Out of sight, out of mind 

1 July 2001 tbs.pm/1742

There are numerous elements of television presentation that a broadcaster may or may not use on a regular basis; some of which may have been used in the past but are no longer used today for one reason or another, or alternatively there are others which have been little or never used in this country on terrestrial channels but could become more common in the future.

A channel’s overall image really not only depends on what it decides to show, but arguably just as important is exactly what isn’t shown or used – after all there is reasoning behind each and every item of presentation that gets used on a particular channel.

Many years ago it was common to actually see the announcer ‘in the flesh’ as he or she announced details of following or future programmes. This is often known as ‘in-vision’ presentation, and was a relatively common practice until various channels started abandoning the idea in preference to just hearing the announcer instead. In-vision presentation is nowadays confined to children’s programming on the five terrestrial channels; indeed Channel 5 has never used this style of presentation for anything else, and Channel 4 only did this style of continuity on a regular basis for a short period after the initial launch in November 1982, though in-vision presentation still occurred immediately before closedown for several months afterwards.

The BBC abandoned in-vision presentation relatively early – by the end of the 1960s it was relatively uncommon – but many ITV companies retained the practice well into the 1970s and 1980s, with few exceptions. In-vision presentation may give a more personal touch, but extra cost is required to maintain a studio (primarily lighting, cameraman and technician costs) and the presenters also need to look as well as sound good, hence additional costs for wardrobe and makeup. Having said that, in-vision presentation is still used for children’s programming on all five terrestrial channels, which saved the concept from total extinction in the late 1980s. This sort of programming then is deemed to be worth making the additional effort in order to hold the attention of children, who otherwise tend either to flick channels or run off and do something else entirely.

Back in the days when accurate clocks were hard to come by, and the only accurate time reference was often the Greenwich pips heard on the radio (and on BBC-1 many years ago), the use of an on-screen clock was far more common than it is today. Over the years though the use of clocks has dropped off markedly, with only BBC-1 out of the terrestrial channels using a clock on a fairly regular basis. Most ITV franchises have used clocks over the years, with a few regions such as Yorkshire and Anglia retaining them until very recently, though rarely used. By contrast, other regions such as Central Southern England have not seen the use of clocks since the mid-1980s when TVS dropped the use of theirs (Meridian never use one), which illustrates the diverse nature of the ITV franchise system.

Various reasons are cited for clocks being dropped – one often heard in reference to commercial television channels is that clocks take up precious airtime which is better spent either showing commercials or programme promotions. Another reason is that the need to display the time on screen is actually less important now than it used to be, since there are other time sources (such as the clock on teletext services) which are more common nowadays and just as accurate. Plus there may be the reason that actually showing a clock may either reveal how inaccurate the current programme schedule is, or by reminding viewers of the actual time may prompt some people to switch over to watch another programme which is due to be shown on another channel at a set time. It may even cause them to stop watching when they realise how late it is.

A clock was often used just prior to closedown, but since terrestrial channels with the exception of BBC Two no longer close down, the use of a clock here is redundant. Even BBC Two doesn’t seem to use an announcement before abruptly switching to Pages from Ceefax at its own ‘closedown’. Then there’s the factor of the ‘digital difference’, where programmes on digital platforms (digital terrestrial or SkyDigital) are either one or two seconds ‘in front’ or ‘behind’ standard (or analogue) transmissions depending on how the programme is being provided by the broadcaster. This can lead to an on-screen clock being slightly inaccurate if there is a delay between the studio and the viewer.

So by way of contrast, what presentation elements have been little used or completely absent from UK terrestrial channels up to now but could be more widely used in the future? Permanent on-screen logos, bugs or DOGs (digitally originated graphics) used for channel identification have been commonplace on many channels outside the UK for years – the Italian channel RAI pioneered this back in the 1970s and MTV has used this form of identification since its launch in 1979, but over the years this type of logo have become more and more popular with broadcasters. One explanation is that with more and more channels launching, there needs to be a form of ‘branding’ to instantly differentiate their ‘product’. Another reason given was the lack of channel identification facilities on many (analogue) satellite and cable boxes, though with the advent of more sophisticated boxes and digital transmission methods this argument is steadily becoming redundant. This however hasn’t deterred the broadcasters, with such logos creeping onto terrestrial television – Channel 5, BBC TWO overnight during the Learning Zone, CITV, Channel 4’s T4 or any ‘youth’ programme ‘strand’, to name a few.

The more observant viewer will have noticed recently that programmes are starting to incorporate promotional material at the same time as the end credits are being shown – ‘end credit promotions’ as they are known. This sort of activity will only increase over time as the perceived pressure to prevent viewers from switching over starts to mount with the more common availability of more channels, and may take further forms such as the running of promotions and/or commercials shortly before the very end of the programme and the next programme starting immediately with no gap, as what is happening in certain other countries already.

This sort of promotional timing is actually nothing new – it was briefly experimented with in the 1960s on ITV – but has never really been used since apart from special occasions or when the programme subject precluded the use of commercials (such as when royalty were involved). Also affecting the use of commercials is where any gap between commercials has been removed so that one commercial goes straight into another – Channel 4 has started doing this fairly recently and others may follow suit in the future – the objective being that there is a little more overall free time available for more commercials and promotions.

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