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My shocking retail predictions

A little over twelve months ago, I was asked on a discussion forum to make predictions about the retail sector in 2012. I’d forgotten all about this until today, when somebody pointed out my prescience!

On 30th December 2011, I posted the following (forgive the reformatting!):

M&S is going to have a bad year: They seem to be doing everything humanly possible to disassemble the formula that brought them back from the brink a few years ago. On the other hand, WHSmith’s profits are up, even if their sales are down – I reckon they can ride out the storm for a while. My predictions for chains that will collapse are JJB (frankly surprised they’re still around); Past Times (feels like it’s had its day, so to speak); and Mothercare / ELC (already pulling out of town centres, doesn’t bode well).

And, indeed, M&S had a bad year, WHSmith did reasonably well, Past Times closed, JJB closed, and Mothercare is on the brink.

You might think I’d feel proud of my amazing predictive abilities, but in fact, I feel mainly freaked out – especially since my history with predictions isn’t great. It’s also weird to think that I correctly predicted thousands of job losses – it gives me a creepy sort of guilt, as though I’m somehow responsible.

So given the discomfort I’ve inadvertently caused myself, the only prediction I’ll make for this year is that the economy will fully recover with no more companies folding, and unemployment will hit record low levels. Though if that turns out to be true as well, I might displace Mr Soult as the media’s favourite north east retail analyst!

This 1,976th post was filed under: Headliner, News and Comment, , .

When I correctly predicted the rising of the Sun

This evening, The Guardian reports:

The title will simply be called the Sun, with an identical masthead to the daily, and insiders have been at pains to make it clear that the newspaper is not a “Sun on Sunday” – but instead simply a Sunday edition of the newspaper that will have some “specialist staff” but without its own editor.

This has come as a surprise to many media commentators, but not so much to me. You’ll note that I wrote the following last July:

Why does it need to be “Sunday Sun” or “Sun on Sunday”? What’s wrong with, erm, “The Sun”? [7th July 2011]

Surely the solution is a truly 7-day Sun – no differentiation in title / price on Sundays? [11th July 2011]

A seven-day operation has always made the most sense, and was the direction of travel for the News of the World before this whole controversy kicked off. Why anyone failed to see this is utterly baffling to me, but I do love being able to say “I told you so!”

This 1,533rd post was filed under: Media, , , , , .

Love Never Dies gets increasingly positive press

For all the undeserved flak it has received, Love Never Dies is one of the greatest of all Lloyd Webber’s musicals… the original cast recording sends shivers down my spine whenever I listen to it.

Charles Spencer was always a fan, but seeing an ever-increasing number of positive reviews of the Australian production of Love Never Dies, like Charles’s in the Telegraph today, fills me with happiness. It’s a breathtakingly brilliant musical, phenomenally under-rated and under-estimated. I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t return to London to rave reviews before the decade’s out.

This 1,502nd post was filed under: Diary Style Notes, Quotes, , , , , .

Introducing photo-a-day 2012

Happy new year!

Inspired by @sillypunk’s 2011 success, I’m going to try the Photo a Day idea for 2012… First picture to arrive shortly…

This 1,460th post was filed under: Diary Style Notes, Photo-a-day 2012, , .

The BBC’s future is under threat from social media

I predict that the BBC is about to enter one of the most turbulent periods in its history – and I’m not certain whether it will come out the other side in a recognisable form. The next decade may well be the one in which the licence fee becomes unsustainable.

I desperately hope this doesn’t happen. I think the Beeb is the world’s greatest broadcaster, and one of Britain’s most awesome institutions. Yet the signs are there, and I think the Beeb needs to sit up ad notice them.

The BBC’s raison d’être has always been to “inform, educate, and entertain” – and, as successive Directors General have been keen to point out – that order of priorities is crucial. In recent years, the BBC has faced real challenges with the latter two of these, but it’s about to be shaken by an impossible threat to the first.

It’s mission to “entertain” has been threatened in recent years by the approximately decennial shifts between ITV and the BBC in dominance of Saturday night TV: the last decade of Pop Idol, X Factor, I’m a Celebrity and the Talent franchise has been ITV’s. The BBC has also had real difficulty catching up with commercial operators in its engagement of young adults. And the Brand-Ross affair caused stifling restriction to creativity at the hands of “compliance”. But by and large, it seems to be finding its feet, and learning to walk through he entertainment genre again.

The aim to “educate” has been challenged by the ludicrous QueenGate scandal, where non-broadcast footage of the Queen was edited out of sequence. The BBC’s massive over-reaction probably harmed its trustworthy reputation. And the exile of almost all high-brow factual programming to the digital diaspora of BBC Four made for an excellent channel, but also for frequent accusations of dumbing-down elsewhere. And getting Jeremy flipping Vine to “host” Panorama was unforgivable – though I suspect that’s more a personal bugbear than a threat to the corporation’s future existence.

The most significant threat to the BBC has always been any threat to its news output. If it can’t reliably “inform”, then it has no core purpose. And, I think, it’s this aspect of the BBC’s purpose that is about to be shaken to its core.

