Saturday, January 31, 2009

Where were you on Jan 20th 2009 at 1710 UTC?

If you were out on the Washington Mall watching President Obama giving his inaugural speech on January 20th, then you might be able to find yourself on this incredible gigapixel photo by David Bergman using the Gigapan Epic, a $379.00 device that fits many digital cameras. This 1,4 Gigapixel photo has had millions of views in just a couple of days, taaking the site down a couple of times. Spot those not paying attention, yawning, or even asleep. Tip of the hat to Jim Cutler's Serving Donuts podcast.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

World Economic Broadcast

I'm interested to see how the World Economic Forum is using social media tools to build a special audience gavel-to-gavel coverage of the presentations in Davos. The audience is the network without using peer-to-peer tools. The WEF seems to have a serious problem - they have invited so few top women leaders, yet business in many countries (of Africa) is dominated by women. Good coverage of the Co-chairs.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

DLD-09 Kicks Off

I am currently at one of Europe’s leading digital innovation conferences, DLD (Digital Life Design) taking place from Sunday - Tuesday in Munich for the fifth year. Around 800 entrepreneurs, thinkers and creative leaders from a variety of sectors will gather at this synergy exchange at the invitation of Hubert Burda Media, to compare their experiences between panel
sessions from high calibre specialists. All panels at the English speaking conference will also be broadcast on the DLD video portal (, so if you haven't been invited you can watch on-line.

This year the theme is “New Realities”, and it is calling on its participants to formulate perspectives for the future of their markets and sectors after the credit crunch. In the digital area new business models, video networks, cloud computing, internet

The group of 80 speakers will include successful entrepreneurs such as René Obermann (Deutsche Telekom), Martin Halusa (Apax) and Abigail Disney (Daphne Foundation);thought leaders such as Daniel Kahnemann (Nobel laureate for economics), Nassim Taleb(author of “The Black Swan”), Matthew Bishop (author of “Philanthrocapitalism”) and Arianna Huffington (The Huffington Post), and creative stars such as Rem Koolhaas(architect), Ross Lovegrove (designer), Fernando Sulichin (film producer) and Michael Schindhelm (cultural manager).

I hope there will be a connection to last year's DLD. There were several speakers, especially Martin Sorrell, who made predictions about how the market would change in the next couple of years. Sorrell was spot on, especially with the comments about Facebook and Murdoch. We shouldn't forget who got it right, for they are definitely the ones to watch.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

BBC World Service Beyond Chapman

I think we're witnessing an end of an era with the departure of Nigel Chapman as Director of BBC World Service. He's been there at WS since 2000 and will probably be best known for his renewal plan for the world's largest international broadcaster, shift resources away from radio and putting them into more cross-platform offering. He brought focus by trimming the number of languages and reducing services that had little or no audience - or had outstayed their original purposes. You cannot run a network on nostalgia.

Chapman succeeded in writing and implementing his plan for renewing the BBC World Service, so I guess that now the mission laid out in the document is accomplished, it is a good time to move on. It's also a golden opportunity for the BBC World Service to make a break in tradition. It would be refreshing if the opening speech from the next director was from someone with a British-Commonwealth heritage and that she could build the next stage of the World Service strategy. Time for change at the Beeb too.

The Chapman strategy starts to expire in 2010, by which time a lot of purely radio thinking will already be severely marginalised to a point where the "broadcast" over-the-air distribution model is too expensive. Biting the bullet, we can conclude that digital radio DRM has failed after 13 years of struggle - no receivers, no serious interest from the commercial radio sector and so no point in going it alone. The DRM experiment on 1296 kHz generates more heat than listeners.

Audiences of 180 million who listen once a week sounds huge. But that means 6.6 billion people do not listen to the BBC World Service, so there's still a long way to go. International broadcast, being a niche sector, is evolving from public broadcast into a public access model. The BBC creates a wealth of content and offers a selection of it for people to access via the web, IP devices, mobile, etc. In areas of the world where there is limited access, for politicial or technical reasons, there is still a role for the BBC to compile selections of this content and broadcast them directly to audiences using any relevant technology, including analogue AM in some cases.

I recently discovered some 30-25 year old tapes of BBC World Service from the days when it was a full service network, rather than the world news service that it has become. The presentation sounds slow by comparison these days, but it was right for its day. They ran comedy shows like Just a Minute - even special versions of Weekending (a topical parody on the week's news - like rolling the NewsQuiz and Dead Ringers into one). Continuity added comments about the weather in London - and it was a shared experience with listeners everywhere. Especially since 9/11, the smile has gone from World Service radio in English, it is the serious person's information network. Which is why I can only take so much death and disaster in small doses. Thank goodness for the BBC i-Player or wi-fi radio and the access these bring to the much broader range of features from BBC domestic networks - including brilliant comedy, debate, and music. The Mac has a great program called Radiocast which allows you build your own "World Service" mixing and mashing radio shows broadcast from anywhere in the world and recording it to a hard-disk for listening later on demand. I know my way around the sites, it's shame BBC WS doesn't guide others.

