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The Tickle File
short takes on daily media news

Slow TV on the road again
“If you can make it there…”

For television producers the world over hitting the big time means selling their shows or formats to the US market. Big Brother would have remained an interesting concept in the Netherlands without it. There are, indeed, many examples.

Travel Channel will broadcast a 12-hour slow TV show on arguably the most hectic day in the lives of Americans, Black Friday, November 27th, known for combat shopping, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday. LMNO Cable Group acquired format rights for slow TV from Norwegian public broadcaster NRK and will produce the show. It’s the first NRK format sold in the US.

“It is not easy to succeed there,” said NRK format manager Ole Hedemann in a statement (March 25). “It is amazing that of everything it was the slow-TV which made it. That's because the idea behind slow-TV is unique enough that it really stands out in a TV landscape where a great deal is very similar.”

When NRK created the slow TV genre in 2009 with a seven hour train journey broadcast the world of TV paid little attention other than to giggle at the novelty. After the 12 hour Fireplace show attracted 20% of Norwegian viewers a few years later that changed. More slow TV has been produced, delighting viewers across Scandinavia and soon the UK and the US. “While everyone else is out hustling and bustling to get the latest deals on Black Friday, we’re giving out viewers a chance to unwind with 12 hours of reality in real time,” said Travel Channel spokesperson Ross Babbit to Hollywood Reporter (March 23). Other than the schedule date and length show details remain under wraps except that it will be “a road trip.”

Travel Channel is one of several specialty cable and satellite channels owned by Scripps Networks Interactive (SNI) (65%) and Cox Communications (35%). SNI is in the process of acquiring Poland’s biggest privately owned TV broadcaster TVN and holds a 50% stake in UK TV Channel Five. Cox Communications is one of the largest US cable TV providers. Hollywood-based LMNO produces all kinds of TV.

Fired TV star fielding few offers
First mover advantage?

Regular followers of big name TV star antics have certainly noted the career change of Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson. After a sharp and pointed internal investigation BBC general director Tony Hall notified one and all that Mr. Clarkson’s contract will not be renewed. To the grumbling of those deriding its “political correctness” the BBC has a problem with employees, even star performers, who physically and verbally attack other employees. (See earlier article here)

Motor-head show Top Gear has a worldwide footprint, contributing significantly to the coffers of commercial arm BBC Worldwide. Lord Hall made clear that Top Gear will have a new season, just without Mr. Clarkson. Certainly BBC Worldwide lawyers are fielding inquiries from concerned broadcasters.

As a celebrity show host Mr. Clarkson will most certainly entertain offers of new employment. UK broadcaster ITV is rumored to have interest though Channel 4 and pay-TV operator Sky seems to have taken a pass, fearing “another controversy around the corner,” said an anonymous Sky source to Huffington Post UK (March 26). Another possibility, often cited by marginally reliable media watchers, is a deal with US-based SVOD operator Netflix.

No new job in the UK for Mr. Clarkson is even close to a firm, a previous commitment to another BBC show a bit up in the air as police investigate the producer punching incident. But fate moves in mysterious ways. Russian channel TV Star (Zvedza) has reached out, reported (March 26), inviting Mr. Clarkson to Moscow to “discuss the possibility of cooperation.” TV Star is operated by the Russian Armed Forces Broadcasting Company. Russian channel NTV broadcast a Russian-language version for a few years but dropped the show in 2007 for low ratings.

Everything making money online to be investigated
“uphill struggle”

Nothing at the European Commission is more sacrosanct than the single market. Copyright rules have long been a target, with little progress. The digital age offers distinct challenges.

“I am under no illusions,” said Andrus Ansip, EC vice president charged with digital single market policy, revealing his outline for a forthcoming Digital Single Market strategy. “It will be an uphill struggle. It is harder to create a digital single market than a physical one.”

Rights holders from audiovisual producers to sports leagues have reaped rich financial benefit from territorial copyright protection. For content distributed online a few lines of code makes identifying geographic location simple and quite abrupt. “I hate geo-blocking from the bottom of my heart,” said Commissioner Ansip, quoted by dpa (March 25). (See more about intellectual property rights here) Because of licensing restrictions some audiovisual content in blocked in certain countries or different prices are charged.

This particular initiative tackles copyright narrowly, limited to online distribution, limited further by cultural exceptions. The bigger target is online shopping, with big US providers (Amazon, eBay, taking 57% of the European e-commerce total while cross-border revenues of European e-commerce portals are a scant 4%. The full EC digital strategic plan will be revealed in early May.

