Tuesday, 17 April 2007

BBC News 24 - LIVE Streaming

BBC Programme Catalogue
This amazing database logs almost one million BBC TV and Radio programmes, searchable by keywords or names. Each programme has a description plus transmission details and other credits. By indexing programmes from as far back as 80 years ago, it's likely that every BBC programme ever made can be found in this database!
Charlie Brooker's Screen Wipe

My worrying obsession with Charlie Brooker continues, with this clip from the last episode of Series 1 of the programme. Brooker here explores why the mainstream media and the audience alike seems to have a sadistic pleasure in terrifying us half to death...sort of. Conspirasists might say its all to "keep us under the thumb" but its pretty safe to say that everyone enjoys a little bit of gore, whether you're dishing it out or consuming it.
Also in this clip, Brooker looks at Music Channels and quite rightly concludes that it's essentially radio for the pervert (after all, you can't see Beyonce and Shakira humping a wall by staring blankly at your radio, can you?).

Although, talking of conspirasists and 'scaring the crap out of you', Brooker manages to thoroughly depress me in this clip on "modern aspirational television". I should just roll over and die...metaphorically. Television has always glamourised everything, but increasingly it's making us, the viewer, the unglamourous bum aspiring to be an unreachable ideal. What a depressing pile of crap our western TV culure is, eh? But there's no need to reach for the scissors yet - there are guys out there to back us up who are meant to have the audience's interests at heart...as Series 3 Episode 1 handily proves!

Tony Blair félicite Nicolas Sarkozy (en YouTube)
Even Tony Blair can be "down wit da kidz", you know! Following Sarkozy's election victory in France, Blair has posted a congratulatory message on YouTube! And to top it off, he's done a version entirely in French...très intéressant, non?

6. Film Marketing Website > Click (www.sonypictures.com/movies/click)

Click, released in 2006, followed the character Michael Newman and his escapades as he is given a remote control which gives him god-like powers. The film’s marketing website embraces the theme of the remote control – used as a constant motif throughout the movie and the DVD menus – to make this site different and outstanding. The aim of the website it to promote the film in the cinema, as well as its subsequent release on DVD, Blu-Ray and UMD. For audiences, websites like these have been designed to be fun and immersive to persuade and entice potential consumers to watch or buy the film. Therefore, they are made exciting and, in spite of the bombardment of marketing material, they mostly serve as entertaining websites to explore. For distributors like Sony Pictures, websites like this become an important cornerstone of their marketing strategy by enticing users into the website to be immersed in a marketing saturated experience which the audience should respond to favourably due to the exciting interactive features. They are seen as merely an addition to alternative methods of promotion like trailers and posters, with online marketing (including videos on sites like YouTube and social-networking profiles on sites like MySpace).

Like most marketing websites for blockbuster films, the Click website is multimedia enriched, using Flash technology to bring a dynamic animated experience for the user. In exploring “Michael Newman’s Universe”, the user is invited to explore his life as broken down by location. By clicking on the various locations, such as ‘Living Room’ or ‘Ammer’s Office’, one is taken to an interactive animated representation of that place. By clicking on certain key areas, such as people or objects, you can access a feature of the website. For instance, in the Living Room the user can click on the children to hear a quote from the film, click on the TV to watch the trailer or click on the computer to download an AIM icon. Moreover, the quote at the foot of the screen – in this case “Daddy! Do you have to work late again?” – helps the user learn more about the film’s plot as well as giving a contextual backdrop to the location they are currently looking at. Some of the links lead to behind the scenes video, including interviews and video diary-style excerpts which you would expect from the DVD.

For helpful navigation of the whole website, the Click remote is kept on screen in keeping with the film’s iconography. It allows the user to return to the Main Menu at any point, adjust the sound or move to the next location using the playback controls. Also on-screen at all times is a link to buy the DVD, Blu-Ray or UMD of the film. Having this at the top-left at all times means people can be instantly linked to an online shop so that as the website convinces them to buy it, they can buy it within seconds.

