Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Let's talk about customer service at an unnamed supermarket

I was driving home from work and wanted to pop into [supermarket] to get some of their fresh bakery products. However, I got the idea in my head of potentially heating up some of the products when I get home, as I thought they'd be quite nice hot. My eternally worrying mind was all "you're probably gonna poison yourself" so I thought I'd phone the supermarket and see if they recommend against it. I was stuck in traffic anyway, so I might as well.

As the phone started to dial [supermarket] I realised that I'm probably wasting my minutes as I'd have to navigate a phone menu to get to speak to someone.

NOPE! After a brief recorded message, I was put through to someone almost straight away, with no menu mazes!

I explained myself to the person on the phone, but they weren't sure if they could be reheated and advised I spoke to the store staff themselves. Okay, fair enough, it's a weird question. I'm on the way there anyway, so I can ask the question when checking out (I like them cold anyway, so I won't push for an answer).

I buy my bakery stuff, as well as other stuff, then head to the till. While packing my stuff away, I mention that I spoke to head office about reheating the bakery items and pointed to the ones I bought. I got an immediate "oh yeah, I heat them up all the time, I like to microwave them for a bit, not very long".

Turns out, head office wasn't wrong! The staff in the store did know. I went home and had a very nice dinner!

Full marks to [supermarket]!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Manchester City Centre Cinema Cituation [sic] (updated 2017-05-19)

Update 19th May 2017: Odeon have confirmed via email and online that the AMC cinema in Deansgate is now (as of 19th May 2017) accepting Odeon Limitless cards manually in-person, and the functionality will soon be available online to book as well. Whether the types of films shown will change is yet to be seen, and whether there's any further rebranding to take place. At the very least, this restores Limitless use to Manchester City Centre.

Update 13th May 2017: Odeon have confirmed to Manchester Evening News that they are already in talks to rebrand the AMC cinema in Deansgate. Whether this will be a temporary measure or not, it's not clear. If I know companies, the fact that Odeon were forced out of the Printworks into a smaller venue with no IMAX screen, will no doubt prompt them to do some sort of restructuring within Manchester. With the additional cost of IMAX screens as an upgrade, this could potentially be a venue for competition between Vue and Odeon in Manchester. We shall see...

There are changes afoot to the selection of cinemas (cinemae?) available in Manchester city centre, which is gonna cause me some headaches and potentially some financial decisions. But first, some background info:

Right now (at the time of writing) there are three main cinemas in Manchester city centre:

1) Odeon Manchester Printworks
2) AMC Great Northern (the only AMC cinema in the UK)
3) HOME (indie)

A bit further afield, there's also:
4) Vue Manchester Lowry
5) Cineworld Ashton-under-Lyne
6) Showcase Belle Vue (near Gorton)

Now, AMC Theatres is a fairly big deal in the USA and a few other countries. However, the Manchester cinema is their only one in the whole of the UK. That being said, last year, AMC Theatres bought Odeon Cinemas. That's where things start to get problematic.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recognised that Odeon and the sole AMC being owned by the same company was a monopoly on cinemas in Manchester city centre. The result being that one of these cinemas had to go to someone else. Yesterday (9th May 2017) an email went out to all Odeon Limitless members who used their card in Manchester Printworks that the Printworks cinema would no longer be an Odeon after the 14th May 2017. They didn't mention it in the email, but it was confirmed that Vue would be the new tenant in the Printworks cinema after a short rebranding period.

If you don't already know, I joined Odeon's "Limitless" membership over a year ago and have used my nearly-unlimited cinema access to go see lots of films I wouldn't otherwise see, including mystery films shown before their release date. The Printworks cinema, as one of the biggest in the area, shows quite a few films that others don't. Particularly when it comes to Chinese, Korean and Japanese films (yes, that includes anime). One of my favourite films of all time is a Chinese film I saw on a whim ("I Belonged To You"), yet had me in tears and I'm desperately trying to find it on DVD or blu-ray. With the Printworks no longer an Odeon, I'm in theory not gonna be able to see these films with my pass on a whim and, as much as I'm into a few things in mainstream cinema, I don't think I'll be able to justify the cost of the pass for much longer.

Here's where it starts getting muddy.

First off, Odeon have three options here.
1) Make their Trafford Centre cinema their flagship. This cinema already shows Indian (Bollywood) cinema, and is where the upcoming live broadcast of the Destiny 2 video game preview will be in-place of the Printworks. This cinema also has the same number of screens as the Printworks, though no premium "Gallery" areas.
2) Allow limitless at the smaller AMC Cinema and/or rebrand it into an Odeon and/or build more screens into it. At only 16 screens, with no IMAX screen, it's much smaller than the Vue. Also, building an IMAX at a second cinema in the city centre (the nearest other cinemas with IMAX screens are Odeon Trafford Centre or Cineworld Ashton) would boost competition for sure. At the very least, this would let Limitless members use their cards and offers there, but perhaps the lack of screens would lead to few (if any) world cinema films.
3) Just build another cinema and close/sell off the AMC as well. A brand new, state-of-the-art etc cinema might well be within the price range of Odeon, particularly with the money they now have from selling the Printworks. Build a big cinema complex somewhere in the city centre. Might struggle to find the space though...

So I do what any cinema obsessed fan does when they have ideas for the future of the company they pay every month: they phone them.

I phoned Odeon up and was halfway through mentioning the transfer of the Printworks to Vue, when I was told that Vue was also owned by AMC, same as Odeon, so I'll be able to use my Limitless card...

hang on...

I'm pretty sure that's not true. Let me check:



Yeah, that doesn't tally. Perhaps this person got some dodge info. Let's call the dedicated Limitless helpline instead.

Different person, same response.

Huh...

Either AMC have blatantly created a monopoly in secret after the competitions authority told them to sell the Printworks, or the customer services teams at Odeon were told duff info. I suspect they're saying that the AMC cinema will accept Limitless after the Printworks closes, and there's already talk of it being rebranded into an Odeon anyway. Let's do one final check before calling it a day. I'm gonna call Vue.

Vue's response: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

They have no idea, and probably won't until the keys get handed over this coming weekend. There was no comment about the company that owns them though, but I can't find any reference to AMC buying Vue.

In conclusion, I'm keeping a close eye on this situation as I don't want to lose access to my world cinema with my Limitless card. If that does happen, I'm already out of my minimum contract term, so I can just cancel my card if I don't think it'll be worth it, despite living right next to the (admittedly awful) Crewe Odeon.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Let's talk about @ThreeUK's "new customer via reseller" ONLY deals, and other phone contract renewal curiosities


This is kinda complicated and involves some maths, so please bear with me with this.

