do not make money for a long time, if ever,” says Jaafar. The film producer believes there is only one way that Sky News Arabia will find a significant audience in such a competitive market and that is to prove that it is truly independent. “If it can do that then it could actually be a refreshing voice. If it’s the same ‘see no evil’, then it is coming to the game late, up against well-established channels,” Jaafar argues. Another media expert on the region, Stephen Claypole, chair of DMA-Media, even believes the project can make money. “With the entrepreneurial skills of Sky News the Sky News Arabia project has real potential,” predicts Claypole. “But much of its revenue or future profits would probably come from online activity and applications for handhelds and mobile telephones.” n

Mazen Hayekon al-Arabiya

Welcome to the club. Welcome to the moneylosing club 27


Multichannel

Cookin S

Food Network’s ebullient chef and all-round host with the most, Guy Fieri

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Scripps Networks

Stuart Levine samples the Scripps Networks recipe for exporting entertaining cookery and DIY channels

cripps Networks is learning that a good plate of pasta is a recipe for global success. With the help of burgeoning channels such as Food Network, Scripps is branching out overseas while continuing to generate impressive revenues in the home market. Faring well in the US has encouraged chairman-CEO Ken Lowe to test markets across the Atlantic and the early results are encouraging. The Tennessee-based conglomerate owns six channels: HGTV (formerly Home and Garden Television) and DIY Network in the home category; Food Network and Cooking Channel in the food category; and Travel Channel and Great American Country in the travel and entertainment category. In the third quarter of 2010, income rose 40% to $191m on revenues of $509m, despite tough economic conditions in many of its markets. Says Lowe: “Nielsen recently ranked HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel, Cooking Channel and DIY Network among the top 10 for aggregating upscale viewers. Now, in my mind, that goes a long way in explaining our success.” The company’s history goes back to the 19th century. In 1878 Edward W Scripps founded the Penny Press in Cleveland, Ohio. Aided by financial support from his sister, Ellen, Scripps subsequently created a business that owned around 25 newspapers, which became the basis of a diversified media conglomerate. In the early 1980s, in an effort to develop a source of revenue that did not depend solely on advertising, the firm began buying and building cable TV systems. These were later sold to Comcast. By the mid-1990s, Scripps had launched HGTV. This was followed by more lifestyle channels, including Food, which now reaches 100 million households in the US. Brad Adgate, vice-president at New Yorkbased media-buying firm Horizon Media, says advertisers are keen to invest in channels such as Food because they attract an affluent, mainly female audience. He adds: “Scripps has done very well with its niche networks. They came along at just the right time.” Adgate believes the high-end production quality of the shows, which feature competitions, brings in viewers who would normally watch a football match rather than a dinner challenge between two rival chefs. “It’s as intense as watching poker,” Adgate claims. “You talk about an adrenaline rush. The tension involved helps attract a sizeable audience.” Food Network was the first Scripps chan-

February 2011 | www.rts.org.uk | Television


g with gas

Television | www.rts.org.uk | February 2011

Agency, where he was head of factual, entertainment and formats, so understands the value of a vibrant personality in attracting audiences and building a brand. Thorogood needs no reminding of how larger-than-life cooks can help drive ratings. “Guy Fieri is now massive in the UK,” he says. “But our success is also about giving airtime to real people who are passionate about food.” Combining the food cultures of the two countries is another recipe for success, according to Thorogood. For competition show Chopped, four British chefs were flown to the US to discover how they would cope in the pressure cooker of the American kitchen. Thorogood maintains that, while some British food shows cut corners by not putting enough money on the screen, Yanks are happy to invest in high production values, which gives the shows a creative sheen sometimes missing from locally produced programmes. “In the UK, food programming can be a cheap alternative, but in the US they don’t look at it like that. They say, ‘Let’s give it a proper investment,’” he claims. However, Moyer thinks that if ratings are to increase for the Food Network in the UK, more British-made shows are necessary. In October, Food announced it was commissioning Andy Bates’ Street Food, the channel’s first original UK show. “We have to raise our game if we are to grow our presence in the UK,” concedes Thorogood. “We want to bring new British faces to the screen as well as introducing more international talent.” Food Network recently launched in Portugal and the Netherlands, as well as in the Philippines. It also airs in Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. “We have an interest in India, and it’s fair to say the only major part of the world where we’re absent is Latin America. We’d be a good fit down there,” reckons Moyer. Adgate says Scripps would be smart to continue a programming tradition that has endured nearly as long as the medium itself. “Cooking has been on television since the early days, with shows like The Galloping Gourmet and then with Julia Child,” he points out. “If you think about it, it’s nothing new.” Moyer says his background at Discovery, where he focused on documentaries, has been instrumental in getting the Scripps networks, including Food, to highly valued audiences around the world. “This is a global brand,” says Moyer. “But we don’t want to discount cultural mores. What really matters most is a strong format and strong talent that people want to watch. If you have either of those, you have a hit show.” n

