Monday, February 26, 2007

Skyless

Sky is taking it all the way. Having rattled its sabre and asked for a big pile of cash it will soon strip 3.3m Virgin Media customers of Sky One and Sky News, as well as a few other channels.

It's playing hard ball, but ultimately a huge mistake by Sky. It is another example of showing itself to be a bully in the market place using strong-arm tactics to get its own way.

It has already derailed a Virgin Media takeover of ITV by snapping up a stake in its terrestrial rival (for which it could still face an Ofcom probe) and now it seems to think it can win the multichannel war by depriving Virgin Customers. That, or it really does think it should get more money.

Sky claims this morning that it has increased investment in its basic channels by 68% over the last five years to around £200m a year and, as a consequence, the most-watched pay TV programmes in cable households are on the Sky basic channels.

"We are simply seeking a fair price so that we can continue to provide the great shows and choice that Virgin Media customers value."

It hopes that by denying Virgin Media customers of services like Sky One and with it hit shows such as 'Lost', '24', 'The Simpsons' and 'Battlestar Galactica', people will switch suppliers.

It is apparently set to capitalise on this with an advertising campaign this week reminding Virgin Media customers what they are missing out on.

I've no doubt it will hit home as Sky's US imports are some of the best on television, but are they really the draw they once were?

The answer to this question is yes and no. I think yes for a small group of people who will go to lengths to watch it, but for the majority I think they will probably find themselves getting along just fine without it.

For the small group who really can't live without maybe some of them will dump Virgin and move to Sky, but for the others they can just watch it on the web where it isn’t even all that illegal anymore.

There are lots of sites now offering entire episodes of just aired US TV shows free to watch and you don't even have to download it.

The Guardian helpfully ran a nice big feature about this on Saturday. Telling people of the wonders of sites like Alluc.org, which lists the places you can go and watch these shows. You don't need Sky.

"I'm breaking up with my DVD rental service. We've had good times, we've had sad times, even a stressful week where I had to sign two forms detailing the location of the post box used to return Seinfeld, but it's over. I've found Alluc.org.

"Here, in pleasing slate tones, are the links to every television programme you could ever hope to see (Lost, Ugly Betty, Dragon's Den), many you'll go out of your way to avoid (Red Dwarf US, Coupling, Joey) and entire seasons of shows yet to air in this country - many featuring characters from Friends. Enjoy Chandler as Matt Albie in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip - could he be more stressed about writing a sketch comedy show?"

Admittedly the quality is not great, but really it’s good enough, and besides shows are coming to DVD faster than ever. You can even buy the box set when it’s out for the glossy finish.

I've already tried some of these services because I'm impatient and really can't wait, and I know many others who have done so as well.

My main TV addiction is 'Battlestar Galactica, which I have already mentioned on this blog before (why does no one listen?), which is the best thing on TV. A mix between 'Alien', 'The West Wing' and 'Blade Runner', with quality parenting like that you can't really go wrong.

I digress, slightly, I might have several years ago thought about dumping Virgin or Telewest as it was, but not anymore.

I've got a Virgin Plus digital video recorder on the way and really for the time I spend watching TV there is plenty to see.

I stopped watching 'Lost' after it moved to Sky, but that wouldn't even be a problem. Virgin has signed 'Lost' as a download. So even for 'Lost' fans who are not all the technologically au fait with the PC they can still watch that show (why you would, I'm not sure – nothing happens).

The new Brand Republic website has now launched and in future you will be able to find this blog here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Grazia for men

More news that Emap might launch a Grazia for men. Is it just me or will this magazine die a horrible death?

Marketing reports that Emap has fuelled speculation that it is to launch a men's fashion weekly in the style of Grazia following a record ABC for the women's title.

All true. Grazia did really well. Its title posted a 20% period-on-period increase in circulation to 210,200 in the six months to December giving it a 23% year-on-year rise.

Okay, but a men's mag? Even the teenage weeklies Zoo and Nuts suffered a little fall. Clearly Emap is undeterred, Rob Munro-Hall, managing director of FHM, Zoo and Arena, said the venture was something it was "looking at".

Okay so Grazia is an upmarket (read inspirational title) for the thirtysomething career girl, with ten pages of news (which it clearly prides itself on) and with a fashion bent. Yes it has stars but these are stars like Madonna and Jennifer Aniston. You won't find Jade Goody here.

I don't see the men's title working...grooming, fashion, how to buff up and with a upmarket celebrity bent? That's a perfect gay man's title. I'm guessing here.

 Besides, there used to be an upmarket men's title with a grooming and fashion title. It was called Arena. You want to know what happened to that? Well it sacked its editor last week after it reported a period-on-period decline of 13.9% to 34,556 copies. The year-on-year figures were a 29.9% drop of a car crash. The future of Arena looks like a Ken Loach movie. Really bleak.

