Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Express this

Some people shouldn't be allowed to own national newspapers. Richard Desmond is one of those.

Yesterday's decision to cut 35 jobs – including the entire City desk – is further evidence of this.

Former porn baron Desmond seems to be using the paper as a cash cow and pension fund. Last year, he received £27.2m in payouts and pension funds from the Express Group.

This week, he cuts 35 staff to ensure the "company remains in a sound financial position"!

No seriously, that's what group editorial director Paul Ashford told staff.

"We need to act quickly to ensure that the company remains in a sound financial position and circulations can continue to be supported.

"Very regrettably, this may mean approximately 30 to 35 redundancies across the editorial department plus tighter controls on freelance costs and contribution budgets."

The City desk could probably explain to Desmond that if you take out almost £30m out of the business, things are not going to be so financially sound.

Solution? Sack the entire City desk and replace it with Press Association copy. It's a first for a national newspaper: a title without a City desk.

The Express has been shoddy for years, this is just another nail in its coffin. In the latest ABC figures, the title dropped 1.27% to 818,942, but its six-month average circulation fall was sharper, down by 4.80%.

My guess is that in the not-too-distant future, Desmond will sell the Express after he has taken out of it all that he can.

Earlier in the month, the Daily Express dismissed six trainee journalists just one month into their two-year contracts following "a re-evaluation of the group's internet strategy".

Errr which one is that?

Low Five

Jane Lighting didn't pull her punches in parting company with Dan Chambers.

Five's chief executive praised him with "Dan has done a good job" before sticking the knife in with "we now need a creative director with the skills and expertise to run a portfolio of channels".

Sorry Dan that isn't you, seems to be the subtext. Five has done a lot to move itself on from its early days of football, soft porn and movies.

It does have some quality programming from the US with the likes of 'Gray's Anatomy' and 'House', which put it firmly in Channel 4's back yard. Then it has the likes of its cop related slate of 'CSI' and 'NCIS'.

But, unlike C4, it hasn't ever really made the jump to producing much in the way of quality drama that way C4 has with 'Shameless', 'Black Books' and 'Green Wing'.

However, it is starting to do more and has a new backpacker drama, 'Tripping Over', starting this week from 'Cold Feet' writer Mike Bullen. Being something of a first, and funded by Chambers with the cash saved from axing lame soap 'Family Affairs', it has had some good write-ups.

Sadly, according to Media Guardian despite a largely positive critical reaction it debuted last night with an underwhelming 900,000 viewers and a 5% share between 10pm and 11pm, according to unofficial overnights.

Shame, but if you will tuck it away at 10pm then really, what do you expect?

Other than that, there is increasingly little to distinguish C4 and Five. They both rely on reality programming with Five filling up on the likes of 'The Farm', 'Make Me a Supermodel' and 'Back to Reality'. Not quite 'Big Brother'.

Five also rivals C4 on the home and gardens front, as well with its slew of house related programming, which is also pretty indistinguishable.

Maybe that is the problem. Maybe that is why Five's annual audience share has notably fallen since its high of 6.6% in 2004, and is now down to 5.8% this year.

Time to strike out. Its just-launched digital channels, Five US and Five Life, should give it some scope to do that.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Whistle Dixie

NBC has banned spots promoting the documentary about the Dixie Chicks slating President Bush.

The major US TV network, owned by General Electric, said the ban was part of its policy of barring ads that dealt with "public controversy".

The documentary, 'Shut Up & Sing', has also been banned by the new CW network, created out of the Warner/UPN merger.

The film documents the incident in London back in March 2003 when the Dixie Chicks' said they were "ashamed" to come from the same state as President George W. Bush. That's harsh on the Lone Star state.

Ironically, Bush doesn't even come from Texas. The whole thing is a myth he comes from Connecticut. He is a god to honest Connecticut Yankee. He tried to get into Texas State to do Law, but they wouldn't take him. He went to Harvard instead...wonder how he got in there? Later he became Texas governor and that ranch he's always pictured hanging around? He bought it five minutes before he entered the Whitehouse. He's about as cowboy as I am.

'Shut Up & Sing', directed by Cecilia Peck and Oscar winner Barbara Kopple, offers a behind-the-scenes look at the backlash sparked by Maines' anti-Bush outburst in 2003.

Maines later said she was sorry for "disrespecting the office of the president" but fanned flames anew when she retracted her apology in a Time magazine interview this year, saying: "I don't feel he is owned any respect whatsoever".

The banned ad features the moment when lead singer Natalie Maines opened her mouth and got the whole "ashamed" band wagon rolling.

If it hadn't have been for her anti war remarks, and the subsequent banning of their music by conservative country music stations, they would have probably quietly slipped away as their sub Shania Twain country pop career ran its course.

It isn't as if their subsequent post 2003 career has been one where they penned some great 'Born in the USA' type anti war songs. They haven't.

There have been some of these, but they have come from people of substance, such as Willie Nelson who penned one for Christmas 2004.

Their career might be sustained for another ten minutes with this latest controversy as the film's distributor, the Weinstein Company says it's looking at "exploring taking legal action" to fight this political censorship by NBC and CW.

And it probably is a case of political censorship, no doubt about it, but Harvey Weinstein is over egging a little with his statement about "a group of courageous entertainers who were blacklisted for exercising their right of free speech".

Mmm, courageous entertainers who are just out for a buck like everyone else, more like, including the likes of Harvey Weinstein who is renowned for aggressive marketing tactics. Another cheap publicity ploy? Probably.

Ironic bit nunmber two: this is the same network that for seven years gave us the 'West Wing', possibly one of the best shows ever written, that year in and year out detail the life of the best democratic liberal president that America never had.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Weiland '66

Paul Weiland is destined to be stood up. Having made a very funny film about next to no one attending his Bar Mitzvah, one of his stars Helena Bonham-Carter was a no-show for the UK premier of 'Sixty Six'.

