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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 07:52 GMT 08:52 UK
No logo campaign takes shape
Cbeebies
Cbeebies uses a channel logo on screen

Edmund Wheeler is one of those people large organisations dread - a member of the public with a bee in his bonnet and the brass neck and persistence to make himself a real nuisance - and perhaps even change the way things are done.

Wheeler runs the Campaign for Logo Free TV, which was launched last September and now boasts 823 members and a website bursting with indignation and examples of his particular obsession, intrusive on-screen branding.

The campaign's fear is that the BBC may soon introduce a bug on BBC One and BBC Two

Nick Higham
Programming and films on digital TV channels are, he complains, routinely disfigured by irrelevant and unnecessary captions and graphic devices and, in particular, by "dogs" (digital on-screen graphics) or "bugs" identifying the channel.

Scrolling through the off-air grabs on his website you can see his point.

Here is Kevin Spacey in The Negotiator, with a Channel 5 logo plastered over his temple, Father Ted with an E4 Friends Week dog all over his face and a Star Trek movie on Sky One with an advertisement for the new series of the TV show on screen throughout, in addition to the channel logo in the top left hand corner.

'Railway station'

Most recently, here is an episode of The Practice on BBC Choice which started displaying a scrolling caption 10 minutes before the programme's end announcing the next 60 Seconds news bulletin would start in 10 minutes.

BBC One logo
The BBC uses logos in promotional work
As Edmund Wheeler puts it: "It's like watching a railway station."

Wheeler, a self-employed computer consultant and member of the Voice of the Listener and Viewer, a consumer lobby group, is not impressed by the standard answer from the broadcasters to his complaints.

They say bugs and dogs help viewers navigate around the confusing world of digital multi-channel television and identify which channels they are watching.

Why, asks Wheeler, do digital viewers need on-screen reminders when they have an electronic programme guide?

Short shrift

And while the broadcasters say they are helping viewers, Wheeler and his fellow-campaigners say they are simply helping themselves to build brands: that their policy on bugs has a business rather than public service rationale.

By and large the broadcasters have given the campaign short, if polite, shrift.

Paul Leather, head of press and corporate affairs at Channel 5, sent the campaign brief, sometimes monosyllabic, replies to a series of questions.

In the words of Andrew Whyte, the BBC's head of corporate and public relations: "They complain dogs are just a marketing ploy.

"I say, 'What's wrong with that?'."

Whyte says research among viewers of BBC Choice in 2000 found 81% who thought dogs were a useful identifier of the channel they were watching and only 29% who said they would prefer to watch Choice without the dog.

Impact

There have always been complaints: Whyte says they ran at less than 20 a month until August last year, when they picked up sharply, probably due to the campaign's activities.

The campaign says even one-in-five dissatisfied viewers should prompt a rethink by a public service broadcaster like the BBC.

Nevertheless, the campaign may have had an impact.

BBC Four has adopted a policy of removing the dog during feature films and programmes featuring performance, officially because these are programmes which viewers tend to watch for long periods of time.

But it may also be because BBC Four viewers, who are likely to be better educated than the norm and may be new to digital television, are less tolerant of the visual intrusion and more likely to complain.

Upmarket

This week the campaign has a meeting with Channel 5.

Wheeler says he will try to persuade the channel of the business case for dropping its bug - it would help its move upmarket to compete with BBC Two and Channel 4, rather than looking like what he calls "a grotty satcab [satellite and cable] offering".

The campaign's fear is that the BBC may soon introduce a bug on BBC One and BBC Two.

Andrew Whyte says there are "no plans" to do that - which is not quite the categorical denial the campaign was hoping for.

Watch this space or at least, the top left hand corner.

A version of this column appears in the BBC magazine Ariel.

The BBC's Nick Higham writes on broadcasting

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