No surprise. Look at the latest cover? That's right it is desperately trying to look like every other men's mag with a generous helping of female flesh on the front cover.

I know, I've banged on about this before, but it looks like I won't be doing it for much longer. Inside they have a big feature on Simon Pegg's new movie. It is the thing everyone has been talking about, but no - instead they have Eva Longoria of 'Desperate Housewives (yawn)'. All very desperate.

Kanute Gazette

Stop the web someone wants to get off. Clearly all is going well with the new owners of the Press Gazette. They've hired King Kanute to advise on digital strategy.

One of their first ideas has been to post stuff later on the web, get this - people are reading it there and not buying a copy of the title.

Who would have thunk it? Those sneaky people with their web habits, stop that right now! It's the diary section that's the problem. Not to worry, Press Gazette's new owners Wilmington Media have come up with the idea of posting it four days later.

A message from Axegrinder

“Shocking but true: certain sections of Axegrinder's loyal following are reading this section of the web site on a Thursday and Friday to save dipping their hands in their pockets to buy a copy of Press Gazette.

To overcome this shameful practice, Axegrinder will now be posted here on Mondays. So if you want to find out who is being subjected to the most up-to-date Axegrindings, you have four choices: subscribe to the print edition, by clicking here; subscribe to the digital edition by clicking here; go and buy a copy from your newsagent; or wait until Monday, and be the last to know

It’s a valiant effort to turn back the tide. Next up, news will feature with a slight delay.

Elsewhere on the site is the Press Gazette Blog, which has one entry posted since November 24. The most recent entry posted 11 days ago has a knock at the Observer about claiming "that it was one of the first Sunday newspapers to stick a story up on the internet rather than save it for the paper on Sunday".

The Press Gazette's answer to this is "We've been banging out web breaking news as well print exclusives for years”. Yes, but you can only get around to blogging about it once every couple of weeks. Did someone say pot kettle?

Amway, back at the ranch this as we prepare to launch Brand Republic with its new, revamped and totally free to access look, with most content published in the likes of Campaign, Marketing and Media Week.

And I promise there will be blogs a plenty among many other things.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Formula

It was a bloody day in the men's market and the writing is clearly on the wall for some.

Never before have we seen such serious plunges in the glossy men's magazine market, with falls of close to 30% for Loaded, Maxim and FHM.

Emap's FHM fell to 371,263 copies, a year-on-year fall of 25.9%. It was worse still for rivals. Loaded was down 29.9% to 162,554, making it the biggest loser and Dennis Publishing's monthly Maxim was down to 131,497 copies, a drop of 29.3%.

Even the boys weeklies suffered a little. What it seemed to suggest is that finally the bottom has literally fallen out of the market.

Clearly, it isn't all about readers suddenly tiring of the acres of flesh and the paucity of ideas that these magazines display week in and week out, but that has to be part of it.

The internet has played a part in the downfall of these magazines, but I don’t think that it should be overstated.

There is a desperate need for an injection of new ideas into the men's market and I am not talking about the launch of e-magazines such as the Dennis-owned Monkey, which slips even further downmarket than its printed rivals and whose survival is dependent on the amount of flesh it features. The trouble with Monkey is that its readers are those who do not have access to their parent's credit cards.

Maybe this is part of the reason why Dennis is to sell off Maxim. Perhaps, having looked at the title it has no ideas whatsoever to do with it.

It will be interesting to see who buys it. Whoever snaps it up will not get it cheap and the task ahead is not small. The title needs to be relaunched and shunted in a new direction, otherwise it will close.

The same is true for Loaded, but with a title so dedicated to... well being loaded, it is difficult to change course.

These magazines are like big ships, changing direction takes a long time and it is not necessarily something they can do easily.

FHM clearly has a little more time, but for a magazine that once sold around 700,000 it is a shadow of its former self. The editor Ross Brown has already lost his job and where that title goes is a huge worry for Emap, which has already closed the title down in the US.

This all brings us back to Emap's talked of men's version of the all conquering Grazia: an intelligent men's magazine. It sounds almost like an oxymoron (OK, I know there is GQ, but there are only so many Piers Morgan articles you can read) and maybe it is.

Look at Emap's ailing rival Arena. That has in its past been described as an upmarket men's title. And you know what happened to that, don't you? That's right, it is also down 29.9% year on year to just 34,556 copies. The editor got the chop yesterday and the title itself can not be long for this world.

Grazia for men? Good luck with that one. That rumour started doing the rounds last year and has popped again over the last week. Amusingly it has been dubbed "Project Dizzy". Dizzy trying to work out how they can make it work without Emap losing its shirt.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Halifax, Mars, Enjoy England

Will someone please stop those singing Halifax ads? I would appeal directly to the singing agency, aka Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners, but that would only fall on deaf ears.

