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Comments (34) Posted 07.31.05 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Jessica Helfand

Why Bugs Don't Belong on TV



Animation courtesy of Colossus, Inc.

On today's TV screens, the station-identification logo sits tethered to the surface, like an annoying rash that won't quite disappear. You think you've kicked it when — WHAMMMO — there it is again, blemishing the patina of an otherwise perfectly good viewing experience. Once a translucent image that surfaced only intermittently, today's screen logo has become a monstrous exaggeration of its former self. While this speaks poorly for broadcasters, it represents an even greater shame for designers, many of whom would like to think they can rescue their clients from making appallingly bad choices, like displaying large, pulsating logos in the corner of a television monitor.

Is there no better way to promote the mothership?

The technical term is DOG, for digital on-screen (or originated) graphics, and we've all seen them: touting the next program in the line-up when you've barely begun watching something else, your eye jumps from the main action as the marginal encroachment of the logo — referred to in certain circles as an "obnoxicon" — performs its little dance, which, frankly, is anything but marginal. (Here is the US, some of these logo dances have begun to include sound, producing a horrifying little moment of audio confusion that even John Cage would be hard pressed to enjoy.) Plasma screen TV manufacturers warn consumers of warranty limitations in the event of "screen burn" — literally, an unfortunate casualty wherein the logo becomes permamently "burned" into the screen as a consequence of the TV being left on the same station for too long.

Sadly, the profusion of animated logos seems unlikely to abate any time soon. They might as well go ahead and implant the logo right on your brain.

In an effort to retaliate, some viewers opposed to these corporate (and graphic) interventions have formed grass-roots posses hoping to take on the broadcasting heavyweights with a kind of critical mass. Watchdog groups like Squash the TV Bugs in the US and Logo-Free TV in Britain have been moderately successful in raising public awareness, writing manifesti and sharing useful links with their equally annoyed brethren — yet in spite of such admirable intentions, there remains an air of inevitable despair about it all. Will the TV bugs continue to grow in size, noise and frequency, until we all succumb to a state of passive acceptance? Can TV bugs ever be restricted, minimized, abolished altogether? (TiVO, where are you?) Late-night TV host Conan O'Brien offered his own remedy not long ago: reaching for a can of insecticide during his show one night, he sprayed the famous NBC peacock, whereupon it dissolved and dripped right off the screen.

Comedy aside, it does not look like the protest, noble as it is, is doing much to reverse the infestation.

In the early years, the concept of screen-based tagging did not seem quite so menacing. There was even a kind of visual delight to the subtlety with which it revealed itself: like a watermark, it offered a momentary glimpse of sponsorship, a reminder of its point of origin, its corporate provenance. (Number Seventeen principal Bonnie Siegler introduced this practice when she was creative director in the early years at VH1, so that viewers knew it wasn't MTV.) But lately, it's all gone haywire: it's devolved to, in the words of one detractor,"a muddle of irremovable graphic garbage, ammounting to the worst kind of interference imaginable." TV Bugs have become their own horrifying visual idiom: graphic lunacy.

Naturally, one can easily imagine broadcasters believing in the power of this sort of insistent PR, but can there be anyone who really wants to see a miniature football careen across the screen during a news broadcast? (I swear this happened to me a week before The Super Bowl.) And it gets worse. On ESPN2, they routinely shrink the main action in order to feature a constantly updated score ticker scrolling across the bottom of the screen. And while there's perhaps a distinction to be made between TV Logos (reminding you where you are) and TV Promos (upstaging the main event), they both spell trouble.

It's an essential design problem: how to mediate the relationship betweeen the primary message (what you're watching) and the secondary, or even tertiary message? (What you'll watch next, or tomorrow, or next week on this same channel.) On CNN, it's mildly distracting to see a news feed slide across the bottom of the screen while watching the anchor delivering the headlines, but in this instance, at least, it's all news. Many of us have observed the degree to which TV screens have come to adopt the organizational conceits of certain websites, and, as television becomes more interactive, this is perhaps unavoidable. But in television journalism, it's all part of the same genre, and besides, it's all live: what's so objectionable about TV bugs is that they're primed to interfere, because they're sharing valuable screen real estate with a hermetically sealed, completely independent piece of programming. It's a collision of content and content, of form and form: it's like watching scenes from two different plays on a single stage.

