VOLO:TV – Will it catch on?

For those of you who have no idea what the title of this post refers to, VOLO:TV is the in-train entertainment on some of First Great Western's services.  I first came across it last August when I first moved to Cheltenham.  The entertainment system often appears on the London-Cheltenham trains, so I've had quite a bit of time with it on the various journeys I've made in the last 7 months.

I'm interested in its usage, as phones, laptops, tablet devices or even just a portable DVD player can be used to view movies and television programmes on the move, not to mention the fact that almost everybody who sets foot on a train must own an iPod or another audio player.  For it to succeed, it must a) be priced so as to undercut the cost of renting a movie via iTunes, and b) have enough content to encourage people to use it on a regular basis.

Sadly, it appears to have failed in both.  The User Interface is annoyingly clunky, with an inaccurate touch screen.  The content is incredibly limited: split into five categories, with fewer than 10 episodes in each.  It could do with a library the size of BT Vision, which (despite it's various other failings) does at least contain complete series of programmes.  Why is only Episode 5 of Outnumbered Series 2 available and no other episodes?  Why the first part of a documentary about the Ashes, but not the second?  It's all highly unsatisfying, and, on top of that, the content is refreshed vary rarely.  A regular traveller would exhaust the content incredibly quickly.  Not to mention that it is very common stuff that many people will have seen before anyway.  The other features, namely "live news updates" and "interactive maps" are also highly disappointing.  The news updates are literally just the BBC News RSS feed, with no option even to go beyond the headline and initial summary.  Similarly the map is just a dot on line between London and Cheltenham, gradually moving from left to right.

As for the pricing structure, it initially launched as £3.50 for a day's access.  This was very steeply priced, especially if you are commuting from Swindon to London, which takes about an hour either way, so you only had time to watch two programmes at most anyway (and there's no guarantee that you would bag a seat with the technology on the way back).  Soon afterwards, a £1.50 for an hour pass was launched, but clearly there were still problems, as the day pass price fell to £1.50 just before Christmas.  The purchasing method involved texting a number and getting sent a code in return.  The price was then charged to the phone bill.  This was a rather clunky method of payment and it clearly didn't work.

Today I noticed that from March 28th the system of payment is changing to an add-on to the train ticket itself.  I'm intrigued to see how this works, as there's no guarantee that you will end up at a seat with a screen at the moment, so something will have to change. It does, however, show that the technology isn't working well enough and making enough money for First Great Western.  The content and pricing structure must improve dramatically and soon, otherwise FGW will have a white elephant on its hands.  In my opinion, this technology has come along too late – ten years ago it may well have proved popular, but the sheer availability of portable media today has put this rather lame attempt at an entertainment system firmly in the shadows.

England at the Cricket World Cup

I promise that every post won't be about cricket, but once more I feel compelled to write about the World Cup, this time from England's perspective.

England are once more cocking up a World Cup.  Ever since 1992, England's campaigns have been a bit of an embarrassment.  The 1996 tournament saw a hideously under-prepared England team who were used to playing 60 over matches with red balls and no fielding restrictions in England were shocked by 50 matches, played under floodlights with white balls and fielding restrictions in Asia.  Laughable tactics, such as Phil DeFreitas bowling offspin and Neil Smith acting as a pinch hitter, were completely overshadowed by the other nations.  The whole campaign was summed up by the aforementioned Smith vomiting on the pitch during a match against the United Arab Emirates.  England progressed to the quarter finals by virtue of beating the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates, but were duly knocked out at that stage having lost to every Test playing nation they had faced.

The ECB accepted that something needed to be done after that sorry performance, and the Sunday League became more contemporary with white balls, fielding restrictions and 50 overs.  England began to play more One Day Internationals abroad, and an inaugural triangular tournament featuring England, South Africa and Sri Lanka was played in England in 1998.  And, as tournament hosts, it was hoped that England could put in a better performance in 1999.  Coach David Lloyd claimed that his team were "dark horses" in a pre-tournament article, and England began the tournament in super fashion, beating World Champions Sri Lanka.  However, England were knocked out in the group stages (the day before the release of the World Cup song), after losing to South Africa and India.

From 2000 onwards, the triangular tournament became a mainstay of England's home international calendar, and the England team were now playing as much ODI cricket as the other nations, so it was thought that the 2003 tournament would bring better prospects for the England team.  However, England decided not to travel to Zimbabwe to play a vital group game, thus forfeiting a victory, and after losing to India and Australia, they were once more on the plane home after the first round.  The tournament was something of a watershed for the England team, with captain Hussain retiring after the tournament alongside long-standing players Alec Stewart, Andrew Caddick and Nick Knight.  Michael Vaughan was appointed captain in order to build a new side for 2007.

Vaughan was indeed captain in the 2007 World Cup, but had missed the previous year of cricket through injury, and was never particularly fluent throughout the tournament.  England were eliminated in the Super Eights, losing to many test playing nations, in a tournament that was also notable for the "Fredalo" incident.

