Homework – Teleworking combats the daily commute (B&F – 19th June 2008)

The latest issue of Business & Finance (with a front cover story on corporate governance) has an article by yours truly on the problems stemming from “teleworking” or the mobile office.

The magazine is available in most shops or online if you’re a subscriber – I’ll put up the text of the article in the ‘Portfolio‘ section soon too.

Teleworking has been lauded by many lately as part of the ‘work-life balance’ trend we’ve seen grow in recent years. The fact that you only need a mobile phone to stay generally connected and the slow-but-steady growth of broadband availability in Ireland has meant that the dream of working from home is now a reality for many many people.

That said, there are plenty of downsides to the practice which may get overlooked when you think about it purely in terms of avoiding the daily commute. The article looks at many of these issues and the solutions that are there to avoid or minimise them.

Media and Lisbon

I recently took part in an episode of Inside Out for Dublin City FM on the topic of media and the Lisbon Treaty.

The discussion revolved around the suggestion that the British imports available in Ireland, which are generally Euro-sceptic, played a significant role in pushing the electorate towards the ‘No’ side. It also extended into questions over general impartiality in the media and the reasons for the tight restrictions on broadcast media such as RTÉ.

You can listen to it here.

There’s also a discussion of a similar vein going on over on the News/Media forum of Boards.ie for anyone interested in throwing their 2c in.

As you can hear in the interview and read in the thread, it’s my opinion that the anti-Lisbon print media was not responsible (even partially) for the end result of the treaty. My reasons for believing this are two-fold.

Firstly, Ireland has long had the access to a variety of British media, including print, and has long been exposed to the British euro-scepticism voiced by the likes of Rupert Murdoch’s News International group (through The Sun, The News of The World and The Sunday Times). People who read these newspapers are generally aware of this anti-EU sentiment and either already agree with it or are capable of filtering it out. To suggest that these newspapers suddenly had an effect on Irish attitudes to Europe in 2008, having had next to no effect on the same before seems illogical to me.

Secondly, if you are to assume that the anti-Lisbon print media was able to influence readers through its own bias then you’d have to agree that the pro-Lisbon print media was able to do the same from their side of the fence. Given that The Irish Independent, The Irish Times, The Evening Herald, The Mirror and (possibly amongst others) – which all came out in favour of Lisbon – have a combined readership that’s more than three times the size of Euro-sceptic newspapers in Ireland then logic would suggest that overall print media bias should have favoured the ‘Yes’ campaign far more than the ‘No’ campaign. (The same statistical comparison exists if you compare Sunday newspapers, such as the Sunday Independent which was pro and the Sunday Times which was anti.)

In reality if the Lisbon result proved anything it’s that print media has a negligible – perhaps even non-existent – impact on its reader’s opinions on important matters. To suggest that readers of any newspaper are either lazy enough to agree with an argument just because it’s put in front of them (perhaps repeatedly), or are stupid enough not to realise they’re reading something bias, is just plain ignorant in itself.

New RTÉ channel will focus on free-to-air system (SBP – 22nd June 2008)

An article of mine on FTA satellite in Ireland is in today’s Sunday Business Post – you can find it here. The article is very much an overview of the state of FTA satellite in Ireland and the potential it now has considering the changes in content and availability.

The article has a brief look at RTÉ‘s plans for its RTÉ International service as well as reasons why the other channels in the RTÉ stable won’t be on FTA any time soon.

One figure that I didn’t get until the very last minute, and so didn’t make it into the article, is that 5% of Irish homes are using “Other satellite” systems. This figure is from AGB Nielsen and would include households that use satellite systems to pick up foreign broadcasts, such as FTA channels from Poland and so on.

The text of the article is below:

RTE’s plans to launch a channel for the Irish diaspora may draw more attention to free-to-air (FTA) satellite systems, which give householders access to many of their favourite TV channels without the monthly bill.

FTA satellite is not new to Ireland, but has previously been seen as the sole preserve of technology hobbyists.

The content available to those who did have a system was traditionally limited also, with most of the channels available coming from mainland Europe.

However, the increased availability of cheap FTA systems in mainstream shops, combined with the move by British channels onto the platform over the past few years, has made FTA satellite more attractive here.

From March 17, 2009, the platform will also carry its first proper Irish channel – RTE International – which is to be the broadcaster’s service for the Irish diaspora.

