Media
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Media

Radio predictions for 2014

Posted December 23rd, 2013 by debritz

As promised, here's my annual list of predictions for Brisbane radio.

It'll be a closely fought race for top position overall and in breakfast, with some failures along the way. More than one show won't make it to the end of the year in its initial form. It will be a year of further cutbacks, job losses and low tolerance for failure. (And, sadly, not much room for experimentation, meaning homogenisation on the mainstream music airwaves. This has already manifested itself nationally with ARN's hiring of Kyle Sandilands and Jackie Henderson, and the reformatting of Mix in Sydney to tackle 2Day an Nova head-on.).

I say with no pleasure but some confidence that 2014 is the year when reality really will begin to bite in the Australian media. While the free-spending days are long gone, many businesses are still spending beyond their means (or at levels that reflect better days). The advertising pie is being sliced more thinly and, despite efforts by industry bodies to spin it otherwise, traditional broadcast radio has lost, and will continue to lose, audiences to other media. It's not out of the question that one network will fail altogether. Despite the brave (some may say arrogant) face they present to the world, the networks know this, and that's why they are investing in online services and digital offerings that may help plug the gaps in their mainstream programming.

For the record, although I was initially enthusiastic about it, I have long believed that broadcast digital radio is a turkey. Its coverage is woeful -- I have friends living just 20 kilometres from the CBD who can't pick it up, making it unsuitable for commuters (even if there were receivers in their cars) -- and its content offering can't even begin to match what's available on the internet. Once new cars are wi-fi (LTE/4G) enabled, it'll be "Goodnight, nurse" for DAB+ in Australia (although digital will continue to be successful in th shortterm in more compact markets).

These predictions are based on the assumption that the new ratings methodology won't throw in too many surprises (and my inclination is that they won't, otherwise Commercial Radio Australia, whose jobs it is to support the status quo, wouldn't have signed up the new provider).

+ 612ABC's Spencer Howson will remain no.1 in breakfast at least for the first half of the survey, as the others sort themselves out. Across the board, 612's fate is linked to how well or how badly 4BC's complete makeover works. If BC flops, 612 will benefit. At the same time, with consistency on its side, the AM crown is Aunty's to lose.

+ It's going to be tough for 4BC to get where it wants to be. An almost-all-new line-up provides an opportunity to rebuild, but I suspect their retooling creates a void in the market rather than fills one. As much as I dislike it personally, right-wing, lowest-common-denominator talk radio is where it's at in the commercial world. Trying to be the "ABC with ads" may make some sort of sense for 2UE in Sydney (which can't hope to beat 2GB at its own game while Alan Jones and Ray Hadley are in place), but it's going to hard to build an audience with that format in Brisbane. As much as I admire Ian Skippen, I don't think he's the right person for breakfast. The station needs a strong, opinionated voice that will bring the listeners in and keep them glued to the station. I'd put Skip in the afternoon slot, where he could provide the post-lunch change of pace with consummate ease. I think Patrick Condren is the strongest of the new bunch recently signed by 4BC, and he's got a good chance of giving 612's Steve Austin a run for his money in the morning shift. Of course, everything could change if the long-mooted merger between Fairfax and Macquarie actually goes through in 2014.

+ The return of Ed Kavalee to the Brsbane airwaves is welcome news -- particularly since he'll actually be in Brisbane this time. But it raises two questions: Is Triple M the right station for his talent and skill set? Will there be enough chemistry between him and Greg "Marto" and Michelle Anderson? My inclination is to answer no on both counts, but I'm happy to be proven wrong. I'd have built a new show around Ed. He's an underrated talent who needs to work with people who are on the same page. (It's such a shame that Tony Martin is persona non grata at Southern Cross Austereo.)

+ Triple M's sister station B105 has a challenge on its hands. In the grand scheme of things, it's not doing too badly, but it's not the must-listen-to station that it used to be. At the time of writing, Southern Cross Austereo has chosen not to tinker with the breakfast show line-up, as doing so would almost certainly lead to an at-least-temporary ratings slump. However, given it is launching new breakfast shows on its Today stations in Sydney and Melbourne, it must have been tempted to do so as part of a network wide facelift. While it ain't really broken, it does need to be fixed. The real battle is with the music offering. The programming experts can say what they like, but many teenagers and young adults follow the songs rather than the on-air talent.

+ 97.3Fm runs the risk of falling victim to "friendly fire". The launch of Kiis 106.5 in Sydney will mean some further tinkering with the successful Brisbane format to accommodate a Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O "best-of" in the evenings, and Ryan Seacrest in the nights. They risk losing at least some of the female grocery shoppers coveted by advertisers, and that doesn't seem like a particularly wise move to me. Having said that, the breakfast show should remain strong if they don't change the music too much.

+ Nova 106.9 is looking good for a strong year, although changes behind the scenes -- especially the loss of foundation station manager Sean Ryan -- could be felt on air. My advice to the DMG bosses down south is to realise the uniqueness of the Brisbane market and to give the station some credit for succeeding as well as it has. Ash, Kip and Luttsy are likely to remain near or at the top of the commercial tree in breakfast. The loss of Brisbane favourite Meshel Laurie, who has moved from network drive to Melbourne breakfast, may be felt.

+ The fates of 4KQ and Magic 882 (formerly 4BH) are intertwined. If Magic gets a bit too contemporary with its music choices, KQ will reap the benefit. If KQ doesn't mind its knitting, Magic may steal the advantage.

+ The "dark horse" to watch is Triple J, which did very well in the Brisbane market at the time. I believe that the Js are batting above their average because of dissatisfaction with the mainstream FM music stations. As I said at the beginning, this brave new world of commercial radio leaves little room for experimentation. Playlists are conservative, and people who want to find new music are looking to Triple J and the internet.

Things I'd like to hear

Posted November 17th, 2013 by debritz

I was recently asked when I was going to publish my almost-annual list of Australian radio predictions.

Well, when I sat down to make a start, I realised it was a bit too early to make meaningful predictions for 2014, given that many stations have still not confirmed their on-air line-ups.

So, instead, here's a list of things I would like to hear on the radio in 2013:

"For #@+*'s sake, I'm a 40-year-old man. I am not the least bit excited by the fact that One Direction are coming into the studio this morning, unless I get the chance to kick one of the talentless twerps in the goolies."

"Cheryl, stop gushing like you're the only woman in the world who as ever had a baby. If you tell one more cutesy story about your illbegotten offspring, I will projectile vomit over you and the entire studio."

"This being the ABC, I am not supposed to venture a personal opinion on air, but after what you just said Cyril, I'm prepared to risk my career and make an exception."

"If you really think we get this perky in the morning just by drinking products from our sponsor, Coca-Cola, you are very much mistaken."

"Actually, Bruce of Logan, you are a hateful, bigoted old man who has never achieved anything of significance in your miserable life and rather than be angry with yourself, you have externalised the blame on people who are making an honest effort to make a go of their lives, and are prepared to risk what little they have to create a brighter future for their families."

"You know what Shazza, I am constantly amazed by the extent to which so many of our listeners are prepared to demean themselves to win a worthless prize we contra-ed from one of the advertisers."

"Rather than hook young Darlene up to the lie-detector, I'm going to attach it to myself and tell you all what I really think."