Weiland, best known for directing some of the glossiest commercials around from the Guardian classic “points of view” to Walkers Crisps, has made a true(ish) story out of what was intended to be the biggest day of his young life as his Bar Mitzvah loomed.

 With 250 guests planned and a lavish dinner, it was to be a Bar Mitzvah of Bar Mitzvahs. If only England hadn't come from nowhere to win the World Cup in 1966.

In the end, 23 guests turned up. Even the caterer cancelled. At least it left him with a good story to tell, which he apparently did at his 50th birthday two years ago. Luckily Richard Curtis was in the audience and suggested turning the story into a film and a rather good one it is too.

Sadly its UK premiere at the London Film Festival had to go ahead without one of its stars because Bonham-Carter's 2 and a half year old sold broke his arm.

It isn't Weiland's first film. There is 'Roseanna's Grave' and 'City Slickers II', but this is likely to be his best received. Its funny, has that universal ring and is reminiscent of John Boorman's 'Hope and Glory', but with bombs swapped for footballs.

'Sixty Six' also stars Eddie Marsan, Stephen Rea, Catherine Tate and introduces Gregg Sulkin as 'Bernie' aka the young Paul Weiland.

'Sixty Six' is at cinemas from November 3rd and you can watch the trailer here.

Stem this

Michael J Fox's hard hitting ad in stem cell research is shaking up the US mid term elections. It is quite hard to watch, but very hard hitting.

Fox and the Democrats who is supporting are under fire from the all the usual suspects from Catholic Church and anti-abortionists and George W Bush as well who vetoed a bill supporting research earlier this year.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Laughable ITV

Pot kettle, kettle black means nothing to ITV. Otherwise it would realise how laughable it looks for it to tell Channel 4 it is being dragged downmarket.

This from the channel that gave us 'Rock Around the Block', 'Hit Me Baby One More Time' and 'Celebrity Wrestling', which had to be pulled from its primetime slot halfway through its eight-week run and put to the sword after attracting only 2m viewers.

None of this has stopped ITV accusing Channel 4 of relying on too few show formats to bolster its audience share, and going downmarket.

Firstly too few formats? Just one word: 'X-Factor'/'Pop Stars/ the Rivals'/'Pop Idol'/A N Other derivative format. Oh and of course 'Celebrity (will they shag) Love Island'. Proper posh, all of it. Then isn't the rest of the ITV schedule just full of the 'The Bill', 'Coronation Street' and 'Emmerdale'?

Marketing reported that Gary Digby, managing director of ITV Sales, made the claims to media agencies during the current “upfront” agency presentations, which precede the annual round of TV negotiations.

Digby apparently claimed that 'Deal or No Deal', which accounts for 10% of C4's impacts, has dragged the channel's profile downmarket. Mike Parker, head of strategic sales for C4, admitted that some programmes delivered a disproportionate volume of impacts, but said that the channel had a diverse schedule.

Digby also said that new programmes have caused Channel 4's share to plummet this autumn. 'Star Stories' was singled out as the worst-performing show ever in the 9pm Friday night slot, which is a bit harsh, seeing as how the show is a very funny celebrity spoof.

Again just two words: 'Celebrity Wrestling'. Well, ITV knows something about ratings disasters. Although it does the business on Saturday night, as far as I know there is nothing on ITV on Friday nights.

Warzones ban

Bad news. The Ministry of Defence has banned Britain's biggest commercial news broadcaster ITV from frontline.

According to a report in The Times the government has withdrawn cooperation from ITV News in warzones after accusing it of inaccurate and intrusive reports about the fate of wounded soldiers.

There has been a storm brewing recently and the government has been taking it on all fronts, with stories about casualty reports being suppressed in Helmland, warnings of defeat in Afghanistan by senior staff officers and others of troops being mistreated in civilian hospitals back in the UK. Not good.

This only makes things worse. Did a spin doctor come off their axis? While it might feel justified this is the equivalent of putting a sign on the door and saying: this is going badly.

The Times says that the first casualty is ITV’s planned trip to Afghanistan to cover troops marking Remembrance Sunday. Usually a moment in the news cycle when the government can rely of some positive coverage.

ITV sources said last night that the trip had been cancelled because of the row with the MoD.

David Mannion, the head of ITV News, is reported to have written to the MoD and asked for an explanation. He also sent a copy of the letter to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, a move that is likely to drag Tony Blair into the dispute.

Trouble kicked off last week after ITV broadcast reports showing how British soldiers wounded during the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are treated when arriving back home.

This has been a PR disaster that the government has let happen. The Sun has been all over this as well, as has the Daily Mail. They've both been running campaigns to improve the care of injured troops with stories such as that in The Sun yesterday exposing "the shambolic security that forced Tony Blair to set up a military ward" exclusively for injured troops.

The ITV reports are said to have topped the agenda at a meeting between ministers, including the Defence Secretary Des Browne, and military chiefs.

MoD sources told The Times that there was concern about images showing identifiable wounded servicemen arriving at Birmingham airport by night. It has been suggested that no permission was obtained from the men and that their families may have been caused distress.

ITV only broadcast later scenes from Headley Court, the MoD's state-of-the art rehabilitation centre where seriously injured personnel are taken. The MoD has accused ITV of a "hatchet job".

In an email to ITV the MoD’s director of news, James Clark, said: "As bad a hatchet-job as I’ve seen in years. Cheap shots all over the place, no context, no reasonable explanation. Like the Daily Star in moving pictures. If giving ITN detailed exposure to our people, lengthy briefing and open access results in this, then I dread to think how your editors and producers would look to exploit access to our people in theatres (of war), or our chiefs and ministers."

That email omitted any specific details of perceived errors.

