Too Much Choice 

24 May 2004

Ian Beaumont on ways of getting your attention.

Television these days is an industry that is always seeking your attention. They want you to watch their programmes and remember their channel. They want you to identify with their channel brand, just like you identify with other brands. TV channels are always looking to promote their brand and keep you on their channel.

But the methods they use to promote the brand and to try and keep you on the channel vary in effectiveness, dependent on many factors. Some are very effective and serve a channel very well, such as the small menus on the Channel 4 idents. Others are less effective, and some even backfire on TV channels, creating an image the channel is not seeking to portray.

End Credit Promotions (ECPs)

The idea of an End Credit Promotion is relatively simple. Run the credits on one side of the screen, whilst on the other side of the screen, a promo is shown for the next programme on screen, or a particular programme that is being heavily trailed for that night.

The idea is a visual version of the kind of announcements that are done over the end credits of programmes, and have been done for years. The idea of End Credit Promotions is simply the next logical step along the line. Surely this little change would get quietly accepted with a minimum of fuss.

Not quite. ECPs were resounding criticised as being desperate attempts to keep viewers on their channel and also for spoiling the mood of the programme, and not allowing viewers the necessary downtime to get back to reality.

But in this broadcasting environment, TV channels don’t want viewers to get back to reality, but to stay with them. That’s more difficult for commercial channels, when you have commercials and programme trailers between the programmes. That is why ITV started using ECPs.

Are there better methods? Some US TV stations have taken to ending one TV show and going almost straight into the next with only a 5-second ident in between. All the ads are played out during commercial breaks within the programmes. The UKTV network of channels have been known to do something similar over here with 60 seconds worth of trailers before going into an ident and continuity announcement. Is it better than ECPs? Well, certainly it does seem less controversial.

Channel Identifiers/DOGs

This is one item of branding that has caused a lot of heated debate over the years. I have never known anything in the arena of presentation and channel branding generate so much friction. Yet, the roots of the logo in the corner are believed to be far less controversial than the subject itself has become.

It is believed that in the late 1970’s in Italy, pirate stations were re-transmitting programmes from various legal broadcasters in the country and claiming them as their own. To combat this situation, the legal broadcasters, such as RAI, started putting their channel name in one of the corners.

In those early days, digital graphics were very primitive, blocky and looked digital. The only thing branding related about those original graphics was the channel name. There was no real design element to those graphics, and certainly very little branding related.

These days, there are very few channels that don’t use some kind of channel identifier and all of them are designed to match the look of the channel they are on. Some are quite small, discreet and almost unnoticeable, whilst other are big, blocky, full colour and animated, designed purely to catch the eye.

Why do they cause so much friction? Well, they are a fairly recent innovation, having been refined in the USA since their Italian creation. They are on screen fairly permanently, with only adverts being marked out as an exception for their continual appearance.

To some people, it is seen as an insult to their intelligence. They know what they are watching; they do not need a constant reminder of it on their screens. Especially not when you have Electronic Programme Guides which, at the touch of a button, can tell what channel and programme you are watching, and what follows next.

No one is truly sure whether any real research has been done on the effectiveness of these channel identifiers. Certainly I have not seen any evidence published on this. Are there far better methods out there? Yes, but most of them are long-term branding strategies rather than single items of branding.

There are, incredibly, a few people who are known to truly like DOGs, whilst most just seem to put up with them. But a lot of people do not like them at all. Their job is to re-enforce the channel brand, but all they really seem to do is anger people.

There are other incidents of presentation backfiring on broadcasters, such as one news channel who managed to change their serious image for a tabloid one, which along with a change of programming has spectacularly backfired on the channel.

Then there was the sports news channel, which changed its name to sound more like a dot com. Unfortunately this happened just before the dot com boom went bust. After around 18 months, the channel had to abandon the dot com rebrand, and went back to their original channel name.

With there being more and more channels launching on a regular basis, mistakes in branding could prove to be more and more disastrous, as around 300 channels fight for a maximum of 60 million viewers. That is an unsustainable high number of channels. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that an average of 200,000 viewers per channel is not sustainable or profitable.

It would seem that maybe 100 channels might be a sustainable number, giving an average of 600,000 per channel. Certainly 60 channels seems sustainable. The lowest number of channels we could see in the future is around 12, while the highest sustainable number definitely won’t to exceed 100. With the odds stacked against the broadcasters when it comes to survival, branding mistakes are never an option.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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