Sky News Ireland to close

Sky News Ireland will cease broadcasting on the 30th November 2006, with the Dublin and Belfast offices being re-focused and all Irish news content being replaced into the main UK broadcasts.
The Dublin office will reduce in numbers from 25 to 5 with the Belfast office going from 5 staff members to 1. Sky News have stated that there will be a 30-day consultation period with staff with a view to re-deploying some of them in other Sky News operations (in other words there are no definite redundancy numbers at present.

Click below for the official press release on the matter; note the following figures cited by the PR company; The average audience figure from Jan-Sep 2006 for the 6.30pm bulletin is 8,000 and 17,000 for the 10pm bulletin
More information is expected over the day:

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On the Pigsback in Britain (SBP – 29th October 2006)

My article from today’s Sunday Business Post:

Six years after he founded online firm Pigsback.com during the dotcom bust, Michael Dwyer has scooped €4 million in funding for the firm and is eyeing an aggressive expansion in Britain.

Hotbed, a British private investor, provided the funds to Pigsback.com, which offers its members ‘piggy points’ for discounts on goods and makes its money from online advertising.

The company has now raised about €12 million since its foundation.

Dwyer said that the Pigsback.com brand was well established in Ireland and the company was now focusing on Britain.

‘‘When we started in Ireland in 2000,we raised a seed round [of funding] and 18 months later we raised a follow-through round,” he said.
‘‘In Britain, we are raising money in the exact same pattern.

“We’ve made very good progress in our first year but we’ve also identified the challenges and the level of opportunity that is there in Britain.

“These funds are there to see that through.

‘‘They will mainly go towards marketing spend and increasing the local management team.”

Pigsback.com employs around 60 people, most of whom are based in Ireland, and Dwyer plans to hire another ten staff by the start of next year.

The company’s new British manager, Brian Harrison, will have a bigger team to meet its ambitious targets. Dwyer said that Pigsback.com had more than 340,000 active members in Britain and was forecasting 500,000 members by the end of this year.

‘‘To have things at the critical mass, we would require at least one million members to be attracting the very biggest brands,” said Dwyer. ‘‘We’re on target to hit half a million by the end of the year and with a really big push we think we can be there or thereabouts by the end of 2007.”

Since Pigsback.com launched at the start of the decade, Dwyer estimates the company has raised around €12 million in investment. Its Irish operation, which has 270,000 registered members, produced a profit of €700,000 last year, he said.

As part of the latest funding deal, one of the company’s original shareholders, XtraVision, has sold its stake.

‘‘I led a group of our current investors in purchasing XtraVision shares back for the simple reason that Blockbusters [the parent company of XtraVision] business internationally would have priorities other than Pigsback.com,” Dwyer said.

‘‘It was a non-strategic stake for them and they were prepared to do a deal with the promoter backed by other investors.”

The exit of Xtra-Vision means that Hotbed is now the largest minority shareholder in the company, with only Dwyer himself owning more shares.

As part of the agreement, Hotbed will also take up one of the five non-executive director positions at the company.

Dwyer believes that the firm’s method of advertising is unique because the customers choose to visit the sites instead of having the adverts brought to them.

‘‘I suppose the encouraging thing is that consumers have taken really well to the whole brand and the environment, which we think is one of trust and fun. As a result they are interacting really well with the brands we bring to them via the site,” he said.

‘‘Companies traditionally did all [their advertising] via TV or radio or outdoor, but they’re realising that they cannot rely on these media any more,’’ Dwyer said.

‘‘According to the IAB [Interactive Advertising Bureau] in Britain, 23 per cent of the media we consume is now online.”

He said that new digital video technologies were also threatening television advertising.

‘‘Whether it’s today or ten years time, the certainties that were before will no longer be.

“Our product is working, but we need to get greater reach and we need to bring more brands on board.

‘‘They’re the challenges for the next 12-18 months.”

