My 2012 In Pictures

Back in 2004 cameras were not at all as commonplace on mobile phones as they are today. Back then, browsing through my phone’s images I realised I had a rather unexpected, somewhat candid, summary of the year in blurred low resolution photographs. I wrote about it, collated 100 of the pictures here and posted the pictures on Flickr. To me, the most interesting thing about that collection is that it’s made up of many of the small moments that I’d otherwise forget. Genuinely, my 2004 was reflected though the everyday. Of course, cameras on phones were of low quality and it’s likely that pictures of the most important events in my life that year were taken on a better camera. Happily, Flickr provides a way to see the year through all the photos I took but there remains something fascinating about the photos I chose to take on a mobile phone camera.

I recall creating a similar collection for 2005 but I can’t find it anywhere. I created a list of 50 images that summed up 2005 and curated another 100 mobile pictures on Flickr in 2006 (and a 36 for 06 collage), a reduced set in 2007 and, randomly, 176 in 2008 when the camera on my Nokia didn’t seem to be that much better than the 2004 Palm.

In 2009 I relied on a computer,’s set manager and Flickr’s social features to automatically generate the most interesting 36 images for that year – mobile or not – and you can see them on Flickr. It’s a different way to look back on the year and – because it relies on other people’s selection – it’s inherently less personal. Looking back on them now, after 3 years has passed, you’d be forgiven for thinking the only thing to happen to me in 2009 was snow.

I don’t appear to have curated (or automated) collections for 2010 and 2011. I could set the machine to do it today but I think that moment has passed. I guess I was reviewing the year in other ways at that time.

Olympic Rings at Tower Bridge

Now, the cogs in the machine have been doing the same for 2012 and the 36 most interesting of this year’s pictures are collected on Flickr. Pictures surface to other users on Flickr for a wide variety of reasons and these collections change. The most popular of my 2012 photographs, as I post this on New Year’s Eve 2012, is a picture (not snapped on a mobile phone) taken at the end of June of the Olympic rings hoisted high on Tower Bridge. If you’re reading this at a later date that might not be the case.

Stumbling across that collection, as I did earlier, made me wonder what I would choose for 2012. This has been a memorable year and I wondered how my chosen pictures would differ form the machine’s collection. At first I considered using Instagram as a way to view the year yet, despite the recently-added ability to view the pictures on the web, there didn’t seem a way to collect a group for the year.

So, I went back to my phone and decided to quickly collate a set; for speed I opted for a simple rule: one photograph from each month that appeared in my phone’s Photo Stream from the year. So, I have “2012 Year In Review: The 12 of 2012“. As you would imagine, both sets feature the London 2012 Olympics often, and there are a couple of over-lapping pictures, but they are subtlety different. I imagine to an outside observer they may be remarkably similar but I can tell the different at a glance.

Both Twitter and Facebook have provided me with an alternative way to review my 2012 via my Year On Twitter and my 20 biggest moments according to Facebook but, somehow, the 12 photographs below work better (also on Flickr). Of course, the full London 2012 Olympics set on Flickr brings back a lot of memories but these 12 put the year into a little more context.

Lunch at Duck & Waffle

I have had the pleasure of eating at too many amazing places to remember. But, of the ones I do remember, it’s often a combination of fantastic food and an amazing dining experience that add-up to make it unforgettable: fresh Lobster on Hellshire Beach, Jamaica; dinner at Toronto’s CN Tower or Lightship Ten that used to be in St Katherine’s Dock; Steak at Palm West in New York; pallela in that bar in El Cotillo, Fuerteventura; or, of course, the half-day eating experience that is The Fat Duck.

Now, today’s lunch venue needs to be added to those experiences. Recently opened on the 40th floor of Heron Tower in the City, Duck & Waffle has fantastic views across East London looking out towards The Olympic Stadium and Canary Wharf and is close enough to give you the impression you are looking down onto The Swiss Re building (the Gherkin). It’s a stunning setting for lunch and, this afternoon, was not too busy so we got a prime table – looking right out East.  There aren’t really that many skyscrapers in London and even fewer restaurants with that kind of view: the only taller buildings are Canary Wharf and the Shard (and that’s not open yet).