I am a customer of the mobile network Three, and have been for a number of years to the point where I get "you've been a customer of Three for...wow, a very long time!" whenever I phone. My latest contract for £24 a month has reached the end of its term, so I did some searching for the best deal. I used a few comparison sites and found a deal with Three for £12 a month that fell into my more-recent usage figures. There's also a similar deal but with more calls with PlusNet, who provide my home broadband (so they do a deal if you're an existing customer). Those are the only two deals that really caught my eye. But, since Three's deal is better, I thought I could get a straight-forward swap to the new plan without much faff.

OH HOW I WAS WRONG

So, the deal shown on several comparison websites for £12 is only shown on comparison websites, and not on Three's own website. So, when I mention it on the phone, I'm told that because it's a special plan for [comparison website name here], I cannot do a straight swap onto the plan. The only way to do this would be for me to convert my current SIM card into a pay-as-you-go SIM following the 30 day contract cancellation notice period. Then, I'd have to sign up as a new customer (assuming the offer is still available) and start a brand new contract. This would also involve two transfers of my phone number plus an amount of time with a pay-as-you-go SIM card in my primary phone. Not ideal.

But wait, there's more!

Because of the 30 day cancellation notification, I have to pay for an additional month on my existing plan first before signing up for a new one, which may or may not be the £12 a month one as it could be a limited time offer, or the more expensive but more calls £15 a month one.

However, there's another option. Three do have a £15 a month plan that is basically the same as the £12 a month plan, except for one important distinction: existing customers can swap to it immediately. This means, no extra month of the existing plan and no swapping to PAYG for a bit while waiting for all the shenanigans to process. But, it's £3 a month more...what is this in the grand scheme of things?

So, let's maths!

Current plan: 
Monthly: £24
12 months: £288
13 months: £312

£12 Three plan (new customers via resellers only):
Monthly: £12
12 months: £144
Final month of current: £24
Total (~13 months):  £168
Plus PAYG expenditure

Plusnet plan:
Monthly: £15
12 months: £180
Final month of current: £24
Total (~13 months): £204

£15 Three plan (existing customers allowed):
Monthly: £15
12 months: £180
13 months: £195

This makes the £12 plan £27 cheaper than the £15 plan over the course of the 13 months. It's worth mentioning at this point that the salesperson on the phone from Three was throwing around the idea that it was only £12 cheaper, but that's on the assumption that I don't let the current contract end before starting the new one, i.e. basing it on paying the first month of the £12 contract now and also the final month of the current contract, making a 12 month figure of £168 vs the 12 month figure for the £15 plan at £180. It's an easy mistake to make, but probably intentional considering this person's line of work.

Anyway, that £27 difference doesn't include anything I spend with a PAYG SIM card, which I'd have to keep hold of until my phone number transferred to it, and then sign up for a new monthly SIM, and then transfer the number again. So, could be £25 saving or less for potentially a lot of hassle, so I went for the £15 plan with Three. They've got me for another 12 months, oh well.

So, what have we learnt here?
1) Three, and possibly other networks, have deals that are only on comparison websites and not available direct.
2) By implementing intentionally broken computer systems, the aforementioned mobile networks get to avoid giving existing customers the best deal by forcing them through as many hoops as possible.
3) Remember when your contract expires so you can switch as early as possible and take the final month and cancellation period into account. This means, as soon as you have just over a month to go on your contract, look up the best deal and inform your current supplier you wish to convert to PAYG. PAC codes are valid for a month, so phone up again once you know the network you're switching to and there's less than a month to go. The £12 deal via a PAYG conversion would've been a definite deal if not for the additional month of the current contract.

My plan for next year is to request a cancellation just before the final month of the minimum term begins provided I'm not on the cheapest tariff for me. Then I can just join my favourite and swap with minimal disruption and maximum savings. A half hour phone call to Three's retention team taking up my entire lunch break is not something I want to do again.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Peter Shillito's 2016 (ish) film awards

I've seen a lot of films in the cinema in 2016, in different countries too! So, time for some awards! Some of which you might be surprised by...except for one. Definitely won't be surprised by one of these. SO! Without further ado!

The "what? why?" award for critically acclaimed film that was actually awful

Winner: Everybody Wants Some, dir: Richard Linklater

If everyone closed their eyes and listened to the great soundtrack this film had, it would still be a bad film because you'd still have to listen to the actors.
No plot, endorsing stalking and tricking girls into going out with you, characters you can't stand being on-screen, this film is irredeemable. Yet somehow, it got critical acclaim. Nominated for awards even! This film is genuinely the worst film I've seen in 2016. Worse than Batman vs Superman. Worse than Bad Neighbours 2. Worse than Troll 2 (which I also saw for the first time this year).

Honourable mention: Disorder, that weird French film I saw early in the year at a mystery preview screening that nowhere showed after the fact. It was a bad film, but it was still kinda interesting to see what they were doing. It had a plot. It had interesting characters. It was, however, really boring.

The "the hype is real" award for actually good film despite the hype

Winner: your name., dir: Makoto Shinkai

Turns out, this was actually a good film. With it selling trainloads of tickets in Japan, China and now South Korea, I was sceptical, but it turns out I fully enjoyed this film. Heck, I even cried a bit on my first viewing at Scotland Loves Anime. A few people argue that it's not the best animated film this year, typically citing A Silent Voice as better, but I didn't enjoy that film tbh. It made its point, then kept trying to hammer it in harder to the point of it just getting tiring. I also had the experience of having a girlfriend who used their disability as an excuse to pushing hate and blame onto others and being a genuinely bad person, so perhaps I have an extra barrier to these things. But of course, everything is subjective, so I won't begrudge people considering this film better than your name..

Honourable mention: Deadpool. This film had quite a lot of hype despite being a superhero film. I was cautious what with it potentially relying on breaking the fourth wall a lot for comedy, but it turned out great! It was a great film I thoroughly enjoyed.

The "hipster bullshit" award for film nobody else saw that I rate as one of the best films of the year

Winner: I Belonged to You (从你的全世界路过), dir: Zhang Yibai (張一白)

Living and working within a not-unreasonable drive or train to Manchester means I get to see some foreign films quite regularly. The Trafford Centre shows a lot of Indian films, while the Printworks shows Chinese and Korean films. By sheer chance, I went to a screening of the Chinese film "I Belonged to You" in its short run in the Printworks cinema. The synopsis appealed to me as it is partially focussed on a recently dumped radio presenter (been there) but also several other characters all with their own quirks. All the characters' lives overlap and we see couples form and break, either naturally or unnaturally. It's a lovely film, and possibly the best film I've seen all year. When it's funny, it's hilarious. When it's sad, I'm crying my eyes out. I cared about every single character in this film. As it's a Chinese film, I am struggling to find any evidence of a release on disc in the west, but I'm keeping an eye out. Worst case scenario, I've got an import from China on the way. Shout outs to the Chinese student who spoke to me (the only white person in the screening) afterwards and recommended I try to read the book that the film was based off. Sadly, said book seems to be not available in English. Guess I need to learn Chinese...

