On 27th September 2018, we welcomed a new BBC Two on-screen presentation package with open arms. After a number of years of recycled idents and hideous promo endboard templates, BBC Two’s OSP was finally back on form. Only a few months in, regrettably, the creatives and marketing people running the channel have given me reason to moan.
The first complaint relates to the scheduling of the idents. There are about 20 idents available for use, yet a subset of about five or six are played way more often than others. Why? The casual BBC Two viewer probably thinks the channel has about three or four idents. This just seems like lazy scheduling or someone’s personal preferences. If I had paid for these sequences, I’d certainly make sure all of them were getting a fair share of airtime. I can hear the cries of “scandalous wastage” from Daily Mail readers – the BBC paying outside agencies for sequences they hardly ever use.
Two of the idents even disappeared completely only to reappear weeks later, with saturation and contrast changes. The mind boggles. One of the two sequences is comprised of black and white stripes. Scientists in the Netherlands and the US have discovered that for some people, simply looking at vertical lines, either on a static image, or in real life, can trigger neural activity that results in migraines or even epilepsy. We have no evidence that these idents caused such a reaction with any viewer. But the adjustments made to the sequences are very curious. Even the amended versions haven’t been spotted since prior to the launch of the channel’s Christmas presentation (on 1st December 2018).
My main criticism though is the clumsy execution of the channel’s programme promotion endboards. Over the last couple of months, I’ve witnessed various errors and inconsistencies:
- Misaligned programme title/date/time text. It should be left-aligned, adhering to the same (left) margin.
- Programme title/date/time text faded up too early (and sometimes hard to read over the background programme visuals) and disappearing almost as soon as the endboard background graphic appears. The standard at the outset was the text would appear just before the endboard background animated into view. The programme title text would then animate from serif to sans and the text would remain on screen for a few seconds, to allow the viewer to digest the detail.
- The sound effect that should accompany the opener/endboard graphic animation is missing.
- The animation between serif and sans of the programme title not occurring. This was particularly prevalent on Christmas trails. The programme title appeared in sans only.
- The weight of the programme title sans font is incorrect (lighter than it should be).
- The programme title text is off-white rather than white.
- The programme day/time being displayed in sans rather than serif. Sometimes even in the wrong font (e.g., Verdana).
- Variations in the line spacing of the endboard text.
- Variations in the way the “st”, “nd”, “rd” and “th” text is displayed for dates. It’s mostly displayed as superscript but has occasionally been spotted as normal text.
- Where a full date is displayed (e.g., Sunday 7th January), the programme time is normally placed on a new line. However, the date has sometimes been broken across two rows and the time placed alongside it, on the second row.
And I’ll also take this opportunity to urge the BBC to add “am” and “pm” to the programme times on their endboards. They may regard it as superfluous information because the vast majority of their trails are for programmes in the “pm” portion of the day. However, presenting 12-hour format times in this way, is just, well, wrong.
The channel has been handed a stylish new OSP package and weeks into the new look they’re already screwing up the components. I rarely ever see such obvious flaws on promotions airing on other channels (both big hitters and smaller channels). Why are we seeing so much carelessness on the Beeb? Only this week, I saw badly misaligned (large!) text on a BBC One endboard for Death in Paradise (an updated, corrected version is now airing). How is a layout blunder like that making it to air on a major channel?
A video appeared on Vimeo back in November 2018, showing images of a ‘BBC2 Ident Programmer’. Creator Marcus Sanderson explained: “BBC Two/SuperUnion asked me to build a scripted UI and automated process that would allow producers to input the content for multiple title boards in a standalone interface. The software then creates the title animation on the fly with the titles placed in accordance with strict typographical rules depending on how much information is to be displayed for each endboard. Finally, the software then batch-outputs all the title video in the After Effects renderer.”
Marcus describes the text animation between serif and sans: “It’s a series of individual letter shape tweens between the two. The renderer places each letter animation on screen in the correct position and adds a pause between each letter. The trickiest part was working out the correct kerning between each letter animation position when placing each letter on the fly for each board.”
Here’s the video demo from Marcus’s Vimeo account:
If this mechanism is being used by BBC Two staff, I’m left scratching my head as to how the errors/inconsistencies described above have crept into the production of these endboards. Marcus talks of “strict typographical rules”. Rules that are clearly capable of being broken.
Before looking at examples of some of these faults, let’s first understand what a well-executed trail would look like. Trails are sometimes supplied in short and longer versions. The short versions tend to come in at 10, 15 or 20 seconds, with long versions generally coming in at 30 seconds. Irrespective of duration, one would’ve thought that the endboard element would be implemented in the same way. And that’s certainly the case for the short and long versions of the trail for Death and Nightingales. Here they are:
The only offence that I can see being committed here is the off-white colour of the programme title text. It should be white. Apart from that, everything seems to be in reasonable order.
