Global Radio Buys GCap Media

They’ve been after a new radio group for ages and finally they’ve found got one. Global Radio’s offer has been endorsed by the Directors of GCap Media and recommended to the other shareholders.

What does this mean? Well if the shareholders accept it (which they are very likely to do) Global will be the new owners probably sometime in June. However they won’t be able to control the company directly until the OFT/Competition Commission agree the acquisition. This could take three months from now to be agreed which would mean they’re not properly in charge until July/August.

Does this mean GCap will continue with Fru’s ‘strategy‘ in the meantime? Unlikely. Global are likely to have put a halt to most of the major transactions. I think it’s safe to say Capital Life and theJazz will cease tonight, whilst the regional XFMs and Digital One are likely to stay in the group. Planet Rock’s a bit more interesting. I believe there’s a number of parties who would still like to buy it, but will Global keep it? To be honest, I think it’s unlikely, they’ve got enough brands to be getting on with and probably will like another paying tenant on Digital One.

More Global thoughts here.

Poor Kristy

Bush and Troy Almighty

I got the latest email update from GWR Bristol today, which mentioned their current breakfast contest – Bush and Troy Almighty. In it, they ‘take control’ of a listener’s life. Bascially, the listener has to do what the audience tells them and if they manage to make it to the end of the contest, they take home £10k.

As well as creating compelling on air audio with lots of jeapordy, I think the GWR team have done a good job of making on-line a key part of the promotion. As well as generating ‘talkability’, stunts like these are a great way to drive people online and then hopefully turn them into a more regular site visitor.

Kristy, the chosen listener, has had a bit of a shock with the latest challenge – a haircut. Listeners are deciding whether she gets a Jennifer Aniston, a Posh Spice or a GI Jane through an online-only vote. GWR also video’d the moment when she was told on-air about the challenge. This kind of video-activity is very simple. Have a look at the footage, it’s not exactly Spielberg, but it’s clearly shot and definitely of interest to listeners who heard it in the morning and would quite like to see it on video too. The other thing they did for the video is to dub on the audio from the radio – it makes it nice and crisp and the jocks sound like they do on the radio rather than through a crappy on-camera mic.

The site has lots of content from the competition including a diary and audio of lots of the other challenges. It definitely begins to give a 360 view of the contest.

They fall down slightly on bringing all the content together in an easy navigatable way, but I guess that’s partly because their stuck with the god-awful MediaSpan CMS. If there’s one promo that’s crying out for a blog style (with nice embedded video and audio oppportunities) this one’s it. But overall a good effort from GWR.

Online Privacy

There’s always lots of scare stories about online privacy and how you should be careful about what you give out to people on those, there, internets. Now, whilst I think it’s important that you think about what you share, i’m getting less worried about it, to be honest. Just think when you get a bank statement it includes your name, address and bank account numbers and they send it through the post in a bank-branded envelope – not much privacy there! But does it really matter? In most cases, no it doesn’t.

Anyway, i’ve had a bit of an online security audit here and i’ve decided to remove most of it.

Part of the reason is that through this website i’m fairly open anyway. The contact page as my mobile phone number on it and you can follow most of my online activity through the stalker feed. So i’ve been through the main social platforms i’m invovled with and freed them up.

My Facebook account used to be quite closed down with only Friends able to see anything. Using the new privacy settings, i’ve decided to change that so ‘Friends of Friends’ can pretty much see everything on profile. I’ve restricted photos to friends, as you never know when you’ll be tagged, but i’m pretty open otherwise. Interestingly, but probably not surprisingly, since I did this last week i’ve had some interesting friend requests and its prompted other people to get back in touch. And to be honest, it also means that other people who don’t feel comfortable to ‘friend’ me will still be able to follow my lifestream, should they wish. The poor deluded fools.

I’ve also opened up my Twitter account a bit so that anyone can see my updates and can then follow me. I was a very early adopter on Twitter, but there were so few people I knew on it, it never hit the critical mass where it really works. I think it’s about there now, so that’s unlocked too, and I can better respond (or at least properly receive) direct messages.

Part of the reason i’ve done this is that actually being online is an important part of my work/social life. I work in an industry, and a business, where the only constant is your relationship with other people. I want to make those relationships as easy as possible to maintain and nurture and being open is a great way to do that.

What this doesn’t mean is that i’m willing to connect anyone. My (occasionally breakable) rule for Facebook is that i’m only friends with people who i’d happily have a pint with and tha’s tended to serve me well so far.

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What Global Does Next…

This coming week will probably be the last for GCap Media as Global Radio agrees the final terms to acquire the “belegaured radio group” (copyright every newspaper).

