Weaver's Week 2013-07-14

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The television programme The Million Pound Drop Live first aired in May 2010. Since that first episode, it's been evolving and changing. Last year, it published an interactive playalong game. We're playing along with

The Million Pound Drop Live


The Million Pound Drapp

App: Channel 4 Games

Television: Endemol for Channel 4

The application for the programme (we're calling it the Drapp, deal with that) is a hefty download, 53MB. Does it contain real voice samples of Davina? Squillions of questions for the rest of the week? Wait and see. For those who care, we're reviewing version 1.6 of the Drapp, the summer 2013 edition, on a Pear Phone 4.5. Other screen sizes and comestibles are available. More on that story later.

From a brief glance at the title screen, it quickly becomes clear that the Drapp has two modes of play. The single-player game requires one to pay good money, and seeing as how our budget for this column is identical to the most common win on The Million Pound Drop (zero pounds), we're not going to bother. Reviewers on the Applications Emporium have cast scorn on the most recent revisions, as they hold previously-bought questions to ransom. We cannot independently verify these claims.

The Million Pound Drop Live We'll be playing along with Bruce and Chris.

We're more interested in the live play mode, which we tested last Saturday, 6 July. So, Davina and tonight's contestants on one screen, the Drapp on the other. This, of course, is what Channel 4 and Endemol wants us to do, the Drapp is intended as a second-screen application, one to complement the television programme. It's perfectly possible to watch the show without playing along – indeed, statistics show that only about 4% of the audience play along on any given evening. On the other screen, that still leaves many tens of thousands of people who do whip out their phones and tablets and put their money where their mouth is. All one million pounds of it.

So Davina introduces the contestants, consoles them on losing all but £300,000 last night, they choose a category, and tee up the options. As soon as Davina's read out the question, there's a beep from the phone. It's a loud beep, telling us that the clock is ticking. A virtual million quid (neatly stacked in £200,000 bundles) is ahead of the four traps, each with an answer displayed by them. That's more than the folk on screen have.

The Million Pound Drop Live Is it Alan Partridge in a PearPad tree? More on that story later.

To place the million, one needs to move a finger from the central stash to the preferred answer. Holding down the finger keeps the money moving, or one can tap the drop once to place a single bundle of £25,000. The Drapp enforces the rule that one trapdoor must always be kept clear; the last door turns grey, rather than red.

To move money back within the minute, one needs to move a finger from the trapdoor back to the central area, the money will follow. We found this movement to be somewhat less fluid than placing the dosh. It's not possible to transfer money directly from one door to another. There are more loud beeps to mark the final ten seconds, and a longer tone as time expires. These noises are loud, distracting from the television action.

The Million Pound Drop Live What, it's actually the one we've left empty? There's plenty of time!

When the answer's revealed on screen, it follows on the Drapp within moments. The incorrect trapdoors are displayed, and there's a statistics screen showing where players put their money. There's no sample of Davina asking us to "move your money back", nor the scruffy assemblings of a million that we see on the telly.

As we noted, The Million Pound Drop television show has evolved throughout its run. The pace picked up, the drops have become bigger, contestants other than twentysomethings from the Home Counties occasionally appear; one of the people on this reviewed show might have been almost thirty, and two were from Ulster. The clock can be stopped, and the Drapp handles this by starting the ten-second countdown early. This year, teams have been introduced: rather than have two people play all the questions, four people are allowed to apply, though only two can play any individual question, and there's a messy substitution rule that is more complex than it needs to be.

The Million Pound Drop Live Move your money... actually, don't bother.

The biggest change is that question 1 has, itself, been dropped. The new fast-track to a million (as someone else once said) requires the contestants to play seven questions, not eight. Three questions with four answers, three with three options, and the one all-or-nothing final question. The practical upshot is that a lot more players are reaching the all-or-nothing point, which does make for better television. We think the only recent format to evolve at a noticeable speed is Pointless, now almost unrecognisable from the programme that first appeared a few autumns back.

