Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Should you upgrade to new Final Cut Pro X editing software? | Poynter.

Decision-making guide: Should you upgrade to new Final Cut Pro X editing software? | Poynter.

The link above takes you to an excellent article by Regina McCombs. Good curated collection of wisdom one week after the release of Final Cut Pro X (it's pronounced 10 not X). I would add the video from the London Supermeet with Larry Jordan. I think small NGO's using it for simple edits will prefer it to iMovie. Newsrooms will look for other solutions unless they can fix the access to legacy projects and a number of networking issues. My guess is that Apple really doesn't care.

This parody out really outlines to problem Apple has created for itself, if in fact its really interested in keeping the Pro in Final Cut Pro X.

With ironic commentary a cleverly montaged "Steve Jobs"

Pope Starts Tweeting, so what?

The Pope seems to be using Twitter to broadcast messages rather like Buckingham Palace, but not like Number 10. He even taps a publish button in this video. I am more interested in how Vatican Media Services (which incorporates Vatican Radio) is going to use the new portal for social search. About time the Vatican switched to 16 by 9 like the rest of the world. The Vatican on Flipboard? I wonder if they have seen it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Media Debate & Radio Netherlands Worldwide

Just watched the media debate on the future of public broadcasting. I am pretty sure the regional broadcasters must be pleased with the outcome. The external broadcasting service, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, must be disappointed.

The Netherlands Minister for Culture, Marja van Bijsterveldt-Vliegenthart, stuck to the line in her media letter to the Dutch parliament of 10 days ago. In it she proposes that BVN (the Duitch language satellite TV service) and the broadcast services to Bonaire, Curacao, Aruba, Sint Eustatius, Saba and Sint Maarten will be retained. But they will be taken out of the Radio Netherlands portfolio and put somewhere in the Netherlands Public broadcasting system. Their funding is not in question.

Radio Netherlands as an independent foundation will be taken out of Dutch media law, and its budget at the Ministry of Culture effectively moved from 46 million to zero as from 1st Jan 2013. The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs said last Friday that it will continue one task of the Wereldomroep (stimulating free speech in countries without free media) for which it has found 8 million Euro from foreign affairs and 6 million from the overseas development aid budget. I'm guessing they will turn what's left into an NGO, since I didn't hear anyone say the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wants to run a broadcasting outfit. Exactly what they will pick from the existing Wereldomroep is not clear since there are already NGO organisations, such as Free Press Unlimited, Oxfam-Novib and Hivos who are doing projects of a similar nature. There are also a handful of NGO's doing work in the field of digital freedom, i.e. working on technologies to work around firewalls.

The Minister of Culture, in principle, rejected calls from opposition parties to extend the hand-over period or to reconsider the budget reduction for Radio Netherlands Worldwide. The station has three months to come up with a redundancy plan for the employees.

Update: Radio Netherlands reported Tuesday morning (28th June) that the Dutch parliament was due to vote today on three motions tabled yesterday affecting RNW. They were submitted by opposition parties during yesterday’s debate on public broadcasting. The most significant one is from Martijn van Dam of the PvdA (the Dutch Labour Party). In the motion he denounces the abrupt manner of the proposed cuts to RNW’s budget and suggests that “no irreversible decisions” be taken until there has been a further debate on the future of RNW after the summer recess. The Dutch government opposes all three motions arguing that since there is no more money available.

The vote on these motions has now been delayed until Thursday. I get the impression the Dutch government is focussing more on other motions put forward concerning domestic public broadcasting and rather heated public reactions to a quite separate bill which wants to take another 200 million Euro out of the cultural sector. The museums and arts institutions seem to have a much more vocal lobby.

Media debate on future of public broadcasting begins

Haven't heard many constructive arguments from the opposition parties about alternatives to what the Dutch government is proposing. The orchestras clearly have a stronger lobby than some of the public broadcasters. It is interesting that the only role being suggested for the public is to come up with programme suggestions (for which they have no money) rather than having a voice in what the professionals are making. What am I missing?

Dutch take Public out of Public Broadcasting

Major debate on the future of public broadcasting in the Netherlands. That something needs to change is clear from the reports that were published last week. It shows that despite the claims that public broadcasting is the cheapest in Europe, it is a long way from being the best. Lots of money being spent in the wrong places like marketing and reinventing technical things already tried and tested elsewhere in Europe.

