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How is the UFB network coming along, and will fibre broadband transform New Zealand? Can it resolve the tyranny of distance and leapfrog us back into the global rich list? What are people doing with it anyway?

This was the question posed by Hayden Glass for the May Moxie Session – an informal discussion group exploring internet issues. I was a speaker along with Rosalie Nelson from Chorus and Crown FIbre’s Rohan MacMahon.

The government’s fibre investment won’t pay off until large numbers of businesses and consumers sign for UFB services.

There are clear efficiency and productivity reasons for businesses to sign. We can assume most will get around to it before too long.

There are few obvious compelling reasons for most consumers to sign. Enthusiasts and gamers will want fast broadband, but for the mass of people, the draw card would be access to sport and entertainment. That’s something that can’t happen until Sky TV’s monopoly-like grip on TV is broken.

This is unlikely to happen without government intervention. The problem I see is that the fibre network exists in a policy vacuum, it doesn’t link to government broadcasting policy, business strategy, to health or to education. I called for the government to join up the policy silos, possibly by appointing a broadband supremo – someone who in US politics would be called the broadband Tsar.

English football shows the way

Last week Coliseum Sports Media blew a hole through my argument. Instead of government intervention, a private business chipped the first hole in Sky’s monopoly. The company picked up the rights to English football (or soccer if you like). CSM will sell subscriptions – a year’s worth of English football – 380 games in total – for the price of a one-month subscription to Sky.

It’s a deal made for UFB.

Of course English football is a relatively minor sport in New Zealand. It ranks behind rugby, rugby league, cricket and netball, possibly behind motor sports. Sky has all those tied up – at least for the next two years. But we’re talking about the long-term here, the UFB project is still six years from completion.

It’s not just about sport. Although Sky has the movie studios tied up, it’s grip isn’t that tight. Every week a few more New Zealanders find ways to get around geo-blocking on media content so they can buy TV and films from Netflix or iTunes. At some point the movie studios will find it easier to cut international deals with digital distributors than to build a patchwork quilt of regional TV stations.

The question was will UFB transform New Zealand?  I’m more confident it will. Households will sign to fibre broadband for sport and entertainment content – most of which will mean sending more money overseas – but they’ll stay for a raft of other services which will boost the economy and cut the cost of providing education, healthcare and other dealings with government.

Live-blogging shines when skilled writers cover complex, unfolding news stories. It tends to be less useful dealing with scripted or structured events. There are times when it stinks.

Rarely a day goes by without a live-blog on one of the top UK newspapers or at the BBC website.

Recent months have seen The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and the BBC successfully live-blog events as diverse as riots, cricket matches and the European economic melt-down.

Live-blogging strengths:

  • It’s a quick and inexpensive way of staying on top of a rapidly developing story.
  • Live bloggers are able to add and verify incoming items from journalists in the field, social media services like Twitter and from other news media.
  • It’s easier for live-bloggers to get away with including links to rival media than it is for journalists writing conventional news.
  • Likewise, the informal nature of a live-blog gives journalists freedom to depart from strict news structures.
  • Readers are able to get involved and can pass journalists extra information and make comments.
  • Live blogging has built-in feedback mechanisms.

Live-blog the election

The ultimate live-blog opportunity would be an election count. Combined with good graphics and live data it is potentially the best way to follow developments. Likewise live-blogging sports events is also a great alternative to radio or TV, especially on a smartphone. It works especially well with cricket which has just the right structure for the format.

There are problems with live-blogging. It is sometimes hard to make sense of what’s in front of you if you join part-way through the unfolding story. Scrolling back through the story can be confusing at times. Live-blogs can get out of control and the person in the driving seat may be distracted. It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture.

Facts missing in action

Most of all, the important facts can be buried in a live-blog. Writers sometimes assume readers joining the live-blog are up to speed and so they don’t repeat key facts.

Live-blogs rarely compete with a well-written, structured analysis. There are times when the classic inverted pyramid approach is still king.

Live-blogging gets story out fast

I’ve seen live blogs of important product announcements. It’s a great way of getting the story out fast, but there’s not always enough time for the research and information gathering needed to put things in context. Live-blogs of announcements generally follow the public relations script.

Similar criticism applies to events like company annual general meetings – or anything that is stage-managed. A little distance helps journalists get past manipulation.

When it doesn’t work

Live-blogging doesn’t always work. One of my jobs involves monitoring and commenting on Australia’s technology press. I found the live blog coverage of Steve Jobs’ death disjointed and confusing. Others found it disrespectful and I know of a few who objected to the semantics of live-blogging a death.

At the moment journalists are constrained by their tools. Newspaper content management systems don’t take kindly to live-blogging, they tend to have strict, inflexible formats. No doubt this problems will solved soon and some of the problems will go away.

Live blogging has been slower to take off in New Zealand.

That’s more than can be said for live-blogging itself. It’s here to stay. Now we need to get better at it.

Reporting share price movements in general news bulletins on television and radio is pointless.

Most viewers and listeners don’t care about individual share prices.

But the information is of no use to those who do care. Nobody is going to run out and buy or sell shares if the reporter says “Telecom is down two cents at $2.12”.

A share owner will want to check this information before acting.

Share trading professionals will have immediate access to better and fuller information. Even keen amateur traders want more than a raw price.

So why do news bulletins broadcast this information?

It could be filler. Some TV bulletins flick up the numbers on the way into or out of commercial breaks. Lord knows New Zealand broadcaster struggle to fill their long news bulletins with worthwhile material.

Reporting share price movements also sends an important signal to audiences that the broadcasters are aware of business news and determined to take it seriously.