As well as focusing on the British operation, Dwyer is considering the future expansion of Pigsback.com.

‘‘We are beginning to do a top line evaluation of a number of options, after which we’ll resolve the best next move for us,” he said. ‘‘We’re beginning to cast an eye on the wider opportunities.”

He gave the example of a deal the company was linked to in its early years.

‘‘In the very early days, there were talks of an alliance with a big Australian company. While that looked ridiculous, it doesn’t seem so ridiculous anymore.” 

Irish animators produce Oasis video (SBP – 29th October 2006)

My article from today’s Sunday Business Post:

Dublin animation firm Brown Bag Films has made a five-minute animated video for rock group Oasis.

A team of animators spent six weeks hand-painting each frame of the video for The Masterplan, which is being released as a single from a new best of Oasis album. In total, the team of 15 artists produced around 6,500 individual drawings.

The video is based on the paintings of Manchester-born painter LS Lowry and features an animated version of the band moving around within his most famous work. ‘‘The band love it apparently,” said Jackie Leonard, commercials producer with Brown Bag.

‘‘All the feedback while we were making it was very positive and they seemed to really like it.” She described the project as ‘‘a gruelling technical challenge’’ because it was all hand-drawn. ‘‘Something like this would normally take between three and six months.
‘‘We had to be very inventive with our techniques and make sure the team was willing to work late. It was difficult enough – we’d put different textures on different characters and then use different textures for different shots, such as night or daytime shots,” said Leonard.

Leonard said that the video had been available to download on MSN and YouTube since last week and has already had thousands of hits. Brown Bag currently has two divisions, with one focusing on TV productions and the other dedicated to commercials as well as music videos.

The company, which previously received an Oscar nomination for its short animation, Give Up Yer Auld Sins, hopes the Oasis deal will help it win more business in the music industry.

FG accuses Ahern on e-voting costs (SBP – 29th October 2006)

My article from today’s Sunday Business Post:

Fine Gael has accused Taoiseach Bertie Ahern of misleading the Dail about the cost of changing e-voting machines to bring them into line with recommendations made by the Commission on Electronic Voting.

Fergus O’Dowd, FG spokesman for Environment, Heritage and Local Government, said that Ahern ‘‘didn’t articulate the findings of the commission’’ and failed to give the full facts on the issue. During leaders questions on October 17, Ahern said that “[The Commission] was quite satisfied that the hardware can work and operate effectively,” and suggested that the only changes required where in the area of software, which would cost €500,000.

However the commission report highlighted a number of specific areas for improvement in the hardware, saying that changes ‘‘would be necessary in order to address these issues before the main hardware components of the system can confidently be used at elections in Ireland.”

The report also detailed specific areas that required improvement such as user access controls and device authentication measures. O’Dowd expressed concern at the lack of independent scrutiny on e-voting since the commission was dissolved in September.

‘‘The commission is now gone, so who do we trust?” he said. ‘‘Any changes in the system need to be on an all-party basis and should be done by way of a commission. That’s where you get credibility and support.”

A spokesman for the Department of Environment said that the government had no definitive costings for the recommended changes. He said the figure quoted by Ahern was ‘‘a suggested cost’’, but that he did not know who suggested it or where it came from.

Spokesmen from the Department of the Taoiseach said that the Taoiseach was speaking from a note supplied by the Department of the Environment, although he may have misspoke in Dail exchanges.

Joe McCarthy, an independent consultant with 30 years experience in the computer business and 20 years as an election agent, queried Ahern’s figures.

He cited the cost of modification to some of the machines three years ago as an example of the money required to make upgrades. ‘‘Previous adjustments to these machines for small changes cost €2,393 each.

“If the same price was applied for these more extensive modifications, one would be looking at a figure of over €17 million.”

However, last July Henk Steentjes, chief technical officer of Nedap, the company that made the machines said any upgrade cost could be significant.

‘‘You have 7,000 identical machines, these are standalone units, and any change that is made has to be made 7,000 times,” he said.