The website also has an element of personalisation. On the Main Menu, you can ‘Set Your Prefs’ by answering three questions: your age, gender and marital status. These results then change the functions of the 3 buttons on the top-right of the Main Menu to be ‘personalised’ to your profile. (I can’t say I fully understand the point in the buttons, as when you click on them you get a bizarre message from an eccentric-looking scientist guy… – each to their own I guess!). As with all personalisation, this makes the user feel more involved and immersed in the website and therefore more likely to identify with the film’s character and the plot as the preferences open up scenarios from within the film.

At the footer of each page of the site is the standard institutional information one would expect from a film website. This proves to be the distinction between a film information website – with factual information – and a marketing website – which tries to entice the potential audience. The basics on the footer include a trailer, photo gallery, brief synopsis, character biographies and the breakdown of the cast and crew. But there are also very clever marketing features found here which keep the users interacting with the website whilst being brainwashed with ‘Click’ iconography. The ‘Click Arcade’ links to an online game based around ‘controlling your universe’. ‘Custom Poster Art’ allows you to upload your own photo to replace Adam Sandler’s image in the film’s marketing posters. It then allows you to send it to friends, which helps to still promote the film as the film’s information and DVD release date are plastered all over it. The ‘Mailing Registration’, as with the ‘Custom Poster Art’, requires you to register your details including your e-mail address to receive marketing updates about Click. But it also signs you up to updates on all Sony Pictures films which opens your inbox up to a flood of marketing e-mails about new films. Finally, there is a hub for all of the downloads available from the site. As with all marketing websites these days, wallpapers, screensavers and AIM icons are available which promote the film by serving to decorate the user’s computer.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

9. Vlog > The Show with Ze Frank

Ze Frank, a little-known comedian from New York, is the star of his personal vlog simply called ‘The Show’. Every weekday between 17th March 2006 and 17th March 2007, Ze Frank posted a new episode of The Show online and in doing so amassed a huge online following through word of mouth. Using just a video camera and his digital stills camera, Ze Frank edited each episode on his own laptop and posted the finished videos on his website. The very intimate and community-based nature of this vlog makes it quite unusual compared to others found on sites like YouTube. Usually vlogs are not literally ‘video web logs’ in a diary-like form, with the form more often taking irregular musings to a webcam. Ze Frank’s vlog, however, acted as a diary of his life and thoughts as well as giving Ze Frank the opportunity to talk about current affairs and the media. But it was his use of the audience which made it so notable and popular.

The interactive features meant that viewers could comment on The Show’s forum and wiki but the viewers were best put to use with Ze Frank’s ‘projects’ which often required audience participation. For no apparent reason, Ze Frank only referred to his viewers as ‘Sportsracers’, which only acted to make the cult following of the show more unified. Running jokes, such as Ze Frank’s affliction with “duckies” (hence the logo), the closing remark of each episode (“This is Ze Frank thinking so you don’t have to”), Ze Frank’s apparent incapability to blink and the question “Are the new viewers gone yet?” (which only acted to compact the community further).

The most notable ‘project’ is the Earth Sandwich. Ze Frank urged his viewers to put two pieces of bread on the ground simultaneously at points directly opposite each other on the globe. This would create a giant Earth Sandwich. Ze Frank developed a special tool using Google Maps to calculate the “equal but opposite” locations. Hundreds of viewers took part, sparking worldwide media interest and another one of Ze Frank’s own songs, “If the Earth were a Sandwich”. It proved much harder than most originally thought, as the most of the Earth is water. Two brothers were announced by Ze Frank to be first Earth Sandwich pioneers, using Spain and New Zealand - click on the baguette to see!
Vlogs - or 'video web logs' in the strictest sense - have been made available by the sudden abundance of free video-upload sites such as YouTube, Google Video and DailyMotion. Flash technology and broadband speeds have meant it’s easy to upload any video one may wish. YouTube made it even easier for users – particularly vloggers – to upload video using their direct upload feature for webcams. Home-made content like this is known as UGC (User-Generated Content), which covers home made video clips, audio (like podcasts), photographs (perhaps being sent to a news organization) and comments (for instance on blogs or news websites). Institutions are becoming very aware of the sudden influx of such content which has become hugely popular over the last few years. Landmark points in UGC include the July 7th bombings - where people aboard the bombed carriages took video and images using their mobile phone - and the advent of YouTube which has taken the internet by storm. Film distributors and TV production companies are becoming wise to such new media, with Universal NBC, the BBC, Channel 4 and other major organizations making strides into online video.