Whilst traditionally it’s the acquiree that feels the brunt of any changes or cuts, the unique nature of the takeover creates some interesting questions. First and foremost, GCap is a much larger entity than Global and not only in audience ad revenue terms but in numbers of staff and broadcast locations.

Global Radio is quite a compact radio group, two main analogue brands – Galaxy and Heart – with some key operations co-located like Heart and the LBCs in London and Galaxy and Heart in the West Midlands. GCap on the other hand is spread across over 40 different locations with large group functions based in London, Bristol, Reading and Nottingham. Indeed, whilst some of GCap’s systems are a little confused, they are at least geared up to operate across multiple stations and radio brands and will probably find it easier to add the Global stations onto, rather than try and shoe-horn 50 stations into the ex-Chrysalis systems.

Continue reading “What Global Does Next…” »

Student Radio and DAB

I had a really nice time at the Student Radio Conference in Bath last week. I was ostensibly there to chair a panel on future radio stuff, the natterly titled (by me) “is radio’s digital future the same as student radio’s digital future”. Alongside me was Ofcom’s Will Jackson, GCap’s Nick Piggott and sky.com’s Ben Perreau and about 60 students turned up to hear us babble on about the future.

It was a great session, not just because of the excellent speakers, but because of a really great bunch of questions. I think student radio is the first part of the industry to really grapple with its broadcasting future. Historically they’re been stuck on increasingly crappy platforms, either full-time low-powered AM and/or two months a year on FM. However, their audience is one of the most fleet of foot and now with most halls of residence LAN’d up – they probably have the highest internet penetration of any radio station.

Indeed much of the talks centred on the need for student radio to really grapple with the internet and build sites and services that put the internet at the heart of what they do. Nick did a great speech on harnessing Web2.0 but touched on the paradox that commercial radio faces, that the internet is great up to a certain point, but the bigger your audience gets the more it becomes cost-effective to have a broadcast platform (at least in addition to the internet).

In my speech, unsurprisingly, I talked about DAB and acknowledging that while full-time broadcasting would probably be outside of a student station’s budget, that the new podcast-over-DAB-style technologies that are coming later this year would provide some good broadcast opportunities. Looking back though, I think I fell into the ‘thinking inside the box’ trap by dismissing full-time DAB broadcast as a potential opportunity.

During the conference I caught up with some people from Xpress Radio in Cardiff, who managed to negotiate to get their FM RSL simulcast on DAB across Cardiff and Newport. They sounded genuinely chuffed about the response they got from listeners and how it really moved the perception of their station forward. In fact pretty much most stations said they would like to be on DAB, but ruled it out instantly because of cost.

Speaking to another station later we were talking a bit more about DAB and costs and then came to the conclusion it was actually, potentially doable to bring a station full-time to DAB.

Let’s look at the numbers. I think capacity for a full-time 64kbit/s station could be had for around £35k in most areas. This work out at just under £3k a month. Now, based on my student radio experiences I don’t think £3k/month is totally unachievable to raise from advertising/sponsorship. Indeed, let’s think about targeting just one advertiser, perhaps a big local employer, who’s keen to target graduates. In Nottingham, for example, this might be someone like Experian.

Lets say that for £3k/month Experian got total station sponsorship at three mentions an hour “URN with Experian” , some changing ads that talk about the company, alongside some web banners and connected events. But as well as reaching the University of Nottingham students they would also be reaching lots of similarly aged people (but maybe not graduates) across the whole of Nottinghamshire tuning in on DAB. URN’s a good student station, a good listen and in area that doesn’t really have a local youth radio station. I think it would pick up quite an audience.

I think £35k (over a year) would turn out to be an incredibly cheap way for someone like Experian to reach a specific audience and in the process URN gets county-wide digital coverage.

Now, naturally, there are some issues to overcome. You need someone good to ‘sell’ the idea to advertisers and you need to work out the relationship between the advertiser and the programming of the radio station. Indeed I think it would mean the station would really have to work out how to protect itself from changing their programming to appeal to advertisers.

Some people might argue that student stations, especially with the high internet penetration don’t need to be on DAB. That actually the platforms they’ve got are fine for what they are. Maybe. I remember when I worked in student radio I was just pleased when people listened. Being on DAB (or any other platforms) would bring the station to more students and more interested people across the local area. In fact, I think it would be a great thing for radio diversity if the local student station was available across the local area on an easily tune-in-able way.

So, how about a challenge? I’ve got six multiplexes launching and I’ve got relationships with most of the other multiplex operators too. If there’s a student station who’s up for having a go and raising the money to get them on DAB, they’re more than welcome to come and spend some time with us at Folder and we’ll help them raise the money and get on a relevant local multiplex. Any takers?