"If you don't stop perving at me and aiming sexist remarks in my direction Bazza, I'll email those pictures from the last Commercial Radio Awards function to your girlfriend."

"Despite explicit instructions to the contrary from station management, I have decided to henceforth refer to myself by my given name, Michael, rather than the childish epithet of 'Beano'."

"Who are we kidding, we know most of you are only listening because you like the music, and that you change station whenever an ad comes on or we start talking."

"And the whole gang from the station will be at the big listeners' party on Friday night, even though we'd rather apply a dentist's drill to our eyeballs."

"Do you seriously think I would actually use any of these crap products I endorse on air? I have to put on surgical gloves just to touch the huge wads of cash they pay for me doing it."

"No, by all means, do keep talking Doris. It's 3 o'clock in the morning, nobody else is listening and, on the money they're paying me for this graveyard shift, I literally do not have a home to go to."

"I hate you all."

How digital radio missed the boat

Posted August 23rd, 2012 by debritz

Expanding on my tweet about digital radio ... Three years ago, I was quite excited by the technology and rushed out to buy a digital radio.
But it didn't take long to realise that, at best, it's a "bridging" technology (and an expensive one at that). Streaming media over the internet, heard mostly on mobile device is the future. Why?
+ Why buy a digital radio to get, maybe, 20 or 30 extra stations that are still controlled by the same handful of Australian operators when you can have every radio station, commercial or public, professional or amateur, in the world?
+ Digital only works in metro areas in Australia, and it would be a waste of money to extend it further. No real point in putting it in cars unless you live inner-city.
+ Older listeners won't buy digital sets, they'll stick to their transistors.
+ Younger listeners all have iPhones or other smartphones; why would they want to carry around another device? And what's the incentive for manufacturers to put DAB+ capability into smartphones?
+ With better technology and faster wireless speeds, smartphones will soon reach digital quality (or near enough that few will notice or care about the difference).
+ Yes, it's a quality product, but so were 8-track cartridges and Beta videotapes, but there's something that's more user-friendly if not technically better right now. (Were cassettes better than 8-tracks, or VHS better than Beta? No, they were just more popular.)
+ It looks like a duck but it doesn't quack. It's dead, Jim.

Update: Following a Twitter conversation, I'm prepared to go further. It is morally and ethically wrong for the radio industry to push digital receivers on to people when they are already obsolete for everyone except those who don't have home internet access and/or a "smart" device, which is mainly the older audience who are quite happy with their current AM/FM radio thank you very much. To convince an elderly person with limited funds that they need to buy a DAB+ set when all they do is listen to talk radio on AM is obscene.

Who needs courts?

Posted April 22nd, 2012 by debritz

This is from the ABC News website. Surely it's up to the court, not the headline writer, to decide whether the defendant, whose name appears in their story, torched a police car. Aunty also tweeted the headline, prompting one of its own employees, PM host Mark Colvin, to reply: "Allegedly".

Scott reveals Aunty's plans

Posted April 19th, 2012 by debritz

ABC managing director Mark Scott, in Brisbane to open the national broadcaster's new Queensland headquarters at South Bank, has revealed some of Aunty's plans for the digital future.

He told 612ABC breakfast announcer Spencer Howson that:

+ A new ABC app for Android phones would be released "within days";

+ An iView app for mobile platforms would be available soon, and that iView would eventually be available in HD, although delivery on the net was expensive for the broadcaster;

+ Aunty is lobbying government to extend digital radio coverage from beyond the major metro areas, although he conceded there was no great financial imperative for this as there was for the digital TV switchover;

You can hear the full interview here.

Video rewards the radio star

Posted April 18th, 2012 by debritz

As The Australian's Michael Bodey points out, we really shouldn't have been surprised that Hamish Blake won the Gold Logie.

Blake has successfully parlayed his success on radio, and in cyberspace, into Logies votes.

The problem, of course, is that while Blake is very popular -- and especially so with young people -- he has been ostensibly rewarded for his work on a television show that had low overall ratings but was a minor hit with its target demographic.

Developing Bodey's argument, it seems fair to say that the Logies have become not a measure of television popularity, but of overall popularity -- at least among those people who are prepared to go to the trouble of casting a vote.

How long, then, before the Logies -- or some new thing that will usurp their role -- become popular culture awards rather than TV awards?

The Gold Logie may, in the not-too-distant future, be awarded to the "most popular" person in all media, rather than just television.

Of course, as long as it relies on people who are motivated to vote, or are even aware that the award exists, it won't be a true indication of actual popularity.

But at least it will be a more honest reflection of the realities of media in the 21st century: that fame transcends platforms and that nobody is working in just one medium any more.

Never mind the Logies, here are the Logics

Posted April 12th, 2012 by debritz

Let's face it, the Logie Awards don't make any sense. Every year, the best and brightest of Australia's television industry gather at a function arranged by a magazine with a very low circulation to give out gongs to people who really haven't earned them.

Actors and presenters whose shows next-to-nobody watched are rewarded, while the creators and stars of the top-rating shows go home empty handed. (Why, by way of example, was Ben Elton widely ridculed last year when his Live from Planet Earth show actually attracted more viewers than the Today show, whose star Karl Stefanovic won the Gold Logie?*)

Because of these discrepancies, I have initiated the Logic Awards, which acknowledge programs and talent on the basis of the only true measure of popularity in the world of TV -- the ratings.

These gogns are based on the actual ratings -- the most accurate available measurement of a show's popularity -- not just a poll of a small subsection of the population who read a magazine or visit a certain website. These are the shows and the stars Australians actually watched in 2011.

Where the winners are from overseas, thus making them ineligible for a Logie award, I've added Australian runners-up.

(No methodology is perfect, but I've explained mine at the end of this post.)

GOLD LOGIC for Most Popular Personalities

Prince William and Kate Middleton, stars of the most-watched program of 2011, The Royal Wedding.
Australian: The cast of Packed to the Rafters

SILVER LOGIC Most Popular Actor
Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey
(Australian: Erik Thomson, Packed to the Rafters)

SILVER LOGIC Most Popular Actress
Laura Carmichael, Downton Abbey
(Australian: Rebecca Gibney, Packed to the Rafters)

SILVER LOGIC Most Popular Presenter
Tie: Grant Denyer**, Australia's Got Talent and Scott Cam, The Block

MOST POPULAR NEW MALE TALENT
Ryan Corr, Packed To The Rafters

MOST POPULAR NEW FEMALE TALENT
Hannah Marshall, Packed To The Rafters

MOST POPULAR DRAMA SERIES
Packed To The Rafters

MOST POPULAR LIGHT ENTERTAINMENT/COMEDY PROGRAM
The Big Bang Theory
(Australian: The Gruen Transfer/ Gruen Planet)

MOST POPULAR LIFESTYLE PROGRAM
Better Homes And Gardens

MOST POPULAR SPORTS PROGRAM
The Melbourne Cup

MOST POPULAR REALITY PROGRAM
The Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
(Australian: tie between Australia's Got Talent and The Block)

MOST POPULAR FACTUAL PROGRAM
Seven News

Audio link: Brett talks to Josh from the MolksTVTalk podcast
(Full podcast here.)

