Why everyone's mad for Spotify Wrapped and MrBeast; podcasting momentum; and you stayed too long, Jack
Plus a bucket of shit for Shayne Elliott; a rare victory against the bureaucrats; and why 2021 was Dan Ilic's year
Welcome to Unmade, mostly written in the Horsham branch of Pret A Manger, while you were sleeping. For regular readers, Pret did indeed reopen its doors after that mysterious closure a couple of weeks back. Presumably they gave the staff a pay rise. So exciting is that development that I’ve signed up for their coffee subscription - up to five drinks a day, for twenty quid a month. It’s not just streaming services and publishers who are chasing the recurring revenue bandwagon.
Happy National Sock Day.
During the week I shared some of the options I was weighing up regarding the developing format of Unmade as we hit our three month anniversary. I mentioned the questions I was asking myself about frequency of publication.
I found myself drawn to this piece of feedback from a media agency CEO:
“In terms of feedback, I enjoy Unmade as I know there is depth and research behind the article unlike the other 70 “‘industry related’ emails I get each week full of self-promotion. I would be happy receiving two Unmades a week – perhaps one mid week and another on Saturday. And of course an Unmade whenever a story breaks that deserves analysis.”
It resonated with me. So that’s what I’ll be experimenting with as a format through until Christmas.
My main analytical pieces will indeed be on a Wednesday and a Saturday.
In addition, when warranted, I’ll send more of a digest on a Monday morning to encapsulate weekend developments and breaking news from that day’s news mastheads.
When I have one, I’ll upload a podcast interview on a Tuesday, with a transcript to accompany it. That includes Ten’s chief sales officer Rod Prosser this coming Tuesday. And Fridays will be a podcast with a chapter of the audio edition of Media Unmade.
Speaking of the podcast, yesterday I finally managed to penetrate the baffling levels of security required to submit a feed to the Apple podcast app. So you should now be able to find the Unmade podcast inside whichever app you prefer by searching for “Unmade”.
It feels like I’ve done nothing but battle bureaucracy this week. Let’s opening the scoring. I’m counting the Apple triumph as the first goal:
Bureaucracy 0; Me 1
But there were goals conceded too.
As you may recall, I used to write Mumbrella’s Best of the Week email. In one of my final outings back in July, I told of falling foul of fraudulent removalists, booked through the Nine-aligned Oneflare website, and I promised to let readers know how the story ended.
We reported it to the cops, and to ANZ Bank, who had processed our $800 card payment to the scammers. As I wrote in BOTW at the time:
It was time to involve the bank. The promise on the ANZ website: “You’ll be reimbursed for fraudulent transactions on your ANZ card provided you notify us promptly and didn’t contribute to the loss.”
The man in the call centre seemed optimistic we’d get our money back. But it will also take us up to six weeks to find out for sure.”
Turns out, the man from ANZ’s optimism was misplaced.
This week I found out the bank’s verdict. Their email was either disingenuous or automated:
We refer to your request to recall the mistaken payment stated above. We wish to advise you that we were unsuccessful at our attempt to recall the funds on your behalf.
Under the Privacy Act we are unable to disclose any further information in relation to the recipient of the funds.
ANZ now considers this matter as finalised.
This email is automatically generated. Please do not reply to this email.
If that’s the tone of the letter that goes out to any ANZ customer who reports a fraud, I wonder whether the marketing team had a say in the language used in the template. It’s not the verdict (I was never confident they’d cover us) - that annoyed; it’s the icy language, that makes me wonder whether they know how to talk to their customers. So let’s call it a half time score of:
Bureaucracy 1; Me 1
Still, my current dim view on the ANZ brand saw me savour the writing of the Australian Financial Review’s brilliant Rear Window columnist Joe Aston all the more. In yesterday’s paper he dumped a big bucket of shit on the head of ANZ’s CEO Shayne Elliott.
It turns out that the bank’s inability to communicate empathetically with its defrauded customers is the least of its worries. It’s struggling even with the basics of its business.
ANZ has been drastically losing market share because it can’t get the basics right of processing mortgage applications either. It’s been taking the bank an average of just over seven weeks, reported Aston. That’s compared to a matter of 11 or 12 days for the likes of CBA and NAB.
I wonder how many ANZ customers have lost deposits because they were unable to complete their contract on time.
The column was a masterpiece. Perhaps Aston’s finest since he took down CPA’s egotistical CEO Alex Malley. He focused on the hype emerging from the bank over its long-promised and much delayed digital transformation project being led by former Google Australia boss Maile Carnegie. “ANZx” this and “intelligent mobile banking apps” that.
