Behind the scenes of The Buzz’s new look

Today marks the launch of The Buzz with a fresh facelift. The new design is geared to offer a cleaner, more dynamic look at the area’s lively arts. While the look is streamlined, all of The Buzz’s regular features are there. We also have updated ways to browse upcoming movies and events.

Please take a look — either in print or with the samples below. As the designer who oversaw the process, I’m excited by the end result and I hope you will be as well.

The June 17 Buzz The June 24 Buzz cover
Old design (click to embiggen) New design (click to embiggen)

Opening pages up: Since we launched the old design years ago, we had changed how tall Buzz pages were and the design was starting to feel cramped. It was time for a flexible design that looked great.

Last December, I sat down on a Saturday and took the previous edition of The Buzz. Using a concept page that I have previously designed, I spent several hours redesigning the section. I moved elements around, updating fonts and styles and seeing how everything fit. After some tweaking and input from others, it became the blueprint for the new design and launched with the arrival of our new Buzz editor Jammie Salagubang.

Here are the music pages from the old and new designs. The new design opens up the entire width of the page for photos and articles (it was very difficult to have side-by-side articles in the old design). Some of the new pages explode with color.

Music page from the June 17 Buzz Music page from the June 24 Buzz
Old design (click to embiggen) New design (click to embiggen)

New elements:
In the old design, the calendar and movie capsules had interesting information for people looking for stuff to do on weekends, but the presentation was mostly a sea of grey text.

The new movies section features a “What’s Playing” guide. At a glance, readers can see all the movies playing at every theater. There are also ratings, review scores and more.

June 17 movie guide June 24 movie guide
Old design (click to embiggen) New design (click to embiggen)

The new calendar makes it easier to spot key events in the week ahead.
There’s a lot more color and interesting elements that will hopefully
encourage people to hold onto the guide for the entire week.

June 17 Calendar June 24 Calendar
Old design (click to embiggen) New design (click to embiggen)

Ultimately, I view the new design as an evolution of The Buzz. In the weeks to come, we’ll have some new ways to showcase local events in the area that I hope you’ll enjoy.

Feedback: Please let us know what you think by leaving a comment on this blog. I’m sure Jammie would also appreciate your feedback at buzz -at- chicoer dotcom.

Comcast digital switcheroo may make a la carte channel choice more feasible

Across the country and soon in Chico, Comcast is slowly lowering a digital boom over its customers as part of the cable company’s transition from analog to digital television services. While the company’s new digital cable adapters will add another gadget to the jumbled electronic menagerie inhabiting people’s living rooms, the change may remove one of the hurdles to many customers’ holy grail — being able to pick, and pay for, only the channels they want to watch.
First off, the idea that Comcast would offer most of its channels as a la carte selections is merely a dream — I haven’t seen any indication that the company would want to do so. I’m only asserting that digital TV makes it more practical than before.
We haven’t heard much about a la carte in several years, but the idea remains intriguing. Instead of paying for 80 channels and watching just four, customers could pick and pay for the four channels they actually watch.
When the customer choice debate was raging, the cable and satellite industry had several objections, including that it was technologically difficult to deliver just the channels a customer wanted. That’s understandable with analog cable — in my experience, it’s difficult for the cable company to block off channels that customers aren’t supposed to have access to.
That hurdle was removed with digital cable and it should become insignificant as Comcast forces its customers to go digital. Cable companies can more easily lock and unlock channels that a customer signs up for. I’ve experienced this several times with premium channels and pay-per-view on my digital cable box.
I haven’t dealt with the more simplistic digital adapter, but I imagine Comcast would still have greater control over what’s being delivered on its pipes than during the analog days. While billing for single channels may be a headache, the delivery system itself should be better suited for a la carte.
While the public desire for a la carte may have waned, I still think it’s worth giving it a shot. Access to individual episodes of shows has taken off through digital video recorders, download sites like iTunes Store and streaming sites like Hulu, but there are some downsides to the individual episode approach. Not all series are available in these different formats. It may be easier to have access to a whole network than buying shows piecemeal.
In addition to technological hurdles, a la carte pricing may not be cheaper than the current bundled rates, based on earlier studies.
The theoretical a la carte offerings may be slightly more expensive, but at least the customers would paying for the services they want and not necessarily what the operators want them to have.

