Tune in to Culture Shock

I’ll be making an appearance on Newstalk’s Culture Shock (formerly Taste) tonight at around 8:45 to take part in their Lay of the Land feature, which looks at the Sunday headlines in advance of them hitting the news stands.

You can tune in on your FM or DAB radio, PC or digital TV set-top box and it’ll be well worth it. Even if it isn’t, it’s only 15 minutes of your life!

Silly season starts with a bang

Once the Dáil (Irish Parliament) rises for its Summer break, the Irish media enters what is known as its “silly season”. Silly season is basically the period of time where the media give more space to otherwise irrelevant stories; all because there’s little else to talk about. This year’s season will run from the 6th of July to the 26th of September.

Interestingly enough, as the media geared up for the annual news-blight on Thursday, it was faced with not one but three big stories, any one of which they will likely be crying out for in the cold, lonely afternoons of August.

Story one: a stairwell collapses in the Natural History Museum in Dublin city, injuring 11.
Story two: 120 children need to be rescued in Dún Laoghaire after their boats capsize during a regatta.
Story three: A small plane misses the runway in Co. Galway, killing two and injuring five.

As well as these three, there’s also the on-going saga of the €105m (over 1 tonne) worth of cocaine found off the coast of Cork which reads a little like something out of a film.

In spite of these big stories being largely spent before silly season begins, this year promises to be slightly less silly than previous ones.

Both The Green Party and Progressive Democrats looking for new leaders; both of these stories should provide a few decent political moments and headlines in the coming weeks. As well as this the media will probably continue to pick at the strange marriage of Green and Fianna Fáil and try to highlight covert changes in policy from within each party as they compromise for power.

There’s also sure to be a few more surprise stories that pop up along the way, just like the four that dominated the Irish frontpages over the past week.

Oxegen off to a bad start

Word is getting through that this weekend’s Oxegen festival in Kildare is off to a bad start, with many attendees enduring a logistical nightmare as they descend upon Punchestown Racecourse.

Apparently much (if not all) of the on-site car park has been flooded due to bad weather and as a result campers who drove are being ordered to park quite far away (at Goffs on the N7) and get a bus to the campsite instead. The only problem is there are seven or so buses for the many thousands of people trying to get there and each one is taking hours to do a single round trip.

The end result of all of this is a huge queue of tired, wet and possibly drunk people all carrying camping equipment and all keen on setting up their beds for the weekend a.s.a.p. The campsite itself is supposed to be a mud-pit too, which isn’t going to help their mood much once they do get there.

Last year’s festival was marred by claims of violence and arson, ineffective security and a generally hostile atmosphere caused by a small group of scumbags. If the festival is getting off to this bad of a start it’s going to be an uphill struggle to keep things from turning sour all over again.

UPC to challenge Sky+ service package offer (SBP – 1st July 2007)

My article on UPC Ireland’s new DVR/PVR service from today’s Sunday Business Post:

The parent company of NTL and Chorus will launch its digital video recorder (DVR) service in the coming weeks, according to Mark Coan, sales and marketing director of UPC Ireland.

The new offering will be in direct competition with BSkyB’s Sky+ package, an d will allow viewers to record programming straight to their set-top box, as well as pause and rewind live television.

‘‘The service will operate on the existing infrastructure, so anyone who can get digital TV with us now will be able to switch over to it,” said Coan.

He added that he was hoping to offer the new service without an installation fee or once-off purchase charge.

Coan would not be drawn on an exact date for the launch. He was also unable to confirm the monthly cost of the service. However, it is expected to be about €8 per month on top of existing digital TV prices.

Sky Digital’s DVR service, Sky+, does not have an additional monthly fee but does incur a one-off fee of €149 and a single-room installation fee of €75.

DVR devices have become increasingly popular in Europe and the US in recent years, and are quickly taking over the role traditionally held by the VHS recorder.

The device being included in the UPC service is made by Thomson, and will house a 160GB hard drive, which will allow for up to 80 hours’ recording.

One of the better-known features of some DVR services, such as TiVo in the US, is the device’s ability to record automatically programming it thinks users will like, based on their regular viewing habits. Coan said this would not feature in the initial service, but could easily be added at a later date.

‘‘We are able to send updates remotely to our devices, so a software feature like that could be added once customers have become used to the basic service,” said Coan.

‘‘The new boxes also have a built-in cable modem, so interactive services such as video on demand (VoD) can also be brought on stream without having to further upgrade the hardware.”

However, Coan said that VoD features would be unlikely to launch before early 2008.

UPC has also begun to upgrade its infrastructure in preparation for its forthcoming high-definition service, which Coan said he hoped to see launched by the end of this year.

In recent months, the company has been merging operations and services at NTL and Chorus, in anticipation of a rebrand under the UPC name, which Coan said the new services would be a major part of.

‘‘We want the rebrand to be more than just changing the name over the door,” he said. ‘‘We want UPC to be seen as a multimedia player, rather than just a TV company.”

The company is in the process of rolling out broadband to the remainder of its network as well as its recently launched ‘digital telephony’ or voice over internet protocol (VoIP) service, take-up of which is unknown.

While saying it was not something on the immediate agenda, Coan said a mobile telephony service was a possibility in the future.

UPC already offers this service in other European markets, while the recently formed Virgin Media group in Britain also offers so-called ‘quadruple-play’ packages of TV, broadband, house phone and mobile telephony.