Compromising the brand 

24 May 2004 tbs.pm/2041

Ian Beaumont asks whether decent programming is needed to make a good channel.

In the early days of television, there weren’t many channel, or channel-like brands. One of the earliest would have been the separate Children’s Television brand for children’s programmes on the BBC Television Service in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.

Independent Television News, or ITN, was the brand on the news bulletins of the early ITA services of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Slowly, over the years, more brands have come into being and become accepted, as channel or channel-like brands.

The Open University, Independent Television for Schools and Colleges, The Open College on Four, Night Time, DEF2, BBC Select and many others have become accepted as channel, or channel-like brands over the years. But does there come a point when too many brands spoil the channel, just like too many cooks spoil the broth?

In a word, no. These days, there is a proliferation of brands on the main BBC channels. BBC News, BBC Sport, BBC News 24, BBC Learning Zone, CBBC, CBeebies and all the various regional and national region brands, and all of these brands do not detract from the main BBC One and BBC Two brands.

Nor, do they particularly enhance the brands, either. All they really do is add spice to the channel and break up the monotony a bit. But, it really wouldn’t make a great deal of difference if all of these brands disappeared.

After all, other brands on a channel do not have any real influence on the image of the main channel. What influences the image of the main channel is the programmes, the content of the channel, although the channel’s on screen look plays a part too.

ITV is in a similar position. It has different brands for different things, such as ITV Sport and CITV. In my region, Westcountry News is also treated as a separate brand from Carlton, part of ITV1.

Here though, ITV1’s image is driven by the fact the channel’s programmes all seem driven for ratings and ratings alone, and as such, the channel seems to have lost out when it comes to credibility.

This credibility issue has nothing to do with the other brands on the channel, but has a lot to do with programme content and scheduling.

Channel 4 has T4 and 4 Learning, but neither detracts from their parent channel’s main brand. Channel 5 has no other brands as such that are channel-like. Both Milkshake and The Core are regarded as programming zones or blocks.

Channel 5’s credibility took an early knock, for all the wrong reasons, despite having some very credible output. However, since the arrival of one or two more successful programmes to the channel, the credibility of Channel 5 has taken an upturn.

Sky One on the other hand did have a period of using an additional brand, Sky One Prime Time, but has generally avoided using too many channel-like brands. When it first started in 1982, under the name Satellite Television, it was as cheap and cheerful as it came.

The takeover by Rupert Murdoch in 1984 and the name change to Sky Channel began a process that would make Sky Channel a credible cable channel, but even so, this would be quite some way off the high standards of the 4 main terrestrial channels at the time.

1989 would see a further credibility upturn, with its arrival on the Astra 1A satellite and a shift in focus from Europe to the UK and Ireland. By the mid 1990’s, Sky One’s credibility was such that it was regarded as the fifth channel, and whilst it’s ratings weren’t anywhere near Channel 4 or BBC-2, they were bringing respectable ratings for satellite.

But since the late 1990’s Sky One’s ratings and its credibility have slipped. And it’s not because they’ve used too many brands on their channel.

It’s because the programming that they’ve commissioned has supposedly done to get the audience they want, 16-34 year olds, but unfortunately, their ratings have slid by at least a third.

Would it make a great deal of difference if, say, output from Sky News and Sky Sports News, say, was added to Sky One to round out the channel? If the content was good enough, then yes it would. But adding brands to Sky One wouldn’t by itself do any damage to the channel at all.

Too many brands don’t compromise the channel, it’s a case of too much bad programming has done more damage to Sky One than 4-6 hours of Sky News overnight ever could.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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