‘‘There are no final plans, but if you were to take the home-produced content from RTE 1 and 2 and combine it, you’d get a fair idea of what ‘International’ will look like,” said a spokesperson for RTE.

‘‘We’re trying to make the service as rounded as possible and get a wide range of programming.”

The new RTE channel will be broadcast from the same satellite as British FTA channels produced by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. These signals can be received anywhere in Britain and Ireland, as well as mainland Europe.

In order to view the programming, all a person needs is a satellite and digital receiver which can be purchased for as little as €80, but which may cost somewhat more to install if done professionally.

Despite RTE’s plans to use the free platform for its new international channel and the increased use of FTA satellite in Ireland, the chances of RTE One and Two also going onto FTA satellite are still quite low for now, however. The issue, they say, is programming rights.

‘‘The rights agreements we sign for purchased programming tend to cover Ireland only – that’s particularly true with sports content,” said the RTE spokesperson.

‘‘We have to block out GAA matches in Northern Ireland, for example, as Setanta have the British rights and we don’t. There’s no way for us to broadcast FTA on satellite without broadcasting in other countries too.”

RTE said it was constantly reviewing its options and as part of its universal service obligation, it was aiming to be ‘platform neutral’ wherever possible.

On Newstalk for the Sunday newspaper preview

I’ll be on Newstalk‘s Culture Shock at around 8:45pm this evening to go through some of tomorrow’s newspaper headlines.

Lisbon is likely to factor heavily – as it has for the past week – but here’s hoping there’ll be some variety of topics on the agenda besides that.

So if you’re the impatient type and can’t wait until tomorrow morning then tune in on your radio, television or computer.

Sunday Tribune’s website get a facelift

The Sunday Tribune’s website has gotten a much-needed overhaul having had one of the worst web-presences in Ireland for some time now.

The new site features RSS feeds, comments, an archive dating back to 2000 and a breaking news service (not sure if this is in-house or taken from an existing news/wire service) – all of these things are great to finally see on the Tribune’s site, even if they are now the norm in an online news environment.

The actual design is extremely reminiscent of the relatively new Irish Independent / Sunday Independent site, although I’m informed that their design team had no hand in the Tribune’s new site even if though there is a business connection there.

As you can see the tabs across the top, the placement of the search box and the general layout of the articles and info-box features are very similar to those on Independent.ie. As a matter of fact some of the images used, such as the speech bubble symbol for comments and the ‘Advanced Search’ button on both sites are identical.

Overall the site looks like it’s really a work in progress and there are a few problems that need to be ironed out, even of the most basic variety. For example, it may just be a rendering or browser issue on this end but it appears as though the www.tribune.ie / Sunday Tribune logo is not even properly centred, which seems odd for a professional design.

As a matter of personal preference I’m not so sure if I like the way the feature boxes on the front page change every few seconds no matter what – why not give the reader the option to scroll left or right or up and down through them at their own pace?

That said it’s great to see this badly needed redesign go live and it’s great to see The Sunday Tribune move forward in terms of its online service in general – all we need are a few blogs now (not like they don’t have the bloggers on staff already).

So now the ball is in the court of TCH and The [Irish] Sunday Times. The former has a very outdated website for it’s Irish Examiner and Sunday Business Post titles and the latter doesn’t even have an Irish website… everyone else has caught onto the trend, when are this lot going to catch up?

An account from a witness to beauty

After being absolutely blown away by Leonard Cohen on Saturday night, I knew I had to go again. He was just that good.

Let me explain.

Just before the gig on Saturday started my friend asked me how long I thought he’d play for. “It’ll either be 20 minutes or 3 hours”, I said, implying that it was either going to be a half arsed hit parade-type show (the kind a veteran artist might pull out when they’re only touring because they have to) or something very special – it wasn’t going to be anything in between.

To be honest had Cohen come out, coughed into the mic and then left I would have been happy enough just to be able to mark him off ‘the list’ and say “I saw Leonard Cohen live”. Thankfully he did a hell of a lot more than that.

Saturday’s gig was undoubtedly one of the best I’ve ever been to in my life – probably the best. Any fears I had – of a bad sound system which tends to blight every outdoor gig going, for example – were put to rest by the opening notes of the opening song, ‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’. Cohen’s voice was the same as ever, maybe even a little better, and his band and backing singers were fantastic. The charisma and charm just flowed from the stage making an atmosphere you would not have thought possible in an open-air venue.

