Goodbye TVC

On the day TVC closes for general operation, a little on the past and future of this unique building.


Disclosure: I’ve worked on-and-off for various bits of BBC for many years.

The closure of TVC is one of those left-brain/right-brain things: The logical “right-brain” spreadsheet lover in me looks at the old building, the amount of asbestos, the legacy cables and the fact that News, Sport & Childrens have all moved out and thinks that it’s the right thing to do.

Meanwhile the left-brain in me is screaming loudly “BUT IT’S TELEVISION CENTRE”, it’s a place of dreams, of wonder, where I was in a small room in the basement while they filmed Jools Holland above. A place I got lost deliberately at lunchtime just so that I wouldn’t get lost that one time I was running for a meeting.

The truth probably lies somewhere in-between; News being in West1, unified with world-service is a great thing for the output. BBC Worldwide and BBC Studios will be moving back in a few years. Studios 1-3 will survive.

So on this, the last day the building is still in general operation, I will think fondly of the past, and hope that post re-fit the building emerges leaner and all set for 21st century.

My friend wrote about his recreation of a famous moment: On Tap-Dancing at TVC.

A Tale of Two CEOs

Ignoring potential risks doesn’t seem to pay off. The eerily similar tale of two failing companies.

When I read about the demise of HMV, there was a quote from here that rang a bell:

The relevant chart went up and I said, “The three greatest threats to HMV are, online retailers, downloadable music and supermarkets discounting loss leader product”. Suddenly I realised the MD had stopped the meeting and was visibly angry. “I have never heard such rubbish”, he said, “I accept that supermarkets are a thorn in our side but not for the serious music, games or film buyer and as for the other two, I don’t ever see them being a real threat, downloadable music is just a fad and people will always want the atmosphere and experience of a music store rather than online shopping”.

Sounded eerily familiar, and then I managed to find it:

I outlined to the Fairfax board what I described as a ‘catastrophe scenario’, which involved losing a decent chunk of their classified advertising, and they chose to totally ignore that. Roger Corbett, who was then a board member and is now the chairman of the company, he stood up at the front of the board table and he picked up a quite fat edition of the Saturday Sydney Morning Herald that was sitting there. And he held it up in front of the board members and he said to them, ‘I don’t want anyone ever coming into this boardroom again telling us that people will buy cars or houses or look for jobs without this.’ And he thumped the big fat Saturday Sydney Morning Herald on the board table.

Two companies, major problems, the same root-cause. You can’t always ignore problems in the hope that they go away or don’t materialise.

Avoiding the Barclays Cycle Hire Price Hike

Barclays Cycle Hire goes up in price in January 2013, here’s your options for a little more time at the old price…

Prices for annual subscription doubling in January 2012, and you can’t renew your membership to add on to the end of it… here are your two approaches:

You have a different credit/debit card and a second email address?

  1. Register a new key with an annual access period, which you don’t activate with a different email and card number.
  2. Put this away in drawer
  3. Turn off auto-renew on your existing key
  4. when access stops working use the other key

you don’t have an extra card lying around

This was given to me by the call-centre

  1. Cancel your existing access period, forfeiting what is left on it
  2. Get another annual period for 45 quid

Dear London

Getting into the spirit of the Olympics

You were amazing. We realise that now. You hosted athletes from all over the world, put on a cracking Olympics, and did it without too many transport dramas.

We realised we can win when we drive ourselves as a country, we’ve got a shedload of gold medals, and countless more silver and bronzes. Our cyclists showed the world what meticulous attention to every detail can achieve. Don’t ever say we don’t make things anymore: we made amazing bikes, bikes that made champions.

We walked past the amazing beach volleyball venue at horse-guards and were warmed on spring nights by the cheering of hundreds of spectators.

We struggled past That Damn Website trying to get tickets, and when did get into the park the organisation was top-notch, the food was ok, and people smiled.

And we smiled when we left. We smiled at tourists. We smiled at the pink signs everywhere when we realised that the city wasn’t in meltdown. We yelled “GET IN” in public when we won things. We smiled watching our city on the TV hosting the marathons and triathlons.

So my plea, can we carry on smiling?

We’re one of only a few cities in the world that is truly global, and for these 2 and a bit weeks we’ve been even more-so.

London, you’re harsh, noisy, grimy – a big city with character, that’s the way it will always be.

But please, at least for a bit after the Olympics and Paralympics, can we keep on smiling?

The New ITV News

ITV News relaunch shows that less can be more. relaunched this week. It’s now all of ITV, and not just the ITN national bulletins. It’s very nice. Lots of people have been talking about it. I’m late to that party.