BBC Local Radio Websites

The BBC national radio websites produce some of the world’s best radio station websites. They’re generally well-designed, with up to date content and interesting applications that support the creative of the radio programmes. Actually, I think that last one is a key point that many radio station websites fall down all. Radio sites often get caught up in trying to replicate the essence of what the webteam thing the radio station is, rather than reflecting the creative content the radio stations produce.

The root of this is that often the webteams aren’t radio people and even more often, nowadays, not even based with the radio stations. This usually results in a somewhat drift of strategy with the webteam going in one direction and the radio team trying to do something else on-air.

However, whilst the national stations do a brilliant job, they’re let down somewhat by the websites for the BBC Local Radio stations. I was just listening to the interesting combination of Bam Bam and Nik Goodman on BBC London 94.9 and so hopped over to their website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/london. Firstly it takes a little while to find that the route into the radio station is through a simple text link on the right, once through there’s a bit of disorientation as nothing’s where you think it should be. I think most users are used to a certain type of web grammar for different sites – this is usually driven by left hand nav and some key options – so for a radio station this is things like Schedule, Presenters, Music, Listen etc. BBC London’s site eschews them all by combining quite a random selection of links in four central boxes. Indeed the left-hand nav includes pretty much nothing related to the radio station.

Also what’s odd is using the main splash on the site to plug quite a minor part of the station, in the case Vanessa Feltz’s daytime show. It’s odd because firstly it’s the mid-morning show and secondly it’s the podcast part of it. Is that really the most important part of the radio station?

There’s a useful square on the right that shows who’s on air at the moment. Unfortunately it’s incorrect as it’s showing Danny Baker rather than Bam and Nik. Clicking through to Danny’s pages, and there’s still no mention of Bam and Nik, but i’m still drawn to the other links for Danny’s show. There’s six of them:
* Listen: Danny Baker
* Danny’s guest gallery
* Listeners’ clock
* Danny at Abbey Road
* A-Z 94.9 Presenters
* 94.9 Presenters

Listen’s alright, of course, as is the guest gallery and photo from a feature – Danny at Abbey Road. The listener’s clock link is broken, generating a 404. The last two links seem to me like they’re the same thing, but oddly they’re not. The A-Z one seems to take you through to a features page about station content and the second 94.9 Presenters link goes through to another similar page (but different!) about station content. But brilliantly neither of these are the actual A-Z which lives somewhere else entirely.

The structure of the site changes as you dive into as well. The who’s on box moves up and down the right hand nav, including dropping below the fold quite often too.

The strange thing is the site does have some good features – it has a proper video-streaming webcam for instance, which means you can watch Bam pull his hair out as he’s trying to work out which buttons to press! But the only way you can find it is if you go to the webcams page, and then choose the sixth option. It’s not even linked to from the webcam link under the picture of the on-air presenter. Crazy.

The whole radio thing looks like an add-on to a local BBC News website. Now, whilst I think it’s a good idea that the BBC have local portals bringing together local content, the way it’s curated is really strange. The radio station (and the local TV news for that matter) are the ones who have the relationship with the audience and could be used to hold their hand and make /localarea an important part of their ongoing web experience.

But even discounting that they’re losing out on a massive opportunity. BBC Local Radio stations have huge audiences, many of which don’t consume any other local radio stations, it should be an open goal to transfer them to the web. At the same time the local BBC stations are predominantly speech and features, which would be the perfect extension to the on-air brand. At the moment the sites have absolutely no depth whatsoever, they’re the kind of place you would visit twice. Because on the second visit you realise that nothing’s really changed.

Resourcing things like websites are still issues for radio stations as the grapple with how audiences are changing, but surely large BBC local radio stations should have the right web people to reflect what they’re doing on air and catering for surely what their listeners want to read online?

Ongoing BBC iPlayer Hack Battle

UPDATE: The BBC have since fixed(!) this, so the example below no longer works.

Boing Boing is pointing out that a new hack is available that sucks MP4s off of the iPlayer site and drops them onto your computer in all their DRM free glory. It is, however, quite complicated.

(update: there’s an easier version if you follow Paul’s instructions in this comment)

1. First of all download and install Ruby for Windows

2. Download the file talked about here to your computer. Be sure to drop it in an easy to remember folder. I’m suggesting c:/downloads/ for the purpose of this example

3. Open the command prompt. In other words go to Start->Run and then type CMD and press return

4. Type cd \
(this should mean that you get a prompt like this c:\>

5. Type cd downloads
(this should make downloads your active directory)

6. Find the page on iPlayer that you want to download

7. Back at the command prompt type ruby iplayer-dl followed by the URL from http:// to .shtml of the iPlayer page that you want to ‘convert’. So if I wanted to download this episode of In The Night Garden, I would type:
ruby iplayer-dl http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/page/item/b009h6lk.shtml

8. It would then save the MP4 file in the /downloads directory

9. Rename the .mp4 bit .mov

10. You can now copy it into iTunes.

Get it while you can!

