Broadcasters must work harder to implant their values in viewers' minds as competition grows.
Back in the 50s, a creative at Anglia TV grabbed a pewter knight off the chairman's desk, put it on a turntable and one of the first TV idents was born. Half a century later, the now-defunct channel represented by the knight still remains fresh in many people's minds.
Today's TV executives are striving to create similar longevity. Faced with the attendant competition of multichannel TV, the skip-though effect of PVRs and the uncertainty of an on-demand future, the importance of branding and identity has never been more acute.
'The increase in multichannel means there is a real chance of viewers forgetting which channel they're watching,' says Channel 4 director of marketing Polly Cochrane. 'There is an onus on idents to symbolise a channel's purpose.'
BBC One is the latest channel to review its brand, with Red Bee Media working on a brief to replace its 'dancer' idents, introduced in 2002.
It is also running a promotional drive through Fallon, its biggest since the 'Perfect day' activity in 1995, using the line 'This is what we do'.
The activity, one of the toughest briefs in the TV identity arena, is being overseen by Peter Fincham, controller of BBC One, and Tim Davie, the BBC's director of marketing.
Ripe for criticism
The dancers were conceived by Lambie-Nairn, working on a brief handed down from then-controller Lorraine Heggessey to position BBC One as more energetic and entertaining. However, they have been criticised for being overly politically correct and patronising. The channel's previous ident, a hot-air balloon drifting over famous landmarks, also created by Lambie-Nairn, came under fire for being imperialistic.
The agency's chairman, Martin Lambie-Nairn, is philosophical about the apparent no-win situation. 'TV branding is like architecture,' he says.
'It's in front of people every minute of the day, so you're being critiqued all the time.'
The BBC's activity follows hot on the heels of ITV's introduction of overhauled on-screen idents, also by Red Bee, across its four channels.
Five, too, began the year with a new look, while Channel 4 has been investing in branding to support its digital expansion. Away from the terrestrials, Hallmark, Trouble and History Channel have all recently revamped their on-screen look.
Red Bee Media would not comment on the BBC brief. However, its senior creative director, Jane Walker, says: 'Channel branding is vital for the simple reason that viewers don't have time to surf through all the channels. There is so much choice you could spend all your time looking for stuff.'
She also argues that multichannel has made it harder to stretch identities across several brands, as ITV has done. As part of its rebranding, ordered by ITV director of marketing and commercial strategy Clare Salmon, it dispensed with the yellow-and-blue, celebrity-fronted idents introduced by her predecessor Jim Hytner. Walker says that before the switch, ITV1's personality had 'eclipsed' the broadcaster's fledgling digital channels' identities.
TV idents clearly have to work far harder now than in the past. 'They have to tell you about the personality of the channel and the content you can expect,' says ITV's Salmon. …