A history of presentation
1 Jan 2003 0 comments. tbs.pm/1860
Have presenting styles changes since the initial development of television? If so, why?
Since Television is said to have been officially introduced into British society in 1936 presenters have been used as tools to introduce, front and control the different types of programmes transmitted onto the screens. The television set, and what one is able to offer has changed dramatically since they first became available. It first offered simply one channel, named ‘The BBC Television Service’. After the times of war in the country, during which television was shut down as the few programmes on offer were replaced by the Home Service, this channel split and became two – BBC-1 and BBC-2. This started a continual rise in the number of channels and services the public could pick up through their television. As advances in technology continued, more people gained the use of a television and more stations were introduced to rival those that existed.
This essay aims to look back over the years of television, to focus upon the function of the ‘Presenter’ on the screen and to investigate whether the meaning of what this role involves has altered with regard to the advances in television itself. Whether appearing in a drama, debate, on a chat-show or any kind of television production, a person could be seen to be ‘presenting themselves’ as they know a factor of their role includes being watched by an audience of some number. By the word ‘presenter ‘ in the context of this essay, I mean those who are specifically instructed to be at the forefront of the action on the programme and usually look directly into the camera at some point in an attempt to directly acknowledge those viewing. The actual definition of what a presenter may be considered to be can be seen as follows; ‘Presentable: ‘fit to be seen or introduced’ (Harber/Payton (eds.))
The main role of a television presenter when the service commenced, was that of the ‘continuity announcer’ or later known as ‘the station host’. These presenters played an important role in running and advertising the station they worked for. The continuity announcer would appear initially alone, although as television developed it became more common to see two continuity announcers on screen simultaneously, and their main role was to appear in-between programmes and announce details of the programme to be aired next. When the television service by the BBC resumed after the war in Britain, the continuity announcers remained in their role as before. ‘As BBC Television screens became alive again in 1946, after the dark war years, theBBC initially decided to continue with bow-tied men and beautifully dressed women to link the programmes.’ (Brockman)
The continuity announcer’s were given more responsibilities on the station’s as they became an integral part of their transmissions. They were used by the BBC to present trailers for forthcoming television attractions and on the ITV Network in the 1950’s and 60’s to apologise or fill in when the channel experienced programme disruptions.
‘The typical continuity announcement, at perhaps 45 seconds, would include not only timing information, but tit bits of information about productions still planned, stars to be engaged and gossip from the sets. No announcement would be complete without the closing words ‘can be seen later tonight/next weekend/later this season on the ITV region with this symbol’ (Bowden-Smith)
As rival channels began broadcasting, competition was created, as a result of which, the way in which the continuity announcers were presented on a channel began to clearly represent the image the station wanted to give to their audience. The ABC television station in the Midlands, for example, used their continuity announcers in a way in which helped to portray them as ‘the family station’. This was done by ensuring that their male continuity announcers were always dressed smartly in blazers, even during the summer months. The way in which their announcers positioned themselves in front of the camera was another way in which the station attempted use them to appeal to their family audiences. They would sit at a distance from the camera, to give a more formal impression. The announcers themselves and the surroundings they were viewed within, on-screen, were often adorned with the channels name or logo in an attempt to advertise the station. They became a symbol of the channel they worked for and their presence became a tool used entirely for promotion. Westward, a television station that began in 1961 in the South West of England, employed a regular team of ‘station hosts’ and these functioned as a productive tool in familiarising viewers with that station.
‘When Roger Shaw told you that now on Westward was The Avengers…you knew you were watching Westward, because his face and voice became associated with Westward.’ (Beaumont)
Continuity announcers became an important part of the package a station was offering viewers. If a station changed the presenters who filled these roles, and the viewers didn’t like them, the results could be disastrous. An example of this is a company called Harlech Television, who, in an attempt to give their station a more modern edge, replaced their announcers with ones they considered to be more ‘with it’. The results were that people switched over to other channels in their droves.
‘What can be seen in the Harlech example is that viewers build a very personal relationship with continuity announcers over time, and come to treat them as friends. When six or seven disappear overnight…then the effect is shocking, unpleasant and the relationship between the channel and the viewer is severed’ (Jeffery)
Perhaps just as important in creating an image on a television channel as what it broadcasts, is what it chooses not to. For example, the delay in apology or complete lack of one when a programme is disrupted, by a fault, can give the impression that the channel cares less about its viewers than it should.
