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January 14th, 2004

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11:17 pm - Earworms to Economics
First, many happy returns of the day to flourish! Maddy has a remarkable capacity with considerable talents in very many areas and the wherewithal to keep up many different commitments. "Mature beyond her years" is a terrible cliche, but an accurate one. On top of that - perhaps most impressive of all - she is tremendously, proactively caring; it's as if looking after her friends is yet another ball that she can keep in the air. I hope your birthday is a great one and that you know just how glad we are to know you! *hugs*

Second, one of the very few things more irritating than having an earworm is having half an earworm having an earworm and then discovering in an unbiased peer vote that it was the wrong one. Yes, it was the '92 ITV Chart Show theme tune that surfaced from nowhere yesterday. Cut out all the jet-engine swooshes and effect trickery to leave you with about four short lines of melody and you've got chord progressions that will haunt you for a dozen years. Well, if you're me, anyhow. Smart Hang on, isn't Question One missing something? voters, what was it missing? I vaguely recall that the very final days of the ITV Chart Show (which I only ever took an interest in for the theme tune rather than the music videos - that's my excuse, at least, and I'm sticking to it) had a different opening sequence again, less melodic still, but that it was rubbidge. Confirmdeny?

Third, a litre of unleaded petrol costs 74.9p at our local garage, which works out at US$1.37. This is the first time I can recall a litre costing more than US$1, though it must have done for a while now. How much does unleaded gas cost in the US at the moment? Have we ever had a situation where a litre of petrol in the UK has cost more than a (US) gallon of equivalent gasoline in the US? We must be as close now as we have ever been. This is due to the weakness of the US$; forget the Euro, the US$ has lost almost 25% of its value against the Australian dollar in the last ten months alone. That's huge!

Fourth, some good news for Windows 98 users. Thank you, Microsoft. No, really!

Nth, I was having a browse through the easyGroup site and reflecting on, well, how far from easy some of the brands really are in exchange for the remarkably low costs. EasyJet and easyInternetCafé, genuinely easy to use; by contrast, easyCinema and easyCar look like bags of hassle to me, though the easyCar Car Club - an automated car rental service without apparent human involvement - is a technological marvel.

However, I am reminded of the Luddites here. The original Luddite revolt occurred in 1811, an action against the English Textile factories that displaced craftsmen in favor of machines. Replacement of workers by machines in the manufacturing sector is well-known; replacement of workers by process in the service sector to the extent of the easyGroup (etc.) is a new and potentially worrying trend. It can and will go further, too; Ryanair trumpet the fact that they have one-eleventh the staff-to-passengers-carried ratio of British Airways and half that of easyJet. (As well as being "50% cheaper" and having higher punctuality 52 weeks out of 52, and so on.)

The low-cost airlines are the most famous example, but by no means the only one. Looking at the easyGroup jobs page, Stelios trumpets the fact that the ten-screen easyCinema complex has a total of seven staff on site. I'm not sure how many staff there are at, say, the UGC in Middlesbrough, but a staff of seven compares with, say, a large bakery, about one-fortieth the area and 1% of the volume of a cinema. easyCinema does this by stripping out many of the functions found at a regular cinema: no manned box office, automated ticketing, no food stalls and so on. Wonder if they even have food vending machines?

It is reported that a second easyCinema is set to open in London; while the land prices will be much higher, the theory is that being able to offer films at, say, 5%-to-50% of the cinema prices of the rest of the West End will prove sufficiently attractive to get the punters to play the hassly system. Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't. Perhaps the quality and usability of the interface rather than anything else will determine which easy ventures succeed and which don't. easyCruise and easyDorm sound, well, sound; easyPizza seems rather a harder sell. Perhaps there's a market for people who work very early shifts and want hot food delivered as they leave work? We shall see. There's definitely scope for the price of pizzas to come down compared to e.g. Domino's; the Middlesbrough standard seems to be "any four toppings on a 10-inch pizza for about £4", but getting delivery into the bargain as well while being able to offer the headline £1 rate seems ambitious.

The other secret of their low cost base is that they pay their staff easyPeanuts. For instance, easyBus minibus operators (who effectively work as sole proprietors and need to organise storage of their own vehicle) are set to make OTE £14k p.a., which compares very poorly with the urban bus driver positions you see advertised. Likewise, they want a very broadly talented safety and technical officer and again offer a derisory £14k for a year of 40 hour weeks on a demanding shift pattern - in Milton Keynes, which is not a cheap place to live. I don't get it. They can't expect to get good candidates at all for that sort of money. Perhaps there are incredible intangibles we don't know about, but they would surely advertise them rather better. Perhaps it's just not at all a well-staffed cinema.

