Nigel Walley – Jan 2013
When a high profile media institution like ITV re-brands, it causes headlines. There are always people who like a new look, and there are always people who don’t. At Decipher we suspect that many of the people who complain about re-brands just don’t like change. We would like to put on the record that we love the new look – particularly the mesmerisingly beautiful colour-picker idents that playout before programmes. But now the inevitable fuss over the new brand has died down, there are elements to the re-brand process that need to be highlighted.
It is fair to say that this is the first, proper, 21st century TV re-brand that we’ve seen. (Before the UKTV marketing team get on the phone, we want to point out that they re-branded their channels before the launch of Tivo, Sky OnDemand, Netflix, and Lovefilm).
For a channel to rebrand in the 21st century is an unbelievably complicated process. Over and above the creative decisions that have to be made, and which are inevitably picked apart in the trade press and social media, the distribution landscape is daunting.
The ITV team who implemented their re-brand had to deal with 18 different media platforms through which their content gets distributed. These span the big ‘national ‘ platforms like Sky and Virgin, where ITV offer channels, catch-up and archive on-demand; through to the international platforms like Netflix and Amazon Video which only offer on-demand.
Each of these platforms has multiple elements that require logos, pack-shots, thumbnail images, and text data. It would appear that all of the platforms request the logos, pictures and text in a different size and file format. The ITV team had to first audit, then supply these across the different systems provided. The platforms also have different rules on creative issues such as whether episodic thumbnails are required for each asset, and if the broadcaster logos can appear on images. These rules had to be interpreted to best creative effect. To describe all of this simply as ‘metadata’ is to downplay the fearsome complexity that the TV industry has created. There is also clearly a case to be made for ‘metadata’ standardisation across platforms. While the European Broadcasting Union’s ‘TV Anytime’ project* is an attempt to do that, it doesn’t look like having an impact anytime soon.
To add complexity to what the ITV team had to deal with, each of the 18 platforms has a different process and timescale by which changes can be made, and that’s if you are lucky enough that the platform will give you a timetable for implementation. For the ITV team to have co-ordinated all this to happen on a single day last week is nothing short of extra-ordinary.
The most important element to highlight is that there was a team in place to do this in the first place. At Decipher, we have been flagging up for a while, that the set top box and device landscape represents a new ‘retail’ distribution challenge for TV. Most broadcasters are still struggling to come to terms with it, and we have been railing against what we call set-to-box blindness amongst senior broadcast management for a few years now: (see.‘Is 2013 A Make Or Break Year For Channel Brands?)
We find that those broadcasters and studios with a strong home entertainment department, and who are used to dealing with the challenges of ‘physical’ retail, make the transition into this new world easiest. They have had years of dealing with different retailers, point of sale display issue, product adjacencies etc. The retail industry recognises this kind of category product management as a separate, crucial skill set. The need for this skillset is now arriving for TV and the ITV team who managed the rebrand should be viewed as the first, fully formed category management team in a UK broadcaster.
One key aspect of the re-brand interested us. With the new design, ITV brought the ITV Player brand firmly back into the core brand architecture. Previously, ITV had followed the BBC in having a fundamentally different brand approach for their online activity – ITV Player – to the core brand, one which was effectively competitive to the channel brands. The BBC now stands alone in doing this – and its a mistake. ITV’s move makes the ‘player’ subservient to the ‘channel’ which is the way it should be in a broadcast business. More subtly however, ITV have removed references to the ‘player’ on platforms where they are not responsible for the playout technology. (See ITV logo in Sky On Demand above). Regular readers of our blog will recognise this as something we have railed against since the BBC first launched iPlayer branded pages on Virgin in 2007 (See ‘This Duck Still Won’t Quack).
The reason this is important is that if you include the word ‘player’ (or whatever the website is called) in the brand, it generates consumer expectations around the proposition and functionality. These expectations are set by the main site on the web. The ITV and BBC content in the Sky On Demand platform does not come with any of the functionality (log-in, favourites, streamed versions of the live linear channel, interactive advertising, pay content, downloads etc) that you get on their web players. This causes a number of problems. A minor problem is that advertisers who pay to advertise in ‘the Player’ are surprised their ads aren’t appearing on the Sky or Virgin version. More importantly, it confuses the promise of the web proposition. You can’t say that your player is ‘the home of all our content’ if in places like Sky and Virgin, half the interesting stuff is missing from the thing that has the player logo stuck on it. But the main problem is that to insist on using the ‘player’ logo is a distraction from the job that catch-up is meant to do on the big third party platforms (which account for the majority of viewing) – that is supporting the main channel brands in winning eye ball time.
So ITV now have a different brand approach for Sky On Demand (where Sky controls hosting and playout) to that on YouView (where the ITV Player team DOES control and host playout). On Sky the ITV on demand service is not actually ‘ITV Player’, so they don’t say it is on the branding – it just says ‘ITV’. The new approach is a mature way to ensure two things: a good relationship with the platforms they work through, and clarity about when ITV is, and when it isn’t, responsible for on-demand and th eother functionality around it. Not only can the ITV re-brand be said to be the first 21st century re-brand. But ITV have a claim to be the first truly 21st century broadcaster.
*The TV Anytime project should not be confused with Virgin’s TV Anywhere product, or Comcast’s TV Everywhere project.