Take a look at this clip from 'Charlie Brooker's Screen Wipe: Review of 2006' to see exactly how the influx of UGC has been used on the internet to great effect but just embarrassingly once it moves to TV. In the end, there is a place for UGC: the internet. On the good old television, audiences want real quality from real production companies - not some losers dancing around to 'My Humps' in their pyjamas in front of their webcam!!

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

13. NMT/Audience Activity + 15. Free Choice Topic > Online Music Downloads & DRM

In the past, all music formats have been universally playable on any device – whether they are records, cassettes or CDs. Consumers are free to use their music when and where they choose. These ‘physical’ formats, however, are slowly being replaced by downloaded music available from an endless number of online music stores. The key difference between physical formats and digital formats is that downloaded music comes with locks and restrictions, meaning consumers can’t necessarily use their music when or where they choose. These locks are known as DRM (Digital Rights Management) and in recent years it has been used by record companies to prevent the spread of music piracy which has become commonplace since the growth of the internet.

Record companies say that music piracy has caused a 22% drop in global CD sales. The effect has been felt most by retailers, with HMV being one example of numerous stores suffering from a drop in sales. Downloading music illegally is very common, thanks to free software like KaZaA and Limewire. These use P2P (Peer-to-Peer) technology to share each user’s music library with the internet. This means a user can download virtually any song they desire in just minutes. But the illegal file-sharing is an infringement of copyright and in the last decade the big 4 record labels have made a unified effort to stamp it out. In 2000, Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI made the giant leap into online music by offering legal paid-for downloads – but with a catch. DRM was added to the music files to restrict how the music was used. For example, you may only be able to transfer the music to one portable media player, one CD and play it only on the computer it was downloaded to. This is still seen by the majority in the record industry as the best way to curb piracy. But consumer groups worldwide have dubbed DRM as “anti-consumer”.

The record industry also tried, but failed, to introduce DRM on physical CDs. Consumers reacted sourly when some labels added DRM to CDs to make them unplayable on computers – thus halting piracy at the source. But the DRM was ineffective, with some CDs working on computers only to cause Windows to crash, or being unusable on some in-car CD players. The backlash caused the record companies to change tack. The software put on Sony BMG’s CDs forced computer users to play the CDs through a special restricted player which automatically installed itself when the CD was put in the computer. However, when it came to light that their player software was a “rootkit” file – a type similar to that used by viruses – individuals filed lawsuits against Sony BMG on the basis that they had installed software on their computers without their consent. Sony BMG agreed to replace any affected CDs with new DRM-free versions, at great expense to the company. All in all, record companies have come to realise that DRM on CDs is simply not workable. Therefore, although it is still illegal under UK law to rip a music CD onto a computer as it infringes copyright, record companies have publicly said they will not pursue any user which does so.

DRM on downloaded music, however, is still widely used. Apple’s iTunes Store has sold over 2 billion music files and represents 88% of the global music download market. As market leaders, they have come under the most scrutiny for their DRM system called FairPlay. Under agreement with the 4 major record labels, Apple sells its music with DRM restricting how many computers and players the music can be used on. Although it can burned to a CD an unlimited number of times, a track can only be played on the computer it was downloaded to and vitally can only be played on one portable media player – which must be an iPod. Apple’s FairPlay has been accused of being anti-competitive and a move purely to further the profitable iPod brand.
Virtually all other online music stores use Mircrosoft’s DRM-saturated WMA files – Windows Media Audio. Microsoft’s answer to music piracy has been their PlaysForSure system. ‘Protected’ WMA files can be bought from compatible online stores and played on compatible personal media players. But the restrictions are equally as aggravating for users. The inoperability of the different DRM systems has made consumer groups urge record and software companies alike to drop DRM entirely. Why restrict how consumers use their music if they buy it online but not if they buy it on a CD? Considering 90% of music sales are still on CDs, DRM on online music simply cannot tackle the problem of music piracy as a whole single-handedly. Microsoft founder Bill Gates agrees with this notion. In 2006, he commented that “DRM is not where it should be” and that “we don’t have the right thing here in terms of simplicity or interoperability”. Consumers are left confused and restricted, and some go as far as to say that the DRM restrictions on music go beyond what the law permits.