Of course it’s not just the experience, the food has to be excellent too: and it was. The bbq-spiced crispy pig ears might not sound to your taste but were crispy, meaty and – for somebody who never adds salt to food – nicely salted. If you don’t like tomato, a plate of English-grown heritage tomatoes will make you rethink with a broad range of tastes, colours and flavours while scallop on apple with black truffle and lime was one of the most refreshing tastes I’ve ever eaten. The signature duck & waffle dish is a beautiful mixture of crispy duck and soft waffle.

It must have been good, I don’t think I’ve ever written about a restaurant here before. If you’re in London go before it becomes popular (in a couple of weeks they are about to open 24-hours) and, even if you’re not in the mood for food, try the house Manhattan, the bottled cinnamon smoke that’s a vital constituent is incredible, and you’ll need it: a stiff drink is required after the 30 second glass elevator ride up the outside of the tower.

I took a few pictures of the view (and the food) and they’re all over on Flickr (with a few on Facebook too).


It’s My Radio Station

I’ve been meaning to write something for quite a while about radio services in an age of connected devices and multiple music services. But news of Apple being awarded a patent to enable “seamlessly switching media playback between a media broadcast, such as a radio broadcast, and media from a local media library” and the subsequent Media UK discussion finally got me to start writing.

I’ve been a radio fan for most of my life but lately my love affair with the medium has turned into a marriage where we don’t speak much anymore. So much radio seems to be back-to-back music (which my phone does better, thank you) or back-to-back Big Brother chat (or back-to-back songs with Big Brother chat breaking them up) that I normally work with iTunes running. I listen at breakfast for an hour or so and that’s about it. Perhaps that’s fine with the industry, I would hope not.

I read, occasionally, an argument from radio people that the only way to compete with music services – such as Spotify or Pandora, or personal libraries like iTunes – is with the bits between the songs (the entertainment that I don’t store on my iPod). That seems a reasonable position. So, I’ve been wondering what would happen if there was a ‘mashup’ between radio (for the entertainment bits) and my music player (for the songs I really like)? The technology can support it, Apple’s patent just reminded me about it.

Simply put, my radio station would allow me to set preferences allowing me to opt-in to news (say, every hour); to add local travel news every 20 minutes (between 0700 & 0900 if there was something to report); to add sport (every 2 hours except during the Olympics when I’d change it to more often) and to add celebrity news (once per month). The rest of the time music is coming from my local music library of tunes I want (sometimes I select individual tracks or albums; sometimes I pop it onto random). The content is downloaded in the background and inserted between the songs I’m hearing. Of course I could opt-in to a bunch of other things if I wanted to (one new music track every 90 minutes; breaking F1-news as it happens; interviews with artists in my library or a ten-minute blast of a phone-in). All of these things could be surrounded by an ad break or sponsors (as they are today) but the station pays no music royalties, bandwidth costs are limited to only updating content and if the connection is down the music keeps coming.

Take it a stage further and my news comes from LBC; travel news direct from Transport for London, sport from Sky and, perhaps, a film review from 5Live. If the content is what I want, I’d choose it and hear supporting commercials (or promos, if it’s the BBC). I don’t need a presenter telling me what I just heard, my phone shows that to me quite happily so the entertainment is more than being successfully able to ‘hit the vocals’ with station name-check.

I don’t see that it would be hard for Spotify or Pandora to add these services in now (perhaps they already are and I’ve missed them) but experience with this kind of content is certainly at radio stations today (and, if we’re honest, RDS has been allowing it for years if you’re in a car and listening to your own music).

Of course, radio’s real advantage is that there’s no effort involved to turn it on and start listening; this would be an effort to set-up and configure. If I wanted live presentation then I’d still switch to radio services but, this way, I get news & entertainment on a schedule I want and it really would be a station playing today’s best music mix (just for me).




Elsewhere: New Apple Patent Could Kill Commercial Radio

Over at Media UK’s radio discussions section there’s a thread about a new patent issued to Apple that allows for “seamlessly switching media playback between a media broadcast, such as a radio broadcast, and media from a local media library”. It reminds me that I have some thoughts brewing on this (update: my thoughts are now written-up here) but this is what I added to the thread (with the typo seen at Media UK cleaned up).

An obvious use of this tech would not just be for targeted ad insertion but also for some kind of content switching when a user’s streaming connectivity drops. Using Apple’s Genius functionality & a station’s playlist, an app could store a list of station-appropriate tracks that are already on my device and seamlessly switch to them. Let the station cache a few idents in the app and I may never notice I’d lost connectivity driving through the tunnel again.