Following that, the MoD ceased cooperation with ITV by withdrawing access to "embeds", the much-sought placements for reporters with battlefield units.

Mark Wood, chief executive of ITN, which produces ITV News, told The Times: "We are not happy about the way it has been handled. They [the MoD] have objected to some of our coverage but we haven’t quite worked out what the repercussions are. We welcome any criticism particularly if it is pointing to factual errors or inaccuracies. What we have had is criticism of our coverage which has not actually gone into any detail of what is factually wrong."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Media loons

In case you missed the email exchange, which was sparked Julie Burchill's letter to the Sunday Times Letters page, responding to a India Knight column last Sunday defending the wearing of the veil, which annoyed Julie Burchill no end and prompted her to send an open letter suggesting India visit a mosque "after covering your filthy female head in the Islamist fashion, of course, and spread your glad tidings that 'Muslims are the new Jews'. You'd be lucky to get out alive."

To: letters@sunday-times.co.uk
From: Julie Burchill

Dear India Knight,
I dare you to walk into any mosque - after covering your filthy female head in the Islamist fashion, of course - and spread your glad tidings that "Muslims are the new Jews."
You'll be lucky if you get out alive.
Yours sincerely,
PS: I see that your new book is a compilation of 'dirty bits' from novels. I'd love to know how this fits in with your new found love of feminine modesty and discretion.

To: Julie Burchill
From: India Knight

Oh, for fuck's sake. I don't have a "newfound love of modesty and discretion" - I just don't despise people on the basis of what they wear.

To: India Knight
From: Julie Burchill

What, not even the working class slags in crop tops you're forever slagging off, you hypocritical snob?

To: Julie Burchill
From: India Knight

I do NOT slag off working class people in crop tops, you fucking loon. Where? When? Why would I slag them off? I am many things but I am not a snob. God, you're driving me mad. Go away.

To: India Knight
From: Julie Burchill

I wrote to the letters page, not YOU, you stalking cretin. Why dont you fuck off and turn yet another of your husbands gay?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Fat spoof

Religious fervour has been rumbling at The Express towers since the news broke that the Daily Star planned a spoof Islamic editorial piece, called the Daily Fatwa.

The inflammatory page six mock-up didn't see the light of day, and was pulled by deputy editor Ben Knowles at the last minute, in favour of an article about the Seven Wonders of the World. Needless to say, Jordan's breasts featured.

Intent on doing its bit for race relations, the Daily Fatwa featured a "Page 3 Burkha Babes Special", a reader competition to "burn a flag, win a Corsa", and most soberingly of all, a leader column headed "Allah is Great", entirely blank save for a censored stamp. "No news, no goss, no fun" was the page's strapline.

The NUJ chapel intervened late on Tuesday night once the news filtered through about the Daily Star's intentions, and issued this statement: "The chapel fears that this editorial content poses a very serious risk of violent and dangerous reprisals from religious fanatics who may take offence at these articles. This may place staff in great jeopardy."

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear, was more pointed: "This was an outrageous and hugely irresponsible idea which fortunately our chapel courageously resisted and, in so doing, protected both the paper and its staff from possible serious repercussions."

Staff at the Daily Star reportedly threatened to walk out if the Daily Fatwa article had been printed, showing the high level of emotion the issue has raised.

Had the Daily Star gone ahead with its Daily Fatwa piece, the consequences -- at least in the UK -- could have been as severe as the reaction to the Islamic cartoons, which were published by a Danish newspaper at the beginning of the year.

The editor of Muslim News, Ahmed Versi, agrees: "This would have created a huge, huge backlash and outcry. I'm quite sure there would have been huge demonstrations outside the paper by the weekend and internationally."

It makes you wonder exactly what would have happened outside Express Towers had the NUJ not intervened. The Daily Star's sister title, The Express, hasn't shied from jumping on the Islamaphobia bandwagon recently either. Yesterday's Express led with the results of a reader poll, which found that 98% of responders backed a total ban on the wearing of veils by Muslim women.

Of course, the issue wouldn't be so fervent hadn't Commons Leader Jack Straw recently told the press of his dislike of veils being worn by Muslim women. The issue isn't likely to abate any time soon. Come back Princess Di front pages, all is forgiven.

Corporate life

Business are turning to virtual world Second Life to use it as a three-dimensional test bed.

Corporate marketers, including Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Sun Microsystems, Nissan, Adidas/Reebok, Toyota and Starwood Hotels are already on board.

Earlier this week we reported that Reuters were opening up shop, and Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Leo Burnett already have virtual space.

Is it just me or is Second Life, which started out more as a video game in 1999, where people can choose to look like pretty much whatever they like (a beautiful babe or a dragon), becoming a bit too much like…well, real life?

A three-dimensional test bed for corporate marketers? I can't imagine that's the real life most people are looking for let alone a virtual second life.

In Second Life, retailers like Reebok, Nike, Amazon and American Apparel have all set up shops to sell digital as well as real world versions of their products. Last week, Sun Microsystems unveiled a new pavilion promoting its products, and IBM alumni held a virtual world reunion.

Singer song writer Ben Folds is to promote a new album with two virtual appearances. At one, he will play the opening party for Aloft, the digital prototype for a new chain of hotels planned by Starwood Hotels. Folds will also appear virtually at a new facility his music label's parent company, Sony BMG, is opening at a complex called Media Island.

According to a piece in the New York Times today, until a few months ago only one or two real world companies had dipped their toes in the synthetic water. Now there are at least 30 companies working on projects and dozens more are considering ideas.

This is how it works A company or its ad agency buys an “island” for a one-time fee of $1,250 and a monthly rate of $195 a month. Nissan has done it for its new Sentra model. It then created a driving course where Second Life players could drive on Nissan Island.

It could just be me, but who wants to do stuff in a virtual world that you do in the real world?

