New dogs, old tricks 

24 May 2004

Ian Beaumont looks at where to find old presentation habits on modern channels

I had only recently upgraded to Sky Digital from Sky Analogue and was looking through the new services and channels that had become available. I turned to Irish-themed Tara Television and wondered what I’d find. I found a programme menu.

Granted, this was different from most of the programme menus of old, which were static. This one had an animated background, but none the less I watched, fascinated. It had been a while since I had seen one on ITV.

Channel 4 rarely uses them and BBC still had programme menus in trails but this was a menu on its own. An animated background, a little background music but all in all a good, old-fashioned programme menu.

It got me thinking, how many other channels do a similar type of thing? Then I began to consider forgotten presentation techniques and wondered how many of those I could find in the modern era. To be quite honest, I surprised myself with what I found.

Despite the fact that ITV have dropped programme menus for anything other than major schedule changes, a lot of digital channels still use them. BBC News 24 have one every hour whilst the background counts down to the top of the hour. BBC Parliament use a menu between each of their programmes.

Sky News uses one just before the top of the hour to go into their ident. Both Granada Plus and Granada Men and Motors use programme menus at the end of their day to preview the next day’s programmes.

Tara Television used programme menus at the beginning and the end of the day and just before the news to show you what’s to follow. They also used a rolling menu during non-broadcasting hours.

Sky One use as part of their idents from about one o’clock until midnight. Financial news channel CNBC use a simple programme menu as a 15 or 30 second promo on its own to tell what’s still ahead. The unusually-named [.tv] showed a programme menu when they’re were not broadcasting. EuroSport also use programme menus throughout the day.

Continuity announcements on digital tend to be done out-of-vision, behind an ident, but children’s channels, including Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel do use in-vision people to introduce the programmes just as their terrestrial rivals do.

Out of the non-kids channels that I’ve seen, not one has in-vision continuity announcers, which is a bit of a shame. The clock that we used to see across terrestrial television has been relegated from a screen-filling analogue face to a small corner-hugging digital display. You can see these clocks on Sky News, Bloomberg, BBC News 24, CNBC, Sky TV and the ITN News Channel, but only BBC-1 maintains an analogue clock face anymore.

The start-up film at the beginning of the day, as pioneered by Southern and used to great effect by HTV is one thing I thought I’d never find on a digital channel.

Tara Television’s retro styling continues with a start-up film showing the people and the places around Ireland. The only difference to days gone by was a logo over the middle of the screen.

But still, it was something that I thought no digital channel would ever do. EuroSport do a start-up film containing clips of sporting people and events.

Not every channel is 24 hours, so as well starting up, channels also closedown. Some channels closedown very quietly.

BBC Choice end their last programme of the day and go straight to an overnight slide with no closedown announcement. BBC Parliament have no continuity announcements of any kind so play a couple of promos and then a sequence of overnight slides to tell you about the next day’s schedule.

As far as satellite testcards go, I have actually seen a Nickelodeon test card ‘N’ on analogue, but it is missing digitally. They seem to just cut off the signal and let the digibox put up a blue screen. The only testcards you’re likely to see these days are tests before a channel actually launches.

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