Take it a stage further; could a station save on music royalties (and the listener on bandwidth costs) if it only provided the links and all music tracks were sourced from the user’s local music library (of tracks they own)?

The future of radio is at an interesting point. Even as a self-confessed radio geek I am finding that I spend more time listening to music and entertainment services that could not traditionally be called radio. More to come on this.


Shropshire Radio: A Blueprint For The 21st Century?

The airwaves in Shropshire changed today as Beacon and The Severn were replaced on the dial by Free Radio and Signal 107. This is great for radio in Shropshire and I am excited to see what’s to come as stations build themselves in a modern media properties.

When I lived in Shrewsbury in the mid/late eighties there wasn’t much choice on the radio dial. Every station was aimed at a neighbouring region (Marcher, Beacon, Wyvern and Signal surrounded us). But nothing for the good people of Shropshire.

1985 saw the arrival of the BBC local station which was followed in 1987 by an extension to the commercial franchise for Wolverhampton to include Shrewsbury & Telford. Initially launched as a local breakfast show only, with split news and commercials for the rest of the day, Beacon Shropshire added (and removed) programmes aimed at the county as finances allowed. Later owners provided local programming for up to 12 hours a day. I suspect that was the closest Shropshire got to its own successful local commercial radio station.

Regional stations covering the West Midlands more-or-less reached Shropshire (Heart being the first in 1994) and I’ll never forget listening to Jazz FM North West in Shrewsbury when it launched. The first truly local commercial radio station – The Severn – began broadcasting to & from Shrewsbury in 2006. While I no longer lived in the town at that time I did occasionally hear the output and followed its fortunes as it merged more and more programming with nearby stations in the group of which it was part. It was closed towards the end of last year but purchased by UTV Radio ahead of a relaunch as Signal 107 today.

This isn’t meant to be a potted history of local radio in the county but a reflection on how (radio) times have changed in more than twenty years. Back in the mid-Eighties I recall the sentiment of many that Shropshire deserved it’s own, full-time, commercial station. Shrewsbury had (has?) little in common with Wolverhampton and – in spite of all the jingles that told us Beacon could be contacted via “The Music Hall, Shrewsbury” we all knew better (sadly that address jingle is not in the this montage).

But media markets change and radio stations in smaller markets are not just competing against other radio stations locally. They’re up against strong, powerful, local, national & regional radio brands that leverage television and digital properties (you know, Twitter, Facebook and the rest) to both communicate and stand out in a crowded market. They’re up against those digital properties in their own right, against other pure music services online and against hundreds of television/video services (both live and on-demand) and the might of the Amazons, Googles and Apples who now want to entertain us too.

To succeeded, even a local station, needs to be recognisable and use all the promotional tools in the box. An extendable, recognisable “brand” is not optional for a radio business in 2012: it’s a requirement. There’s whole post on how any presenter will struggle to promote multiple brands through their Twitter & Facebook presences; never mind how they do it on-air (and singing place names because your jocks can’t say them – as heard in this montage – has no place in 21st century presentation). But brands need consistency, so a station needs to be recognisable 24 hours a day.

For these reasons and more I think what’s happened today in Shropshire radio is a good thing. First, at lunchtime UTV branded their recent acquisitions Signal 107. It’s a brand that includes a much wider geographic area than Shropshire, incorporating a heritage station from nearby Stoke-on-Trent, but means there will be some semi-local content and the power of bigger name behind it. The larger brand is great for promotion & advertising and the bigger owner means round-the-clock presenters. One of the problems The Severn had was that it degenerated to a jukebox service at times. I understand the economics of this – and it is no criticism of the previous owners – but a modern media brand needs consistency. I believe radio can only compete by being more than just music so it needs 24-hour presenters. That can only come from bigger groups with the budget and is, surely, easier when the jock needs to promote and push just one station identity (yes, I know UTV still has multiple brands but I’m talking about Shropshire here).

The same argument for consistency and promotion also applies to today’s second Shropshire rebrand when, at 7pm, Beacon (along with Wyvern, Mercia and the mighty BRMB) was christened Free Radio. I’m a Twitter follower of some of the station’s presenters. It’s been amusing watching them try to use social media to promote their multiple brands; they did it very well, I have to say. But it must have been hard to exploit those channels fully. Tonight, that just became easier. And if it’s easier on Twitter it’ll be so much easier in other places.