There is an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer becomes so infuriated with the FOX-TV logo in the corner of his screen that he reaches out, grabs the logo and stomps on it. Sadly, for the rest of us, this is not an option. Meanwhile, as viewers grow more impatient and broadcasters more insistent, the stalemate persists. Bring on the fictional insecticide, I say. Or at the very least, better design solutions.
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Comments (34)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT COMMENT >>

It all seems very reminiscent of the early days of the internet and html when everyone discovered the blink command. Almost every site you went to had something blinking one it and often more than one.

The bottom line is unfortunatley going to be the botttom line. If there is a financial benefit or conversly no financial harm. The bugs will stay. At least until marketers come up with something to replace the current over-emphasis on branding.
Stephen Macklin
07.31.05 at 09:50

In Portugal we have government sponsored TV chanels. During Euro 2004 (one month), things got a bit out of control. Besides the chanel logo, we had the portuguese flag, the Euro2004 logo and, during football games, a time and score counter plus the playing countries' flags. One month of a big line of moving signs instead of a casual mosquito on the upper left field.
João Marrucho
07.31.05 at 10:51

I personally don't mind the little logos, and I have a very small television. But in the era of satellite TV -- with over 600 channels! -- the little bug helps orient me in the that great universe. "What channel are we watching again?" Without having to press that "menu" button or some such.
Of course, it might be raw data that helps the broadcasters, I believe I read in Print, that the more information there is on the screen the less that or ability to remember ANY of it is. Something on the tune of 20% or something. Perhaps if they find that people just don't remember and/or act on what they see, they won't do it, or think of a less intrusive way to present it.
DC1974
07.31.05 at 11:14

On a recent episode of "The Comeback" on HBO, Valerie's appearance in Room and Bored (sp?) was reduced to the "tag" - appearing after the show had ended, in that little bit that runs with the credits. We see her watching the broadcast, and excited to see herself in the show. But then the moving image goes into splitscreen with the credits rolling in the other half. "Oh, that's just not respectful" she complains. And 3 seconds later, a giant logo for an upcoming Nascar broadcast appears along the bottom of the screen, and then a CG robot slams on top of that, filling about 35% of the screen real estate. She is of course entirely chagrined.

It was funny, as they say on the Simpsons, because it's true.

I can never believe each time I see TNT get more agressive with the size, audio, and motion of their "bugs" - I mean, I'm here, I'm watching your show, why do you want to "bug" me about watching another show? Thank goodness so far it's only they advertising for themselves and not potato chip ads flopping down along the bottom of Will and Grace!
Steve Portigal
07.31.05 at 12:29

Careful you don't give them any ideas, Steve.

So, is there anything that we, the collective group of designers, can do about this distrubing trend, other than encourage our own clients against it?
Drew Davies
07.31.05 at 02:02

The American protest is distinguished by irritation over the intrusiveness of anything — logo or promo — as a kind of essential violation to the sanctity of television viewership: in this sense, the TV bug is like a Johnny-One-Note perpetrator, always sneaking in from the lower right. But the perp in the UK isn't restricted to the lower right-hand quadrant, and it's been my observation that the British protest is, therefore, a bit different: for one thing, the logo can appear anywhere on the screen — on someone's head, for example — and while that BBC4 logo is tasteful and small, it is really annoying when it surfaces in the middle of Helen Mirren's nose during a murder investigation on PrimeSuspect.
Jessica Helfand
07.31.05 at 09:57

Here in Australia we often receive "re-purposed" footage which unceremoniously has the bug of its previous owner blurred out. As these pieces of footage get passed down the line, the process marches on, so that, eventually, the whole bottom right hand corner of the screen is a bleached out blob with a Fox logo on it.
chris dixon
08.01.05 at 02:41

We have innovations like TiVo to thank for this parade of showtime promos, and info-blast stations like CNN for their precedent. There are so many automated ways to avoid ads, on top of the standard get-up-and-get-a-snack response, that stations are now stepping all over the one area they know the viewers will be to ensure message delivery. Bleh.

