Channel branding has been in existence for as long as there have been channels, except for several decades it was referred to as station identification.
In the early days, TV branding was simple. It had to be. Even in the early 1970s, a VTR cost as much as a row of houses, and there were no viable computer graphics. Cometh the channels, cometh the technologies!
Today hundreds of TV channels are easily accessible, affordable technology for branding is in a totally different league of availability and affordability, and branding exists whether we like it or not. However, such power needs to be used with discretion. Good branding gives the viewers a good impression, and so creates a bias toward that channel. Rather than leaving viewers to come to their own conclusions, broadcasters can then actively manage that impression and expand the branding as the channel becomes more popular.
Bugs — good and bad
There are many ways a channel can brand itself and typically, for a major channel, all methods are used. The channel ID, or bug, usually placed in the top left or right corner, is most popular. Aesthetically, this has to do its job of labelling the channel without distracting viewers from watching the program. It’s up to the graphic designer to get it right. Technically, displaying the bug involves keying a graphic over the channel’s output, perhaps in a downstream keyer. Some are transparent; some are solid. Today we would hope the keying avoids producing ragged edges, implying some profiled key rather than the old hard key. To achieve this 40 years ago using the equipment of the time was not easy. Today it can be simple and inexpensive.
Some channels like to animate the bug. This means there must be some form of video replay to run this video and key. As humans are historically hunter-gatherers, and so programmed to notice movement — even in peripheral vision — viewers are bound to be distracted by the bug. This may be counterproductive and turn the viewer away.
This simplest form of branding is important as viewers should immediately, or within milliseconds, recognize the channel by the bug/logo when surfing the many available channels. However, the bug is very basic and not likely to encourage viewers to watch and stay loyal to the channel. So there is usually a range of other elements that make up the complete channel branding package.
Creating a brand
Channel branding is much more than establishing an identity; it is about creating a brand that will get viewers to watch the channel and keep watching, as well as recommend the channel to others. Multichannel broadcasters will want to promote across all their channels and platforms. Channel branding is all about gaining viewers and keeping them watching your channels and, for commercial channels, increasing revenues.
Competition for viewers is greater than ever, so channels are demanding ever more powerful ways to promote their brand within what is usually an extremely limited budget. The good news is that, today, with the advances in technology, the process of achieving the required on-air look can be flexible and high quality. At the high end, many branding systems, including some channel-in-a-box (CIB) systems, can meet and exceed the requirements cost-effectively. Unlike the early days, the on-air technology no longer limits channel-branding presentation. This throws the challenge back to the artists, designers and even the accountants, to supply effective branding materials, as, from the broadcast engineering position, we can present it on-air. It is up to the channel’s creative powers, not the technology.
Typically, graphics experts will have produced the designs, and these designs need information — text to be added when it goes to air. Using traditional TV equipment for video, stills, text, animation, on-air mixing, keying, sizing, positioning, timing and sequencing, it can get complicated to do this live. For this reason, the packages are pre-recorded so all that has to happen to put the piece to air is simply to replay the clip and cut it on-air. That is possible with clips of some length, but attempting to cue a two-second bumper or sting — all a part of the on-air look — would be asking too much of VTRs. One way around this is to pre-record every break — sacrificing flexibility and increasing workload. Another is the cart machine, a mighty, elaborate electromechanical wonder that could do the job, but at a considerable cost.