Spectacular Snowy Scenes – I love Frozen Planet

December 4, 2011

Wednesday nights at 9pm has been must-see TV for the last few weeks. No I’m not talking about people designing new houses or deciding which has-been should be crowned the new ‘king-of-the-jungle’. This is a far simpler, yet at the same time infinitely more complex hour of television that has taken it’s viewers thousands of miles from our comfort zones and shown us scenery, creatures and worlds we could never imagine.

‘Frozen Planet’ has been yet another landmark documentary series from the BBC, whisking viewers to both the South and North Pole to witness life in the most extreme locations of our planet. Over the past six weeks, we have been treated to shots of Polar Bears, Seals, Killer Whales, Penguins, Reindeer, Boars and Snow Leopards and more in their natural habitat – all in High Definition.

With David Attenborough narrating (well who else?!) the show has done a sterling job of explaining the creatures lives in the poles as they fight to survive – whilst also remaining one of the most entertaining shows on the box. Unlike many other wildlife show, there’s no on-screen presenter and instead Attenborough acts as a narrator on the fascinating stories we see unfolding in front of us.

And we do get to see everything that happens, including a great deal of upsetting scenes. One moment it can be young playful Polar Bears, the next it’s Wolves attacking a herd of Boars in a fight  to the death. Some have criticised these scenes, claiming it’s wrong to show these sometimes brutal fights on screen. But I’d disagree with this, the show simply shows you the fight for survival at the poles, to edit any of it would be to ruin what the filmmakers are trying to achieve.

I think most people who have watched over the last few weeks would agree that one species of animal has been a highlight amongst others. I have fallen in love with the Penguins on this show. From their cheeky manner (the fist episode showed one Penguin stealing stones from another when his back was turned) to their phenomenal speed as they launch out of the water and on to land and to their remarkable struggle to stand, defiantly in face of extreme weather to defend their young. The Penguins involvement in the show has been fascinating.

Unlike many other wildlife shows, humans have also been a subject of ‘Frozen Planet’. Last week’s programme saw us follow the lives of the people in the Polar regions. The show documented their own fight for food – no going to Sainsbury’s for your eggs here, instead you’ll be abseiling down a cliff. We saw how they too interact with the animals there and interestingly how Penguins seem to actually ignore the human’s existence – domesticated already!

‘Frozen Planet’ is actually the third show in a series of wildlife shows co-produced by the BBC and the Discovery Channel – starting with Blue Planet (2001) and Planet Earth (2006). One of the things I have loved about this trilogy has been the effort made in the filming -taking up to four years to film a series. To celebrate this, we get to see a 10 minute ‘behind the scenes’ of every episode. In some ways I find this even more fascinating than the wildlife itself – seeing just how close and to what lengths the production crew go to to get their shots. I for one would not like to spend 2 months alone in a flimsy shack in the arctic -regardless of how many penguins are outside the door!

There is now only one show left of ‘Frozen Planet’, focusing on Attenborough himself journeying to the ‘Frozen Planet’ to see the action for himself as well as natural wonders such as Glaciers. And I think that it has been scenes such as the Glaciers and ice-sculptures that have set this series apart for me. Blue Planet and Planet Earth gave us amazing animal shots, but Frozen Planet has a backdrop beyond anything else – absolutely breathtaking.

I’m proud of the BBC for this trilogy of programmes, they’re the sort of thing that other broadcasters often shy away from due to the extreme expense for often disappointing viewing figures. Luckily ‘Frozen Planet’ has been very popular, charting the highest wildlife ratings since 2001. But I do wonder, in the current financial climate, if the BBC will commit to such an investment again any time soon. For the sake of creative and original TV, I really hope they do.

The final ‘Frozen Planet’ is on this Wednesday at 9 on BBC One, if you missed the series it’s all on BBC iPlayer or you can watch a compilation episode which is planned to be screened over Christmas.