Honourable mention: A Flying Jatt. This Indian (Hindi) superhero film was hilarious and comparable to Deadpool in terms of enjoyability. Again, a limited run for this film, but it was great fun, had impressive fight scenes with a limited about of CGI due to their casting choices (actual wrestler for the baddie, for example). As with all Bollywood films, the soundtrack stood out particularly with the usual dance sequences Bollywood is known for. The second half got a bit ropey, but it was a definite great film.

The "is it Aikatsu?" award for the series tie-in film of the year

Winner: Aikatsu Stars! the movie, dir: Shinya Watada

I was honoured to see this film in the cinema in Japan, and since it's a series I'm somewhat invested in (both culturally and financially, yes I have the blu-ray on order) I had high hopes for it. Despite watching it with little Japanese knowledge, I could follow a lot of what was being said, at least from how people were reacting and a little background reading on what it was about. As an added bonus, the film had an original Aikatsu short (though I think it was episode length?) before the Aikatsu Stars film itself. It was certainly one of the highlights of my trip to Japan in 2016. I won't get another until 2018 at the earliest :(

Honourable mention: Girls und Panzer der film. It came out in 2015 in Japan, but 2016 here. It was a pretty good film also. Once again, the Scotland Loves Anime crowd boosted the enjoyment of the screening for sure.

The "shut your face, it's actually a good film" award for film I seem to be the only one who likes

Winner: Ghostbusters (2016), dir: Paul Feig

Putting aside the whole sexist angle that a disappointingly large number of people are following for hating this film, I have heard some genuine and well thought out criticisms of this film that I will gladly accept as opinions. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. For real. I hope they do more, and I will re-watch it in the cinema plenty of times I suspect. I did for this one!

Honourable mention: Jem and the Holograms. It only came to the UK in 2016 way later than everyone else, and it was a fairly enjoyable romp with some amazing outfits and make-up. The directing was a bit of a mess (a lot of a mess) but definitely not the worst thing ever! (it wasn't Everybody Wants Some).

The "still got it" award for film from years ago that was worth seeing in the cinema for the first time

Winner: 2001: A Space Odyssey, dir: Stanley Kubrick

I've seen this film at home before, but never in a cinema. I was fortunate to be available for a film festival at Manchester Printworks where they made a point of showing the film exactly as intended. If I remember right, it featured longer blank screens with music and also a 10 minute intermission which was omitted in both the home release and many cinema showings of it since. It was the perfect way to see this film.

Honourable mention: The Shining. Also Stanley Kubrick, I'd never actually seen this film in full before, and the version showed was an extended cut ("the longest possible cut" according to Odeon themselves) which was an added bonus.

The "Peter Shillito endorses this movie" award for film of the year

The final award for this blog is a tricky one. I could be lazy and say your name. or I Belonged to You, or even be daft and say Aikatsu Stars. But that doesn't seem fair. What's the film that, further down the line, I won't forget and consider the film that defined my 2016.

Winner: Kubo and the Two Strings, dir: Travis Knight

This film is beautiful, heartwarming and unforgettable. I heartily recommend people go see it. I particularly like the designs for the aunts, who remain genuinely terrifying just from being a static figure through to being a moving threat.

Honourable mention: everything else I've mentioned in this blog (except Everybody Wants Some). All of these films are great in various ways, and I strongly recommend trying some of the Indian and Asian films that come out in the cinema here in the UK.

Also, when's the next Aikatsu movie?

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Meeting your idols

My experiences with meeting famous people in real life are kinda strange. I seem to be very inconsistent in how I handle things. Here's a list of situations that come to mind as far as this goes:

1) Meeting three members of Aikatsu Stars, August 2015, Tokyo
On my first visit to Japan, I was quite fortunate to have timed it to a few weeks before the launch of the new Aikatsu movie. Amusingly (read: tragically), I left Japan a week before it launched in cinemas. Gutted. Anyway, news came in of this event to me while I was staying in Kyoto with two friends. The day of the event, my friends were hiking up Mt. Fuji. So, I did what any good friend would do: leave them to it and go to Tokyo. I got the first Shinkansen train from Kyoto up to Tokyo (discounting the subway prior, the Shinkansen was at 6:14am, so I slept for most of my first ever journey on the Shinkansen, go team!) then made my way to Tokyo Skytree where the event was being held.

On the way there (when I wasn't sleeping on my first ever Shinkansen ride) I was trying to figure out what I was going to say to the members of Aikatsu Stars were I to get to say anything to them. I wasn't sure if I would be able to get a ticket to the thing as they were on sale beforehand, but I would try anyway and get to visually see them if nothing else. So I was using what little Japanese I knew combined with getting some words from Google Translate, then typing out in Google Translate in Japanese and seeing if the result made some sense (I figured just typing English into Google Translate and trying to speak it would just get me into trouble and I wanted to understand what I was saying).

So I arrived, bought a variety of Aikatsu goods, and then three members of Aikatsu Stars (Ruka, Mona and Miki) arrived and did a little speech about the film and that they're honorary shop managers for the day or something. I got told off by someone in the crowd for taking a photo (NO PHOTO) and then wandered around Skytree until my timeslot.
Here's the interesting bit. This is the first time I've met someone famous, let alone someone who is so integrated into my life (music, anime, radio, etc) so, as you can expect, I was a nervous wreck! I got in the queue quite early, and it seems to be an unwritten rule that the old idol fans let the kids go in front of you (which is fair, as making kids queue kinda sucks). This means I was the second person to speak to them in this timeslot. First adult, and only blatant foreigner. No pressure. So I promptly forgot most of what I wanted to say save for "Nice to meet you, I'm Peter and I'm British. Thank you for your singing/music." The amount of time they gave me seemed longer than I was expecting, and ended up saying "thank you" a bunch of times. Maybe they gave me more time cos I'm a foreigner, I dunno. Either way, they were all pretty impressed when I said I was British (I suspect it's not common that there's someone British going to an Aikatsu Stars idol meet and greet). Then I got my poster, and that was it. It wasn't much, but I got to meet them, say thank you (a lot) and got a signed poster. I'd say it was a good day.