I get the impression that the easyCinema model would be particularly well-suited to the US, where land prices are rather lower than they are here. Or perhaps the hypothetical easyCinema US has already been beaten to it; it would be interesting to contrast the workings of an easyCinema with those of the dollar cinemas that already exist; perhaps the dollar cinemas are to the famously profitable original no-frills Southwest Airlines as easyCinema is to easyJet - an inspiration to be improved upon and adapted for other countries. Will easyCinema eventually drive out high-priced traditional cinemas? With several iterations of the algorithm, possibly; the success of the low-cost airlines suggests what can be possible. (It would be very sad if the conveniences of the current full-service airlines were to disappear; perhaps the low-cost airlines might eventually reintroduce them as an optional extra.) It may be rather harder for cinema tickets and pizza than for airline tickets because they are just too low-cost in the first place for the considerable percentage improvements to translate into significant absolute improvements, though.

Looking at that Luddite site, there are still self-identifying Luddites today; many of them continue to rail against technological advances, others against globalisation, The low-cost business model is an interesting trend and an indication of one of the ways future work trends might go. Perhaps this might eventually become as big - or, at least, as famous - a threat to a high-employment, well-paid economy as globalisation?
Current Mood: filled with admiration
Current Music: 1992 ITV Chart Show theme tune (the better one, damnit)

(32 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2004 04:22 pm (UTC)
gas where I live (Virginia) is currently around $1.49, and that's for the cheapest kind.
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2004 04:23 pm (UTC)
Oh man! It *really* wasn't!
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2004 04:26 pm (UTC)
I suddenly feel convinced to an overwhelming extent.

My nose, at last, hurts.
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2004 04:36 pm (UTC)

Back when I was in the UK...

During the fuel strike/crisis, whilst I was motoring with friends in the Lake District, and thanking our lucky stars we hired a diesel car ... the price hovered around 69p/L as I recall.

Here in San Francisco, fuel is pricey, $1.70/ga thereabouts last I checked (I generally don't - don't drive - haha!). (was around $1.50/ga back in the early noughties)

Don't forget 1 US Gallon = 4.1L, irrc.

So, to this question, "Have we ever had a situation where a litre of petrol in the UK has cost more than a (US) gallon of equivalent gasoline in the US?" The answer would be yes and for quite some time.
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2004 04:37 pm (UTC)

Re: Back when I was in the UK...

Clarify ... that was 69p/L of normal petrol, if I recall.
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2004 04:41 pm (UTC)
gas here has lately ranged from $1.489 to $1.689, depending upon day of the week and location of the station.
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2004 05:09 pm (UTC)
Whitewater is at $1.549 per gallon, and being a college town it's at least 2 or 3 cents higher than it ideally would be. I'm not accusing them of price fixing... oh, actually, yeah I am.

easyCinema sounds a lot like Wal-Mart on the scale of evil. I don't know if it will catch on, because Americans prefer certain things when it goes to a cinema, but it's certainly an interesting thought.
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2004 05:38 pm (UTC)
Scratch that.

On my way to Wal-Mart to buy light bulbs, I saw $1.639.
Date:January 14th, 2004 07:57 pm (UTC)
Lowest price around here's $1.67/gal, but it's not hard to find in the one-eighties. Stinks, is all.
[User Picture]
Date:January 15th, 2004 01:02 am (UTC)
I have to agree that the £14k salary for that job description is laughable - paticularly with the $500k job advert abvove it! Also the 7 staff is impressive - surely you at least need one projectionist per screen. In any case their chances of getting first run films can't be great given that given that the distributors make money beased on a percentage of the box-office take - £1 tickets are not in their best interest unless it means that 5 times as many people go to see the film (unlikely).
[User Picture]
Date:January 15th, 2004 01:13 am (UTC)
surely you at least need one projectionist per screen

Why? They definitely carefully stagger their film start times so that a single projectionist can make sure they follow each film as it starts.

Wonder whether they're looking into digital non-projection at all? Possibly I misunderstand, but that would surely obviate the projectionist's job already and just turn it into a basic computer operation task. Heck, you could do it from RealPlayer: Digital Cinema Edition or somesuch.

I think I can remember reading parts of their business plan which suggests that they're working based on (a) receiving an average ticket price of £1.60 and (b) an average yield of 70% seats filled (or, at least, paid for!) as opposed to the industry average of 20%. Not happening yet - in fact, they're only getting about 20% themselves in Milton Keynes right now - but perhaps it might happen in a different location or with sufficiently different films.