World Service radio news shows themselves are in danger in being eclipsed in many markets by BBC World News TV which adds things that are useful while travelling. There's never any weather or travel info on BBC WS Radio. And the radios in hotels were a myth in most cases. Show me the businessman/woman who listens to the radio rather than watch TV in a foreign hotel.

BBC World News TV is still in denial - that one day they will make a real commercial business out of it. No chance at all, especially when the ad market for those kind of networks in miniscule. BBC Arabic has an advantage because its a three platform offering. BBC WS Radio is hampered by restrictions on cross-promotion which could be fatal in a cross-media world. Now that the BBC News international site is ad funded, WS radio is becoming an island, surrounded by a sea of on-line and video offering, none of which can be connected because of funding rules from a bygone era.

So the next WS Director will have to move from a cross-platform strategy to a cross-media strategy, or great audio/radio that WS is currently making will simply disappear in the media background noise. It is not being labelled, so it will not be found. Try and find something that has been broadcast on the World Today or Newshour earlier in the week. It would be a shame if some features were buried because some World Service programmes, like Digital Planet or several BBC WS Science shows, should also be on Radio 4 or other intelligent speech feeds. If it works for In Business, then it works for other genres.

On the TV front, I hope BBC World News will review its on-line programme line-up, allowing on-line access to BBC domestic news productions like Newsnight and Panorama. I can understand restrictions on drama and comedy series, not on news programmes. Find a way to cross promote with WS Radio breaking the current information apartheid. That means building channels in the iPlayer for non-UK residents - and experimenting with subscription models.

The procedure for Chapman's replacement has been muddled, crazy at a time when BBC has had serious management issues at the top and cannot seem to react fast enough to simple transparency issues. The Daily Telegraph picked up the rumour about the post not being advertised externally. Then there was the letter from (ex)-BBC staffers - including former Director John Tusa - demanding that the job be thrown open to external candidates. In the end it was - but the window of opportunity is so short, I suppose they already know who they want. The job description is strange reading in many countries, since editorial responsibility is mixed with financial and strategic responsibility towards government - in short the job is becoming a mission impossible. And there seems to be huge overlap with the responsibilities of Richard Sambrook, to whom the WS Director has to report. To restore credibility, the function needs to create the workspace and platform for a world class cross-media news network - but the editorial responsibility should rest with Sambrook - a bit like the DG and Deputy DG roles they created domestically for Mark Thompson and Mark Byford.

Applications close for the DG post on January 25th. I wonder if the board will find the right woman for the job? Now that really would be World News.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's Amateur Lens Man

Today, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States and delivered his inaugural address. Amazing to watch the event in HD thanks to a special Eurovision feed from Washington- really like being there. I guess the BBC crew in Washington was recording all the stuff in SD, because the summary at the end of their broadcast switched back to SD just before the news.

I was surprised that they let what looked like an amateur photographer (lens lice in the trade) stand on the red section of the carpet right behind Obama. I guess 4 by 3 viewers didn't see this twit, but I was surprised someone at Eurovision or whoever was producing the show didn't physically drag him out of the picture. He appears in vision 3 minutes 15 seconds into the speech. I'm sure Canon is cringing. How many zillion people watched this twit do the shuffle during what was an excellent speech.

HD may have 5 times the definition of standard definition. At events like this it conveys 25 times the emotion. Glad I was able to witness it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Chaos in the Print Shop

Nice variation on the car commercial of a few years back. Thanks to Jim Cutler for the spot.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Preview Mobile World Congress

I am researching items for next month's mobile world congress in Barcelona and interested to see the discussion above - though not sure the old film effects in the video matches the "think forward" theme.

Friday, January 09, 2009

iShovel - Light snow shovel

Not sure this is going to be much use clearing my driveway at the moment. Reminds me of the robot vacuum cleaner I bought a while back. Nice idea...useless in practice.

Connectivity Whoops

Was writing a piece about improved mobile connectivity in Africa, and what happens? My provider XS4ALL has a breakdown lasting 3 hours until 3 pm. Everything goes off - only the mobile. To be fair, Xs4all did add update information quickly on the website, but I personally would like to subscribe to an SMS service in times like this.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

VOA TV reports on future of American influence

How does this stuff get onto Youtube? Obviously not off air. Because the context is missing, it has lost a lot of its value.

