BBC’s digital store to close in November

My biggest fear with buying digital only copies of films and television shows is if the provider goes away – whether it’s due to bankruptcy, change of direction – whatever.  As I’ve been sticking with the iTunes ecosystem for the majority of the time, I trust Apple to do the right thing and ensure I am able to download and watch my movies regardless of whatever happens to the movie or TV studio that supplied them with the content.  So far so good.

But, alas, the poor old BBC has announced that it’ll be shutting down its all digital BBC Store from 1st November 2017.  I’ve used BBC Store a number of times over the past 18 months, amassing a few titles here and there.  It was relatively cheap, and they often had many titles on sale.  My biggest complaint with the BBC Store, however, is actually watching the titles on my TV.  What a pain in the arse that was.  The BBC iPlayer baked into my LG TV, Apple TV, plus the games consoles I used to have, never supported BBC Store titles.  And there was no native BBC Store app for them either.  Thus I had to buy a Google Chromecast to be able to cast the content from my mobile phone to it.  No problem watching the content on my phone or tablet, but it’s not ideal – and this is why I think the BBC has failed – it felt as if it didn’t put enough resources into developing the BBC iPlayer integration or BBC Store apps across multiple platforms.

(Ironically, as the mega corporate AT&T is set to buy Time Warner, Inc. and take over HBO – AT&T’s boss has been semi-joking that he wants to provide 20 minute mobile friendly episodes of Game of Thrones – this sort of thing horrifies me – I’m all about choice, but the important thing is that television is television and should be viewed as (and on) such)

Another problem with BBC Store is that many of BBC’s titles are available on the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime.  The BBC has said that it wasn’t able to compete with these services, but I still say they just did not put enough effort or resources into making the content available across platforms as easily as Netflix or Amazon Prime (which, BTW, should be coming to Apple TV next month if rumours are true).

Ultimately it’s a slap in the face for digital TV and movie consumption.  But I also ask: is TV and film going the same way as music?  Do people actually prefer to pay a monthly subscription fee to consume as much content as possible, rather than simply buy a title outright?   While the BBC is refunding those of us for the content we’ve paid for (plus, very ironically, a £20 Amazon voucher for similar digital content), it doesn’t make it easy for us to be able to repurchase the content elsewhere.  With content providers bemoaning that piracy is ruining the entertainment industry – it forgets very easily that if more effort was made to make the content available quickly and cheaply, and across as many platforms as possible, their rhetoric might be a bit more believable!

I’m no Parkinson, but..

It looks like writer, producer and director Dirk Maggs has kindly agreed to do an interview with me regarding his forthcoming BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Neil Gaiman‘s Stardust.

2016-10-19_08-44-06

My idea being that as I have already interviewed screenwriter Jane Goldman on adapting Stardust for film, it’d be complimentary to get an interview for radio.  Two different formats – two different approaches.

I’m personally fascinated by book to film/TV/radio adaptations – taking a story in one form and transforming it to work in another.  That fascination goes way back to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – a series I have adored since childhood.  I love Hitchhiker’s because it’s little bit different between the different forms.  The radio, the TV show, the books and the film are the same story – but all told slightly differently.  Of all the different versions of the story, the film is the most different – but I don’t love it any less.

If Jane had tackled Neil’s story in its entirety, we’d have probably ended up with an 10 hour (or longer) film.  With radio, and especially dramatic episodic radio, you’ve got more time to work within the original published story – but pacing is obviously going to be different between a book and radio performance (it’s not an audiobook and thus not a reading).  Plus the lack of visuals provides a challenge in its own right.  For those that have never read Stardust (or watched the film), you’ve got to be able to paint a clear picture in the listener’s mind of the characters, the settings – everything through audio.  That is hard.

When Peter Harness (for whom I’m also looking to interview at some point when he’s back in the UK) adapted Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell for BBC television, he reworked the story to fit into 7 one hour parts, and in doing so, actually rearranged some of the events in the book which I think actually helps the story a great deal.  It’s a superb adaptation.  A bloody difficult adaptation, but Peter achieved it when three other screenwriters couldn’t.

Anyway, nothing has been set in stone yet.  I don’t know which format the interview will be in.  It’s entirely dependent on Dirk’s availability.  Email interviews are much easier, of course.  But I now have a video camera (a Sony FDR-AX53, a 4K capable camera that replaces my 16 year old non-HD, tape-based camera which died several years ago), an external microphone (with dead cat), and a high quality audio recorder.  So I could do it as a vlog/podcast.  In any event, I’m prepared for any format of interview.

