Three’s Company 

1 January 2004

Will Tudor welcomes the arrival of BBC Three

After what seemed an endless period of time full of rumours and reports, BBC Three had been given the go-ahead and was launched on 9 February.

Of course, the transformation of BBC Choice into Three was officially allowed towards the latter part of 2002 but, time was required for a hefty re-brand of the station.

By the very end of last year, the BBC Choice label was effectively being peeled away at the edges as the standard idents where being ripped apart and walked through to reveal a large-scale “THREE” – the new channel’s logo – under construction.

From the start of this year, the Three brand was going further, as teasing trailers where often spotted on BBC One and Two and by the end of January, the standard closedown of Choice in the early hours was followed by a looped preview of the new channel.

Then, at 7:00PM on that night in February, BBC Three was finally unveiled but, despite all the heavy promotion the channel got, the proper opening (i.e. the first few seconds on air) was nothing more than a standard ident and a recorded announcement.

This was something I had half-expected due to the fact that in effect, Three was just taking over from Choice and that the whole launch showcase was also being broadcast on BBC Two which in my eyes takes the shine off it all. Putting all that aside, I liked the fact that the launch programme at least would in effect have in-vision continuity.

The thing I didn’t like about this substitute IVC was that it was all done by Johnny Vaughan. Now, my reasoning for that is mainly personal but his style of trying to get a joke out of everything he says did make his first link seem a lot longer than the 2 minutes it almost was.

The programmes on Three where excellent from the start, putting in a good mix of the sort of shows they had long-promised. Even though BBC Three was basically catering for the same age group that BBC Choice was aimed at, the style of the programmes do tend to actually put something in for any part of the audience unlike Choice, who would often lean towards a more gossipy-style with some programmes and cheap laughs with others (though I would like to make it clear that not every show on Choice was like that!).

Despite the programmes being the biggest factor of the channel, there is also the matter of presentation and on-screen identity, which always used to be a really important part in the make-up of a channel but as we have all seen in recent years, the powers-that-be now tend to think otherwise.

However, as soon as the first plans for Three where made public, there was a promising spark of anarchy in the air… even if it was just because the logo featured a bold ‘THREE’ at an angle. Thankfully, it turned out that we where not just going to get a special logo (which these days, is the best we can expect from most channels), but the “new” channel was also to get its own form of mascot – the blobs.

As soon as these little CGI characters made their on-screen debut during the looped promo, it was obvious that the viewer would not be disappointed as I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking they are very funny and it’s no wonder, given that they were designed by award-winning animators Aardman.

Having only seen the channel for a matter of weeks, it looks as if there have been quite a number of blob idents made and I think they are a breath of fresh air, especially seeing as all the continuity seems to be pre-recorded (something that was made an example of when there was a small breakdown on the second night).

Though in order for this wonderful idea to continue to amuse and entertain, it is crucial that new batches of blob idents get introduced over time.

Another important and surprising difference with the presentation package is with the way the programme trailers are presented. As we all know, both BBC’s One and Two brand their trailers with DOG-like versions of their Idents that stay on the screen through the entire promo.

This has been their practice since the early years of the 90s corporate look (for a short period in the early stages of this look, the channel’s logo would often only appear for the closing seconds of the trailer.) but, Three are yet again being different by not displaying the logo until the final seconds of the trailer.

This in effect echoes the very early part of the said 90s corporate look where the very same thing was done with their respective logos. Another difference that seems altogether subtler is the actual way the logo is displayed on idents and trailers alike.

Whereas every other BBC channel now has a distinct colour in the actual logos (The Red behind the White “BBC ONE” lettering, the Purple behind the White “BBC TWO” lettering), the BBC Three logo is just white and the actual lettering is transparent.

Sadly, despite the very individual look and feel to the logo, idents and trailers that refreshingly break with modern tradition, there is a downside. Firstly, they have taken a leaf out of ITV1’s book by adopting ‘pop-up’ captions telling you what programme is coming next.

This is both distracting and pointless, as the viewer only needs to press a button on their remote to call up an EPG (Electronic Programme Guide). The other part of the downside is the BBC Three DOG. Now I guess this was to be expected as there is no chance that BBC bosses would allow one of their channels to depart from every standard of modern BBC presentation.

Apart from the usual and justified complaints that DOGs are distracting and no-longer required due to EPGs and the like, the BBC Three version is even worse because it takes the form of every DOG in use by the BBC, using the standard BBC typeface instead of the angled “THREE”. Now, even though this is just a DOG we are talking about here, they are still in effect using 2 different logos which has caused a fair amount of confusion in the past when various broadcasters have adopted more than one company logo at any one time.

After watching BBC Three for the best part of a month, I can honestly say that both the programmes and most of the presentation impress me. Despite the fact that one or two shows and ideas have been carried over from its predecessor, I think BBC Three is a new channel in its own right and not just a simple re-brand of BBC Choice.

Hopefully the refreshing style of this new channel will force the older mainstream broadcasters to take a long, hard look at the way they now neglect their own presentation and as a result, perhaps restore a sense of pride to their channels. We live in hope.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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1 response to this article

C.M. Duncan 12 November 2012 at 4:37 pm

Fantasic memories of a fantastic radio station.

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