The introduction of multi-channel television at the beginning of the nineties saw a distinct visual change from that of individualism and variation across channels and networks, to conformity and consistency through the use of branding. Although Channel 4 had realised the power of a brand as means of creating effective competition, it wasn’t until the launch of both satellite and cable television services that both the BBC and ITV saw the benefits that recognisable brands could bring.
Whilst this saw BBC1’s identity being updated twice during the nineties, the image it portrays has remained pretty much unchanged to that of 50 years ago. As Britain’s first channel, and paid for by the viewer, it is seen as the place to find quality programming. Here branding was only needed to reinforce this image. For BBC2 however, a brand was needed to remodel peoples perceptions of the channel whilst still being flexible enough so as to be able to change to suit the channels varied programming. Now that this brand has been established, it has remained largely unaltered for over 10 years. The same is true of Channel 4, where its original idents were in use for over 14 years. Their strength was perhaps only realised when they were replaced with a less suitable identity which only lasted for 2 years, before the channel returned to an image that has many similarities to its original.
As for ITV, it’s never really been sure of its brand, mainly due to its regionalised structure. The need however to create a successful umbrella identity has lead to sometimes uncomfortable compromises. Even the use of dual-branding systems was sometimes not enough to persuade all its regions to adopt the ITV brand, or even name. Perhaps if and only when ITV becomes a single company, will it be able to create a brand strong enough to rival that of other broadcasters. However this would no doubt lead to the destruction of its strongest asset – its regionality – something the BBC is starting to make its own.
Once the strength of branding was realised, it wasn’t soon after that other areas of programming began to use this device – most notably news bulletins – the BBC creating a distinct sub-brand, and ITN’s being replaced with that of ITV’s.
It’s interesting to note throughout the development of graphic design in television and the introduction of brands, the influence of just one man – Martin Lambie-Nairn. Responsible for the BBC and Channel 4 identities, as well as the innovative titles for the BBC’s Nine O’clock News, and later the branding of ITN and all of the BBC’s news output. His solution for Channel 4 in 1982 was way ahead of its time, and yet when the rest of television has now tuned into branding, he and his company still remain at the forefront of the field.
The introduction of digital television towards the end of the decade bringing with it the EPG, has seen the use of visual devices other than that of branding, with details of forthcoming programming displayed at every opportunity – even during programmes. With future technologies such as video recorders that can practically create your own schedules for you, as well as the ever growing digital convergence between television and the Internet, it will be interesting to see what broadcasters will do next – will we still see a need for channel idents?
One thing’s for sure; broadcastering brands will need to be as strong as ever.
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