The Branding of Broadcast

Broadcasters are now paying more and more attention to the branding of their franchises. The reason is simple: broadcast branders employ logo bugs and other devices to win the loyalty of their customers, the viewers and advertisers.

Perhaps you’d like to learn more about branding your broadcast identity. More and more broadcast entities are forming. New streams of broadcasting are being developed (VOD, cell phones, etc.). Populations in developed countries are flat or declining. Consequently, people who can afford to watch broadcast media are the targets in a game that is getting ever more competitive.

In addition to more competition, television programming expenses were up 11.4% in 2004, according to Economics of TV Programming & Syndication 2005, which further states, “Three factors are responsible for the profound shifts in the economics of TV programming and syndication: (1) the rising cost of original programming, (2) technology driving fragmentation of viewer demographics, and (3) advertising reallocations in pursuit of shifts in viewer choices. These economic dynamics are affecting programming selections, driving the consolidation of networks and studios and bidding up syndication fees.

Unless your network is serving Africa or Latin America and sitting on a huge library of programs, you face the tough choice of either competitively distinguishing your brand or going belly up.

Successful branding burns your company’s image into the consciousness of a target public. The object of branding is that a target audience remembers your brand favorably before all others.

All too often, the general manager of a broadcast facility will go to the graphics department and ask the artists to “cook up some new ID logos and stuff.” Branding is more than just a graphic approach. It begins with top level management obtaining accurate demographic data and making firm commitments to exploit a specific segment target audience. No broadcast enterprise can hope to be all things to all people—not Hoboken Christian Radio and not CNN. Here’s a simple, chronological checklist of how branding professionals do their thing:

Identify the total audience you could possibly reach. Your first task is to define your population. Learn everything you can about them. Where do they work? How much money do they make? What are their hobbies, their politics, their religions, their history? This information is easy to retrieve online or at the local public library. Send your interns to compile this as soon as the robins start chirping.

Identify what the total audience wants. Is your city on a river that needs pollution control? Is there a large singles population that wants to hook up with the opposite sex? Are farmers in your area desperate for accurate commodities prices? No one, anywhere is totally satisfied. You can be sure that in any general population, there are large constituencies—what we call “target audiences” —that want something they are not currently getting. Make a list of the target audiences that live within your reach.

Qualify and rank target audiences. Once you have a list of target audiences in your reach and what those audiences want, compare their needs with your facility’s ability to satisfy their needs. Maybe you can’t do anything about the water pollution problem, or the audience that needs a clean river doesn’t qualify as a target audience for your facility. But your IT department has terrific commodities price data streaming in by the second. Great! The farmers are a “qualified target audience,” because you can satisfy them.

Your goal is to find the biggest, richest, qualified audience that is not yet being served by any competitor. When you find that audience—call this your “prime audience”— you have laid the foundation for your money factory. Your next, most essential step is to craft a “needs statement” that expresses what your prime audience most desires to be satisfied. Some examples of needs statements might be, “fast accurate cattle prices,” or “elder law, elder care, elder life.”

Produce content specific to the needs of the qualified target audience. Develop programming that addresses the needs of your prime target audience. Every broadcast entity has a quantity of in-house production and a quantity of production that is produced by third parties. As you consider how you will configure the in-house production to serve the needs of your audience, don’t neglect the package production. Package programming can be enhanced with intersticials, logos and bumpers, edge graphics and other ancillary devices to make it more appealing to any target audience. Of course, if your prime audience is 18-25, you might want to ask your syndicator to cancel the Lawrence Welk package. Finally, it isn’t a bad idea to let your sales staff in on your plans so they can start gearing up to sell time to the right constituency.

Brand the content with POV, people, style and content. Here is where you run down to your art department and start them thinking about graphic designs, logos, animations and such. This is all essential material, but it is essential only insomuch as it helps your prime audience realize that you are reaching out to them and only them.

Everything your stream sends out should be looking and sounding like what your prime target audience wants to see and hear. The people on camera or on mike, the point of view of the editorial (POV), the style of the editing, graphics, music and lighting and above all, the content of the programming should be selected, edited, designed and advertised specifically to your prime target audience. And this is only the basic sight and sound aspect of branding.

Devise a sensory mnemonic for each element. Consider how you can link your stream’s point of view, your on air personalities and your content to a specific mnemonic device. The device can be a musical signature, such as that used in the movie Close Encounters or the Intel theme, or it can be a visual symbol, such as a network logo or a logo based on your channel number (one of the most popular is the number 7 inside a circle—without even showing it in this article, you already know what it looks like since you’ve probably seen it before).

Unify these elements into a logical theme. This can be easy or difficult. Can your branding elements be modified for program type or day of the week? Can color be made to signify something, like a specific day of the week? These could be useful in program promos, especially if on-camera personalities are dressed in the same color.

