On Newstalk’s Culture Shock tonight

Just a quick note to say that I’ll be doing The Lay Of The Land on Newstalk’s Culture Shock; the segment’s probably going to start between 8:30 and 8:45 and will run until 9PM.

You can catch it on FM/DAB in most parts of Ireland or online.

Tune in if you want to get a sneak preview on tomorrow’s headlines, or if you want to hear my fantastic radio voice* – whichever is more important to you.

* May not be as fantastic as suggested above.

Ticketmaster think I’m going to see Ian Brown

This afternoon I got an email from ticketmaster entitled “Ticketmaster Ireland – Ian Brown, Big Top, Phoenix Park Information”, which opened with:

Ticketmaster would like to take this opportunity to thank you for booking your Ian Brown, Big Top, Phoenix Park tickets with us. Please read this email carefully as it contains information regarding venue accessibility.

It’s great to see MCD and Ticketmaster do something, anything, regarding customer comfort and safety after numerous embarrassing incidents at the likes of Oxegen, Barbara Streisand and Oxegen; but there’s one tiny problem…

I’m not going to see Ian Brown. I have made no effort to go and see Ian Brown. I have not made any enquiries about going to see Ian Brown. I have not even visited the Ian Brown event page on ticketmaster.ie until tonight.

That said, if they really want me to go it would be rude of me not to – I assume the tickets will be in the post soon, so? They’d better hurry up.

British digital switchover proper set to begin

In just a few hours time Britain’s Whitehaven & Copeland TV region will become the first in the country to switch off its analogue TV signal and go digital. This event will mark the start of a five-year process that will see the UK go entirely digital just in time for the quasi-deadline of 2012, set out by the EU on the matter.

Naturally tomorrow morning’s switch and the proceeding days and weeks will be watched carefully by the British Government and TV industry and almost certainly by its Irish counterparts. Even in this region, which has been hand-picked because of its suitability for a fully digital service, there are worries about households being left with no service on some or all of their televisions and the problems and complaints that come to light in the coming days, along with the tactics used to solve them, will inform the digital roll-out for the rest of the UK and for Ireland, whenever that happens.

The British DTT service, Freeview, launched in 2002 on the back of the defunct ITV Digital service. It began modestly enough and was helped greatly by the fact that much of the digital mux infrastructure already existed, yet it has still taken 5 years for the Government to take the plunge and will take a whole decade before the UK in its entirety is 100% digital.

Ireland is a different beast, of course. It has one of the highest cable TV penetration rates in Europe and naturally has a much smaller population – on the other hand it has a far more dispersed population and in many areas a more complex terrain; as well as this the national TV infrastructure would need to be upgraded to carry digital.

Of course getting a house to pick up digital is only the first step. While two thirds of all households have either a UPC or Sky Digital services it’s likely that the majority of all households only have digital in one or two points in the house, relying on analogue terrestrial broadcasts elsewhere.

With these facts in mind it’s difficult to say how long Ireland’s digital roll-out and switchover will take but even if it were to take half as long as the UK’s the country would need a national service launch this year in order to make the EU’s 2012 deadline – this is almost certainly not going to happen.

In all likelihood the Irish DTT service will begin to take real shape in 2008 and may even launch tenuously by the end of that year, probably in Dublin first. It’s clear that the DCENR and BCI are giving it their priority, however it remains to be seen how much progress this focus will give it.

One of the last UK regions that will be switched over in 2012 will be Northern Ireland, the question now is how far behind the rest of the island will be.

PD article in latest issue of Village

The latest issue of Village, details of which are available here, features an article I’ve been working on about the Progressive Democrats (on page 26 & 27).

The article looks at the real and more behind-the-scenes reasons why the party fared so badly during the 2007 General Election and to some degree what problems the party finds itself in at present.

It is based around a number of interviews I conducted with existing and former party members, candidates, workers and advisers, all of which took place over the last month or so.

The article that appears in print is rather different from my final draft, although the information and points raised by my interviewees naturally remains intact. I’ve not got a transcript of the published piece yet but you can read my final draft below the fold – with that in mind please excuse any typos or mistakes.

As you can see the people I spoke to were not quoted and remain anonymous, which was perfectly understandable. That said, the lack of quotes made it harder to differentiate between my straight narrative and an outside opinion – where normally an interviewee’s opinion would be framed in quotation marks here it had to be prefaced with “one member/candidate said” or something similarly blunt.