Formula One UK enters Pay TV market with BBC/Sky deal

July 29, 2011

After weeks of speculation, we finally know the outcome of how F1 will be broadcast in the UK for future years. It’s not back off to ITV, Channel 4 won’t be nabbing it, it’s not even leaving the BBC entirely. But it’s caused uproar amongst fans of the sport (myself included) as from next year you will need a subscription to Sky Sports to enjoy the full Formula One season.

A number of things about this are very bad, not least the fact that a basic Sky Sports subscription will set you back almost £40.00 per month – money that many people simply don’t have. When channels can charge this amount, it makes the humble BBC license fee (£12.13 per month) seem a drop in the ocean!

I fail to see why people should be forced to pay for a sport that for several years they have had free access to. Not only that, it’s a sport amongst the richest in the world. F1 doesn’t need any more money, why should we now have to fork out cash to continue seeing this ‘spectacle’ on our screens.

Now of course, I am missing out part of the deal which was announced earlier today. The sport isn’t entirely leaving Free-to-air TV, the BBC will still broadcast half of the races live. But what’s the point in that? I don’t really want to watch half a season of a sport, I want to see the entire picture.

We have been promised ‘extensive highlights’ by the BBC, but what exactly does that mean? Will it be more or less than the rather disappointing highlights package which currently airs after every race on BBC Three? And regardless, I think I speak for all sports fans when I say watching highlights after the event is never the same as seeing it unravel live.

Then there’s the deal itself. The BBC have apparently secured such gems as Monaco, Silverstone and the final round of the championship live for 2012. But how long will that last? Sky aren’t going to be happy if people choose not to subscribe to their service (after all, this deal is no doubt costing them millions). They will keep pushing the boundaries until the BBC is left with only the poorer races of Bahrain and Valencia. Don’t deny it, recent events have proved how sneaky a Murdoch company can be.

I also fear for the many thousands, even millions of casual fans. F1 viewership is at a 10 year high and that is in no small part down to the current BBC broadcast. The Beeb have put the sport everywhere, provided so much more access than their predecessors and really helped engage a whole new range of fans. But casual fans aren’t going to want to pay an upgrade fee and neither will they enjoy the disjointed-ness of live races some weeks and highlights the next. The sport will lose them, no doubt about it.

The BBC have made a terrible decision to end this contract early (they had exclusivity until 2013) and opt-into this 7 year ‘partnership’ with Sky. But lets not forget, their hands may have been tied. The corporation is trying to make massive savings at the moment and rumours suggest that they had to choose between full F1 coverage or Wimbledon (we all know the result of that one).

What I don’t like is how badly it’s been handled. Commentator Martin Brundle tweeted that he was only informed of the news last night and anchorman Jake Humphrey only heard the news this morning with the fans. These people are the ones who have made the show, they should have been involved in the negotiation process rather than letting some BBC execs make the decision with no input from the people that matter.

And the less said about Mr Ecclestone the better. Bernie said only a couple of weeks ago that F1 would not be going to subscription TV, yet here it is. And what’s more, it looks like he’s managed to talk the teams into the idea also, lessening any chance of a rebellion due to the Concorde Agreement.

There is however a possible glimmer of hope emerging from a meeting held earlier today. Martin Whitmarsh, team principle of McLaren has hinted at the BBC possibly still showing full race coverage for every Grand Prix, just delayed for half the season. This would, for me make a huge difference and could save me from a painful decision between the BBC and Sky.

We should also not lose sight of the fact that this isn’t the end for F1. It will still be shown on the BBC, just not as in-depth as we would like. Sky have also (whatever you think of them and their management) done wonders for sport, particularly football and I’m sure those that choose to watch with them will get a very detailed and all-encompassing service.

However it’s hard to ignore the fact that todays deal was entirely driven by money at the expense of the fans. You have to wonder how many more times sports can keep doing this and push their fans patience before they lose interest themselves.