It could be assumed that as the number of television channels grew, the less stations cared about keeping their viewers at home happy and the more they cared about making a profit.
Around 1961, the BBC decided to remove their in-vision continuity presenters from their prime time service, and by 1963 they were no longer to be seen at weekends or off-peak times. The majority of time during which a viewer used to see an announcer was to be replaced with a growing number of advertisements. For most television companies, this loaning of time on their channel for others to advertise their products/services, meant an increase in finances.
‘The days of the bow-tied male announcer, or his female counterpart in her ball gown were doomed. The once fledgling Independent Television was growing in audience terms’ (Brockman)
ITV retained the use of their continuity announcers for some considerable time after the BBC finished with theirs, and they could be seen on their channels until the 1980’s. After this time, the cost required to maintain this regular feature or the view that this type of presenting was now old-fashioned, had prevailed over the decision to continue to use them.
On television channels today, in-vision continuity announcers are few and far between. One channel can be found that still features them and that is an ITV regional company in the United Kingdom-the station is named ‘Ulster Television’.
Announcements with similar information to what the in-vision announcers stated are still to be heard between programmes on most channels, and in-vision continuity announcers are still used on most children’s channels, such as ‘Nickelodeon’ and ‘The Disney Channel’. They are a presenting technique thought worthwhile keeping on such channels, to help focus children’s attention, so it is less likely that they will get bored and switch the channel over to another.
Now a presenter tends to be employed via show not to represent an entire television channel or station. Presenters are now used as an integral part of a programme, they do not stand-alone, and they have to fit with the type of show they are working on as a pose to the station. Presentation is now the package a presenter must fit into, not create. Examples of in-vision continuity presenters that moved from linking programmes to working within them are Judith Chalmers who now presents holiday programme ‘Wish you were here’ and Michael Aspel who now presents the news.
The formal presentation that was often a requirement in the dress of in-vision continuity announcers has continued in another area of presenting on television and that is the news. However, as new channels are created, many offering their own news bulletin’s, attempts to change the style of news-reading in order to attract and keep viewers are being undertaken.
The requirement of presenters to posses such characteristics as clear diction and a smart image, has dramatically changed over recent years, largely due to the change of presentation techniques used by television programmers. An example of this is the channel MTV, on which traditional presenting techniques have been abandoned since the channel launched, with more emphasis being laid upon image. Kelly Brook is a presenter who has fronted programmes on MTV. She was well known in society as a typically ‘attractive’ and ‘trendy’ female personality. Due to her lack of successful presenting experience, one can only conclude that it was her image in society rather than the possessing of skills once thought necessary to become a presenter, that secured her this position on MTV. Donna Air in another example of a presenter whose image clearly seems to have prevailed over the attributes of experience and ability in a television-presenting role today. She had little experience of presenting before being installed as a presenter on MTV, however she was well known by teenagers across the country having starred in a teen drama. MTV’s viewing audience would be similar to that of this teen drama. It would be conceivable therefore, to assume that it was for these reasons alone for which she was offered this position, on a channel whereby image and status are of primary importance.
‘The uniqueness of MTV lay in its abandonment of linear logic. Instead of presenters and continuity announcers soberly leading viewers through a day’s viewing, MTV adopted the aesthetic of its own videos: the jumpcut, the replay, the abandonment of narrative structure.’ (Eshun)
The function of the presenter on our screens has clearly changed since television began. The reasons for this could be mainly attributed to the advancement in technology. This is because when television as first introduced in Britain, it was a commodity almost exclusively available to the wealthy. As technology advanced, television itself became cheaper to own and therefore became available to a wider number of classes in society. Also, due to these advances, many rival companies such as Sky and Cable arose, providing a wider selection of channels, each specialising in different subject matters. As a result of this, the need to reform presenting techniques was a fundamental requirement in order to attract the ever-increasing and diversified audience. Therefore it could be understood that the single most important motivator for change within presentation techniques in Television is that of the general public.
This was, in my opinion; most aptly stated by Ronald Berman in the quote below-
‘By sticking to current issues, even in comedies and soaps, programming emphasises its commitment to the present…The time of almost every police show or soap opera is now… Television seems to have made a determined effort to have programming, like marketing, refer itself as directly as possible to the audience.’