A minor tweak with significant meaning for UTV?

A good detective spots little details – details which may seem insignificant but which can point to something of more importance. Only the most observant of pres fans will have immediately noticed a little change to UTV+1 which is believed to have taken place on Thursday.

The “+1” element has been modified to match the graphic in use in the other ITV regions. With this, the last distinctive element of UTV channel branding has gone for now. The channel switched to temporary ITV branding on 2nd April as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

There was no obvious urgent reason to tweak the DOG – although it did overlap with the Britain Get Talking DOG which appears for about a minute at the start of each programme and after each commercial break.

To go to the effort of modifying the +1 DOG shows an impressive, perhaps surprising, attention to detail in the current circumstances. It perhaps suggests that ITV is not expecting normal operations to resume too quickly.

The indications are that the lockdown will continue for another three weeks although there may be some minor modifications. But it’s widely accepted the rules will ease gradually and that social distancing will remain for some time. ITV like other companies will want to ensure social distancing at work can continue and will want staff to work from home where that is feasible.

But as the crisis goes on, broadcasters face a mixed picture. Those working in news, topical programmes and operational departments are increasingly adapting and living with something of a “new normal”.

This week ITV resumed new editions of Loose Women and restored sign language interpretation of some new programmes. But there is a growing risk that new episodes of Emmerdale and Coronation Street will soon run out. If this happens, even those viewers who care about presentation will realise ITV have far more urgent issues to deal with than restoring full UTV branding once a degree of normality returns.

Meanwhile there is the question of whether perceptions of the ITV brand in Northern Ireland are shifting. Apart from the artwork by children featured in the current idents, the company’s More than TV brand-building promo is being seen in NI. If the changes to UTV presentation last past the middle of June, they will have lasted  for longer than the 1979 ITV strike – the most serious disruption ever faced by the channel.

Amid the disruption to life and business, anyone raising a serious concern about the return of full UTV branding after such a length of time may look rather tunnel-visioned. The big issue for UTV will be the speed at which the normal 2 hours of regional output each week can return. The big issue for ITV will be to restore its normal range of new programmes – especially the soaps and other big hits – and cope with the impact of the collapse in advertising.

There is no suggestion of a game plan but a fascinating scenario is unfolding.




Posted by Andrew Nairn

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