BBC Television Centre – Memories of a landmark

June 15, 2011

We’ve known for a while that the BBC have been planning to sell, but now the building is finally on the market it feels an awful lot more real. In case you’re unsure, I don’t approve of the sale of the building. The BBC belongs in London and it belongs in that building. But the Beeb have made their decision and so I thought I’d write a bit about what that building meant to me.

I can’t remember when I first saw BBC TVC on the telly, it was probably in one of the many Children In Need or Comic Relief telethons which have been held there. The building looked special right from the first time I viewed it, that famous wall, the iconic white blobs the beacon BBC logo in the top left hand corner. That view symbolises for British TV what the Hollywood sign symbolises for films. It was a staple of those big night-long live shows that only the Beeb can properly pull off and as such has become such a well known landmark in our country.

As a person who has always been enthralled by the media, I always loved the whole look of TVC. It just seemed like the magic factory where the wonder of television came to life. Naturally I always wanted to visit, but I didn’t get the chance to go to White City until 2005.

It was to see a TV show, admittedly not the best one (Dick and Dom’s Ask The Family – I was more a fan of their Bungalow show, but sadly you couldn’t go and watch that!) and it was an extremely exciting moment. I’ll never forget when I first saw TVC. It was a truly inspiring moment to finally see that wall and that circular structure.

After we arrived we were whisked through the main entrance, under the giant wall of offices at the heart of TVC, past the fountain in the atrium, beyond that famous clock and on to the studios. We were to go into studio 6, fantastic! Several great shows have been filmed there – ‘Buzzcocks’, ‘Have I Got News For You’, Would I Lie To You’ – most of the panel shows!

On the way in, I remember our BBC guide getting slightly lost (yes, I know!) and leaving us in the Studio 6 canteen. The canteen, wow! This is where the stars ate, the producers, the script editors, heck even the director general himself must have dined here! This was part of the backstage and it was great

Eventually we were shown through to the actual studio, past the giant black curtains and to our seat in front of the set. This was my first TV show I’d ever seen filmed. Whatever age you are, it is a bit of a special moment, but it was made better by being within the magic factory itself, television centre!

After my visit, I become even more obsessed with the place, researching the building’s history – discovering how and why it was first built, what all the various parts of the building were, discovering that it’s actually in the shape of a giant questionmark (google it – it is!). I loved this building, this landmark and in 2006 I was lucky enough to visit again.

This time, I got the full tour as part of a school trip. We toured through the live weather studio, downstairs dressing rooms for the celebs in live shows. Experienced an entirely empty studio that had filmed ‘Friday Night With Jonathon Ross’ the night before. We spent an extended amount of time in the brand new news studios (that’s right, fully refurbished in 2006 and now being made redundant in 2011!!?) and I realised that one day I wanted to work in this building for the greatest broadcasting institution on the planet.

But sadly, that looks like a very unlikely prospect now. The Beeb may keep the building as part of a partnership, but it’s future as the  corporations flagship venue is over.

From 2013, BBC TV will be based ina brand new Salford facility called MediaCity that looks like this.

Wow, does it look dull. It’s just the same as all other ‘new’ buildings around, nothing special, nothing outstanding. BBC TVC has the looks, the history (Blue Peter garden, for example!), the location and the facilities that the BBC needs. They should not be moving.

Luckily, whatever happens, the main section of TVC (the ring and studio 1) gained listed status in 2008 and will remain and possibly be restored after the Beeb leave, but it will never be the same. For a corporation who still seem so obsessed with circles, I have no idea why they are leaving a circular building, a building saturated with history and one that it will be sad to see go.

BBC drops Podcast’s for ‘Free Download’

June 14, 2011

I was surprised to learn whilst listening to my ‘Best of Moyles’ podcast today (yes I do listen to his show and I do find him funny!) that the podcast itself would be coming to an end from July 1st. Luckily that doesn’t mean that the actual feature will be coming to an end, I can still download and listen later on my iPhone, but the name will be changing… to ‘Free Download’.

What? I almost crashed my car trying to work out the thinking behind that one. Chris Moyles explained it as ‘[the BBC think] You don’t know what a podcast is, therefore the BBC are changing the name of the podcast’.

