Product Placement in Avengers Assemble, Book promotion, Virgin Media Tivo

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Product Placement in Avengers Assemble
At last year’s d-Construct conference the keynote speaker Don Norman talked about how Apple has been planning the move to touch screens and gesture controls for many many years. He confidently said they would be the future of interacting with computers and devices.

Like many recent films that show futuristic technology in the not so near future, Avengers Assemble has lots of shots of people interacting with displays through hand and finger gestures. In its own subtle way it reinforced this future and will make the audience desire iPads, Kinect and the like more.

Did anyone else notice the occasional system sound when Iron Man was moving things between screens? Did anyone else notice they were the system sounds from Apple devices?

This wouldn’t be the first time this has happened. Pixar films feature Apple noises. But, this was a brilliantly subtle way to connect this exciting future with Apple.

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Book promotion
Three people I know have recently had their books published. It is very rare for me to buy a book the day it comes out but I have with these and I’ve been quite surprised by how they’ve been publicised – namely the amount of up front reviews and articles.

It felt like a waste to see a great review of a book three weeks before publication. I thought of people reading it, wanting to buy it (or download it), finding they couldn’t and then forgetting about it by the time it came out. I couldn’t understand why the promo wasn’t targeted to the week of release or afterwards.

Films and albums have both moved to a model where there’s a blitz of publicity around the release. The record industry call it the ‘impact date’. Only the well known franchises tend to get anticipation building promo in advance now.

Is this another example of how book publishing needs to catch up with the way people are now consuming media?

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Virgin Media Tivo
I remember when I first got Sky+ I was very impressed with how simple and easy to use it was. There were very few settings and nothing got in the way of the simple press R to record and green for series link. There was just one long list of recorded programmes, which some complained was hard to navigate with a lot of shows, but I never had an issue.

This week I moved over to Virgin Media’s Tivo. As a well developed platform I expected things to be equally straightforward. I knew it had to be a little more complicated as it integrates with catch-up TV over the internet. I was also intrigued by the TV ad where David Tennant searched for programmes via his name.

Now, I’ve not spent that much time using my Tivo box yet but first impressions aren’t good. It is clunky to move around, with a load of menus and screens to get to things. Recording something from the EPG and setting up series link appears simple enough but it defaults to record new episodes and reruns. That meant that, a day after setting it up to series link ‘Big Bang Theory’, five episodes were recorded when I only wanted the brand new one. Changing that took me through three menu screens.

Like the advert taught me, I searched for David Tennant and an impressive list of films and programmes appeared. However none were available to watch. This is how the Tivo experience falls down. The extra programme information and context it gives you gets in the way and adds very little.

It’s a classic case of a product adding too many features that get in the way of the core user need: “I want to watch TV programmes either live or recorded”. Maybe it was the limited technology in the initial Sky+ boxes but they kept to that core need and performed brilliantly.


Leon de Bruxelles, Britain’s Got Talent Twitter Hashtags, Zeebox

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Leon de Bruxelles

Looking for somewhere to eat near Covent Garden I found myself in the new Leon de Bruxelles this week. It promised amazing mussels and, as the first London restaurant from an established European chain, great quality. It did not deliver.

On sitting down we were told they had run out of mussels (and, given no one else had them, they must have run out much earlier). Since mussels are really all they do I cannot understand how that happened. But we stayed and chose from the small list of other dishes. Shortly after ordering, a basket of four small pieces of cold baguette was plonked down. At first I couldn’t work out why it looked wrong, then I realised there was no butter, bread knives or plates.

I ordered the Flemish Carbonnade Beef which sounded lovely and at £14 I was expecting it to be a substantial tasty stew. It was neither. After eating over half I found a hair in it.

It left me wondering if I should post a bad review somewhere, so potential customers would know what it was like (I don’t count this blog as reaching such people). But, as someone who uses TripAdvisor but takes the negative reviews with a large pinch of salt, I realised if I posted the above it would seem like I was making it up.

There were two saving points. The staff were nice and, thanks to tastecard, two mains, two sides and two drinks came to £22.