It’s hard to say what the highlight of the night was for me – the whole night was a highlight of my week/month/year/life. In fact, looking through the set list now I’d find myself mentioning nearly every song if I were to list off the ones that really stood out, which is a bit of an oxymoron but there you go.

I would give particular mention to a couple of things, though.

Firstly, his spoken-word rendition of ‘A Thousand Kisses Deep’ was beautiful and charming and warm. I made a mental note to learn the words in time for my future wife’s 70th or 80th birthday, assuming I’m married and still by around then.

At the risk of sounding like a tag-along, ‘Hallelujah’ was an amazing and uplifting moment – anyone who heard it would surely agree that while Jeff Buckley’s version has its place, there’s no beating the nuanced brilliance of the original.

Finally – and a moment that took me by complete surprise – two of the backing singers (The Webb Sisters) gave a rendition of ‘If It Be Your Will’ which made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. By the looks of things they were filming the gig for a DVD and I implore anyone, fan or not, to check it out for that song if for nothing else.

The show was split into two halves, both around an hour each. As the second half came to a close I figured we’d get an encore to bring us up to 10:30pm; my thinking being that this was the curfew or at least a handy time to round things off. The encore when on until around 10:35pm and Cohen left the stage only to return again. This second encore brought us up to around 10:45pm and as he left the stage again I turned to my friend and suggested he may be back out to bring us up to 11pm. “No way”, he said and I figured I was being a bit optimistic. I was delighted to find that this optimism was warranted as Cohen wandered back on once more.

Overall he was on stage for almost three hours; not bad for a near-75 year old. If I can even stand up straight for that long when I’m 75 I’ll be a happy man. My girlfriend was at Neil Diamond on the same night and she text me at 10:30pm to say the gig there was just over. “Ha”, I thought, “in your face Diamond – and you’re only 67!” (In fairness I think the curfew there may be a bit stricter as it’s right beside so many houses).

As we walked out of the venue I wished it was 8pm again; I wanted to go through it one more time. This is when I started to think about coming back for Sunday’s show. But did I have the money? Was it a wise thing to do? Would I even get a ticket? I must have changed my mind a hundred times before we hit Heuston Station.

Later on I expressed my thoughts to my girlfriend and she said that she would be up for going in; she had just listened to me going on about such an amazing gig and didn’t want to miss out on such an experience. I himmed and hawed a little, dug around to see what the money situation was like and decided to give it a lash.

And so we went back to the Royal Kilmainham Hospital on Sunday evening, with money in our pockets and our fingers crossed. I knew we weren’t the only ones to have the idea of coming back for more so demand for spare tickets would be high.

But we got lucky and were sold two tickets at face value in the row directly in line with the stage. Having already been offered two of the cheaper tickets with a 70% mark-up on them (bringing them from €88.50 to €150 each) I was more than happy to pay €115 for the better tickets and equally happy to know that there were genuine people there who weren’t interested in ripping fans off.

Anyway, the second night. Well, all I can say is that it was just as good, just as sublime. The setlist was largely the same, bar one or two variations (as far as I can recall he didn’t play ‘So Long Marianne’ on Saturday, so that was good to hear) but it’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted to go through it all again and Cohen obliged.

So now when I draw up my list of ‘best concerts ever’, Cohen will be both the number one and the number two.

So to anyone who tries to say that Leonard Cohen is depressing, the first thing I’d suggest they do is pay attention to his songs. The second thing I’d suggest they do is ask anyone who went to the gigs and they will tell you what an uplifting experience the whole thing was.

They were nights of beauty in the truest sense of the word. I’m not expecting to see him play these parts again, which is part of the reason why I felt compelled to come back for Sunday’s show, but if he does I will be there.

Sure yer only fired, indeed and ye are

TV3 are looking for applicants to their version of The Apprentice, which will be headed up by none other than Dr. Bill Cullen, indeed and it will.

There doesn’t seem to be any details on what the winner will get (in terms of salary, contract, position etc.) but the programme’s mini-site (including application form) is here, for anyone interested.

I wonder if one of the trials will be to sell apples from a stall on Moore Street…

Anyway, at a time like this it would be remiss not to let Dr. Bill himself give some sage advice to all the would-be apprentices out there.

