Studio 3 

1 February 2002

In-vision announcing lives – most of the time – at Ulster Television. Colm O’Rourke pays a visit to Studio Three.

Once upon a time, an ITV viewer could tune into any station on the network and catch an on-air announcer informing viewers of the following programme or programmes to be shown later.

Each station would have a different announcer introducing each programme, but the uniting force of the 15-odd different announcers was that their introductions were performed to the audience in front of the camera.

In-vision continuity, as this art of presentation is referred to, was essentially a shared experience and, wherever you travelled across the country, the ITV regional stations made use of in-vision.

But, from Yorkshire’s abandonment of in-vision continuity as early as 1970 to Border and Channel’s discontinuation in 1999, one by one, the other ITV regional contractors gradually dispensed with the device, either through management decision, loss of broadcasting franchise, or station take-overs. Recent developments in ITV presentation, such as the emphasis on pre-recorded trailers, the centralisation of continuity on some stations and the introduction of the much-criticised End Credit Promotion, seem to suggest that the use of in-vision continuity on the ITV network is extinct with little hope of redemption.

But, before you confine the art of in-vision continuity to the historical scrap heap, it should be noted that one ITV regional company in the United Kingdom still employs regular use of in-vision continuity announcements.

It may be passé in today’s fast-paced, information-driven broadcasting environment for a TV company to use something as simplistic as a person narrating a script to camera.

But this station continues to provide its audience with a personal and unique form of presentation that no caption generator or tape play-out system could ever offer. That station is Ulster Television.

The secret of UTV’s success in maintaining in-vision continuity is that the station’s team of announcers is friendly, informative, and always well presented on screen.

Information relating to the forthcoming schedule is mixed with light banter in their announcements, and in the past UTV has used their in-vision continuity to interact with viewers, reading out on-air greetings through to promoting competitions. Announcers must also retain a sense of formality, respectability and authority on-screen.

Even today, the dress of announcers remains formal; announcers also have a dual role as newsreaders, and are still anticipated to relay newsflashes on the volatile situation that still lingers in the region.

In an age where the threat of total consolidation and the virtual disappearance of regionality across the ITV network become an increasingly imminent prospect, UTV has affirmed that in-vision continuity will maintain a pivotal part of its on-air presentation.

The station has been developing a new presentation control unit for the past year, and will be moving the presentation department from its current home, which the station has dubbed “Studio 3”, in the near future, promising a revitalisation of their in-vision continuity segments.

Over the years, “Studio 3” has played host to around 100 announcers, some of whom joined Ulster at the start of a long and prestigious career in broadcasting. From the original team of announcers to the present company of five, every announcer at the station has presented at least one continuity link for the station in-vision.

A few months ago, I met Julian Simmons, the main star of the UTV presentation department and whose introductions to Coronation Street have achieved legendary status.

When I asked him how he felt to still be announcing in-vision, Julian told me that after working at UTV for nearly 20 years, he still enjoyed the challenge of working as an in-vision announcer.

During his regular weekend evening shifts, Julian appears before almost every programme to inform viewers of the evening highlights. Discussing the issue of in-vision continuity with Julian, I ascertained that UTV’s maintenance of in-vision continuity is still respected, and its popularity acknowledged, by their ITV network colleagues.

In fact, I would suspect that even the larger corporations within the ITV network, who oversee the presentation departments of up to four stations from the one location, view the on-screen presentation of one of the last remaining small independent stations with a hint of jealousy.

However, UTV not only has to compete with broadcasters in the United Kingdom, but also from the Republic of Ireland. And with two of Ireland’s four television stations making use of in-vision continuity, and previous use of in-vision by BBC CHOICE in Northern Ireland, UTV has used in-vision continuity to competitive advantage.

If anything, UTV’s use of in-vision continuity is making a stronger resurgence, much to the audience’s appreciation.

One would hope that if UTV will eventually converged into a consolidated ITV network, that the art of in-vision continuity, now all but a distant memory to many a television viewer, will be maintained.

An epitaph for in-vision continuity in the British television broadcasting realm should be held back for the meantime.

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