I'm hoping next time, I manage an actual conversation, and also I hope Nanase is there. The events I went to the following year (2016) had all seven members in a row and you were kinda funnelled through each one pretty quickly, but these were events with a mini-live concert, so were a bit different. Perhaps they're getting too big (both in numbers and in popularity) to have them on a table for you to chat to for a little bit. I dunno. From what I understand, several of the members are affiliated with DearStage, so they might turn up at the cafes and the like. I only found out about it towards the end of my most recent stay in Japan, so this is something to check out for next time. I could also do with chatting to the various Aikatsu fans on my Twitter timeline to find out where I should go, as I've seen several with signed polaroids of members (particularly Ruka).


2) Meeting Charisma.Com at Hyper Japan, July 2016, London
Charisma.Com is a group I've been into for quite a while, so I made a major effort to get to Hyper Japan to see them. Only a month before going to Actual Japan™, I made my way to London and watched the live performances on both the Friday and the Saturday. The accoustics were awful, the floor was level (so those at the back probably couldn't see anything except for that bit when Itsuka was on a stepladder) but it was a damn good show, full of energy and character. I was also very impressed that the set-list for each show was different, so those seeing them every day got a few songs different each time. Honestly, I feel like they're way too big and professional a group for Hyper Japan, but I'm not sure if we'll see them again in the UK. I'll keep an eye out. Anyway, after the show, they came out for signing autographs. Special thanks to @digikerot for giving me a spare "Shikishi Board" as I left my CDs and vinyl at home (I was really hoping to get them to sign my Charisma.com vinyl, maybe next time). I got to speak with them a bit too, which was cool. They were very down-to-earth and knew a little English, and I knew a little Japanese, which also helped. Of course, I have to ruin everything. Gonchi asked me a question and I was very confused about what was said. Turns out, she was asking if the CD I left at home was OLest, their most recent album at the time. It was, by the way, and this was essentially them asking if I'm an avid fan and importing their music from Japan, which I am lol. Very disappointed in myself for getting confused by this. "OLest" is a strange enough title for an album that I should've recognised it immediately >_<


3) NOT meeting bis at The Deaf Institute, May 2016, Manchester
Sometimes, you just bottle out of something you really wish you did. I've been a fan of bis for quite a few years, although I've not really got all their music yet (more on this shortly). Until comparatively recently, I've been too nervous to go to gigs/concerts/etc on my own, so this was a big deal for me. So I made my way down to Manchester after work and after getting food, etc, I got to The Deaf Institute a fair bit earlier than necessary and found a space in the already very full bar. It was then that I spotted the members of bis at a table on the other side of the room chatting and having drinks. I then promptly spent about half an hour trying to encourage myself to head over and say hello/wish them luck for the show/etc. This is a band I am very fond of and listen to almost every day along with the usual Aikatsu stuff, so yeah, I'm a fan. Of course, I couldn't do it, and instead spoke to the person who sat next to me because there were no empty tables (hello Rachel, I am glad I met you, you're cool).

So then I went to the music hall and watched the three bands playing: iLL, BIG ZERO and bis. Three bands with reckless disrespect for capitalisation. iLL and BIG ZERO I had never heard before this gig, so it was cool hearing something new, and both I bought CDs from. This was a very informal gig and both bands came down to watch bis later on. I ended up chatting to members from both as well, so that was also really cool. bis, on the other hand, mostly played songs I've never heard of before, so that shot my idea of being a "big fan" right down hahaha! Still, this turned out okay with chatting with members from iLL and BIG ZERO, plus a couple of people I met in the bar earlier. Overall, it was a good social experience. Hopefully, if I ever see bis in a pub again, I'll say hi, but I'll probably end up glancing over occasionally and blushing into a pint of dandelion and burdock.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Train guide and tips: Crewe to London

If you know me reasonably well, you probably know that I travel on trains a lot, often with no reason other than to travel on the trains in the first place (no I'm not a train spotter, I just like visiting new places and train travel is awesome). Living in Crewe, I can take trains going in all directions and get to places with few to no changes. One of these locations is London.

Crewe is one of the few places in the UK to actually have more than one train operator with services to London. In Crewe's case, Virgin Trains and London Midland (you could change at Birmingham onto Chiltern Railways, but I'll get on to that later). This means there's some degree of competition. You can get yourself a bargain if you know what you're doing and it doesn't even have to be complicated. However, you need to know the differences between the two before you can confidently say "this is a bargain". I've also got a few tips on how to spend a little more for additional comfort, but still retain a bargain.

The Differences

Virgin Trains vs London Midland

I'm covering the differences between the two companies first because that's really important before looking at prices. If all you care about is cost, then scroll down and don't say I didn't warn you.

Speed


Virgin Trains is faster. Mostly. Kinda. Virgin Trains is often praised for running at 125mph, however that's not the whole story. There's several issues with this ideal. Firstly, there are two different routes into London from Crewe that Virgin take: via Nuneaton (not necessarily stopping there) and via Birmingham. The latter came into play when Virgin connected up the services from Scotland that terminated at Birmingham and the services from London that terminated at Birmingham, leading to Scotland to London VIA Birmingham services instead. Going through Birmingham is very slow to the point of adding on an additional 45-60 minutes compared to other, similar Virgin services that go down the Trent Valley Line (where Nuneaton is). Here's some example times (correct at time of writing):

Train 1 - Virgin via Rugby (1 hour 44 minutes):
07:57 Crewe
08:47 Rugby
09:41 London Euston

Train 2 - Virgin via Birmingham (2 hours 31 minutes):
08:01 Crewe
08:45 Wolverhampton
08:55 Sandwell and Dudley
09:10 Birmingham New Street
09:20 Birmingham International
09:31 Coventry
10:00 Milton Keynes Central
10:32 London Euston

A difference of 47 minutes! First thing you notice is the higher number of stations called at. Some of which have long waits. In total, 21 minutes of the journey is waiting at stations, though 13 of those are at Wolverhampton. Plus, with more stations, speeding up and slowing down more often means a longer journey time too.

The two trains above are examples only, and journey times vary depending on which stations are called at. The quickest journey I can see at the moment is 1 hour 36 minutes which is an express from Crewe to London Euston, not calling at any other stations. There are several at one minute longer that stops also at Stafford.

One final thing, there are only parts of the West Coast Main Line where Virgin's trains are allowed to go the full 125mph. Always check the actual journey times first.