The death of KPIG in Chico: A look at the numbers

Old KPIG Paradise logoWhile much has been made of KZAP-FM 96.7 switching formats from a simulcast of KPIG‘s Americana/folk music to talk radio, I don’t think there’s been much talk about audience numbers. Laura Urseny’s article about the change does quote market manager Vince Shadrick saying there weren’t enough listeners to support the ‘PIG. Looking at the radio ratings for Chico, it would appear that Shadrick is on to something — KZAP’s ratings last fall were about half of what they were five years ago.
According to numbers from Arbitron, Inc., KZAP in spring 2006 had 4 percent of all listeners in Chico — good enough for eighth place in the crowded market. KZAP switched formats from hiphop-oriented Club 96.7 to KPIG in summer 2007. By fall 2009, listeners had dropped to 2.1 percent and the station was in 16th place.
Interestingly, KZAP once ranked as high as second place in spring 2005 with 6.3 percent of listeners.
In Chico, Arbitron’s ratings are based on diaries that selected listeners fill out twice a year. There can be some fluctuations in the numbers — KZAP’s numbers went from 3.2 percent in spring ’09 to 2.1 in the fall.
I only have access to the broadest ratings available from Arbitron, Inc. These are total listeners older than 12 listening at some point from 6 a.m. to midnight everyday. Many radio execs will tell you that they look more closely at more detailed breakdowns based on specific time periods and listeners’ ages and buying habits.
Still, looking at the overall numbers can tell an interesting picture. Three years ago, when KZAP picked up KPIG, market manager Michael Kemph said KZAP had the weakest numbers in a station group that included KFM (KFMF-FM 93.9), The Point (KQPT-FM 107.5) and KALF-FM 95.7. That appeared to be the case last fall, when KZAP again trailed behind its sister stations in total listeners.
KZAP’s switch to “Bold Talk” and its stable of right-leaning talk shows may lead to higher numbers. The news-talk-information format appears to be doing well in Chico. KPAY-AM 1290 was first in the market in fall 2009 with 6.8 percent of listeners. Out-of-market talk stations also pulled in decent numbers. Sacramento-area stations KFBK-AM 1530 and KSTE-AM 650 both ranked higher than KZAP in the Chico market.
And although it isn’t exactly a “talk” station, Northstate Public Radio (KCHO-FM 91.7) and its mix of news magazines from National Public Radio and music programming was third with 6.4 percent. (Disclaimer: I am a volunteer disc jockey at KCHO.)
While news-talk does well, I don’t know if the Chico market _needed_ another station in the format. Also, KZAP has switched formats four times in just over 10 years (from Star to Club to KPIG to Bold Talk). Who knows if news-talk will fit the station any better than the other choices?

My call on ‘The Marriage Ref’ — Foul

“The Marriage Ref” is established on sporting principles (based on the lengthy animated introduction with Jerry Seinfeld). Unfortunately, the performance of this panel show that debuts tonight on NBC (KNVN 24) is more XFL than NFL.
I’ll be short because other viewers and TV critics have already eviscerated this show. One critic snarked about a future when networks could get instant feedback and cancel a show in progress.
Based on the 30-minute preview that aired Sunday, I find myself dreading an entire hour of this banality.
If the “Ref” were a pitcher, there were months of wind up (including endless commercials), but the pitch is a roller in the dirt. If the “Ref” were batter, it’s probably going to quickly strike out.
But “Ref” is neither pitcher nor batter, it’s a simple show that would be at home on basic cable if it weren’t for the celebrity friends Seinfeld has gotten to join him as panelists for the actual ref, Tom Papa.
The premise of the show is relatively straightforward — footage of a couple bickering over a meaningless trifle is shown before a panel of celebrities. The celebrities pick apart the couple’s dilemma and hopefully make a few good jokes before Papa makes the call on which spouse is right.
Humor ensues, or it’s supposed to. However, as some critics pointed out, there may be some elements of the show that might work, but the execution is wrong.
The panel of celebrities are amusing, but they definitely aren’t as funny as they think they are. Some have accused the show of elitism — where the well-to-do celebs mock people from outside New York City. I didn’t necessarily get that feeling, but there was a sense of insincerity around the endeavor.
First – When Papa brings the couple back for the verdict, he says we’re going to meet the “real” couple. But the audience already saw a realistic depiction of the dispute earlier. Does that mean that it was faked with actors? That’s pretty lame. Update: I watched a small part of Thursday’s show. Apparently the couples are real throughout the program. Papa seems to say “actual” as a verbal tick (like “It’s the ‘actual’ David Blaine.”). Still lame.
Second – While cracking wise, the panel has made some pretty valid points about the relationships — like how one silly dispute may be due to a lack of intimacy. Does this get back to the couples? Not during taping, but maybe they’ll see it when/if it airs.
The whole thing reminded me of the goofy shows that Comedy Central aired in the past two decades, like “Win Ben Stein’s Money,” “Beat the Geeks,” or “Root of All Evil.” These shows are often a string of jokes built around an extremely flimsy premise.
When they live in the fringes of cable, the shows are enough to keep people amused for 30 minutes. But mild amusement isn’t enough to sustain a show that is shoved into the relatively bright light of network primetime for an entire hour.

