The next few weeks should prove very interesting for those with a concern about UTV’s branding. The channel temporarily started carrying ITV continuity and trails on 2nd April because of the coronavirus crisis.
But we are getting towards the point where temporary arrangements made by businesses of all sorts are becoming the default position. For many companies, the gradual easing of restrictions won’t simply mean that things will go back to how they were in March. Instead they will look at the arrangements they have in place and decide whether or not they are working or can be relaxed.
“How things used to be” will simply be an option and not necessarily the default position it may have been had the crisis only lasted a week or two. So, let’s consider UTV’s branding.
ITV consciously decided against dropping UTV’s branding in 2016 after the takeover but brought it into line with their own. There were many good reasons for this. Suddenly adopting full ITV branding might have sent out the signal that a major local company had been turned into a shell by the big boys in London. UTV was a familiar local brand – ITV, at least as a brand, was not so familiar locally.
So two months in where do things stand? The disruption has now gone on for almost as long as the 1979 ITV strike – the biggest crisis ever faced by the network itself.
Simply showing ITV trails for network programmes has not caused the sky to fall in. Naturally those who might not have liked the idea before have seen it in practice and do not seem bothered – though, of course, the vast majority of people have far more important things to worry about just now. UTV’s ratings have held up well despite the change.
Given that ITV will want staff to work from home as much as possible, it would seem unlikely that starting to make two sets of trailers for each programme again would be a top priority. Nor would dropping end credit promotions which were previously impossible on UTV. None of this means that Julian or Gillian won’t return – that’s a different issue.
But will the company really want to replace ITV’s ever-changing idents with the old UTV ones, which are based on ITV’s 2013 look? Would it still make sense to run trails for the ITV Hub or promos for ITV Win while saying Emmerdale or other output with no connection to Northern Ireland was about UTV?
The crucial thing is that UTV itself will not have been rebranded. It will still be the brand for the news, the weather and other local programmes once they return. Their return would, by implication, also see the return of a greater number of trails for local programmes which would still have the UTV branding. So UTV would still have some presence in interstitial material.
As I argued before, there is a logic to keeping UTV as the local name while using ITV as the network master brand. UTV was a powerful local brand until 2016 – it was a company name, the brand name of a website and gave the ‘U’ to the company’s radio station U105. The TV channel also had characteristics which were distinct from those of ITV.
Today the name simply masks the ITV brand except where it is used to specifically refer to output made in and for NI.
Habits are formed after three months. Will the level of UTV branding we were used to have returned by July, even assuming this is possible?
PICTURED: UTV Live studio. Presenter: Eden Wilson. COPYRIGHT: ITV plc.
Using two different brands on screen breaks the fundamental rule of consistent and effective marketing – Keep it Simple Stupid.
In fact it’s surprising ITV still uses Granada and Meridian in the names of its news programmes in those regions. One day these will surely be altered to something more generic.
It seems to me ITV took a cautious approach to any name changes in 2016. The ITV management in London knew all too well what UTV meant to Northern Irish viewers. The Troubles may be over, but there are always political tensions to consider. Having ITV NI as a brand will not go down well with at least one side of the political and religious spectrum in the province.