What concerns me the most is that the public have never been part of the discussion in the Hague, nor will they be in the future. The public voice is only represented by those who choose to pay 15 euro to become a member of a broadcasting society like the VARA, VPRO etc. There is no mechanism, like a BBC Trust, where citizens can react on and influence decisions made at the NTR, NOS and NPO.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Apple Slams Door in Face of Professionals

As the new Apple slogan goes, Everything did "just changed in post". But not for the better.

I have to advise a few TV networks next week what to do next now that the Final Cut Pro X video editing software has finally appeared. We were so looking forward to it. But the picture above illustrates the path you need to take as a current Final Cut Pro professional user. For my clients and myself, it's more like Mission Impossible.

Conan's editing team sums up the frustration in the professional world.

Clearly the message to my clients is not to even THINK of upgrading at the moment. It may be a better and faster editor for simple cut and paste jobs. But this is NOT a network product and it ignores the millions of dollars already spent in FCP legacy projects which can't be imported into the new version (at least not yet). There is also a global shortage of trainers who can share the new interface with others. For the moment, they can charge a premium.

I agree with others that they should have launched this product as iMovie Plus, ironed out the bugs and then built a conversion path for the "professional" community, including automatic import of legacy FCP projects and a corporate strategy for installing the product and supporting over a network. Only then should they have dreamed of coming out with something called Final Cut Pro. If the legacy plug-ins for FCP don't work in the new FCPX, then many of the plug-ins like VIZRT graphics are going to be useless, so I won't be recommending it yet for the newsrooms in Europe and the Middle East I advise. I wonder if Apple will do this themselves or find a third party who wants to take this further. The global audience of craft editors is nothing compared to the numbers of people who simply want to assemble a few shots for a YouTube or Vimeo story.

This false and failed launch is one hell of a shame. I notice that Apple has pulled out of many of the broadcast trade-shows on the grounds that they sell more FCP licences retail than to professional networks. But they also stopped listening to thousands of broadcast journalist freelancers who have become economically dependent on one editing program, almost always work as a team often not co-located. Avid, Adobe and Quantel must be celebrating like crazy this weekend. But will they reduce their prices to stimulate defection in this segment? I doubt it.

Of course there is always a cry from the professionals when something changes as radically as this. Some of the cries are unfounded as this post in the New York Times reveals. But the things Apple has taken out (for now) and the inability to read legacy FCP files are the nail in the coffin for me for this release.

Will heads roll at Apple on this one? I certainly hope so. Talk about slamming the door in millions of faces, most of whom have spent decades trying to convince bosses that FCP was the preferred platform (and Apple Mac the operating system). Will Apple admit to a marketing blunder of such mega proportions, rather akin to Coke's New Coke failed marketing scheme from 1985? Will they tell us how long they will support FC7?  I expect not.

Will they fix the issues raised in this and other articles? I believe they have to and fast if the word Pro is worthy of remaining in the name.

Credit: Photo of Grand Canyon by Stewart Morris. Used under Creative Commons.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Major Variations in Netherlands Public Radio Production Costs

Colleagues in the Critical Distance Network are going through the published analysis by the Boston Consulting Group about Netherlands Public Broadcasting this weekend.

The last time we saw this kind of detail about Dutch public broadcasting was in a McKinsey report from 2003. I see that the Dutch government website which used to host the report has taken it down. So, seeing as it has been in the public domain for so long, I've put it back on the Interwebs. It's in Dutch, but it makes for a fascinating comparison with the latest report from the Boston Consulting Group.

Interesting that the Boston Consulting Group is trying to work out efficiency norms, but it hasn't really compared the different staffing needs of the different formats. Compared with the commercial sector in Holland and neighbouring countries, Dutch Public radio is well staffed. While the BCS think they can make savings at Radio 4, I am astonished to see that 10% of the 750 Full-Time-Equivalents in public radio are working for Radio 5. This is the world's most schizophrenic network being a "golden oldies" music format during the week and a dumping ground for a myriad of short speech programmes at the weekend. The overall market share of 2.9%, up from nothing a few years ago, was because of the music programmes during the week not the labour intensive stuff shoved out at the weekend. I see the same report is suggesting that transmission costs can be reduced by cutting 1008 kHz AM. Why not re-examine the raison d'ĂȘtre of the whole network?

