Ultimate Branding 

1 January 2002 tbs.pm/1688

Andrew Bowden on the best of television presentation

Our recent interview with former Granada announcer Colin Weston, and the death of his former colleague Jim Pope, set me thinking back to my childhood in a small town, seven miles east of Manchester.

Every lunchtime in the early 1980s, my sister and I would rush to switch on the TV in preparation of the daily treat of Rainbow. Twenty years on it’s the announcers I remember more than the programme, and I have fond memories of watching Colin, Jim and Charles Foster smiling at kids across the North West as they introduced the day’s dose of Geoffrey, George, Bungle and Zippy.

Today seeing the face of the person who introduces your programmes is a rare thing. Despite brief experiments with in-vision continuity by Channel 4 and ITV2, only Northern Ireland ITV company UTV continues to use it. Their main announcer, Julian Simmons, even has a cult following and his own section on the station website.

For everyone else, in-vision continuity has gone, abandoned because companies deemed it to be old fashioned, or just simply in the cause of cost cutting. Granada Media, for example, has moved the continuity for its four north England ITV stations to Leeds.

From there one announcer can broadcast to up to four stations at a time, and links are short and not particularly sweet. It’s a far cry from the days when people would write to announcers for a signed photograph, or flock to see the person from between the programmes opening a new supermarket.

Television has of course changed a lot since the hey-day of in-vision announcers. Where once we had just three channels to choose from, a viewer with digital satellite could have over 200.

In that time, in-vision announcements have died and presentation departments closed or downscaled in an attempt to save money. Few ITV companies still have continuity done within their own region, overnight programming is broadcast centrally, and many companies pre-record their morning continuity the night before.

In the realm of pay-TV, some channels, like comedy and music station PlayUK, record huge batches of highly generic announcements and play them out as and when they need them.

It’s a reflection on the new economies of the television industry, where every penny counts, and where the accountants can skimp and save, they will. That this means presentation is often shoddy and lacklustre and is lost in the penny pinching.

If anything goes wrong, there is often no one to inform the viewer what is going on, and anyone watching may be presented with little more than a blank screen, or static ident. Presentation is a waste of money, something to be done on the cheap. No one watching actually cares about it anyway.

It could be argued that when it comes to continuity, all you actually need is someone saying, “You’re watching Channel A. Next, programme B”. It is functional and does the job. It’s also boring, and has no real distinction or personality.

A radio station that played music and just had a presenter going “That was Gomez, and now Britney Spears with Oops I Did It Again” would make dull and tedious listening.

Of course, many people don’t listen to the radio for the bits in-between the records, in the same way that the majority of viewers turn on the TV for the programmes and not the links.

But what would the public perception be of a radio station where the DJs did the “that was, this is” routine? The words ‘uninspired’ and ‘boring’ spring to mind.

Perception of a channel is, of course, important in helping to retain viewers. With several different channels often showing the same programme, how do you make yourselves noticed?

Most TV stations seem to think etching a logo in the corner of the screen does this, but this does little more than obstruct the picture. Others add a ‘quirky’ ident, but then everyone is trying to do them these days, and often not very well.

Yet throughout this, the person telling you what the next programme will be is being overlooked. Radio stations recognise that people want to listen to the links between the records, and that it can even bring in new listeners. It’s a lesson television companies need to learn.

An edition of the Radio Times in December 2001 had a letter from a viewer praising the “droll remarks” of Channel 5 announcer Bill Buckley, and even asked for a photograph to be printed.

Bill (also a local radio presenter and former member of the That’s Life team) and his colleagues at Channel 5 have been allowed a pretty free reign in their announcements and the station is well known for its announcers not always taking the programming too seriously.

While Channel 5 actually has great continuity announcements, its onscreen presentation is rather dull, with a rather nondescript white ident. It may look slick and glossy, but it has nothing to make it stand out in the mind.

It’s hard to imagine that in 20 years time when people are fondly recalling the antics of Bill Buckley they’ll be remembering the idents he spoke over.

Channel 5 have already realised that good continuity makes them stand out from the crowd. The fact that they get a mention here makes this point – the station doesn’t normally make much of an appearance in Electromusications.

However while it is offering a personal touch vocally, it seems reluctant to do so visually. In-vision continuity is a method of presentation that would fit in well with the style of the station, offering a true personality for Channel 5. A friendly face who, in time, will end up being associated with the channel for years to come.

The fondness that the public used to show to announcers in the past is something that television companies today really should take note of. There is a reason why people wrote in for photos and autographs, or stood outside to watch announcers open supermarkets.

It’s exactly the same reason why people write to actors and TV presenters. The fan is a powerful person in the world of television, but you’re not going to get people excited by telling them “that was… now this”.

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