Fourth estate 

1 October 2001

Ingraining your identity into the public consciousness can be done in two ways – beat them over the head with it, or do it subtly. Andrew Bowden looks at a station that has chosen the latter route.

Just how do you make sure you brand your television station in such a way that everybody knows your name? How do you ingrain it into the conscience of the nation?

If you look at the majority of the television stations that fill the digital platforms, the way to do this is to place a permanent on-screen logo (often known as a DOG or bug) in the corner of the screen. Whether it works or not is another matter.

One station has taken a different approach. Channel 4, the UK’s fourth terrestrial television station, recently decided to brand itself in a way that makes its logo prominent but doesn’t get in the way of programmes, and doesn’t annoy the viewer.

That’s not to say that Channel 4 hasn’t experimented with DOGs. Like the BBC channels, Channel 4’s output had an on-screen logo when it launched on digital television, although following viewer complaints this was soon removed.

The 4Music strand, The Big Breakfast and Channel 4’s cricket coverage have all used DOGs in the past, although they too have disappeared. Only the teens strand, T4, continues to use one, despite continuing complaints from viewers.

Most of what Channel 4 is doing is nothing radical. Many stations have style guidelines for their trailers, break-bumpers (the small animations before the adverts), captions and station idents, and in most cases, these will share some similarities.

However Channel 4 has gone one step further, applying the same style guide to all other areas of presentation, including credit sequences and even production slides. So what exactly are they doing?

Each part of the presentation includes the current Channel 4 logo – a large solid white square, with the station’s stylised 4 cut out of it. This is kept in exactly the same place on the screen – well that is if we assume that the viewers TV is set up in widescreen, showing non-widescreen programmes with vertical black bars at the side, or in a 4:3 cut-out so that the widescreen edges at the left and right are cut off.

What happens to the square varies depending on which part of the presentation it forms a part of. In static captions, it sits with three similar sized boxes to the left, so that there are four boxes in a row – the final one being the white square.

These three boxes usually contain separate parts of a wide picture, usually related to the programme being advertised, although Channel 4 does have a number of versions with more ‘abstract’ pictures, used for more generic situations.

In trailers, the square is overlaid onto the beginning of the trailer, before fading out. At the end of the trailer, the square returns, together with text related to the trailer (usually a programme name and time of broadcast).

The trailers are also an indication of how much the station is seeking to avoid using DOGs – unlike the overwhelming majority of stations, Channel 4 doesn’t even overlay an on-screen graphic throughout the whole of the trailer. It’s just two logos – one at the beginning and one at the end.

Channel 4’s break-bumpers and idents work in a similar way to each other, and both use the same idea of vertical bars scrolling across the screen. In the case of idents, the station logo appears during the ident, and the scrolling bars are often overlaid on top of video footage, often of Channel 4 personalities.

The corporate style has also now been introduced on programme credit sequences and production slides as well.

There are two main parts of a programme when the viewer might decide to flick over to something else – during the advert breaks, and during the credits. Its even possible that a viewer may switch over to the channel mid-programme, watch it, then go again. They may enjoy the programme but never notice who made it.

This ‘nightmare’ scenario is the reason why the marketing and branding people advocate permanent on-screen logos – by having the station logo etched into the screen at all times, the viewer will never forget what they’re watching.

That’s the theory. However by effective use of break-bumpers and credit sequences, Channel 4 have managed to ensure that their logo is on screen at just the times when people may be thinking of switching channels.

During the programme credits, the station will often overlay a large vertical band of solid colour, filling the right side of the screen. The Channel 4 logo sits in the middle of this – large, bold and bright, in exactly the same size as the versions of the logo used elsewhere.

This band isn’t just used for placing a Channel 4 logo on screen. Over the years television stations have given quick audio announcements as the credits roll, but now Channel 4 can replicate this information on screen as well, telling you what the next programme is or how to buy a video from the Channel 4 Shop.

It’s a simple thing, but the fact that the logo is large means that it’s much more noticeable than a normal DOG, thus giving the user a much clearer indication of what channel they are watching. The user (should they care) gets an easy way to see that it’s Channel 4, and the marketing people can rest easy in their beds.

This new style has influenced the way credit sequences are made. For all new Channel 4 productions, the credits are made to fit in the gap to the left of the screen.

Even the final production slide, giving information on which company made the programme, fits in to this style. If the band is not used, the Channel 4 logo simply forms part of the final production slide.

There are occasions when the station doesn’t use this ‘caption’ band. However when they are used, they add an effective tool to the branding of the station.

When you look at everything Channel 4 does to make sure you know who you’re watching, you realise that the total is greater than the sum of the parts. Together the whole package has provided the station with an effective way of branding itself that doesn’t interfere with programmes, and won’t annoy the viewer.

Whether it works as well or better than a DOG we can’t answer here, however you can’t fault the station for trying. As the digital revolution gets underway, effective branding is one of the top aims of any TV station.

It is good to see that in this brand conscious age, one station is trying to make itself stand out from the crowd.

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