Notes about the methodology: For the purpose of these awards I've made a few adjustments to the categories and elegibility rules, and used some "best guesses". For example, I've extrapolated that if Downton Abbey was the most popular drama on TV, then its headline stars are the most popular actor and actress.
In the comedy category, which I bundled with light entertainment, while the debut of Ashton Kutcher in Two and Half Men was a huge ratings success, the show spectacularly lost two-thirds of its audience -- a sure and swift sign of unpopularity -- so it cannot be reckonned to be as big a success as The Big Bang Theory, which rated consistently well, even in its many repeats.
In the case of The Block, its audience average over the season was slighlty lower than Australia's Got Talent, but its huge finale helped compensate. I've declared the difference between these shows and their hosts as too close to call.
While I largely ignored the official TV Week Logie Awards nominations, I was somewhat guided by them in categories that I felt were unclear. The distinctions between light entertainment, reality, lifestyle and factual seem blurry to say the least. In the factual category, logic dictated that it must go to the highest-rated news program, even though the Logie nominees did not include news and current affairs programs. As nted above, I included comedy programs in the light-entertainment category.
I have not included the "most outstanding" award catgeories, which require a more subjective approach than used here.
In compiling these results, I am indebted to reasearch done by David Dale for his excellent blog, The Tribal Mind. Any misreadings of the data, however, are mine.

* Yes, I am aware of the difference between breakfast and prime time, but viewers are viewers, and I would argue that viewers in the morning aren't anywhere near as engaged with the box as those at night, so LFPE actually had command of far more eyeballs and ears.

** As an anonymous commenter points out (see below), I originally wrote Luke Jacobz here in error. Apologies to all.

A job worth paying for

Posted April 4th, 2012 by debritz

My father, like his father, was a house painter. He wanted to be a teacher, but times were tough and he had to leave school at a young age to help support his family.

Still, he was a very wise man. He read widely in areas that interested him and he held strong opinions.

I remember him saying, about his own trade, that anyone could paint a house to suit himself, but not everyone could paint a house to the satisfaction of the people paying for it.

I'm a journalist, and I feel the same way about my own profession. Plenty of people can write but not everybody has the full set of skills a professional needs.

I think this approach to the craft is especially relevant at a time when the news media is desperately trying to reinvent itself in the digital age. In doing so, we must not forget our core skills.

When I tweet or blog about errors in spelling or syntax in media reports, I'm sometimes accused of being pedantic -- as if accuracy was no longer a prerequisite for the practice of journalism.

Recently, I've been having a minor rant on Twitter about journalists who misuse the word "allegedly". In news reports you will often hear or read about an "alleged robbery" when the reporter is referring to a robbery, pure and simple. What's alleged in the story is the identity of the person or persons who committed the crime.

If the court reporter and the sub-editor who handles his or her copy doesn't know how to use "allegedly" properly, then they don't know the law, they don't know the language, or they simply don't care. That is unacceptable.

I rail against people who confuse "deny" and "refute" -- words that have distinct meanings -- and those who believe there are degrees of uniqueness. Why? Because getting it wrong dilutes the power of the English language.

Oh, but language changes, I'm constantly told. Yes, but it should change to become more robust, not to become weaker. We should be adding words to the dictionary to make communication easier and more exact, not tweaking the meaning of existing words to the point where they lose potency and create confusion.

I'm by no means perfect. There are many errors on this blog, probably even in this post. But I'm working on my own here.

If professional news organisations can't leverage the huge resources and large staff they have to ensure that they get the basics right, how can they realistically hope to compete against the online aggregators and other cut-price operators?

The thing about being professional is that you do your job properly, you are acknowledged for it, and you get paid for it. Nobody's going to pay top dollar for a slap-dash paint job, and nobody should have to pay for consistently sloppy journalism.

When I point this out to other journalists, they say that budgets are tight and they can no longer afford the checks and balances that used to be put in place. I reckon that's a false economy that could ultimately lead to the demise of the established news media.

In the future, there'll be plenty of digital detritus but not a lot of solid, well-researched, well-written and well-edited journalism. What there is of any quality will be worth paying for, either directly or indirectly (through advertising).

It's my belief that, after a period of playing around with the amateurs, enough people will come back to the fold to make well-run professional news media organisations viable. But that's only if they are worth coming back to.

A matter of trust

Posted March 29th, 2012 by debritz

It's not a great time to be a journalist, with job opportunities shrinking on a daily basis. But it certainly is an excellent time to be in PR. Why? Because the chances of your media release getting wide and uncritical coverage are expanding by the minute.

You don't have to dig too deep on the internet to find bloggers who merrily and uncritically repeat media releases, usually without even acknowledging the source.

Some bloggers even go so far as to pretend they did their own research -- or, at least, they allow their readers to think so -- when all they are doing is parroting the PR.

What's worse is that this kind of thing is finding its way into mainstream media sites, where the work of untrained bloggers is being published alongside that of journalists but without the checks applied to staff-written copy.

I'm not at all promoting a "closed shop" mentality. I believe everybody is entitled to their view, and I'm happy that the internet, especially the advent of social media, makes that possible.

However, I think the readers of professional media websites are entitled to know the credentials of the person whose work they are reading. And I think the editors of these sites need to be vigilant, because the expedience of using free copy from enthusiastic amateurs could blow up in their faces.

One thing that separates the professional media from the amateurs is the integrity of the product presented to the public. If what's published online doesn't meet the high standards applied to the print or broadcast media, the proprietors expose themselves to potential legal issues.

They also risk a loss of the public trust that is their competitive advantage.

Will Kyle call it quits?

Posted March 27th, 2012 by debritz

Southern Cross Austereo is facing a big dilemma in light of today's ruling by the Australian Communications and Media Authority deeming that its Sydney station, 2Day, had breached decency standards.

The dilemma? Exactly when should it pull the pin on Kyle Sandilands, the man who has brought such shame on the station and the network, and whose behaviour has put at risk millions of dollars of advertising revenue?

It's not the ACMA ruling that will determine the fate of Sandilands and his co-host Jackie O, however. It's the ratings.

The second official radio ratings survey for 2012, also released today, shows the Kyle and Jackie O Show is continuing to decline in ratings, despite expensive promotional activity during the survey period.

While the show still leads the commercial FM pack, Sandilands' audience share has dipped below the psychologically important 10 per cent threshold, while his fresh competitors, Fitzy and Wippa, at Nova are on the way up.

Clearly, Kyle is edging closer to his use-by date. Austereo knows this. But it also knows that he's been a good and loyal servant to the company over many years, and that his talent and notoriety have brought publicity and big dollars to the network.

But sentiment only goes so far in business. In Brisbane, Austereo cut loose Jamie Dunn six years ago, and his onetime on-air partner Ian Skippen just last year. In their hey-day with the B105 Morning Crew, they brought in the kind of ratings Kyle Sandilands -- or, indeed, any other current broadcaster -- could only dream of.

At one stage, the B105 Morning Crew commanded about a third of the total available Brisbane audience. I've not seen the figures, but I know they put big, big dollars into the Austereo coffers.

The nature of commercial radio, of course, is that nobody stays at the top of the ladder forever. There comes a point when they are no longer worth the big money they are paid. In Brisbane, management decided to bite the bullet with a view to rebuilding before the figures got too low. In Dunn's case, he was allowed to announce his own departure after lining up another gig.

