NEWLY LAUNCHED television channels Diva TV, Dave, Virgin 1 and Sky Real Lives will join the increasingly frantic battle for viewers’ eyeballs this autumn. With more than 200 stations already on-air and a shortage of new and exclusive programming to attract viewers, turning these channels into must-see destinations for audiences will require powerful branding techniques.
Most designers agree that Channel 4’s on-air idents – which use a variety of camera angles in different situations that resolve to a giant, monolithic ‘4’ – are the gold standard of channel branding. Introduced in December 2004, they were designed by the station’s in-house group 4creative, headed by Brett Foraker, in collaboration with Russell Appleford at post-production studio MPC. ‘The C4 idents were originally conceived as a way to recreate the feeling you had when watching the original Lambie-Nairn computer-generated idents from the mid-1980s,’ says Foraker. ‘Tone is the important thing – we weren’t going for nostalgia, but rather for an almost child-like sense of wonderment. The idents had to be unhurried and confident. Above all, we wanted viewers to ask themselves, “How the fuck did they do that?”.’
Virgin 1, which launched this month on Freeview, Sky and Cable as a blokey, general entertainment channel, uses idents showing small red objects, such as paper clips and pens, being attracted magnetically to larger red objects, such as post boxes and cars. These are in turn attracted to a monolithic, red figure ‘1’. Steve Lewis, creative director of Virgin 1, acknowledges a debt to the C4 idents. ‘There’s definitely a similarity,’ he admits. But, he explains that the V1 branding, created by directors group Conkerco and graphic designer Andrew Fairhurst, primarily aims to ‘reclaim the colour red’, which has long been associated with the Virgin brand. Lewis says there is more to station branding than simply identifying the channel. ‘It is an interpretation of the brand personality. It is all about communicating quality and energy that cuts through on-air. When you enter Virgin 1 as a viewer, this narrative helps to draw you through. It is continuity designed to increase stickability so you are less likely to switch off,’ he says.
Also competing for male viewers on Freeview will be UKTV’s new channel Dave, which goes live this week with an on-air campaign by Red Bee Media positioning the channel as ‘the home of witty banter’. Another launch – in early November – is Sky Real Lives, a rebranding of Sky Travel, which is dedicated to human interest stories aimed at 35- to 54-year-old women. Idents are being created in-house through Sky Creative, which won the brief after a four-way pitch. Meanwhile, this month Sparrowhawk Media (previously known as Hallmark) launches Diva TV, which is aimed at women between 25 and 35 years old, on satellite and cable. The on-screen idents were created by Sparrowhawk’s design group BDA and show everyday objects such as washing-up gloves, forks and plastic ducks swirling around in a Busby Berkeley-style dance routine. BDA’s creative director for Sparrowhawk, Andrew Clyde, says, ‘It is quite fun and visually interesting using objects the audience are familiar with. We are showing them in a different light, in a multi-tasking female way.’ Clyde adds that, with stiff competition on satellite television, it has become vital to create a bond with viewers. Twenty years ago, when there were only five channels, people regularly watched just three of them. Now, there are more than 200, but the average repertoire has increased to just five or six. Top-rating programmes such as Oprah can be found on different channels, adding to the pressure on stations to become destinations of choice. ‘There’s so much choice, but people don’t use it on cable and satellite. We want to be among the favoured channels people will go back to if they have an appointment to view, or if they can’t find anything else on,’ Clyde says.
While praising the C4 idents, Clyde believes they have ‘transcended’ the station’s content. ‘C4’s idents have this quite edgy, contemporary feel, although some of its programmes aren’t like that at all,’ he says, adding that it is important for a station’s branding to be truthful to its content.
Jane Walker, group creative director of Red Bee Media, which created the current BBC One, BBC Two and BBC Four identities, claims that there are increasing demands on stations to keep changing their branding. ‘There seems to be a short shelf life now, because things are changing so quickly,’ she says. ‘There’s new competition and everybody wants to keep one step ahead and be different. You need to keep refreshing it to surprise people. But, a good identity should have four or five years in it.’ She adds that it is much easier creating a brand for a niche station on cable or satellite than for a general channel such as ITV which wants to appeal to everyone.
Some believe that, if anything, channel branding will increase in importance as new technology makes traditional television a thing of the past. All the main channels are launching video-on-demand services where viewers can download programmes and watch them at their leisure.
Martin Lambie-Nairn, who has created acclaimed idents such as the hot-air balloons and dancers for BBC One, says the future will present a new set of problems. ‘Nobody is really sure how it is going to work; the whole way of designing will be different, it might be a Google experience rather than TV,’ he says. And Stuart Watson, a partner at VentureThree, which creates branding – on- and off-air – for BSkyB, says, ‘It is a time of big change for the channels. Now that people can download programmes, they need a real reason to plug into C4 or the BBC. People have a relationship with content. Through branding, the channels are saying, “This is why you should watch programmes with us”.’