Graphic Design on UK Television & the Effects of Multi-Channel Growth

The graphic style of the eighties was very much that of computer originated graphics, influenced by the launch identity of Britain’s first new television station in almost 20 years—Channel 4. In stark contrast, graphic design on television during the nineties was also influenced by the launch of new channels—this time hundreds. The growth of multi-channel television had most effect on terrestrial broadcasters, who for years had very little competition, but now faced having to re-invent themselves. Graphic design played a key role with the creation of visual devices that would maintain channel audiences, a key strategy being branding.

The last ten years or so have seen rapid growth and fundamental change in the television landscape. Once a medium limited to transmitting only five channels to the majority of the UK, the 1990’s saw significant advances in broadcasting. This was a decade that started with the launch of satellite and cable television offering scores of channels, and ended with the development of digital television achieving hundreds of channels via satellite and meaning even the standard rooftop aerial could receive around 50. Digital television also brought with it a far more graphical form of Teletext, and interactivity within programmes—thus blurring the boundaries between television and the Internet.

It is because of these advances in technology and the increasing number of channels (and therefore competition) they brought, that I have singled out the nineties to analyse any changes and differences in design styles on those channels broadcast terrestrially (through an aerial) in analogue form—these being BBC1, BBC 2, ITV (as a whole and in the regions), Channel 4 and Channel 5. I am looking at these channels in particular as these were around before ‘multi-channel’ television. This is perhaps less true for Channel 5, but still provides an interesting case study as it had to achieve good market penetration only a year before the launch of digital television.

I will be investigating those areas of design that are directly responsible for giving channels their identity, such as idents or ‘stings’ (the breaks shown at the junction of programmes) as well as overall presentation style (menus, captions etc.). I will also look at the presentation of news programmes as I feel that that this is one area of programming that defines a channel, and their appearance often reflects this. (This is especially true in some ITV regions where the local news is all that differentiates it from another owned by the same media group, for example in two Carlton owned regions: ‘Central News’ and ‘London Tonight’). By doing so, I will see how their business, marketing and branding strategies have been developed visually on-screen.

To properly analyse the reasons for any changes to graphic design on television, I will be looking at the broadcasting environment in terms of competition, consolidation, regulation and also any advances in technology used by the designer.

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