Moving the Furniture

By Russ J Graham

Okay, listen up, chaps. We've got a big problem.

As everyone here will know, audiences for television are falling. That's not just our channel, but all of them.

Yes, even those new ones on that digital thing. And it's not just the audience being diluted by all those 'niche' channels we've got a stake in.

No, it's not even the BBC's fault, though that's a good argument to pass to the press office, so well done. We're talking about fewer people watching television, and those who remain are watching less of it per week.

So we need new ideas, and fast. That's why I asked you here today, obviously.

At the moment, we're using some really nifty tricks to get people to stay tuned to our channel. They're so amazing, and The Boss himself has personally approved all of them. That's why we employ him as a branding consultant.

To recap, this is what we already do.

We've made sure that our company's corporate logo is on-screen all of the time, through every programme we transmit. That's so people will know which channel to come back to for great programmes like, um, like the ones we show.

We don't put this on during the adverts as a rule, but we should consider doing so. Some of our rivals do and they're in exactly the same boat, so we should be following in case they're on to something.

The branding consultant also got us to get rid of that awfully amateur live announcer - there may even have been a couple of them, I'd don't recall - and to employ just the one voice, pre-recorded in bulk at the start of each week.

That means we portray an excellent corporate image to the punters at all times, always speaking in the same voice, at the same pitch. Sometimes these announcements go out over the programme, or are played in the wrong order, that's true. Yes, if there's a breakdown, we can't do much except shove up a logo and hope the punters are too stupefied to switch channels, good point.

But all of that is nothing compared to getting a true, anonymous professional to read those scripts the boys in marketing wrote! No chance to turn over if the corporate voice - his name escapes me, sorry, her name escapes me – is enthusing over what's coming next!

We've also started to plug the next programme on-screen during the preceding one. First we tried announcing it as the 'next' programme during the final ad break in the current one. This confused the punters, but didn't not work, so it's worth continuing.

Now we put the name of the next programme under our logo for the entire second half of the programme the punters are watching. They'll stay for the next prog if they know it's a great show like, um, one of our great shows.

But that doesn't get people to watch stuff we plan to show in the next fortnight or so. But then it occurred to the branding consultant that the logo and the next-banner are only in one corner of the screen.

So now we put a 1/8th of a screen advert for something big in the other corner. That way, punters will definitely stay tuned for up to a month, watching the number of days count down till a spectacular coup for us like, um, several we've had of late.

Oh yes, you're right! We mustn't forget the interactive service. All those lovely opportunities to buy merchandise and goods tangentially related to the programme the punters are watching.

The problem there is that people don't seem to want to stop watching - a reverse on our main problem! - in order to buy cheap mugs with a picture of the logo of the show they're watching screenprinted on the side.

Actually, that isn't really likely to be true. We've identified that people simply aren't aware of the interactive service. Yeah, the ignorance of the punters. But what you gunna do? If they knew about it, they'd be falling over themselves to buy baseball caps with our last-but-one logo on it or send "txt msgs", whatever the hell they are, for only 50p a throw with an advert for our channel at the bottom.

So we've used the third corner of the picture to stick in a "press red" reminder so they won't forget to order that boxed-set of coasters featuring the stars of our big hit, um, that one with the two guys and the thing? Yeah, that one.

Hmm, you're right, they can press "backup" to cancel it. No way round that, actually. We've done our best, though - we make sure that it pops back up every 7 or 8 minutes anyway - they soon get tired of cancelling it off. They've got so used to it now, they've even mentally tuned it out. Flashing? Cool idea!

But all of this hard effort doesn't seem to be working with the punters. For some reason, despite all the time, effort and money we've thrown at this, they're still not watching.

We've diverted positively millions of pounds of cash from the programme budget to these branding exercises, but the punters aren't being moved. Our branding consultant says we need to divert more money into his company and we'll soon see the results.

So I need ideas. I don't want The Boss to think I'm an idiot. I don't want to turn up in his offices with a signed cheque for a lot of our shareholder's money and nothing else. I want to turn up with that big cheque and half a dozen ideas so he'll respect me.

So fire away. There's no such thing as a bad idea in this business, believe me!

Making the logo move? Don't we do that already? Oh, round and round the screen. I see. Fabulous!

Making it brightly coloured and obtrusive? We do that with the 'press red' thing, so it shouldn't harm to do it with our corporate branding - we've probably got a new logo coming up in the next month or so, so it'll be a great way of promoting it.

Fiddling about with the software so the digibox crashes, leaving people stuck on the channel they're watching? Ooh, nice touch, but I'm pretty sure that the platform provider has a monopoly on that trick. And choosing what advert you watch after you've unplugged the box and plugged it back in again.

Starting a time-delay version with an even bigger on-screen logo? Don't you watch our output? I'm sure we already do that. I'll check, and if I'm right, you'll be sorry.

Use the built-in Electronic Programme Guide that the punters actual use for programme information? I think not! That's a voluntary system for people interested in the programmes. We're talking punters here - people who don't give a damn about what they're watching, so long as the adverts are entertaining. Get out. You're fired.

Talking over the title sequence? We've been doing that since the 1980s. And I haven't heard a single complaint about it. There may have been some, but I haven't heard a single one of them.

Running the adverts in a strip along the bottom of the screen. Hmm. Tell me more. I know sponsorship has put an advert before the break bumper, to our advantage, but running adverts all the through a programme? I'm turned on by this idea. Can we get it past the ITC? No, I mean, can we get the ITC to come up with a plausible reason for us doing it? Implausible's fine. That's what they're there for.

Running the programme in 1/3rd of the screen and an advert in the rest? That'll be really popular with those who count. The punters? Who gives a damn about them - no, I mean the advertisers! If we could do it with the end titles, we can do it with the rest of the programme.

Hey, now that's an idea. Imagine it! A whole broadcasting universe where every channel looks like Bloomberg. The picture in the corner for those who actually watch our great shows, like, um, all of them, with adverts and opportunities to purchase merchandise in the other ¾ of the picture.

I like it! Phone the branding consultant and get him to come up with a design. You call the ITC and explain what we're doing and why they should support us. Then make sure they do tug the lead or something.

This is going to be a major revolution in broadcasting - the biggest since commercial television began! It's amazing how far we've got in only ten years.

I think we've saved the business. We can even cut the production budget again to pay for the new look! Our viewers will be delighted and anyone who isn't, obviously, isn't representative, so we can ignore them.

Just make sure that no one leaks the minutes of this meeting to our rivals or to the press. Now, chop-chop we've got a revolution to organise!

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Article ©2003 Russ J Graham

Compilation ©2003 Transdiffusion Broadcasting System

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