Scripps Networks

nel to try its luck in the international market. In November 2009 the service debuted in 60 countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. In the UK it secured a distribution deal with Sky. However, there were fears that Food Network would not work as well in London, where cookery shows are ubiquitous in both the terrestrial and pay markets, as it does in Los Angeles. “We weren’t sure if Food would have resonance outside the US,” says Greg Moyer, president of Scripps Networks International. “Frankly, we thought UK audiences would laugh at us. It seems that every recipe in the US starts with butter and bacon and our channel would play to that stereotype.
 “What’s been most gratifying is that we’ve been able to grow our audience and be competitively rated with other lifestyle channels overseas.”
 Scripps claims that Food Network UK is one of only 30 channels regularly attracting more than 500,000 viewers. While the station has an established following in the UK, it was never going to be able to compete head-on in a market that not only includes signature shows such as BBC1’s MasterChef, but also has to rival home-grown celebrity chefs in the form of Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, not forgetting Nigella and Delia. In bringing Food over to the UK, there was a lot of discussion about how to gather potential viewers’ attention. Scripps believed that popular US formats and American hosts would resonate with the Brits. And so far they appear to have landed on their feet. The emphasis is less on the food that is being presented, but on the entertainment value that accompanies it. Take the flamboyant Guy Fieri, who hosts such shows as Guy’s Big Bite, Guy Off the Hook and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Fieri is something of a global cult hero, principally because of his infectious enthusiasm for preparing, serving and eating food. “We’ve found many of the shows that were popular in the US have resonated in the UK,” Moyer says. “Food Network Challenge is one example. Guy Fieri has become an entertainment celebrity in Britain. We were concerned that audiences would find him too cartoonish, but ratings for his shows have spiked.” Seasoned British TV executive Nick Thorogood, who helped launched Channel Five’s Five Life and Five US, joined Scripps a year ago as managing director of Food Network EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Asia). He arrived from the BBC Commercial

Greg Moyer President, Scripps NI

Frankly, we thought UK audiences would laugh at us. It seems that every recipe in the US starts with butter and bacon

Nick Thorogood MD, Food Network EMEA

Guy Fieri is now massive in the UK. But our success is also about giving airtime to real people who are passionate about food 29


And finally…

Off message

By the time you read this, the News International phone-hacking story and accompanying anti-Murdoch hysteria might have slipped from the nation’s news agendas – and pigs might fly. With this sorry and protracted saga generating more heat by the hour, it is tempting to overlook the fact that Sky News’s coverage of the affair, not least Andy Coulson’s inevitable resignation, has been exemplary on all fronts. Sky News’s reporting of the Andy GrayRichard Keys sexism kerfuffle also ranks high on the impartiality meter. Is there a lesson here, perhaps, for other news organisations and how their editors and reporters approach the reporting of their own affairs? And is the recently revitalised Media Guardian over-doing it a smidgen with its allencompassing Murdoch obsession?

When the question of News Corp’s ownership of BSkyB is finally settled, wouldn’t it be horribly ironic if Sky News’s long-term future is in any way jeopardised? If Sky News is to be run at arm’s length from News Corp in order to satisfy mediaplurality requirements, regulators need to insist on guarantees that involve the station continuing to receive adequate funding. Round-the-clock British news networks are noticeably thin on the ground. Alas, the days are long gone when, say, ITV, was prepared to fork out for the cost of running a dedicated news channel. To think, it is only five years ago that, amid rising losses, ITV shuttered its own rollingnews service. Of late, the pace of change in media has been such that, although it was last on air in 2005, the ill-starred ITV News venture feels like something from another epoch, as anachronistic as, say, the Sony Walkman. Sky News’s future must not be put at risk; if only to keep BBC News firing on all cylinders. We must all pray that David Cameron and George Osborne don’t imagine that Sky News can be staffed by volunteers.

Onto more cheerful topics: Richard Hooper, late of Ofcom and not, of course, forgetting his work at the Radio Authority, is hugely liked and respected throughout broadcasting and beyond. Let’s hope he has already booked his flight

30

to Los Angeles so he can be present in Tinsel Town on 27 February for the Oscars’ ceremony. Richard’s extraordinarily talented son, Tom Hooper, directed The King’s Speech, which is by any yardstick a brilliant film and probably the best movie to come out of the UK since Slumdog Millionaire. Hooper the Younger is up for Best Director, one of 12 Oscar nominations for The King’s Speech. The former Ofcom number two looks unlikely to succeed Michael Lyons as the next BBC chair, but with that kind of film-making ability in the family, Richard need not feel too downhearted.

Help is at hand for Big Brother fans missing their fix of much-watch reality TV. Arriving this spring on MTV Networks is a long-overdue British version of the show that American-Italians love to hate, ratings blockbuster Jersey Shore, reinvented for the UK as Geordie Shore. Expect a cast of under-dressed, over-sexed twentysomething Tynesider housemates holed up together as the cameras roll. Geordie Shore has got hit written all over it. So who will buy the free-to-air rights? Geordie Shore also sounds like a must for either ITV2 or E4, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. But why didn’t either of them think of the idea first?

Predicting which TV shows will emerge victorious from this year’s awards season can be a mug’s game. No one forecast that Waterloo Road would beat Doctor Who at the recent National TV Awards. But, aside from Downton Abbey, expect BBC2’s cleverly conceived clerical comedy, Rev, to gain a lot of traction with awards judges in the coming weeks. Rev scooped the comedy prize at Sky’s South Bank Arts Awards last month. So will new BBC1 controller Danny Cohen poach Rev for his own network? Not if he is serious about his plans to introduce some genuine blue-collar, rather than dog-collar, characters to BBC1 sitcoms. Steptoe and Son for the age of the iPad, anyone? n

February 2011 | www.rts.org.uk | Television


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Television - Febuary 2011