RTÉ to launch 24-hour online, mobile-accessible news channel (SBP – 8th June 2008)

Below is an article of mine from today’s Sunday Business Post. The piece is about RTÉ’s plan to launch a 24-hour news channel online this coming week, which will stream the broadcaster’s news and current affairs programming as well as repeat it throughout the day.

For the moment there’s only limited scope for unique content on the service – such as breaks for big stories or special events and short sport, business and entertainment updates which will come on stream by the end of June – however it does form the foundation of a bona fide news channel especially if it ends up getting broadcast on DTT.

The whole service is supposed to fit nicely into RTÉ’s media player, which is of particular interest to me. Details are sketchy at the moment but more will be revealed about that particular project in the coming months.

The article:

RTE is to use this week’s referendum to launch its new online streaming news service, RTE News Now. The service, which will function as an internet-based news channel, will be available on RTE.ie when it launches on Thursday, with a rollout on mobile phone networks also under discussion.

The channel will broadcast online 24 hours a day and will be shown in addition to news content already available on the broadcaster’s website. The service will consist of existing RTE news bulletins and current affairs programming, which will be simulcast live and repeated throughout the day, as well as breaking news stories and special events that might not get coverage on television.

The news service will form a central part of the planned RTE media player, which is currently in development. This new platform is expected to be similar to the recently launched BBC iPlayer, which allows viewers to re-watch and download previously aired programmes online.

‘‘RTE News Now will live stream all breaking news coverage from RT€1 and RT€2,” said a spokesman for RTE Publishing.’ ‘However, it will stream special events such as Oireachtas debates, which are not being broadcast on television.

‘‘All content will be produced by RTE and users will continue to be able to access all RTE news and current affairs programming on an on-demand basis on RTE.ie.”

According to the RTE spokesman, there will also be brief business, entertainment and sports updates produced exclusively for the News Now service by the end of June. The text-based news content already available on RTE.ie will also be factored into the new service as a ticker tape-style feed.

The broadcaster hopes to raise revenue from the venture through short advertisements, which will be shown before the main content begins. This approach is already used on RTE programmes that can be watched on demand on the website.

In addition to being online, RTE hopes to make the News Now service available on mobile networks at – or shortly after – launch, and is in discussion with carriers to facilitate this.

3 Mobile already offers its customers access to live and looped RTE news broadcasts at a cost of €2 per week, however neither O2 nor Vodafone offers such a facility.

At the moment, the service will be focused on RTE.ie and mobile networks, but the spokesman for RTE Publishing said there were plans to roll it out onto other digital platforms in the future.

It is likely that digital television will be one of the platforms under consideration, perhaps as part of the broadcaster’s overall plans for Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT).

According to RTE’s internal statistics, the news section of RTE.ie is now the most popular part of the website, accounting for more than 11 million page impressions, or 23 per cent of overall site traffic, in April.

Some 34 per cent of those who accessed RTE.ie/news during the same month were based outside Ireland.

Media Notes (06-06-07)

This week’s media notes:

The BCI have launched an investigation into Denis O’Brien’s radio interests after he reached the important milestone of having a 25% share in Independent News & Media. As mentioned last week, this sizeable stake will allow O’Brien to block special resolutions at board level – for example he will be able to stop the issuing of new shares; a tactic which had been at IN&M’s disposal to diminish the impact of O’Brien’s land-grab. With O’Brien now just 4.9% away from having the maximum stake possible without making a takeover bid, it’s clear that the BCI/Government is anxious about the idea of having one man in control of Ireland’s most popular newspapers (The Irish Independent and Sunday Independent), two of its more popular tabloids (The Evening Herald and The Star*), a rake of its regional/local newspapers, its only two national commercial radio stations (Today FM and Newstalk), two of Dublin’s more popular radio stations (98FM and Spin FM) and two other regional stations (Spin South West and East Coast FM).
Read more: Arthur Beesley’s article details the investigation in The Irish Times (subs required).

One of the aforementioned newspapers, The Evening Herald, launched its website this week in what may well mark the beginning of the end for the offline newspaper in Ireland. The website is straight forward with plenty of scope for additional content – most importantly it follows its IN&M siblings and offers its copy for free. No subscription, no registration, no log-in.
Check it out: The Evening Herald’s new online home.