Is this really the thinking behind the change? I hardly think ‘Free Download’ explains what the product is any better. A free download could be many things, whereas a podcast is a show, normally audio, that is downloadable to your MP3 player to be listened to when you want. Perhaps the BBC are worried that the term podcast is a bit vague and confusing. Maybe it’s too new a phrase, after all we’ve only been using it since 2005… (and for that matter the BBC have for most of that time too).

But I don’t think this decision boils down to the fact that Podcast could be seen as favouring Apple’s iPod series of MP3 players. And it’s true that we get the name podcast from the a combination of iPod and broadcasting – in a way it has always been a subtle advert for Apple.

But I think we’re beyond that now, people see podcasts as exactly what they are, they don’t see it as favouring any one player (we all know they play on any or even stream online). Heck, podcast has even been accepted into the Oxford dictionary, it’s not just tech talk, it’s an actual term! And if the BBc were trying to avoid links with Apple, perhaps they shouldn’t have named their on demand service iPlayer!

I see absolutely no benefit in renaming the BBC podcast, out of all broadcasters in the UK, the Beeb have the most and we all know what they are. Although I don’t expect it to make much difference, the only thing the ‘Free Download’ name can bring is more confusion rather than less.

It’s a strange and bizarre decision, but then that seems to be very much the BBC’s thing at the moment – I’ll bring you my views and memories of BBC Television Centre tomorrow…

The Internet movie online boom!

May 18, 2011

Movies are big business, some would say the biggest business. For a while now they’ve been a large part of that interconnected network of computer systems we call the internet, but it seems within the last year they have really broken through.

Data released yesterday by networking company Sandvine reveals that the largest source of internet traffic in the United States is Netflix – the online Movie streaming service. With 22 percent of daily access and a whopping 30 percent of peak-time access, Netflix has firmly established itself as the most used service on the web – outstripping HTTP (the basic internet protocol used for most websites) into third place.

And the amount we’re watching online is even more incredible when you take into account other ‘live’ streaming services online. Sandvine claim that 49.2% of peak online traffic in the US is made up of these ‘real-time entertainment’ services. They predict by the end of this year 55% of our peak traffic will be used access these services.

That’s an incredible amount, when this same study was carried out in 2010 only 29.5% of this traffic was based around online video. And to be fair, you can see why. No-one really wants to watch TV/Movies on a computer and although there were alternatives to watching on your desktop, they weren’t very well advertised.

Fast forward 12 months and we are all very aware of devices such as Apple TV, Google TV, the upgraded TiVo. Both Microsoft and Sony have made deals to get Netflix and other streaming video services on their consoles making it easy to access this entertainment on your HD TV. Add with this the fact that ISP’s seem to be increasing their speeds and data limits and it starts to become a lot more obvious why online video has boomed.

It’s certainly a lot more convenient. When it comes to TV shows, I can now ask BBC iPlayer to download all my favourite shows when they’re ready and I can watch them when I want. It’s starting to make linear TV on the box look a bit, well, dated…

And it is clearly starting to affect TV ratings here in the UK. In fact the opening episode of this years Doctor Who is a great case in point. The episode was shown to a rather disappointing 6.5 million on TV, yet on iPlayer it achieved 1.5 million within 12 days – a new record for iPlayer. I think there will always be a place for linear TV and clearly the internet still has a bit of a way to go to catch up, but its is doing so and at an alarming rate!

I think it’s great how easy it is to now watch movies and TV online in such high quality and it’s certainly great that legal Netflix is using more bandwidth than potentially illegal Bit Torrents. But there’s only so far the ISP’s can go, some are already threatening to throttle the speed of such services in the ongoing Net neutrality debate. As more an more people access this entertainment, our internet (which in the UK with copper cables is already under a lot of stress) will come under a lot more stress and I do wonder if it’ll be able to meet the demand.

If only it really was truly infinite!