Apple boss Steve Jobs has also made his views known on the subject, calling for record companies to open up their music libraries DRM-free. In an open letter to the industry posted on the Apple website earlier this year, Jobs described his idea of a perfect online music market: “In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players”. He effectively wiped his hands of the DRM controversy, commenting “When Apple approached [the record labels] to license their music to distribute legally over the internet, they were extremely cautious and required Apple to protect their music from being illegally copied” – hence the need for FairPlay. Critics have since said that Jobs is being hypocritical, as thousands of independent record labels have agreed to let their music be sold DRM-free, yet iTunes still embeds DRM on them regardless. Jobs’ ideal “world” does already partly exist, with online stores like eMusic – a retailer in mostly independent music – selling DRM-free MP3 downloads playable on any computer or personal media player. But the 4 major labels have been resistant to offering DRM-free music, making such a “world” unlikely.

However, the “next big step forward in the digital music revolution” will arrive just next month, surprising commentators and analysts alike. EMI has become the first major record label to make all of its music available online completely DRM-free. As of May, EMI will offer “premium” versions of its tracks for an extra 20p. They will have an improved audio quality – twice that of a standard AAC track – and have no DRM restrictions. iTunes will be the first retailer of these files, who have called it “the movement to completely interoperable DRM-free music”. EMI has proved themselves to be industry innovators, changing “not just the rules of the game, but the game itself” – according to Jupiter Research. Other retailers will be able to sell the “premium” tracks later in the year and many may well feel obliged to as “other retailers have to come to the party because they can’t be seen to be offering an inferior product”. Steve Jobs has predicted that other record companies will follow EMI’s lead, predicting that half of iTunes’ estimated 3 million tracks will be available in DRM-free versions by the end of the year. This move therefore is the precursor to all legal music downloads being interoperable with all players. Although iTunes will only be making the “premium” music available in the AAC format – which isn’t playable on all personal media players – other online stores will make the music available in their choice of format, so its is truly interoperable with any player. For consumers it is great news and paves the way for a massive growth in the online music market, giving them total freedom to use their music as they wish – as it was back in the days of records, cassettes and CDs.

Monday, 9 April 2007

8. Blog > Knife Writer

Knife Writer is the blog which accompanies the web-only TV show ‘thisisaknife’. The show – available only at channel4.com/knife or as a video podcast – is made by the production company World of Wonder who are famous for internet-based TV shows and their websites. The programme is based around interesting websites the Knife team have found and sketches relating to them. The programme has been running in its current form for less than a year but in that time it has embraced many NMTs to interact with its audience and get them to participate. Knife Writer is one such example. In the month-or-so running up to each episode’s completion, the blog is used to post funny videos or websites that the team have found – the best of which are featured on the show. Take the most recent episode – released on 1st March 2007 – as an example.

thisisaknife > 1st March 2007

In the month leading up to this episode, there were 4 posts with videos relating to what eventually made it on the show.
6th February > Soda Shop and Other Lavartories
28th February > Adam Buxton and on...

Therefore, the blog is a way for fans to get an exclusive look into what to expect soon on the programme. This makes the audience feel wanted and respected. The Knife team clearly respect their audience and often ask for their response to items or websites they’ve found. For instance, they may ask whether or not an item is good enough to be featured on the show and wait for users to comment their response on the blog or their MySpace. Recently, the blog went as far as to ask users to suggest a possible new haircut for the show’s presenter, Donal. Personal videos or stories from the team are also firm features, so the blog also acts as a pseudo-personal blog for the team too.

The blog also acts as a ‘behind the scenes’ insight for fans, often showing what goes on in the World of Wonder offices while the programme is being compiled. Moreover, there has been a concerted effort to inform the audience on the progress of pitching the show to E4, where they are building up to hopefully being broadcast. As such, since the start of the year, the blog has been used as a way of viewers sending in their own ideas for websites, sketches or even their own home-made videos. Consequently, the Knife Writer blog has become the hub for viewers of thisisaknife to get involved with the show.