I don't mind the watermarks, but the damn animated ads drive me crazy. And, as Jessica mentioned, the audio collisions are just plain idiotic, since confusion and annoyance are the only real products of that misguided practice.
Chris Rugen
08.01.05 at 08:57

Where does this sense of a promised 'clear' or autonomous picture on U.S. TV channels come from? Certainly it wasn't so from the beginning, where microphones had to be prominent with network logos, shows were introduced tagged by sponsor, whose ads were embedded and products were sold by TV show stars (my timex watch etc..) who remained onstage and in the character costume etc. It was corporate viewing space, so the question is why the US networks were so late to come on board with this screen-image tagging.

Perhaps it is in regards to the threat of digital home copying, but then, that would have been the case in the vhs era already.

US networks define through ad spots and programming, with any visual i.d. design only utilized along network seasonal slogan catchphrases ads, or re-tuned logos, rather than as a more evident "environment" or framework. It is free-market philosophy, and networks never invested or did anything they didn't have to except routine - the seasonal change of dress. If anything philosophically "new" occurred in design or i.d, it was rare and in the private cable side, like CNN inventing the idea of a war having a specially designed typeface - the first Gulf War in its "orientalist" motif always accompanying its segment. Until then, main networks never took overt design influence to the serious nightly news. Just compare today to see what happened, by looking at a more cohesive BBC news anchor environment to any of the hyper-kinetic examples on US networks.

I had the opportunity to watch the development of the European 'private' channels like VH-1 (so different from its incarnation today). It really was the cool European cousin, an overall embedded aesthetic that made it alternative on many levels to the American MTV (many, many different MTV logos....corporate style). VH-1 was being watched because it was a real "identity" - a clear, recognizable, aesthetic experience as part of the packaging. It is not for nothing that when competition came to European State TV, every boring, in-house designed European tv i.d. was overhauled to compete with "private" sector, meaning most finally went to outside, designers more reknown for smart, commercial i.d. like Brody (ORF for example).

When US networks felt the really serious competition in the cable 90s, the US TV network pumped up their version of "life" - being visually animated - viewers, logos, i.d., programming, everything. Like the fake audiences in Oprah et al - being and keeping highly animated is their job or they are sorted out and sent to back rows.

Since the internet powered up to consumer levels, the same again. Attention span is always measured on the margins of the frame - your eye is more sensitive with movement at the periphery than straight out in front, etc.. Pop-ups or "applet" philosophy is prevalent as a way to cheat the space that I am sure networks figure viewers got used to losing in internet anyway - and soon one day, the two merge, and on a planned much bigger screen size.

I don't really care that U.S. TV i.d. is more neurotic with this latest barrage of animated pop-up applets showing up in the lower screen region amidst my...stimulating?.. NBC or Discovery Channel programs. I wondered why they are so well done, compressing the plot into a few seconds - and which department does the budget for these new info tags come from? In general, the feeling is shifted from just "Stay Tuned for.." to "Don't leave us!" "Remember me and come back!"


art
08.01.05 at 11:13

I'm not really bothered by these bugs very much. I suppose that I would find it more surprising if they were prominent on public broadcasting... but for just about any other venue, I figure that because television just serves as advertisement anyway (selling products/ideas/etc) it doesn't matter if it's "more" advertising. I don't feel it is more advertising: it's 100% advertising already.

I say: bring it on. The bigger the train wreck the better. If I'm watching commercial television networks, it's part of what I expect. I might as well have the fullest experience possible.
Andrew Twigg
08.01.05 at 12:43

I'm rarely bothered by on-screen idents. In fact, I quite like some of them (the BBC's in particular) and am disappointed that other channels didn't keep theirs (like Channel 4, who experimented with them for a while on late-night programming).

But some are just eyesores. Like the National Geographic Channel (the yellow window should be enough!) and CNBC Europe (it takes up about 5% of the screen space, far too big). Thankfully we're not plagued by the animated ones over here; only music stations and kids channels use them, to my knowledge.
MacDara
08.01.05 at 12:44

On CNN, it's mildly distracting to see a news feed slide across the bottom of the screen ... but in this instance, at least, it's all news.

Upon reading some of their scrolling news feeds I begin to wonder about this. The ticker informs us of 'important' news events such as what new movie will be in theaters this weekend.

