Tuesday, October 25, 2005

BBC Arabic TV 2.0

It's amazing how companies and corporations can put a spin on their own news. Today, BBC World Service announced a shift of resources, closing 10 language services in radio, scaling down its on-line presence in Hindi (English seems to be more popular for the BBC in India) and shifting Brazilian Portuguese output onto more relevant platforms - the web and partner stations.

But what's all this in the newspapers about the BBC launching a new Arabic language TV network. It is actually picking up where it left off on Sunday, April 21, 1996. I remember angry newspaper articles by people like Ian Richardson, who was charged with setting up the first BBC Arabic TV channel's news department, only to have to closed it down less than two years later. BBC WS Director Nigel Chapman did refer to this in today's speech.

This time, the BBC operation is to be funded from within its foreign-office allocation. The former BBC Arabic Television was launched by the corporation's commercial arm, "BBC Worldwide Television", and funded by the Saudi Arabian Mawarid Group. That partnership with Orbit TV was always going to be fragile, despite lengthy negotiations with the Saudis.

According to Richardson, "negotiations for this channel had gone on between the BBC and Mawarid's subsidiary, the Rome-based Orbit Communications Corporation, for several months from the latter part of 1993, finally being signed on March 24, 1994. There were elements of panic on both sides". BBC World Service Television, as it was then known, desperately needed a big new contract to cover itself financially in the wake of Rupert Murdoch's surprise purchase of Star-TV, from which he had unceremoniously dumped the BBC's signal to the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and China.

World Service Television's Chief Executive, Chris Irwin, was convinced he had a cast iron guarantee of editorial independence from the Saudis. I think the Orbit TV guys were convinced the BBC was just a news source rather like Reuters...you paid your money and they delivered what you wanted.

During the short life of the first BBC Arabic Television, there were several angry "liaison meetings" with Orbit and the guarantees of editorial independence proved to be a sour joke, only barely obscured by a thin smokescreen about the BBC's alleged failure to observe "cultural sensitivities" - Saudi code for anything not to the Royal Family's liking.

When it became clear to Orbit and Mawarid that it had, in their terms, created a monster not prepared to toe the Saudi line, it was only a matter of time before there would be a final parting of the ways.

Political considerations were far more important that anything else. The Saudi's ensured that distribution in Saudi Arabia was through a microwave (MMDS) distribution system to set-top boxes. Often the BBC programmes were delayed by half an hour so give censors in Riyuadh time to pull entire programmes they didn't approve of. From their point of view, the BBC Orbit channel was theres - BBC was simply supplying raw material. They gave up on trying to tame the BBC and switched off the BBC Arabic TV channel at the close of the transmissions on the night of Saturday, April 20 1996. BBC was not advised in advance.

But Orbit also owned all the computer, editing and studio equipment at BBC TV Centre in White City used to make the Arabic TV programmes. That made it simple for them to mothball the whole project and stop the BBC restarting the project in 1996 with new backers.

The newspaper reports have suggested that BBC WS has bowed to Foreign Office pressure to set up Arabic TV again and shut services mainly to new EU member States and the Balkans. This is real government spin. In 1996, neither British commercial nor government interests were in favour of any independent BBC Arabic news channel. Foreign Office interests, especially in Saudi Arabia, were not improved by BBC reporters talking about the Saudi Royal family. I don't think much has changed in 9 years...so the BBC WS has to finance "BBC Arabic 2.0" from within its own budget. I am not sure it has cut WS radio deep enough to be able to compete with Al Jazeera and MBC to name just a few of the satellite channels already in that crowded market. 19 million pounds is not much to run a foreign TV news channel (doesn't BBC News 24 cost about 50?).

I presume that it will move from 12hrs a day at peak times to being 24 hrs a day within 6 months of starting up in 2007. With different time zones across the region, 12 hours isn't going to be handy. It would be ironic if BBC "resumed programming" in April 2007, after a 11 year transmission break. Actually, it probably will be around that time, since the UK financial years start on April 1st.

Forget i-pod Video - Samsung DMB

In Paris earlier this year I managed to see some of the new DMB receivers coming onto the Korean market. It would appear the final result is even more sophisticated. Samsung's new SPH-B2300 which has a clever swivel display to cope with new TV formats.

Forget the i-pod video where you cannot watch live video events - this is the kind of device that will attract the average consumer. In Korea, the premium channels show soap opera episodes ahead of network TV, giving people something to gossip about on the train.

Forget the i-pod video where you are paying through the nose for low-res video you can only really consume on the device itself. With a lot of European video being produced in 16 by 9 now, the video screen on the i-pod is already the wrong shape.

Put me in the Apple i-video sceptics camp for the time being. It is the content, not the technology that will drive this movement. In The Netherlands, it was local Tv networks that drove up viewing figures because people want to be entertained in their own language first. They place much lower value on US content. I can see someone in a Dutch pub sharing a piece of video from Paul de Leeuw. I don't see them sharing a scene from Lost - certainly not at US$1.99 a pop.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Planning for Amsterdam Dance Event Documentary

Originally uploaded by Lifesized.
Next week, we'll be involved in filming interviews for the Amsterdam Dance Event. This is clearly a topic to put AMS on the world map by 2007.

Post CS Building

You have to be a pioneer to attend a meeting at the Post CS Building which is "5-10 minute walk from Amsterdam Central Station", according to websites from companies who have hired space in the former sorting office run by the Dutch PTT. Now there are some buildings in Amsterdam which were formerly factories or warehouses which have been re-done to make them into buildings with real atmosphere.