Philip Rosedale, the chief executive of Linden Labs, the San Francisco company that operates Second Life, said: "It’s taken off in a way that is kind of surreal."

Well not really surreal, more like a virtual strip mall and no surprise that some Second Lifers are concerned that digital world will soon have a Starbucks on every corner.

Virtual coffee? That is never going to work.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sony Bravia Mk2

You really are only as good as your last piece of work. And when your last spot happens to be an award-winning Jose Gonzales sound-tracked advertainment by Fallon featuring the technicolour balls bouncing down the streets of San Francisco (here for your enjoyment) directed by Nicolai Fugzlig, then you have a lot to live up to. Sadly, the new Sony Bravia spot doesn't quite make it, there's lots too enjoy, but it hits a wrong note for me.

The Jonathan Glazer directed spot (you can watch it here) falls short, feels flat, hackneyed (it could well be Hackney’s fine council estates) and its full of paint. Was there a joke in there somewhere about paint balls? Maybe not.

There is the nod to 'Clockwork Orange' in there with the council estate and the classical music soundtrack (Rossini’s Thieving Magpie) but still, it isn't something that you could watch over and over and still enjoy. It’s hard to say exactly what it is, but the music is wrong, Rossini is nice, but doesn't quite fit.

I'm not alone. Visitors to Brand Republic's Forums are not impressed either.

Millie22 says "I think I am disappointed? I was really, really looking forward to it, but some bits (think there is a blue firework for example?) look so digitally placed it isn't right?"

Blindsided thinks it’s the music as well: "But the music is...how can I say it? $hit."

Mrs Belmont thinks the music sucks as well and has a few suggestions: "They should DEFINITELY have used better music like ‘My Colouring Book’ by Dusty Springfield, Abba or anything at all from Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Coat."

While Linsterman says: "It is nowhere near having the same shivering-down-the-spine effect as the first one with Jose Gonzales balls."


Universal is suing video sharing sites. Not YouTube, but sites very much like it.

As people ponder the $1.6bn plus Google paid for YouTube, Universal is weighing in with what are expected to be the first of a number of law suits for alleged copyright infringement.

In the firing line are Grouper Networks and Bolt, which are being accused of using hundreds of music videos of artists such as Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, 50 Cent and Black Eyed Peas without permission.

This could be a real problem for the new wave of user-generated content video sites. For while it might be fun to watch quirky little videos, the real business is in content such as music videos which really drive traffic to the sites.

You can see why companies like Universal might be unhappy. They invest in artists, make music videos, and then sites which they have no stake in and gain nothing from make money out of their efforts.

"User-generated sites like Grouper and Bolt that derive so much of their value from the traffic that our videos, recordings and songs generate cannot reasonably expect to build their business on the backs of our content and the hard work of our artists and songwriters, without permission and without in any way compensating the content creators," a Universal spokesman said.

The move had an immediate effect as Bolt media president Jay Gould posted a message on the New York-based company's website asking users to refrain from uploading copyrighted music videos.

"We understand the love you have for your favourite musical artists," Gould wrote, "but Bolt respects rights of copyright owners such as Universal Music and their artists."

But Grouper CEO Josh Felser was upbeat and said he expected to win the lawsuit.

There was much talk prior to the sale of YouTube of legal trouble ahead.

Dotcom billionaire investor Mark Cuban predicting that YouTube will be "sued into oblivion" on the back of copyright violations.

"They are just breaking the law. The only reason it hasn't been sued yet is because there is nobody with big money to sue."

Analysts had predicted a flood of copyright lawsuits against UGC and social media sites, with some observers saying media companies will probably target several of YouTube's smaller competitors to establish a legal precedent before taking on YouTube itself.

If they can win some judgments saying these sites are not protected then music publishers will have all they need.

According to Cuban: "They [will] have all the leverage in the world to dictate licensing terms to sites that until now have not proactively enforced copyright but have instead chosen to rely on rights holders' takedown notices."

Like YouTube, Grouper allows people watch, share and create videos for the web. It is owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment, which paid $65m for the online video site in August.

I'm sure they'll come to a deal. It is all about being able to monetise the content and share that effectively with the owners of the content. Sites like Grouper and YouTube have the traffic and are making money, now they just need to share it.

And that is already starting to happen. Last month YouTube signed a deal with Warner Music Group to share revenue from online ads that appear on its site alongside uploaded Warner music videos. The agreement also applies to consumer-created content featuring Warner-owned music.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Digital Fad

Former Express editor Richard Addis isn't buying everything on offer in the digital newspaper revolution.

Addis is writing in the Independent about the Daily Telegraph and its "digital revolution", on which subject has been a lot written about recently, centring particularly on multimedia convergence.

He isn't sceptical about the whole thing just part of it and rightly so.

Against a background of crumbing old media, and the prospect of all titles, even the Financial Times and The Guardian and The New York Times, becoming free in the not too distant future, he talks about two ideas that are dominating the digital debate.

The first is convergence and the other is citizen journalism or user-generated content. To his mind the first is a fad and the second is really going to rock the boat.

I couldn't agree more, as I've said a few times recently, there is a big future for UGC/citizen journalism. And even more recently about some of the problems UGC faces.

On the other front though, that of multimedia converged journalism where print reporters become broadcasters and camera men there is less of a future.

It all sounds rather like David Montgomery's Academy of Excellence at Trinity Mirror, do you remember that? He was going to get rid of production journalists and have reporters write them straight onto the page.

This idea failed terribly. For similar reasons Addis sees problems with the converged multimedia journalist.

"The most important point is that all types of journalism are a deep craft. Journalists know this. Management consultants tend not to. The problem is that in a business crisis like the one we're having now, the consultants get powerful.

