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The buzz about Torchwood

Tuesday 7 July 2009, 09:54

Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick Head of Interactive, Radio 3

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You won't need me to remind you that Torchwood: Children of Earth is under way over there on the telly but you might not know that you've only got a matter of hours to download the first of last week's Torchwood radio plays as an MP3 that you can keep forever (and the other two will expire in 24 and 48 hours respectively, of course). The BBC Cardiff drama department did some innovative work with the creative and rights people to liberate the three episodes for download: a follow-up to last year's amazingly successful Big Bang Day download.

The reaction online has been predictably huge and quite a good test for the BBC's nifty new 'buzz tracker' - a web site called Shownar that finds discussion of BBC programmes online and presents it visually. Try searching for your favourite programme and see what other listeners are saying about it.

Torchwood fans are evidently pleasantly surprised to see their favourite Sci-Fi brand show up on what they thought was their mother's radio station. This can only be good for the reputation of Radio 4 - and its drama output in particular.

The most entertaining blog post Shownar exposes is this one, by Stuart Ian Burns on the Behind the Sofa blog. Stuart's not entirely won over by the radio version ("generally underwhelmed" he says) but then this is the voice of a mega-fan and he does find some kind words for writer Anita Sullivan:

Sullivan clearly grasps what Torchwood was about. She captured the individual character voices beautifully, especially Gwen. She even picked up the television series's habit of moving the plot forward by having a Torchwood member leaving their keys in a motor vehicle.

I hope that Kate McAll and her team will be reading this one - I think there's a valuable fan's perspective on offer here. This is the kind of direct access to the opinions of listeners that these social media tools make possible. BBC programme makers will inevitably already have bookmarked Shownar.

With the national papers generally scaling back their in-depth coverage of radio (and drama in particular), the actors' trade paper The Stage is a reliable source of news and reviews. Last week was Torchwood Week on the site's blog, with a dozen posts about the series, mostly about Children of Earth but including this one about the radio plays: What did you think of Asylum? Moira Petty, The Stage's regular radio reviewer, was pleasantly surprised:

The first surprise was how little Captain Jack hogged the limelight, screeching on with an anarchic act or comment before zipping off again. He only exerted his authority when his subordinates (played by Eve Myles and Gareth David-Lloyd and both sounding far more cuddly and less glam than they look in the publicity stills), threatened to turn it into The Gwen and Ianto Show.

You'll remember that Kate McAll, here on the Radio 4 blog last week, wrote about the difficulty of fitting her superstar talent into a recording schedule which I think might go some way to explaining Jack's limited presence in the radio plays.

Search Twitter for references to the radio plays and you'll find hundreds of tweets - orders of magnitude more than any radio play has a right to expect: the power of the brand! I'll leave you with my favourite tweet (from some_lauren):

It's a freaking Torchwood Radio Play. It should not make me cry damn it!

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    Comment number 1.

    "but you might not know that you've only got a matter of hours to download the first of last week's Torchwood radio plays as an MP3 that you can keep forever"

    There might be a "Buzz" about such programmes but will there be an even greater buzz about people not being able to 'catch-up'...

    Seems to be a rather silly state of affairs, a file that can be downloaded and kept (meaning that there can't be any rights issues restricting availability, in at least the UK) but a totally artificial time limit placed on being able to download the file - even more strange considering that we are now well into the holiday period meaning that some people will miss both the broadcast and the chance to download/listen to one or more episodes. Not very joined up thinking within the BBC, again, surely the BBC isn't that short of server storage that it can't keep many of the iPlayer/podcasts/downloads available for more than 7 days?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    @Boilerplated That's a very good question. I'm a bit of a new boy at the BBC so when I ask questions like: "why are the Torchwood downloads only available for seven days when people can keep them forever?" the old-timers around me tend to roll their eyes and reel off a list of factors that could influence such a decision, like for instance: BBC Worldwide's interest in selling the recordings commercially, the BBC Trust's standing position on long-term availability, competition rules, existing agreements with writers, actors and other rights-holders, territorial issues etc.

    Although, of course, I have no idea whether any of these factors actually applied in this case. I've made it a long-term goal to get a post for the blog about these issues, about the evolution of broadcast rights for the online era, about archiving audio and the seven-day window. I'll keep you posted.

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, Radio 4 blog

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    Comment number 3.

    "a totally artificial time limit placed on being able to download the file"

    Well, from the BBC site. It's there on every torrent indexing site I have looked at...

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    It becomes more and more obvious that there should be a "Radio 4 Remix" radio station (online, on DAB, on satellite cable and Freeview) that takes the Radio 4 content and re-purposes it to a younger demographic.

    There is plenty on Radio 4 that even the most sophisiticated young listener just will find tedious. Even the (mono) World Service has more music on it.

    It is time to just take all the best programmes from Radio 4 and have a "narrative repeat spoken word" station aimed at under-40s with a little more presentational oomph.

    Radio 7 does a good job of being a "Radio 4 Gold" channel, but a "Radio 4 Remix" station would encourage people to listen to those great Radio 4 gems that are no listened to because of the classic, but very dull, presentation.

    Radio 4 remix could perhaps dump the news programmes (bit dated for the Internet generation) and dull talks (Start the Week) and soaps-for-granny (The Archers) but keep all the good stuff like In Our Time, The Material World, drama, and so forth.


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