RIGHT, next up we have London Midland, previously known as Central Trains I believe (before my time I think). London Midland are slower than Virgin. Kinda. Actually, London Midland worked on what is known as "Project 110", allowing their new Desiro electric trains to travel at 110mph on sections of track, only 15mph less than their red cousins over at Virgin. However, much like Virgin via Birmingham, London Midland stop at LOADS of stations. Here's a sample train:

Train 3 - London Midland (2 hours 48 minutes)
Crewe 09:02
Alsager 09:11
Kidsgrove 09:15
Stoke On Trent 09:28
Stone (Staffs) 09:36
Stafford 09:56
Rugeley Trent Valley 10:05
Lichfield Trent Valley 10:13
Tamworth 10:20
Atherstone (Warks) 10:28
Nuneaton 10:36
Rugby 10:53
Milton Keynes Central 11:15
London Euston 11:50

Just to put that in perspective, that's 17 minutes longer than travelling with Virgin via Birmingham, but 1 hour longer than via Rugby (or more if you pick the even quicker services). Again, speeding up and slowing down takes time. However, because the London Midland trains are shorter than Virgin's, they can do that a lot quicker and also have much shorter dwell times, where some stations even have less than a minute stop before moving on again, compared to a minimum stop of at least a minute for Virgin.

Please be warned though that at weekends and early mornings, London Midland services to London are slower at a maximum of 100mph and sometimes go via Birmingham too. Combining London Midland AND via Birmingham results in a service of 3 hours 31 minutes (I believe the only service where this happens is the 06:47 from Crewe, and a non-Birmingham one leaves 5 minutes later and is amusingly cheaper than via Birmingham).

And now it's time for a

TIME TRAVELLING TIP

There are two routes to Stafford from Crewe. The direct route (no stations on the way) or the slow route (via Alsager, Kidsgrove, Stoke-on-Trent and Stone). If you want to go to Stafford, you almost always want to get the direct train as it takes 20 minutes rather than 47. The London Midland trains from Crewe to London go via Stoke, so take longer to get to Stafford. Well why not meet it there?

London Midland run trains from Crewe to Birmingham as well as the Crewe to London trains. If you have a Crewe to London "via London Midland only" ticket, you can save a fair bit of time off your journey if you intentionally "miss" the London train and take the next train to Birmingham that calls at Stafford. The Birmingham trains typically leave Crewe 17 minutes after the London service, and arrives in Stafford 15 minutes before the London one even arrives there, giving you plenty of time to get to the other platform. Here's an example:

Crewe - London (London Midland) leaves Crewe at 11:02. You miss this one.
Crewe - Birmingham (London Midland) leaves Crewe at 11:19.
It arrives at Stafford at 11:39

The Crewe - London train leaves Stafford at 11:56, giving you 17 minutes to change platform (Stafford station isn't huge, so that's plenty of time).
Congratulations, you saved 17 minutes off your journey. You will arrive in London at 13:50, giving a total time from Crewe to London of 2 hours 31 minutes, less time than Virgin via Birmingham.

IMPORTANT: If your ticket says "London Midland only", you can't use a Virgin service from Crewe to Stafford or, indeed, at any point in your journey. Additionally, if your ticket is an advance ticket and it tells you to use the earlier service via Stoke, you MUST go via Stoke as otherwise your ticket isn't valid.

ONE OTHER THING: By essentially skipping all stations from Crewe to Stafford, you will find the train is more busy and you may find it harder finding a seat compared to joining the train at Crewe. Something to keep in mind.

That's it for speed I think. Those are the four basic routes to consider, with timings varying slightly. I'll come onto pricing later.
1) Virgin direct
2) Virgin via Birmingham
3) London Midland via Stoke
4) London Midland changing at Stafford

Officially, you can take a route via Reading to arrive in London at Paddington station, but this isn't a common route, is only valid using the "any route permitted" ticket that Virgin use, and is also slower. You'd also risk having to argue your case to conductors and gate attendents, though they should know these things. It is actually cheaper and valid to use a Crewe to London any permitted ticket to get to Reading than a Crewe to Reading ticket. The former ticket allows break of journey, so you can leave the train at Reading without issue (though you do have to explain to the gate operator that you are breaking your journey there). Unless the timings tie into a meeting you have near Paddington, or you want to go to Reading, specifically or on the way, then I wouldn't bother.

Seats and General Comfort

This is where things might start to get a bit subjective, but I'll do my best.

First off, there's something very important to be aware of: Virgin have TWO different types of train: . The "Pendolinos" (or Class 390) are electric ONLY and are either 9 or 11 coaches long. The "Super Voyagers" are diesel-electric and have 5 coaches, though often there's two connected together to make a 10 coach train, which sometimes join/detach part-way (more on this shortly).

Seats, the most important part. In terms of comfort, they're okay until someone sits next to you. Then it gets very cramped. Legroom is also quite poor and, amusingly, I feel there's more legroom in non-table seats than the table seats, assuming there's someone in front of you, otherwise stretch out; that space is yours, congratulations! Amusingly, I feel there's more legroom on London Midland trains and they're less cramped too. Of course, more room in all directions in first class.

Power sockets! Everyone loves them and there's never enough of them. London Midland have them in first class ONLY except for a small number of their most recent trains, so make sure you've got plenty of battery. Virgin Pendolinos, however, have them at every table by the window* seats (so there's two sockets for every table). If you're on a Super Voyager however, there's a power socket at EVERY window* seat.

TIPS ON INCREASING YOUR CHANCE OF A POWER SOCKET

As I mentioned, Super Voyagers have power sockets at every window* seat. Therefore, if you're travelling between two locations that get both Pendolinos and Super Voyagers, you're more likely to find a power socket free on a Super Voyager. Virgin have a tendency to mix and match Pendolinos and Voyagers on their London to Scotland routes, while services to Liverpool and Manchester are consistently Pendolinos (I think). The only routes guaranteed to be Super Voyagers are those that aren't electrified: Chester, North Wales (Holyhead, Bangor, Llandudno Junction), Shrewsbury and Blackpool. So if you're given a choice of Virgin services, check the final destination if you want an extra chance of getting a power socket.

HOLD UP, why are you adding an asterisk next to "window"?

Virgin Pendolinos and Super Voyagers are notorious for having terrible seat alignment with windows. In many seats, you just end up looking at a wall (perhaps "wall seat" would be more appropriate?). If you want to enjoy the view (and there's some nice views on the Trent Valley Line) then London Midland's trains are much better.

Food and Drink

There's a rather pricey shop on-board Virgin Trains and nothing on London Midland. If you want anything more than a microwaved burger or a cold sandwich, you'll need to be first class. Nothing comes free with a standard class ticket though, so I'm gonna assume you'll be sensible and buy from the station or a nearby shop instead.

Number of Seats and Getting a Seat

Here's where it gets a bit complicated, so I'll try to break this down.