“The soaring guff is sick-making.” opined Aston. He went on: “There is no innovation culture – or at least there are no appreciable fruits of one – just a breakdown of operational focus dressed up in Tech Dude Bro doublespeak. The drivel of Silicon Valley has infected the bank.”
One lesson that observers of Aston will know is that once he picks a deserving target, he doesn’t stop. I for one will enjoy the show.
And that wasn’t it for my adventures with corporate bureaucracies.
It’s been a number of years since I’ve been exposed to the woes of the UK retail sector.
In need of a power board, I found myself parking in a desolate edge-of-town car park. The retail park consisted of an abandoned office supply store and a still-open outlet of electronics retailer Currys.
Apart from a nondescript van parked nearby, the car park was mostly empty.
I bought the power board, and a couple of adaptors.
As we headed back to the car with our purchases, I caught site of another store across the way. I looked up at the parking sign, placed about twice my height, two thirds of the way up a lamppost. Most of it was too small to read, but I made out the words “maximum two hours for customers”. We’d only been in the store for ten minutes or so.
I didn’t actually need anything, but decided to cross the road and look at the other store. (Can you see where this is going yet?)
When we walked in it was heaving, so we turned around and headed back to the car.
There was, as you might have guessed, already a parking ticket on the windscreen. Somebody had been hiding in the van and watching us.
Four minutes had passed from the time on my till receipt from Currys until the time of the ticket. And five minutes after that we’d been back at the car.
The ticket stated “left premises”. Somewhere in the small print, the sign disallowed that.
With a bit of Googling, the picture became clearer. Currys and the parking company UKPC appear to have a symbiotic relationship. There were various local newspaper articles about people visiting different Curry’s outlets around the UK and falling foul of UKPC. Curry’s would tell the papers there was nothing they could do about the fine as they had no connection with parking enforcement in their car park. Quite a coincidence it was always UKPC.
So I tracked down the email address of the CEO of Currys, and messaged him via LinkedIn too, just to be sure. I didn’t ask him to waive the fine, but shared my frustrations that Curry’s would stand by while their own customers were being preyed upon. I wrote to him:
“Some basic searches suggest that UKPC operate parking at Currys outlets throughout the UK. They also indicate that UKPC has an appalling, predatory reputation including previous DVLA bans. I'm perplexed why you would have any sort of business relationship with a company such as this.”
It took a few days, but I got a response from one of his colleagues, written in legalistic language: “We cannot accept responsibility for any parking enforcements received as the land adjacent to our stores is private land, which we have no control of. Nor can we choose which company would be responsible for such land. I do however understand your frustration and I must apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
It was about what I expected. I replied:
While I accept the accuracy of your statement that Currys does not accept legal responsibility for parking enforcements, it seems a remarkable coincidence that the same parking enforcement company is present at a number of your sites around the country. As a tenant (and in the case of your Tanbridge retail store, the sole tenant), I'm sure you would have enormous influence with the landlord on the experience of your customers, should you choose to exercise it.
If you wanted to act in the best interests of your customers, at the very least, you could go to the trouble of having a prominent sign on the inside of your store warning your genuine customers to be beware of the deceptive small print in the parking terms and conditions, and not to take the "two hours for customers" large print at face value.
After returning to the country from a 15 year absence, this was pretty much my first experience of bricks and mortar retail, which I understand is a tough sector. Doing everything in your power to avoid your legitimate customers falling prey to predatory practices would seem to me a sensible strategy.
That day I instead went online to Amazon, which is amazing in the UK by the way. Last Saturday afternoon we ordered a computer cable. It arrived on Sunday morning.
To my surprise, there was an additional email from Currys a day after my note. The store had been talking to UKPC, who had decided to waive the fine after all.
Sadly, by then I’d signed up for Amazon Prime.
Bureaucracy 1; Me 2
But surely there was no chance of a hat trick of successful bureaucratic navigation?
You’d better bloody believe there was.
For the last nine months I’ve been in correspondence with LinkedIn. A misfiring of the algorithm meant that when I attempted to place my location of Sisters Beach in Tasmania in my profile, the nearest it would allow me was Trial Harbour, some 190km away.
Every few weeks I’d receive another polite update from Catherine, the “executive escalation case manager” at LinkedIn, letting me know that although the engineering team hadn’t yet nailed it, my question had not been forgotten. I began to get the sense that there were whole teams of Silicon Valley’s finest sweating over the issue.
Back in July, there was a false alarm. One of the updates from Catherine let me know that the issue was fixed. But it proved to be a near miss. Although I was now able to locate myself at the next township of Boat Harbour Beach, some nine kilometres away, poor old Sisters Beach was still not on the LinkedIn map.
