A little over 10 years ago I discovered a website called TV-Ark, an online television museum that allowed visitors to learn about UK television identity from the past. They had a huge collection of TV idents and logos from years gone by.
When I saw the BBC 2 identity screens from the 1990s I felt very nostalgic. I was born in 1993, so grew up watching these. I went on to learn as much as I could about that era to feed the nostalgia, and learned quite a lot of interesting things about television identity.
Around 1990, the BBC commissioned some market research. It came back and revealed that public opinion was that BBC 2 was a “dull and worthy” channel. After the BBC rebranded in 1991 they did some more research. The programming didn’t change, but people began to describe the channel as “sophisticated” and “witty”.
Here’s a short segment from How do They do That? which features a behind-the-scenes look at the 1991 rebrand:
BBC 2 has changed the idents a few times since 1991, but they’ve always used the same 2 logo:
When I first saw the rebrand in 2018, I knew at a glance that it was the biggest rebrand BBC 2 had undergone since 1991. It didn’t quite hit me until I read it in print the significance of abandoning the 2 logo which had saved the channel’s reputation over 25 years ago.
It’s a huge deal that they’ve changed it. The BBC’s reasoning is to appear modern, fresh and diverse. This - in an era where Netflix is on trend, and traditional broadcast television is beginning to look dated - fascinates me.
For a while I’ve felt like there are a few strands of the TV experience that will eventually merge together:
Live broadcast TV (We all sit down together and watch things like the World Cup)
TV boxes which let you record anything you want (Think Sky, TiVo, etc.)
On demand apps (like Netflix and BBC iPlayer)
I understand that once-upon-a-time the only solution to the “we want to get tv programmes into every home in the U.K.” problem was live broadcast. But today we obviously have different technology available.
My in-laws go through the TV Guide on their Sky+ box and programme it to record shows they want to watch later. They then watch them back whenever they want - treating all of Sky like an on-demand service, almost never watching what is actually being broadcast live. This feels archaic - the TV should manage this for them!
If you pay for a channel like HBO, it shouldn’t matter if you sit down to watch Game of Thrones as soon as it becomes available (or “as soon as it’s broadcast”), arrive 10 minutes late, or miss the show completely but want to catch up a week or two after everyone else has seen it.
If you were setting up TV today from scratch, you’d use the Internet, wouldn’t you?
However, this quote from Patrick Holland, controller of BBC 2, implies that traditional TV is not going away in favour of a Netflix-like service:
He says that a “curated channel in an age where you’ve got all of this choice” can still be enormously influential.
Are broadcast channels here to stay, or simply hanging around for people who consider this the most intuitive way to access television? I don’t think it’s an accident that BBC Three - the channel aimed at the 16-34 age group - was the one the BBC chose to go “online only”. From my own experience that is the demographic who are most able to handle that change. They’re already watching TV via online services.
Then again, people have long predicted the end of the high street in retail. Bare with me - there’s a parallel here somewhere: If you can get all of Nike’s catalogue online from home, why travel all the way to a physical shop for less choice? Yet people do. “Young people” do, too, and they seem to do so because of the curation that shops offer. They go to escape the overwhelming choice offered by the Internet.
Perhaps this is the place broadcast television will have in the future.
What do you think?