9 coach Virgin Pendolino carries 294 standard class seats and 145 first class seats. Add an extra 92 standard class seats for 11 coach train.
As standard on a 5 coach Super Voyager, there's 178 standard class seats and 26 first class seats. However, that only accounts for four of the coaches. There is one coach that can be used as *either* standard or first class. There's 52 seats in this coach. Double those numbers for doubled up Voyagers.

The number of seats in a standard 4 coach London Midland train is 210 standard class and 19 first class (according to Wikipedia). That's across 4 coaches (first class on LM is a compartment in the middle of the train. Occasionally, London Midland double up their 350s and split them part-way. For example, I was on a train that was 8 coaches from London to Northampton, then the front four coaches went to Crewe while the rear 4 coaches terminated there and became a train back to London. However, London Midland are now using 8 car trains on select services from Crewe. Due to length of platforms, these don't call at Alsager, Kidsgrove and some others, but gives double the number of seats.

In terms of actually getting a seat, this is also a bit complicated. Advance tickets are cheap tickets that are ONLY valid on pre-set train(s). As such, you are required to get a reservation with it. On Virgin, that means you are assigned a seat, so you can kick up a fuss if someone sits in your seat (and you should by the way. On London Midland, they have a number that they think they can get away with and sell up to that number, but don't assign actual seats, so you may turn up to find a standing-room-only train even if you've pre-booked it. That being said, I've never had this happen, and due to the number of stops, people get off and on regularly so you are unlikely to be standing for very long in my opinion.

Saving Money and Making the Most of Your Money

Hello again. There's a high chance you didn't read past the first section and skipped right here. That's fine. Wanting to save money is natural, but trust me: just plumping for the cheapest tickets is dangerous as you might get angry and then take it out on the wrong people (95% of complaints that the train companies get isn't their fault. That isn't an accurate statistic, but when you understand the industry and you look at what people complain to the train companies about, you feel sorry for them having to deal with the general public who don't know any better). Anyway, read on for money saving tips, which is what you really care about.

Ticket Types

Let's get the main one out the way. First off, understand the different types of tickets available. Here's a brief summary:

Advance (cheapest, not flexible): Valid only on the train(s) you booked for so must be booked in advance and are not refundable. If you miss your train and it's your own fault and you can't persuade a staff member to let it slide, you're gonna need to buy a new ticket at a higher price than advance tickets.
Off-Peak and Super Off-Peak (cheap, flexible with restrictions): Off-Peak and Super Off-Peak are tickets that allow you to use any train to make your journey provided they don't fall within the ticket restrictions, typically time-based. Restrictions vary drastically depending on start and end point and the times you want to travel. Remember though: restrictions are set by the ticket, not the train. There are no such thing as "peak trains" or "off-peak trains", though those terms are often used in areas such as London and, even if your off-peak ticket is valid at, say, 8am, the guard might give you a hard time about it if it's an uncommon one. Some tickets have afternoon peak times, others do not. Tickets may also limit you to certain operators to be cheaper. For example, the cheapest non-advance ticket from Crewe to London is a London Midland only Super Off-Peak ticket. This ticket restrictions say you must not arrive in London Euston before 13:00 Monday to Saturday (no restriction on Sunday).
Anytime (most expensive, very flexible): Any train basically. Again, there is a cheaper anytime ticket for London Midland only.

First class tickets are...well...something else. I'll get to that.

Splitting tickets (ugh)

This has been talked about a bit in the news and whatever. They're more common when passing through different passenger transport authorities on slower routes with more stations. Routes into London are the most scrutinised for loopholes like this anyway, so you're lucky to find them. You may find some by mixing and matching flexible and advance tickets, but this gets quite complicated. The best site I can recommend is TrainSplit.com who can run searches for split tickets, but the system isn't the best and they take a cut of the saving you make rather than charging card fees, etc, which neatly brings me on to.

Buying Tickets


There's a few good pointers here. First off, there are two different types of websites selling UK train tickets: first party (i.e. run by the rail companies like Virgin or London Midland) and third party (stand-alone companies that don't do anything else, e.g. The Trainline and RailEasy). I would never use third party websites to buy tickets for many reasons, but the main one is they CHARGE FEES! All the websites use the same database with the same ticket prices and same advance ticket booking engines, so no matter where you buy a particular ticket, it will be the same price on all the sites. The extra charges are either transaction fees, card fees, booking fees, postage fees, etc.

So, to save on charges, you choose a train operator's website (you can use any train operator as they all have to have all tickets and stations. You could use the Northern Railway site to book a South Eastern Railway ticket if you really wished). Some sites offer Nectar points now (such as Virgin) so that might be something worth considering.

One final thing to do before buying your tickets is to see if there's any offers going on for the train operator you're going to be using. Check Virgin's and London Midland's sites to see if they have any special offers on. In contrast to standard fares, promotions will often only work on the operator's own site. My recommendation would be to sign up for newsletters on the operator(s) sites you plan to use and keep an eye out for offers on their sites. I also feel like I started getting more offers from certain train operators after I bought tickets from them, particularly the "we haven't seen you in a while, here's £5 off when you buy a £50 ticket" and things like that. Apart from that, choose whichever site you feel most comfortable using.

While buying your tickets, you will be asked how you would like to get the tickets. Some operators let you get them sent by email or to a phone, but the human wall upon the approach to barriers at stations makes it nearly impossible to get through and I wouldn't want to be waving a phone around for that, so I always prefer to get proper tickets. Getting them sent by post costs money, however it's free to get them set up in a central booking system for picking up at the station ticket machines. They offer a "collect tickets" option where you insert the same card used to book the tickets, enter the code you're given at the end of the booking process and you get your train tickets printed there and then.

Short version:
1) Sign up to newsletters on the sites for the operators you travel with to get special offers
2) Never use a 3rd party site. Always use a train operator's booking engine to avoid fees.
3) Collect at the station to avoid postage fees and headaches at the barriers.

Additional note: Get a railcard. In some cases, it can make the money back in a single journey (if you need to travel at peak time, you could probably save £30 in a single ticket). There's 7 national railcards (6 available on that link, plus the HM Forces railcard) and they give you 1/3 off fares providing you meet the criteria. However, they do not work on open first class fares. They do, however, work on ADVANCE first class fares, so you can get yourself a bargain first class journey. Virgin no longer let railcard users use off peak tickets at peak time.

Pay a Bit More and Get a Lot More

First class can be super expensive, but not if you book in advance. Advance tickets are available for both standard class and first class tickets. Sometimes, advance tickets for first class are cheaper than standard class (when standard class is running out typically) or are not much more. First class on London Midland gets you a reclining, more comfy chair and a power socket. Right now, for a ticket in two weeks time, advance tickets are going for only £10 more each way. In my opinion, that's worth £10. At weekends, you can upgrade on Virgin Trains for £15 each way and London Midland for £10, or £15 for a return. Honestly, for the legroom and general room on Virgin, that's totally worth it. You do get some snacks and stuff on Virgin too, but it's a much milder affair compared to weekdays.