Many thanks to Simon for bringing the issue to everyone’s attention, and for pointing me in the right direction when it came to finding out more. His post on evoting can be found here.

Google fixed their error…

It looks like Google has fixed the algorithm error suggested by Adam Lasnik (see comments), as now googling for Thinkhouse PR shows Mulley’s open letter as the third result (and his blog on the post going missing in fourth).

Up until yesterday googling for Thinkhouse PR would give you results that didn’t include Damien’s blog, although it did include posts linking to it, such as the one Tom Raftery made in relation to the Thinkhouse PR complaint, which has now fallen from the front page.

Good to see things are back to normal.

Interview with Sen Tom Morrissey

On Friday I spoke with Senator Tom Morrissey of the Progressive Democrats at the end of the party’s ‘A New Heart for Dublin’ conference, which detailed their idea of redeveloping Dublin Port into a residential area. Sen Morrissey is the man spear-heading the idea, and the conference was launched by Michael McDowell, where he spoke about Bertie Ahern’s indication to support the idea.
Unfortunately the subsequent article didn’t get that many column inches, but I think what he said is quite interesting, especially considering his upcoming attempt at Dáil election in Dublin North, the fact that it gives an idea of some of the PD manifesto next year (along with the stamp duty drops and tax cuts) and the fact that he seemed to speak on party opinon rather than personal.

Below is a transcript of the entire interview, word for word (although I dropped the ‘eh’ bits).
I’ll post it here without comment, and hopefully a discussion will get going on it at Irish Election:

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I’m Mulley-cus!

Google seems to have mysteriously dropped Damien’s post on Thinkhouse PR spam, making it far harder to find for many web users… Simon has stepped in to make this process a little simpler and I shall do the same.
Anyone else wanna join in?

The post:

Hi everyone in Thinkhouse PR! As promised, here is my formal complaint to the Data Protection Commissioner for being repeatedly spammed by you on behalf of your clients. Just so you know I’ve also, as promised, contacted Three, Imagine and Ben and Jerry’s Ireland and asked them to investigate why I am getting spams about their products from you.

I’m writing to make a formal complaint against Thinkhouse PR for continually sending unsolicited emails to one of my email accounts despite being asked not to. The email account in question is info [at] irelandoffline.org a part-time non-commercial voluntary group.

Enclosed are 5 sets of documents. Thinkhouse contacted info@irelandoffline.org (which is shared with a colleague John Timmons) initially on behalf of their client Imagine who were releasing a new broadband product. We did not ask to be put on further email distributions for Imagine or for anyone else.

Despite this, on Fri August 4th Jane McDonald from Thinkhouse sent an email promoting an initiative from Ben and Jerry’s. (See document No. 2) Ben and Jerry’s are a client of Thinkhouse. My reply to this unsolicited email is at the end of the document.

Jane McDonald replied to this (see document No. 3) and gave the excuse that there was some kind of slip and my email address was put into a personal circular. I would not consider it was a personal mail. Jane seems to suggest that Thinkhouse are aware of spamming laws.

On August 18th Thinkhouse PR sent me another mail, a press release for the mobile phone operator “3”. (See document no. 4. This document is the back and forth communication between myself and Thinkhouse PR.) At the top of the document is a communication from Jane McDonald telling me once again I’m off everyone’s list after I again requested it. Jane also admits to using my email address without permission to add me to their mailing lists.

On August 22nd (see document No. 5) Andrea Horan from Thinkhouse PR again sent me a PR, this time for another of their clients. This one for Moviestar.ie.

I wish for the Data Protection Commissioner to investigate this and carry out a prosecution if needs be. I am willing to travel to Dublin, I am willing to make a written statement and I am willing to testify in Court if the need arises. Thinkhouse PR is contravening the Irish Spam Legislation and it is totally disregarding my repeated requests to stop being sent information. I have also asked for my contact details to be removed from their systems and this has been disregarded too.