"There are myriads of small skills involved in writing a good headline or producing a decent story that are individually not especially complex but collectively make all the difference. These skills do not transfer well from print to radio or from video to column writing.

"The second point is that convergence encourages the wrong kind of journalism. The stuff that does translate well is precisely the stuff that we want less of, the journalism of very little value. We're all sick of commoditised news. What we're hungry for is insight, wit, personality, attitude. That is precisely what dies first on the multimedia spokes. And then to cap it all, the fabled efficiencies are vastly over-rated. Fewer Jacks of all Trades are very seldom more efficient than a greater number of Masters of Some. Particularly now when part-time and freelance and home working is so much easier and more prevalent and there are Masters for hire all over the place."

You can see where he's going, but hey it's a learning curve and a time of experimentation and all of the newspaper groups are trying new things as digital development takes the lead.

The last but one great revolution of newspapers has come (tabloids/compacts and Berliners) and this all in the same week that Guardian Media Group has renamed its national newspaper division, which comprises The Guardian, The Observer and digital arm Guardian Unlimited, as Guardian News & Media.

Did you see what it did? It dropped the word "newspaper". GMG said the changes reflected the growth of its multimedia and online activities since 2001. GNL has undergone major new-media expansions in the past five years, with the launch of numerous websites, and the decision to rename is part of that change.

Update: There's just no stopping the Telegraph. Today it announced it has hired Shaun Gregory, former managing director of national brands at Emap Radio, in what Media Weeek says is a move is expected to see the newspapers' "multi-tasking newsroom contribute bulletins to linear TV news programmes".

His appointment follows a deal with ITN to produce video content for telegraph.co.uk, which is expected to be expanded into linear TV programming that could lead to a new television channel, featuring Telegraph content that is likely to be broadcast online initially with a view to securing carriage on the Freeview and Sky digital platforms.

Telegraph TV on your EPG? Who has the time.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

French affair

This is how the French are advertising a dirty weekend in London by EuroStar. It does make you look a little differently at baked beans. Okay, I'm off to the greasy spoon. It all looks quite tempting.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Bomb Al-Jazeera

David Blunkett wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera. Clearly he is never planning to return to office.

With the acres of coverage in the UK press, on former home office minister Blunkett's diary, this admission nearly slipped through the net, but was covered by the Daily Mirror ahead of a Channel 4 programme.

He apparently urged Tony Blair to commit what would have been a war crime and bomb the Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera in neutral Qatar, which is an ally.

George W Bush had already been revealed at the end of last year to have suggested such a plan to bomb the Qatar offices of Al Jazeera. The Mirror broke that story too.

In that incident you'll remember that the British government went on to block the media from publishing the contents of a leaked memo, which recorded Bush allegedly suggesting the plan to bomb the Qatar offices of Arab television network Al Jazeera.

At the time Blair dissuaded him from doing so pointing out that such an attack would provoke a major backlash.

Blunkett tells the Channel 4 Dispatches programme (a two-part screening of the audio-diaries he kept during his time in the Cabinet), to be shown next week, that he viewed the Arab television station as a legitimate target. Clearly illegality and war crimes are not issues that trouble him.

Asked whether he was not worried that this would be "outside the rules of engagement", Blunkett says:

"There wasn't a worry from me because I believed that this was a war and in a war you wouldn't allow the broadcast to continue taking place".

Dispatches reporter Isabel Tang replies: "But al-Jazeera was a civilian target."

Blunkett replies: "Well, I don't think that there are targets in a war that you can rule out because you don't actually have military personnel inside them if they are attempting to win a propaganda battle on behalf of your enemy."

Tang points out that this is against international law, but Blunkett is having none of it.

"Well I don't think for a minute in previous wars we'd have thought twice about ensuring that a propaganda mechanism on the soil of the country you were invading would actually continue being able to propagandise against you."

The Mirror reports that two weeks after Mr Blunkett pressed the Prime Minister to attack al-Jazeera, the station's Baghdad offices were bombed by the Americans, killing journalist Tareq Ayoub.

Asked about that attack , Blunkett does at least draw a line there, making a vague distinction about the difference between taking out the transmission and taking out journalists "even if you don't agree with them".

UPDATE: There was a joke in here somewhere about the "Dog of War", but I couldn't bring myselt to make it. Oh wait...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Community skills

Lots of post and comments recently about online community, I've certainly written a couple of posts about user-generated content and it was a big part of the Guardian Media Group chief executive Carolyn McCall's AOP speech.

One of the issues it throws up is the skills that are required by publishers to monitor and run all of these new community projects, particularly blogs and other types of users generated content.

The blagging blogger, in the celeb thread below (?!) has posted on this and it's worth starting a thread of its own:

"The online community is really beginning to drive the agenda isn't it? Having said that there does appear to be a skills gap out there. Witness Kevin Anderson, new head of blogging at The Guardian's email to staff:

"We need someone with basic online community experience to help us for a couple of weeks go through the threads at Comment is Free and monitor comments for libel and violations of our talk policy. Right now, we can guarantee two weeks of work, but there might be scope for ongoing work. References required..."

These are issues we're currently looking at on Brand Republic. As part of the relaunch we're going to be posting lots of user-generated content, which all needs to be looked at. And to service that we're hiring a community editor as one of the key members or our new expanded team. It's a big job, but a new and no traditionalist area of journalism, which could in a few years be commonplace.

At the recent AOP conference a speaker from CNET, Tom Bureau, managing director, spoke about the vast amount of UGC they were getting and the systems that had been put in place (you could only post after being a member for so long and good posters were rewarded), which goes someway to answering the problem.

But as the Kevin Anderson comment above shows it’s a huge problem and it only takes a little slip (a big slip will work also) to get through to open you up, which means ideally that everything that is published has to be checked once and anything even vaguely smelling of trouble is flagged for more senior eyes.