BBC/Guardian, et al feel like a curated library. ITV now feels like a twitter-stream, or as Paul said like tumblr.

It feels very “now”, you’re seeing the news of the moment. It’s not going to replace BBC News as my homepage, but it’s good to see ITV competing meaningfully, innovating not aping.

Forget inbox zero: Social Gaming Zero is the new unattainable goal

“I’ll start that once I’ve replied to my game requests” is the latest way to Get Nothing Done(TM).

I’m terrible for using arbitrary events to get me to do something. Does that make me like node.js? Anyway, I’ve been stuck on my sofa unable to start doing stuff for days thanks to the sudden popularity of Draw Something with my friends.

Between that, and the ever-present Words With Friends I’ve got a whacamole of social requests flying in, and the compulsive need to reply to them is too hard to break.

I’m going to start on all the stuff I have to do once I’ve got that to number to zero, but I don’t get anything done because people keep drawing comical stick-figures in various states of lewdness.

My inbox, that’s fine, that’s manageable. But my gaming, now that is a problem.

Don’t expect that new iPad 4G to be 4G outside North America

The brief period where we almost had spectral harmony, seems to be over, looks the iPad 4G as being sold in the UK, will never work with UK 4G networks.

Yesterday the “New iPad” was unveiled. It’s an evolution of the iPad 2 with a “retina display” screen and more processing oomph. And an improved cellular modem, giving it faster 3G, and the even faster LTE or “4G”.

The UK has yet to launch LTE networks: the spectrum clearing and auction hasn’t got underway, but we do know that they will be running on 800 MHz and 2,600 MHz. (the 800 MHz provides great coverage, so good for rural areas, while the 2,600 MHz will provide capacity in cities because of smaller cell-size).

It looks like there are two variants of the iPad 4G, the AT&T (LTE at 700/2,100 MHz) and the Verizon version (LTE at 700 MHz along with CDMA support). Comparing the US and the UK specs, it looks like the AT&T variant is the ‘global’ one.

All the pages on have many caveats: 4G coverage is limited by carrier and by area. They make no claims for universal 4G availability. Only certain US and Canadian carriers are listed as supported.

Here’s the potential confusion though: the iPad 4G (as currently shipped) will never work with UK LTE networks. Our networks will be running on frequencies that the device cannot support. There is an outside chance that some carriers might reuse their 3G spectrum at 2,100 MHz – but the most likely to do so, 3, recently ruled this out.

The same situation exists in Australia, where Telstra have launched their LTE network on 1,800 MHz.

The brief period where we almost had spectral harmony, or at least when devices supported enough bands to make it look like we did, seems to be over.

I would still buy the “4G” version, the better 3G support will make your browsing faster, and I like connecting directly without tethering to, and using the battery of, my phone.

By the time LTE arrives in the UK in 2013, Apple will have doubtless have launched the “New New iPad” and this probably goes away. But, if you’re selling a “4G” product in the UK, it’s not unreasonable to expect it would work with 4G in the UK.

Pessimistic about TV Apps

I spoke on Guardian’s Tech Weekly Today, about how I see the future for dedicated TV Apps somewhat lacking.

I was on an episode of Tech Weekly today (23 minutes in) talking about Connected TV alongside the head of the DTG, Richard Lindsay-Davies. I was perhaps a bit down on TV apps and wanted to expand on that a little, in the hope of being more nuanced.

I think that Video Apps on the TV video are great: I love using iPlayer and NetFlix on my TV/PS3/AppleTV far more than on my laptop. You can glance away, and glance back when something interesting happens, in the way you watch TV. You’re not cmd-tabbing through windows to try and find the iPlayer tab before the interesting bit ends.

The BBC Olympics application will let fans have access to nearly all the sports, not constrained by how many channels the BBC has – a useful extension and I think it will be popular. The Twitter app on my TV? Not so much, I used it once, and used it to say how awful sending that tweet was.

I really don’t think we’ll manage to have that many TV-only apps. No developer without lots of video (the Broadcasters, Netflixs and YouTubes of the world) is going to pick up a TV SDK – they’re going to learn Android or iOS programming. There’s already a lot of fragmentation in the TV space and billing is never going to be as easy, and lucrative, as on the mobile platforms.

I think that in the future we’ll see some of these phone/tablet apps throwing interesting graphics and content to the TV screen, like the scores at the end of a round. There’s scope for real innovation here, but it’s about feedback, not interaction.

The TV should be the easiest screen to get content on, you shouldn’t have to think about how you get content there: It’s about leaning back and relaxing. We tried ordering pizza via TV in 1998, it didn’t really work. Today we’d just do it from our tablet or smartphone.

Have a listen, let me know what you think, am I being too pessimistic?