Some good cheer for advertisers…and a bit of humbug

Some good cheer for advertisers…and a bit of humbug

Back from the seasonal break, ISBA’s Bob Wootton shares his thoughts on mobile technology, the future of the BBC and fires a caustic shot across the bow of anyone unfortunate enough to have sent him an e-card this Christmas…

Spotify free goes mobile

Two weeks into January and I am still as excited and delighted as a six-year-old on Christmas morning. I’ve been grumbling for a couple of years, to anyone who would listen, about Spotify’s only premium product being made available on mobile devices.

As a music fanatic, I’ve loved Spotify from day one, but I’ve always felt that Spotify Premium’s £12 per month price tag was a bit steep. I know I used to spend way more than that on CDs – I’m just tight.

I held a strong suspicion it would get four times the subscribers if it halved its price, effectively doubling its revenues. It took me a (very) long time to figure out that maybe Spotify didn’t want more Premium subscribers as it made more money from advertising on its free service.

Anyway, now it’s announced that it’s going to extend its free (that is, funded by ad interventions) service to mobile. Moreover, by the time I read the news and logged on it had actually extended the service, so it worked first time.

Good news for me and advertisers alike.

BBC eats itself

Not a week passes without further recriminations at the BBC. Savile; payoffs; directors general despatched in short order; BBC Trust Chairman Lord Patten clinging on for dear life, behaving like a cornered bear and scrapping like the seasoned politico he undoubtedly is. All underpinned by the commonly held view that Auntie is a Byzantine organisation, as talented at cronyism and self-preservation as it should be at broadcasting.

And now we learn that it has unsurprisingly sent its first of many salvos to the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee arguing for – you guessed it – preservation of its secure funding via a mandated universal tax known as the licence fee. There will be much more of this over the forthcoming months and years.

One of my first big briefs when I arrived at ISBA in 1996 was to get advertising on the BBC. At a time when the BBC took between a third and half of all the nation’s viewing eyeballs, this made sense for advertisers seeking to defray the high cost of telly as sold by a few near-monopoly channels.

But this was not only a futile quest in the teeth of some of the most powerful lobbying opponents in the land. Events overtook me, not least the internet, the economy and a regulatory pricing intervention. As a happy corollary the price of TV advertising has not moved much since and represents the best in real terms for over a decade.

Meanwhile, advertisers have a choice of many, many channels (including some laden with BBC content) as well as enhanced sponsorships, product placements and digital extensions from websites to video on demand. Not to mention the multitude of new online routes to market and transaction.

So, thankfully, market forces have prevailed, everybody has seen sense and my futile objective has been abandoned.

But we still take a keen interest in the BBC because it is still a source of market distortion in programming, audience and, therefore, the broadcast economy. It’s also a national institution and one which is fascinated by advertising. Hardly a week passes without some enquiry about advertising from the serried ranks of BBC newshounds; the volume of which makes you wonder whether downsizing had ever occurred.

Does its leadership hold the key? Seems to me there are pretty much three ways to run the BBC. Statutory regulation, which carries the threat of political interference. A Board of Governors, which so utterly discredited itself by cheerleading when it should have been overseeing, and the BBC Trust, a middle way that ISBA and many other commentators welcomed.

But that, too, has failed, and arguably more dramatically than its Governor Board predecessors. That leaves statutory control under Ofcom. Bring it on?

4G one year on

I got an iPhone 5 with 4G about a year ago. I had to migrate from long-time provider O2 to EE, who stole the march with their early 4G launch.

I thought I’d better have first-hand experience of something I was bound to be asked for an opinion on. Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I? So, anticipating the question, here’s how I’ve found it.

First impressions were mixed. Where I could get 4G it impressed immediately. I didn’t have to duck into a Wi-Fi café every time I needed to update apps or download mail (useful for deleting unopened e-cards!) and media content while out and about.

Trouble was, it was really patchy and didn’t follow any logic. One minute you’d be in 4G signal, the next 3G. Once I left central London, it was pretty hopeless.

I’ve also sensed, along with many I’ve spoken to, that 3G seemed to be performing (even) worse. Now, of course, I’d changed networks so there were too many variables for me to be able to isolate the cause. But true to their claims, week by week things improved and they’re now pretty good most places I go. The premium for 4G over 3G isn’t too punishing and is closing all the time. I recommend it if you hammer your smartphone like I do.

Bah, humbug

Finally, as you read this, many of you will have just returned from a (hopefully) well-earned Christmas break. I hope you had a really good one.

There, now I’ve officially spread some goodwill – and while the opportunity is still fresh – I’d like to have a mini-rant about Christmas cards, or rather the growing trend among us to eschew them for typically execrable jpegs or animated gifs along with the message that the money saved will be donated instead to ‘cheridee’.

Am I the only curmudgeon who thinks that the giving of cards and donating to charity is not mutually exclusive? Here’s a radical idea, let’s do both – after all charity Christmas cards are not hard to find!

My inner Scrooge might prefer to send e-cards because it requires less effort and thought, and not because it frees up vital extra funding for our favourite donatable cause. But the Bob Cratchit that stirs in me around this time of year enjoys buying, writing and posting a real card that can be placed on an actual mantelpiece.

Personally, it was quite a lot of work lining up and signing several thousand business cards and a hundred or so personal ones, but it was part of what made it different, special. I may well be in a minority on this, and I’m sure some will consider me ungrateful or even heartless, but I assure you my heart’s just in a different place.

Next year, I will be sending cards earlier and more widely than ever, maybe even with the exhortation that I’d quite like to receive one back and yes, I’m going to send all those wanky e-cards straight to junk without opening. Bah humbug indeed!

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