Part of the key to this is laying down a strict set to rules and one of these rules is avoid talking about individuals where possible (tough for Comment is Free to do), but easier for us maybe although still very challenging.

UPDATE: Obviously good timing to have this post. Yesterday a Florida woman has been awarded $11.3m after she was libelled online.

The award, believed to be the largest verdict of it sort relating to individual postings on bulletin boards or blogs, was handed down by a jury in Broward County, Florida, against a woman from Louisiana. The sum included $5m (£2.7m) in punitive damages

While British judges can't pump up court payouts with punitive damages it's worth remembering this when considering the mass of UGC posts and comments.

According to a report in the Guardian With almost two new blogs created every second, and 1.6m postings each day, said the San Francisco site Technorati, the mass of unmediated comment from individuals is changing the face of media law.

"This is a growing trend because of the exponential growth in the number of people publishing on the internet who do not have the training or oversight of traditional hardcopy publishers," said Dave Heller, a lawyer with the New York-based Media Law Resource Center which monitors legal actions arising from the web.

Craig Delsack, a media lawyer in Manhattan, said that many bloggers were publishing first, thinking later: "People are thinking they can say what they want but they don't realise the long-lasting implications of what they write and that they can be held accountable. Posting is not like having a conversation in the bedroom with your boyfriend."

Celebrity a-go-go

Ad agencies are finding it easier to entice high-calibre celebs to do ads.

A report in the New York Times this morning says agencies are finding more, and better, choices among celebrities for their campaigns and they are not just talking about Bob Dylan and his recent turn for Apple to flog his new album Modern Times (which I sort of meant to get, but then thought better of).

They are talking about Oscar-winning actors like Nicole Kidman, Sally Field, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton and Robert de Niro who are no longer talking about going to Italy or Japan, where the likes of Sean Connery and others have gone in the past to shoot foreign ads (highlighted by Bill Murray as the world-weary film star character in Sofia Coppola's film 'Lost in Translation').

The piece says that at some point in the last five years, Hollywood lost its snobbery toward commercials, leaving only a few actors holding out.

Kidman has, of course been one of the most high profile advocates, but then she did sign up for that Baz Luhrman directed £18m two-minute ad for Chanel No 5, billed as the most expensive made to date.

In the US now, the figure for celebs in ads is running at about 20%, up from 10%, although it appears lower in the UK where most of the decent celeb ads feature Americans, such as Clooney for Martini or Jennifer Aniston for Barclaycard.

"That old stigma that celebrities were selling out by doing a commercial has gone by the wayside," said Linda Kaplan Thaler, the chief executive and creative officer of the Kaplan Thaler Group. She told the paper "The days of Brad Pitt doing a commercial in Japan that he thought no one was going to see are gone."

Of course, Pitt famous did a Heineken commercial that ran in the US during the 2005 Super Bowl, but it isn't quite true about celebs doing the whole big in Japan or anywhere you can get paid to flog some old crap being over.

It was only last year that everyone's favourite fighting Aussie (okay when I say favourite...) Russell Crowe launched a scathing, albeit verbal, attack on his Hollywood peers for appearing in high-paying ads including Robert de Niro, who has advertised American Express (in the US), and Harrison Ford, who has appeared in Japanese cigarette ads in the past.

During an interview with the US edition of GQ magazine, the 'Gladiator' actor said: "I don't use my celebrity to make a living. I don't do ads for suits in Spain like George Clooney or cigarettes in Japan like Harrison Ford.

This upset George, a sensitive save-the-world kind of soul, who fired back that: "I'm glad he set us straight. Harrison, Bob and I were putting a band together called Grunting For 30 Feet, and that would also fall under the heading 'bad use of celebrity'. Thanks for the heads up."

Ouch, and really Russell's music isn't all bad. It is definitely as good as the rest of the music that comes from Down Under... well maybe not as good as Men at Work. You just can't beat quality like that.

One of the points the NY Times article makes is that the spread of the internet has to a degree killed off the appeal of foreign ads as people get to see them world over... and laugh. The other thing the piece says is that celebs are cottoning onto "personal brand potential".

In other words they are looking are after their own brand, which is why they would now rather be associated with top end products at home than less-well-known brands abroad.

The American Express 'My Life. My Card' campaign that was a great example of that, starring the likes of De Niro (whose spot was criticised because it used footage of Ground Zero, but hey it was directed by Martin Scorsese) and our very own Kate Winslet.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Yahoo! pressure

Google is piling the pressure on Yahoo! after its YouTube acquisition.

Despite being told by some that it is just about to enter a world of legal trouble with its huge $1.65bn acquisition of YouTube, Google is seen as leading the way in terms of dotcom innovation.

It has added YouTube to Blogger, dMarc and Picasa, as well as others it has bought, but YouTube, despite its potential problems, is by far the biggest and most interesting deal it has struck. YouTube has blown away everything else in video that others are trying, including Google's own video service.

Now people are looking to see what Yahoo! will do, and whether it will be able to clinch a deal to buy the number two social networking site Facebook.com to recapture momentum from Google.

Google has raised the bar to a new level with YouTube, echoing back to the 2000 dotcom boom years. Echoing, but not revisiting.

This time around there are just a few big players who are snapping up every new juicy minnow that comes along.

If Yahoo! waits around too long it will be beaten to the punch as the sector gains in confidence and, more importantly, the valuations continue to rise. Second-tier players are seeing their valuations rise in turn.

Who would have guessed a year ago that Google would be paying $1.6bn for a company that makes no money and has less than 70 staff.

Facebook looks like it will cost $1bn. This is a price that Viacom has already blinked at before slinking away.

It's almost double the price paid for Myspace, and Facebook has nowhere near the cachet nor international recognition. Of course, if you tried to buy Myspace this week (if you could) it would cost a billion plus dollars.

