Research Question

How much does the broadcast industry employ knowledge of, or rely on, cultural semiotics to produce channel branding and title sequences? Is this area fully exploited (or utilised) and if not, why not.

Statement of Intent

  • To demystify the cultural barriers one could face in the creation of television titles & branding.
  • To understand cultural semiotics at a less superficial level and communicate these findings in a clear and effective way.
  • To consider the variables that could affect the creative outcome of television titles & branding.
  • To incorporate and enhance theoretical research with industry expert knowledge.
  • To continue building upon technical skills, in particular After Effects.
  • To be aware of and demonstrate sustainable filmmaking practices.

Field of Study

This investigation will consider the scope of semiotics but will have an emphasis on present day culture. Moreover, in regards to television titles & branding, this research will analyse the surge in popularity of media convergence, cross-platform viewing habits and On Demand services.

Keyword/topics to be covered:

Cultural/Social semiotics, Television titles, Branding/Channel identities, Visual communication in moving image, Cultural misunderstandings, Local/Global effect, Audiovisual design…

The project is aimed at industry leaders whose focus is on the creation and delivery of broadcast design, in particular to professionals whose focus is on strategy and planning.


Although television channels cater for specific audiences, from the family oriented (all ages) appeal of BBC One to the 16-34 men of UKTV channel Dave, people who fall within these categories are in their millions.

How is it possible to please, attract, and effectively group the members of public when there is such diversity in cultural backgrounds? Do creatives really base their research and designs on stereotypes and myths, a generalisation that stems from ‘outsiders’ who are excluded from this ‘world’ (Hodge, R., 1988, p.96), a ‘gloss’ on reality (Trifonas, P., 2001, p.11).

Having professional links is imperative in understanding the line between reality and one with an infusion of ideological significance.

  • Is it incorrect to make decisions on this interpreted meaning despite sharing this consensus limited perception with the public?
  • How much of what is researched and presented to the client makes it on-air?
  • To what extent is the impact of an ill-informed television title?
  • How have companies accommodated the shifting viewing habit trends and technology for audiences of difference cultural backgrounds?


A general understanding of semiotics have been gained from literature written by Roland Barthes, Robert Hodge, Gunther Kress, Yuri Lotman, Theo Van Leeuwen and Glen Creeber. Many texts refer to Ferdinand de Saussure, Barthes and the Marxist theory of Ideology.

There are many branches of culture one could explore and it is problematic to decide on where to start. In Hodge’s and Kress’s book, Social Semiotics, linguist Michael Halliday discusses the nature of “high/low” culture and the associating semiotic systems and metasigns it consists of. A culture does not exist if there isn’t some sort of ‘oppositional and marginalised’ group (Hodge, R., 1988, p.87) to distinguish a difference of values, an ‘anti-language’. Low culture forms as a response to the inaccessible yet socially dominant high culture.

The modality of visual media, i.e. the way signs/messages are transmitted, depends on codes, whether it be words, behaviour, or even clothes. The meaning and values behind codes can differ from various cultures hence why it is integral to comprehend the connotations visual media have on contrasting audiences, ‘the modality value of a text is not fixed, but depends on the receiver’s position and orientation’ (Hodge, R., 1988, p.142).

Barthes comments on the “gloss” of reality, referring to the skim-reflection habit the public has, which is probably more prevalent in today’s society. He highlights the importance of reading signs, that ‘they imply too many social, moral, ideological values’ and are ‘infinitely more complex’ (Barthes, R., 1994, p.157). If this is the case, it is easy to see why people have become so passive to understanding the meaning of signs, the quantity of messages people are subject to is astounding and our world of high-speed communication multiplies this number. The nature of television titles models this behaviour; it is no wonder why stereotypes influence its design to communicate and sustain interest in this fast paced world.

Examples of successful, imaginative and effective broadcast design have been compiled by Bjorn Bartholdy. His awareness of the ‘great changes…(in) TV landscape, in light of new distribution channels and changed content models’ (Bartholdy, B. 2007, p.5) before its dominance emphasises the speed in which broadcast design must adapt to. Some examples include:

  • Arte, a French/Germany television channel, has to accommodate its designs for both cultures whilst not to ostracize the rest of Europe that it broadcasts to: http://beohm.com/identica/fr/arteopening.mp4
  • BBC One, a British television channel funded by the public, which must cater for all their needs and thus offers programming of breadth and depth. Their channel identities must also reflect this inclusive nature: http://www.theidentgallery.com/bbc1-2010.php?PHPSESSID=f7aa9c5e51176dff3dc3631d5efd0c1c

Whether or not these have conformed to myths and stereotypes as a shortcut to communication will have to be analysed and could act as the methodology for assessing other channel brands.

