All or nothing 

24 May 2004

Elizabeth Dyer watches as the BBC Three on-screen logo – detested by many – winks on and off.

The last weekend of March 2003 was an interesting one for BBC Three viewers. For the first time, the station broadcast for two days without its normal on-screen channel identifier (or DOG).

The missing logo caused much intrigue and speculation on mailing lists, websites and indeed on the BBC’s own message boards. Was it a broken machine that would be repaired by Monday, or was it something more interesting? A deliberate decision made by the channel management perhaps?

By Monday 31 March, BBC Three was once again being emblazoned on the screen, but those inquiring what was going on were told that the weekend’s logo free broadcasting was an experiment.

What the experiment was, exactly, isn’t so far known, but it’s unlikely to be very scientific, especially if it was measuring ratings. Whatever it was, it did have some interesting results. In an email to one viewer, reprinted on The UK Campaign for Logofree TV’s website, the BBC’s Head of Corporate and Public Relations, Andrew Whyte announced that the BBC Three’s policy on on-screen logos was to change.

Since its launch, BBC Four had broadcast films without a channel identifier. Within weeks the policy was extended to include long dramas and live performances. This policy is to now be used on BBC Three, and indeed on 2 April 2003, the film Shooting Fish was shown sans-logo. Since then, a variety of programmes have been without the visual tattoo, from music programme Recovered, through to schedule staple EastEnders.

It’s a rather major change in policy, especially given who heads the channel. Stuart Murphy, former head of BBC Choice and now controller of BBC Three has been resolutely pro-DOG during his reign at the two channels, even going so far as saying in BBC staff paper Ariel that his channel needed a channel identifier because he was a slob.

At one point, BBC Choice was littered with them. It wasn’t unusual to see a channel logo, on-screen URL and a separate programme logo all on screen at once. If you were really unlucky, you got ‘NEW’, and ‘Coming up next’ as well. At one point live programming was even tagged as such.

BBC Choice’s policy softened as its life ended. The URL was abandoned, and programme logos quietly disappeared, the last going when Liquid News got its own interactive service. However, throughout this, the on-screen channel logo has remained.

The decision to remove that, even if it is partially, is therefore a pretty major one, and should not be underestimated. Whether the complete removal of the DOG was too much for the controller of BBC Three to cope with, it’s very much a start.

It’s certainly a move which will encourage the anti-DOG movement, already fired up by the removal of Channel 5’s on-screen logo when the station was re-branded as Five. If the BBC were hoping that a partial removal would help calm the anti-logo voices, it will probably be disappointed especially as its logic now seems rather flawed.

Setting apart three types of programming for the logo-less treatment does seem to ask a question, if these programmes don’t need a logo, why do the rest? The BBC’s argument for having the logos has always been that they were required to aid navigation around the multi-channel world. Why that need does not exist for three types of programmes and not for news, comedy or documentaries does now seem questionable, and it will no doubt an argument that will continue between the two sides of the argument.

For now though, the changes at BBC Three are a start. Not quite the result that many had been hoping for, but a start nonetheless.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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