Wednesday, February 22, 2006

More heroes crumble

It would be fair to say that I'm only truly happy when I feel like I'm in tune with, and noticing the same trends as, Private Eye. Well this is one of those times.

Like a helluva lot of people, I've been enjoying the Ricky Gervais, Steve Merchant, and Karl Pilkington podcasts hosted on the Guardian website. They're very funny, quite simply, and I'm pleased that they've somehow become a global phenomenon. Without wanting to draw for my 'I saw him first' card - and yet still managing to do so anyway - I've been a fan of Gervais on t'radio since he started out as a guest on Clare Sturgess' XFM show many, many years ago; he is an instinctively funny guy. He and Merchant also created The Office, the single greatest TV programme since sliced sun-dried tomato foccacia. And now they've broken the 'World Record' for podcast downloads (a somewhat disingenuous notion, given that podcasts are pretty new entities), as pictured. So what's the problem?

(1) The problem with the Gervais podcast is, firstly, that out of nowhere they started running in-show adverts a few weeks ago - a horrendous disruption of an otherwise seamless half an hour of comedy - and from this point forward the shows will no longer be free to download. That'll be £4.50 a month to you sucker Sir. Does it cost a lot of money to host such an insanely popular podcast? Yes. Is the fee only going to be used to cover costs? Yes. But I'm afraid that's still not good enough. At the very least they should commit to abandoning the in-show advertising (is that money just covering costs as well?). I'd also like to know how much money Gervais and Merchant have made from indirect sales of Extras and The Office dvds, or indeed from direct sales - they shamelessly plug their wares most weeks.

(2) The problem is also with the podcasts' hosts and sponsors, The Guardian, which is where Private Eye comes in. The latter's superb 'Hackwatch' column this fortnight (the Valentine's TB-GB issue) covers The Guardian's dizzy descent from clarion-calling liberal paper of record to shallow, marketing-obsessed occupier of the centre-ground. P.E. highlights eleven different examples of unambiguous plugs for the Gervais podcast and the Guardian website masquerading as news items in the paper; there are probably more. The apex of this came on 7 February with a large front-page photo of Gervais and a page 3 article detailing the aforementioned 'World Record' 'ceremony'. As always P.E. hits the nail right on the head, recounting that Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, was, in pre-Berliner days,

fond of invoking a line from (Guardian founder) CP Scott: "The editor and the business manager should march hand in hand..." He didn't mention the rest of the quote: "...the first , it should be well understood, just an inch or so in advance." Or, as it now appears, the other way round.
If you see my faith in all things good and decent lying about, hang onto it for me will you?


Blogger John said...

The other thing I hate about the Guardian is the separate sports section: it just encourages you not to read the main paper I think. I used to work through backwards then move onto G2; now it's sport, then G2, then maybe the rest if I remember it's in my bag. And the diary is rubbish, Marina was much funnier. And she's not good looking in her fphoto: she could open envelopes with her nose.

I've never downloaded anything in my life, incidentally.

9:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still feel that the Guardian is the best newspaper/website around in terms of the breadth of coverage and the political line.

I have to admit, in these dark, dark money friendly days I do not object to the principle of the advertising and plugging - in the podcasts or in the paper - on principle, only when they inhibit my enjoyment by slowing something down or getting in the way/

If Gervais wants to market his podcast then let him - people will decide whether its worth it for 4.50 a month. I would argue that it isnt.

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In principle, on principle, lets call the whole thing off.

12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as far as I can tell, the quality of most podcasts out there is pretty low. mark kermode's film reviews (an edited version of the radio 5 show), and the onion radio news seem to be the only other podcasts worth downloading. so the popularity of the gervais show isn't surprising (that cheeky 'record-breaking podcast' story was shameless!).

what does surprise me is how unfunny and complacent it's become. granted, I was enjoying the first few (mainly for the half hour comedy break at work) but there's far too much reliance on karl's getting-a-bit-old-frankly ignorance. and I'm certain there was once a time (back in the good old xfm days) when ricky and steve actually talked about things rather than just feeding karl material with which to embarass himself.

I find the idea of paying for a show that's really only successful because of the lack of any strong competition offensive. the onion is popular, funny, and has a brief, fairly unintrusive sponsor message at the end of the podcast (instead of several times throughout, as in the gervais show). they don't charge either. and its updated daily.

ultimately, I guess it bothers me because gervais and merchant are better than this (I was under the impression they're supposed to be working on series 2 of extras right now?). If they really put their minds to it, they could do something interesting with podcasting (off the top of my head: david brent, in character, presenting his own podcast... awfullll idea... but if they bothered to script it, it would probably be funnier than another 10 minutes of predictable 'monkey news').

1:02 PM  
Blogger dan hancox said...

i agree with all of you, to varying degrees.

the most significant thing i didn't mention originally is alluded to by both tom and jake - it's just not good enough quality to justify being the first paid-for podcast. it's money for old rope - the three of them are getting less and less adventurous with what they talk about every week. fine when free, a rip-off when carrying a charge.

3:25 PM  

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