Now, whatever you think of Kyle Sandilands, he's done very well in a very competitive market, and he deserves some credit for it.

However, his race is very nearly run. In fact, it could be argued that the controversy surrounding him in recent years has extended his career with 2Day beyond its realistic shelf life. But the station management really must be contemplating renewal.

I'm not saying Sandilands is going to get the sack anytime soon, partly because he still makes money for 2Day and partly because Austereo doesn't want to be seen to be weak in bowing to the pressure applied by lobby groups. However, I think if Sandilands presented his resignation to management tomorrow, it would be accepted without too much of a fight.

In fact if I were Kyle Sandilands, I would make a big show of quitting at the time of my own choosing. But I wouldn't wait too long, in case worse surveys are on their way.

On a related subject, I am quite disturbed by the revelations surrounding Kyle and Jackie O Show producer Bruno Bouchet, who has taken down his website and Twitter account following this story at Crikey.com.au.

I knew Bruno when he was in Brisbane, and he always presented himself to me as a friendly, polite and competent professional. The website in question was puerile -- the kind of stuff you might expect from a 15-year-old schoolboy who'd just discovered some naughty pictures on the internet. It's hard to associate those posts, or his bodily-function-obsessed tweets, with the person I thought I knew.

Unless I'm a bad judge of character, I think it says a lot about the effects of working on the Kyle and Jackie O show.

97.3 maintains ratings lead

Posted March 27th, 2012 by debritz

In the race for ratings supremacy, 97.3 FM remained steady on top of the Brisbane radio pile with a 14.1pc share when survey two results were released.

In second place was 612ABC (11.8pc), followed by B105 (10.7), Nova 106.9 (10.4), Triple M (9.4), 4BC (7.4), 4KQ (7.2), Triple J (6.6) and 4BH (6.1).

In the breakfast shift, Spencer Howson retained his lead for 612ABC (14.9pc down slightly from 15.1), and he was followed by Robin, Terry and Bob at 97.3 (12.8), with Labby, Stav and Abby at B105 (10.3) third, and Ash, Kip and Luttsy at Nova 106.9 (10.1) a close fourth.

Following in breakfast were Triple M (9.0), 4BC (7.8), 4KQ (7.5), triple J (5.9) and 4BH (5.5).

The good news for 97.3 continued through most of the day, although Nova edged ahead among music listeners in the evenings.

The ABC also had a big result in the mornings shift, with Steve Austin garnering a 12pc share, possibly helped along by his state election coverage. His successor on the Evenings shift, Rebecca Levingston, has started to claw back some of Austin's old audience following a disappointing result in the first survey. Afternoons' Kelly Higgins-Devine and Drive's Tim Cox also added audience share.

In Sydney, the 2Day breakfast show fell below double figures to a 9.7 share, coming third, as usual, to 2GB's Alan Jones and ABC702's Adam Spencer, as host Kyle Sandilands faces the results of an Australian Communications and Media Authority probe, which ruled against him and 2Day, and fallout from revelations about the online activities of one of his producers.

Sandilands' commercial FM rivals, Fitzy and Wippa at Nova 96.9, were the biggest gainers in the Sydney breakfast shift, but they remain more than 3 percentage points off the pace. Nova also picked up a huge swag of listeners aged 10-17, although not from 2Day.

Guide to go?

Posted March 25th, 2012 by debritz

Back in the day when newspapers were king, one of the big circulation boosters for Sunday titles was the weekly television guide.

The insertion of the A4 TV Extra magazine, which listed the week ahead's programs spiced up with celebrity profiles and gossip, was a bold experiment that sent Brisbane's Sunday Sun soaring ahead of its competitor more than 30 years ago.

It also played a part in the launch of the Daily Sun and the subsequent News Ltd purchase of Queensland Newspapers.

Other papers followed suit, and now most Sunday papers in Australia still have a dedicated TV liftout.

But not for much longer, I'd wager. There is one sitting under the remote control on the coffee table in the lounge room now, but I doubt I'll be consulting it.

Why are these guides endangered species? Because they are expensive to produce and insert, and in the age of electronic program guides and the internet, they are not necessary. With their early deadlines -- up to five days before publication -- and the TV networks' renewed fondness for last-minute schedule changes, they are increasingly inaccurate.

On top of that, Sunday papers no longer have a stranglehold on "breaking" TV news; the networks are much more likely to take direct control of these scoops through targeted webpages, viral videos and social media (sometimes disguised as "leaks".)

That's not to say that television gossip will be absent from the papers. If anything, there'll be more of it -- but in the "news" pages and other features sections, rather than in a dedicated space. With the exception of highlights, the listings will eventually disappear altogether as they no longer justify the space they take up.

It will be a brave editor who first pulls the plug on the weekly TV listings, but I think we'll see it happen within a year or two -- and the sky won't fall any more in terms of lost circulation than it already has.

Disclosure: I briefly edited the Queensland TV Guide in the mid-Noughties, when part of my brief was to cut costs.

To be or not to be?

Posted March 20th, 2012 by debritz

Many years ago, I interviewed Mel Gibson, and I asked him how hard it was to get the green light in Hollywood to make non-mainstream films. He told me an anecdote that went something like this:

When Kenneth Branagh pitched the idea of Henry V, one potential backer asked him: "Henry Five, eh? How did Henrys One to Four do at the box office?"

I suspect it's an apocryphal story, but it illustrates a point not only about the American movie industry, but about the current state of Australian television.

When I look at the endless promos on the commercial channels for their new and upcoming local product, one thing is clear: everything is derivative.

Every show is either a reboot (Young Talent Time, Big Brother), a franchise (The Voice, Big Brother [again], Australia's Got Talent, Celebrity Apprentice) or a clone (The Shire is tipped to be our answer to Jersey Shore, for example).

Nothing on the commercial channels strikes me as being truly original, because nobody's game to back a hunch. Better to copy something else and hope it clicks (bad luck about Excess Baggage, which was a mashup of Biggest Loser and Celebrity Whatever) than to take a risk on innovation.

After all, nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. Oh, wait a minute ...

When the commercial networks do look for something "new", they almost always fall back on the same relatively small and intertwined cliques of "creatives" who've produced everything we've seen on television for the past 20 or 30 years.

I've written before about how free-to-air television networks' only chance of long-term survival is if they seriously invest in content creation. If they're going to succeed, they will have to take some real risks and seek out ideas from people other than the usual suspects.

Update: Last night's ratings go some way to illustrating how bad things are for Channels 9 and 10. They both, again, got blitzed in the overall figures by Seven, but they also failed to win their "preferred demographics", which must make it very hard to pitch to advertisers. I also find it's interesting that repeats of Big Bang Theory on 9 are doing better than new episodes of Two Broke Girls and Two and a Half Men.

The Shire's no Shore thing

Posted March 17th, 2012 by debritz

Australia's Ten Network is reportedly working on a new "reality" series to be called The Shire.

The word is that Ten is expecting the show -- about a group of people living in Cronulla, a beachside suburb south of Sydney -- to be Australia's answer to the US phenomenon Jersey Shore and the British hit The Only Way is Essex.

