New Ways And Means 

1 July 2002

Flagging a programme as “NEW!” on-screen during the entire programme is a habit a lot of broadcasters have fallen into – even when the programme isn’t new. Andrew Bowden is annoyed at being lied to.

Broadcasters copy each other regularly. One channel has a success with a new cockney chef and everyone else has to get their own. One channel starts doing end credit promos, everyone else follows suit. Keeping up with the Jones’s is a continual game in the world of TV.

One of the latest fads sweeping pay-TV is to put a graphic on-screen throughout a programme telling anybody and everybody that that particular episode is new.

It’s not a particularly recent invention – some of the smaller channels like Living and Men and Motors had been doing it for a few years. Cartoon Network had also joined in, although only flashing up ‘new’ for a few seconds.

It wasn’t until January 2002 that the fad spread to some of the biggest channels in the pay-TV market. Within a week of each other, both Sky One and E4 suddenly had a new weapon in their on-screen arsenal.

Their methods of displaying the information differed dramatically. Sky One opted for the rather meaningless phrase ‘All New’ (as opposed to only half new perhaps?) neatly arranged beneath its normal on screen logo.

E4 on the other hand decided to write ‘Brand New’ in a chunky font across the screen. The E4 approach was more wide reaching and includes other tags like ‘Original’ and ‘2nd Chance’. It even saw fit to put ‘Movie’ on screen during films and viewers in May were treated to a text advert for the new series of Big Brother.

It’s not the first fad to be based around on-screen logos. At the height of the dotcom boom, several channels experimented with extra text promoting the address of their websites, forgetting in the process that every viewer surfing the web is one not watching the television.

Just as that particular fad is dwindling, the “new” ones have come along instead.

New tags offer their own fatal flaws. By putting ‘New’ over new programming, it instantly shows how many programmes are actually repeats. In one swoop the viewer gets to see just how much has been shown before.

Considering how much of E4 and Sky One’s programming consists of repeats, it’s probably not something they really want to advertise.

There are other flaws with the ‘new’ approach. The majority of digital channels will show the same new episode of a programme more than once a week. It’s a useful idea for the viewer as it means that if they miss one showing, they get a second chance.

Take the Sky One comedy, ‘Time Gentleman Please’, for example. During its run in spring 2002 it was shown twice a week: Wednesday at 11pm, Thursday at 11:30. Only one of these showings was given the ‘All New’ treatment.

OK so technically this is correct, but the second showing is still new programming on the channel. If the viewer really needs to be told that one showing is new, then surely the viewer should be told that the second showing is – perhaps Sky One should consider putting up ‘Not quite new anymore, but close!’.

Of course E4 uses this opportunity to write “Catch Up” and “2nd Chance” instead.

Whilst Sky One and E4’s “new” programming is shown for the first time in the UK, be it a US import or original UK programming, this is not the case for some channels. One of the earlier adopters of the “new” identifier was Granada Sky Broadcasting, owner of Granada Plus and Men and Motors.

Whilst Men and Motors does have some “new” original programming (albeit of just a slightly lower budget than E4), Granada Plus doesn’t. Consisting of classic programming from the archives, virtually all of the channel’s programmes have been shown on UK terrestrial television many times before.

This hasn’t stopped Granada Plus labelling its programmes as “New Series” or “New Episode”. Obviously this raises a big question – just what constitutes a “new” programme?

It’s a question I found myself pondering one weekday afternoon whilst taking some time off work towards the end of 2001. A flick through the channels revealed that Granada Plus was declaring to all and sundry that Hawaii 5-0 and The Dukes Of Hazard were both “New Series”.

Personally I remember watching The Dukes of Hazard when I was growing up in the early 1980s, and it’s quite clear to any viewer who hasn’t even seen the shows before that neither are particularly new.

Obviously what Granada Plus meant was that the programme was new to that channel, but does that constitute a new series? It’s one thing for a show like Star Trek Enterprise to show on Sky One first, then debut as a “new series” on Channel 4 later.

For starters it’s a relatively new show, and secondly it’s a programme that a substantial chunk of the population won’t have seen.

You could argue that the reverse should also hold. And if the Dukes of Hazard was a relatively recent creation I might be more likely to agree with you. However, being 20-odd years old, and previously shown in a primetime slot on a Saturday evening, it’s a slightly different matter.

It’s noticeable that recently Granada Plus has reduced its usage of the “New Episode” and “New Series”, favouring instead just “New”. Whilst this is slightly less misleading that the old captions, it still gives an implication that ‘classic’ programmes are in fact ‘new’ despite the visual evidence to the contrary.

How long the “new” fad will last remains to be seen. Many television stations seem to take a “me too” attitude when it comes to presentation and programming, without clearly thinking through why, if at all, they need these things on their channel.

The fact that true fans of many of the shows on Sky One and E4 will know that a programme is a new episode, and will have tuned in specifically to see the show seems to pass the broadcasters by.

The idea is presumably that the “new” logo will attract those casually flicking through the channels – which of course most Sky customers do not do, preferring instead to browse the channel listings available in the EPG instead.

Maybe someone will see sense and decide enough is enough – pointless fads do have a habit of falling out of favour in the end when someone else finds a new one to latch onto instead. Anyone for “repeat” on-screen throughout the programme?

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