Does the relaunch of ITV’s News at Ten in its old timeslot mark a return to traditional broadcast design values, or have podcasts and ‘rolling’ formats altered our expectations of TV news forever? Oliver Bennett investigates
News programmes may be under threat, with the proliferation of 24-hour news channels and on-line coverage, but they continue to be top of the television agenda. Witness the recent fuss over the relaunch of ITV’s New at Ten, with its Google Earth-type swoop along the Thames leading to the Houses of Parliament and then on to Big Ben, the programme’s icon and source of the famous ‘bongs’.
‘The relaunch is about bringing together heritage and modernity,’ says ITV News graphics director Kojo Boateng, who designed the new clock face logotype. ‘The programme is intended to be engaging and authoritative.’ Therefore, the old aspects of the branding were kept, such as Big Ben and the double-header presenter format, augmented with hi-tech graphics and a panoramic backdrop.
Once he had decided to resurrect the ‘old’ values of News at Ten, Boateng pored through archive footage before coming up with the new logotype, featuring Big Ben’s numerals with Interstate type. ‘The idea was that News at Ten would be a standalone identity,’ he says, ‘while using a design that could operate on multiple platforms.’ Boateng has introduced devices for ‘breaking news’ and interactivity, but has tried to simplify the overall format. ‘I was keen to strip away unnecessary effects that got in the way,’ he explains.
Much of the interest in News at Ten followed on from its axing in 1999, which ushered in a TV news war. The BBC moved its flagship 9pm programme to 10pm while ITV’s main bulletin kept shifting – it was even dubbed ‘News at When?’. Now, its approach is to regain its former authority, trust and solidity, while retaining a dynamism and flexibility that’s crucial in a multi-platform era. This is part of a wider rethink of news programmes taking place across all the terrestrial channels. Five is planning to relaunch its news programming, and the BBC is said to be the process of rebranding its news output.
Ian Wormleighton, creative director at Red Bee Media, which has worked on BBC London News, BBC World and BBC News 24 and other global news programmes, says all the channels are searching for quality in a dynamic news market. ‘There have always been new design issues, and designing for a multi-platform age doesn’t change the brand fundamentals,’ he says. Wormleighton is particularly concerned that TV news shouldn’t be too ‘bitty’. ‘Recently, I’ve done a lot of work in India [where] it’s been a real battle not to have the screen filled up with information,’ he adds, ‘but good clients want to reduce the amount of “clutter”.’
So simplicity rules, albeit with movement. ‘More common [nowadays] are animated backgrounds with graphics, so you don’t suddenly come to a static picture,’ says Wormleighton. ‘When I introduced this to Al-Jazeera a decade ago, [people in] the studio almost fell on the floor laughing.’ Now, he says, there’s not a still frame to be seen.
So far, ITV hasn’t managed to deal a blow to the BBC’s main bulletin, also at 10pm. But it has reintroduced a formal note to news presentation, lost since Kirsty Young first sat on a desk at Five News. Since that time, news broadcasts have became increasingly informal, with zappy graphics and lively sets. ‘The graphics and “look and feel” reflect the way news has become more 24/7 and multi- platform,’ says Moving Brands creative director James Bull. ‘It has to work on TV, mobiles, blogs, iPods – even YouTube,’ he says, but adds, ‘TV news has to acquiesce to the old values of hierarchical information and strong editing. Squaring these demands is the current challenge for designers.’
Phil Gerrard of digital consultancy All of Us, which has advised BBC One on its Panorama programme, says that the news has to appeal to the Web 2.0 generation. ‘Bulletins nowadays often highlight the user, rather than the editor,’ he says. ‘Discussions bolt on to news sites, and mobile phone alerts are used. The BBC, for example, has to ask itself if [a news item] works on an iPod as well as on TV.’
Yet news programmes also need to retain a sense of probity. Celia Chapman of consultancy Lambie-Nairn, which has worked on several BBC news formats, thinks that news has to be appropriate to its subject matter. ‘Title sequences are vital in terms of mood, but so are the graphics, the studio, the set and the presentation. The brand relationship is built all the way through and, remember, you might be giving people devastating information.’ TV news should therefore pitch the emotion right, and be trustworthy, as well as exciting.
Channel 4 News’ flagship 7pm programme has long struck a discursive note, with anchor Jon Snow leading studio discussions. ‘The last revamp we had was just over two years ago,’ says Martin Fewell, deputy news editor of C4 News. ‘It came in with the new branding imagery and we changed to conform with it.’ The programme created white titles, lightened up the studio, and sought to emphasise ‘authenticity’, and a sense of engagement with the news. A certain informality reigns at C4, but does not unbalance serious material.
One of the major influences on TV news design has been the advent of 24-hour channels. Sky News, now 19 years old, has led the way with graphic devices such as the ‘ticker tape’, and busier screens. ‘Sky News started in a space little more than a cupboard, so we were forced to be experimental,’ says a spokeswoman. Since then, Sky News has grown into its dedicated TV news centre where other products are made (including Five News), and the studio has a big news wall and a motorised presentation desk. It also pioneered editorial innovations such as reconstructions, which remain controversial.
But the TV news debate will always rage, because main news bulletins are seen as flagship programmes for the big channels. ‘They’re still one of the few things that people make an “appointment to view”,’ says Chapman.