Not that anyone in televisionland is going to listen to me, but I would urge caution. Remember, Nine thought Excess Baggage would be a huge hit, too.

There are a lot of potential pitfalls with this kind of programming, and one of them is beating your chest too loudly when they are launched.

The days when people will watch a show based purely on the station's own promotional efforts are long, long gone. It takes positive word of mouth, and -- especially with shows targetted to a young audience -- a lot of genuine internet buzz before a show will become a hit.

If anything, overzealous promotion will turn potential viewers off (as I believe it did with Excess Baggage).

The fact that the formula has worked elsewhere counts for very little. Success or otherwise will depend on casting, production values, scheduling and a lot of luck.

The Shire may well be the next big thing and, given the lacklustre performance of many of its other shows this year, I'm sure Ten has a lot riding on it.

To be honest, I'm hoping it isn't a hit. Why? Because it means we'll have another bunch of oxygen-sucking pseudo-celebrities clogging up media coverage that could be devoted to actual achievers.

Given the backlash The Circle's Yumi Stynes and George Negus received over their comments about Victoria Cross winner Ben Roberts Smith, maybe Ten should be making a real "reality" show about people who've done something to benefit others.

Sharing the fame

Posted March 9th, 2012 by debritz

It began as a simple question posed on Twitter and Facebook:

Brisbane: Tonight we unveil another statue to a footballer. Have we honoured any great scientists, artists or peacemakers in bronze lately?

Now, I'd like to follow it up. First, by saying that I have no objection at all the rugby league lovers honouring Darren Lockyer for his achievements in the game. Or, for that matter, our publicity-hungry politicians trying to get in on the act. I just wish they'd cheerlead for some other great achievers more often.

What I am saying, though, is that there are plenty of other Queenslanders, living and dead, who deserve public recogniition for their achievements in their fields, and not all of them are getting it.

I know there are many in the fields of science and politics, and the military, but I'm going to restrict this argument to the arts, which is my major field of interest.

A few years ago, I supported a move to get a theatre named after Alan Edwards, the founding artistic director of the Queensland Theatre Company. So far, he has received no public recognition, even though, arguably, without his influence the international careers of hundreds of actors and other professionals, including Geoffrey Rush, Bille Brown and Carol Burns, may not have taken off.

I'm going to present a list now, and this is mainly from the top of my head and a quick internet search, so I'm sure to have missed some very important names. I reserve the right to amend it. I also acknowledge that some of them have already received statues or other recognition, but many of them have not.

I also not that there's an emphasis on people who are or have been widely known outside of Australia, and that I've omitted some younger people, such as authors Nick Earls and John Birmingham, writer-actors Adam Zwar and Jason Gann, and comedian Josh Thomas, who are (in my opinion) likely to go on to greater success.

Actors Geoffrey Rush, Ray Barrett, Diane Cilento, Barry Otto, Bille Brown, Carol Burns and Barry Creyton all have of have had international profiles. Other notables include Sigrid Thornton and Leonard Teale,.

Writers include Thea Astley, David Malouf, Judith Wright, Oodgeroo Noonuccal.

In popular music, there are The Saints, The Go-Betweens, Powderfinger and Savage Garden, and in opera we have Donald Shanks and Lisa Gasteen.

There are many famous Queensland dancers including Garth Welch and Leanne Benjamin.

Making a meal of it

Posted March 6th, 2012 by debritz

Yesterday, after I posted this item about the state of television in Australia, I received a direct message from somebody who works in the industry.

Noting that "fatal decay" in broadcast television began years ago, my correspondent added: "Who wouldn't rather order from a menu?"

The food analogy is a useful one, but I'd employ it differently. I'd say, who would want to choose from a limited menu when there's a whole smorgasbord to be enjoyed? Oh, and not everybody wants to eat at the same time, and no matter how good the chef is, we don't always want to eat at the same restaurant.

This is why, even with the greater flexibility offered by having extra digital channels, free-to-air television can't compete with pay-TV, let alone the internet.

Online, you can get anything you want exactly when you want it. The only problem is that it's not legal in Australia yet. But, as with music file-sharing, that can't be far away, because the people who make the product, quite reasonably, want to get paid when people consume it.

In reply to the message, I said that, even though it was apparent to people inside the station bunkers, it didn't appear that the television networks were doing enough to cope with this revolution.

Yesterday, I finished up by writing that My Kitchen Rules "is a step in the right direction, because it's popular, original content that the Seven Network can exploit in other media".

Another, perhaps better, example is Home And Away, the Australian soap opera that regularly attracts more than 1 million viewers at home and millions more in overseas markets. It feeds Seven's own schedule, and will be making money for its producers well into the future, through repeats.

At the moment, network production resources are largely devoted to news and current affairs. That's a good thing for short-term ratings results but, in general, these programs have a very short "tail". There's an immediate ratings return, that is rewarded by increased income from advertising, but there are no ongoing payments for repeats (except for sales of library material).

To survive, networks simply must focus on being production houses first, and broadcasters second. If they are not out there seeking fresh talent -- starting with writers who can produce great scripts -- and prepared to take a punt on drama and comedy, then they are signing their own death warrants.

The elephant in the room

Posted March 5th, 2012 by debritz

If you've been following this blog, or you've heard me speak on radio, or you follow me in social media, you'll already know my stock response whenever anybody tells me how a television program attracted a large audience.

Other person: "My Kitchen Rules had two million viewers last night."

Me: "Well, that's 20 million people who didn't watch it, then."

Now, I'm not dissing MKR, or the rugby league, or whatever else it is that Australians want to watch in great numbers. What I am saying, however, is that when, on an average night, fewer than two million people in the country's five biggest cities are watching the same program -- and, importantly, the same ads -- at the same time, can it really be referred to as "mass media" any more?

Take a look at the excellent research by popular culture historian David Dale.

According to Dale, at least three programs in the history of television have been watched by more than half the Australian population. They were all special events: the wedding and funeral of Diana Spencer and the 2000 Olympics opening ceremony. Now that's a mass audience.

But amid these one-offs, and a swag of hit movies and miniseries, you have to run your finger a long way down the list to find a regularly scheduled program that has captivated anything like a genuinely huge audience slice. And, as the years go on, fewer and fewer people are consuming the same thing at the same time.

So far this year, the top-rating show has been MKR, which has been watched by about one in 10 Australians. Of course, they are the same people night after night. From an advertiser's perspective, it's a matter of reinforcing a message to those people over and over again, but not reaching anybody new.

The figures are nothing to sneeze at, and television remains the biggest show in town for now. But while the number of eyeballs and ears glued to the goggle box is getting smaller and smaller, things are rather different on the internet. The growth is all online.

The internet is a wild and strange place, and advertisers and their bookers are rightly wary of it. Most importantly, rather than a choice of a dozen or so channels, there are hundreds of millions of websites.

However, some sites are cutting through big time. How can you ignore this burgeoning medium when one of the biggest players, News Limited, claims it alone attracts about 7.7 million unique viewers to its sites every month?

Now, there are big difference between banner ads (or even splash ads and video) on the internet and TV commercials, but the former do have some significant advantages.