Instead of only interjecting the ticker when necessary it has now become a thing-in-itself filled with factoids, stats, and one-liners.
Ryan B
08.01.05 at 01:02

I find myself wishing these "bugs" were on a layer that I could opt to turn off -- and the same goes for weather-related info on my screen. I digitally record EVERYTHING and never watch a program live, so it's disconcerting to sit down to watch a program and see the thunderstorm warnings from three days ago crawling across my screen.
Steph Mineart
08.01.05 at 02:27

technically in the US the airwaves are LEASED by broadcasters, but OWNED by "the people" (i.e. the public) -- though this seems to be the subject of some dispute lately. so theoretically at least, given enough outrage, we ought to be able to regulate commercial intrusions into programming.
aaron
08.01.05 at 02:55

So, is there anything that we, the collective group of designers, can do about this distrubing trend, other than encourage our own clients against it?

Read a book :)
greg
08.01.05 at 04:37

this seems to be a potent issue on the edge of a variety of issues.

i agree with the concept that as convergence brings tv programming and interactive environments together users should have much much more control over what they view and what they don't... this is the tivo issue. the old units could opt to not record commercials, and the new units (evidently?) will not allow you to do this. (i've only heard this hearsay. i actually don't watch television).

i also agree that the mood of advertising of the last few years has become much more desperate to maintain viewer attention.

the interesting thing for me is this: are we watching the logical conclusion of advertising not working? i've always wondered even as a child watching tv how many ads actually "work" in that they motivate people to buy their product.

i feel like our culture is going "ad deaf" and "brand deaf", or at least i am. as corporations turn up the volume on their identities people seem to care less and less. or maybe more and more what with corporate tatooing and sponsored weddings and the like.

yet at the same time, the smarter brands (and those with lots of money) have already begun to search new paths for branding and marketing. microscopic marketing niches begin to evolve where you are telling your friends to get a free ipod and converse pays you to make movies and skyy vodka pays you to take pictures of your friends at bars drinking their product. but this is something else. sorry i'm rambling.

another thing this ties into is the concept of the corporate ego. what with the early u.s. legislation of giving a corporation "human rights" we may also have engendered it with the ability to talk too loud, and get drunk and try to fight people. at least be self aggrandizing.

i actually have first hand experience with this, working for a small record label in san francisco. as my first forray into professional(?) graphic design i noticed as i learned to help shape the brand and identity of the label that i constantly made the logo too big on the objects we produced. i'm sure that more seasoned designers never have to contend with this issue but i found it interesting that because i was attached to outcome of the place that i worked i wanted to see our logo in big big letters. maybe in larger and more professional settings this is the curse of the art director or creative manager that has something vested in the company's branding.


I say: bring it on. The bigger the train wreck the better. If I'm watching commercial television networks, it's part of what I expect. I might as well have the fullest experience possible.


the final thing i wanted to say ties into the 20% loss comment above. what happens when ad execs forget the magic 7? i'm refering to the common idea that people can't hold more then 4 to 9 things in their immediate attention at once. i do think we are getting better at filtering, but this is only because we are having to filter more and more of what could be beautiful empty space, or silence, or the attractive nose of an actress.

i can only hope with the confluence of open source technology and the concept of "public rights" to airwaves and the technology we use (that we own) to absorb media (that in many cases we also own), a community of people will evolve that have complete control of the media they absorb.

ok. that's all.
peterflat
08.01.05 at 05:10

Another frivolous piece of collateral to this discussion and the annoyance in question - I'm also curious how many of us got to see SNL's excellent send-up of the CNBC screen real estate usage. I believe it was in last year's season - the segment began with two anchors delivering the news in classic fashion, full-screen, only to have the screen space become so dominated by rolling text, add-on / pop-up graphics, corporate sponsor logos, and multiple other content areas that the anchors were reduced to just enough room for either their eyes or mouths to peek through...

A rare and delicious TV design moment...
pberkbigler
08.01.05 at 05:13

i can only hope with the confluence of open source technology and the concept of "public rights" to airwaves and the technology we use (that we own) to absorb media (that in many cases we also own), a community of people will evolve that have complete control of the media they absorb.

This community already exists. Control over media is complicit in its endorsement or rejection. I can choose to participate in the media in which I am involved (say, public tv/radio where I put my personal money). Yes, the issue of "control" and how much an individual has is complicated: are the wants of each individual addressed or are the wants of its total audience more important? Public broadcasting is an excellent example of public/private support and an example where some would argue things are going wrong (actually seeing TV spots between shows, government "censoring" messages, etc).