It’s also important for larger radio stations to compete against the big boys. A single brand allows exploitation through television and other advertising outlets on a wider scale. None of us restrict ourselves to a small geographical area. We move around, in real life and digitally, we’ll see advertising elsewhere. With one move, the Free Radio brand can be seen in more places to more people. This has to be a good thing for them.

And now, both of these brands, can move forward with new opportunities. Digital radio provides nice, if obvious, brand extension opportunities. But there are other ways to build a brand and I’m excited to see how they do it. Shropshire radio just moved into the 21st Century.

You know I think radio, even with all the alternatives available, is a very important medium. I want it to be a vibrant & successful medium in the modern media mix. It has to move forward and I’m fascinated to watch the changes.

And, maybe, this time Shropshire is at the heart (no pun intended) of the changes to the way radio stations build their brands. As I said elsewhere today, this is surely the blueprint for stations around the country.

Digital Advertising Predictions 2012

To be clear, I’m not doing the Mystic Meg references this year. If she couldn’t see the demise of her paymaster then what hope does she have to see digital advertising’s future?

So, I shall also get all clairvoyance references out of the way right at the start as I look into my crystal ball to read the 2012 cards. Or something like that. Yet I still hear the voices from beyond telling me that, in the UK, digital advertising will continue to grow; by which I mean it will take a larger share of all advertising and generate more money for businesses supported by digital advertising (I’ll find some numbers to prove that in a year from now). Given the state of many European economies, I’d be foolish to try to predict where the money will come from but I’d wager it’ll mainly be a shuffling of existing advertising monies rather than new cash.

Perhaps my references should be topical and sporting this year, with the 2012 games happening right here in London in the summer. Even at the kick-off of the year (see what I did?), they’re calling them the first digital Olympics. While we’re going to see a lift in advertising revenues caused by the impact of the games, the powers-that-be guard any use of the Olympic logos closely and only authorised brands can use it in advertising messages, which, I think, will mean the lift will be smaller than some might expect.

I’d be interested to see how the brands not partnering with the games get their messages out in 2012.

I am surprised not to see any of the big European mobile telephone brands on the 2012 official partner list. While we’ve all long-since given up on calling this – or any year – the year of mobile advertising, it could be the year mobile payments come of age (that is, of course, if anybody can get their phone to work in London during the months of the games). Paying for things, using your phone as the debit card, certainly appeals to the gadget geek in me. And, I really think that the introduction of mobile payments will have a positive knock-on effect on mobile advertising.

I’m also pretty confident that we’re going to see more and more “buzz” around television-companion apps. These apps primarily run on mobile-type devices but enhance, in some way, your big-screen viewing. The “enhancement” currently appears to mainly allow you to interact with others who are watching the same programme via Twitter or Facebook, or play along with a version of the game-show you are watching. This additional screen provides both a whole new place for advertisers and the prospect of some interesting battles for control of ad-messages there. How anybody will determine which ad you saw, the one on the television or the one on the app, will be an interesting technical and data challenge this year.

And that segues nicely into a prediction that picks up on a tipping point I missed from last year’s list (but at least acknowledged in my Report Card). We know that non-broadcast video, the kind that doesn’t make it on to a television via a traditional broadcaster, commands a large viewership and I think more and more brands, who are getting increasingly comfortable in social media environments, will spend money there. There’s a chance the wall-to-wall sporting coverage this summer will drive people to YouTube and the like. Of course, that’s also a big opportunity for video-on-demand services with the rights to more traditional programming. A bumper year for those is also on the cards (sorry, I had to get one more reference in) with increased ad loads (that’s a term I learnt in 2011 to mean “more ads”) and possibly the wider adoption of ad-selection opportunities, where the user chooses which advertisement to watch, as demonstrated by the Hulu service in America. We’ll see more and more of that here.

Report Card 2011

Almost nobody fails with these “predictions” because – like the best clairvoyant – we can’t predict the big stuff & we’re all looking for the trends which will get a little bigger or smaller. So, even with our ears to the ground, we’re vauge and can hang our hat on almost anything to prove we were right. Let’s face it, if anybody could have predicted the rise of Facebook or – insert any shining tech starlet here – we wouldn’t be making lousy predictions on the web, would we?