The blog is structured as one would expect any blog to be presented. There is an archive of the past posts, which goes back to early last year. A search facility, however, makes it easier to look through these old posts if you know a keyword within the blog – the blog doesn’t use Tags. There are also a list of links. These include the thisisaknife homepage, the World of Wonder site, the show’s MySpace page and moreTvicar which provides t-shirts for the show’s presenter Donal. As with all blogs, users can comment on posts by clicking ‘Comment’ at the end of each post.

Friday, 6 April 2007

3. TV Show Website > The Apprentice

The Apprentice website on bbc.co.uk is amongst the most ‘advanced’ sister-sites for a BBC TV programme. It’s a brilliant example of how vertical integration can promote a brand – in this case the eventual beneficiary being BBC One’s ratings.

The Apprentice logo is dominant at the top of the page. This is, in itself, intriguing as the logo is the official logo originating from the US version of the show and is not used for UK TV programme. Below the logo are the so-called candidates’ photographs; each linking to a personal profile. It is using this photo bar that users can easily identify who is still in the game and who is not by looking for the ‘Fired’ sign over the photo. Unlike other reality TV shows, the focus is not on the contestants as their photos take up a very small area of the page. Conversely, the Big Brother website has its contestants on a constantly-moving conveyer belt, which draws attention to it. The lack of focus on the candidates is not surprising as the premise of the show does not centre on the candidates as characters as much as Big Brother does and instead focuses on the tasks as a storyline.

The profiles themselves show the brand’s balance between reality TV entertainment and a more serious education in business. The profile includes details like the candidates’ qualifications and ‘career’. But below that it includes more personal details like whether they’re a loving father or their background as they grew up. It’s the former which shows the show’s potential to be a successful entertainment show by relating to the ‘characters’ whilst the former shows how the BBC are trying to promote the programme as a serious platform for entrepreneurial excellence. The website therefore acts as a promotional tool for new as well as current viewers of the show. The profiles, details about ‘The Board’ and the ‘About’ section allow users who are new to The Apprentice to both catch-up with the story so far as well as learn about the concept of the game.

The latest ‘news’ from the show is available in text form with accompanying pictures. These are actually just a look into part of the narrative of the previous episode – like a particular confrontation – with additional quotes. However there is one story which offers users the chance to apply for audience tickets to ‘The Apprentice: You’re Fired’ on BBC Two. There is also a newsletter which users can sign up to, to get updates on these ‘news stories’.

The most memorable candidate from the previous series was Jo and as such she has been given a newspaper-style column on the site. The weekly column gives opinion on the action from the house, the boardroom and the tasks themselves. However, this seems like a missed opportunity in terms of NMTs. If this was made into a blog – rather than a passive column – then readers could contribute through comments and make it an active conversational element of the site. Moreover, it could have an RSS listing so people could keep up to date with it at their convenience.

‘The Apprentice Appraisal Game’ is a quiz-based game which helps to further promote the TV show. Using video clips, players have to recount what happened in the clip, what happened in the previous episode and remember details that can only be found if you explore the site in depth – for instance details about the candidates from their profiles. This an effective way of keeping the users’ attention as it is an immersive and active game which requires you to be involved with both the show and the website.

There is a heavy use of video throughout the website. Clips from past shows as well as ‘unseen’ video which is exclusive to the site are available for users. This is what highlights this website as one of the most advanced on bbc.co.uk as it is a good example web 2.0 as it uses Flash-based video. It is made known that it is the main focus of the site from the dominant banner on the homepage dedicated to video content. There are also clips from the BBC Two ‘You’re Fired’ show and video profiles of all of the candidates. It is a very comprehensive archive of video which further helps to advance the TV show.