In the mean time, if you have any questions for Dirk and Stardust, please feel free to leave a comment below.  When I have more information I’ll post it here.

The Great British Bog Off

The BBC has just lost one of its flagship shows to Channel 4.  This is terrible for a variety of reasons, but on the other hand, the way the BBC finances its shows, it is is also to blame (via the government’s recent interference).

Since the BBC license fee affords some, but not all, programming costs, the BBC often turns to independent production companies – along with its own BBC Worldwide commercial division – to make up any shortfalls.  Costs are shared between private and public funds.  But the downside is that if a show that’s produced via a third party decide it can get a better deal elsewhere, it will.  But it also questions the loyalty of said production company at the BBC.  Will the Beeb likely to commission any more shows from these companies?  I wouldn’t.

The BBC has made some terrible decisions in the past – the most recent being the cancellation of the British version of Dirk Gently’s Detective Agency only to resurrect it in the US via BBC America.  BBC America is a joint effort between BBC Worldwide and AMC (which in turn is owned by Sony).  The only saving grace has been that Netflix has bought it, which means that it’ll be seen.  But will it last more than the commissioned number of episodes?  Who knows.  It’ll be an enormous waste of time if the show is subsequently cancelled if it is.  Why recommission a show (of which the original was partly funded by the  BBC license fee) to have it cancelled again?  Big risk of the BBC’s limited funds.

Regarding the Great British Bake Off, Love Productions & Channel 4 are gambling an enormous amount of money.  Will it get the kind of audience as before, given that it’s moved to another public broadcaster – albeit it one that is funded entirely by adverts.  The main presenting team and judges have yet to confirm whether they’re going to move.  £25 million is a lot to risk for a public broadcaster regardless of however it is funded.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering why the BBC have commissioned a number of TV comedies shot in 2:39 aspect ratio.  The kind of ratio that’s reserved for films.  The impact of this is that you’ll see much bigger black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.  This isn’t too much of a problem If you’re watching on a reasonably sized TV.  But if you’re watching on a mobile phone or tablet, you may be squinting a bit.  Sure, you’ll be able to get some beautiful landscapes in, and you can frame things in an interesting way – but it’ll still look ridiculously small on smaller devices.  You’d think these people are making a Western in Super 70mm/Cinemascope.  But nope, they’re 30-minute comedies.  Made for TV.  I’m not convinced it’s a good ratio to be using for the multi-platform device generation.  Not unless smartphones are bigger than 20″, and tablets are 40″ and require two people to carry them. Not until everybody has access to 80 inch super widescreen TVs.  Or run everybody watches everything at the cinema.  Or TV projectors.

1.85 is a much better ratio.  I’d even go as far as saying that, given that a lot of money is made from video on demand and physical media from films, you’d be better off shooting 1.85 for movies too.  That way, you’ll get a wider (but not too wide) frame that’ll make the best use of today’s multi-device consumption.

Or maybe it’s just me.  Art v. practicality.  Difficult choice.

Top Gear: The Next Next Generation

Well, I suppose it wasn’t entirely unexpected that Chris Evans was going to step down from Top Gear (although uncannily announced the same day as Nigel Farage stepping down from UKIP – maybe they’re swapping jobs? (grin – wink)).

That said, the Top Gear team doesn’t need to hire anybody new to replace Evans.  We already have a great line-up.  Chris Harris, Rory Reid, Sabine Schmidt and Eddy Jordan.  I’ve found Chris Harris to be a very capable, very good presenter out of the 5 remaining presenters (The Stig doesn’t count as a presenter, not unless they give him a laser pointer or a very big stick – and that’s probably asking for trouble).  Rory Reid, too, is a very good presenter and his presenting on Extra Gear brings the Top Gear format a fresh and much-needed update (although I do feel, especially now, that Rory’s skills are much more needed in the main programme now that Evans has gone).

So my vote would go to Chris Harris to lead the next series.  He’s definitely the best qualified out of the team.  Chris is an experienced automotive journalist, just like Jeremy Clarkson, who has many years working  in print and TV.  So why try to find somebody new to replace Evans?

Don’t like the new Top Gear?  Here’s a solution..

.. turn off your TV.  Or change channels.  Or read a book.   Or listen to music.  And never tune into the thing again.  Because you’ll just keep having a moan.

Anything but the repetitive droning on about Chris Evans shouting; that it’s boring; that they using canned laughter (they’re not – and indeed, it seems that people and newspapers are obsessed over the BBC using canned laughter – what flipping century are you living in?); that this is the same; that it’s too different; insert all manner of swear words and insults because people seem to think THEY own Top Gear.