Will the cuts cause society to break down?

May 17, 2011

Here in the UK, we’re facing pretty big cuts at the moment – not as bad as some will have you believe, but bad all the same. And with every cut comes a protest, mostly harmless, but every now and again they turn violent and a horror to behold. Everyone wants what matters to them – and we can’t have everything.  The question is, as the cuts worsen, is society slowly breaking down?

Quite a bold question and one that you hope the answer to is no. Surely losing a few services here and there won’t turn us back into apes. But I reference a show I watched last night – ‘The Street That Cut Everything’ on BBC1. If you didn’t see the show, the concept was that a street in Preston became completely independent of the council for 6 weeks. During that period they would replace the service the council normally provides, using the same amount of Council tax they would pay in that period.

The shows point was of course to show how much we rely on the council and the tough decisions they have to make on a daily basis, but it ended up simply showing the darker side of human nature and how deep down, we are all pretty selfish.

Now, obviously this was a 1 hour 40 minute programme showing edited ‘highlights’ of the 6 week experiment. Of course the BBC were going to edit the show in the most sensational way they could and get the arguments. After all,  no one wants to watch a couple of hours of people getting on and sleeping (unless it’s the Big Brother live feed).

But I was genuinely shocked by some of the comments made. One resident suggested evicting a neighbour due to her asking for benefits (which she normally got for being a job seeker). These aren’t people who have just met for a reality show, they have lived on the same street (in some cases) for years. And now they feel threatened they turn.

In fact the benefits battle went on for a while. In some cases I could see the other residents being annoyed at one family taking a large proportion of the money (in fact I agree when it came to providing University subsidy’s, but that’s another matter!), but most of these things were necessary. A 7 year old child being picked up from school, the same child having school dinners. These are things you can’t discriminate against.

Eventually the residents – very reluctantly – did agree to these benefits. But it didn’t end there, people were denied £1 to by a torch (which was needed due to the streetlights being turned off). Others attacked one another for not disposing of waste correctly. Yes it was annoying and incurred the street a fine, but there’s no need to cause so much aggro over it, simply move on and don’t make the same mistake again.

I suppose it also showed how important power is in our lives. We’re all very keen to rage against our ‘leaders’ but when they were taken away without a proper unified replacement, the results were devastating (ironically I suppose it’s a bit of a comment on the coalition!)

Now I missed the second half of the show, hopefully I’ll have a look on iPlayer tonight, but something tells me it didn’t end up happy families. People were planning to move by the end of episode one, change their entire lives after what their neighbours had said to them.

These people were admittedly under a lot of pressure. The show was a case of extremely heightened realism throughout -the tasks were so over-the-top that The Street residents must have seen Nick Robinson as a bald, speccy devil by the end of it all. It’s not every day that a load of rubbish is tipped in your front yard… unless Nick’s about!

But the point remains that several people were cracking under the pressure after a short amount of time. They’d decided that they were for themselves and didn’t care much for the wider community they were in. Some people took their own share of the council tax fund and abstained from the community as a whole. How long would it have taken before all had done that and society in that street would have effectively broken down?

I don’t believe that this will happen. I’ve said several times that this was a ‘for-TV’ production which was edited to look worse than it was. But nevertheless, those actions need to happen to be edited in. It’s scary how nasty and selfish people can be when they think they’ll lose what they need.

It’s often been said that society itself is a very delicate balance and can be tipped at anytime into oblivion. These are all extreme statements, but as we lose more of the things we took for granted, are we headed for an even bleaker future, created not by our Governments, but by ourselves.

I should write something lighter one day… 😀 !

Watch ‘The Street That Cut Everything’ here 

Sunday Rants – Gripes with the BBC

May 1, 2011

I’ll be the first to come to the BBC’s defence normally. I think they’re a great establishment – far more important than most realise and far more hard-working than alot give them credit for (Daily Mail, I’m looking at you). But this past week, the corporation has managed to really hack me off.