Ultimately - and some of you may think this is naive - I can choose what I consume and what I don't. My options are only limited by my knowledge (in general) and my knowledge of what is out there. And if I don't like any of my options, I can choose not to consume at all. So, whether I'm bothered by the bug or by the message, I can move on.

The bug "problem" (if we call it that) probably can't be solved by a bunch of well-meaning designers because there's always someone out there who thinks it's a good idea and who has no issues with making it happen. If something like this is an issue with which people have concern, they should speak with their wallets: change the channel - or dare I suggest turn the tv off - and let that be the vote. This option can only be made available to people through education. As ratings plummet, networks and advertisers will get the message and they'll have to find some other way to sell the product. While I don't know that I see this as a realistic fix in the here and now, I think it's the only way to make it happen.
Andrew Twigg
08.01.05 at 06:09

jessica...i know you and the rest of us little people know that the ubiquitous logo imbedded in our television image is just the tip of the iceberg. i for one am waiting for marketeers to treat their consumers with the ounce of respect we deserve. in doing so we won't forget them. in fact we might find ourselves indebted to them for life.

i imagine a time when everything we consume from our toothpaste, to our favorite cereal, to the big colorful detergent bottles all branded with the necessary audacious markings for point of purchase actually evaporate into thin air with magic vanishing inks once the UPC code is scanned and the deal is done.

yes, this does place the burden to never forget what we bought, consumed and planned to buy again and again on each of us. but, hey, we're not really idiots are we?
Rick Valicenti
08.01.05 at 06:50

don't hold your breath. what's more likely to disappear (like invisible ink) are our natural resouces.

the bug problem is (to me at least) more about preserving truely public space, and many of these are dwindling quickly. the ownership of the airwaves was deemed public, because air is a natural resource - presumed at the time not to be an ownable thing. witness the privatization of water, power, information, even disease. almost everyday i hear something about corporate encroachment into public space, and frankly i've been amazed at people's complacency. more often than not, it is happening without people knowing. the size of that bug in the corner of your screen is indicative of the corporate presence in our everyday lives -- and it IS getting bigger.
aaron
08.01.05 at 06:59

The sitcom Arrested Development also weighed in on this subject. After several of their episodes were bombarded with graphics promoting another animated Fox program, they referenced a web-site of a character within the series which, as the narrator described, was growing unpopular due to its invasive pop up ads. They used the same graphics that Arrested Development had been covered with on the mock up of their character's web site. I guess quite a few people within the industry are a little annoyed at the network's intrusiveness on their product.
Matt
08.02.05 at 09:12

How does this screen-tag in the broadcast image, and the applets-popups philosophy, become more bothersome than the decades of painfully worse (i.e. not the few enjoyable)commercials and their ever-expanding blocks; the inane lowest- common- denominator programming (not the Arrested Developments etc); and the more obvious tendency use of network TV as a political option, not just FOX, but say like NBC to politicians for its Mothercompany GE to open up nuclear reactors in ... you get the gist.

I also wonder if there isn't just more than one definition of "public" in relation to television and "rights" that is shared throughout the comments? Is it European "public" (i.e. State) TV; US "public" i.e. Public Broadcasting (PBS); "public access" cable; you mean the cost-free US networks, whose F.C.C. manages everything they wanted with simple fines (except J.Jackson) and only have to follow a quite simple "code" in relation to public airwaves; These are radically different concepts formed by different governments idea of their citizens rights in relation to the media etc...just recall BBC versus US network tv.

In US network tv, the design and screen space is only an expression of the way the parent company treats its audience/consumers. In regards to the popups, what is significant is if these are sold for other commercial products, the network income, rather than just for itself. How often can one sell the screen space? It does all seem a bit surprising from the advertisers position, because the network already sold ads for the particular show being watched, but suggests somehow its ok to continuosly divide and interrupt that experience, even to make noise about the next show coming up - which in theory belongs to other sponsors... That is a quite new philosophy, and I wonder how long it will work before -in economic returns at least- it is no longer possible to keep dividing a space again in half.

