Up the junction 

1 September 2001 tbs.pm/1697

Somewhat of a buzzword these days, “Junction Management” is really little more than a pseudonym for a major purpose of Presentation. Perhaps the original word has for some reason acquired dull, non-commercial and loss-making overtones and something else was needed to bring it back to the fore.

Whatever the name, the rise in importance has come not a moment too soon. Manipulation of the audience into staying with you rather than straying off elsewhere ought to be the stock in trade of any television station, particularly commercially funded ones. However, British television in recent years has been conspicuously poor at this, somehow thinking that gaining and keeping an audience was the preserve of quality of the programme offerings alone.

Not so long ago you could reliably time the boiling of an egg on the all too regular length of a junction on ITV. A monotonous sequence of two promos, a standard length of adverts, two more promos and the next programme was the unfailing mantra, with the occasional variation of a ‘now’ or ‘next’ announcement. Dull, dull, dull. Plenty of time for the audience to escape to greener fields on the other sides.

Audience research reveals that the only real things that they want to see are the programmes. What a surprise. Rather a problem for the company who earns its crust through advertising and needs to promote its own wares too. The obvious way round this is to slam the programmes together end to end and move all the clutter into the natural breaks throughout them. It has taken a surprising length of time for British television to come back to this as this technique was used albeit sparingly in the 1960s. Once the audience is hooked they will stay through the breaks and even watch them if you are lucky. After all they can’t risk their egg being still runny when the programme restarts. And it means those people sneakily recording your programmes can’t change their tapes in time.

To be fair to the terrestrial commercial companies, their regulation has hardly encouraged this in the past, when interstitial promos counted against precious advertising time. For the BBC this tactic poses a special problem, as they have no internal breaks at all, unless they schedule the news inside a film or sport. Not something that can be done too regularly.

Of course the credits pose an inconvenient problem as they are unproductive and equally a turn-off. Talking over them, placing promos in them or shunting them to the front can only be a partial answer. Putting them half way through, or chopping them up into single frames and showing them throughout, like Morse on marijuana, must be the final solution to that one.

Then there is the question of timing. Out goes the idea that if your programme is advertised to start at, say, 22:00 that it shall start at 22:00. You have the choice of starting early with a short junction and hoping to dull the senses in the zapping finger, or more likely late so the chance to escape has past. Presuming your programme is at least half-decent this should work. Obviously this also fouls up those setting video recorders for later viewing. But you don’t care about them because they don’t watch the advertising anyway, so there is no need to worry and certainly no incentive to waste money implementing PDC or other mechanical aids to defeat your scheming. Indeed you may even get them to watch your junctions and tape another’s programmes. Which would be a success story indeed.

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