Analysts are looking at Yahoo! with disappointment as it gets outmanoeuvred by Google, and are looking for it to do something meaningful to gain positive interest and restore investor confidence.

I've never been a huge Yahoo! fan. From its early days it never looked like a internet firm that had that much vision. It was big and survived, but really it missed a massive trick with its Yahoo! Groups -- the early forerunner of social networking that was born out of its 1999 acquisition of eGroups. Not to mention Geocities, which Yahoo! also bought in 1999.

It evolved from being a search engine into a bit of a hard to define sprawl, no longer a portal, but a generic digital media company with search and content at its heart.

It is now paying attention to its Yahoo! Groups, but too little too late, which is why it is having to consider buying Facebook for $1bn, which is a huge price tag driven up by just months of talk on the future of the web.

Now as for Google, it needs a social network service of its own to rival that of Myspace and Facebook (if it doesn't mount a surprise bid), so I guess there is always Bebo, the UK player, which is still unclaimed.

Viacom has looked at it (as have others), but so far no bid. It won't be too long though.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

ITV lunchtime dilemmas

This is about ITV. In a roundabout way. It's lunchtime, I'm surfing. Having read some US spoilers about the first episode of season threee of 'Lost' and got predictably annoyed with reviews that tell of yet more episodes lacking any answers (I'm starting to think that really 'Lost' is like 'Seinfeld' a show where nothing happens, but just not so funny).

I then noticed a review of the season three premier of 'Battlestar Galactica' on the Boston Globe's site, by Joanna Weiss, which is infinitely better. They had 12 minutes of the season opener online, and I got really quite excited, but sadly was denied - its for US eyes only. There's a good piece in News Week as well.

But Weiss sums it all up nicely pulling together all that is good about 'Battlestar Galactica', about its parallels with the war in Iraq, its all a very post 9/11 world.

"I find myself proselytizing more for 'Battlestar Galactica' than any other show, with good reason. Yes, the series, which launches its third season tomorrow , has been wildly successful for the Sci Fi Channel. But given how far it surpasses nearly everything else on TV, I'm hoping a mainstream audience will follow.

"That it hasn't could reflect a fear that the show's plotlines are too complex ( in truth, "Battlestar" is easier to follow than "Lost"). It could be the lingering memory of the campy 1970s series, even though this new incarnation is completely -- almost shockingly -- dark. It could be a fear that if you're not a science fiction nut, the show won't speak to you.

But the secret to "Battlestar ," as one of my colleagues keeps saying, is not to think of it as science fiction. This is a show about religion, politics, parent-child relationships, and the moral dilemmas of insurgency. Consider it a workplace drama where the business is armed resistance.

She's dead right. I've mentioned this all before. In the UK 'Battlestar Galactica' is tucked away on Sky - home of Sci Fi - One. It should be on ITV.

Oh, but wait, who would ever expect leading edge programming on ITV's schedule.


News International has ambitions well beyond London by the looks of it.

Having launched thelondonpaper, News International could also be looking expanding the freesheet nationally.

It has registered a bunch of internet domain names for cities across the UK including .co.uk and .com domain names for thebirminghampaper, thebristolpaper, theleedspaper, theliverpoolpaper, themanchesterpaper, thehullpaper, theyorkpaper.

Not just in England, but Scotland and Wales as well, with the domain names registered for theedinburghpaper, and theglasgowpaper and thecardiffpaper.

This would see it challenge the likes of Guardian Media Group in Manchester, which publishers the Metro (with Associated) and the Manchester Evening News.

It could also spell trouble for Johnston Press and Trinity Mirror, which publish a number of evening papers.

A free evening paper could spell the end for many of those paid for titles. Even more so if like a lot of the Metros News International takes most of the content from its London title.

If it does go down that route it raises the possibility of Associated following it.

A spokesman told The Guardian: "We registered several names when we launched thelondonpaper as a matter of course but we are 100% focused on London for the foreseeable future."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Carolyn McCall was spot on this morning as she put online communities at the centre of her address to the AOP conference.

It might not sound like rocket science any more, but it’s surprising how few traditional publishers have made much progress when it comes to building online communities.

What the GMG chief executive said was that digital business that fail to embrace community will be relegated as content providers to aggregators and search engines, effectively the hard shoulder of the digital publishing revolution.

That doesn't sound like much of a future.

Part and parcel of that is user-generated content and getting that right. There is a long way to go on this front. There are some nice early foretasters of where this might go, but it is still a long road ahead.

For instance if I was running a travel site, I'd be having round-the-world bloggers and lots of them, with appropriate sponsors, which would generate its own large community. It could be huge.

There are lots of ways to create community, and part of that is, as McCall also said today, about changing the way you think about your audience.

Internet start-ups like Myspace, Bebo, YouTube and Flickr don't think or talk about users, they only talk or think about community. How to get it, how to grow it and how to involve it in your business.

But community is only one part of the puzzle. It needs to be combined with the shifting geography and multimedia.

The geography is something we've all seen. It’s not about the UK web or the US web or the Euro web, it’s a global thing. For Brand Republic, for everyone else.

For the Guardian, McCall said it is about being the leading global liberal voice on the web. That's their goal and you can see them doing it and achieving it. That isn't something they can do in print, but online is a different story.

That she said was about changing the way that publishers define themselves as businesses. About changing the model.

She went on to set out five challenges

The first was about staff. Building the brand talent – using the people you have and making sure they are all onboard your digital project.

"If your staff don't get it, everything will get stuck and will not move forward," McCall said.

The second challenge was about staying close to your users. Your community. This is all about listening because you will find that they know things about your business that you do not.

The third challenge she mentioned was innovation. Too often, traditional media publishers do not innovate.

Then we heard Tim Weller, the chief executive and founder of financial publisher Incisive, say "creativity is great, but plagiarism is far faster".

