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Beaten by branding by Dick Hobbs I should say right at the start that I very much like Pixel Power’s James Gilbert. He is charming company, an excellent engineer and a good judge of wine. Yet, for all these admirable qualities, I hold him personally responsible for one of the greatest evils of modern society. I refer, of course, to the squeezeback. This is the horrific mutilation of the end of television programmes which mean we can no longer enjoy the end credits. And while a number of vendors offer equipment to do this, Pixel Power’s products are very good at it – if it is something you want done well. Since the dawn of the television age end credits have fulfilled two important functions. First, they allow you to see who has made a contribution to the programme, so you can look out for their work in future. And second, they are a natural lull in which you can look for the corkscrew. These are both essential to a civilised discourse between broadcaster and viewer. Then a while back someone working for a broadcaster who does not actually like television – and there is a surprisingly large number of these – thought that the end credits were a waste of time. This person, almost certainly with a degree in marketing from a university that was a polytechnic the week before, thought the time could be much better employed selling us something. When I was in the States for NAB earlier this year I saw the squeezeback taken to its very nadir. This was so shocking I had to find out what it was called so I could be precise in my vitriol. Looking back, I think it might have been James Gilbert who told me. This is the “hot start”. As is usual nowadays, as soon as the end credits start the programme shrinks back to a small window on the screen, and all sorts of branding messages and promos appear. But alongside those, another small window opens and the next programme starts! Yes, the opening scene of the next programme is shown at the same time as the credits for the last programme, and at the same time as other branding stuff is on screen. Now I am sure you are familiar with the format of American television programmes. They start with an opening scene, which sets up what is to follow, in a segment they call the “tease”. Only after this tease – which can be some minutes long – and the first commercial break do you get the titles. So you are not missing some captions but a vital plot point. In a sitcom the whole set-up can be in the first 30 seconds, which you cannot see because the dumb broadcaster has squeezed it back and overlapped it with credits and promos. If you are a Bones fan you will probably miss the gross bit with the maggots. This is all to do with branding, and in particular the television industry’s belief that we viewers are all so stupid that (1) we will forget what we are watching, and (2) we are too stupid to realise that hitting the i button on the remote control will tell us. It is also part of the channel’s belief that it is more important than the content, and we must stick with it whatever happens. Now I should not blame James for this alone, as Pixel Power is far from the only company providing the wherewithal for squeezebacks. Michel Proulx, CTO of Miranda (which provided this month’s picture) has a belief that no content should ever appear on screen without branding. From the content owner’s perspective you can understand his thinking. Audience loyalty comes from telling them what brand they are watching at all times. Actually, audience loyalty comes from making good programmes, but we will gloss over that. But it does lead to the prospect of watching television which has a logo for the content producer and a logo for the broadcaster. If you have added functionality you have to find somewhere to show a red button, too. Then you have to find some screen real estate for all those really irritating pop-ups that tell us what is coming next, which are always at a predefined time before the squeezeback cue and therefore consistently ruin a poignant climactic moment. Which would not be so bad if there were not logos on screen. We can never lose sight of who sponsors cricket or rugby, because the logo is right there on the pitch. Product placement means we have to have lovingly lingering shots of beer pumps in pubs and half eaten fruit on computers. Heaven knows what the Olympic coverage will look like with the strange graffiti tag competing with all those sponsors who have paid many, many millions to be there – and more to the point to keep their competitors’ logos out. It does make me long for the good old days, when you chose a television channel and watched a programme from beginning to end without distraction. Do we need to be beaten over the head by branding? 98 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE TV-BAY067JUL12.indd 98 05/07/2012 22:31