Let's talk about Chiltern Railways

Not exactly a famous train operator to many round here, but there's a third operator serving Birmingham to London in addition to Virgin and London Midland. Chiltern Railways have their own route through Warwick and Banbury to London Marylebone. Their pricing is about halfway between Virgin and London Midland, and their journey times follow suit. However, that's all well and good if you start your journey at Birmingham. Where does Crewe come in?

Well, the "any permitted" tickets allow you to change at Birmingham, walk the 10 minutes from New Street to Moor Street, and then get on a train there. For the most part, it's going to be a longer journey than directly from Crewe to London with Virgin. Potentially a little quicker than London Midland, but you're paying for the Virgin ticket, so why bother? Well, Chiltern have a few different kinds of trains. A handful of their trains each day are their locomotive hauled "silver trains". The standard class seats on this train are the nicest standard seating on any train in the UK. Also, they have one carriage that is something special: The Business Zone carriage. For £10 (off peak, any day of the week), you can upgrade to this carriage for even better seats (the best seats on National Rail) and tea & coffee. Also, all seats have large tables and loads of legroom. Seriously, this is worth trying at least once.

That's all well and good, but how much would this set me back, both in time and money?

To be honest, this is gonna vary drastically due to the timings of off peak and/or super off peak being wildly different between operators and are also subject to change. Here's a general example.

You want to leave Crewe after 9am on a Friday and want to get to London. Here's your best options for all three operators, avoiding the steep "anytime" fares:
Option 1) Virgin Train leaving Crewe at 09:01 and arriving into London at 11:34. This is a slower Virgin train as it goes through Birmingham, but is the first train you can take that lets you use the off peak ticket from Crewe (must arrive in London after 11:29). Time: 2 hours 33 mins. However, you can get a later, but faster, train at 09:56 getting you into London at 11:39. A few minutes later than the slower one, but you can leave much later. Cost: £75.30. Time: 1 hour 43 mins.

Option 2) London Midland leaving Crewe at 09:02 and arriving into London at 11:50. London Midland's standard off peak ticket lets you arrive in London after 10:00, so you can take this train, or even an earlier one! As mentioned, you can leave Crewe slightly later at 09:19 on a different London Midland train and change at Stafford, meeting the earlier London train at 09:44. Cost: £39.00. Time: 2 hours 48 mins. Reduced to 2 hours 31 minutes by changing at Stafford.

Option 3) Take the 09:19 London Midland train to Birmingham New Street arriving at 10:18, make your way to Birmingham Moor Street (takes about 10 minutes to walk I reckon, but less when you get used to it) and then get the Chiltern Railways train at 10:55, arriving in London at 12:44. This train is one of the silver trains usually and has the super comfy Business Zone you can upgrade to for £10. Chiltern's off peak tickets let you arrive after 10:05, while super off peak tickets allow you to arrive after 11:30am, so you can get an even cheaper super off peak ticket!
Cost Breakdown:
Crewe to Birmingham off peak: £26.30
Birmingham to London (via High Wycombe) SUPER off peak: £29.20
Business Zone upgrade (optional): £10 each way.
Total: £55.50 plus business upgrades
Time: 3 hours 25 minutes.

Yes, changing at Birmingham is a bit longer than either of the other routes. You do get half an hour not-on-a-train in Birmingham though, so you could grab something to eat on the walk between stations.

Something worth mentioning is that all prices mentioned are A) subject to change, and B) walk-up tickets. These are tickets where you can get the ticket on the day and then take any train based on the restrictions of the ticket. It's not a case of "miss the train, you need a new ticket". This is an extra bonus for the Chiltern route, as you buy two separate tickets. You could spend more time in Birmingham or even, as it's a month-long return, spend a few days in Birmingham and then carry on to London, etc. Things like that.

This is the way I see it.
Speed: Virgin Trains.
Cheap: London Midland.
Comfort: Chiltern Railways.

There is a 4th option which involves getting a train to Birmingham, changing onto a CrossCountry train to Reading and then changing onto a GWR train to London Paddington. This costs the same as the standard Virgin Crewe to London ticket, but takes much longer. However, it's cheaper to buy a Crewe to London ticket than a Crewe to Reading ticket, so this route is useful for going to Reading, and that's about it.

I think that covers everything about Crewe to London. I go to London semi-regularly, so this is all info I have in my head, save for specific times and prices, both of which are subject to change. To be honest, this is only really useful if you don't like advance tickets and getting tied to a specific train. Shows you there's other options out there, and also ways for a more interesting journey, even if it takes longer.

Any errors (except timings and prices, cos those will change all the time) let me know.

Monday, December 05, 2016

What is the difference between IMAX and iSense?

This isn't something made clear by Odeon on their website, so I'm going to explain it both simply and extensively.

Simple explanation: IMAX is a branded and marketed product with absolutely massive screens, iSense is Odeon's own brand and creation to create something similar with industry standard equipment that doesn't have "IMAX" written on it. For most people, there won't be much in it, though the selection of films available for each will vary (i.e. some films made for IMAX may not be in iSense, and the other way around. iSense screens are large, but not IMAX large.

Long explantion: When you see a film trailer, you will never hear "see it in iSense", but you may hear "see it in IMAX". That's because IMAX is an international brand that has a finger in every filmy pie from cameras to cinemas. I won't go into the film production side, but that's quite interesting. Instead, I'll focus on the cinema side.

IMAX, as a brand, has strict rules on how screens marketed as "IMAX" screens operate and behave in order to maintain consistency between cinemas (including different cinema chains, as it's not just Odeon with IMAX screens, e.g. the Cineworld in Ashton-under-Lyme and the Vue in Cheshire Oaks).

IMAX Digital screens have two IMAX-branded 2K projectors projecting onto the screen at once, IMAX Sonics sound systems, IMAX screen...you get the idea. Everything is branded and comes from one place. "proper" original IMAX is film-based and is usually one film projector rather than two digital projectors. There's not many of these in the country any more, and most films don't make film prints any more, so digital projectors are also used in these cinemas, and a rail system is used to swap the projectors around.

iSense, however, is Odeon's way of having a similar experience to IMAX, but without the costs of getting all the branded equipment and maintaining it to the level IMAX wants, which makes it more cost-efficient for smaller cinemas. iSense uses industry standard equipment, such as a single 4K projector and Dolby audio. It's still a "large screen experience" (i.e. a floor to ceiling screen thing), just with different equipment. However, this isn't the end of the story.