As for the published version, well you’ll have to pick up Village to read how that turned out!

Continue reading →

FM104 back on the market, Communicorp free to take Today and Highland

The long-awaited BCI decision on the sale of EMAP’s Irish stations has come through and Communicorp has gotten approval for the acquisition of Today FM and Donegal’s Highland Radio, but not Dublin’s FM104.

Communicorp already owns a number of Irish stations including national operation Newstalk and Dublin stations 98FM and SpinFM. As a result of this it was expected that Communicorp would be forced to either sell one of its existing stations or be allowed to only take control of some of the stations on offer.

As national commercial radio has a small market share in Donegal and Communicorp doesn’t already have a foothold there, ownership of Highland radio was never in question. It was clear, however, that ownership of Newstalk, Today FM, FM104, 98FM and SpinFM would give the company a huge command over the Dublin market (44.9% amongst adults, 27.6% amongst over 35s and a whopping 74.5% amongst 15-34s) and it was hard to see full approval coming under these circumstances. The question was whether Communicorp would be willing to sell an existing station and if this would appease the BCI, or if not whether the BCI would decline approval for the sale of Today FM or FM104 – or both.

Short of full approval and no demand to sell existing holdings, this result is probably the most acceptable and expected outcome for Communicorp. 98FM has been Denis O’Brien’s pet project since the 1980s and he has built it into a significant force in the Dublin market; Newstalk has been an expensive investment since its launch and with its new-found national potential selling it would be somewhat short-sighted. In terms of the new stations, while FM104 is a powerhouse in the Dublin market, Today FM is stocked full of nationally-successful talent that has led the charge on RTÉ Radio over the years – there’s no doubt that it was the most coveted of the three by most bidders.

What happens next is unclear. For a start Communicorp has to wait for the Competition Authority and Minister for Enterprise to give the nod to the deal too. After that FM104 will come back on the market and as Dublin’s biggest radio station it’s sure to attract plenty of interest, with previously unsuccessful EMAP bidders sure to pay great interest.

But what will happen to the likes of Today FM once the deal is wrapped up? Given the fact that Today FM already operated in the company of FM104 before, it’s unlikely the Communicorp purchase will create any different a dynamic between it and 98FM.

What will be worth watching is the dynamic between Today FM and Newstalk.

For the most part the stations’ content does not overlap. However in the few places it does, it does so in very significant ways, the best example being in the drivetime slot where George Hook and Matt Cooper are pitched in a head-to-head battle for listeners.

Hook has proven to be the strongest asset of Newstalk since it went national, while The Last Word has been a consistent draw and a thorn in the side of RTÉ Radio 1 for some time now. For these reasons alone it would seem foolish to mess with their respective formulae and timeslots, however it would seem equally odd to have them in direct competition too.

Through a stronger partnership with Newstalk there is perhaps potential for Communicorp to step back from News and Current Affairs and leave that side of things to Newstalk; perhaps even to the extent of Cooper swapping frequencies.

This would allow Today FM to become a more entertainment-based station than ever before and would create a dynamic between Newstalk and Today FM that would mirror the one already seen between RTÉ’s Radio 1 and 2FM. Perhaps Today FM, along with Communicorp’s local stations, could even look at outsourcing its news coverage to Newstalk, although this seems less likely in the short-term and any change to the amount of News coverage on Today FM could cause trouble with the regulator.

One thing’s for sure, with FM104 coming back on the market in the near future and Today FM moving into the Communicorp fold the Irish radio market is in for another interesting period of flux.

Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe

If you’re the type of person that flicks around the TV, producing a slightly louder and more depressed sigh as each funographic programme manifests itself in front of your very eyes, then Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe is for you.

It’s on BBC4 tonight at 10pm and can only be described as one man’s cynical commentary on what British (and to a large extent all) television has become.

For a taster, YouTube has plenty of clips from previous series of the show. There’s also Brooker’s regular columns in The Guardian. Oh, and then there’s TVGoHome, which was Brookers pet project for a few years (basically a fake TV guide full of bizarre programmes, the aim of which was to satirise the declining standards of British TV by showing where its logical climax would be should the trend continue… he stopped because so much of the stuff he published as extreme exaggerations of what was being made soon became plausible TV programming.