Betty White an unlikely SNL fit, but could do well with backups

One of the latest Internet campaigns that seems to be gaining traction is a push to get comedienne Betty White to host an upcoming episode of “Saturday Night Live.” While she showed some toughness and strong comedic chops in a Super Bowl ad, I don’t know if the 88-year-old would want to go through the grueling, week-long gauntlet of live television.
The discussion kicked on Super Bowl Sunday when White appeared in a Snickers ad as a player of a rough game of pick-up football. She gets bullied about until she eats a Snickers candy bar and turns into a younger player. The spot, which also featured a Pleasant Valley High grad, ranked highly by USA Today’s Ad Meter.
Since then, people have been pushing for “Saturday Night Live” to offer White a hosting gig. A Facebook fan page had more than 441,000 fans, as of this writing. Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker imagined how the show might go.
The effort seems to be gathering strength, according to EWs Michael Ausiello.
I’m kinda excited about her getting this opportunity, but I was initially leery about her shouldering the entire show herself. Thankfully, it seems like SNL may give her a bench of relief pitchers, so to speak.
Ausiello reports that SNL producers are close to a deal with a possible catch — that White is teamed up to host with a “Women of Comedy” dream team. Names bandied about include Molly Shannon, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler — all good choices, but I hope they cast a wider net than just former SNL alumni.
Having a dream team co-host with Betty makes a lot of sense. It could be better than my idea of just having her pop up in a few Digital Shorts (which I think could still be funny and work well as viral video).
Betty is a trooper — she deserves to be the starter and should be the star attraction. However, hosting the show can be a grind. This is based on what I’ve read of the production — including the epic book “Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live” by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller. NPR’s “Fresh Air” also apparently has an interview with Tina Fey discussing behind-the-scenes of the show.
During any given show week, there are days of work of turning ideas into tangible sketches for broadcast. On Saturday, there are rehearsals leading to an 8 p.m. dress rehearsal filmed before a live studio audience. Based on that rehearsal, executive producer Lorne Michaels determines which sketches will air live at 11:35 p.m.
If Betty hosts, she would need to be “on” for more than 6 hours on Saturday (the two performances and additional morning rehearsals). That’s a lot to ask of anybody, but if anybody can do it, White can.
What White may lack compared to the pretty faces hosting this year, she makes up for with moxie, a proven history of performing in live situations, and sharp sense of humor that has stayed fresh over the years.

NHL players needed in the Olympics

There has been some talk about the National Hockey League not participating in the Olympics after this year. The National Hockey League has only agreed to provide players through the Vancouver Games. And, according to numerous sources like the CBC, the league hasn’t committed to future tournaments.

As a fan, the Olympic tournament offers many more pluses for the sport of hockey, the NHL, the players and for the fans.

If it wasn’t for the Olympics, I may not be interested in hockey until the Stanley Cup playoffs begin in mid-April. I think the NHL season is already too long to sustain a general fan’s interest — it lasts three-quarters of a year, for crying out loud. A relatively short, two-week tournament is a great tonic to a 82-game slog.

The Games are a great showcase for hockey. I’ve watched more games in the past three days of the Games than I have in the past three months. In the early rounds, there are lots of games on the air (and they don’t air at 9 a.m. on Sunday, iike many of NBC’s weekly NHL games). Some of them turned into nail biters, like Thursday’s Canada-Switzerland squeaker.

The players also seem to enjoy playing in the tournament. There seems to be a much different attitude now than when the professionals were first introduced during the 1998 Nagano Games when Team USA players trashed their rooms after an early exit. At least, I hope there is a better attitude.

The benefits to the NHL seem less direct. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says the league’s presence in the Games is primarily because it helps “our game.” I would definitely think it helps build the global audience for hockey. Building such an audience is something the NHL has been working on for years — at least that’s why I think the league opened its season in Europe for the third year in a row.