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Britain’s Got Talent Twitter hashtags

It is becoming the norm for TV programmes to put hashtags on screen at the start. The new series of Britain’s Got Talent is doing something different. It is putting a few well-placed hagtags during auditions that play on what you are watching. #nowwithwings when a performer extended his costume wings, #hottie when a swoonful young male singer took to the stage.

I have to admit I was initially sceptical. I instantly spotted a ploy to get these tags trending but dismissed them, thinking few people would use them. I was wrong on the second point. They were so popular that TweetDeck froze and terminally crashed when I tried to add them as a column.

Yes, they did trend worldwide. Given that Twitter’s trending algorithm makes it hard for a term to trend more than once it will mean that BGT trends every week. The clever bit will come if ITV monetise these hashtags.

There is a danger here though. These tags need to be used sparingly and only when there’s something worth tweeting about. If too many programmes use them and, especially, if they use them badly, the audience will be turned off by them.

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If you haven’t have heard of the Zeebox app, then it describes itself as “your TV sidekick” which you should use “while you watch TV” as it is “social, clever and fun”. It has multi-channel programme listings, a programme twitter stream, news, things called ‘Zeetags’ and it can change the channel of a few TVs.

It attracted a lot of TV industry buzz and BSkyB bought a 10% stake in January with a promise to integrate it into it’s mobile applications.

In the last week I’ve heard from two separate sources, who have accessed a (possibly hidden) part of its developer API, that it has hundreds of users at a time when it should have thousands (and thousands).

It doesn’t take a genius to see why it isn’t connecting with an audience. The only thing that is “social” is the twitter stream and for most programmes a twitter stream is a pretty boring list of mundane updates. I watched both The Voice and BGT with Zeebox on and saw little of interest. Meanwhile my own Twitter feed and the official accounts were “fun”.

It could be that Zeebox have something revolutionary planned. But right now I cannot see anything doing “social” and “fun” which isn’t Facebook and Twitter. That’s where your friends are and they are much more “fun” and “social” than strangers. If second screen is going to be about anything it will be participation (see Million Pound Drop) and there are not many programme formats that call for audience participation.

(Please note, I’m currently contracting at ITV. This blog contains my personal views and do not represent or reflect the opinions of ITV, or any of my previous employers or clients.)

The Tube/Confessions from the Underground, Blur and Pulp live, Wired Magazine

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The Tube/Confessions from the Underground

The TubeA few weeks ago Channel 4 screened a documentary about the London Underground. It used a (slightly weird) device of getting actors to play real LU staff and tell their experiences of working on the Underground. It was strong stuff. Station staff were stressed and everyone feared for the safety of passengers. It all pointed to cut backs making the people’s jobs horrible now and leading to a terrible incident in the future.

It succeeded in making me sympathise for staff but didn’t succeed in much else. It was simply too one sided. There was little joy and lots of complaining. Given that LU has 19,000 employees, and the hatred that has been whipped up by the unions, I’m sure it would have been easy to find people who would tell horror stories and criticise.

BBC Two has just started showing a new series, The Tube, which also looks at LU through the eyes of staff. It couldn’t be more different from Channel 4’s programme. All the interviewees are upbeat and full of life. They are shown in tough situations – like dealing with the aftermath of a woman being thrown on to the tracks — but are shown taking it largely in their stride.

The BBC Two programme was made with the support of TFL. Channel 4’s programme without. Being the BBC they are keen to point out TFL did not have editorial control. Channel 4 made a point of it being ‘unauthorised’.

So, who to believe? Well, like all frontline customer service jobs, it takes a certain type of person to work at an Underground station. I also trust that TFL trains its staff to handle all sorts of difficult people and situations. I also like to believe that most people simply wouldn’t do those jobs if they couldn’t cope with the stresses.

But, in a climate of cost saving versus increasing passenger numbers I’m sure TFL managers are making decisions that will one day be criticised by an accident investigation. (Incidentally, we have to accept that accidents due to cutbacks have happened many times in the past and always will happen.) The truth is somewhere between BBC Two and Channel 4’s programme. I’d like to believe it is much closer to BBC Two’s though.

