Media diversification (Business and Finance Magazine, 14th September 2007)

I never got a chance to post this here earlier in the month but better late than never.

Below the fold is my article on Media Diversification, which appeared in Business and Finance Magazine on the 14th September – the copy below is what was submitted and is likely slightly different from the printed version, which I have not transcribed yet.

Continue reading

Hurling’s insane, apparently

We Irish, despite our transformation into a modern and enviable country, are still a little self-conscious at heart and so love it when we get noticed on the international stage.

There’s no simple reason for this national neediness, but it probably has a lot to do with what we went through in the past and, more importantly, the self-loathing that flows through our veins and the inability we have at accepting praise that lasts to this day. Basically, international success gives us the validation we can’t stand to give ourselves.

So with our Soccer team and Rugby team doing particularly badly on the world stage at the moment, we’ve got little to cling to. Or at least we didn’t until today.

I’m sure others reading this blog will be as amused as I was at the inclusion of Hurling in Cracked’s top ten list of the world’s most insane sports. Sure, it couldn’t beat the likes of chess-boxing but what’s funniest about Ireland’s offering is that it’s anything but a fringe sport, it’s one of the main offerings of the country’s biggest sporting organisation!!!

I personally would never have referred to Hurling as ‘insane’, so to speak… that may be because I grew up with it always in the general background, be it on TV, radio or in school. That said, if I was to start playing GAA at any point in my life, as I’ve toyed with doing lately, it certainly wouldn’t be as part of the game that involved big sticks and minimal protection.

Radio primed for DAB era (SBP – 9 Sept 2007)

My article on DAB radio in this week’s Media & Marketing section of The Sunday Business Post.

Digital audio broadcast (DAB) radio may not be a viable medium for advertisers for another three years, but it has huge potential once audiences start to tune in.

That’s the view of JP Coakley, head of operations at RTE Radio, who said the new technology would allow stations to adopt new business models and appeal to more targeted audiences.

DAB radio, which is currently being tested on the east coast of Ireland, allows for more radio stations at a higher standard than the traditional FM frequency. The trial is due to end in November, and Coakley said RTE was likely to bid for one of the two radio ‘multiplexes’ with a view to launching a permanent national service.

The trial currently features a number of local and national radio stations, as well as six DAB-only services from RTE, including a dedicated news channel and a children’s channel.

‘‘RTE Junior is completely new for us, and it’s nice to be able to offer something unique like that,” said Coakley. ‘‘As and when the audience grows, we can start to add resources to the services to make them even better.”

DJ Dusty Rhodes’s Digital Audio Productions company will be the first commercial player to offer a DAB-only service when his two niche stations launch in the coming days. ‘‘We expect to be profitable very early on,” said Rhodes, who has also launched his low-cost 1980s and R&B stations on digital cable services across the country.

At present, both stations play music without interruption from DJs or advertisements.

However, Rhodes said actual programming would be added over time and adverts were due to be introduced soon. ‘‘At the moment, they’re kind of like a jukebox, and there’s nowhere you can really go from there, so we’re planning to develop beyond that,” he said.

While DAB itself does not offer any more precise audience measurement tools than FM, Rhodes said he believed its extremely targeted content would counteract this.

‘‘Basically, if you’re under 30 or over 50, a 1980s station probably won’t be for you,” he said.

‘‘Every DAB radio out there has a screen on it where you can put up programme information or even the name of the song playing. It’s only a small feature, but it could make a big difference, just like text messaging did for mobile phones.”

Rhodes’ two stations have been granted a ten-year digital broadcast licence by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) and are not subject to the same strict regulations that FM stations have been in the past, such as a minimum requirement for news, talk and Irish content.

‘‘Ireland has a very vibrant radio sector, and I think these regulations are part of it, but I’m all about choice, and I think some stations should be able to offer something without things like news,” Rhodes said. ‘‘If you’re looking for news on DAB, you can now go to the dedicated RTE News channel that loops a three-minute bulletin, so the choice is still there for people who want to hear it.”

Coakley said the critical factor in advertisers’ support for DAB would be in the sale of devices across the country.

A number of retailers, particularly British companies operating in Ireland, have begun to stock DAB radios, although Coakley said he had been quick to remind them that the service was only on limited trial and was unlikely to attract as much attention at present.

Coakley conceded that Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) was likely to be the main focus of the likes of the BCIf or the near future and would gain plenty of publicity once launched nationally but this would not mean that DAB would suffer.