The discussions on the rhetoric discourse articles from Unit 1.2 has also provided much insight into persuasive tools adopted in advertising and branding. There appears to be a disagreement between graphic designers on the ethics of using rhetoric particularly in advertising, it was seen to be deceitful and manipulative. Even brands could fool the public of their credentials, promises and personality, should graphic designers be the mediator of this? This led onto a self-initiated study on brand reputation and credibility to help better inform this major project proposal.

Methodology – Research Plan

As the major project investigation is centred around current broadcasting design, it is integral to source up-to-date information.

Primary sources will predominantly involve industry experts’ and professionals’ opinions, whether it be through interviews or discussions. Possible contacts include: Nadia Malik (Operations Manager at Red Bee Media), Michelle Marks (Head of Client Services at Red Bee Media), Tim Whirledge (Strategic Planner at Red Bee Media), Rachel Bradley (Managing Director at DixonBaxi), John Dollin (Applied Research Manager at BSkyB) and Martin Lambie-Nairn (Creative Director at Heavenly). Additionally the LinkedIn group, Tomorrow Calling – Exploring the Future of TV, have professionals who actively comment on trending issues.

Secondary sources will range from webcasts, live data and texts. BARB (Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board) is a sound resource to analyse television viewing trends (for terrestrial and digital) in the UK, however finding such a database for international trends is proving difficult. Several journals including the Journal of Consumer Research, the Journal of Consumer Psychology, and Television and New Media Journal will provide reliable academic articles about branding and television semiotics. Moreover, topical webcasts such as the Future of TV held by the Guardian and Tomorrow Calling by Red Bee Media will further any knowledge on new broadcasting technology and its effects on cross-platform viewing habits. In addition to the texts previously mentioned, Lambie-Nairn’s Brand Identity for Television is a strong starting point of reference as he is considered to be one of the pioneers for modern television channel identity. Media, Organisations and Identity edited by Lilie Chouliaraki and Mette Morsing published in 2010 discusses new media, corporate identity and humanitarian branding which may relate to cultural semiotics.

Methodology – Development Plan

There will be a more detailed, week by week, action plan for Unit 2.3. This will consider the duration of the project (20 weeks from 20th June – 7th November 2012) and will factor in other personal commitments such as working for the Olympic Games (predominantly from 21st July – 9th September 2012 with intermittent dates in June/July) and part-time work hours (every weekend).

Preliminary research stages will include exploration of the field of enquiry, critical analysis and interpretation of reference material, conducting interviews and gaining industry knowledge, comparing and critiquing examples of contemporary design work in relation to cultural contexts.

Later research stages will evaluate gathered information and be furthered by focused research. Additionally a target audience will be established, design experiments will be conducted under an iterative methodology, storyboards and animatics produced, media testing and an adoption of a playful yet risk taking approach to exploration.


BARB. (2012). Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board. [online]. Available from: http://www.barb.co.uk [Accessed 28th March 2012]

Barthes, R. (1994). The Semiotic Challenge. US: University of California Press

Bartholdy, B. (ed). (2007). Broadcast Design. Germany: DAAB

Bellentoni, J. and Woolman, M. (1999). Type in Motion – Innovations in Digital Graphics. London: Thames and Hudson

Erdem, T. and Swait, J. (2004). Brand Credibility, Brand Consideration and Brand Choice. The Journal of Consumer Research. Vol.31 No.1. pp.191-198.

Guardian. (2010). The Future of TV. [online]. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/future-tv/industry-leaders-debate-tv [Webcast] [Accessed 25th November 2010]

Hodge, R. and Kress, G. (1988). Social Semiotics. Cambridge: Polity Press

Lambie-Nairn, M. (1997). Brand Identity for Television – With Knobs On. London: Phaidon

Trifonas, P. (2001). Barthes and the Empire of Signs. London: Icon Books