Most of the changes on Million Pound Drop have been for the better, or at least reasonable variations on a theme. One that we have noticed, and aren't so impressed by, is the quality of the questions. They're not as interesting or as varied as they might be or once were. The gimmick of asking "what temperature is it outside" has worn off, replaced by a more mundane set of posers. In the sample stack (which we joined at question two), subjects were:

  • The weight of Apple Corporation electronic devices, testing the knowledge of consumer durables.
  • The history of Andy Murray, who was playing a tennis match the next day. (Does anyone have the result?)
  • A piece of gossip concerning former tax exile Rod Stewart, who will be familiar from Top of the Pops '77 on BBC4.
  • The ingredients of Worcestershire Sauce, an old chestnut for any pub quiz irregular.
  • A creature that got its name from a Hollywood actor.
  • The comparative ages of sweets.
  • The comparative ages of Channel 4 sitcoms.

We may have caught a good episode: contributors on The Fifty 50 Show have criticised the show for using far too many questions from publicity surveys, the sort commissioned by companies desperate for paper coverage, hoping to get a glancing brand mention on breakfast radio and – just maybe – a spot on fringe television like Unfirm Ladies or this show. We did get a question concerning salacious gossip, and previous editions have asked about the Malay word for female genitalia, and shown a video with women who have lost their shirts. Such flimsy fashions they make these days.

The Million Pound Drop Live Note how some lights are red, some are blue. We didn't.

Anyway. Back on the show, there's been a kick to the music (it sounds like they've found a wobbleboard), and apparently the lights around the rim of the podium change from blue to red like a clock. We didn't notice. We did notice how the all-or-nothing Question Seven of a Possible Seven now sees the set change to a red-orange colour, which is somewhat disconcerting, and then reverts to red for Question Eight of a Possible Seven.

The Million Pound Drop Live The healthy glow of orange.

Er, yes. Having won some money – at least £25,000 – Davina invites the players to consider a gamble. Stake their winnings on another all-or-nothing question. Get it right, the cash is doubled; get it wrong, and the winnings turn into lossings at the drop of a drop. So far, no team has been tempted by this generous offer, and we very much doubt that any will. Maybe if they could split their winnings, risk £25,000 of £75,000, someone might be tempted. But no, this is all-or-nothing.

In television terms, it's nothing. Davina doing her best to encourage the team to play without giving any hint as to whether they're right or wrong, the winners wanting nothing more than to go away and start spending their money. It's an anti-climax, and a good way to drain the excitement out of the situation. The winners don't need to play it, and they don't play it.

The Million Pound Drop Live Taking the money may or may not be an option. We're confused.

Over at the Drapp, this is not an optional question. Even though the folk on-screen can walk away with their money, players online must move their money. We'd already noted how the Drapp gave us far more dosh than the folks on the telly. Now it forces us to play questions they don't. If we were to lose a million, the Drapp would just give us another million. It's a game based on the television show, not an actual representation of the television game.

Inevitably, the Drapp wants to publish itself all over the interwebs. "Tell your friends on The Facebook and Tw*tter", it screams after every question. "Connect to The Facebook", it hollers on the bottom of the screen after every single question. Why? If we wanted to tell the world in general and the NSA in particular that we had £800,000 after seven questions, we'd use a targeted communications link.

The Million Pound Drop Live Now go away.

After seven questions, we were tiring of the Drapp. It distracted from the growing drama on-screen: we couldn't tell you much about Bruce and Chris, whose questions we played. After turning off the Drapp, we did join in the outpouring of respect for the following players, who won £75,000 for their baby fund. And good luck to Bill and Kate, there.

It's clear that creative people (and advertisers) are still coming to terms with this whole second-screen phenomenon. Research evidence suggests that live second-screen applications are most used in a few distinct areas. One is entertainment that can be replicated at home, such as Million Pound Drop, such as Only Connect. Another is in discussions, to help viewers check the facts, or have a side-discussion about what's being said. Question Time With Nigel Farage is the recognised leader, BBC3 and ITV both try to replicate that experience, but without the audience. The final area is live sport, where people can cheer for the good guys, boo for the bad guys, and debate whether the bowler's foot really was in line with the hurley when the ball went into touch for 15-birdie.

The Million Pound Drop Live The Drapp doesn't make any noise for a right - or wrong - answer.

Scripted shows benefit from applications that don't demand attention during the show, providing back-story and recent updates. Comedies can be improved by judicious use of social networks, though not even Tw*tter can improve Ben Elton's stunningly unfunny The Wright Stuff. For an example of a semi-scripted show, we return to ABC (Disney)'s Whodunnit? which we reviewed last week. They have The Faceboox, they have Tw*tter, they have a website. But we can't find a Whodunnit application in the Emporium, and that feels like a missed opportunity. We didn't rate the programme, but people who get into that show are *really* getting into it, and an application could have drip-fed them clues and enhanced the live experience.