Water Bottle Phone

Now this is a curious story. The Motorola publicity machine has announced the launch of two new mobile phones meant to make social connectivity and responsibility accessible to people all around the world. I am particularly interested in the MOTO W233 Renew which, they say, is a device made from plastics comprised of recycled water bottles. I wonder how they get hold of these water bottles, since the recycling systems in Holland at least are great at recycling glass, but plastic bottles are not separated. I thought at first they meant hot water bottles - perhaps it was the colour and the notion that Woolworths in the UK must have a pile of them somewhere in unsold stock.

This is a good start, but mobile phone manufacturers in general have to do more to ensure that some of the essential raw materials inside these devices are obtained in a fair and ethical way. Take coltan, for instance, a shortened name for columbite-tantalite, an ore from which the elements niobium and tantalum are extracted. Tantalum is widely used in consumer electronics products such as cell phones, iPods, TV's, radios and computers because its essential to the production of compact, efficient capacitors. However, export of coltan from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to European, Asian and American markets has been cited by experts as helping to finance the present-day conflict in the Congo.

The irony is that the main production of tantalum is in Australia, where Talison Minerals, operates the largest mine in the world in Wodgina. Tantalum minerals are also mined in Brazil, Canada, China, Ethiopia and Mozambique. The Democratic Republic of the Congo produces a little less than 1% of the world's tantalum, but coltan smuggling has been implicated as a major source of income for the military occupation of Congo. The Rwandan Army has made an estimated $675m in the last two years derived from Congolese coltan. I believe most of it goes to fuel to production of handsets and devices in China, though the trail of where it ends up after it leaves the region is difficult to follow.

So what? So it would be great if manufacturers had a sort of fair-trade label on handsets, iPods, laptops, etc to show that the components had been manufacturered from minerals mined in ethical ways.

Forbidden Holland

In the Netherlands, there was commentary in the Dutch press a couple of years back when a list of "blurred out" sites was published on the excellent Marketingfacts site. Most are barracks, aiports or military basis. In early lists, they claimed that the European Space Agency centre in Noordwijk was blurred too, but that doesn't seem to be the case these days. Strangely, I live close by to what looks like a Google Earth "bluurper". Go to these coordinates ( 52°15'37.43"N 5°16'47.78"E) and you'll see the marine listening post itself is blurred, but the circle of direction finding antennas next to it are in the clear. Not sure why they bother. They must be a lot happier in Emmnes now that the 500 kW transmitters from the Flevo polder ( 52°21'43.98"N 5°27'19.34"E) have gone off the air...that kind of power is not something you want next to a sensitive antenna field.

If you look in on-line history books you'll find that during the Cold War, Holland was littered with listening posts, some in old villas, or some like the Post Golf in Goes (Location: 51°32'2.48"N 3°52'32.83"E) who's occupants had the job of listening in to and transcribing the Dutch language transmissions of Radio Moscow which ran from 1956 to 1991. They also monitored traffic coming out of Warsaw Pact embassies in the Hague. These days, the place is used by the National Amateur radio society, the VERON.

Transmitter Search & Find

As part of a video documentary I am making about the big changes to international broadcasting, I put out a call on Saturday to see if anyone has tabulated all the geocoordinates for the main transmitter sites around the world. Of course, they have. Sign-up to the where Ian Baxter and friends have made two extensive Excel sheets which tells the story of shortwave's hayday and slow decline. It's a brilliant piece of work, combining data that's been sitting around in the WRTH for years and some original detective work. There are also lists out on the Interwebs for very low frequency stations (like the time signal stations that drive radio watches) and special sites devoted to transmission centres in the UK

There are places like the Radio Liberty site at Playa de Pals (Girona) in Spain which now have little trace of their past, but others like VOA Delano in Calfornia ( 35°45'17.12"N 119°16'45.54"W), VOA Hawaii ( 21°25'35.83"N, 158° 9'34.29"W ) or Flevoland here in the Netherlands which still look like a transmitter site. (Of course the photos on Google Earth are not necessarily taken yesterday, so just because its on Google Earth doesn't mean it is still there. Some are so famous, you don't need any numbers. Just type Wertachtal into Google Earth it takes you to the front door of the huge HF transmitter site, built for Deutsche Welle but now, ironically, no longer used by them.
And there's a fascinating Cold War story behind the VTC Orfordness site (where BBC 648 and 1296 kHz originate) still shows the fan shape of the
old over the horizon radar station from the 1970's.