IMAX screens can only show films that are "made for IMAX". In other words, you can't show any random film made in super high resolution. iSense, on the other hand, doesn't have those restrictions. If a film is made in 4K, it can show it, as the only people they have to answer to is Odeon themselves. This means that the films shown in iSense can be much more varied than those in IMAX. Pretty sure somewhere was showing Bridget Jones's Baby in iSense, while IMAX wouldn't touch that with a 10 foot barge pole (not enough action and explosions I reckon). A quick check on Odeon's website, and they're currently listing the following films as showing in iSense and not IMAX: Moana, Passengers, Sing and Arrival. Moana I would definitely like to see at 4K, as that film already looked great on a standard film screen.

Here's something interesting. IMAX Digital, with two 2K projectors, creates an image at a percieved 2.9K, not 4K. This means that, in theory, iSense will have a better picture quality at a constant 4K. Of course, original IMAX with 70mm screen is a theoretical 12K (I say theoretical as it's film, not digital, so not measured in pixels). It does depend how the film was produced though, as the quality of the cameras or output will determine image quality, so your milage may vary.

I hope that clears things up. You'd be surprised how difficult it is to find a straightforward explanation on what iSense is, as I guess Odeon don't want to talk down their IMAX offerings. That being said, until recently there was only two iSense screens in the UK. Now, Odeon are building new iSense screens including one in Northwich, which opens next week. I suspect they will start making more noise about iSense in the coming few years as the ratio of cinemas with IMAX vs iSense starts to even out.

Monday, October 31, 2016

What's writing a video for on-demand like compared to broadcast TV?

When in university, I wrote a paper about the dropping relevance of mass broadcast media (i.e. TV and radio) compared to on-demand media sources (i.e. iPlayer, MixCloud, etc) and offered potential methods to encourage watching live programming instead of watching on-demand (i.e. audience participation, gamification, etc).

But what about from a production point of view? How does developing a "TV [sic] series" intended for an on-demand service from the start vary to one intended for broadcast? Series such as "House of Cards" and the new season of "Black Mirror" are two such series. Billed as "Netflix Originals", they are created for and on-behalf of the on-demand service provider as original content designed to add additional reasoning to use their service compared to other such websites or even traditional disc-based media.

One such limitation of broadcast media is the scheduling around other programming, plus any advertising of course. Here's an example schedule for a generic "1 hour" TV programme broadcasting in the UK on a commercial channel:
11:02 Programme starts
11:14 Cut to advertisement break
11:17 Return to programme
11:29 Cut to advertisement break
11:32 Return to programme
11:44 Cut to advertisement break
11:47 Return to programme
11:58 Programme ends
12:02 Next programme

So the programme itself is actually 46 minutes long, but the adverts pad it out to a 60 minute "block". Because this amount of adverts and the timing of which is fairly standard in the UK, you can't make a 55 minute episode and expect it to be broadcast without special arrangement from the channel. Similarly, if your series is weekly, you can't make the lengths of episodes vary and expect the channel to mess with the schedule each time. You have to be consistent and roughly a standard episode length. For minor adjustments, the channel can put in some idents or trailers on top of the usual adverts to pad for time, but there's only so much they can do.

Staying on the theme of TV scheduling, you have to take into account the timings of advertisement breaks and add them into your programme yourself. You don't want the channel to cut to a break mid-sentence, do you? Scenes are often timed around the advertisement breaks if it's made for TV. They'll also be designed to keep people tuned in, as the ad breaks are when people are most likely to tune out. In other words, you want to end each part of an episode as a cliffhanger so people stay tuned in.

Also regarding time is the suitability of language and visuals for the time your programme will be broadcast. TV in the UK is well known for having a set time where content can begin to be unsuitable for children, and that's at 9pm, known as the "watershed". After this time, strong language, violence, etc is permitted, though this isn't a binary rule as the further away from the watershed it is (the later at night it is), the more appropriate said content is. You will have to make your programme taking into account the time of day it will be shown and, thus, the audience watching it. Radio doesn't have a set watershed, and instead relies on being particularly aware of the audience and whether those who would be offended are expected to be listening at the time broadcast. Side note: This makes broadcasting anything particularly strong on radio very dangerous and is why I am very keen on not having any swearing on my show, even though I could probably argue that kids won't be listening to it.


So where does this leave on-demand? Well, for the most part, premium on-demand services have no advertisements within the programmes, so there's no concern about timing scenes to finish at the right moments and taking into account the breaks, etc. This isn't true for all services, though. Were Channel 4, for example, to create programming exclusive to on-demand with no intent to broadcast them ever, the programmes will still have advertisement breaks within the episodes as that's how Channel 4 is funded. As such, there wouldn't be much change in production timing compared to broadcasting it. However, for all platforms, there's now no issue in the length of the episodes, as there's no further programming to fit in around. Episodes could vary from 50 minutes to 150 minutes for specials without needing to clear it with the channel scheduling first. This allows for a lot more creative freedom in creating programmes as there may be moments that would've been cut out to shrink the episode down to a single block, or scenes could've been dragged out to fill the full block.

What does make a difference however, regardless of on-demand platform, is the age gating of content compared to watersheds and audience estimation. On-demand services have parental controls and other settings to restrict or limit access to stronger material for those more sensitive to it. As such, knowing when your programme will be viewed isn't an issue any more, as the platform will do the protection work for you.


One last note is that, while programming may be made for on-demand in the first instance, it may still be considered for broadcasting in future as an additional revenue stream. In which case, it could regardless be formatted around hypothetical advert breaks in the event that this happened in the future. Same goes for the length of the episode. Until broadcast TV dies a death completely, I suspect this will be the way to go unless the on-demand company takes control of all rights of the series in question (Netflix Originals, for example, will almost certainly never be on another streaming service or on TV).

For a quick example of a series taking this extra freedom in its stride, take a look at Black Mirror. Originally made for Channel 4, the episodes were 44 minutes long save for the two longer specials ("Fifteen Million Merits" and "White Christmas"). At 44 minutes, that's similar to the example I made up above and covers for the advert breaks and idents/trailers. Season 3 is Netflix exclusive and so far the runtimes have been 63, 57, 52, 61, 60 and 89 minutes. A range of 11 minutes across the first five, then a movie length finale to the series. Considering each episode is self-contained, this series in paticular makes good use of the freedom to vary the length of each episode and not feel confined to television scheduling. Of course, you need a guideline length of time to aim for, which is why it's still around an hour, but it means you can adjust it to be perfect, rather than settling for what fits a TV slot.