The Times has declared itself many times (even, laughably, recently) to be “the newspaper of record”, and – to borrow the expression – the BBC’s news bulletins have always been the broadcast bulletins of record. The lead story on the Nine or Ten O’Clock News has always been, by definition, the “big story”. Alistair Campbell obsessed over the Labour Party’s position in the running order because he knew that closeness to the top guaranteed closeness to the top of everyone else’s running order. The BBC’s bulletins have, for many years, been the arbiter of importance in this country’s news cycle. And it is this that is under threat.

I think it was Tim Cook, though it could easily have been someone else, who described the notifications centre in. iOS 5 as compiling “your life’s breaking news”. And that is the crux of the problem. The democratisation of the media, brought about by social media as much as anything else, means we all have a “top story” now.

The BBC is forever being criticised on Twitter for not covering some story or other in huge detail – be it famines (East Africa), protests (block the bridge), or reforms (NHS). People are passionate about their pet topics, and want to see the BBC leading on them. The positive reinforcement from similarly interested people on social media reinforces individuals’ perceptions of the popularity and importance of the cause: “Everyone in my Twitter feed supports x, yet it hasn’t been on BBC News”. Folk also tend to read websites and subscribe to RSS feeds that share their own views and agenda, further reinforcing their own belief of the importance of the story. But, of course, the range of stories believed to be important across all individuals is huge.

The BBC’s traditional hierarchy of the importance of stories no longer applies to the majority of viewers. People begin to believe that the BBC is ignoring their interests, perhaps because it is biased. In fact, the interest is a small minority one, thought to be a larger one only because the individuals is surrounded by factors which positively reinforce that view.

The problem is exacerbated by BBC funding cuts, which mean that the number of stories which get any coverage at all is reduced.

Yet the BBC’s news starts to seem irrelevant, or even biased against every individual’s views. “Why cover Liam Fox / Steve Jobs / Nick Clegg, when he’s just one man? The BBC should be leading on NHS Reform / Block the Bridge / Famine / General Strike / Pensions / Finance because that affects us all, everyone’s interested in it, and it’s a really important story.”

Recently, I’ve been following NHS reform with particular interest, and felt this effect myself. There was little coverage of the Lord’s vote on the NHS reform bill, but my Twitter feed and selected websites had been covering events minute-by-minute. To me, the story seemed earth-shatteringly huge, and I had difficulty understanding why the BBC was effectively ignoring this massively important story. Except, in the grand scheme of things, it was essentially a procedural Lords discussion about a Bill progressing through Parliament. There was a popular campaign to block it which never had the scent of success, and by the end of the day, we knew little that we didn’t know at the start. Yet to me, this story remained huge, and the BBC’s lack of coverage felt disenfranchising.

As more people embrace social media, and as news sources fragment into finer and finer grain communities, the gap between the stories the BBC’s website and flagship bulletins see as important and the stories we as individuals see as important will turn from a crack into a gulf. People will question the purpose of the BBC, and struggle to see its importance. “If the BBC can’t even cover x properly, then what’s the point?”

If trust in the BBC’s news is eroded like this, then it’s unique funding stream becomes increasingly difficult to defend – especially in recessionary times. And in a decade which looks certain to be dominated by the Tories, who is going to stick up for it politically?

For the BBC to survive, it needs to change its news output. A homepage which “learns” about your interests and prioritises its news hierarchy appropriately might be the beginnings of a start.  But how the BBC can possibly reflect the conflicting priorities of millions of people in a meaningful way against a shrinking budget is beyond me – and that’s why I fear for its future.

This 1,449th post was filed under: Media, , , , , , .

A sincere apology from me to all of Britain

I’ve been nostalgically browsing the site’s archives today, and flicking through the digital version of Instant Opinion.

If you remember the last general election, in which Tony Blair secured an historic third term of government for the Labour Party, you may remember that I blogged about the campaign fairly intensely. And, looking back to my post about the Budget of that year, I came across this embarrassing paragraph:

The main message that I took away from today’s events was how much better Mr Brown would be as Labour’s leader: Tony Blair’s fake emotion and anger versus Mr Brown’s real commandeering and forceful delivery, appearing to actually believe what he says? I know who I’d choose.

Jeepers, how wrong can you be?

So apologies for that. I’ll try not to write anything so crap this time around. But it may be difficult to judge the crappiness until four years hence.

Still: I guess it’s a bit reassuring to know that it’s not only ‘new media’ writers like me that mess these things up – the dead-tree press are at it too. My favourite U-turn of this year has to be Michael White’s:

A hung parliament is not going to happen – And a good thing too
– Michael White, The Guardian, 23rd November 2009

Make ready the smokeless rooms: a hung parliament is on the cards
– Michael White, The Guardian, 24th November 2009

Fabulous.

This 1,402nd post was filed under: Politics, , , , , .

Diary for 7th June 2008

It’s hard to believe that Obama’s nomination isn’t a shot in the foot for Democrats: Hillary certainly had the better shot at the Presidency «

This 1,335th post was filed under: Diary Style Notes, , , .

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