Then and now 

1 September 2001

Branding today is more about making money than it seemed to be back in the 1950s. Back then it was used to get the viewers to watch and trust the channel before putting adverts on in front of them. That is how the past of television presentation seems to the younger presentation enthusiast.

All these companies had an extremely solid presence, felt particularly in the daily start up routines, where they would take a couple of minutes to make the logo appear, while playing a strong, memorable signature tune. There appeared to be a lot of pride in the channels, particularly with the frontcaps, which were essentially telling the viewers who had made the excellent programme in front of them and that the company concerned was very proud of it.

The BBC have partly brought back this tradition with the modern day BBC logo superimposed over the titles, but it is now an integral part of the titles and not an important proud fact to be announced away from the programme as a whole.

The music you hear or the pictures you see are the reputation of the channel you are watching – programmes almost come second to that. If you remember the music and it was played before a programme you enjoyed, you will stay watching to see if there is more of the same. If you don’t remember that music or image, you will move on – simple as that.

In the ‘olden days’ each company had a single ident – for instance the ABC one with those arrows or the ATV one with the eyes. It was used constantly, hardly ever changing. This continued on most channels, and although the BBC globe never started in the same place, it was still a globe spinning around with some letters underneath with BBC 1 on it. Simple, but perfectly effective.

Of course the ‘let’s have lots of different idents idea’ was pioneered by Channel 4, at least nationally. There were four idents, such as the one where the blocks flew in from the back and the camera followed them in to where they rest as the 4, and the one where the 4 is already there and then the blocks spin round on the spot. Although they all formed up in a different way, they were still the same general ident; that number 4. BBC 2 adopted this idea in 1991, to the consequences we all grew to know and love.

Soon everyone seemed to have adopted it, meaning that the money is now spent on producing twenty different idents with the same vague theme, not one with very good, strong, recognisable branding.

All the original companies managed to have good branding without sacrificing programme integrity. If you don’t understand what I mean, watch ITV sometime. You will get a bright yellow and blue graphic five minutes before the end of a show to tell you what the next programme is, then a trailer it over the end credits. A further trailer or two – for different programmes on different days – will follow to bracket the commercial break. No coherent message is to be found there, and the integrity of the programme is lost.

Another device, permanent on-screen logos, are used by many companies to tell you which channel you are watching. This intrudes on the programmes’ integrity in a worse way to the relentless over-promotion, and yet very few viewers actually remember the channel name from these graphics.

However, the BBC seems to have reversed the trend with their news presentation. You can remember those thunderclaps – and you know immediately that it is BBC News. And the consistent branding also reminds of the BBC’s reputation for news. The titles and set work like the same ident being used over and over again by ITV companies of old. The viewer remembers the music, and with it the company and its reputation.

When I hear ITV’s bland news music, I remember the long shot of the multicoloured studio, but I find myself thinking of ‘pretend’ news – it’s not the real thing. I don’t even know the Sky News music, except that tabloid ‘whoosh!’ sound they are now so fond of.

Perhaps the new look for ITV – coming to a television set near you shortly – might mark a return to older – better – ways of doing things for the struggling commercial channel. Whilst it sees the end of regional names, it also finally ditches the one ident at the moment that doesn’t work for anyone.

The half-hearted current Granada Group idents – or the remains of them after shortening to make room for more trailers – did neither ITV nor the viewer any good. They simply proved that the branding of ITV had gone to the best to the worst – all in just 47 short years. What comes next must surely be an improvement on current form.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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Liverpool, Sunday 24 September 2023