I don't think much of the location within MK they've picked; I took an Oxford-Cambridge bus last year which went through Milton Keynes, which took about 20 minutes to go through MK due to stopping in three different places there, and the big orange easyCinema wasn't as close to other entertainment or shopping complexes as is traditional for multiplexes. (Multipleces? Multiplebes?)
[User Picture]
Date:January 15th, 2004 04:53 am (UTC)

replacement of people by machines

New people-intensive industries do spring up and replace ones that have been automated away (call centers might be a recent example), though not necessarily immediately. I wonder what would be some people-intensive industries that we can't or don't do just yet, but that might become possible in the relatively near future?
[User Picture]
Date:January 15th, 2004 10:58 am (UTC)

Re: replacement of people by machines

Legal prostitution. (Or, rather, less heavily restricted prostitution.) Ha ha, only serious.

Very good question. Prostitution only springs to mind because there was fairly recent mention of it on BBC News; anyone who can think of such an industry, where there really is the demand for it, without prompting is on to a very good thing.
Date:January 15th, 2004 11:01 am (UTC)

A brief history of The Chart Show

I vaguely recall that the very final days of the ITV Chart Show (which I only ever took an interest in for the theme tune rather than the music videos - that's my excuse, at least, and I'm sticking to it) had a different opening sequence again, less melodic still, but that it was rubbidge. Confirmdeny?

Confirm. According to my notes, the history of The Chart Show goes a little something like this:

May 9, 1986. The Chart Show, a Video Visuals production, launches as summer filler in the slot left by The Tube, scheduled for 16x60m transmissions. Novelties include two different specialist charts compiled by MRIB each week, including reggae, albums, indie, and rock. The show finishes by playing the top three videos from that week's Network Chart in some order, and viewers are invited to send in a postcard ordering the three before Saturday to win a prize. The theme is a lowkey electronic growl, and the infamous video captions fill the screen with white-on-transparent information in very small print.

June 19, 1986. TCS forced off air by a dispute with the music unions, who aren't happy with C4 airing an hour of music videos.

July 24, 1986. TCS returns, without the competition and with less on-screen info.

TCS then runs as summer filler on C4 in 1987, and a regular late-night slot in early 1988 until March 1989.

September 2, 1989: TCS transfers to ITV as a replacement for The Roxy, fitting into the Saturday morning network slot vacated by that TTTV production. The "Fairground" graphics are launched (including the Indie Chart 500 Bonus clip, addedentry) there's a completely new theme tune, the programme's rebranded with the (then-new) ITV network logo, and the infamous Pointless Icons make their debut.

TCS continues to use the MRIB charts on a Saturday-to-Friday basis, but artificially weights new releases to ensure they debut higher on the show's flagship chart. The genre charts are reduced to three: dance, indie, and rock.

During this period, TCS-branded charts were sold to radio stations and print media. These returned to the MRIB banner at the end of 1990.

September 5, 1992: TCS takes on sponsorship from Pepe jeans, and debuts the "Flying Darts" title sequence. The theme tune gets the radical reworking jiggery_pokery pointed out, the Pointless Icons are tarted up a bit but still remain Pointless. The Pepe sponsorship ends in March 1993, isn't renewed, and the show runs without a sponsor until Twix signs up late in 1993.

TCS debuts a part-networked TCS Late in early 1993, airing around 1am in most English regions, showing videos that can't be screened in the midday slot. Often pushed around for sport, films, and other events, TCS Late is finally cancelled in early 1996 for more specific late programming, and occasional repeats of the Saturday show.

May 18, 1996: TCS relaunches with an "Ice" graphics package, and a theme tune that almost returns to the electronic fart of ten years earlier. The Pointless Icons are finally dropped in the trashcan, replaced by regular captions and some interviews. Interactive phone vote features are launched, and Video Visuals now plays out the last segment containing the Top 10 live from its studios.

August 23, 1998: Last edition of TCS on ITV.

September 2002: Video Visuals launches Chart Show TV as a free-to-air channel on Astra 2, showing current CIN charts and extended commercials for records. Graphics package is recognisably in TCS mould, theme music per se contains recognisable riffs from the Flying Darts theme. Spin-off channel The Vault, showing older music and extended commercials, launches in April 2003.

Neither channel has yet made it to my cable package. Grr.
[User Picture]
Date:January 15th, 2004 12:11 pm (UTC)

Re: A brief history of The Chart Show

Crikey. Superb. I was expecting this to be a topic you'd enjoy, but your level of coverage goes well above and beyond the call of duty. Thank you very much indeed!

Where do you get all this information?
[User Picture]
Date:January 16th, 2004 12:13 am (UTC)
You might like this, though it's a little basic.

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