‘‘It’s a step in the right direction and, in Britain, the inclusion of the BBC’s digital-only stations on Freeview drove up interest in DAB, so it benefited from it,” he said.

In technical terms, the trial has been a success to date and the few problems that have arisen have been learned from. When asked about the possible use of DAB+, which is a more advanced version of digital audio broadcasting, Coakley said he would prefer to stick with DAB as it meant avoiding a situation where ‘‘you’re selling a radio in Dundalk that doesn’t work in Newry’’.

He also said he was not sure if DAB+ technology was necessary for the size of the Irish market at this time.

‘‘Digital radio mondiale (DRM) is an interesting proposition to me, as it is the digital equivalent of AM,” he said.

‘‘I think there’s plenty of scope for DAB and DRM to run side by side, just as FM and AM do now, and it could allow for far more diverse, international content.”

“As of yet we have no idea how terrible this story will turn out”

Satire has always been one of the most powerful media for political and social comment, particularly when it comes to the media.

Chris Morris’ The Day Today and Brass Eye both lampooned the sensationalisation of news and current affairs coverage in the UK while simultaneously preying on the gullibility and egotism of minor celebrities and politicians alike. Indeed his dissection of the media’s handling of paedophilia in a 2001 Brass Eye special was ironically validated by the absurd reaction it received in its aftermath, including one British cabinet minister condemning it outright before admitting they had not even seen it.

Unfortunately Morris has moved onto other things, at least for now, and there has been no-one to pick up the torch. Indeed Ireland has been bereft of hard-hitting satire for many years now, left only with the memories of Scrap Saturday and the like.

In America there is The Daily Show, although that verges towards comical commentary over outright satire, and then there’s The Onion.

Below is a clip from their recently launched Onion News Network video channel, which publishes satirical videos regularly. This clip harkens back to Morris’ work in that it swings for the medium itself rather than the subject, and it is perfectly executed.

The escalation of the story over the space of two and a half minutes, taking something that has not been ruled out and turning it into something that is assumed to have happened in the most depraved of ways. The agonising lengths the reporter goes to to turn any little point into the most headline-grabbing outcome. The sheer desperation shown in the attempts to paint the bloodiest of pictures in order to make this story as news-worthy as possible. The loaded questions thrown at the upset parents to further this story. The online poll which is presented as part of the news itself. How it moves from a missing person case, to a potential rape case, to a definite rape case, to an abduction and brutal multiple rape case, to a vicious rape/murder case – all without any actual evidence to warrant it. It is flawless.

Making a satire show in the vein of The Day Today and Brass Eye is something yours truly has dreamed about for a long time and while it would have to be more than just a copy-cat production there is plenty of material for it in the modern world of politics and media, especially in Ireland. Of course, an ability to write great satire would be required, which is another matter altogether!

But surely someone out there has what it takes?!!!

Some site stats

AdamMaguire.com was 2 years old in late July (and not a single cake or card), so I thought I’d take the opportunity to put up a few of the site’s stats and figures, according to SiteMeter.

There have been over 22,000 visitors to the site in the last 2 years, around 1,700 of which came in August 2007 alone (that was the busiest month for the site ever too, it seems).

Average visits per day is 48 and the average visitor stays here for 1 minute 25 seconds and reads 1.6 pages. There have been just under 36,000 page views over the past two years.

43% of those visitors are Ireland-based. 16% are from the US and 15% are from the UK.

Around 95% of readers have set their PCs language to English; French is the next biggest language with a 2.1% share.

Windows XP is the most common browser at 68%; OSX is next with 14% and Vista is lagging behind Win 2000 with just 6%. Adding all the Microsoft-owned OS’ together brings a grand total of 83%.

The most popular browser amongst readers of the site is Internet Explorer with a 52% share (across IE5,6 and 7); that’s just 9% higher than the share enjoyed by Firefox 1 & 2. Safari makes up the rest with around 5%

As you can see from all of the above the site is quite a modest one, but a personally valuable one nonetheless. That value has become more pronounced as time has progressed with traffic picking up, especially from some very interesting google searches, and opportunities arising from an online presence increasing by the month.

