Articles Square Eyes Television UK

Snow Business – How good is Channel 4 News?

Monday, February 18, 2002

The world is going to hell in a handcart, and you’re just sitting there watching. But at least if it’s Channel 4 News you’re watching, you know there’s some hope for us.

Captain Jon Snow and his able lieutenants, Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Kirsty Lang, sail the seas of the early evening schedules in the UK in their nippy destroyer, giving us attitude and accuracy in equal measure.

The programme achieves the difficult task of giving us a round-up of the news of the day at the same time as offering deeper analysis and debate on a range of issues. It’s the best Kirsty Wark grilling from Newsnight combined with Peter Sissons’ straight-ahead Ten O’Clock News style, and it shows Sky News that continous coverage is completely worthless without some joined-up thinking.

With his sharp ties and even sharper mind Jon Snow appears to be less combative than Paxman, but he elegantly fillets sophistic spinners, and asks all the necessary questions. The man who shrugged off a fatwa against him during the Satanic Verses episode is not going to be fazed by a junior minister trying to be economical with the actualit?.

The program’s correspondents are equally trustworthy. Elinor Goodman’s no-nonsense knowledge of the political world is matched only by her quietly stylish clothes.

David Smith, their correspondent in the US, seems daily more disillusioned by life in the capital of the one remaining superpower. As he reports on yet another example of US knavery and small-mindedness, his hangdog expression shows you he’s enduring a long night of the soul to bring you the story.

Providing good basic news and excellent analysis of the big stories would make Channel 4 News reliable viewing on its own, but what really impresses is the way they cover stories that no-one else is reporting.

They have the courage and vision to launch investigations into issues that aren’t currently high on the agenda of the chattering classes. For example, a recent expose showed how US companies were implicated in widespread human rights abuses in China. Prisoners were being forced to work as slave labour in factories, producing goods for the export market. The US importers denied any knowledge of this, but some good honest sleuthing threw up customs documents signed by executives of the US companies, which clearly identified the source of the goods. Gotcha.

This type of story takes a lot of time and money to produce, and it’s a lot easier just to cover the obvious stories that everyone else is running with. Not to labour a point, it’s the sort of thing Sky News should be doing, but their claim to be ‘First with the news’, just means they’re first to report the carefully-controlled press conferences and staged interviews that everyone else has. Deciding to cover a story that no-one else was doing would seem like madness to their editors – there’s a banal safety in numbers.

With the profound changes happening at ITN – the company that produces Channel 4 News, as well as ITV’s woeful news coverage – there’s some doubt over the future of Snow’s good ship. Let’s hope they’re left alone to keep up the great work – may God bless her and all who sail in her.

Posted by David in • Square EyesUKTelevision

Articles Ireland Square Eyes Television

Vote with your remote – the loss of Eurosport

Friday, February 01, 2002

Recently I was talking to an old college friend of mine, who’s now wearing butcher-stripe shirts and working as a trader in the City of London. He gets to work at 6:30am every morning, several hours before the markets open.

I asked him why he was so previous, and he fixed me with a steely glare and said, ‘Because money never sleeps, pal.’

I was struck by the same thought when I switched channels at 12:05am on Thursday night to be greeted by CNBC’s market wrap from New York.  If I’d stuck around, I could watch as they seamlessly moved to their Asian centre to cover the opening of the Hang Seng. Money never sleeps.

And it’s clearly money that’s behind NTL Ireland’s ridiculous decision to drop Eurosport and replace it with the ‘all ticker, all the time’ CNBC.

Cash-strapped NTL has ditched all pretence at customer service to chase the advertising revenue promised by the wealthy audience that allegedly watches the constant stream of numbers.

CNBC argue “The agreement with NTL will allow CNBC Europe to reach some 3.7 million homes throughout NTL’s service areas,” but of course, reaching someone’s home is not the same as being watched by the people in the home.

As the plain-speaking Mary Hannigan in The Irish Times pointed out, ‘a quick look at the BARB website ( reveals CNBC’s latest share of the UK multi-channel market to be precisely 0 per cent, on a par with the less than all-conquering Wellbeing Channel, and 0.3 behind Eurosport.’

NTL insist their decision to replace Eurosport with CNBC was based on market research which indicated a demand for real-time market information, and showed that Eurosport was one of the least popular stations carried in the basic cable package.

However, despite repeated requests, they won’t reveal their survey data, or even say exactly where Eurosport placed in their viewing figures. An unscientific poll among the P45 faithful shows that TV5, NIckelodeon, and MTV all get lower ratings than Eurosport.

But why should we care if NTL swaps one minority interest channel for another? Because Eurosport covers a wide range of sporting events that are seen nowhere else in these islands. You can scoff at truck racing or curling, but they’re meat and drink to some folks, and Eurosport’s coverage extends to swimming, tennis, European football, and skiing.

And don’t get me started on cycling. Forget about the epic single-day classics such as the Paris-Roubaix or Fleche-Wallone with their mud and heroism – Eursoport is the only channel in the UK and Ireland to offer any coverage of the Tour de France, the largest annual sporting event in the world.

There’s also a qualitative difference between covering sporting events and offering market data on television. Market information is simply information – desperate day-traders in Drumcondra (if there are any left), lose nothing by accessing the same data online. But reading about the results of sporting events is completely different from watching them happen – you lose the drama, the passion and the skill. There’s no drama in quarterly earnings figures from Qualcomm.

“I would have thought that CNBC is the channel you view when you’re in a hotel room late at night and it’s a choice between it or the mini-bar – in the end you might go for CNBC because it gives you less of a hangover,” Tennis Ireland chief executive Des Allen told the Irish Times, and here we see how short-sighted NTL are being.

Their longed-for affluent audience might glance at CNBC in their hotel room while they’re planning their next hostile take-over, but their loyalty is as nothing compared to that of the dedicated sports fan.

NTL are reportedly terrified of losing market share when it loses its Dublin monopoly next month, and they’re already watching customers jump ship to Sky Digital.

It seems clear to me that carrying CNBC won’t make people sign up for NTL, but not carrying Eurosport will definitely make people ditch them. This finding comes from my own research – that’s what I’m going to do.