While it is possible to block ads on a website, most people don't, and indeed can't, do it. They do see web ads (and, increasingly, hear them), but they can and often do choose not to see television ads (via time-shifting, or by changing channels, or by simply leaving the room for a few minutes).

Like newspaper ads, web ads are always there for most of the audience. Unlike newspaper ads, they can be directly targetted to the particular person viewing the page, thanks to technology that stores our personal information on our computers and, increasingly, in the cloud.

I can, and almost certainly will, write more on this subject, but the simple point I'm trying to make now is that the TV networks, and other "traditional' media for that matter, can't afford to ignore the elephant in the room. They have to ramp-up their own online offerings if they are to stay in the game.

And they have to realise that their competitors are not just the other television networks. Everybody with a web page is now a potential broadcaster, and television sets are not the only (or even major) means by which people tune-in.

At least, a program like MKR is a step in the right direction, because it's popular, original content that the Seven Network can exploit in other media. Other networks are relying on sport -- to which they have only the telecast rights (which they risk losing) rather than actual control -- and imported programs which audiences can access through other means.

97.3 tops Brisbane radio ratings

Posted February 23rd, 2012 by debritz

97.3FM bolted away from the pack to led the field overall in the first official 2012 Nielsen radio ratings for Brisbane, ahead of 612 ABC, which picked up audience in all daylight shifts and convincingly won breakfast.

The ARN-owned 97.3 scored more than 14pc of the available audience, followed by 612 on almost 11pc, then Nova 106.9 (10.5), B105 (10.2) and Triple M (9.4). Then followed 4BC, 4KQ, Triple J and 4BH.

In the important breakfast market, Spencer Howson at ABC 612 won a whopping 15.1pc audience share, followed by 97.3's Robin Bailey, Terry Hansen and Bob Gallagher on 12.9pc, Nova's new blokey breakfast with Kip Wightman, Ash Bradnam and David "Luttsy" Lutteral on 10pc and B105's Labby, Stav Davidson and Abby Coleman on 9.7. They were followed by Triple M (which lost audience across the day), 4KQ, 4BC, Triple J and 4BH.

The combination of cricket and a new line-up saw 612ABC raise its audience in all shifts except evenings, where there was a small decline. 97.3 had huge gains across the day.

In Sydney, Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O's 2Day show dropped 1.1 points but was still the dominant commercial breakfast performer. It was soundly beaten by 2GB's Alan Jones and 702 ABC's Adam Spencer.

2Day, along with FoxFm in Melbourne, also dramatically lost share in its target 18-24 year old market (down from 20.3pc to 15.4 for 2Day) and in 25-39s. This is not good news for parent company Southern Cross Austereo, which has already taken a huge hit from an advertising boycott spurred by Sandilands' offensive on-air remarks about a female journalist last year.

That share of the young audience has directly transferred to 2Day's arch-rival Nova 969, although the breakfast audience seems to have gone to Triple J.

SC Austereo's Melbourne station FoxFM also had a poor survey. Both it and 2Day lost audience in the Drive shift to Nova's Meshel Laurie, Marty Sheargold and Tim Blackwell, but still managed to stay ahead of the commercial FM pack. In Brisbane, Nova lost Drive audience but still remained ahead of B105 and Triple M. 97.3FM won the Drive shift

Disclosure: Brett Debritz was a guest on two 612ABC panels during the ratings period.

How to ruin a good thing

Posted February 22nd, 2012 by debritz

Television viewers are creatures of habit. Occasionally television networks are able to break entrenched habits, but mostly they cannot. For example, viewers seem to like their shows to run for 30 minutes from 6pm to 7.30pm, and recent attempts to glue them to one program starting at 7pm on a weeknight and stretching to 8pm or beyond haven't fared well.

One sure way to harm a program, perhaps terminally, is to change its timeslot. Few shows can survive that -- although it seems a substantial number of people will watch Big Bang Theory no matter what time, or which station, it is on.

Channel Ten has provided a textbook example of how to ruin a popular show by not just changing its timeslot -- twice -- but by stretching its resources to breaking point, by doubling its length and adding an extra program on Sunday.

I am writing, of course, about The Project, which is now screening for an hour Monday to Friday, and 30 minutes on Sunday, at 6pm. It started life at 7pm, before moving to 6.30pm to replace the axed 6.30pm with George Negus (originally 6pm with George Negus).

On Sundays, The Project rates in the 300,000s -- the kind of figures that get expensive locally produced primetime shows axed very quickly under normal circumstances -- and on weeknights it generally attracts national viewing figures in the 400,000s. (The latest figure I have at the time of writing is 462,00 for Monday night.)

Let's rewind to this week last year, when The 7pm Project, as it then was, scored 536,000 viewers on its worst night and 720,000 on its best. Over five days, it averaged 660,000. That's not a huge figure for a night-time show, but it's half as well again as it's doing now.

That same week, Negus was scoring in the high 300,000s and the soon-to-be-axed and subsequently-much-derided Ben Elton Live from Planet Earth scored 491,000 on another network in a later timeslot.

Now, maybe viewers have tired of The Project, but my best guess is that they are sick of it being punted around the schedule, not fussed on getting an hour of it, and prefer their "straight" news from Seven and Nine at 6pm and their "current affairs" from Today Tonight or A Current Affair at 6.30pm.

That seems obvious to me, but then I'm not a highly paid television programmer.

PS Ashton Kutcher fans might want to note that a new Two and a Half Men episode rated 706,000 last night. This time last year, the Charlie Sheen version had 1,057,000 viewers. Who's winning?

Update In announcing half-year results that include a 12pc revenue fall for its television business, Ten CEO Jame Warburton said: "... our performance in the 5pm to 8pm timeslot, including The Project, this year has been pleasing."

The stock market ,a href="http://www.smh.com.au/business/media-and-marketing/ten-tanks-after-profit-downgrade-20120222-1tni7.html" target="new">did not like this news.

Breakfast table is too crowded

Posted February 19th, 2012 by debritz

As Channel Ten prepares to re-enter the breakfast television arena, I ask a question I've asked many times before: Why?

Putting together is a breakfast TV show, as Ten has done, is not only expensive, it would seem to be pointless -- simply because there are not enough viewers to go around the Ten, Seven, Nine and ABC offerings.

As the Sun-Herald reports today, morning shows have very small total audiences -- less than a fifth of the total population tune in at all, and then only for a matter of minutes per week.

Michael Lallo writes:

The Sunday Age commissioned a report from ratings provider OzTAM. It showed that more than 1 million Melburnians watched at least eight minutes of Sunrise, Today or ABC News Breakfast at least once last week. Still, this was dwarfed by the 3 million who heard at least eight minutes of breakfast radio. Nationally, 4 million Australians watched breakfast TV while 10 million listened to radio.

Additionally, morning viewers are not as engaged (because they are getting ready for the day, getting dressed, shouting at kids and preparing school lunches) as those watching prime-time shows. While advertisers don't pay as much for morning ads, they do pay enough, apparently, to sustain the shows and the salaries (and egos) of their stars.

But will that continue as times get tougher - meaning advertisers will start to re-examine the bang they're getting for their buck - and another slice is cut out of the commercial pie?

The Sun-Herald story appears to reach a different conclusion, but I can see no sensible reason for breakfast TV to be a ratings battleground.