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Blur and Pulp live

Pulp at Brixton AcademyTwo years ago I got a last-minute ticket to see Blur at Hyde Park. It was an amazing gig that was helped by a lot of gin. I liked Blur back in the day but Pulp were my band. I was holding out for them to reform and play live.

Last year my wait ended and I saw them at Hyde Park. It was an amazing gig which was helped by a lot of wine but mainly my emotions at seeing them again. I then saw them at Brixton Academy and realised that this was the Pulp gig I wanted. It was longer with more ‘older’ tracks.

(At this point I should also say I’m no fan of gigs at Hyde Park. The sound, the crowd and the distance from stage are issues for me.)

Last Friday two gigs went on sale. Pulp at The Royal Albert Hall and Blur at Hyde Park. Something unexpected happened: I only wanted to buy tickets to Blur.

The reason was that after Brixton I’m too worried about diminishing returns for Pulp. I cannot see how the RAH could be better than Brixton and I don’t want to spoil them. I don’t care as much about Blur. I know it will be a good gig and two years will have passed since I’ve seen them. There just had better not be any twats near me in the audience.

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Wired Magazine

Wired MagazineI’ve already noticed my lack of interest in Wired UK’s iPad edition. Now my subscription to the print magazine is up and I’m really questioning renewing it.

Wired should speak to me in the way Smash Hits spoke to teenage girls way back when. But I find I’m just flicking through it and not caring.

If I’m honest I’ve also developed a problem reading about cool successful people who are younger than me. This isn’t really Wired’s fault.

Truth is I’ll probably renew given that is only £24 for the year.

Anecdotally I’ve heard I’m not the only who feels like this.

The Artist, LetterMpress, State of Play

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The Artist

The ArtistSo, everyone is raving about the film The Artist. A modern silent film that is styled like and set in the era of old silent films. I saw it over a week ago and still find myself asking if I thought it was good. Robert Elms didn’t think it was and has blogged his objections:

…I found this was laboured, hammy, uninvolving, clever beyond tolerance and thoroughly pointless…by setting it in the time of silent films and so obviously playing on those techniques, it simply became an exercise in stylised French retro chic.

Seeing Robert’s thoughts made me realise I agreed. Now, I didn’t hate The Artist, in fact I rather enjoyed it, but it didn’t blow me away. I’m wondering if people are getting over excited because it is different and they felt special at seeing something so retro. I did find myself wondering if I would have enjoyed a ‘classic’ silent comedy more.

Further proof that people have been caught in a whirlwind is the number of awards nominations it has. Why is it up for best sound at the BAFTAs? Best score maybe but The Artist’s sound design is nothing special (for obvious reasons).

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LetterMpressLetterMpress is an iPad and Mac application that recreates an old fashioned letter press and lets you make your own prints. It beautifully captures the look and actions of a real large letterpress.

You create prints by dragging individual letters or graphics on to the press. This is where you first realise how much effort goes into letter pressing. It isn’t just a case of dropping the letter where you want it because they don’t stick the press, they slide around as you knock other letters into it. To keep things fixed and straight you have to add magnets. Then you need to set up each colour separately and print them on top of each other. And you have to do everything reversed like looking in a mirror. Suddenly getting the multi-coloured print you want takes time and practice.

It is a fun challenge and the app will let you cheat (for example showing you the letters the correct way around). Graphic blocks are limited so you can only really produce text prints but it is a cool way to make cards and posters.

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State of Play

State of PlayThis is actually one from last month. In fact State of Play was the best thing I watched on TV last year — not bad for a series made in 2003.

It is a six-part conspiracy thriller written by Paul Abbott and staring David Morrissey, John Simm, Bill Nighy, Kelly MacDonald and James McAvoy. Starting with a young man being shot by a hit-man, and then quickly introducing the death of an aide to a high-profile MP, it shows a world where the press, government and the police interact.

It was particularly interesting to watch in light of the phone-hacking revelations of 2011. The story is driven by a bunch of broadsheet journalists who use all sorts of nefarious methods to get information. Their relationship with the police is particularly interesting – they don’t pay but they trade information and withhold facts to protect their story.