I wonder why the added budget required for an urgent sense of... redundancy. If one sees too many ads on network tv for itself, that usually means only that many adspots weren't sold as well...


art
08.02.05 at 10:25

I gave up on cable, satellite, and broadcast TV four years ago, partly because of the station bugs. The ever-increasing length of ad blocks and ever-dwindling quality level of the shows themselves were contributing factors too. I spend the $50 per month I save on DVDs, and that's a lot of DVDs! I now own enough DVDs that I never have to watch broadcast TV again, and I don't plan to.
Kirk
08.02.05 at 12:48

Disney's cable channels Disney Channel and Toon Disney not only post large IDs, their self-promtional snipes often obscure a full 1/3 of the screen, (they don't shrink the content like they do on their ESPN channels.) This not only confuses my 5 year old son because a character in the show he's watching disappears behind a giant blue bar, it makes it clear to me that they have no respect for not only the viewer, but for their own content.

It does have a positive effect: We read and play games and turn the idiot box off much more as a result.
John
08.02.05 at 02:50

Speaking of "bugs", this reminds me of a news story I heard where a woman was waching her glass HDTV and one of those (now discontinued) TERMINEX comercials came on where it seems to be the furtherest thing away from a bug exterminater commercial and their playing on a different subject (one of them was a fake "I can't believe it's not butter" ad) and then a cockroach crawls all around the screen. Well this was projected ten times the size on her HDTV and it looked so real to the woman that she took a baseball bat and smashed her brand new tv. I guess she hated "bugs" so much that she destroyed her whole tv.
Bryan
08.02.05 at 03:07

you are designers.

people will pay designers to make bugs, and the more outlandish they are, the more fun a designer is having with it. So rather than pissing on a check, you should be thankful television is embracing graphics and coming up with new ways to keep us employed.
Liam
08.02.05 at 03:53

Did anyone get to see the inaugural broadcast day of Current TV yesterdy? It's the new Al Gore TV venture, the old Newsworld International.

I'm not sure whether or not the Bugaphobics amongst you will like it or not. While very design savvy (the first segment or "pod' I saw when tuning in was a piece on Shepard Fairey!) it is far more like a webcast than a traditional broadcast, even down to having a progress bar at the lower left hand portion of the screen which shows how much time is left to the LIVE segment. It does treat the TV screen and its content in a new manner. No news scroll, no anchor at a desk, no weather report. There are bugs and promos aplenty, but they are treated as an integral part of the overall visual and audio style rather than intrusive add-ons to the standard hidebound broadcast format.

Kudos to the design team fro thinking that through.

What this is, or will morph into in the coming months is certainly subject to debate. It's more MTV news than Edward R. Murrow. Good? Bad? Who will care? Only time will tell I guess.

Some of the content is a series of short films and documentaries
Mark
08.02.05 at 05:19

I am a little confused with liam's comments, and feel that this is a generalisation which I face daily - mainly from "Marketing People" who seem to think, as designers, all we want to do is "have fun" and "do whacky stuff". As a designer, I am trying to figure out how to encourage my clients to do less, and reduce the overall amount of visual polution produced.

In terms of the bug, who actually wants it? In the same terms as telemarketing, if people where given a choice, the percentage of the population who would choose these things would be negligible, yet obviously somebody thinks it is a good idea. In Australia, we have a Government who actively avoid legislating in favor of a national "do not call" list. Do they think that, deep down, we really want this stuff, but don't really know it? I know if such a list were developed here, I would be on it in a flash.

I would be in favor of some sort of layering system over digital broadcast where the bug can be hidden. Surely the technology exists - hey, they broadcaster could probably get data feedback on how few people actually leave the thing on.
Chris Dixon
08.02.05 at 07:56

these bugs have given birth to a larger animal; those annoying animated interstitials layered on top of the current program, promoting upcoming episodes of other programs—it's worse than watching picture-in-picture, but at least I have the option of turning that off.

I can hear the broadcast execs in the meetings calling for the designers to "make it bigger; make it bigger..."

In response to Liam's post, I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to work on a bug. But as a designer, we should feel compelled to integrate it into the layout of the screen much as the way we would any other layout—page, web, film or otherwise.
tracy kroop
08.02.05 at 08:07

I'm a broadcast/motion graphics designer and I do show opens, bumpers, and yes... bugs.