The latest Halifax extravaganza, with its singing employees ads, might have added a bit of soul but it doesn’t have one.

I know it isn't just me, lots of other people feel the same. It’s pure Bernard Matthews, all turkey.

It isn't even the first time they've done it. There have been numerous casualties in this campaign. Do you remember when DLKW took Glen Campbell song, 'Rhinestone Cowboy' and gave it to Barry from Halifax in Belfast? I do

This time, it is Natalie Webster from a Sheffield branch, but the familiar face of Howard is there also.

Singing about your current account ("think about your current account") is just wrong and this is wrong writ large with 300 extras with 70 trained dancers.



I'm just waiting for someone to tell me that the great unwashed (as opposed to the great unshaved who like to shoot ads in South Africa, where this one was shot) love this ad and it drives customer acquisition like nothing you've ever seen.

Even if that's the case I don’t care, I think they should stop and spare us all. I think the next challenge for DLKW is to make a silent ad. Either that or transfer to the West End.

Talking of music in ads as we were... well sort of, I wanted to mention the Mars Bar spot that's been running. It has a guy eating a bar, walking down a street to New Order's Blue Monday.

It is a completely random, completely spurious use of the song and a waste. Why New Order allowed it in the first place is beyond me. If it was an interesting ad, you could understand that, but it is bland and dull.



Still on music, I'm doing a round up, and wanted to mention the “Enjoy England” campaign created by Farm Communications. I know its been running for a while, but I thought it was a great example of the right song for the right ad.

The song in question is The Jam's ‘English Rose’, a great tune and it works really well, hand in hand with the ad’s brief to inspire consumers to discover surprising holidays in England's urban, rural and coastal destinations. I'm off.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Torture image

The US military is irked. They say that special agent Jack Bauer of '24' fame and his interrogation methods are giving it a bad name. They want Jack (played by Kiefer Sutherland) to cut out the rough stuff.

Apparently slapping around the bad guys is not how the US military wants to be seen. Jack, of course, has shot, suffocated, electrocuted and drugged suspects. He tells them things such as "You are going to tell me what I want to know - it's just a matter of how much you want it to hurt."

Of course, you have to say these things to get the job done and save the city of Los Angeles (I guess he's still trying to save LA, I haven’t watched it since season 2).

The US top brass are taking it seriously enough to send a Brigadier General, Patrick Finnegan, to meet with producers at the Fox-produced show to put across their message that the methods shown in '24' are having an impact on troops in the field and on America's reputation abroad.

Clearly, the US is not so worried about its secret CIA detention centres in Eastern Europe, used for unlucky terrorists or for those who made it to Abu Ghraib or the Caribbean luxury of Gitmo. It is reported that more than 700 investigations have been carried out by the US Army involving prisoner abuse and 25 detainees have died in American custody.

According to the New Yorker magazine, Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, who teaches at elite US military Academy West Point course on the laws of war, said of the producers: "I'd like them to stop. They should do a show where torture backfires... The kids see it and say, 'If torture is wrong, what about 24'?

"The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do."

Also involved in the campaign to force a change is campaigning body Human Rights First, which has launched a campaign against torture real and TV torture.

According to HRF, post 9/11 torture on TV is on the rise. No surprise, really, that the number of shows dealing with it has risen, from the likes of 'Spooks', the David Mamet produced 'The Unit' on Bravo, 'The E-Ring', 'Sleeper Cell' and the critically acclaimed remake of 'Battlestar Galactica', which has had torture and suicide bombers, with The Guardian saying it is the "only award-winning drama that dares tackle the war on terror".

David Danzig of HRF, said: "I think there is no question [it is having an effect]. We have spoken to soldiers with experience in Iraq who say, for young soldiers, there is a direct relationship between what they are doing in their jobs and what they see on TV... It's the same abroad. The image of the US and its military [being involved in torture] is being affirmed."

This week, the New Yorker features a story about Joel Surnow, the show's creator and a self-described "right-wing nut". Not only was Surnow visited by Finnegan, but by three top military and FBI interrogators.

Gary Solis, a retired law professor at West Point, told the New Yorker that his students would frequently refer to Jack Bauer in discussions of what permissible in the questioning of terrorist suspects.

"Jack Bauer is a criminal. In real life, he would be prosecuted." Yet Solis said the motto of many of his students was identical to Jack Bauer's: "Whatever it takes."

The Los Angeles Times reports that, after the meeting with Finnegan and the interrogators, '24' executive producer Howard Gordon has been filmed "for a Humans Rights First video" about torture that is expected to be used next autumn at West Point. Surnow, however, would not participate in the film. What right-wing nut would?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Paper chase

A fresh war of words has broken out between Associated and News International.

In a statement issued this morning, Associated, which publishes the Evening Standard and London Lite, dismissed claims by rival thelondonpaper as misleading.