By contrast, Radio 1, the news and opinion network, has a market share that has stayed at around 8 percent since radio time began although the staffing levels have grown to 308 FTE's ! Radio 6, a jazz network has 47 FTE's, and Radio 4 (classical music) a market share of 1.9 and a staff of 83. Compare that with Business News Radio which come up with a very competent programme format with a staff of around 36. 

No one seems to be talking about the reach of FunX, which is also financed by the public purse to the tune of 2 million Euro per year and yet consistently fails to show up in ratings AT ALL.What started as a clever urban radio project has seriously lost its way. The reason BCS ignores it in their report is because it doesn't have national coverage.

  1. Radio 538 12.2  (12.0)  [10.7]
  2. Radio 3FM* 9.8  (9.8)  [9.4]
  3. Radio 2* 9.6  (9.5)  [9.7]
  4. Radio 1* 8.3  (8.2)  [7.3]
  5. Sky Radio 7.9  (8.0)  [8.4]
  6. Q-music 7.2  (6.9)  [6.6]
  7. Radio Veronica 5.0  (5.2)  [6.0]
  8. 100%NL 4.2  (4.1)  [4.2]
  9. Radio 5* 2.9  (2.9)  [3.0]
  10. Radio 10 Gold 2.6  (2.6)  [2.6]
  11. Slam!FM 2.5  (2.5)  [2.1]
  12. Radio 4* 1.9  (2.0)  [2.2]
  13. Classic FM 1.5  (1.6)  [2.1]
  14. Arrow Classic Rock 0.9  (1.1)  [1.3]
  15. BNR Nieuwsradio 0.8  (0.8)  [0.9]
  16. Kink FM 0.4  (0.5)  [0.4]
  17. Arrow Jazz FM 0.4  (0.4)  [0.4]
  18. Radio 6 soul & jazz* 0.3  (0.2)  [--]

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Parallel Universe in Hilversum

Interesting that while a Media Congress is putting on a show in Studio 21 in the Media Park, the Ministry of Culture is organising a parallel discussion a few hundred metres away on how to regulate the audio-visual industry. Actually the distance between producers, public and politicians should be measured in light years, with the audience well ahead in shaping the future media environment.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dutch Public Media - what just happened?

I got a call from friends in Washington DC last night working at a renowned Journalism college asking what’s about to happen in Dutch public broadcasting? Are there any lessons learned to be learned about what’s happening in this part of Western Europe? Yes. I think there are. Here's some of what I shared with them during a webcast briefing.

What Just happened?

The Dutch cabinet has just issued a 39 page letter to parliament explaining its plans for drastic changes to Dutch public broadcasting, regional, national and international. There’s a parliamentary debate on the June 27th. The detailed report from the external consulting firm that’s being doing the math will only be released on the 24th. My guess is that no-one’s going to read that in the detail it requires. The debate will therefore be based on what’s already in the Minister’s letter. So let’s look at some of the detail.

The Quest for Interesting Public Content

If you live in most parts of the Netherlands you have access to four publicly financed TV channels. Three are national, one is regional. The regional TV broadcaster gets its money from the regional government authority together with some advertising revenue. The three national networks get their budget from public taxation as well as advertising blocks. Remember this small country also has 7 national commercial TV channels plus nearly 50 other commercial TV networks that target the Netherlands with their (subtitled) content. Think of National Geographic or Discovery as well as some local commercial TV operations. It’s a zoo! And the market is totally saturated.

If you scan the TV channels (especially during the day) you’ll see that a country of 17 million cannot hope to generate enough relevant public content from within the Netherlands to fill four channels creatively. On the regional channels you’ll find a lot of webcams watching presenters in radio studios. At other times, these regional stations make between 30-60 minutes of original regional material a day and repeat it in a carrousel-format for the rest of the evening and into the following day. What some of them like Omroep Brabant, Omroep Fryslan and RTV Rijnmond make is generally good by international standards. Their costs for radio and TV production turn out to be a fraction of their counterparts in neighbouring countries. But there are also exceptions. I think AT5 in Amsterdam is more chaotic than I have ever witnessed in any capital city.

Commercial and Public sectors always at war
For as long as we have had commercial TV broadcasting in the Netherlands (it was 1989, after Albania!) the private sector has complained that the public broadcasters had an unfair advantage. Public radio got four national FM licenses for free, whereas the commercial sector went through an auction system just after the euphoria of the 3G licences. The major difference between a broadcast conference in the Netherlands and ones I attend abroad is that the Dutch always talk about infrastructure, money and marketing. Never content. There’s mutual mistrust between commercial and public and I don’t see any attempts to come to a truce. Contrast that with Scotland. I note that BBC Scotland and STV have made simple agreements about where they can work together (on technology, training, sharing of certain raw footage) and where they will compete (on content). I’m looking forward to being able to attend a workshop or mashup weekend where public broadcasters share some of the stuff I have already contributed towards making.

From Four to Three

Dutch public radio and TV carry commercials. The argument from the commercial broadcasters and the press is that they distort the market.  The right-of-centre political parties, most notably the VVD, have often said they want to reduce the number of national channels from three to two, making them commercial free. This is often referred to as the BBC model, even though it’s a model that the BBC was using in the 1970’s.
In the letter of June 17th, the Dutch government plans a slightly different tactic. They’ve broadened their cutting lens. Instead of reducing the national channels from three to two, they have included the regional networks, in effect going from four to three networks. I guess they’ll build regional opt-out windows into the Nederland 3 network. It remains to be seen if they retain the national network without the regional opt-outs, since this would compete with its regional variation.

Complexity is Killing

Holland has had a unique public broadcasting system since the 1920’s. These were days of scarcity. So access to national airwaves was limited to broadcasting societies representing different strands of society as it was then (socialist, protestant, catholic, conservative/liberal) This fragmented system has become increasingly irrelevant as Dutch society has changed in its make-up, and the number of organisations producing programmes with public money has mushroomed from 4 to 21 This is impossible to govern, creates a sea of management and bureaucracy, each with its own agenda, all to the detriment of creative programme making. It’s always been the case that programme makers from different organisations have worked together perfectly, while their bosses have public battles competing for the public funds. Holland’s unique public broadcasting system is still unique because it would be financially impossible to organise anywhere else on the planet. Now it has even become impossible to sustain it here.

The Dutch government is shaving up to €127 million off the national TV/radio budgets, demanding that broadcasters merge rather than co-operate, though for the moment) not offering a financial incentive for anyone to do so. That’s probably coming. It wants to bring the number of public broadcasting production houses back to 6.

From Public Media back to Public Broadcast

Under pressure from the commercial press and broadcast sector, and Brussels, the Dutch government seems to be trying to reverse a trend being witnessed across the world.
o  Broadcasters are becoming part of a much wider cross-media mix.
o  Citizens don’t think in channels any more.
o  Programme formats are already emerging involving a second screen, whether it‘s a mobile or a tablet.
o  Public service broadcasting is becoming public service media.
The leading media companies in Europe are the ones that understand the audience needs and behaviour the best. In the US, I’d argue that Netflix and other content aggregators are becoming better positioned than any broadcaster to make money out of the audience. For the commercial sector, the audience IS the product.

So it’s strange that after going into depth that the future is digital, the Dutch Media Letter then explains broadcasting the way it was at the start of this Millennium. That’s not surprising since much of scientific argument for changes comes from a report by the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy made 6 years ago in 2005. Called Focus on Function, I know the contents rather well having assisted in the editing and rewriting of the international version of the report called Media Policy for a Digital Age . Trying to explain the Dutch system to an international audience was extremely difficult.

At the time, I thought the report was strong on its analysis. But there should have been a follow-up discussion where someone took the policy and turned this into the production grammar that creative people could understand. As it was, the public broadcasters simply rejected it outright, and the government got sidetracked with other things. Until now, for the report is firmly back on the table.

Vision 2005

The problem is that YouTube, Twitter, iPad, iPhone, Android, Wikileaks, Huffington Post, didn’t effectively exist when prof. dr. Wim B.H.J. van de Donk and his team were analyzing the media scene in 2005. They couldn’t foresee peer to peer or group publishing. I am one of many who argue that a public media company six years later will fail if it only tries to do things for society. Success comes when you combine it with conversations and productions that are going on from within society. It means content makers who build sustainable conversations will have to integrate relevant social platforms. Some conversations will start on the web and later become a TV show or a game.

The Vision is Really Television
The Dutch government plans to force the public service media to go back to being broadcasters. Activities that are not “programme related” will be starved of public funding and the number of websites will be drastically reduced. That won’t be difficult because the traffic to majority of websites is very low indeed. Twelve Digital thematic channels from the public broadcasters, currently seen only on some cable systems and via satellite will be phased out unless the public production companies decide to find alternative sources of funding.

If this goes ahead, I think we’ll see BBC-style work arounds. If you have been listening to BBC Radio 4 in the middle of the night recently, you may have heard children’s programmes going out. Why? Because to be part of the offer on iPlayer, they have to have been previously broadcast. No-one stipulates at what time and to whom.

Fun gets Funded In the Netherlands, But Factual is Failing

New activities by the public broadcast-production companies like TROS, VARA, BNN etc.  are strictly discouraged in the media letter. Broadcasters  should stick to making programmes for their respective radio and TV outlets. The web is only for supporting the audio and video productions. Specialist, genre-driven websites will get their broadcast funding cut. If that’s the case the creative innovation will escaped from the public sector in Hilversum for good.

May be that’s the plan?

Channel 4 Model Not BBC.
Some readers of this column has pointed out that I have been using the terms "public broadcasting" and "public production companies" in this article. I think only NOS, NTR, ROOS network, and NPO are public broadcasters in the true sense because they have direct access to the airwaves. NPO commissions content from what have effectively become "public-financed production" companies like VARA, BNN, TROS, etc. NTR looks as though it will get the job of commissioning stuff from the aspirant broadcasters like WNL. I note the Dutch government language in its press statements is all about 6 public production companies.  Gradually I think we're moving towards a system not unlike the UK channel 4 construction. This publicly-owned corporation (set up by Margaret Thatcher) has money but no programmes, production companies bid for tenders to fill the clearly defined slots. Production companies  like the VARA, TROS which are really large "loyalty schemes" because they have a membership will compete against Endemol for slots. Because this kind of membership system will collapse (why pay an extra 15 euro a year when these memebership organisations are strictly limited in what they can do for their membership), the Dutch government has further marginalized their power and influence in Dutch society.

Amsterdam Creative Capital
I believe a lot of creative expertise has already escaped from Hilversum to Amsterdam. It is true that Endemol, Talpa etc have done a lot to innovate in the game show sector building a world-class reputation in this sector. I see lots of innovation in the games development sector and interface design as well.

But when it comes to factual content creation, the great public science experiments, cross-media documentaries, major investigative journalism are all being developed elsewhere in the world. Hilversum, at the moment, is in creative collapse. It is no good creating a Dutch Media Hub and trying to get foreign investment in the Netherlands without the right mix of technology, creatives and marketing. But, just having two out of three spells disaster.

I find it incredible that with the creative sector being so important to the Netherlands, that there is no public debate on its future. Yes, there is a debate in public. But there is no public consultation period in this country like you see conducted by Ofcom or the BBC Trust in the UK. Where is the crowdsourcing of ideas in this age of Big data? The Media letter refers to a body like BBC Worldwide which can oversee and control the commercial activities of public broadcasters. But there’s no mention of how public broadcasters will conduct a constructive, sustainable conversation with the public. Nothing like the BBC Trust is on the cards, so who represents the active public voice in Netherlands Public Broadcasting? The "audience is the product" approach is fine for commercial enterprises targeting advertisers or sponsors. They deliver a demographic to those who want to send a commercial message to particular group of people. But I don't believe citizens can even be the product when programmes are being made in the public interest with public funds.  So unless they plan something like a BBC Trust to ensure the audience has some say in what they are paying for, they have effectively eliminated the public in public broadcasting. I'd call that state media. 

Dutch politicians talk to broadcasters, cultural foundations, government think tanks. But there is never an open conversation with individuals. May be they confuse an on-line consultation or a public hearing with some kind of conference or a town-hall debate? Or perhaps the vitriolic comments in the newspapers every time public broadcasting in mentioned makes them scared of the confrontation?  Bearing in mind that public broadcasting is funded by a government tax in the Netherlands, the public here is forced to pay whether they consume or not. So why no say or influence in what happens with something we thought we owned?

Radio Netherlands Worldwide - What was really announced yesterday?

The Dutch cabinet has just issued a 39 page letter to parliament explaining its plans for drastic changes to Dutch public broadcasting, regional, national and international. There’s a parliamentary debate on June 27th. The detailed report from the external consulting firm that’s being doing the math for the Ministry will only be released on the 24th. My guess is that no-one’s going to read that in the detail it really requires. The debate will therefore be based on what’s already in the Minister’s letter. So let’s look at some of the detail as it affects, The Netherlands' international broadcaster Radio Nederland Wereldomroep. Note that I interpret the text in the Media Letter 2011 in a different way to the headline writers at the Netherlands Ministry of Culture. The devil really is in the details, not in the press releases.

The Netherlands cabinet has decided to follow the lead of Scandinavian countries. It is proposing to dismantle and wind-up its international broadcasting foundation. Radio Netherlands Worldwide will cease to be statutory broadcaster under Dutch Media Law by 2012. The organisation has €46 million for this year to make programmes in 10 languages. It will probably get around €10 million next to wind down its operations completely, sell any assets it owns (like the building in Hilversum and the relay station in Madagascar currently being fitted out with refurbished transmitters). The relay station in Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles is already slated for closure.

According to the letter, before being shut down in its present form, the Dutch government will take away two elements of current activities from Radio Netherlands Worldwide which will continue
·      The BVN channel, a satellite TV channel targeting Dutch speaking abroad and partly financed by the Flemish. This is a low-budget compilation channel. In my view, this service should be put out to private tender so that the channel can provide a mix of commercial and public service content rather than the restricted mix it has now. It’s a niche service which has proved its worth in the last 15 years of its existence, a model that other countries like France just don’t understand.
·      The other service to be cherry-picked away from RNW is the Caribbean radio and web service (which also targets Surinam). They provide an information bridge to the remains of the Dutch Realm. I wonder if they will move in with another national broadcaster or whether it’s a better idea to broadcast out of Rotterdam. The bridging function is so important. You can’t do that in Hilversum.

Thanks But No Thanks.

Prime Minister Rutte

In a press conference on Friday 17th June, Prime Minister Rutte basically thanked Radio Netherlands for their efforts so far, but concluded that national image building abroad and calamity services are being done by others already. This form of public-financed publicity is a luxury the Netherlands can no longer afford, partly because it’s so difficult to independently measure its effectiveness.

According to the Media Letter from the Netherlands Ministry of Culture some activities currently done by Radio Netherlands, connected with press freedom may continue in 2013 as part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This Ministry is keeping very quiet as to just what those activities will be, what form they will take, and how much money is to be made available.

The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs is already funding several other organisations outside Radio Netherlands that are involved in contributing to press freedom in other countries -  Voice of the People for Zimbabwe, Radio DaBanga for Sudan are some radio examples, but a lot is going on with special websites and even mobile projects. Many of these are focused projects with a beginning and (when no longer needed) a point where they end. I can’t see the Foreign Ministry forking out €10 million a year for one particular sector, when the budgets for activities in other sectors (like public diplomacy) are in a totally different league.

What’s Left of Human Digital Rights?

A clue to the future activities is the declaration by the Netherlands Government that it supports net neutrality, being on its way to become the second country after Chile to put this into law.

Net neutrality advocates have been calling for legislation that would ensure people get access to all Web content equally, while Internet service providers (ISPs), including BT, KPN, Sky and Virgin Media prefer a two-tier model, charging for services like Skype which are currently free. The deep packet inspection proposal by KPN Mobile caused a huge scandal in the Netherlands. This legislation is a huge selling point for companies planning media activities based in Western Europe.

The US and UK governments have already commissioned development of mobile and web technologies to get around firewalls, keeping access channels open in areas where autocracies are trying to isolate their people. Hate media didn’t stop in Rwanda in 1994. It is alive and killing in several other countries today, spreading rumours. It’s just off the global media’s agenda.

So I expect the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs to come up with more projects in 2013 to encourage digital freedom in selected countries. These new projects will both improve technical access for citizens as well as empower the voiceless to get their story heard, either in their own country or by the international community who cares. It will be assisting others with their programmes rather than making programmes for others. It's the YouTube approach. Create space and the locals will fill it.  

Remember, all this is before the parliamentary debate on June 27th 2011. What really happens next will become clear after then. Radio Netherlands personnel have announced they will organise a large manifestation in the Hague on the day of the debate in order to try and reverse what the cabinet is proposing.  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bill on Journalism

This is one of the best interviews I have seen in a long time, where Bill Moyers explains the power of a good interview. Important is not the most necessarily immediate. Where is the sense of editorial authority in most interviews? Bill thinks we're lost in the smoke of opinion. It takes money to do investigative reporting. Good journalism is comparitive not declarative. I feel too few international broadcasters ever understood the power a great comparison. May be it explains why infographics sites like have become so powerful. 

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Bill Moyers Pt. 1
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Monday, June 13, 2011

Innovation Gap Widening in Dutch Broadcast Entertainment Market

Innovation is a culture in any organisation not a department. It looks to me that innovation is doing well in the smaller commercial production companies in the Netherlands. But they are mainly targeting the small Dutch market with entertainment programmes.

Meanwhile, Dutch public broadcasting is going through a creative collapse while it tries to re-organise itself. It will be at least 18 months before any form of a culture-of-innovation returns to the media park in Hilversum. I don’t think the creative sector should or can wait that long. 

The umbrella organisation, NPO, looks like it has decided to innovate purely in the distribution and aggregation of content, and leave the content innovation to the broadcasting organisations. Yet it’s going to be extremely difficult to explain to content partners why they need to change to adapt to changing media usage. I get the impression that there's a bit of analogue backlash going on. Radio audiences look stable or slightly growing, but the total figures mask the gradual defection by younger listeners. A lot of the audience and technical research that NPO does is presented in a form that creatives simply do not understand. Tables, graphics, statistics but no conclusions as to what formats are working and why. Without a proper context, there is no communication between NPO and the broadcasters and therefore no discernible progress. Broadcasters need  much clearer understanding of the life-cycle of content, delivering a following before transmission, not waiting until after. They also need an exit strategy on social media platforms when the series comes to the end of its planned life-cycle. There are too many public-funded websites hiding under the umbrella which have long since been abandoned by both producers and users.

The commercial production companies, on the other hand, do understand how to entertain the public. Holland has long since been the test market for music, games and TV entertainment formats. Must be a cultural thing. For some reason, if it works in Holland, it works in both Anglo-Saxon, Slavic and Latin countries. The commercial sector has decided that the audience is in fact the product. All they have to do is deliver the right profile to the advertisers. And the larger commercial companies like Talpa and Endemol understand their audiences like no other. 

That's beginning to dawn on the smaller companies. It's noticeable that they're doing this through a network of companies based in Amsterdam, abandoning hard-to-commute-to Hilversum for what it is...simply a studio and playout centre.

The Dutch gaming industry is also trying to figure out its future. The Dutch are active gamers - even during a recession they are expected to shell out 650 million Euro this year for games and the necessary hardware. But, partly because game development seems to be spread over several cities, rather than concentrating on building a hub, Dutch developers and publishers will only grab up to 150 million of that lucrative market. In my experience, Dutch companies are behind in understanding the possible business models, everything is focussed on marketing and there's too little time and money available for R & D.  It's only now that its becoming cool to work with other people in the creative industries, like designers or drama producers. But local entrepreneurs must move from being first class to being world-class if they want to surpass the rising stars in other European countries, Korea and the US. 

But while there is light at the end of the tunnel for the entertainment sector, I believe that those producing factual programmes and documentaries are falling even further behind their colleagues in other European countries. Most of Dutch public broadcasting is focussed on the network identity or a programme brand, which is why navigation on their websites is getting worse as more and more content is piled on. Just try and find something broadcast last Monday if you can’t remember the name of the programme. Everything is for the moment. The industry has a memory of not more than one season.