So, to 2011.  England entered the tournaments with a strong one day side.  After all, they were Twenty20 World Champions in 2010 and had just won the Ashes in Australia.  Yet, as ever, England are at their inconsistent worst.  This time, things appear to be happening in reverse to 1996: they are playing well against the big teams, beating South Africa and tieing with India, but have struggled against the Associate nations.  Why is this the case?  Why has this England team, who looked promising, failed just like those who have come before them?  The first reason, I would suggest, is the schedule.  These players have spent four days at home since October.  They have been playing competitive cricket for the past 6 months and have come to the end of the road.  They need a break. The administrators have agreed to move the 2014-15 Ashes series to 2013-14 in order to avoid this happening again, which is a positive move.  Secondly, they haven't had adequate subcontinental practice.  This harks back to the 1996 campaign, where the players flew in from South Africa into Asia to start the tournament, and 1999 where, quite ridiculously, the England team didn't even practise at home, instead training in Dubai!  On this occasion, it is because of the bloated one day series in Australia.  The England team really should have put out a B team for that series, flying the Ashes winning heroes home, allowing them to rest up ahead of this tournament.  But England, even under Andy Flower, wouldn't make a decision so bold.  Thirdly, the big selection calls haven't come off.  Prior is an excellent gloveman, but doesn't work as an opener, or even (dare I say it) as a one day batsman.  Pietersen was beginning to shine at the top of the order, and it was such a shame that he had to fly home injured.  That leads onto my fourth point.  The injuries have shorn England of arguable their best batsman and bowler.  As their best fielder (Collingwood) is no longer the force he once was with bat or ball, so isn't an automatic pick any more, then that is a serious blow.  This ties in with my point about scheduling and poor management.

The final point is that, perhaps, the World Cup just isn't England's natural habitat.  It's the same with the football team.  No matter how well the team have been playing before the tournament or how well they play afterwards, something just doesn't click for the World Cup itself.  What that is, I don't know.  But, if the class of 2011 can't win the cup that counts, I'm not sure a future England team ever will.

Cricket World Cup

I've been a keen cricket fan since I can remember.  In fact, I'd go as far to say that cricket (rather than music) was my first passion.  My ultimate ambition was (and probably still is) to play for England.  Sadly, I am utterly useless at batting, bowling and fielding, so that will have to remain as a dream.

Although still holding great interest in the game (and especially the performances of the England team), I am greatly disillusioned with the manner in which the England and Wales Cricket Board are running the game in this country.  More of that in another post, however, as today I'm going to look at the organisation of the World Cup.

No doubt, the World Cup is a great tournament: the pinnacle of the sport, the "Cup that Counts".  However, it could be so much better if the ICC changed their organisation.  The 2007 World Cup was a disaster.  From the terrible television coverage, to low turn-out from the crowds to the farcical ending in which the final was completed in darkness and neither team could see the ball.  It also went on for far too long, with a bizarre format that was completely at odds with any other sporting World Cup.  The current World Cup has come to life over the last week, inspired by that fantastic game between England and India.  We have since seen another upset with Ireland beating a hapless England, and some of the heavyweight nations slugging it out.  In fact, as I write this, the 2007 finalists are playing each other.

But the core problem remains the same.  This tournament is going on too long.  And the group stages just do not matter.  Ireland should be heading into the next round with England getting on the plane home.  But that is highly unlikely to happen.  For the 2015 World Cup, the ICC's solution is to put just 10 teams into the tournament.  Many feel that this is a bad decision and the associate nations should be allowed their days in the sun.

So here is my plan for the next World Cup:

  • 4 groups of 4 teams
  • Top 2 teams progress to quarter finals
  • Straight knockout stages from quarter finals onwards

If you play two games a day during the group stages, then the competition can be over within a month.

It's how FIFA run their World Cup.  "Ah, but that means that the big games won't necessarily take place" cry the ICC.  Why does that matter?  We don't see Brazil v Argentina or England v Germany at every football World Cup.  It makes it more special when these games do take place in a major tournament.  And it's not as if these big clashes won't take in the next four years anyway, is it?  Ultimately, the ICC are too obsessed with money and milking the tournament for what it is worth.  A streamlined tournament would give cricket a far better reputation.  Is there any other sport that has a debate over the structure of its World Cup every time it takes place?

The other issue with the World Cup is that there are too many ICC global events.  The Champions Trophy should be axed.  The 50 over World Cup should be run every four years, as it is now.  A Twenty20 World Cup should be run every four years, in the middle year, thus mirroring the structure that football uses of having a big tournament every two years (Euros and World Cup).  When a team wins the trophy, they would be world champions in that form of the game for four years.  This has far more longevity than the "run a tournament every year" mentality that the ICC currently appear to hold.  I accept that the short-term income might fall, but surely it is better for the game in the long term that we have a sensible structure of tournaments.

One ICC decision that I do agree with is to hold a World Test Championship.  The idea of the top four sides playing each other in semi-finals and then a final will determine the winner.  I feel that this is a very good move.  It gives a context to the test cricket that is played all over the world and gives us an overall number one side.

World champions for 20 over, 50 over and Test match cricket.  Now that is a good idea.  If only the tournaments themselves made a little more sense…