It is calling thelondonpaper irresponsible for increasing its print run because of the rubbish that it is creating. It might have a point, but they've both recently been hit by rubbish claims (insert some joke in here about the content).

The two freesheets could face a clampdown after complaints from Westminster City Council about the rubbish generated by the two titles' distribution network in the capital. Apparently, Westminster City Council says an extra three tonnes of waste has been produced daily since. Three tons? I hope that's all for the recycle bin.

"Thelondonpaper has been totally irresponsible in increasing its print run by 100,000 when it is clear that many of the existing free papers are being dumped on the streets, and London boroughs are calling for both newspaper groups to resolve the litter problem caused.

"Increasing distribution is meaningless, unless there is an increase in demand. The most likely outcome of this latest increase in free papers is an increase in litter."

OK, fair enough, but then we really get down to it, Associated claims that recent research it carried out, through Other Lines Of Enquiry, showed that its London Lite is the favoured free afternoon paper, with some 58% of thelondonpaper's readers preferring London Lite.

"London Lite continues to satisfy genuine demand, and executives at the paper are working closely with local councils to maximise recycling and resolve the litter problems."

Associated is clearly rattled and maybe with good reason. In the ABCs last week, News International's thelondonpaper continued to lead in the afternoon circulation war, distributing 436,436 compared with Associated's 400,977 copies of London Lite handed out on the streets of the capital.

That's not all. What this is really about is The London Evening Standard. While the ABCs showed it had bounced back in January (only from December, which is less than a real newspaper month), up 5.1% to sales of 276,562, it remains down year on year by 14.1%.

We that it is really about this as Associated tells us so with the rest of its statement that slates thelondonpaper.

"Furthermore, it is absurd for thelondonpaper to compare itself with the Evening Standard, just as it would be if it tried to compare itself to any of the other quality paid for newspapers. It is like comparing a junk snack with a gourmet meal! [Their exclamation marks, I should add.]

"The Evening Standard sets the agenda for London. It is read by opinion formers, people of influence and ideas. It reaches more AB adults then any other daily paper in London -- just the people advertisers want to reach."

If that wasn't enough, Associated has launched an ad campaign this week for the Standard that hits at thelondonpaper even move. It has someone exiting a Tube and dropping it through the gap.

Irked much? I guess so.

UPDATE: Did I say rattled? News International has just put this statement out in response.

"The Standard are clearly rattled. It's a desperate act to cast aspersions on free newspapers, when Associated own both Metro and Lite. Does this suggest a long-term future for Lite? Londoners are deserting the Standard in droves, with 28% less buying the paper in January than in the previous year*. The ABC shows that twice as many people are now picking up thelondonpaper as buying the Standard."

*(Source: ABC Jan 2007 Vs. Jan 2006 net circ excl. bulks).

Monday, February 12, 2007

Primeval'ish

ITV1 scored pretty well on the first outing of 'Primeval' on Saturday with 7m viewers, but it's got its work cut out and little to time to make an impact.

The big-spend ad campaign, created by M&C Saatchi, paid off by pulling the viewers in, but there are lots of problems for the ITV show, which it hopes will take on the all conquering revival of 'Doctor Who'.

It is so clearly a copy in some cases, but like a lot of knock-offs, it doesn't quite match the original. There is a Doctor (Douglas Henshall), an assistant and even a Captain Jack-type guy (James Murray) who is all good looks, but not quite the charm.



The effects for 'Primeval', created by the 'Walking with Dinosaurs' creators, were patchy and better in suspense, when we saw small glimpses, than full on. And, oh, you can apparently kill one of these giants by ramming it with a 4x4 and a single clip of an SMG. Another reason to ban those things (Chelsea tractors, that is).

The biggest problems were some of the acting. Henshall wasn't bad as the lead, but the rest were lacking. Worst offender by a country marathon and more still was Ben Miller as an oily home office type (babbling about the CAP?! True Parma ham). He was absolutely awful and it really pulled the whole thing down. Pray that a dinosaur takes him out with a single bite.

The main problem was. It was a little too much drama by numbers. The cute little flying dinosaur for the kids: check. Sexy Home Office babe (Claudia Brown) for the blokes: check. Rugged scientist type for the women (Henshall): check, plus some other male totty in the shape of Murray.

Clearly there are budget considerations at ITV, they have only committed to six episodes and when they went back through the fracture in time they sent Henshall and one special forces type guy. Clearly, if it hadn't been for Afghanistan, Iraq and other assorted hellholes they could have spared a couple more men.

Sadly, other than 'Doctor Who' it is just further confirmation that when it comes to sci-fi, we're lacking. Or maybe just lacking practice... it can only get better.

It received mixed reviews with some slating it, but both the Observer and the Guardian seemed to like it. Nancy Banks-Smith admitted to being "tickled pink by Primeval". Clearly it was doing something right.