Sunday, October 24, 2021


Back in 2017, I wrote about BBC One replacing its channel idents with the “Oneness” series of group portraits, photographed by the artist Martin Parr [link]. I ended that article by saying: “…getting audiences to programmes do not rely on individual channels so much, unless you count the BBC iPlayer or Netflix as a ‘channel.’ For the BBC, Martin Parr’s new idents may be more important for the ’BBC’ on screen, rather than for the ‘One’.”

On Wednesday 20th October, the BBC unveiled new branding that placed their restyled logo at the top of screens, programme trailers and poster advertising, and their channel names in smaller letters at the bottom, underlining the inevitability of the move – all programme trailers end with “available on iPlayer,” placed prominently in the middle of the screen, just as “iPlayer” and “Sounds” replaced the “TV” and “Radio” categories on BBC Online. Long gone are the days of simple radio-like announcements over slides of upcoming shows. Moreover, the way the new logo is used highlights, at a fundamental level, the change in how we watch television over the last twenty-four years.

I have always changed my website’s logo and branding when it was needed, as proved by my 300th article showing five logos over five years [link], as I zeroed in on the most effective way of presenting myself and my work. Likewise, the BBC’s logo, a variation of three letters in three boxes since it was first introduced in 1958, has been modified as its uses have changed, from identifying a broadcaster to supporting the quality of British programmes sold worldwide, to being a mark of reputation to sell tie-in merchandise, to being a sigil for a British national identity portrayed through cultural soft power. 

As much as some people search for the opportunity to complain about taxpayers’ money being perceived to have been wasted on a logo change that is still superficially similar to the previous version, you have make changes when your current branding is found to have stopped working effectively. As stated by the BBC’s Chief Customer Officer, Kerris Bright [link], “Our research tells us that audiences think some of our services look old fashioned and out of date. They want a modern BBC that is easier to use and navigate to find the content they love and enjoy.” 

If people in its own country are saying that, then perhaps it was being said elsewhere. The latest BBC logo was introduced in April 2021 on an online streaming service aimed at North America, BBC Select, and on the Australian TV channel BBC Kids, six months before the UK saw it on screen. Because these are subscription services, their audiences are also, indirectly, paying for the new logo. Meanwhile, the latest Cadbury logo, using thinner lines and closer to the company founder’s original signature, was first seen on chocolate bars sold in Australia. 

A big feature of the BBC’s new branding, and one that has been introduced gradually for a couple of years, before reaching the logo, is the font. “Reith,” in its sans serif form, may not immediately be too different from the previous use of Gill Sans to the casual user, but the one-off cost of the BBC buying its own font, to use it as much as it wants, contrasts with the yearly fees to use Gill Sans, Helvetica, Futura and other fonts over the years. I could not find how much the BBC pays to use fonts, but I could also not find out how much Ikea saved in 2009 by switching their shops and catalogues from using Futura to Microsoft’s cheaper font Verdana.


The previous BBC logo was introduced in 1997. The logo that version replaced was deemed not to work when made smaller on screen – the lines under the blocks, and the spaces in the letter B, began to disappear. Its replacement was simplified, easier to reproduce and was more legible on screen.

What has changed since then is the screen. In 1997, people were still watching cathode-ray tube (CRT) televisions, beaming a raster pattern of electrons onto a fluorescent screen. LCD and LED televisions did become commonplace until 2006, when regular HD television broadcasts began in the UK. In 1997, the BBC still played their idents for their channels from laserdisc, with servers not being used until widescreen broadcasts began in 1998. They still only had two channels to worry about – the BBC News Channel began in November 1997, followed by BBC Choice in 1998. Aside from all this, watching television from a non-television screen only properly began when the BBC iPlayer download service began in 2005, only becoming a streaming platform in 2007, the same year Netflix began their own service – the flood of mobile, tablet and other connected devices began from there.

What made me realise this was using the BBC News app in beta mode. I knew about the new logo from the reports of BBC Select introducing it, finding that an upcoming update to the News app will use it. In using it, I found that the logo, placed at the top of my phone’s screen, placed its blocks further apart so they can animate more clearly: swiping down to refresh the page would stretch the blocks before reverting to their correct shape, and they would shrink to lines as I moved down the page, maintaining their presence as a constant reminder. 

I thought this animation was something cute at the time, because it is something you could do on your phone, but I didn’t think it would happen on television. With the blocks making the Channel 4 logo having been broken up and thrown about since it began in 1982, and with a new ident on ITV seemingly every week as part of an artist initiative, it is now time for the BBC to stop being defined by three static, immovable blocks. 

Now, they rarely ever sit: they move in, they fall into place, they move up, down, in and out. Perhaps this could have been done fifty years ago, but when BBC One and Two had idents that were live feeds of clockwork models, it wouldn’t have been practical. It certainly does not feel like the logo of a corporation that is approaching its hundredth anniversary in 2022, but that is entirely the point: this will be the last BBC logo made for a regular television screen, if not for a linear television channel. Next time: holograms, probably.

There is a lot to be said for the triviality of a broadcaster changing its logo, as I have proved, but because of the unique way it is funded, the BBC belongs to everyone, and it represents us all to the rest of the world. I want it to look its best.

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