Good DOG, bad DOG 

24 May 2004

Nobody likes those permanent on-screen logos that infest modern television. But, says Pete Davis, if we have to have them, some ways are better than others.

DOGs – Digital On-Screen Graphics – are the little channel logos in the corner of the programme on your TV screen. They are not a new invention as, in some countries, they’ve been used for over two decades – mainly to prevent programme and footage piracy and to help people tell what channel they were watching in a crowded marketplace.

In the UK they were only ever used on satellite and cable channels, until 1997’s launch of Channel 5. The other terrestrial channels have remained DOG-free, barring RSL broadcasters, and during local news on some ITV stations.

Now, not everyone likes them. Personally I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Basically I don’t mind DOGs, provided they’re sensibly designed. Unless you’re actually looking to be distracted, they generally just go away. The human brain has a great capacity to ignore things and people generally watch the programs, not the DOG.

One problem DOGs have is their image. Over the years they’ve become associated with “cheap n’ nasty” cable and satellite channels, and people somehow think the appearance of a DOG will immediately make the channels quality drop like a stone. I somehow don’t think this is true, unless someone can give me a real example.

Now onto the main point of this article. Earlier I did say I don’t mind DOGs that are sensibly designed. The design, however, is the main problem with DOGs. In my view a DOG has one main function – it is supposed to be a channel identifier. Some channels seem to forget this.

It should be simple, small, and only there for reference. But television executive can never leave well enough alone and manage to break these tiny rules in the following ways.

Animating them.

This sort of thing just distracts. It’s also pointless. Fox News has a spinning box in the bottom left, with the Fox News logo on every side. This isn’t that bad, as it doesn’t spin that fast.

However this is often complemented by a constantly waving American flag with FOX alternating with LIVE in the top right corner. Recently I’ve also seen a different version with NEWS replacing LIVE (does that mean that the program isn’t live then?).

This means that not only are there two animated DOGs, but they sometimes say exactly the same thing, albeit with one that saying it in a more patriotic (and distracting) way. As a note, CNN’s American operation appears to have me-tooed with a CNN logo with a bit of animation recently appearing.

Cartoon channel Boomerang’s DOG alternates the Boomerang logo with the Cartoon Network one. They may want to show viewers that this new channel is a sister station to one that they’ll already be familiar with, but this method is distracting.

A better idea would be to just use a Boomerang logo as a DOG and keep the Cartoon Network brand during continuity.

Colouring them in.

This makes DOGs stand out more. Most channel logos are simple, and could easily be shown in silhouette. Challenge TV is a real example of pointless use of colour.

A plain, transparent version of their question mark would work just as well, as it’s not as if another channel uses a similar logo. And after all, what other channel is going to be showing old quiz shows? At least they aren’t using the one which had the unreadable ‘Challenge TV’ text underneath anymore.

The Discovery channels do fairly well in one respect, fitting the text that some channels would turn into a long strip of text into small spaces. However they do suffer from another problem.

All Discovery DOGs have colour portions. Now this is stupid, as the logo could just as easily be rendered in grayscale without losing any meaning. Discovery also like to point out there time delayed channels by an intrusive blue (or green on Animal Planet) bar, instead of the normal practice of appending +1 or +1 Hour below the main DOG so it fits in.

Adding superfluous information.

The current fad in DOGs is to add extra snippets to the DOG to duplicate what viewers could get elsewhere. This sort of thing should be kept to the EPG and continuity. A person doesn’t need to know the address of a website during the entire show.

Being E4.

What went wrong here? E4 started out very well, with a very nice unobtrusive DOG. Recently however, the DOG changed from being an unobtrusive, stylised version of the logo to a plain flat representation.

This would be bad enough, but the new DOG gained ‘helpful’ text to the side as well. Yes, E4 is one of the channels to join in with the BRAND NEW craze sweeping television. E4 take it even further, signposting each MOVIE, the fact that there are CATCH UP repeats, and that that you are watching 2ND CHANCE Sunday. The DOG has never been 4:3 safe during widescreen shows.

This wasn’t be a problem before, it just meant people would lose the DOG if they didn’t use letterbox mode on a 4:3 TV. Now they still lose the DOG, but they do get half the text. This doesn’t make it look like they thought out the DOG much before implementing it. Another sign of this is that the top of the DOG gets overscanned off the screen on a fairly average TV.

I’ll give Trouble kudos for working out a way of integrating a website address into the main DOG, although it does make it look like they’ve renamed the channel

They don’t tell viewers if a show is ALL NEW, instead they prefer to tell you what show your watching. Unfortunately all but the shortest names wouldn’t fit into the space provided, so they resort to shortening the name with TRNDY (2 years ago) TXT SPK.

Adding popups.

These internet-style annoyances are one of the latest ‘innovations’ to appear. BBC Choice and some children’s channels have been doing this for a while, and ITV1 recently introduced it as well.

The idea is simple – near to the end of a program a caption will appear (usually with an animation to distract viewers into looking at it) to tell you what’s coming up next on the channel.

However this is pointless, as most channels have advert breaks, and could easily place a promotion for the next programme during the last break in the program, rather than have a distracting popup.

Another less distracting idea would be an ECP (end credit promotion). But I won’t get into that can of worms (some people don’t like these either).

Making simple errors.

Size, position and transparency are the key. The logo should be small, and preferably transparent, or discrete if it’s solid.

It should also be near to the corners, not floating in the middle of the screen. One problem that appears sometimes is widescreen.

As most viewers without widescreen use 4:3 mode (which just shows the centre of the screen), anything in the other 25% of the screen gets cut off – a simple and obvious mistake.

The BBC regional news service on digital satellite has a pointlessness problem – the only way the viewer is going to see it is by purposely selecting an option in the interactive service, so the main function (to say what region you’re watching) is negated.

There is a slight argument, however, that the DOG does give confirmation that you are watching a different feed to the default London one during the national news.

But I’m a bit unconvinced by that one myself and a caption could simply be placed with the Press Red for Menu caption generated by the interactive service. But the main problem is the DOG is just too long. BBC ONE Yorks & Lincs and so on are too long for DOGs as they are used at the moment.

The region name should have been placed underneath the BBC One part of the DOG, in a smaller font, rather than the long strip of text used at the moment. This would make the DOG far more compact and discrete.

That wraps up my look at bad DOG design. Luckily most broadcasters are sensible, but there are some that will go for any gimmick that’s in fashion, at the expense of the viewer. Hopefully this will change as digital TV matures.

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