Here’s a trail from the festive period that was nicely done. It’s for Frankie Boyle’s New World Order 2018:
If I was being quite picky, I could highlight the use of a curly apostrophe. There are inconsistences here too – straight apostrophes are also used on endboards.
And a few other decent-looking endboard executions before we get to the bad stuff (although there’s a slight text alignment issue on the Babies: Their Wonderful World trail; and the date on the My Million Pound Menu trail has the “th” of “8th” as normal text, rather than superscript):
So, let’s take a look at some of the offending items in recent weeks. First, some dodgy text alignment on this endboard for Louis Theroux: Altered States:
Another text alignment issue in this trail for People Just Do Nothing. The the day and time are slightly further to the left than the programme title. Note the absence of any serif/sans animation on the programme title. The programme title is also in the wrong weight. And a further deviation from the general standard: the programme title, day and time disappear as soon as the endboard background graphic animates into place. That’s a risky practice with such a light font, in that the varying programme visuals may clash with the text colour, to the extent that the text is difficult to read. The endboard background graphic imagery provides a much better canvas for this text. And one would’ve thought that leaving these details on screen in a legible state and for a decent duration would be the way to go (which seemed to be the standard for trails initially). It seems rather silly to display the programme title/date/time text mostly without the support of the endboard background graphic.
Other recent examples, where the programme title/day/time text disappears almost immediately after the appearance of the endboard background:
Additional observations regarding the above batch of clips:
- Cities: Nature’s New Wild, Upstart Crow and School: the programme title text is in the wrong weight.
- Upstart Crow, The Snow Wolf and MasterChef: The Professional Rematch: I’m not a fan of BBC Two’s lazy end-of-year practice of producing multi-programme trails and then picking out one of those programmes to highlight on the endboard. They typically produce many versions of these trails, varying the programme being promoted at the end. It doesn’t work very well here, when the text promoting Upstart Crow, The Snow Wolf and MasterChef: The Professionals Rematch is overlaid on visuals of a completely different programme.
- The Snow Wolf: the date has been split over two rows, leaving the month and time on a separate row – not terribly tidy. And visually, the positioning of the programme time has less impact than it would have on a row of its own. Where a full date is shown (i.e., day, date and month, as opposed to just the day/”today”/”tonight”/”tomorrow”), having the time on a separate row works better, in my opinion.
- MasterChef: The Professionals Rematch: variations in the character spacing on the programme title.
- Gun No. 6: character spacing issues in the programme title: there seems to be a rogue space between the ‘G’ and ‘u’; there ought to be a character space between ‘No.’ and ‘6’.
With inconsistency being very much an essential ingredient in the production of BBC Two trails at the moment, here’s another example of one of those multi-programme Christmas trails – except that this time, the programme being singled out at the end has the programme title/date/time overlaid on the endboard background graphic for a prolonged period (as it should be) – rather than appearing fleetingly over visuals of an unrelated programme:
Not quite perfection though: the text alignment is out on the endboard text here, with the bottom two rows slightly further to the left than the two rows above.
And if you hadn’t already come to the conclusion that things are all over the shop, here’s a trail for Back in Time for School, with yet another deviation. Here we see the text animation of the programme title taking place prior to the appearance of the endboard background graphic; and the text disappearing as soon as the endboard background settles into place. The programme time is also slightly away from the left margin.
And we’re not done yet. A new joint trail for Tom Kerridge’s Fresh Start and Twinstitute has programme titles appear during the main part of the trail. Ordinarily, this would be fine for a trail featuring more than one programme. However, the font used for the programme titles is serif bold – a combination not used when the titles are presented on the endboard. And just like the previous example, this trail has the serif to sans programme title animation take place before the appearance of the endboard background graphic.
Our next example – for Hospital – shows the endboard text appearing in sync with the arrival of the endboard background graphic. The original format had the text appear just over a second or so prior to the endboard background. There’s a rather generous vertical gap between the programme title and programme date/time. Also note the lack of sound effect for the opener/endboard graphic animation:
Nope – still not done. Another new error in a current trail for Icons. The day and time are displayed in sans, rather than serif – and not even in BBC Reith but Verdana! And, the programme time seems not quite aligned with the left margin.
Come on BBC Two. Enough of the sloppiness. You’re better than this. Let’s get the shop in order here. Granted, the vast majority of the viewing public won’t notice any of this. But from the perspective of producing work to a professional design standard, you’re not comparing favourably with your creative/marketing peers working on other channels.
We round off with an at-a-glance gallery/slideshow of the endboards featured above: