Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Radio Netherlands Bonaire remembered one last time

Just clearing out some old stuff at Mission Control. Bumped into a brochure I wrote in 1993, following a visit to the Radio Netherlands Bonaire relay station. It told the story of the reasons for building the facility and how it operated. I'm gathering these memories together for an e-book to be published later this year. Interested in sharing? Then leave a message.

The team actually contributed to the island society in many ways - being technical experts in diesel power as well as transmission technology. I always thought they should have turned it into a regional technical expertise centre for the entire Caribbean. But then wasn't in the mandate. In the end, the decline of shortwave sealed the station's fate. Disrupted by the Internet.

This was the office just outside Kralendijk used to receive the signals from Hilversum. Originally SW antennas were behind the building to receive news programmes sent via SSB from Kootwijk. Feature programmes were pre-recorded until 1981 when everything switched to satellite (huge 11 metre dishes!) 

Continuity in Bonaire -checking the right programme was going out on the right frequency
Let me repost an item from November 2012...

Ron Gijzen made this photo on the island of Bonaire. It shows one of the 17 transmission masts on the ground at the old Radio Netherlands relay station. The station is being dismantled and in the middle of November 2012 the antenna masts were taken down. So ends a famous shortwave radio station, which was always ahead of its time in the use of technology. It has a special memory for me as one of the broadcasters over those masts on the Northern side of the island.

I was fortunate to visit the island in 1989, 20 years after it was built, to make a radio profile of the work there. You can listen here.

I don't deny I had a lot of fun making that particular programme. It is March 1989 and I realise there is nothing in the RNW archive about the great work that goes on at the relay stations and the story of how the satellite changed an entire industry. I combined it with reportages on the other ABC islands. Curacao was nice, but the beauty on Bonaire, especially under the water, was spectacular. I remember meeting a great Aruban engineer working at the station who actually swam to work. This programme was made before the admin building in Kralendijk was closed and the building expanded for the DRM capable transmitters.

I think all of us who worked at Radio Netherlands can be thankful for that extra boost the relay station gave to our programmes. Without it, the signal - and the impact - would never have been as strong, especially in the America's and West Africa. Thank to all the engineering crews in the background - not only keeping the place running for 18 hours a day but also to the Frequency managers back in Hilversum who made sure we were always on the best spot on the dial. It was a small station (only 2 300 kW transmitters at the time) but with huge influence.

Wonder if you have special memories of listening to the station? It certainly had several stories during it lifetime, including surviving fires and rats.

Local newspaper on Bonaire captured the antennas at the Radio Netherlands Bonaire transmitter site being destroyed. I see other reports from the island that the diesel generators have been donated to the island for a symbolic US$1.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What happened to the Twitter Fail Whale?

Haven't seen Twitter drop out in a while, until a few moments ago. Like the German version the best. I know it's the same message as in English. It just looks so much more serious in German.

Take down algorithms on YouTube are seriously broken

Sadly, YouTube doesn't understand that an impromptu performance of a classic should get out into the world - and not taken down for "copyright" infringements.

How conference calls usually work in real life

Great work by Tripp and Tyler. 3.4 million views in less than a week. Because everyone has been to one of these. Is it just me, or is Skype getting worse and worse too?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Where's Jack?

Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Square hasn't tweeted for over 20 days. Wierd for a founder to suddenly stop like this.

Reed Hastings Netflix on Challenges for VOA, RFE, etc

Reed Hastings, Netflix founder and CEO was a (former) listener to BBC World Service while working in Swaziland. Not sure why he never ran into the VOA on the radio dial. But he doesn't know either.

I bump into all kinds of curiosities while looking for other things on YouTube. The US BBG, which overseas the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Radio Marti, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Al Hurrah, meets in public. Their December meeting had some insights on the challenges these large government entities are facing in changing their delivery technology. They have enormous challenges being disruptive.

Reed Hastings shows that Netflix's disruptive, audience driven approach was the best way to approach a very static broadcast/cable industry. Understand what people need, then give them what they want. If it isn't out there, make it. It's a strategy for a sharing economy.

The panel also includes Tom Cochran, CTO of Atlantic Media (publishers of the Atlantic magazine) as well as Macon Phillips, from the bureau of international information programs at the US State Department.

The questions and answers afterwards really show (for me) the fundamental challenge facing all these international broadcasters. They are giant shouting machines in an age of the sharing economy. They have huge difficulty in engaging in a meaningful conversation. They also have a very central strategy...they want to push information out from a single point. People like John Hagel III have shown that there is a big shift to pull.

You can also hear the doubts that people are having about audience figures. The numbers quoted by BBG and BBC are huge. But what do they really mean?

Snowden on German Public Television

Hamburg based NDR-TV broadcast an interview on Jan 26th with Edward Snowden made in Moscow. Although it got a lot of coverage inside Germany, I'm not sure that those outside the country realise a full version in English is sitting in at Glad someone kept this interview. I see its been downloaded 26,000 times, so someone has found it.

Looks like the Creative Guilds are forming in Germany too

DLD is posting some of the interviews they made at this year's conference in Munich. Discovered this interview with the Louisa Loewenstein, director of Brandtales, a freelance media agency based in Berlin. Interesting to hear so many things that are close my own experiences.

It is true - you cannot compete with free. But then, free is becoming unsustainable.

Twitter and Gfk announce new TV ratings system

Twitter and the German research firm of GfK announced last week an exclusive partnership to introduce GfK Twitter TV Ratings into Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. The new service will provide insights into the frequency and reach of messages from Twitter users associated with television programs and campaigns. Both companies believe the information is essential for media groups and agencies to gain insight into the growing popularity of live social media commentary. The press statement says: 

While watching television, more and more people share their views and comments about the program on Twitter. The so called ‘second screen’ is making television an interactive and social experience. It also increases the reach of TV channels, as the messages are widely spread amongst the followers of these Twitter users. 

With GfK Twitter TV Ratings, GfK will be able to provide data on the frequency and reach of messages concerning specific TV programs. The new service will start rolling out later this year in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands and will enable TV stations to show the additional audience they reach via social media. In addition, media agencies and advertisers will have richer analytics to plan and evaluate cross-media campaigns.

Matthias Hartmann, CEO of GfK, comments: "We are delighted with this partnership with Twitter. We are only at the beginning of the digital transformation of media and Twitter has proven itself to be the 'Social Soundtrack' of live events and television. We find the interaction between different media particularly interesting and are working on providing insights into cross-media effects, alongside our innovative new partner Twitter."

Ali Rowghani, COO of Twitter, says: “Twitter has become a live companion to the TV viewing experience for millions in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. People love using Twitter while tuned into television and to participate in the live conversation about TV. We are thrilled that GfK will be bringing its audience measurement experience to social media, to enable TV stations to measure the total audience they reach."

It may something about the reach. I'm curious how this information will help broadcasters make more engaging programmes.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Vice News - Going where others fear to tread

I remember coming across Vice News a few years ago and their travels into North Korea. Thought they were doing original stuff.

I didn't realize they were founded in Montreal 20 years ago and now have grown to a company of 700. Twice the size of the old Radio Netherlands. They now publish in Dutch - and the quality of their investigative reporting is much better than a lot of public media I could mention. Disruptive to be sure. See them more in my news feeds with every passing day.

Larry Downes on Disruption

The "This week in Tech" network in Petaluma, California tends to bury the Triangulation programme on their website. You have to know it is there. But do check out this interview with Larry Downes, author of Big Bang Disruption. He does a great job of explaining the history of disruptive thinking and why it is so important in 2014. 

Apple looks back over the Amstel

Lots of shots of Amsterdam in the Apple 30th anniversary film looking back at the Macintosh. Not that I really understand why, although we were certainly early adopters.

Fascinated to discover by accident that the strikingly beautiful girl in the red shorts in the 1984 Apple commercial was British actress and athlete Anya Major. She was also played Nikita, the Russian border guard, in the Elton John video the following year.

In 1983, the Chiat/Day advertising agency held a casting call in London, on behalf of their client, Apple Computer, for what would prove to be a landmark television commercial. The vision of the agency and director Ridley Scott stipulated an actress capable of running up to a large video screen, swinging a sledgehammer in a wide spin, and releasing it at the video screen. Most of the models and actresses tested could not wield the clumsy hammer, much less throw it; in fact, one errant throw nearly struck a passerby at the Hyde Park casting call. The petite Major, an experienced discus thrower who had been discovered at a local health club, won the role with her ability to handle the hammer convincingly.

The commercial officially aired only twice on US television. Its best-known appearance was just after half-time of Super Bowl XVIII on January 22, 1984. It had earlier been screened in December 1983, right before the 1:00 am sign-off on KMVT in Twin Falls, Idaho, so that the advertisement could be submitted to award ceremonies for that year. In addition, starting on January 17, 1984 it was screened prior to previews in movie theaters for a few weeks. Even with these limited appearances, the ad created such a media frenzy that it gained many subsequent free TV airings and print mentions, as it was discussed in the media.

Will always remember her piercing blue eyes, even though the VHS video quality was awful in those days.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sorry, there may not be an app for that

I remember speaking with Evgeny Morozov a few years back. What a genuine nice guy. Since then he's become one of the most intelligent and constructive critiques of Silicon Valley that I know. He's better than Andrew Keen because he keeps it fresh. This presentation was given a few days ago in Munich at DLD. Note the comments about Google about 9 minutes in. Google is moving into miltary robotics and finance! After all, Google have the best data to assess your potential to repay the loans or become a super insurance company. After all, they would know the temperature in the house through their acquisition of NEST smart thermostats.

Expect an app on your mobile phone to trade your data in real time. So what is the agenda for solving these problems? Snowdon has provided a lot of outrage, but we need to figure out what to do with it.

Is the Netherlands also a fragile state? BBC triggers important debate for me

I remember remarking to Andy Sennitt, then the editor of the World Radio TV Handbook, that one of the challenges of using his media directory was that every entry for each station was formatted in a different way. He responded that you can't build a template because each country uses and develops its media in a very different way. No-one has every really studied why. Media looks simple. Infact building conversations in society is incredibly complex, especially now.

I discovered a research paper and a discussion this week which has brought a lot of threads together. I find the conclusions to be very clear. They build a path forward for the public media discussion in many countries. But probably not in a way the authors expect.

The paper comes from the BBC Media Action, a development organisation with a separate status within BBC Global News. Although BBC World Service and BBC Media Action share a joint heritage, BBC Media Action is quick to point our that the organisations are distinctBBC Media Action used to just train overseas journalists. Now it studies, organises and executes programmes which have a much wider impact on society. I've been looking at why this work is so important. I found the answers, not in any official BBC video, but in a policy paper that has quickly disappeared into the research section of the website. It's title hasn't grabbed any headlines. But I really hope the content starts a much wider debate.

So what's the problem in unstable parts of the world?

I quote from the executive summary:

The media - defined here as both traditional and digital media – is being transformed in most fragile states. These changes are unleashing unprecedented democratic energy, with profound political and social consequences. Fragile states are often fractured states, divided along religious, political, ethnic or other factional fault lines. For all the fresh potential they offer citizens to hold government to account, new media landscapes are also increasingly fractured – and are often fragmenting along the same fault lines that divide society. Co-option of the media by narrow factional interests appears to be growing. 

Successful political settlements in fractured fragile states depend on societies developing a stronger sense of shared identity. In the past, critics of support to media in fragile states have argued that a free and diverse media can foster division, reinforce factional identities and undermine state stability. The prospects of more open, free and vibrant media environments have prompted wariness in the past among those working to support state stability where government and governance is sometimes weak.

This briefing examines how current media trends are affecting state and societal fragility, both positively and negatively. It argues that development actors should embrace the reality and opportunities provided by changed media and communication environments and that the role of a free and plural media should be prioritised rather than – as seems the case at present – marginalised in much fragile states policy.

The briefing argues that shared identity and sustainable political settlements will be best enabled by national and local dialogue. Such dialogue is dependent on a free media that is independent of undue factional or governmental control. Efforts to shut down the media, even if feasible, risk doing more harm than good in fragile states as elsewhere. Support to the media in fragile states designed to minimise the risk of division and maximise the opportunities for dialogue should feature more prominently in assistance to such states.

This paper was the subject of discussion at the Center for International Media Assistance in Washington DC last week. Fortunately the discussion was taped. You can skip the first 8 minutes of introductory preamble and start when James Deane of BBC Media Action begins talking. 

My thoughts under the video.

Worrying Trend

Extract from James Dean's remarks

Initiatives working out strategies to support the media seem to be decreasing. We don't see much in the way of a clear, focussed concerted effort to understand the role of media in communication, how can we best understand it, and how can we best support it. We're worried about this lack of focus at both the country and international level. 

One half of all development budgets from the EU is spent on supporting fragile states. The problem is that media is often only regarded as a tool for doing something else (like organising a campaign) rather than building social cohesion between divided groups in society. I would argue its the difference between finding new ways to shout a message to a group (which gets the lion's share of funding in 2014) rather than finding new formats to share ideas in society. As we know, isolated communities are becoming a huge problem because they are so vulnerable to extremists which in turn fuel terrorism.

What is a fragile state?

James Deane of the BBC argues that most fragile states are also fractured states – states where often deep fault lines divide communities along ethnic, religious, political or other factional lines. Whether because of scarce resources, corruption, inequality or artificial colonial boundaries that ignore socio-political, geographic or economic conditions, these societies are both politically fragmented and often dislocated from – and ambivalent towards – the state. Conflict, or the threat  of conflict, is high.

The politics of identity in these states may be intensified by their demographics. Fragile states have among the youngest populations and highest fertility rates in the world.13 The countries covered by this briefing – Afghanistan, Kenya, Iraq and Somalia – all feature in the 20 states with the highest fertility rates. So too do the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Yemen and several other fractured fragile states. In sub-Saharan Africa, over 70% of the population is aged below 30. More than half of Afghanistan’s population is under the age of 18. 

The report argues that as the media fragments in fractured states, many current media and communication trends are reinforcing and intensifying  separate identities rather than encouraging the development of shared identity. However, this briefing also highlights the fact that these trends have positive as well as worrying implications.

Shared Identities

Encouraging discussion of shared identity is something that will need to be driven by people, not just by elites, and that the role of the media will be critical to that process.

That for me was the most important line in the report. I always believed that the success of any international broadcaster was based on finding out what two or more countries had in common, not what set them apart. International broadcasters, in general, are not very good at doing dialogue. It's mostly one-way, blasted across a border.

Should we be teaching more than just news journalism?

Around 43 minutes into the conversation above, Michael Dwyer,  (United States Institute of Peace) added an important remark. He's studied Afghanistan media in detail. He notes that the vast amount of media development has happened in urban areas. FM only has a reach until the horizon. Mobile phone and TV networks are also confined to urban areas. In Rural areas, they only get access to the same stations they had a decade ago.

Michael Dwyer

"If its about social cohesion and communities working together, what other kinds of skills should we be teaching people? AMARC pointed out in 2002 that we should be careful not just to train people to do news journalism. We should think about communities. What role can ordinary citizens play as communicators? Maybe station managers need to understand more about mediation?"

Market failure

James Deane concludes his remarks by highlighting serious concerns about the future of public dialogue.

We're seeing many new vibrant (social) media in many countries. But we are worried that only markets, economics, and politics are driving the development of media at a local level. We don't see the emergence of kind of media that is capable of enabling dialogue across fracture points in society, across political and religious divides and across the ethnic divides. Where is it going to come from? 

Public conversation needs to happen where people who disagree with each other can have those disagreements peacefully and in public? How will they argue out their issues, forge their common destinies through public debate rather than fragmented localised, micro-debates? 

I share their concern. But that begs the question.

Is it only fragile states?

The importance of public media as a way of bringing people together, sharing ideas instead of shouting them, applies much wider than these "fragile states". I note that none of the countries in North Africa are not regarded as fragile by the OECD.

I believe this map is VERY incomplete. Looking at recent riots in Turkey, China, Greece, Northern Ireland, Ukraine, Spain, and France. Our domestic news media are poor at reporting on the reasons for riots in these other countries. Even though the last major riots in the Netherlands were in 2012 (when a Facebook party invite went viral), I fear the quality of dialogue in society here is much less than a decade ago.

We're escaping to the present (real-time social media platforms) and becoming obsessed with what's happening now. We're supposed to be living in the age of context. Infact its all disconnected content. Dialogue on our common future is difficult to find.

Lessons Learned

We are seeing more war-lord media, elite media, and hate speech. And it is not confined to fragile states at all. Public media is being re-organised at the moment in many countries. It's almost always using economic arguments.

I don't see anyone debating about how we can develop cross-media formats to build cohesion in societies. Different countries obviously require different approaches. I believe we can learn a lot by holding up a mirror. Are the failures in the fragile states in danger of being repeated here? I believe they are.

I think BBC Media Action has just explained the path that current international broadcasters need to consider. I noted this week that Deutsche Welle has already realised they need to do more than event journalism (breaking news) in order to become more influential. BBC World Service radio is doing some of these aspects, but not all by any means. Are there others you know of?

 Let's work on answers!

Pity BBC Media Action doesn't allow embedded video. It's missing an opportunity to be part of other conversations

The rise of regional tech shows

I'm seeing a trend where the big equipment shows are getting so big they're getting boring. You can't find what you need fast enough. And these days the disruptive companies are where the exciting things are happening. These companies cannot afford exhibition space at the giant shows. They sometimes get shoved into a dark corner, often getting disappointed that they have to "man the stand" instead of getting out and networking on the main floors. It seems to me that some exhibitions have realised this. The BVE show in London (coming up at the end of February) and the ISE show in Amsterdam coming up in two weeks. They have a completely different atmosphere... reminds me of the early MacWorld shows.  I believe these regional shows are going to disrupt the incumbents like NAB, Broadcast Asia and IBC. And if money is tight, people are quick to make choices. Anyone else agree?

BBC - World News Headlines in 15 seconds

Give us 15 seconds of your time and we'll give you the world. Well a bit of it. Interesting to watch the BBC's new adventure on Instagram. More visually appealing than Twitter.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Door County Remembered

Spent a happy summer in Sturgeon Bay as a child, way up the Door County Peninsula. Friend and digital colleague, Kevin Anderson is moving to Wisconsin next month and reminded me of this footage. I know it's tourist propaganda, but I remember climbing those lighthouses, as well as fish boils, camping, poison ivy, and great walks in the woods. And now back to work....

HCJB Global ceases to exist

Religious broadcaster HCJB Global announced today that the 82-year-old ministry, founded in Quito, Ecuador, is changing its name to Reach Beyond. The new name and the release of the Reach Beyond Mission Manifesto are intended to encourage and challenge Christians worldwide to reach beyond their comfort zones and perceived limitations to share the love of Jesus in places where the gospel has seldom, if ever, been heard.
In the programme below, broadcast by Radio Netherlands Media Network in 1995, we reported from a field to the East of Quito in the antenna farm of HCJB. Jonathan Marks attended a conference of local broadcasters in Ecuador and took a side trip to meet those behind a station he'd heard in Europe from the early 1970's. They were also testing a 26 MHz antenna. There are two weather problems - either winds or lack of rain. HCJB also build 100 kW shortwave transmitters as well as small FM transmitters. The site has now been dismantled as reported by HCJB on their blog in 2009.

Rethinking Demo Day's Effectiveness for 2014

Always find the exhibition to be more interesting than the pitches. I want to ask my own questions

I've been asked to do a critique of the various forms of Demo Day that I've witnessed over the past 18 months. I'm particularly curious to measure whether the performance on the day itself was really the trigger for an investor deciding to build a relationship with a particular team. Or was it simply a performance in front of an invited audience?

I've been fortunate to have a front row at such events, being involved behind the scenes at various accelerator demo days in 7 countries. I have also been attending large demo-day/pitching events like Techcrunch Disrupt, TEDx, TNW, and contests like Accenture's Blue Tulip Awards. Insights are beginning to emerge.

Very variable pitch qualities

Demo Days are very similar in that most events are a beauty contest format. Each team gets between 5 and 8 minutes to present their company and then pitch for funding. They all end with an invitation to talk afterwards. 

As John Hagel III pointed out in a recent blogpost, the stories that young companies often tell are ineffective. They should be open ended narratives, explaining why those investors in the audience should get involved. Instead, the pitches are often a boast that a particular team who have been working together for a couple of years are more than qualified to wipe away the competition. Infact the audience has no real proof of the team dynamics. And often the core story is wrapped up in wild claims and stats which can't be verified at the moment of delivery. I've come to a point where I immediately draw a red line through any company that claims they are working in a billion/trillion dollar market.

I have seen companies with brilliant ideas and customer verified products fail miserably on Demo Day. Yes the presentation was slick, but it didn't encourage me to investigate further. Because I was left with the impression that all the team needed was money. I have also seen very slick presentations which fall apart as soon as you start to do due diligence on the company story. All show, but no real substance.

Standing Out From The Crowd

There are over 300 tech accelerators in the world, not to mention countless start-up prizes, conferences, competitions. So perhaps it is not surprising that many demo days are starting to look like the endless talent shows that we see on television. But just as interest in talent shows is waning, there's a danger that demo days need to develop as well. They could be killed by their own routine.

Demo Day is still important. But it needs to pivot itself. And I believe that the founders of the Lean Startup Movement believe change is now overdue. 

I have great respect for Steve Blank, especially the recent work he has done to take the Start-Up community to the next level with the US National Science Foundation. If you look at the Lean Start-Up Launchpad, or investigate the HUGE list of resources on his blog, you will discover that the conversation IS moving on. 

Blank says in second part of the Forbes interview below that he's concerned that not enough attention is being paid to the interaction between incubators and investors. He points the finger firmly at "Demo Days". Most are too focussed on arranging the performance of a great pitch rather than assisting startups demonstrate to investors that they are really a viable company. There's a lot of shouting when information sharing is called for. And, in my experience, people never collaborate with those who raise their voice.

Blank argues that instead of making a flashy demo pitch, companies need to show they have really built a match between what they make and what the customer needs. Startups need to explain why they started, what they built, what they found when they talked to customers, what they did as a result and where they are going. It's an open-ended company narrative not a finished, polished story. Only then can the audience of investors judge if the company in front of them has discovered a way forward.

Lessons Learned:

Blank says he is going to address the issue in 2014. I've decided to do the same thing in Europe. Who wants to collaborate?

London - will house prices kill the disruptive innovation business?

This list on Buzzfeed (they are good at lists) reminds us why building a small business in London is just insane. This article is about the house prices. They haven't mentioned the ludicrous rental prices for really crummy office space in the Silicon Roundabout area of London. No natural daylight, overcrowded desks. These tech sweat shops are going to collapse eventually when people realise you cannot innovate effectively in a windowless basement. I thought the strategy of the University of East Anglia to build offices in the City was a much better policy. Build in the country, sell in the city. Now that is smart! Definitely an opportunity for the "second" cities to shine above the capitals.

The madness of building creative stuff in a London basement office!

Will San Francisco's Incredible History Of Media Innovation Come To An End? -SVW

Will San Francisco's Incredible History Of Media Innovation Come To An End? -SVW:

Good article by Tom Foremski, pointing out that a lot of Silicon Valley's innovation came from the radio industry in California. And that companies like Yahoo, Google, Twitter are becoming tech-enabled media companies. But who will disrupt their world? The content creators who use their technologies (and others) to build new audiences. Different contexts with public value.

The invention of the transistor disrupted the radio industry - made radios like this obsolete cause you could't carry them around.

How do I get noticed in the tech press?

Mike Butcher of Techcrunch gave this talk a few years ago explaining how Techcrunch and other on-line news blogs work. It's all about the traffic, never about depth. If you need this type of publicity, then follow his advice. But remember your existence is not news.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Why Silicon Valley Can't Find Europe and vice versa

Heading into to SFO for a reality check

I decided to follow up on an excellent article in Techcrunch by Estonian software entrepreneur Sten Tamkivi. He has now lived for 10% of his life in Silicon Valley. But a few months ago he gave a short talk at Slush, a great tech-startup event in Helsinki that targets young companies from Northern Europe and Russia. Sten highlighted the growing communications problem between the West Coast of Europe and the US West Coast. It's the bottom of the priorities for many VC's in Silicon Valley. "Europe is for visiting with friends and family - but what a complex place to do business".

Sten draws several important conclusions. I've cherry-picked from the main points, especially from the third post, because I believe the message isn't getting through to both start-ups and investors in Europe. And it desperately needs to do so, especially in countries whose mother tongue is NOT English. Many of these countries, (and I would include the Netherlands in this) start believing their own hype. Their domestic market is big enough to test out an idea (The Netherlands is a test lab of 17 million people), but far too small to ever succeed as a global brand. 

Here are a selection of Sten's conclusions.

There is a simple, sobering reason why companies should have the logic for their “home” location locked down before discussing money: you will be far more successful raising seed and early stage VC financing close to home, on whichever side of the Atlantic it may be. It’s a fact. The internationalisation of VC industry has been well on the way and one can draw quite pretty graphs of the $ flow into startups increasing over the last dozen years and so forth. Without going into all of that, I’d like to just leave you with one near-realtime data point from this year, 2013. Looking at closed early stage deals listings in Pitchbook, American VCs still invest in US and European VCs still invest in Europe, loud and clear:

Sten continues: the key to the solution is on the European side. And to succeed in driving this change in relationships, Europe needs a mindset shift. When building high-value ties in any network the question should never be what you get, but rather what can you can give to the other party. What can you help with, what can you teach, what can you spare. This tends to be true with your friends, your community, your country… and I would suggest also when you think about doing business with Silicon Valley. Too often startups from around the world and among them from Europe go to Silicon Valley only to get something. Unfortunately, as it usually goes, a begging little brother will be treated as one.

Matching talent with challenges

So what to do?
  • Silicon Valley’s weakest spot today is the constantly unsatisfied demand for talent capable of solving hard problems. Yes, there are amazing, experienced people around – but if they want to live anywhere fancier than a tent in Mission or Palo Alto, let alone afford good schools for their kids — they will cost a lot to hire. And worse, despite of their high price the endless inflow of exciting ventures to join drives down average tenure and loyalty in the Valley, compared to how these same people would behave in similar companies even on the East Coast, let alone in Europe.
  • European contribution here on the West Coast has been largely the simplest: sending talented immigrants to US. 
  • The next in level of complexity, but more sustainable for both sides would be setting up more development outposts across the pond, helping Valley firms build offices and hire people in Dublin, Prague or Kiev. Or alternatively, Europe could offer more well-functioning M&A targets. Meg Whitman used to call this “off-balance sheet R&D,” when she was acquiring auction sites for eBay from around the world, especially those doing something better already than their new mothership. In this model jobs do remain in Europe, but not the large exits or even annual dividends.
  • As a more far-fetched idea, why couldn’t we make this a two-way street and provide interesting “job adventures” in Europe for early-career Valley experts. There could be some who would drop their product management, product marketer or business development roles as the #3481 guy in Facebook to a 3-year stint in a cool European city where they can be #1 in the entire country in what they do. And once they go back – they can sell their new-found international experience as a truly unique skill. Yes, this is a tough sell at first, but we did that repeatedly at Skype and companies like Soundcloud are doing this again.
Helsinki. Doing amazing things with data centres in the rock underneath the Finnish capital.

Europe still has many advantages

The underlying point is that when it comes to online and mobile applications truly embedded in how people go about their daily chores, how they sign and exchange legal documents, how they interact with the government, how they do their consumer banking, how they get service from their doctors and so forth, many places in Europe are lightyears ahead of what is available to a normal American resident today.

This is a huge opportunity to openly share the experiences and teach what we’ve learned in Europe to the waves of startups (and why not the various levels of US government, looking just at the IT-side of ongoing healthcare reform) attempting to only start solving similar issues for the people in their markets. Valuable, “been there done that” advice could take the form of board seats or equity stakes for Europe, too.

Europe still is the rational next market for most US rocket ships who are looking to find customers with above-average income and access to credit cards who live in understandable regulatory environments and enjoy reliable infrastructure you can deliver your products and services over.

Yet, as the truly single market of European Union is still a slowly evolving dream, figuring the operations out on a country-by-country basis to cover the full 400M user potential can be tricky. And who else to help US entrepreneurs to crack Europe than those who are in Europe and understand Europe. Again, we have something to selflessly teach here.

Security and privacy

In the post-Snowden days we’re living in the questions about physical and legal location of users’ data and the regulations governing their privacy are high on the agenda for internet entrepreneurs. Since the internet was born in the US and the strongest private players on it have been US-regulated companies the rules and behaviours have been evolving accordingly to date. Now, if you look at where the users of internet live today, less than 10% of them are Americans — a share still on decline. It is obvious that other nations will attempt to have an increasing say in the governance mechanisms and regulation of the system.

The good news we should spread here in Silicon Valley, at any opportunity we get, is that European tech scene is much more diverse than others realize. There are pockets of startup activity with global ambition in hundreds of cities around Europe, and dozens of them are likely to realize some of that potential on global scale. Single Europe is a much more beneficial concept for everyone, including Silicon Valley.

Do read more here

Here, here. But it really is time for a call to action. Not another meeting or conference about it. That's also very European!

Shortwave Radio - What went wrong?

Knocking down the transmission towers in Samara, Russia in November 2013. 
I've had an unusually large number of visitors to this blog whenever I discuss broadcasting or storytelling. Perhaps it's because I'm passionate about both. And I am fascinated by what works and what fails.

Recently I've posted more about the rapid closure of shortwave radio transmitters sites around the world. Which triggers the question - if people thought it was a good idea in the second half of the 20th century to construct hundreds of powerful transmitters and run them at a cost of billions, what went wrong?  Part of the answer is that the world changed. Some closed societies opened up. And that meant that audiences were looking for much more creative programming. That message never got through to the broadcasters. (Video below was taken when they knocked down the towers of Radio Norway and Radio Denmark)

For the most part, shortwave radio programming was mindlessly boring. It didn't engage because it was often national programming translated into a foreign language and shouted across some border in the hope that it would change something "over there". I used to call them "death and disaster" networks. It was difficult for anyone inside such a network to be creative when the main task was to fill a transmission schedule, often at some ungodly hour of the night. And shortwave radio propagation was usually such that you could only get a signal into a target area at the wrong time of day for the audience. That was usually the evening - and once television came, the younger audience evaporated.

Wasteland of Creativity

When I helped to re-organise the vision of Radio Netherlands in 1994, I wish I had on-line access to disruptive thinkers like John Cleese. It would have helped me formulate our thinking in a much clearer language. For the video below about creativity is from 1991 I believe. It's actually a talk about how NOT to be creative. And what he describes is the way most international broadcasters operated for most of their existence. They were content factories, slave to an artificial transmission schedule. Because they didn't take time to be creative, then ended up sounding like a tape machine. They were run by a computer algorithm. Not a human soul. There was never room for a creative pause. Routine was the solution. And that's creativity's biggest enemy. They were also incredibly naive in thinking that a message shouted is the same as a message received and understood.

So, eventually, it all ended in tears for many stations. So where are the next group like this to get in trouble and is it for the same reasons? I'd really welcome your input.

My Lessons Learned.

  • Creative companies have to understand the difference between open and closed thinking.
  • Content factories quickly become very boring. 
  • I believe many computer driven music services are the shortwave radio stations of the 21st century. They spring up, then wither at the vine. But are there others?
  • Any station that doesn't put the audience at the heart of everything they do is doomed. It may take time, but decline is inevitable.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Disruptive Innovation Begins at Deutsche Welle

There's excellent news from Bonn and Berlin this week. Deutsche Welle, Germany's international broadcaster appears to awoken and will take a leadership roll in the industry formerly known as international broadcasting. It looks like some elements are similar to what we tried at Radio Netherlands a few decades back (cherry-picking from domestic material to make a low cost high quality channel for Dutch abroad) and thinking more along the lines of the European station with a German accent (possible) rather than a German station with European accent (what's that?) . I note that they will do more with FM stations in Africa. I hope they will embrace an open collaborative approach to making engaging programmes - sharing ideas with the world. I detect a willingness to go in that direction by reading between the lines.
Bonn has woken up to the outside world and changing audiences

The extent of the changes can be found in the press statement put out yesterday.
"In order to reach our goals for the coming four years, we have to create the right conditions in our departments now," DW's director general, Peter Limbourg, told staff in Berlin and Bonn on January 20. On January 17, the broadcaster's leadership agreed on a series of reforms. "They will create the framework in which we can realize our concept of creative and modern journalism and position ourselves as a global information provider based in Germany," Limbourg commented.
The proposals concentrate on content in English as well as in languages that have proven successful for DW. English is intended to become the journalistic "flagship" language, meaning the English department's offerings will be expanded to make it internationally competitive. A core goal for DW is more successfully reaching its target audience of decision makers and political opinion leaders worldwide. Meanwhile, the German-language TV channel will be changed to feature more news content and clearer programming structures. "German remains an important language for DW," said the director general. A German-language community will be built up on, and Deutsche Welle's German courses will be expanded.
Limbourg announced that DW will redirect its finances internally so as to reach the areas that are being prioritized, a process that is set to begin step by step this year. "We aren't making a clear cut. Instead, we've developed a responsible and smart concept that will allow us to achieve our goals and maintain DW's excellent regional and language competencies," he said.

Regional priorities, priority languages
The plans are designed to strengthen DW’s English content within the international media landscape. The broadcaster's regional focus will be on Afghanistan, China and Iran in Asia, as well as Africa, the Arab World, Russia, Latin America, Turkey and the crisis zones within Europe.
Based on these decisions, the linear TV and online content will be heavily expanded in English. DW's TV news coverage is set to increase significantly, and the news will be broadcast more frequently. DW will reduce the number of shows it produces, while elevating the quality of the remaining formats. In all of its target areas, DW plans to continue offering regionalized content and to increase the number of relevant programming segments. Within the offerings for Asia and Africa, programming will emphasize certain topic areas - for example, there will be a business show for Asia. The necessary regional competence will be secured by retaining journalists from language departments that are being cut or reduced. DW's social media activity in English will be intensified, and its English-language radio production limited to shows intended for African FM partner broadcasters.
DW will continue to offer original content on television and online in German. However, the expenditures in this area will be reduced, while cooperation with German national public broadcasters ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio will be increased. With its German-language offerings, DW offers a key service for all those who live abroad and speak German, including for German nationals and those with German roots.
Focus on dialogue in regional target languages
Within its online offerings for regional target languages, DW will switch to a personalized blog format featuring dialogue and comment functions that will also be optimized for mobile devices. "We're after successful journalism that takes a stance, and we're seeking a direct interaction with our target audiences," said Director General Peter Limbourg. The current thematic breadth of DW's online content in these editorial departments, which currently produce comprehensive news and background material, will be left behind in favor of strong commentary pieces from a German perspective.
"In many countries, wide-ranging information is available about Germany, but what's lacking is context and commentary. That's what people there expect from Germany's international broadcaster. We will provide our target users with pointed commentaries on relevant global, regional or bilateral events and developments, communicating German positions on issues and entering into dialogue with them," the director general said. He added that DW will remain anchored in the respective target areas as a journalistic brand and that its offerings can be flexibly expanded - for instance, when a regional crisis demands it. The regional expertise in the existing foreign language editorial departments is set to remain intact and will be channeled into offerings in English.
Concentrating European expertise
The journalists covering European affairs in individual departments will be grouped into a single European editorial department. It will create regionalized content for European crisis regions, and, at DW's headquarters in Bonn, it will also produce an emotional and visually expressive TV magazine dealing with European politics. This magazine will serve as a template for adaptation into all of DW's European languages.
In its global target regions, DW will adapt its activities region by region and change its offerings accordingly.
Departments not set for restructuring
Numerous language departments at DW will remain essentially untouched by the structural changes. However, further work will be undertaken to increase the quality of their offerings and the number of users within the target audience. For example, social media activities will be further developed, and more videos and mobile content will be offered. This goes for editorial departments in the following languages: Dari, Pashto, Farsi, Chinese, Kiswahili, Hausa, Amharic, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese for Brazil, Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish, Greek and Polish - the budgets of which will remain largely unchanged.
Structural reductions
Several language departments face structural changes: Online offerings in Albanian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Macedonian, Romanian and Serbian will be switched to a personalized, dialogue-based blog format with comments. The European TV magazines in these languages will be maintained, but radio broadcasts in Albanian and Croatian will end.
In the future, DW will address its target groups in India and Pakistan primarily in English. Manthan, a science magazine format for TV in Hindi, will continue, but the Hindi website will be shut down. Radio offerings in Urdu will focus on the educational Learning by Ear program, and Urdu-language evening radio broadcasts will be preserved for the time being. Both the radio broadcasts via shortwave and the website in Urdu will shut down.
The Indonesian science magazine for TV, Inovator, will initially continue, and checks will be undertaken to see whether parts of the new English TV channel can be subtitled in Indonesian. The Indonesian website will also be reduced to a personalized, dialogue-based blog format with comments. The same goes for the French for Africa website. Production of radio broadcasts in French will be switched back to FM formats for selected partner broadcasters in Africa.
Discontinued offerings
Deutsche Welle will end its offerings in Bengali and Portuguese for Africa. However, the regional expertise available in these departments will not go to waste. Some staff members from the Bengali department will be employed to strengthen English-language TV and online offerings for Asia. Similarly, members of the Portuguese for Africa department will join the team producing English-language content for Africa. Their language skills will also be of use in the new Europe department and potentially in the Portuguese for Brazil team.
Changes to TV magazines
The management at DW also put all of the TV shows that DW produces and broadcasts up for scrutiny. The major criteria were the extent to which the TV magazines enhance DW's profile and what their potential scope is. As a result, the decision was made to end the shows PopXport, Agenda, World Stories, Germany Today, Insight Germany, People and Politics, Kino and Talking Germany in the future. This applies to the editions of these shows in all four languages in which DW broadcasts linear TV, namely German, English, Spanish and Arabic. The topics covered in those programs will be explored in other content. The business magazine Made in Germany and the talk show Quadriga will be fundamentally reworked and restructured.
The programs Euromaxx, Tomorrow Today, Global 3000, In Focus, In Good Shape, Drive it!, Shababtalk, On the Pulse, Discover Germany, Shift, Kick Off! and Kick Off! Countdown, Europe in Concert, European Journal, Arts.21, Business Brief, The New Arab Debates, Claves, Treasures of the World, Close up and Faith Matters will continue to be produced in all their current language versions.
Deutsche Welle will strive to bolster its TV offerings by introducing interactive formats and a talk show that will further enhance the broadcaster's reputation. Consideration will be given to which ideas developed by DW staff members could be put into practice for the TV station.
Further steps
The cornerstones of the new strategy and the measures necessary to put it into place will be included in Deutsche Welle's planning from 2014 to 2017. At the latest, their implementation will begin once the Broadcasting Board has formally approved the plans.
In the coming weeks, DW will clarify in more detail what the proposed measures will mean financially and in terms of personnel. In some areas, such as the English department, staff numbers will increase. It cannot yet be determined to what extent jobs will be lost, because it remains unclear how much of a grant the German federal government will provide to DW. The broadcaster's management will do all it can to retain as many of its employees as possible.

Why isolating communities is terribly dangerous

BBC Monitoring just published a translation of a report they saw on the website of RBC Radio which serves audiences inside Somalia. It is one of the most worrying reports I've read in a long time. It's basically shows how some groups are declaring war on storytellers.

Al-Shabab shuts down internet services in parts of Somalia

Al-Shabab, Somalia's Al-Qai'diah-linked militant group, has shut down mobile internet services in all the areas under its control, privately-owned Raxabreeb website reports, two weeks after the group gave all communication companies providing web services in the country 15 days to halt their operations or be considered to be working with the enemy.

Al-Shabab fighters forced their way into the offices of telecommunication companies operating in areas the militants control, and ordered them to shut down the mobile internet system, the website adds.

Some of the districts where the militants shut down the internet services include Baardheere (southwestern Somalia), Dinsor (southwestern Somalia), Bulo Marer (southern Somalia), and Baraawe (southern Somalia). Residents said the services were switched off at about 1830 GMT on 21 January. Internet use is widespread in Somalia although access is slow because of underdeveloped infrastructure. In 2013, Al-Shabab reportedly banned the residents of the southern port town of Baraawe from watching television, saying it harmed their Islamic principles, and ordered them to turn in their televisions and satellite dishes to militant officials.
Source: Raxanreeb website in Somali 22 Jan 14.

All this confirms the theories of people like Thomas P.M. Barnett that the tactics of these groups is to isolate entire communities. We're creatures of communication. Without contact with other people, we die. That's why solitary confinement is such a powerful punishment. When you try to isolate a community, then it looks for any way out. The tragedy of Somalia, Afghanistan, Northern Nigeria, Kenya and too many other places in the world is that these are areas when those who believe in democracy as the best way forward simply lost interest, stopped communicating and pulled the plug.

I'm not advocating a return to the propaganda of the 1960's. Just shouting across a border is never as effective as building a dialogue. These days we have a mixture of ways to build conversations. But it starts with understanding the needs of the audience. Look at how the Russians have silenced Voice of Russia (shouting) in exchange for Russia Today (which wants to influence the conversation through by a sharing policy). It's a much more effective way of getting a message across.

International communication never had a more important role in the world than now. Not to entertain the rich and famous. But to re-connect the disconnected. Otherwise the costs later are difficult to fathom. There is some indication that some people understand what's needed. The BBC's Media Action published an excellent and extensive analysis of the situation in several fragile states.

And there's a discussion in Washington DC this week which will hopefully take the conversation further. But a lot more needs to be done to fix this.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Spotify is not Radio. It replaces the Jukebox

UK Radio futurologist James Cridland is right to remind us that Pandora (and music services like it) are not Radio.

Three cheers to the stations using radio creatively, developing new formats and thinking broader that traditional broadcast. I found a few in speech radio - but we desperately need more - or more stations will fail. Those who disrupt have a path to growth. Those who just do more of the same are rearranging the deckchairs on a sinking ship. They will be replaced by those who disrupt.

Boo to those who are simply assembling audio (usually music) and trying to push it across the airwaves. For they give radio a bad name across the industry.

Spotify and Pandora are examples of algorithm-driven audio, void of surprise and serendipity. It's stuff that cleverly programmed in series. But we easily get bored because the brain is a great parallel processor. I don't believe Spotify is disrupting creative radio, it's more akin to a jukebox. Radio stations that just became on-air jukeboxes are in serious trouble though. Creative Radio draws you in. Jukebox radio shuts you out. I inherited a radio show once called DX Jukebox. I realised very quickly that it was the wrong name for what we were doing. And good radio was made for doing something else, paying attention when something catches your attention.

I think people are tiring of living in a world driven purely by algorithms. We live for the surprises.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Samara Shortwave Crashes to the Ground

Photo Andre Tan
I remember when Radio Netherlands, Holland's external broadcasting service, used to hire airtime from a transmitter site in Samara, in what was then the former Soviet Union. We used it to get a stronger signal from the Netherlands into South Asia. 

According to reports, (via Ian Baxter) those shortwave antennas were recently pulled down in preparation for a new football stadium.

Samara turned out to be a leading industrial center in the Volga region and is among the top ten Russian cities in terms of national income and industrial production volume. It had a reputation as an aerospace centre. In my circles it was known as having very powerful shortwave transmitters. They used to be part of the Russian external broadcasting network known (in English) as Radio Moscow World Service. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the transmitters were hired out to anyone who was willing to hire them. Apparently those numbers have dwindled so much that the owners of the transmission site shut things down and sold the property for redevelopment. The local news broadcast says the shortwave transmitter site will be redeveloped this year in order to build a soccer stadium for the World Cup to be held in 2018.

Photo Andre Tan

Samara is one of the first cities to begin the real construction work for the World Cup. A decision was taken a year ago to locate the a new stadium on the 240 acre site of the old shortwave radio centre. The stadium has a capacity of 45,000 seats, of which 3500 thousand places are designated for the media (!). The cost of design work is estimated at 835 million rubles or 18.2 million Euro.

Photo Andre Tan