But I persisted, and so did those hard-working LinkedIn engineers. And on Wednesday morning, as Sisters Beach celebrated December 1’s arrival of summer and I stepped in to the UK winter, there was another note from Catherine. The crazy cats in the engineering team had done it. Sisters Beach was now on the map.
I may not be back there till February, but nonetheless, I’ve never updated my LinkedIn profile with a greater sense of triumph.
We’ll call it a final score for the week of:
Bureaucracy 1; Me 3
Bye, bye Jack
Speaking of Silicon Valley, Jack Dorsey stepped down as CEO of Twitter this week, a couple of years too late.
He’ll now be concentrating on his main love, digital payments platform, Square.
If only a full time CEO had been in charge of Twitter for the last couple of years, the platform might have got a better handle on the disinformation the platform helped spread around Donald’s Trump’s ridiculous claims of election fraud and vaccine disinformation.
And just as Mark Zuckerberg renamed Facebook’s parent company Meta, Dorsey has rebranded Square’s parent as Block.
And that pretty much leaves Zuckerberg as the last of the founders at the helm of the big platforms.
Google’s parent company Alphabet, Amazon, Microsoft and Twitter are all now being run by successors to their founders. It’s one more reason for Zuckerberg to hand over to somebody who’s personal brand is less toxic.
And on the subject of toxic social media, the detail of the parliamentary inquiry into toxic social media content is making the process look less credible by the minute. Yesterday’s news that MP Craig Kelly, who has been kicked off Facebook for spreading vaccine disinformation, has been invited to join the committee is the sort of thing somebody might have suggested for a joke.
However, the main game is what the government has called the Social Media (Anti-Trolling) Bill. It released the exposure draft this week.
Given the small number of parliamentary sitting days until the election it still seems likely that the bill will die before being legislated.
It’s been cleverly designed to win the support of the mainstream media players, by removing their current liability for defamatory comments left on their brand pages on social media.
But the proposals to shift defamation risk onto the platforms if they cannot or will not provide the identity of Australian users is the part that seems unworkable. First, VPNs make it easy for anybody to hide their location. And second, we’ll be back at that question of whether some platforms decide that it’s not worth the effort, or precedent, and pull out of Australia.
If there was a greater prospect of this becoming law before the election, this would be the beginnings of another huge battle.
Swimming into focus
It was one of those weeks where things that had quietly been going mainstream in the corner of the eye, suddenly swam into focus.
This week, I bet everyone you know was talking about their Spotify Wrapped data.
Wrapped has been around for five years now, offering users individualised information about what artists and genres they’ve been listening to, and how they compare to other users.
The comparisons are clever gamification, while the lists are highly shareable. But this year it felt like it wasn’t just the music aficionados, but everyone who was sharing it.
Another media property, if you can call him that, who swam in to focus this week, was MrBeast. James Donaldson’s stunt-based genre of YouTube videos has steadily been gaining traction.
But this week, it felt like everybody was talking about his recreation of Squid Game, which has clocked up 150m views in a week. That’s extraordinary.
The comparison to the 142m households Netflix says watched the original isn’t like-for-like. But nonetheless, it’s a watershed moment.
It also felt like the Australian Podcast Awards were a much bigger deal this year. Maybe it’s the algorithms I keep, but all I was seeing on social media on Thursday night were nominees and winners celebrating their successes.
I was particularly pleased for humourist Dan Ilic and the A Rational Fear team picking up Best Comedy. It’s been Ilic’s year, with his JokeKeeper crowd funding campaign to fund provocative campaigning billboards at the Glasgow climate summit raising more than $200,000.
And there was new data this week out of both the UK and US that podcasts are indeed going mainstream.
Edison Research does one of the most recognised pieces of global research into audio trends with The Infinite Dial study.
It released data for both the US and UK. In the UK, it said that 41% of adults had listened to a podcast in the last month. And in the US it said the number was exactly the same at 41%.
The Australian version of the research is published at a different time of the year. The last Infinite Dial survey for Australia, conducted in the first quarter of 2021, put the number at 37%. I’d be amazed if it hasn’t jumped into the high 40s when the next Australian data is released early in 2022.
I think it’s time to let you go about your weekend, as this is getting longer than intended. Otherwise I’d have liked to talk about iHeartRadio’s 24-hour Kyle & Jackie O station (amazing idea); the October SMI numbers (quite a complicated picture); and the IAB numbers (ditto).
And finally, a reminder. The deeper analysis pieces I will be writing will not always be free. For the next 13 days, I’m offering a major discount on a year’s subscription tto Unmade, which is available via the button below. That price will not be repeated.
Have a great weekend.
Proprietor - Unmade