Finally, the website hosts the show’s own podcast called ‘The Apprenticast’. There are two available from the site. Richard Bacon hosts a weekly podcast discussing the recent episode’s events with guests – much like the Channel 4/Sky One podcast for Lost. The additional video podcast is a brief summarisation of the week’s episode, which acts as a catch-up show rather than having any unique content. However, the BBC has taken the opportunity to use this page to promote the daily and weekly Business podcasts from BBC Radio Five Live. The Five Live logo and a photo of presenter Jeff Randal accompany a brief description of the podcast with links leading to the Five Live website. This again shows the BBC’s attempt to portray the show as one which promotes real business acumen.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

5. Radio Show Website > Scott Mills on BBC Radio 1

Scott Mills’ weekday early-evening show on BBC Radio 1 has been on the air since mid-2004. However, he has worked in various slots for the station since 1998. His show runs from 1600 to 1900 on weekdays and he is joined by co-presenter Mark ‘Chappers’ Chapman – who also reads the sports news on Newsbeat on weekday afternoons. Laura Sayers is officially an ‘Assistant Producer’ originally recruited through the BBC Talent initiative but regularly participates in the show. Since late 2006, the Friday 1800 hour on the station has been handed to Mills for the first time and he runs a ‘Floorfillers’ hour of dance music, replacing Steve Lamacq. The show won the 2006 Interactive Programme Award at the Sony Radio Academy Awards – an accolade which perfectly sums up the show. The website, by using internet-based NMTs, has become the centre of the show in the last 18 months.

Scott Mills’ pages on BBC Radio 1 Online are pretty sparse but include important cross-promotional features and the ability to contact and interact with the show. As such, much of the slang used on the show can be found on the site. Words and phrases such as “actual”, “off of…” and his catchphrase “alright Treacle?” are woven into the site, but only regular listeners to the show would realise their significance. The most important feature of the pages is the promotion of the Listen Again service giving users the ability to listen to an edition of the show up to 7 days after the original broadcast date.

Moreover, the daily podcast using excerpts from the show ‘The Scott Mills Daily’ is promoted, giving links to subscribe via iTunes, the XML link and the ability to listen directly via the website on your computer. The podcast runs from Monday to Friday and vary in length between around 3 to 20 minutes depending on how memorable the show was that day. In 2006, the ‘Laura’s Diary’ feature became a daily staple for listeners and the ‘One Night with Laura’ competition was given regular coverage for almost a month on the podcast and the show. Like most radio-based podcasts, they act as a promotional tool for the radio show itself as people can ‘test out’ the show without committing to listening the whole thing. Moreover, it helps with ‘brand loyalty’ to the show as people will be more likely to return to the show if they can be spoon-fed the best moments at their convenience.

The Scott Mills pages have a regular daily online-only feature which has been running for well over a year. The ‘Rate My Listener’ feature is rarely ever mentioned on the show itself and simply allows people to upload a photo of themselves so that users can rate them out of 5. This is a good use of the internet to allow listeners of the show to interact with the website. Along a similar vain is the connection with the BBC Radio 1 message boards. A topic is suggested at the bottom of Scott Mills’ homepage. The link then leads to the Daytime message board where listeners can chat to each other, connected by their like for the show.

The bulk of the homepage lends itself to ‘articles’ based on the features of the show. For example, the most recent article has been an appeal to listeners who have participated in the show in the past. Scott thinks he has got a lot of bad karma leading to a lot of bad luck. So, in the style of the sitcom ‘My Name is Earl’, Scott has asked for any listeners who have had their lives ruined by Scott by being on the show to fill in a form to apply so that he can make it up to them. Other ‘article’ examples including links to funny websites they have discussed on the show and galleries of the show’s guests or the show’s highlights.

The right-hand column has links to major features of the show. These include ‘Flirt Divert’ and ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ with details of how listeners can be involved with the features. Scott’s ‘Friday Floorfillers’ show is part of the stations Dance music programming and as such it is given a full tracklising on the website for listeners to refer to. Moreover, there is a link to the ‘Feed Your Head’ mental health campaign from 1Xtra from the BBC, which the show was affiliated-with recently. There are also external links to other sites which may be of interest. These include the TheMillsFansite.com – a massive comprehensive website dedicated to the show in fair more detail than the official site could possibly afford. There are also links to Scott’s MySpace page, the official site for Chappers & Dave’s comedy act and the ‘official’ site for Laura’s Diary on the website for magazine ‘TV Hits’.