And it’s stupid things, things that a lot of you wont care about, but things which I think the worlds greatest media institution should be getting right.

Lets start with yesterday. As you should know, I’m quite the nerd and am very interested in the latest tech and gadgets which is why ‘Click’, the BBC’s tech show is regular viewing for me. It’s scheduled on BBC News Channel every Saturday morning at 11.30 am.

But the very nature of the channel is the problem. Frequently the show gets bumped for breaking news. This is fully understandable – it is after all BBC News, I expect breaking news to be shown. But yesterday, ‘Click’ wasn’t bumped for news at all, it was bumped for a Royal Wedding update. At 11:15 (15 mins before Click) the Royal Couple had left Buckingham Palace by helicopter, half-an-hour later they were still on about it.

What was stupid about the whole issue was the fact that no reporter had any news. We cut to at least four different people in London who all said the same thing – there’s nothing to report right now, but we’ll keep you posted. The whole time this debacle was going on, we were told by the red banner at the bottom of the screen ‘Breaking News – Royal Wedding’. NO! This was not breaking news, for that to happen there actually needs to be some news.

The BBC were so enthralled by nothing happening in London, that they barely mentioned the horrific crash on the M11 where two people lost their life. Hardly journalism in action…

So after realising I wasn’t going to get to see ‘Click’ on TV, I decided to watch the show on iPlayer. Normally this has been put up a few hours earlier (as Click is first shown at 1am). But this week it hadn’t been and instead of coming online after 11.30 when the show should have been on TV, the time had now been pushed back to 8.30 – the programmes next showing.

This I think is absolutely ridiculous. If you wont show it on TV due to the news, then at least provide it on your online service. I hardly think ‘Click’ is going to get high enough ratings for online viewing to dent it. I see no reason why the show was not on iPlayer as it should have been, why should I wait any longer. We’re in the age of the computer – embrace it a bit more, it’s the way all TV is going!

Although this has been the thing to annoy me most, the Beeb have been quite stupid with some of their scheduling recently – particularly Saturday nights.

What on earth happened to Saturday night TV. I know people have been making that comment for years, but it really is dire now, especially the BBC. Case in point being ‘Don’t Scare The Hare’, a psychadelic ‘gameshow’ that even kids are embarrassed to watch. The star of the show is a 4 ft high animatronic Hare which gets scared/angry whenever contestants make a mistake. The games in the show see grown men and women remember simple sequences, answer dull questions and grab carrots. It belongs on Cbeebies, yet the BBC put this out at 5.30 on a Saturday night. It makes me yearn for Hole In The Wall.

The BBC also push out a glut of half-arsed reality shows, the current one being ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ – a poor mans Strictly meets X Factor. It’s dull, repetitive and downright garish. I just wish that instead of making poor copies of ITV’s programmes (which they’ll never beat with viewing figures) they went for something more different and imaginative.

Thanks God the channel also has Doctor Who on a Saturday night – which has been on top form the last two weeks. But of course the Beeb don’t seem to care about this show. Instead of scheduling for prime-time (anything after 7). The show keeps getting shoved into a 6 o clock timeslot – hardly the time for an intelligent drama series. And from looking at future weeks, it seems it’s going to get shoved all over the schedule whenever the BBC feel like it. Some people don’t know a good thing when they’ve got it, even after 6 years of success!

And speaking of destroying success, I have little faith in BBC One’s new(ish) controller Danny Cohen. Earlier this week, Mr Cohen stated how there are too many Male sleuths on BBC One and he will be axing shows to make sure this is solved. He’s already got rid of the critically acclaimed Zen after just one series and now shows such as Sherlock, George Gently, Wallander and Luther are all in the firing line. Hardly a good reason to get rid of a show and I will be fuming if he touches Sherlock – easily the best drama of last year.

And maybe Mr. Cohen should have a quick look at ITV, they have more male sleuth’s than Scotland Yard!

Phew, that was a long rant and I think that’s because I do love the BBC – it makes it even worse when they mess things up!

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday! 😀