Meanwhile, EC Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager announced, as expected, a year-long official investigation because “some companies may be taking measures to restrict cross-border e-commerce.” The EC has been investigating Google’s alleged sins for four years. This will certainly extend beyond Amazon to Netflix. “I can go to Italy and buy a pair of shoes but I am unable to do that from my home,” she said, quoted by Bloomberg (March 26). “I cannot understand why I can watch my favorite Danish channels on my tablet in Copenhagen, a service I paid for, but I can’t when I am in Brussels.”

PR problems are hard to shake off
“organized destabilization”

Ruthless are the French media critics once the scent of blood is in the air. Radio France president Mathieu Gallet had a tough time last week with “revelations” - some unproven - of wild spending while demanding staff cuts. Unions remain on strike. (See earlier story about turmoil at Radio France here)

This week is no better. A letter to staff from M. Gallet offered an apology for all the confusion over the expense of office renovation. In an interview with Le Monde (March 23) he predicted “other alleged revelations” as part of “an organised destabilisation campaign.”

Just a certain as the sun setting in the east, satiric/investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné (March 25) charged M. Gallet had improperly hired a PR consultant, irony notwithstanding. At mid-week M. Gallet was summoned to a CTJ* with Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin who wants “specific and precise” proposals to get the PR problem under control.

*CTJ - see explaination here

Public broadcaster refuses ads for news radio station

Like many, many radio broadcasters, Dutch all-news channel BNR Nieuwsradio prepared a TV ad to promote itself this spring. The next step in the Netherlands is a visit to the sales-houses, ad sellers for the various radio and TV channels. Their job is to schedule the spots and take the money.

But STER (Stichting Ether Reclame), saleshouse for public broadcaster NOP, refused. “We don’t give space to direct competitors,” said a spokesperson, quoted by (March 24). Under its previous name - Business Nieuws Radio - BNR advertised on NOP channels. (See more about media in the Netherlands here)

BNR Nieuwsradio chief editor Sjors Fröhlich is not amused and has asked media regulator CvdM (Commissariaat voor de Media) to look into the matter. “It is unacceptable for a public organization, that we all pay, exclude anybody. In my opinion, this… is not legally sustainable and actually ridiculous.” He also noted that Fox and Netflix advertise through STER. “I find that curious.”

Let nothing get in the way of the money
“grandmother’s jewels"

The ten short weeks seem eerily distant since murderous criminals attacked the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing eleven and injuring an equal number before turning their weapons on a local police officer then a neighborhood delicatessen. The outrage was global. Two million people marched through Paris in solidarity.

Surviving Charlie Hebdo staffers have struggled since to publish the newspaper on a regular schedule. Other Paris news organisations donated space and services and one week after the horror a new edition appeared with a worldwide print-run of nearly 8 million. Although subsequent editions have been irregular circulation has far exceeded last year’s weekly average of about 60,000.

Between donations, grants and increased publication revenues the newspaper has gone from struggling to cash flush, approaching €30 million, reported AFP (March 21). And the surviving staff members want a share. “It’s like those funerals where relatives bicker over who’s getting grandmother’s jewels before she’s even buried,” said an unidentified lawyer for the newspaper. “All this cash is doing more harm than good.”

Eleven current staff members are asking Charlie Hebdo’s owners - the parents of murdered managing editor and cartoonist Stéphane Charb Charbonnier, managing editor Laurent Sourisseau and managing director Eric Portheault - for “egalitarian capital distribution.”

Online media catching up to traditional media’s news strength
your opinion counts

The degree to which different news media segments influence or form public opinion has long been a subject of interest and reflection. Media watchers regularly monitor the ups and downs of that influence and, often, report challenges to democratic values, media plurality and such. In Germany, the opinion-making clout of television appears to be slipping, said a recently released study released at the Conference of Directors of Regional Media Authorities (DLM) meeting in Berlin (March 20).

Television continues to lead other German media sectors in opinion formation. But that perception has slipped to 35%, 1.9% lower than the previous 2013 study. Daily newspapers fell to 21.6%, down 1.1%. Converging quickly in opinion making is online media, 20.2%, up 2.3%. Radio was also up, 19.9%, gaining 1.0%. Further down the list are magazines at 3.3%. The opinions of younger people, unsurprisingly, are formed most by online media. (See more about online news here)

“Overall, the national opinion market is still characterized by great variety,” said the DLM presser. Five news media providers form 58.4% of German public opinion. Public broadcaster ARD leads at 22.4%, followed by Bertelsmann/RTL at 12.4%, Axel Springer 8.5%, ProSiebenSat1.Media 7.8% and public TV network ZDF 7.2%. Others - Bauer, Burda, Funke Media - less important. Conspicuously, Bertelsmann/RTL and ProSiebenSat1 outlets were rated lower in opinion formation, 1.8% and 1.1% from the previous survey, respectively. Others in the top five were more or less unchanged. (See more about media in Germany here) The public opinion survey was conducted by TNS Infratest between September and December 2014.