Unlike with radio, it doesn't even set up an audience habit for the rest of the day. TV viewers dial-hop much more than radio listeners (despite attempts to thwart them from doing so by having programs overrun their timeslots).

One reason for this is that television has always been seen as an assemblage of different shows, while radio runs a continuous programming theme, be it news-talk or a particular type of music. Another, more practical, reason is that most radio receivers start up on the same station they were last tuned-in to, while many television sets no longer do.

Ten seems to be hitching the success of its Breakfast show to the acceptance of controversial New Zealand broadcaster Paul Henry, whose previous, and only, claim to fame is getting reprimanded for being both juvenile and racist in deliberately mispronouncing the name of an Indian official.

TV's a funny beast and there's a chance the show will work thanks to the PT Barnum observation that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the general public. Or, like The Bolt Report, it may remain on air for reasons other than the popular embrace.

Given the bizarre programming choices made by Ten in recent times (including its failed attempt to turn itself into a news and current affairs powerhouse, and its misguided mucking about with The Project), there's not a lot of cause for confidence that it will get this right.

One thing's for sure: all three stations are disproportionately focusing effort on this timeslot. At least one of the shows will either not exist, or will be significantly altered, by this time next year.

Mind you, having said that, one of the free-to-air networks may not exist in its current form by this time next year. But that's another story.

Poor Baggage handling

Posted February 5th, 2012 by debritz

Feb 7 update: The Nine network has reportedly moved Excess Baggage to its Go! multichannel.

Channel 9's Excess Baggage is reportedly facing the axe, or demotion to digital channel Go!, within a week. Now I know hindsight is a wonderful thing, but EB has presented itself as a textbook example of how to get the creation, marketing and programming of a show terribly, terribly wrong.

The concept probably looked good on paper. The idea was to do to weight-loss programs what Nine had successfully done to the Apprentice format -- spice it up with the addition of once-were and wannabe celebrities. (Genuine celebrities, of course, don't need to go on reality shows.)

The broader plan was for Excess Baggage to be the first of a series of programs, including Big Brother, The Block and a new season of Celebrity Apprentice, that would be "stripped" at 7pm, thus claiming that timeslot and gluing viewers to the station throughout the primetime schedule.

But the problems for Baggage began before it was even screened.

Mistake No. 1: Nine over-egged the show, running an extended "sneak peek" so often that even people well-disposed towards the program would have felt that they'd already seen it. For the rest of us, it just confirmed negative sentiments.

Mistake No. 2: Programming it against the similar, but already well established, The Biggest Loser, thus only ever being able to divide a finite potential audience. Crucially, TBL is a program that viewers don't hate, so why should they jump ship? (Also, as the Seven juggernaut Home And Away is also female-skewed, it placed three shows targetting a similar audience in the same timeslot. Nine should have gone the other way.)

Mistake No. 3: Removing the wildly popular US sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, from the 7pm slot, which it had made its own over the summer. Big Bang repeats were regularly trouncing first-run episodes of other shows on other channels. Nine was on a good thing, and should have stuck to it.

Mistake No. 4: Debuting Excess Baggage in a week when they knew it would be interrupted by the cricket. Of course, Ten cleverly forced Nine's hand there, by launching its 2012 schedule early. I guess that's more a misfortune than a mistake.

Mistake No. 5: Flogging it to death. One night last week, the show ran for 90 minutes. Viewers balk at committing that amount of time to a movie, let alone an untested new show.

New ratings system trialled

Posted January 31st, 2012 by debritz

Commercial Radio Australia has announced changes to the way radio ratings will be gathered and compiled this year.

According to a CAR media release, "The radio industry will start a trial of online data collection for the radio ratings, closely followed by the introduction of a world-first application for tablets and mobile phones, which will allow people to input their listening habits via these devices."

The release said the "innovative approaches" were implemented as a result of recommendations put forward by the its research committee which "has been investigating best practice for listenership audience measurement in a changing digital environment".

“Australian radio has one of the most robust listenership measurement systems in the world but that doesn’t stop us investigating ways to improve it further,” CRA chief executive Joan Warner said. “It also should be remembered that one of radio’s major strengths, its mobility and reach into all situations, conversely provides one of the major challenges for radio audience measurement.”

“Research company, Ipsos, will commence a trial of online data collection in March which will be a supplementary measure to the existing diary system, This will be followed by a world first development of an m.site/application which will allow people to fill in ratings information on tablet devices and mobile phones, which the industry believes will be a unique step forward and one that we are sure will be welcomed by the advertising industry.”

Ms Warner said the first phase of online data collection would begin in Sydney, with a group of 300 people able to enter their radio listening habits online.

The CRA release said the current tender for the radio ratings, held by Neilsen, would expire at the end of next year, and tenders would be called later this year for 2014, "with proposals for online and mobile applications to supplement the paper diaries, to be part of the process".

Comment: I have long said Australia needs a new means of compiling radio ratings. Perhaps this a step in the right direction but it appears to be flawed because it still requires people to fill in their own data. Only when technology can passively record exactly what people are listening to* -- rather than what they say they are or were listening to -- and the survey includes all their listening options -- including community stations and others not currently included in the survey -- can it truly claim any accuracy and authority. This is what advertisers should be pushing for. BD

* In her release, Ms Warner noted that CRA was monitoring developments in this field but "no other electronic device has proved to be reliable enough in terms of data collection to warrant further testing".

Whatever the weather

Posted January 29th, 2012 by debritz

Dear Weather Bureau,

First of all, I would like to genuinely and sincerely thank you for all your hard work in times of disaster, when your skill, your radars and your other technology have warned us of weather emergencies. Without doubt, you have saved countless lives over the years, and you have prevented a great deal of property damage by warning people of violent weather events. Along with many others, I truly value that aspect of your work.

However, isn't it about time you acknowledged that all your training, and your technology, simply does not equip you to predict anything other than an imminent threat?

I know I am not alone in saying that I am sick of seeing "seven-day forecasts" on the TV news, online and in newspapers, that are wildly inaccurate.

Please, can somebody from the Bureau of Meteorology make a clear statement that, by and large, the weather is unpredictable.

Spencer's at South Bank

Posted January 27th, 2012 by debritz


ABC Radio has its first permanent home in Brisbane in five years. 612ABC's top-rating breakfast host Spencer Howson (pictured, above, on the ABC webcam) was the first voice to be heard from the new South Bank studios this morning, when his guests included Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk (below).

Along with other ABC employees, 612, Radio National, News Radio and Triple J staff abandoned the broadcaster's long-time Coronation Drive, Toowong site after the discovery of a "cancer cluster". The local radio staff have spent the past five years in temporary premises at Lissner Street in Toowong, while other ABC employees have been working from different sites in Toowong and on Mt Coot-tha.

You can listen to 612, and see images from the webcam, here.

Update: Howson also welcomed to the new studio veteran ABC announcer Russ Tyson (below, right), and his colleagues Phil Smith, Tim Cox and Kelly Higgins-Devine.

Who wants their FTA?

Posted January 25th, 2012 by debritz

I have been involved in a discussion on Twitter on how much longer free-to-air television will be a force in Australia. I ventured that FTA stations would be in trouble within 10 years if they fail to change their primary emphasis from being distributors of shows produced elsewhere to creating their own content.