Multimedia company UTV has brought forward plans for a rights issue due to the worsening state of the global economy. The group, which operates the ITV franchise in Northern Ireland and is the biggest commercial radio operator in Ireland after Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp (and is a pretty big player in the British market too) hopes to raise Stg£50m by giving shareholders the chance to buy two shares for every three they hold at a price of 130p per share. Chief executive at UTV, John McCann, said the company was still in good shape and that the money raised would be used mainly to reduce debt. The reason plans to raise this money was brought forward is likely out of the fear that it would be harder to refinance its existing debt down the line, should the credit crunch tighten further.
Read more: Francess McDonnell and Ciarán Hancock in The Irish Times.(Subs required)

* Ownership of The Star in Ireland is split 50/50 between IN&M and Express Newspapers Ltd.

O2’s iPhone conundrum

While we won’t know for certain until Steve Jobs takes the stage in San Francisco next Monday (at 6pm Irish time), it is all but certain that the centre-piece of his keynote to the WWDC will be the 3G iPhone.

Precise specifications and details are sketchy but various reports suggest the new model will feature GPS, a front-facing camera for conference calls, more storage capacity and most critically a 3G chip as opposed to the EDGE/2.5G chip that’s in the existing model.

To be blunt, the new iPhone is rumoured to carry everything the original iPhone really should have had in the first place.

So now O2 Ireland are faced with a serious problem.

While the iPhone first went on sale in the US in late June 2007, giving early adopters about a year of job before their investment was obsolete, the Irish consumer has only been able to get their hands on the iPhone for the past two and a half months.

In fairness to O2 Ireland they probably didn’t realise the 3G iPhone was going to come on stream so soon after the launch but there’s no doubt that they knew it was going to come at some point – almost certainly during this calender year.

But even if they are victims of Apple’s legendary secrecy, pleading ignorance will do little to help them now. What O2 Ireland face is a swathe of customers who spent anything between €400 and €500, not including the money they’ve committed towards expensive and sub-par contracts, on a device that is about to become obsolete less than three months after it became available to them. Even fashion designers give their ranges more of a lifespan than that.

O2′s conundrum is in what they must now do to minimise the damage and turn things around to their benefit.

One thing they may take comfort in is the fact that the 3G iPhone may not hit Irish shores immediately, which will make the gap between the two launches that little bit more tolerable. This article suggests it may be Christmas before O2 UK gets the iPhone and it’s unlikely that O2 Ireland will get it before its British counterpart – but then again this article suggests that O2 (in both countries) will get the new iPhone very shortly after the US launch.

Whenever the device hits our shores is irrelevant, though. Even if they can’t buy it yet, Irish customers will still be angry to find that their brand new (and expensive) phone is obsolete – a delayed Irish launch just means that O2 will be left selling a 2.5G phone that no-one wants to buy anymore.

Once the 3G iPhone does become available, O2 have to decide how to deal with existing customers’ anger. They could hope to ride out the controversy and brush off the controversy without compensation but this would surely be a major PR disaster that they’d have to eventually do a U-turn on anyway. Either that or lose a serious amount of goodwill and clientèle too.

The most likely solution is for O2 to provide existing iPhone users with some kind of upgrade service – it’s only really a question of what shape this will take and how generous they will be about it.

Pat Phelan has his own thoughts on what they (and their international counterparts) could do – basically his idea is that they offer coupons which allow iPhone users to upgrade to the 3G model at a low price, then refurbish the traded in 2.5G models and give them free to new customers who want an iPhone but don’t care about 3G.

This article suggests O2 UK may offer an entirely free upgrade to existing iPhone customers – the catch being that they must re-boot their 18-month contracts to avail of the offer. There’s no mention of what might happen to the traded in iPhones from this deal but their the tantalising suggestion of a reasonably-priced Pay As You Go model.

It’s hard to say what path O2 will take to quell consumer discontent but we may get a better idea in the next week or so. What is clear is that they’re going to have to have a plan to ensure that things don’t get ugly fast come Monday evening.

If you want to see exactly what Steve Jobs has up his sleeve (or more likely in his pocket) then you should check out Mac Rumours Live around the 6pm-mark on Monday evening. You may even find out what his plans for the Irish 3G launch are, but if not you’re sure to know for certain shortly afterwards.