There is a brilliant view over Amsterdam from the top of the CS Building, but otherwise I hope they demolish the whole sorry place as soon as possible. The whole area has been a building site for far too long and there is NOTHING charming about the CS building. From a business standpoint, it is hopeless...your clients cannot park and it has all the creative charm of a disused nuclear power station. By the way....it is at least 15 minutes walk from CS, 20 if the wind blows from the East. Ugh

Beyond the Maritime Museum


You need to see this on a larger screen to appreciate the marvellous mix of blue and grey. This has something.... Posted by Picasa

More Road Works....


Another access route to the (doomed) Post CS Building. God what a miserable part of Amsterdam, especially in the rain. Posted by Picasa

AVRO Budget Cut?


Public broadcaster AVRO was shooting some kids show in the car park of the Post CS building. Audience was definitely NOT appreciated. Posted by Picasa

Broken Promises


The yellow sign says the bridge will open again in June 2005. In October 2005, it is still broken. Another access route to the Post CS building blocked.. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

What was this?


Stuck in traffic on the way to the Hague, I passed a very strange lorry. The slogan for a breath freshener implied "Take one pill to kill bad breath, take two pills to kill yourself". Bizarre Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Morse Code Watch from Japan

If you have around 93 Euros to spare, then this is the perfect gift for a radio ham operator...a watch that taps out the time in Morse code. Guaranteed to confuse the rest of humanity. On the TokyoFlash Site

Ning in Beta

Ning is going to be a very useful platform for those of use who want to develop simple databases on line. I'm itching to put up the reviews of conferences...with the rating for content, networking and fun. Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 17, 2005

I'll be keeping this screenshot for future presentations. It is worrying when the company providing software for your uninterruptable power supply seems to have server problems... Posted by Picasa

Hope to see some of you in London at this interesting event from the Radio Academy. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 16, 2005

It took me just under a week to rise to the giddy height of developer at Ning. From Mark Andreessen�s latest effort - code named 24 Hour Laundry - Ning is a free online hosted service for building and using social applications. Here�s where we can experiment and develop some apps - including some of those social maps.
Marc brought us Netscape back in 1996 (what a great stock investment that turned out to be!).
 Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 14, 2005

Paul de Leeuw & Robbie Williams

You know how it is. While channel hopping last night I bumped into the last bit of an interview conducted by Paul de Leeuw with Robbie Williams. It was a live interview, although 28 minutes in I thought I heard Paul de Leeuw wish Robbie a "Happy New Year". On the Uitzendinggemist.nl website (Missed the Programme) website run by the public broadcasters I was able to confirm that he did say that. May be the clue is the fact the subtitling starts in English, so the VARA can sell the whole thing internationally as a special for New Years Day 2006? Mind you, the other "stars" in the show will not be recognised by an international audience, especially the hamsters dressed up to promote the supermarket chain Albert Heijn. This is the VARA at its most commercial, perhaps anticipated the changes to public broadcasting here announced this week.

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 13, 2005

UPC & Philips roll out HDTV in Holland

It is going to be the commercial cable giant UPC (owned by Liberty Media) that will roll out HDTV pictures in Holland in 2006. Over the air networks (with the exception of Talpa) is doing very little with 16 by 9 format, let alone thinking of HDTV. So, no-one is making anything in HDTV at the moment - unlike Germany and the UK. When UPC start their HDTV sportscasts, they will probably originate from this building is the West of Amsterdam.  Posted by Picasa

Savouring the last days of summer weather

Amsterdam Leidesplein Posted by Picasa

Leaves on the streets of Amsterdam

Fall is coming folks... Posted by Picasa

How long?

May seem silly now, but I am building a little collection of phonebooth photos before they all disappear. Ten years from now kids won't even know what they were for... Posted by Picasa

Need a new spelling checker....

All the posters have the same spelling mistake... Posted by Picasa

Amsterdam is working on its Nine Streets...

Work in progress..... Posted by Picasa

Canals in October

Long shadows in Amsterdam.... Posted by Picasa

Great weather at the moment...

Great vistas at the moment on the way to Amsterdam. This is the old road from Hilversum to Amsterdam on a bright autumn day. Savour that blue sky.... Posted by Picasa

Got to Hand it To Ya!

Autumn near a deserted boat on one of the Amsterdam canal boats, October 2005. Posted by Picasa

Digital Radio - Not sure this works

These plastic bands have appeared in many European countries, usually as part of a campaign to support a good cause - tolerance, the fight against breast cancer, etc. Sorting through the stuff I picked up at the Berlin Audio and Video Fair, I found an orange band marked "Digital Radio". Is it in danger of extinction? In some countries, that's true. But I can't imagine who would want to wear this? Posted by Picasa

eDay: verslag sessie Customer-made

Good story (in Dutch) a trendwatching seminar as part of the Emerce Day in Amsterdam yesterday.

"Gisteren heb ik de Emerce eDay bijgewoond. Een prima dag met 25 sprekers over de nieuwste ontwikkelingen, toepassingen en trends op gebied van business en marketing technology. Na de lunch heb ik de presentatie van Reinier Evers van trendwatching.com bijgewoond. Een boeiende presentatie, doorspekt met veel pakkende en concrete voorbeelden. Een kort verslag van deze sessie. "

First Ilse Media...now Google...:-) Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

I-tunes version 6 now out to cooincide with the launch of the I-pod with (mediocre) video capablity. Posted by Picasa