Monday, January 05, 2009

From bad to Worldspace

I have always been critical of the Worldspace operation, especially the over-hyped success claims in the mid 1990's (reaching 3.4 billion people was the slogan at ITU Telecom I seem to recall). No station on the satellites really had a business model for being there - mostly because radio stations are local and national - and the few international broadcasters on the planet never really committed to the Worldspace proprietary system. In short, Worldspace was a solution shot into space that then started looking for a problem. It was marketing schemes on steroids with no clue about how radio really works, especially in developing countries.

Chris Forrester of RapidTVNews published a fascinating list of creditors just before Christmas.

The major claims are already in, not least Worldspace’s lavish travel and expenses debt to American Express amounting to more than $300,000. The grand total of its debts and obligations (some of which are disputed) comes in at more than $2bn.

Worldspace itself estimates it has between $100m-$500m in assets, although states it has more than $1bn in liabilities and obligations. The Chapter 11 filings refer only to Worldspace Inc., Worldspace Systems Corp., and Afrispace Inc., and makes no mention of the other businesses, or its Asian satellite. There is also a royalty agreement in place and shown as a debt amounting to a staggering $1.81 billion.

Then there are assorted creditors who helped bail out the business through its most recent struggles. These include Highbridge Capital Management ($27.6m), Och-Ziff Management ($7.9m), AG Offshore ($2.3m) and Citadel ($35.1m) for a total of $72.98m. Bank of America has a (disputed) claim in for $1.6m.

Its ‘Top 30’ creditor list includes:

• Yenura Pte Ltd (a Singaporean company in which Worldspace’s founder Noah Samara, pictured above, has close links) is owed (unsecured) $55.2m and is considered an “insider company” under US rules.
• Micronas GmbH, a chip-developer in Germany, is owed $18.2m.
• Fraunhofer Inst for Integrated Circuits, in Germany, is owed $4.45m.
• Flextronics Inc, is owed $2.34m, although this debt is disputed.
• Thales Alenia Space, is owed $2.2m.
• Delphi Delco Europe, is owed $1.22m.
• Baker & McKenzie, is owed $1.148m.
• International Space Brokers, is owned $990,366.
• SED Systems, is owed $986,277.
• IFPI of Hong Kong, is owed $948,152.
• Phonographic Perf. of India, is owed $657,894.
• Astrium SES, is owed $650,549.
• Sanyo-Mgt of Osaka, is owed $612,250.
• Delphi Electronics of Indiana, is owed $600,000.
• ST Microelectronics of Italy, is owed $600,000.
• SAMRO of Johannesburg, is owed $592,852.
• Accenture LLP is owed $523,931.
• BPL Techno Vision of Bangalore is owed $506,046.
• Antrix Corp of Bangalore is owed $483,661.
• Performing Rights Soc, of UK, is owed $400,967.
• ESPN Star Sports is owed $400,000, although this debt is disputed.
• American Express Travel is owed $336,943.
• Fiat Grp, of Turin is owed $304,375.
• Gabon Telecom, is owed $290,963.
• University of Chile, is owed $286,740.
• SAP America is owed $277,113.
• Wistron NeWeb of Taiwan is owed $259,995.
• Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, is owed $243,443.
• Certicom Corp of Virginia is owed $235,097.
• Microsoft is owed $231,679.

I wonder why the University of Chile got involved for such a large sum. What a total mess.

Barry Manilow Deleted

Several readers asked me to take down the Barry Manilow punishment video - not because of any copyright issues, it is simply drove everyone bonkers when they visited this blog. Couldn't find a way to shut it up.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Crisis Prices

The sales have started here in earnest. You don't need to speak Dutch to get this one.

2009 starts with big bangs

Woah...lived in Holland for more than 25 years and never seen street firework displays like this before. Seems they are inversely proportional to the credit crisis - and the booms going on as I write this at 1.30 am are mostly all of the illegal can't buy fireworks like this in the local hardware store.

May your projects blossom where ever you are. If you're also doing interesting things in the field of cross-media, I hope our path's cross. It may be tough. But it is also extremely interesting.

Safe travels,

Jonathan Marks

Czech Clear Visions for 2009?

As the Czech republic takes over the presidency of the EU for 6 months, it's interesting to look at this film made in Prague in 1957 which tried to predict the kitchen of the future in 2000. Compared to the BBC's Tomorrow's World TV programme in the 1970's, I think the Czech's did a much better job in looking a half decade ahead. Induction heating is now an option for many kitchens and those dispensers remind me of many hotel breakfast rooms in 2008. Wonder what predictions we'll get right in this New Year?