Please contact me on receipt of this complaint. Contact details are above. Regards, Damien Mulley

O’Brien wades in

The news is just circulating that Denis O’Brien has waded into the Aer Lingus / Ryanair debacle, buying over 2% in the ex-State airline.

A statement from the businessman says he did so as he believed in competition, but his not-so-secret dislike for Michael O’Leary may well have something to do with it. Either way, with the shares close to the €3 mark, up 70c on their floatation price, you would have a hard time putting this off as a short-term investment.

So the whole game now stands as follows. 2.1% gone to Denis O’Brien, the pilot’s shares now up to 2.24%, the Government retains its 28.3% and the Employee Share Ownership Trust (ESOT) holds around 11.8%. Ryanair currently holds 19.2% and is currently unable to purchase stock unless the share price drops to €2.80 or it revises it’s offer. That means the anti-Ryanair block holds 44.4% (approx.) of the company, with the rest (minus the 19% owned by Ryanair) being ‘free-floating’ stock. This means that the anti-Ryanair block only need to secure another 5-6% to lock O’Leary out of his bid, while O’Leary and Co. need to snap up another 31% or so to get a controlling interest.
The longer the price remains high, the more time the Government and Aer Lingus workers have to lock the bid out…

But you do have to wonder, was this O’Leary’s plan all along? The Government is in a frenzy, the workers are going mad and there’s talk of using their pension fund to save the airline from Ryanair… even if it wasn’t intentional, O’Leary has caused much mischief, and given that he bought 16% of the company at €2.20, he could stand to make a tidy profit if he quietly backs out of the battle…

Metro and the little duckies

I see RedMum’s photography has been picked up by Metro recently, but not in the fairest of ways…

One of her pictures was used on the front cover of the 12th October issue of the Dublin freesheet Metro but without permission, credit or payment. There’s little denying that it’s her picture and hopefully she’ll keep us all up to date on what Metro have to say for themselves and whether they’re willing to pay up or apologise.

On the other side of the same coin, Darragh has been taking issue with the article the pictures were used for.
He’s saying that the appearence of the article in question is coincidental, given that he posted this just two days previously; which obviously implies that his piece has been lifted without credit too…
I’ve got to disagree with Darragh on this one; his blog post simply asks what happened to the ducks and suggests people contact him/the site if they’ve come across one. The article on the other hand gives examples of the distance travelled by the ducks and references dowehaveyourduck.com; a site set up to track them.
I fail to see the similarities beyond the basic topic of ducks (and the fact that the headline/subject share two words); the blog post doesn’t cite the examples used in the article nor does it cite the website mentioned. It’s entirely possible that the writer saw the blog post, got inspired and decided to look into it further but as long as the research is his own (and I can’t see why it is not) then he doesn’t need to credit his muse or justify the existance of his article in any way.
I think it’s important to remember that in this day and age the first person to mention or point out something doesn’t instantly become the owner of the idea or point of view. If they ask a question and a newspaper article answers it, they’re not being ripped off. Generally, it’s only if their actual work, words or ideas are taken without credit (like with RedMum) that issue should be taken in my opinion

The old lady shuffles down the road

As Cian noted, today’s Irish Times is the first edition in over 100 years to have no connection with D’Olier Street, a location formerly synonimous with the publication.

The old lady was, by all accounts, completely antiquated and inadequate as a modern office space and the cost of renovation seems to have been more than it was worth; with a move to Tara Street (where I assume they are leasing the new building) being the more economical option.

So what does this mean to the average reader? Probably nothing, at least for the time being. Things will seemingly carry on as normal, but perhaps the new surroundings will help give the staff the moral boost that rumour suggests is much needed.

On top of this, perhaps in the not too distant future we will see a more modern outlook from the newspaper, to match its modern building. The Irish Times has always been the one publication most likely to take advantage of a changing media landscape, and perhaps now they have the improved facilities to do this properly.