For us, the exercise has cleared up one nagging question. Why is there a delay between Davina asking the question and the on-screen clock starting? It's to give the Drapp players time to synchronise up, so they must finish a moment before the contestants.

Only Connect

Series 7, match δ-i: Festival Fans v Cat Lovers

For reasons that are absolutely obvious to all 850,000 viewers, Victoria begins the show by invoking the power of the Gladiators. The Festival Fans say that they've learned that they win some and lose some; the Cat Lovers say there's a fruity Chardonnay in the hotel bar.

While there's an edit point for Victoria to test that claim, we'll advise it's walls 318 and 319 on the website, and this week's show contains spectacular spoilers for "Catching Fire", the next Hunger Games film.

The odds were in the Cat Lovers' favour when they won the toss and put the Festival Fans into bat. Connections begins with the pictures: they've a man showing his muscles, California, a spiral, and a golfer bloke. "Sunshine" is the musing from the captain, who eventually goes for "Sunshine". Close, but no. "Spiral", no; it's all Golden things: the golden boxer De La Hoya, Jack Niklaus, and a Golden Spiral. Onwards! Sin (x) and cos (x); two male Norwegian forenames; two roulette "outside bets", x and x+1 (x=integer). Sven and Waldorf? "The letter B". No. "Odd and Even" the answer: sin and cosine are odd and even functions, and so on. 0-0.

Bang! We claim five points on the music round. Shed Seven's "Going for Gold", Sleeper's "Sale of the Century", the Surfari's "Wipeout", and the world need not hear "Who Wants to be a Millionaire". The Cat Lovers ponder going for three on "air stewardess" and "Hughes H-4 Hercules"; they take another clue, and level at 2-2. Rhyming nicknames.

Chagos archipelago, Antarctica 20-80 degrees W, Gibraltar, and they're gambling for the final clue. Falklands. "British Overseas Territories", especially those with disputed ownership. For details, please consult Disputed British Overseas Territories Weekly. Languages and letters for the cat lovers: Welsh = RH, NG; French = KWXYZ; German = QY, English = QZ. Ten points in Scrabble, one point in Only Connect. Seems a fair exchange rate. At the end of the round, it's 3-3.

Only Connect (2) Wanting it to be perfect: Roger Johnson, Jim Crozier, Jean Upton.

To Sequences, and the Festival Fans have Gazza's clubs: Lazio, Middlesbrough, Real Madrid. This isn't Gazza, is it? They don't know where they're going, say, "Ronaldinho", which isn't the answer at all. Over to the other side, who say "Barcelona". No, it's "West Bromwich Albion Nil". The previous jobs of managers of the England men's football team. "Not sports fans; let's hope that doesn't come up again," says the host in a foreshadowing mood. For the Cats, it's Gingerbread and Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich, and before we rush for the fridge they say "Gingernut". No. "Battenburg cake". No. Jelly bean, being versions of the Android operating system. Us neither. 3-3.

Dollar bills, y'all. 10: US treasury building; 5: Lincoln memorial; 2: Signing the declaration of Independence. But no! 1 is not the White House, nor Independence Hall; it's the Great Seal. And one of the Cat Lovers is a United Station, and all. Pictures on their question: 10 horses, 11 some sort of plant, 12 coal miners. Is 13 a construction site? Victoria can't give it. Nor retail. 13 is nuclear power, it's districts in The Hunger Games, and that's still 3-3.

Co-ordinates for the Fans: (3, 5), (5, 7), (11, 13), and their next pair of twin primes is indeed (17, 19). Two points! Cat lovers have Nasser and Sadat and Mubarak, so the answer is going to be Morsi. Two points there, and if you want to know what's going on in Egypt and the next folk in that sequence, have a look at BBC News 24. The scores are tied, 5-5.

The lion wall for the Cat Lovers, with arrangements of flowers, and capitals that have changed their names. Then there's a group of gatherings, and the team have time to answer the question "what's corsage if it's not a flower arrangement?" Anagrams of herbs, they reckon. Yeah, words that end in herbs. Ten points!

For the Festival Fans, a home question: songs performed by The Cure. They've got bits of doors (as in things to open and close, not band with Jim Morrison), and then out come Fire ___ things. The last group is little phrases, and might they be opera titles? Would there be two music questions in one grid? No; it's unfinished novels. That's your difference, folks. Seven points!