It's a necessary evil, and it pays.
Kyle
08.04.05 at 10:31

The onscreen channel logos are there primarily because channels are soon to be redundant for non-live TV in developed countries. In some households channels already been replaced with DVDs, illegal downloads and/or individual programs dished up by PVR devices (like TiVo and Sky+).

The growing sophistication of new video services, coupled with decreasing data charges (via star-topography IP or broadcasting) will further decrease the importance of the channel.

Channels are becoming little more than brands, and so to retain their value they are branding their content more and more.

However, a time will soon come when it will be subscription platforms, like DirectTV, Sky, Foxtel and Google Video that will have nearly all the distribution power the channels once have. The programming power will belong to suggestion services like those of Google Video, Amazon and Netflix.

When this point is reached, we may find that branded channels have dissapeared altogether. This is nearly already the case with subscription movie distribution in the UK and NZ.

Brands like "Discovery" and "MTV" could within 5 years be just names of suggestion services. Or paid-for quality marks like the kangaroo "Made in Australia" tag. Or content company brands, only being applied to content produced inhouse. Or all/none of these. This lack of security only drives the owners of the brands to build them further.

Of course, their actions have the opposing effect of increasing the uptake of channel alternatives.
Matt Cook
08.04.05 at 10:18

In what world are the bugs known as 'DOG'? That's a new one on me, and I've been around bugs, tickers, and flying logos for decades now (as a broadcast/motion graphics designer.)

Years ago, a promotion director at a national morning show said that focus group research at that time reported that many viewers thought their own TVs were making those bugs, just like it superimposes the channel number or "mute."

Amazing.
jcburns
08.12.05 at 01:47

As a broadcast television manager, I have been on both sides of the struggle over "screen real estate" and there is clearly a role for designers to play in helping to guide the process to arrive at something that accomplishes the basic goal--branding a channel in a universe of hundreds of similar channels that have different numerical positions in every cable and satellite system out there.

One reason why "bugs" became a defacto standard is that no one uses the functions built into most television sets to display what channel is being viewed. In any research done on TV viewership the first glaring thing you find out is that an overwhelming majority of "regular folks" have absolutely no idea what they are watching at any given moment. And they really haven't since the backlit channel number "dial" disappeared off television sets decades ago!

And I hate to depress everyone further, but its about to get a whole lot worse. The long overdue arrival of full digital television in the U.S will result in each broadcaster generating a slew of discreet channels like 7.1, 7.2, 7.3 and the like. Each will need their own branding and probably their own "bugs".

But hopefully you can all appreciate the irony in the recent "bug" re-design I recently participated in. We had to make the "bug " bigger. Why? To allow room for the "bug" carry the TV channel's website address.

Yowzah!
kirkv
08.12.05 at 11:50

Apparently there are people who actually like the bugs on the TV. It seems that they need them to help them remember what channel they are watching. Maybe they don't mind watching a movie and all of a sudden have a basket ball player pop up out of thin air and start dribbling all over the screen. Maybe these same people need a little bug up in the opposite corner telling them that the TV they are watching is on. PUSH THE INFO. BUTTON I can't believe the amount of stupid people or people that are that desperate that they need to know what channel they are watching. I think that maybe you are just accustomed to it that you just block it out of sight. Some of us can't do that, it's like sitting down to a meal and trying to block out the dogs whining. Or a child that keeps saying daddy-daddy-daddy-daddy-daddy-daddy-daddy-daddy-daddy-daddy while you are in the middle of a phone conversation. I just can't seem to block stuff out that bothers me.
Henry Miller
11.27.05 at 08:32


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Helfand, a founding editor of Design Observer, is an award-winning graphic designer and writer and a former contributing editor and columnist for Print, Communications Arts and Eye magazines. A member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale and a recent laureate of the Art Director's Hall of Fame, Helfand received her B.A. and her M.F.A. from Yale University where she has taught since 1994.
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DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY Jessica Helfand

Screen: Essays on Graphic Design, New Media, and Visual Culture
Winterhouse Editions, 2001

Scrapbooks: An American History
Yale University Press, 2008

Reinventing the Wheel
Winterhouse Editions, 2002

Paul Rand: American Modernist
winterhouse Editions, 1998

Looking Closer 3
Allworth Press, 1999

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