It feels strange to say this but if one of your TV highlights of last year was The Killing with its mix of investigation, politics and human consequences then this early 2000s series is for you. And you can get it second hand on for a few quid.

The Killing subtitles, Google Realtime, Editions

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The Killing subtitles

The Killing subtitlesBefore the second series of The Killing started there were a few stories in the media saying the BBC were going to tone down the swearing in the subtitles. The accusation was that, during the first series, several Dutch swear words of different strengths had all been translated as fuck. The Guardian has followed this up looking at the subtleties of the translation and how it can alter our understanding of the script.

Naively (and probably because I was awful at languages at school) it never occurred to me subtitles were so hard to do, and that they could alter the meaning of something. However, as The Guardian says, translation “is a job that requires not just bilingualism but an awareness of minute cultural differences between two countries”.

One commenter on The Guardian website tells how he downloaded an episode along with subtitles from a different source to the BBC, saying: “There was a difference – of emphasis generally – which was noticeable”.

It is hard enough following The Killing sometimes and having to read the subtitles without missing the telling looks or reactions of the characters. I think I’m going to forget I read this one and trust the put-upon translators to tell the story in the best way they can.

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Google Realtime

This is less something I’ve noticed recently and more something I was reminded of. Shortly after the launch of Google+, Google ended its deal with Twitter and closed its Google Realtime search. I found Realtime more useful than searching Twitter for unfolding events as it combined tweets with webpages from more trusted sources like news sites.

Realtime would have been particularly useful during the England riots when Twitter was full of rumour and falsehoods which were amplified by people re-tweeting and believing what they read to be true. It also would have helped me last weekend when O2 Broadband went down overnight. A search on Google told me nothing whereas tweets confirmed that there was a problem across the UK.

There was an expectation that Realtime would return, using Google+ as a source but + isn’t really being used for live reporting. Google needs Realtime to compete in the “tell me what’s happening now” market and they can bring some valuable gravitas to it. I wonder if they are still “actively working” on bringing it back as was reported in August.

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EditionsAs part of AOL’s transition to a content production company it has launched an iPad app called Editions. It enters the crowded space of aggregators that promise to filter all the news that is out there and give you a daily read of stuff you want.

They’ve done a pretty good job of it. You tell it what headline sections you want (top news, technology, design, family etc) and it then goes off and builds you a daily magazine. When you open an article it gives you the option to remove that source (I removed straight away) and say if you want to see more on the subcategories the article belongs to. With little effort it soon filters down to what you like.

There are other nice touches. The sections are short so it doesn’t take long to flick through. It shows you the weather, friends’ birthdays (from Facebook) and appointments from your calendar.

The key thing they’ve got right is it localised to the UK – so many of these apps are USA-centric. The only bad thing is the terrible typeface of the logo.

Pan Am, Gig lighting, Flickr

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Pan Am
Christina Ricci in Pan AmPan Am must have been an American TV exec’s dream: A stylish period drama to cash-in on the success of Mad Men; Pan Am was known for only hiring beautiful people so the cast had to be glamourous. Add in international travel and a spy storyline and we are ready for take off.

The critics have not been kind. No one is saying it is terrible but no one is calling it a classic — three stars all around. After watching the first two I agreed. It was feeling a bit forced and dressing everyone in the same uniform made it impossible for me to remember who was who.

A hungover Sunday meant I ventured to episode three and it turned out to be a cracker. The spy storyline had tension, there was nice humour around Maggie’s attempts to meet JFK and, taking things down to the basics, Christina Ricci looked amazing in a black poppy-print dress. I also realised I’d started caring for the characters (something I’m finding hard to do in TV drama these days).

So I’ll be sticking with Pan Am. I hope it is worth it.

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Gig lighting

I’ve been going to gigs for many years now and I still go to many in a year. We are told live music is still booming and it is the big money spinner for the industry. I tend to go to gigs in medium sized venues (KOKO, Brixton Academy, Scala). As venues they are well fitted out and the sound is usually great but I went to a gig last week which made me realise more needs to be done on stage.