Similar graphics can be developed for lower-thirds, bumpers, donuts and eventually set design.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Production applies the theme to the contacts. Both halves of the typical bicameral broadcast enterprise—Management and Production—play a role in applying the branding theme throughout the franchise’s contact universe. Of these two echelons, production bears the responsibility of making the first effort.

For this reason, it is imperative that production people anticipate the responses that will be required of them and appropriately arm themselves with at least a complete and current knowledge base of available tools. While institutions like the NAB provide periodic opportunities for education, production people may adopt a more aggressive posture with regard to self-education throughout the calendar, maintaining an up-to-date status of readiness.

In order to respond to their half of the branding challenge, production people have to evolve a more sophisticated production system that can satisfy the rapid, tight budget requirements of a successful branding campaign. Without expanding resources or labor, new technologies may be employed to evolve a production platform that can exponentially expand the branding effectiveness of any franchise. Once developed, the brand-savvy production system will be employed to address critical requirements that are essential in deploying a successful brand.

Vizrt’s VX | Content Pilot, for instance, enables TV channels to generate large volumes of high quality graphic animations independently of the design department, by employing template-based, database-driven graphics that include text, images and clips. Journalists, who simply input text, can access the system directly from any PC. The graphics are then composed automatically and sent to the playout point.

In order for the branded content to be noticeable to a channel-surfing audience, it must be unique and highly desirable to the viewer. The window of opportunity for most branding content is mere seconds as a viewer passes your stream, whether it be on-air or online. Offering content that is original and motivating requires a production platform that offers a large assortment of audiovisual tools and capabilities. From this assortment, designers must be able to easily create templates that are strong enough to withstand various interpretations by production staff. In their turn, the producers, editors and reporters must be able to easily input text and other content elements while not violating the design parameters or becoming frustrated with the interface. Furthermore, there is a compelling need to achieve real-time workflow efficiency in each piece of equipment in the facility so that no one has to spend unproductive time waiting for hardware to deliver results.

In the effort of establishing a brand, the marketing department must confidently rely on the production team to fully implement the brand in all content, both in-house originated and as applied to third-party developers. Implementation of branding content can be time consuming and expensive, however, thereby allowing the brand to be weakened. The capability of automatic and semi-automatic application of branded content within every program is an essential component of a brand-savvy production system. Such capabilities greatly reduce the cost of branding and assure the success of the campaign.

For example, the DekoCast, formerly from Pinnacle Systems and now from Avid, allows a design team to create a promo one time and then to have that promo inserted automatically into edge events, with content that is customized by non-design staff. The same promo design may be accessed and adapted by those with no design expertise, using easy text entry and graphic selection screens.

Prior to DekoCast, most promos had to be created manually, requiring design staff to spend endless hours without ever fulfilling the ideal output level. For every promo, at every specific time, show, or day, a graphics operator would be required to write or edit text, design or adapt graphics and store the results. Then, an editor was needed to composite the design elements into a final rendered promo. The resulting promo needed to be stored and retrieved under a unique file name to the play-to-air server and, after being stored, re-retrieved for scheduling and airing.

This expensive process obviously reduced the quality and number of promos that could be developed and deployed under any broadcaster’s budget. DekoCast, however, streamlines and automates the entire process by allowing the design department to create DekoCast “scenes.” These scenes describe an entire promo, including video effects, graphics, animation, sound effects and music. Scenes are designed once, stored and are rarely ever again addressed by the designers. Each time a promo is needed, the production staff accesses the original scene and customizes it to the immediate need.

Even the traffic or marketing staff can easily adapt a scene without engaging other equipment or staff. With the new input, DekoCast dynamically creates the new promo at air-time. Complete expression of brand identity, conforming to the original look and feel of the marketing department and designers, is thus easily achieved at reduced cost and implementation time.

Significant challenges face the broadcaster when applying a branding campaign during the transition to HD. In addition to simply delivering a high definition version of branded content, the broadcaster must also maintain a consistent look and feel in standard definition. Customarily, this requires double the effort, often producing confusion as various design applications are retrieved and assorted file names are stored. HD branding requires production tools that offer both HD and SD capabilities in real-time, and if possible with side-by-side comparison of a promo in both formats. Such capabilities eliminate the need to compromise one format for the other, allowing the HD content to build its audience without sacrificing the branding effect.

Chyron, for example, offers the Duet HyperX HD/SD character generator, which enables switching between SD and HD formats. Existing HD versions of the system can easily be upgraded by changing out the SD channels for HD channels, and upgrading the HD clip player.

Emerging e-media streams, such as Internet gaming, cell phone entertainment, PDA programming with pay-per-view and unicasting are just a few of the challenges that will offer new branding opportunities in the near future. Surely, audiences will become smaller and more demanding, but if an efficient brand-savvy production platform is established, the cost of winning these audiences as loyal viewers should never be prohibitively expensive.

George Avgerakis is VP Creative Director and co-founder of Avekta Productions Inc. in New York City.