For a couple of years I have written my predictions for the twelve months ahead in digital advertising. Everybody’s at it and, of course, nobody takes it too seriously. “I’ll predict they’re all wrong”, one of my colleagues amsuingly suggested last week but, of course, it’s him that’s wrong. Almost nobody fails with these “predictions” because – like the best clairvoyant – we can’t predict the big stuff & we’re all looking for the trends which will get a little bigger or smaller. So, even with our ears to the ground, we’re vauge and can hang our hat on almost anything to prove we were right. Let’s face it, if anybody could have predicted the rise of Facebook or – insert any shining tech starlet here – we wouldn’t be making lousy predictions on the web, would we?

While I readily admit to following the pack and, probably, highlighting the trends everybody else is seeing, I do always start by reviewing last year’s “predictions” so see how far off reality my senses were. So, albeit a few weeks into the new year, I’m starting with a review of my 2011 predictions.

I began with “increased data usage in advertising targeting”. Of course this is probably impossible to prove either way. Publishers are certainly more confident in their data conversations but who knows if it’s really being used? Given Amazon registered a patent suggesting an ability to understand more about you based on your choice of wrapping paper I think we can safely say we have not come to the end of this trend. As for anybody falling foul of the data comissioners, well Facebook seemed to do the opposite and get a good grade from Europe. Not a bad result on that one but nothing amazingly forseen.

Last year I called my second prediction “The Cloak Of Transparency” and I think this is one that didn’t (but should have) come true. Being more accessible with explanations of data usage can only be a good thing. I am, however, releived that we are not bombarded with opt-in/out boxes at every online interaction. My prediction about this was off but somebody will meet the need soon, I’m certain. My favourite article on the subject in 2011 was by Kevin Curtin who encouraged somebody (maybe, everbybody) to sell his data. As for my point about data validation services, did I miss any?

Did digital advertising grow in 2011? I think we really need to wait a while to get the numbers in, don’t you? But if Hearst Digital can report that their “U.S. digital media businesses were solidly profitable for the first time” [source] I think I am onto a winner with that one. Since 2000 digital advertising has “has leapfrogged every traditional advertising vehicle except television” suggested The Chicago Tribune, which must be a good sign. Back in October, the IAB reported UK internet advertising expenditure growing 13.5% to £2.256 billion in the first half of 2011. The cards are looking good for that one. And take a look at some of the excellent creative you may have missed in 2011. That one came true and, in an uncertain economy, I’ll happily take credit for being right on that.

Also back in October, an Econsultancy/Rubicon Project report suggested 44% of publishers were then selling their online display inventory via real-time bidding (handy if you’re in RTB, huh?). I’m using RTB as a proxy for the traded environment here, as I can’t find any stats talking more generally about trading. Without a doubt, there were even more ways to sell inventory on offer to publishers last year and, therefore, businesses need to understand the trading environment better. With 30 billion UK RTB-traded impressions seen during last year’s European RTB Insight Report, somebody ought to be making sure the money’s right. Of course, publisher’s might want to put analysts on managing their direct sold campaigns, which was a suggestion repeated a number of times in 2011.

But where was the exodus from the City to digital that I suggested might happen? Perhaps that prediction failed because the City bonus culture didn’t.

My final prediction last year was about advertising and social media. How could I fail with this one? Twitter claims 60 billion tweets in 2011 and the most re-tweeted was from a commercial organisation: the Wendy’s hamburger brand. There’s a long way to go here but Twitter did introduce an advertising play in 2011 and it will only grow in 2012. Groupon, the couponing site that IPO’d (can I say it like that?) last year, earned an average return of 6,352% for private investors and generated top line growth of 700% in the nine months ending Sept 30 2011 (year over year) [source]: impressive sounding numbers, if nothing else. So, I think my suggestions that coupon sites would still be strong came true. While new Daily Deal sites came – and some disappeared – in 2011, there is more to come from this sector I’d wager. Last year I didn’t say much about video; I think it’s a given that it’s now part of the online/digital mix. But online video continues to grow as a viable advertising medium, and not just with long form content. This year charlieissocoollike became the first UK channel to reach one million subscribers which suggests a continually growing audience for well-produced, non-broadcast video content. YouTube counts as social media, right? Oh good. Tick, then.

Of course you can never go wrong saying that there will be a “raft of technology announcements” in the coming year, I don’t think that was wrong. I may even use that again for my 2012 predictions which will be with you soon enough.

So, there we go. I think I identified the trends well enough and, while these predictions aren’t going to make anybody rich, they weren’t awful.

Let’s see what the crystal ball thinks we’ll do in 2012.