I do like a band to have personality on stage but that isn’t important as long as the music blows me away (The Horrors do nothing but play, but boy can they play). However seeing Ane Brun at Scala reminded me what can be done with lighting. I’m not going to attempt to describe it here and photos (like this and this) don’t do it justice but it made such a difference to the gig. My best memory is the back of the stage bathed in blue with the two percussionists in shadow through smoke.

At the end of the gig Ane thanked her lighting director along with band so it is obviously something she cares about. I wish more artists did.

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Lonely Pudsey (my most popular photo on Flickr)In the past year, how and when I take photos has changed. Before I never used my camera phone and would only take photos with my point-and-shoot when I was on a trip/holiday. Then Instagram came along and, with my iPhone 4, I had a half-decent camera on my phone. The result is my trusty point-and-shoot has been confined the drawer and I’m taking photos all the time.

Instagram’s app lets me upload my best photos straight to Flickr but I don’t always use Instagram. There’s still a few photos I like to take (like the view from my hotel room) just using the camera. Problem is I never get around/cannot be bothered uploading these to Flickr.

This leaves me with a quandary about Flickr. I absolutely love to be able to look back over old photos on the site. Most importantly it means my photos don’t get abandoned on a hard drive. But looking at Flickr yesterday I realised I haven’t created a new set since May – and it is these sets I look back over. All my photos since then are in an uncollected mess.

Then there’s the $25 I pay for Flickr each year. Admittedly it isn’t much money. But I’m not a ‘power’ user. If you compare what you get for $25 on other online services I’m not getting value. Yet I’m locked into Flickr because if I stop paying I lose access to my archive.

I’m not going to quit Flickr anytime soon but I would like it to do something – anything — to adapt to my new way of taking photos. Selfish I know.

Inspired Projects, Architecture for people, American sitcoms

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Inspired: How to create products customers love

Inspired bookThis 2008 book by product manager Marty Cagan describes the dream way to create and run products. Everything he says feels like common sense but you know why they never happen in real life. I’d love to be able to work on a product in the way he describes.

You can only get this book on Kindle in the UK. A lot of it can be read in blog form on

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The Secret Life of Buildings

Royal Festival Hall stairway by Julie Kertesz (from Flickr)

This was a three part Channel 4 series presented by the architecture critic Tom Dyckhoff. One of Tom’s main arguments is today’s architects are working to style or business needs and not designing for the people who use the building.

It turns out the ‘Gherkin’ which visually dominates the London skyline has boring offices inside because tenants wanted a cheaply adaptable space which they have filled with strips of desks. Wembley Stadium has been built around corporate entertaining rather than maximising the enjoyment of fans. Modern galleries are all about the statement building rather than bringing visitors together. (This is called ‘The Bilbao Effect’ where the Guggenheim Museum brings in the tourists for its design and not the exhibits within.)

Tom praises the Royal Festival Hall and its spaces for everyone (and anyone) to come together and use all day for free. It was built for the people without commercial pressure.

This reminds me of the old cinemas which were boring brick buildings on the outside and palaces of enjoyment on the inside. Compared with the multiplexes of today, which draw you in with bright lights but lack soul inside.

Please can we start thinking about the people who will be using the buildings again?

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The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother

The Big Bang Theory

Since the end of Friends there’s not been an American sitcom which has taken off in a big way in the UK. We still enthuse about one hour American shows be them comedy or drama but the traditional sitcom has been sidelined. It’s not an American problem, there’s not much going on in the UK space. With the exception of The IT Crowd there isn’t really a ‘filmed in front a studio audience’ show making any waves.

But the American’s still love them – just look at the fuss over ‘Two and Half Men’. The only ones drawing a big (and by that I mean around 1m viewers) audience are E4’s ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘How I Met Your Mother’. And I rather enjoy them.

‘How I Met…’ is the closest to the Friends formula with a group of everyday friends going through their 20s and 30s, working and dating. ‘Big Bang…’ is brilliantly observed geek comedy of a group of eccentric friends in their 20s and 30s, working and dating. What makes them work is the writing (and there’s been much said elsewhere about the American style of writing) and their strong ensemble cast. You’ll recognise at least half of each cast from many other shows.

I’d love to see more great comedy performed by great people in front of that studio audience. Surely it must be time for a revival of the genre in the UK.