All of which leaves the Cat Lovers ahead by 15-12. Now, apparently, only the winners will progress to the semi-finals, the losers are out. Food additives is the first missing vowels subject, and that goes to the Festival Fans by 4-0. They lived to be 100 briefly sees the Cat Lovers take the lead, but ends in a 2-2 draw. Alternative medicine treatments is to the Cat Lovers by 3-0, Films with courtroom scenes goes to the Fans by 2-0, the Cat Lovers buzz on the next question, and time expires to end the round. It's 20/20 vision: both sides have 20 points.

Captains only on the tie-break, one last Missing Vowels phrase.

"Parting is such sweet sorrow", declares Marianne for the Festival Fans. They're through, the Cat Lovers lose by a whisker, and Victoria promises that it heats up next week. Please let that be a reference to the contest, and not the weather.

This Week And Next

File:Square Jeremy Paxman.jpg

Jeremy Paxman has been publicising the new series of University Challenge, which begins on BBC2 next Monday. Mr. Paxman claimed that UC was the only popular quiz show that didn't compromise on the toughness of its questions. Yeah. When did UC last mix up unfinished novels, pieces of wood, and that bloke who looks like Edward Scissorhands in one question? The cantankerous old broadcaster went on to say, "University Challenge pays the audience the courtesy of assuming that we're quite clever enough to take part." So we expect no snide remarks in the new year at the incredibly simple (and utterly misplaced) group phase involving the final eight teams.

File:Colin murray headshot small.jpg

Good news for fans of singing in Salford: Colin Murray has retired from the BBC, and will leave the world of quality broadcasting altogether. He takes up a prime slot on Talk Radio UK (275 metres on your AM dial. If you have an AM dial. Or, indeed, a radio.)

This leaves a vacancy at the head of Fighting Talk. Who might fill it? Here are the odds from UK Gameshows' favourite bookmaker Honest Ron (the others are a con).

  • 2/1 Iain Lee, known for his flights of fantasy.
  • 7/2 Martin Kelner, will never lose his champions' crown.
  • 4/1 Greg Brady, over ISDN.
  • 5/1 Bob Mills, win, lose, or draw.
  • 6/1 Martin O'Neill, he seems to be linked with every other sporting job going.
  • 8/1 Will Buckley, off of Quiz Bowl.
  • 9/1 Gary Ogden, close personal friend to the stars.
  • 10/1 Jamie Theakston, known to be a bit good at live broadcasting on Saturday mornings.
  • 12/1 Stephen Nolan, seems to turn up everywhere on Radio 5.
  • 14/1 Davina McCall, known to be a bit good at this live broadcasting lark.
  • 16/1 Lucy Kellaway, often associated with FT.
  • 18/1 Scott Mills, not to be confused with his dad.
  • 20/1 Clare Balding, has a few things to straighten out.
  • 22/1 Sjabo from the posh supermarket just down the road.
  • 28/1 Nigel and Earl, with twenty years of sorting-out to do.
  • 33/1 Bar.
  • Evens That everyone ends up in the bar afterwards.

BARB ratings for the week to 30 June, when The Apprentice had 7.3m viewers, the closing moments of Andy Murray's third-round match 5.9m, Spain against Italy in the football 4.3m, and In It to Win It 4.1m. Your Face Sounds Familiar was the third-biggest game show with 3.9m viewers; Mr and Mrs had 3.65m, Would I Lie to You 3.6m, and a celebrity edition of The Cube 2.9m, behind Tipping Point. BBC2 was led by The Apprentice You're Fired (2.8m), and Channel 5 by Big Brother (1.7m).

BBC1's Saturday evening schedule decamped to BBC2, giving 2.15m for Pointless Celebrities and 1.2m for an A Question of Sport repeat. That's level with The Million Pound Drop on Channel 4, where Brendan's Magical Mystery Tour and Come Dine With Me both scored 800,000. Over on BBC4, Only Connect was seen by 850,000, from which we can safely conclude that the era of competitive dining is over, replaced by the era of working out whether "Friday I'm in Love" is a Cure song or an unfinished novel.

The return of University Challenge (BBC2, 8pm Monday) is the highlight of a quiet week. So quiet that we'll be publishing earlier than normal, the next Week is set to go out on Friday.

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