A separate study from Reader’s Digest of German readers showed trust in professional journalists falling year on year from 31% to 26%, tied with tour operators and union leaders. Trust in taxi drivers - the Uber controversy coming to mind - fell most. The survey ranked firefighters the most trusted profession in Germany.

From Last Weeks ftm Tickle File

Big radio trend: change everything and everybody
Apple is coming

Halls are filled at big media trade shows with happy people networking their hearts out, particularly with the Great Recession a distant memory. Sellers of things and services out number participants, many of whom seeking new career opportunities. “Never is heard a discouraging word,” as that old song renders.

And so it was at the recently concluded RadioDays Europe show in Milan. Attendance has been estimated at more than 1,200, the most in its six-year history. The big “take-aways” were consistent with the radio biz zeitgeist; Apple, figuratively, is coming to get your (a) listeners (b) advertisers and (c) talent. The solution is (a) be quicker (b) more creative and (c) more like Apple, figuratively of course. Lasting memories of these words of wisdom can be purchased online.

Behind the scenes - or curtain, if you will - there were occasional nudges at the future. Big broadcasting companies aren’t very patient. It seems, reported Rzecpospolita (March 18), Polish broadcaster Eurozet, principally owned by Lagardère Active, and group program director Rafal Olejniczak parted ways “by mutual agreement” as RadioDays in Milan got under way. Flagship national channel Radio Zet has dropped abruptly in recent RadioTrack audience estimates, trounced by market leader RMF FM, owned by Bauer Media. (See more about media in Poland here)

Mr. Olejniczak had been associated with Radio Zet for nearly 20 years, off and on, and had been group program director since 2011. His termination was due to a lack of “consensus on strategy” with Lagardère Active executives, said Rzecpospolita. Last autumn the company severed its relationship with sales director Jaromir Sroga.

In 2016 RadioDays Europe moves to Paris.

Previous weeks complete Tickle File

Week of March 23 2015

In The Public Service

Separating Progress From Horizontal Motion
Oops!! The biggest executive challenge in handling a crisis is knowing what is and isn’t a crisis. It’s a qualifying attribute, requiring a certain distance from the moment or, at least, good noise-abatement technique. The best executives love, worts and all, their people, programs and jobs. The rest are simply accountants.



Encore Une Fois - This Week Last Year in Reaching Out

Creating Credibility Not A Vanity Project
Bond, James Bond Nobody doubts the soft power value of international media. Words and pictures can frame any message. Soft power effectiveness depends on credibility far more than technology. Desired outcomes, however, must be clear.


Encore Une Fois - This Week Last Year in The Public Service

Value For Money, Competition And Jail Time
hangin' judge Listeners, viewers and – now – surfers generally give public broadcasters high marks for value. While the standard funding mechanism – the license fee – is less than ideal alternatives are hard to find. But how public broadcasting is funded is inextricably tied to purpose. Competitors and the politicians who love them want to shrink public broadcasting and everything it does. And they’re coming for the money.


new ftm Knowledge

The Curtain Falls - Media Rises – new

This updated set of essays focuses on the dramatic changes in Europe's media that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain thereafter; Germany in 1989, new media rules,transition of State broadcasting to public broadcasting, refocus for international broadcasting, the rise of commercial broadcasting and the importance of youth culture. PDF (December 2014)

Order here

Media in the Baltics - New World Order

By the time Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the European Union they were known as the Baltic Tigers. The media sector grew spectacularly with big multi-nationals investing. Times have changed. This ftm Knowledge file reports the changes, new opportunities and lingering ghosts. 63 pages PDF (October 2014)

Order here

The Privacy Issue

The privacy issue touches every aspect of media. From consumer protection and the rights of individuals to news coverage privacy is hotly debated. New media and old media stumble and the courts decide. ftm offers views from every side of the Privacy Issue. 68 pages. PDF (July 2014)

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Friday March 27, 2015
radio in the Netherlands, BNR Nieuwsradio, STER, sales-houses, radio in France, Radio France, public broadcasting

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