AOL Acquires Bebo

Is this the worst corporate photo ever?

Bebo, a funky, young social network gets acquired by evil besuited corporate giants. Randy (left) and Joanna (middle) are too far away from each other and Ron (right) just looks Photoshopped on. And this is the photo that AOL themselves released!

Though it is easy to see which of them has received the $850m and which of them had given it away.

BBC Blocks iPlayer Hack

So, my enjoyment about being able to download iPlayer programmes was (as I expected) short lived. If you’re new to this, well, the BBC changed the service so that iPhone/iTouch users could stream the iPlayer on their devices. However, this also allowed everyone to be able to download raw MP4 files, unprotected, and do what they like with them – like sync them in iTunes so you didn’t have to be ‘connected’ to the internet to watch them. The BBC have, this morning, fixed this hole meaning the hack no longer works. Booo.

Now, I don’t blame the BBC for ‘fixing’ this user feature, after all the only reason we can watch this material is that the rights owners have said they’ll let people download it but in a way that limits what they can do with it. If it was like this, DRM-free, it could mean, for example, that people wouldn’t buy DVDs and this could limit the amount of money needed to actually make the show. Whether you agree with the rights holders or not, it is (perhaps unfortuantely) their decision how they want it consumed.

Now even though my personal belief is that DRM is unneccessary, as I think the amount of ‘bad’ that users do is massively outweighed from the goodwill that people will have for a format that they can do anything with. And that indeed people prefer to use legal stuff and only tend to use illegal methods when they’re frustrated by legal ones.

However, what I do understand is that rights holders haven’t quite joined the rest of us on the road to Damascus and will need some hand holding to get us there so I don’t ‘blame’ the BBC for doing what they’ve done. In fact i’d sooner we at least started like this and let someone like the BBC teach them how people are using their content.

Many people liked the hack becuase it meant they could consume the media in a way that suited them – which for most iPod/iPhone owners is by using the syncing capabilities of iTunes. This let them consume BBC content when they wanted, on a plaform that they wanted.

What mystifies me is why the BBC refuse to provide the content they make available at bbc.co.uk/iplayer natively through iTunes. Indeed by doing this they could take the DRM that is on offer from Apple that would follow the BBC rules of providing a 7 day window of download and then a 30 day use it or lose it deadline. This would surely please both the right-holders and (the majority) of iPod users?

The BBC currently broadcast its television channels on Analogue, Freeview, Digital Satellite, Cable, IPTV and probably some other platforms too. It does not care how licence fee payers receive them – just that they can get to them somehow. Indeed a cornerstone of its licence fee related policy is that its services are available to the widest number of people. Therefore I don’t understand why, maybe through APIs, the BBC don’t make all of it’s iPlayer content available to any website/application who would like use it? I’d imagine that the BBC’s systems would still deliver the video, so it could keep it DRM wrapped and they could list rules, like you must have registered for the API and not wrap ads around it, that sort of thing, but otherwise it should be open to everyone. Something that would make universailty of service more easier to attain. It would also co-opt the development time of a much larger group of people.

The only reason I can think of that has stopped this, is the BBC’s desire to make its own site a web ‘destination’. If this is so, it’s where it falls in the trap of many content providers where they try and control the distribution rather than competing on quality of content – wherever people get it.

So, in my best Points of View voice – “Come on BBC” create iPlayer for iTunes and provide APIs (and rules) for any website or application to use.

Getting iPlayer Video Downloaded on the iPhone and iTouch

BBC iPlayer Downloads
(image from RTPeat)

UPDATE: The BBC have since fixed(!) this, so the example below no longer works.

Hooray for the BBC. They’ve just enabled the BBC iPlayer to stream MP4s onto the iPhone and iPod Touch. This however has created a small chink in the BBC’s DRM infrastrcuture that allows anyone to download these MP4s and then copy them to other devices.

Indeed it allows me to copy them into iTunes so then I can sync them properly with my iPod Touch and then watch some telly on the tube.

So, how do you do it (for a Windows PC)?

1. First of all go to the iPlayer website and find the programme page for the show you would like to download

2. Copy the URL of that page to your clipboard (ie to a CTRL+C on the link)

3. Go to this excellent website and paste in that link into the box and click Go.

4. A page appears giving you the option to download, click this.

5. Stop the downloading of the programme in your browser and then go to File -> Save Page As

6. Save the MP4 file to your computer

7. Rename the .mp4 file a .mov file

9. You can then import it into iTunes and sync with your iPod.

Thank you BBC.