TV3’s new current affairs programme

Having long provided the bare minimum of current affairs coverage as obliged under its broadcasting contract, TV3 surprised many with its recent announcement of a revamped nightly news programme which will be hosted by Vincent Browne. But is this the channel’s first real attempt to develop a name for itself in the world of news, or will this be just another chapter in the long list of news-lite shown at Ireland’s commercial terrestrial broadcaster?

As part of its agreement with the BCI, TV3 must provide a certain amount of news and current affairs coverage on a weekly basis, the bulk of which is taken up by its news bulletins. That said specific current affairs programming is nothing new to TV3; the channel launched in 1998 with the Sunday news show ‘Agenda’, which was hosted by David McWilliams. Agenda was never meant to rival what RTÉ were already doing with the likes of Prime Time and instead offered viewers a ‘week-in-review’ type programme, often including some very notable guests. It would be difficult to refer to it as hard hitting but it was certainly far from tabloid or trashy, nor did it shy away from proper debate where necessary.

The show was hindered by its awkward early-Sunday timeslot, however, not to mention the fact that it was stranded amongst some very toned-down news output elsewhere at the broadcaster. Perhaps for these reasons and others Agenda was cancelled some time in 2003/2004 with the numbers being made up by Ursula Halliagan’s The Political Party.

This programme has suffered from equally awkward placement on the schedule and has been noted, and in some places criticised, for the more jovial tone taken by Halliagan when interviewing guests.

So with two current affairs programmes under its belt what makes this latest addition worthy of note?

Well for a start, this is not a replacement to The Political Party but is instead in addition to it. This means that on the surface at least, TV3 is not just launching a programme to cover its contractual obligations but doing so above and beyond what it must. Secondly it’s a nightly programme and even if it is put at the relative graveyard shift of 11pm it would be an improvement on the uber-graveyard shift that is Sunday morning or night. Thirdly it is to be hosted by Vincent Browne, who has a strong reputation in terms of his journalistic work and has plenty of experience in broadcasting. (This may seem like a no-brainer when it comes to a programme host but it’s not unusual to see a radio or TV station pick up the likes of a print journalist on name alone only for them to display all the on-air charisma of a damp nappy.) Finally Ben Frow, the new director of programming at the station, has made it clear that he sees unique content as vital; particularly unique content that doesn’t try to ape what they’re already getting from ITV. With the additional money being thrown at developing the station by its new owners Doughty Hanson, potential is growing that TV3 might begin to take news seriously.

So this is why news junkies should allow their hopes to rise just a little in anticipation for this new programme. But there are reasons to be fearful too.

TV3 is a commercial channel which means it must attract audiences and do so in a cost-effective manner. Even companies tasked solely with providing news to people are seeing editorial budgets squeezed tightly at the moment so it’s hard to see the new programme becoming very agenda-setting. The exact format is yet to be announced but it would be hard to imagine it taking on much of an investigative role, but instead a day-in-review format with a few guests and experts followed by the next day’s headlines.

Another reason to be worried is that TV3 has taken the “and finally” approach to news since its inception and so have shows like The Political Party and even Agenda. Indeed Browne himself told The Irish Independent that he hoped to end each episode on a lighter note, which could signal a continuation of this pattern – but hopefully not.

It is hard to imagine Browne taking a tabloid route with what he does but at the same time the greatest of intentions will be stifled if the show is produced, researched and presented to the public in such a way. It would be too much to ask of TV3 to create a Newsnight-esque programme, especially given its lack of experience in current affairs to date, but perhaps this is the first step towards something similar, albeit on a smaller scale. Or maybe this move might scare RTÉ into responding with something bigger and better but either way there’s more reason to expect good things over bad with TV3′s new show. At least for now.

Blogs, Facebook and business (from 2nd September’s Computers in Business, Sunday Business Post)

I forgot to post these up on Sunday but here are my two articles from The Sunday Business Post’s Computers in Business suppliment. They’re about using blogs, facebook and other social networking sites to network, make yourself available to your existing audience and promote yourself to your potential one.

The main piece is quite long so I’ll make it available below the fold – article one was the cover story for this issue of Computers in Business while article two was a panel piece complimenting it. Links to both pieces are also available below.
Continue reading

Don’t be so hard on yourself

I’ve previously voiced criticisms of the odd editorial decision over at RTÉ.ie News but I’d never have gone this far. I guess people really can be their own worst critic at times.

(Taken from RTÉ.ie News’ front page at around half five on Monday evening. In case you can’t see it, look under the picture of the digger.)
rtenews.jpg