Somehow I think he both missed and underline the point. Creativity and innovation is the way to grow and develop, it is also where the leaders are and not the also rans.

Fourthly, McCall listed software development as something that publishers need to excel at. It’s often overlooked. If your developers aren't any good, neither will your product be.

A vast digital strategy falls to nothing if you do not have the developers. Oh, don't we all know this.

The problems is it is a step change for most publishers, but it has to be done.

Lastly, her fifth challenge was driving revenue growth. For that you just need to refer back to

Shifting geography

Get those three right and you will get your revenues.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Webcameron is under attack. Parodying cyber squatters have struck.

The people from UKIP, who once had perma-tanned, former morning TV presenter Robert "smooth" Kilroy-Silk as a member, are cybersquatting WebCameron.info and have a YouTube video of their own.

Actually, it's rather better than Dave "man of the people" Cameron live from the kitchen (as others have pointed out, domestic staff must have had the day off). It features a video parodying the similarities between Cameron and Tony Blair. Set up by the UKIPhome, who you'll never hear of again so I won't bother explaining about, it takes advantage of Cameron's attempts to plug into new-media phenomenon of blogs and social networking websites.

It purports to show Cameron wholesale lifting Blair's language and ideas and it does so pretty well. Anything Blair can say, then Cameron can say too. The video has already been viewed more than 6,600 times.

As well as being mildly entertaining, it does serve as a reminder to snap up all of the domains you can as politicians are just as vulnerable to online threats as film stars or any major brand.

One of the first steps of setting up any new website is checking the availability not only of your desired domain name, but also of alternatives including the .com and .co.uk versions. Unfortunately, in this instance Cameron has seen his effort to harness the power of the internet stumble at one of the very first hurdles.

Worse still if you click on Webcameron.com you get an Australian poet called Cameron M Semmens. Whose works include poems such as 'the jacket that never really fit'...wait that sounds familiar does it have something to do with wedging right-wing Euro politics with tax cuts and... oh no, it doesn't it is actually about a jacket that never fitted.

Talking of Euro-scepticism, Cameron still hasn’t registered the Webcameron.eu European domain name. How long that will be free remains to be seen.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Nowhere is safe. Someone told the Tories about YouTube and now David Cameron is YouTubing it from his kitchen – he is doing the dishes and he wants to share it with you.

The frontpage of The Guardian on Saturday reveals how the Tories plan to use the internet to reach out and hit a new generation.

The paper says the Tories plan to target the blogging generation who are "disaffected and disconnected from mainstream politics". It wants to try to entice them in and, as part of that effort, the new community site they've launched is branded in pink and "consciously plays down the party message". It's very Web 2.0-looking.

At the centre of the Tories new internet driven strategy is the Webcameron. That's right, lame word play is pretty damn important in 21st century politics, as if you didn't know.

When I put this into Google it asked me if I meant to type Webkamera? That's right, see what they did there? Like a lot of German words it's almost English, but not quite, almost there, but a little off. The same could be said for the Tories attempt to storm the internet.

Talking of Google. The Tories have bizarrely signed up Eric Schmidt, the chairman and CEO of the search giant, to talk at this year’s party conference.

What's he going to tell them? Blog your way to victory? How to boost their search engine optimisation?

There is no clue in the FT article this morning. Asked why Schmidt had decided to speak at Bournemouth, a spokesperson for Google said: "He’s very keen on talking about the internet, and the impact it's having."

Schmidt keen on the internet? Get out of here.

I digress, as well as regular video blogs by Dave speaking direct to camera, there will also be podcasts and blogs with guest bloggers, kicking off today with perhaps the next US President Senator John McCain. Although neither of the blogs ("guest" or "open") are working right now, but like the new Tory party it's all in beta mode.

With Dave in the kitchen for his first Webcameron, he says he wants to tell us "what the Conservative party is doing, what we're up to, give you behind-the-scenes access so you can actually see what policies we're developing, the things that we are doing, and have that direct link ... watch out BBC, ITV, Channel 4, we're the new competition. We're a bit shaky and wobbly…"

He talks about behind the scenes access as the kids scream in the background. Caring father to the fore. He promises lots of stuff about party conference and speeches and then it’s over. Finishing with the line "right now I'm going to wash up the porridge". What a guy.

All this comes, sadly for Dave, as the Independent reported also on Saturday that the Tory lead has evaporated. That's a seven-point lead, gone. Tony Blair's great conference speech and a good conference all round has to have eaten into that.

The first outing conforms to the classic YouTube content formula in that it has absolutely no substance and, in that way, is no different from the tens of thousand of other video clips online. Like the one I watched yesterday called "Free gas (two girls dance around there 4x4 at a gas station…after getting free gas)".

It's hugely corny as well, continuing the whole Dave -- man of the people -- thing, like him cycling to work…followed by a couple of cars. Because that's how you save the environment.

But that aside, the Tory spokesman is right though when he says it shows that they "understand the web" and it is way ahead of what Labour is doing online. Remember those risible World Cup blogs with Alastair Campbell and company? Labour needs to get chasing.

Labour does have some videoclips, but it is all strictly old school. Where is Tony's conference speech? Nowhere to be seen. That should have been on available on the site to video share and open to people to comment on. But nothing like that. It needs, as the Lib Dems and others have done, open forums to help campaigning, exchange ideas and fun.

During the last US election, the blogs showed how powerful online could be. While it had little impact on the last British election, this will clearly change next time around with social media from blogs, community and video sharing all playing a much bigger role.

Out on the campaign trail, great videoclips of an off the cuff remark, or in John Prescott's case a general cuffing, could have a real impact once released online.

Gordon better get moving. The Tories are promising Webcameron twice a week. Next week he'll be in the garden digging up his turnips.