Two other people disagreed -- not to my proposition, but to the timing. One said it might not be as soon as 10 years, another said it would be more like 5-8 years when we see the first FTA station fold.

Now, of course, all the FTA networks will deny they are in trouble, but they most certainly are. The fact of the matter is that they don't have a collective monopoly any more; viewers can already access the content they want in many ways other than sitting down in front of a TV set at a designated time.

To use a current example, sure you can get plenty of The Big Bang Theory on Channel Nine and its sister station Go! If you're a fan, though, you can pay for a Foxtel subscription and get even more of it on the Comedy Channel.

Of course, both the FTA and pay-TV options rely on you watching whichever episode they decide to screen when they decide to broadcast it. You can time-shift it to watch later, or maybe stream it on the network's catch-up site, but you can't see it right now. However, if you're a BBT tragic, and you're prepared to take the legal risk, you can download the episodes you want to see when you want to see them. Say you missed a particular episode from series 1, or you want to show your best friend an ep you think they'd enjoy, well it's out there for the picking.

While Hollywood rightly wants to stem the tide of illegal downloading, the genie is already out of the lamp. They can't prosecute everybody who shares torrents, so the only real solution available to content creators is to enable people to download what they want, when they want it - and to make them pay for it.

And, when that happens, as it surely will, the FTA networks (and, to a lesser extent, pay TV) will have lost their biggest earner. Producers will either sell their content directly or through a model similar to iTunes or Amazon's Kindle book store. No role for the TV networks there.

For a short time -- be it five or 10 or 15 years -- FTA will continue play a role in introducing new shows to audiences, but that function will eventually be taken over completely by social media (in whatever form or forms it will take in the future) and other means of peer-to-peer recommendation.

Bottom line: the direct distribution of TV shows will bypass the existing networks, so to survive they will have to ramp-up the production of original content -- be it news, drama, comedy series, reality shows or whatever.

The only way for them to survive will be to sell this original content, or make it available via an advertiser-supported model, on demand.

End of a (brief) era

Posted January 24th, 2012 by debritz

The webcam at the 612 ABC Brisbane's temporary studio in Lissner Street, Toowong, has captured images of its own demise. This series of snapshots appears to culminate with a worker reaching towards the camera to take it down:




612 ABC staff, who have been at Lissner Street for five years, are moving into the new purpose-built State ABC headquarters in South Bank this week.

First to air from the new permanent studio overlooking the Brisbane River will be breakfast host Spencer Howson on Friday morning. Howson will broadcast from the ABC's Sunshine Coast studios on Wednesday morning, and take Australia Day off.

Holding back the tide

Posted January 23rd, 2012 by debritz

This post is brought to you by the television networks who insist on calling repeats "encores".

An encore is a short repeated item or an additional item at the end of a performance. When you just screen something again, it's a repeat.

Oh, and while we're at it:

1) There are no degrees of uniqueness, the word "unique" is unique. Something that is "almost unique" is rare or unusual. If it's unique it's one of a kind. It cannot be "very unique".

2) "Refute" is not a synonym for "deny". If you refute a claim, you prove it to be untrue, you don't just contradict it.

3) If somebody has drowned or has been electrocuted, they are dead. There are no exceptions to this rule.

4) Alternative and alternate don't mean the same thing.

Why are these things important? Because it dilutes our language if we misuse words with specific meanings, and our ability to communicate effectively and efficiently with each other suffers in the process.

We all slip up occasionally but when it comes to the examples above, too many people in the media are repeat offenders. Or, in their language, they like to provide encores of their ignorance.

Breakfast of champions

Posted January 19th, 2012 by debritz

While there's been a lot of talk about the sacking of Nova 106.9's Camilla Severi and further controversy surrounding 2Day's Kyle and Jackie O show, the new kid on the breakfast radio block hasn't had a lot of coverage.

Francis Leach has confirmed on Twitter that his new brekkie show on ABC Grandstand Digital (you'll need to have a DAB+ receiver or use internet streaming to listen) will run Friday to Monday from 6am to 10am AEDT.

It starts on February 3.

While I'm well in favour of variety on radio, and I wish Francis and his team good luck, I do have one modest proposal: that instead of a sport report every hour after the news, there's an arts and entertainment report. Surely this is well in keeping with the ABC charter -- and I'd be happy to lend a hand in creating it!

Ahoy there! Meet the pirates

Posted January 19th, 2012 by debritz

Taking something that isn't yours is illegal. We all know that; we learn it from a very young age. But not one of us isn't guilty of theft in some form or another, be it by accidentally taking home a pen that belongs to your employer or downloading a movie or television program from the internet.

It's the latter case that's been causing a stir recently, in the context of American "anti-piracy" legislation.

But why do people download content from the internet when they know it's illegal? I have no doubt that for many people it's simply because they can, and they figure that there's no point in paying for something you can get for free.

But what if you went to a shop and there was no checkout counter, or no staff to take your money? Would you do? Return the goods to the shelf, or take them anyway, reasoning that you had tried to pay for them but couldn't?

When I lived in Thailand, there were certain western TV programs I wanted to watch but simply could not obtain by any legal, paid means. Sure I could buy any movie I wanted from the stalls operating openly along Sukhumvit and Silom roads -- including titles that hadn't even screened at cinemas yet -- but they were all pirated anyway. So while I would have paid, none of my money would have gone to the creators of the product.

My other option would have been to download shows from the internet -- cutting out the middle man. That's something I would have gladly paid to do, just as I have gladly paid for songs over iTunes. But there was, and still is, no legal means of me doing so, in Thailand or in many other countries -- largley because of the deals the content makers have made with broadcasters and exhibitors.

I could have easily rationalised any act of 'piracy', especially since most of the shows I wanted to see are screened in Australia on the ABC, which is funded by the Australian taxpayer -- and that's a group that's included me for a very long time.

My point is that this is not a black-and-white issue. The only real first step to eradicating or minimising piracy is to make paid content available globally, directly and on-demand to those who want it.

Camilla: Wrong place, wrong time?

Posted January 18th, 2012 by debritz

It's always easy to be wise after the event, and I guess there's been a lot of learned discussion inside and outside Nova 106.9 about the events that led to the sacking of Camilla Severi from the station's breakfast program earlier this week.

One of the reasons given in the past few days is that Nova's audience did not warm to Severi. Interestingly, Nova knew that would be the case back in August after they'd poached her from rival station B105.

How do I know they knew? Because I took a snapshot of the comments stream Nova was publishing on its own website back then (see beow).

I wondered at the time why Nova published all this negativity, and I wondered then -- as I do now -- how come Nova didn't know that Severi was not a good fit for their audience before they poached her. This could have been discovered by doing some simple research among their listeners about attitudes to various on-air personalities.

Those into conspiracy theories might suggest, as somebody did on Twitter, that hiring Severi was not designed to help Nova but to hurt B105. But if that's the case, why was she on air for the second half of last year and why, as late as last week, was she being promoted as being one of Nova's 2012 breakfast team? And who intervened to stop her going to air on Monday?

It's a very unfortunate set of circumstances for Nova, and especially so for Severi, whose only "crime" was that she was, apparently, the wrong person for that particular job all along.

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