So, when it comes to the journalistic side of public media, I think Dutch public broadcasters should be trying to emulate the Huffington Post approach to social media rather than what I see, for instance, on 3FM’s Social Radio experiment. I recently put the UK and US about 3 years ahead of the Netherlands in terms of creative development. When you mention this, you're met with very defensive looks. 

It's not clear to anyone abroad why you should make your distribution headquarters in the Netherlands. Which probably goes some way to explain why the Dutch Media Hub isn’t working. Endemol and Talpa don't need it. The multi-lingual production talent once found in call-centres in the Netherlands has left for other countries, like Ireland. Why would a Danish producer come to Holland to use the facilities when they're  just as cheap at home? There used to be all kind of advantages with VAT, but those days are gone.

It's the nature of Dutch culture that things have to go really wrong before there is significant improvement. We'll see what survives on this cycle.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Final DeBoxing of Bose Headphones

I give a lot of talks, both in company and in public, about learning from failures. My classic case of design and communications failure is Bose. Yes, they made the most comfortable noise-cancelling headphones on the planet. The Quiet Comfort 2 headphones also had a design fault which the company refused to acknowledge. If you fell asleep on the plane while wearing them, the plastic holding the earpads would very quickly crack. Took about 9 months on average. And Bose would never repair them. Within the warranty period they were replaced. Out of warranty, they wanted 50 Euros for a small piece of plastic - plus proof of purchase. Bose doesn't understand social media, or how to handle sites like Get Satisfaction. When I posted on the site I got a curt response from the US company acting on Bose's behalf. They sent me on a wild goose chase which ended up with the same response. We don't fix our products. We simply replace them. They certainly don't admit to making a design fault.

They had a clever idea in the headphone case. Initially people came up to me and asked me what brand of headphones I was wearing. Bose thoughtfully put a courtesy card in the headphone case which explained the brand and where they could be ordered. When I tried to repair the headphones with RescueTape (brilliant stuff by the way), I changed for being a brand ambassador to being a brand alternative influencer - buy anything but Bose. Don't ever repeat my expensive mistake.

Today the phones broke again. Now they're beyond repair and its time to go through the official deboxing. Bose have the next generation QC-3 headphones for a ludicrous 398 Euro on their website. You can bet I won't be upgrading. If you've been thinking about buying Bose headphones, or any other Bose product for that matter, I urge you to reconsider.

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Radio Netherlands Fate to be Announced Shortly

We'll probably find out very soon the fate of Radio Netherlands, Holland's external public broadcasting service. Looks to me like VVD and CDA are simply following the script set out in a very old and expensive 2003 McKinsey report which suggested turning the place into a "freedom station reaching difficult places". That would mean keeping the Caribbean department and a few language services to areas of Africa, Indonesia and maybe Latin America.

I see that the Dutch government website which used to host the report has taken it down. So, seeing as it has been in the public domain for so long, I'll put it back on the Interwebs. It's in Dutch. But if you're interested in the thinking about Radio Netherlands you only need to look at the three pages below. They concluded that up to 29 million Euro could be saved on the budget (in 2001) of 48 million Euro. A few months later a letter from the Raad voor Cultuur (The Dutch Arts Council) drew similar conclusions on Page 20 but suggested a phase out of activities.

The current budget of RNW is 49 million Euro according to the 2010 Annual report, though on Tuesday RNW issued a report suggesting its annual budget should be 36 million Euro.

Commercial network RTL reported later the same day that its sources in the Dutch cabinet say the announced budget will be more like 10 million Euro, which suggests to me that someone's been photocopying the old McKinsey Report. Not long now.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Marks on Mechanics - Encore Presentation

In 1993 I made a summer series of five 30 minute programmes on the history of recorded sound. The series was inspired by a visit to the Museum in Utrecht, which then was called From Singing Tower to Street Organs. The museum is still there. I then discovered people who were collecting pianolas, gramophones, phonographs and jukeboxes. Of course, it wasn't just the devices. It was the stories that went with them. I've re-released them here as high quality MP3's.

Although not a Media Network show, I have had requests from people to put these documentaries into the collection, since they have a connection with communications. This first programme looks at all kinds of clocks that perform melodies. Another one all this week to complete the series. Enjoy.