Coming Next 

1 February 2003

One of the greatest arts in television presentation is letting viewers know what they can see next or later on this channel. Andrew Hesford-Booth charts the art of promos.

There is, as any shop manager will tell you, nothing like putting examples of your wares on display to attract the eye of the curious shopper, and encourage them to buy.

Even placing items near the till can help that shopper to purchase items out of necessity or impulse.

The first is called “invitation to treat”, the second “point-of-sale realization”. That’s marketing for you.

So what has this got to do with the world of broadcasting? Well, basically the principle is the same; make your programme look like it will be worth watching, and continue to publicise that programme on air until even the most uncertain viewer is convinced that it is an event.

Over a long period of time, the method of trailing a channel’s output has changed considerably, especially since the proliferation of DTT, cable and satellite, but how it began is a rather different story.

'Wish me luck' from CentralMore to come from Central

Through the early years of the 30-line Baird service, there was limited time available for programmes, and items were arranged in a revue format, all of which was broadcast live at 11am and 11pm.

There was an attempt to tell the viewers what was coming up on the next broadcast, in the form of the “Television Screen News”, but historical accounts state that it took the form of a roller caption with a list of artistes, and vintage photos show a studio with captions mounted on a carousel.

There was not much forward movement in the early years of the BBC’s high-definition service either, as the in-vision announcers would simply read the names of everyone who you would see in the next television programme.

Granada menuHTV menu

Note however, that some writers state that each session of television would be referred to as a programme, with each item in it treated as almost a turn on a variety bill. Again, as most items were live, there was no chance to show excerpts. The Coronation is defined as the most important television event of all.

By this time, BBC Television had spread to large areas of the United Kingdom, and the audience was steadily growing. This trend continued with the commencement of Independent Television in 1955, and now with two channels on the air, the audience could stay in and watch, which affected cinema attendances in particular.

Trailing a programme was becoming a matter of directing the audience to the programme journal (newspapers covered television to a certain extent, but regarded it cautiously).

Coming up next on TV-am

Captions and announcements were used, and also listings, but there was almost no use of film or videotape trailers until the 1960s. In the Transdiffusion archive, there exists audio and photo evidence of the different ways in which ITV trailed programmes.

 You always have an ace up your sleeve with ABC

ABC were using some clips to trail shows, even using a linking theme – the “You’ve got an ace up your sleeve watching ABC” campaign in particular.

ABC, of course, was many of many cinema interests involved in television, and obviously used the experience of producing cinema trailers in their TV output: another cinematic/theatrical convention adopted for the small screen. If ABC had used “Your Forthcoming Attractions” it could not have been more obvious!

The technique could only be used, however, if a clip was available for a pre-recorded programme, and until the 1960s most output was live anyway.

Anglia menu

There are several audio clips, which illustrate the in-vision announcers’ art at attracting notice to particular programmes, but there are many broadcasters who claim that the need to talk about future programmes was born out of desperation.

The late Ray Moore, in his book “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”, describes his time doing weekend continuity for Tyne Tees (he was working at Granada during the week). At that time (c. 1963-4) TTTV did not get much advertising, and as a result the announcer had to fill in as best as he could.

Moore says that he was making some odd announcements such as “Let’s have a look at what’s on three weeks on Tuesday”. By the late 1960s, both BBC and ITV were assembling clips of programmes to whet the viewers’ appetites.

Again, in the archive, some clips exist from the last few ABC weekends, for example a trailer for the Playhouse production “Daddy Kiss It Better” (shown 29.7.68, made by Yorkshire), and for “Cooper King-Size” (30.7.68, a Thames production).

Tonight on Rediffusion

As visuals do not exist, it’s only possible to assess them on the soundtrack: the best pieces are used, or the most pertinent piece of dialogue. The Cooper trailer may have used a couple of the visual gags.

They compare, in form, to cinema trailers (by showing the best sequences, the viewer will want to see the whole show), but also compare to the method by which a book is promoted – put some of the text on the back cover to attract the casual reader into buying the book, and ultimately opening and reading it.

Television promotion was also getting a little surreal too, with David Frost reading a horoscope, written by Maurice Woodruffe, about London Weekend Television, on a trailer for their service shown on the last night of ATV London – television trailing television. The use of a programme menu became more prominent at certain times of the day.

Often used at start-up, before news bulletins, at closedown and occasionally when a programme change caused a change in schedule.

It was also a way to provide a buffer between an advertisement break and the start of the news bulletin on ITV. In recent times, the menu only ever appeared during times of national mourning, such as the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Independent Television menu (during the national strike of 1968)

Using a montage of programme extracts, voice-over and a thematic context (for example, Christmas) enabled the BBC and ITV to promote their programmes effectively, and was a technique used for a very long time. In the last few years, however, as the ITV network have been attempting to streamline their presentation.

The programmes seem to be overlapping with the trailers, in the form of end credit promotions, so no sooner has the viewer finished watching one programme than they’re told to stick around and watch the next one.

It may appear to serve a purpose, but it is rather annoying at times – especially when the same clip is shown over and over. Also, a lot of shows – “The Bill” comes to mind – use the “previously”/”next” method of starting and ending the programme, so sometimes the trailer is within the body of the programme.

And advertising breaks are not immune from trailers either, as ITV will often use a part of time to promote upcoming or major series.

The idea, so we are informed, is to provide the viewer with a clear idea of what will be coming next as well as promoting the channel branding, but that is making an assumption that viewers will not seek this information for themselves, as, indeed, they have always done. Ah well. As I said earlier – that’s marketing for you.

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Liverpool, Thursday 11 July 2024