The NHL does have some valid concerns — including the possibility of player injuries affecting a team’s playoff prospects — and they are putting a lot on the line in the form of the players. The worries about injury also concern columnists in Chicago and Sacramento.

Some of the possible discussion points — such as a greater say in the tangled web of Olympic broadcasting rights — may create complications that may make the Gordian knot seem like a Sudoku puzzle on Monday.

While some of these concerns may be daunting, I hope the league and the international hockey federation find a way to work together to keep the players in future tournaments.

The airing of Vancouver Olympic grievances – a list

I’m generally enjoying the Vancouver Games as it enters the seventh day of competition, but some things are sticking in my mind. Please share your “grievances” in the comments.

The fence around the Olympic Flame: I think the organizers were caught flatfooted by the fact that people may want to be close to the beautiful outdoor Olympic Cauldron. At the very least, the image of a chainlink fence in front of a symbol of peaceful competition is disconcerting.

Kudos for the organizers for making changes and creating more viewing opportunities (according to this CBC News article). However, I didn’t necessarily care for one of the organizers’ excuses:

Organizers said the cauldron is far closer to the public than Olympic flames of past Games, where they’ve usually been located in or atop stadiums.

The cauldron at the 1996 Atlanta Games was outside Centennial Olympic Stadium and it was generally accessible to the public (at the very least it wasn’t blocked by a massive fence). I remember having lunch and taking photos mere yards from that Olympic Flame along with many spectators and families.

The Lack of Curling on NBC: This is a minor gripe at most, but it is sad when FOX has more curling on a 30-minute episode of “The Simpsons” than NBC will have in two weeks on its main network. Yes, curling is available on cable channels (that I don’t have) and is streaming live online (which I don’t have access to because I don’t have the right cable package). In recent years, curling almost always gets praised as a pleasant surprise of the Games. Maybe it’s not a primetime event, but it’s lame that NBC couldn’t find time to at least air the gold metal match on broadcast (like in the afternoon).

Shoddy online coverage: There’s a huge difference between the online coverage of the 2008 Beijing Games and in Vancouver. Just two years ago, many non-marquee events were streamed live and in their entirety. Now, it’s mostly hockey and curling aired live (with other events posted after NBC has aired them in primetime). Hockey and curling are both fine sports, but the offerings are like night and day.

Tape Delay: It’s a gripe as old as NBC’s coverage of the Games. It is certainly frustrating that NBC insists on starting its primetime program right at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Central) even though there are live events taking place at 5 p.m. Vancouver time. And, of course, Vancouver time is the same time as Chico and the entire West Coast which just compounds the silliness.

NBC didn’t have to do this. It could have emulated a model from Canada that I thought could work fairly well here. In previous games, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation would air its primetime program live nationwide. After the end of that broadcast, the CBC would offer a special West Coast-only highlight package to help round out the night. I don’t know what the current Canadian broadcaster, CTV, is doing.

Media coverage of “the glitches”: I’m sure some of the criticism of the Vancouver organizing committee’s operation of the Games is justified, but the howling has seemed ferocious at times. The situation has drawn many comparisons to the Atlanta Games in 1996 when the media lambasted ACOG’s miscues, particularly regarding transportation (as this 1996 New York Times article details).

The disconcerting thing about the Atlanta criticism and the Vancouver gripes is that these woes somehow become part of the “legacy” of the Games. I was in Atlanta for the Games, and the woes weren’t my “highlight” of those Olympics. Yes, it wasn’t pleasant at times — I had to brave the crushing crowds on MARTA and I once had to give directions and a map to a bus driver so we could get to our destination. However, it pales in comparison to witnessing the opening ceremonies, watching track stars break world records and enjoying some of the finest art and music in my life.

Bruce Arthur of the National Post offers a nice perspective on the criticism. While acknowledging that Vancouver has been far from perfect, Arthur points out how there are at least three different views of the Games:

There is the Olympics that we in the media experience, the one the athletes experiences, and the one the public experiences. But only one of us write the verdict on the Olympics in question.

For another take on the Olympics’ legacy on host cities, The Independent looked at how cities capitalized on the infrastructure changes made for the Games. Atlanta seemed to fare much better on that score and I hope Vancouver does too.

The four stages of listening to Christmas music

It can be fun to deck the halls, roast chestnuts or go on sleigh rides, but when it comes to a-wassailing, I find that there are four stages to enjoying or singing Christmas music.
These stages could be circled on the calendar, just like the big day itself:

  1. Pre-Thanksgiving: Like holiday displays, it’s far too early to hear Christmas music in early November. A telling example — hearing tunes as early as the first week of November … at a Panda Express Chinese restaurant.
  2. Post-Thanksgiving: It’s all right to slowly ramp up the music. I hosted “Evening Jazz” during the first really cold night of the year (Dec. 7). It was appropriate to play winter-y tunes, but I stayed away from the more Christmas-themed songs until …
  3. Dec. 11: Two weeks before Christmas, it’s appropriate to crank up those favorite tunes. I played a few during my Friday radio show. It is strangely all right to have two radio stations in a small media market dedicated exclusively to holiday music.
  4. Post-Dec. 25: Enough’s enough. Christmas has come and gone. It’s time to put those albums back on the shelve until next year when we repeat the cycle again.

Rupert Murdoch takes on Google, fair-use guidelines

Every time I see an article about copyright laws, I usually gripe about how the discussion excludes fair-use guidelines — those loose rules that outline how people can legally use selections of copyrighted works in their own productions.
Well, my wish was granted, but in a fairly horrible way — News Corp. honcho Rupert Murdoch said he believes his company can challenge fair use and have the courts strike it down.
Murdoch was speaking with Sky News Australia, a segment of which is reposted in this Boing Boing article. The Boing Boing article is a pretty strident commentary.
BBC News also had a summary of Murdoch’s comments to Sky News. Apparently, he’s willing to pursue the matter slowly.

“There’s a doctrine called ‘fair use’, which we believe to be challenged in the courts and would bar it altogether,” Mr Murdoch told the TV channel. “But we’ll take that slowly.”

Murdoch also tilted toward the search engine windmill. He is still on a course to seek payments for News Corp. Web sites and may seek to have the sites’ information removed from Google and other search sites.
Many on the Internet (like Boing Boing) think that Murdoch’s moves may be folly. Although he thinks it unlikely to succeed, longtime tech writer Harry McCracken urges Murdoch to block Google.
Some of the criticism is wrapped up in a dislike of the political leanings of Murdoch’s holdings (the News Corp. umbrella includes the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, UK and U.S. tabloids, etc.).
Setting aside the party politics, it wouldn’t be wise to underestimate Murdoch. Some of his successes have changed the industry (including the dismantling of newspaper unions in England, launching the populist FOX TV network in the United States, etc.). Even his efforts that have come up short have been spectacular.
While Murdoch’s possible moves against Google may be getting the most ink, it’s the idea of gutting fair use that concerns me most. Having News Corp. block search engines only affects the one company (and those that may follow this decision). Eliminating fair use affects everyone.
Murdoch is willing to play the long game to strip the general public of a key component of copyright law. Scrapping fair use would be detrimental to research, news gatherers and the general public.
The fair-use guidelines aren’t perfect, but at least they set some ground rules for those wishing to be legit. If these guidelines are cut, there are at least two possible outcomes:

  • Someone approaches a copyright holder for a blessing anytime he wants to use even a scintilla of information. This would give the copyright holder direct control over who uses even a little bit of their content — like the Sky News quote used in the BBC News article and this blog post.
  • Someone uses content without permission and exposes himself to prosecution. Even under fair use, there is a possibility of prosecution if copyright is flagrantly disregarded. Without fair use, the consumer/producer would have little to no protection.

NBC’s big Leno gamble isn’t a huge risk

In about an hour, the next step in Jay Leno’s career begins with his new series. Every weeknight at 10 p.m. viewers will get a dose of Leno — if they’re tuned to NBC. Chances are viewers will be tuned to another channel or doing something else entirely.

Clearly there’s been a lot of talk about whether “The Jay Leno Show” reflects the changing reality of television or if it will crash and burn. Newsweek’s Pop Vox blog has some insight and how results might end up being mixed.

While I lament the loss of potentially five hours of scripted television, I never really thought that NBC was taking that huge of a risk by airing Leno five nights a week. As others have helpfully pointed out, producing Leno’s show is likely a lot cheaper than filming an hour-long drama. The downside is that these cheaper shows may not have the same rating draw as a drama.

Also, the “Jay Leno Show” isn’t necessarily a revolutionary move on NBC’s part. After all, it was nearly 20 years ago when NBC and the other networks used cheaply produced newsmagazines to plug in gaps in their schedules.

I don’t think NBC ever aired “Dateline NBC” five nights a week on a consistent basis, but it certainly felt like it on some weeks.

We’ve seen networks try to save money amid increasing competition with regularly scheduled and cheap newsmagazines. This is just another link in the chain.