A day in the life of a BBC promo.

As you may know, with the (second) death of Dirty Den Watts last week a crucial part of EastEnders came to an end. It’s ‘all change’ for the soap’s story-lines then, and on bbc.co.uk we echoed this. And as a tribute to Den I present, a day in the life of a BBC homepage promo. But firstly, a little history…

It’s perhaps fitting that the homepage heralded the return of Den with a similar treatment back in September 2004, You can see it here. (This was before the ‘blue’ May Campaign redesign so it sat on the purple patina…for more on that, look at this blog back in May). Also here for the first time are versions that were rejected for various reasons: two B&W ‘back in the day’ ones here & here, and Den & Sharon one. The B&W ones was felt to be too cryptic, asking even ‘Enders fans to remember back to ’89 was hard going. I liked the treatment though – gritty and a kind of ‘where were you when JR was shot’ type moments. The Den & Sharon one wasn’t used as that was from the second episode he was back, and so would have been a spoiler on the day it went out.

I developed picture promo’s back in July 2003 as an alternate version of the traditional image and ‘five linker’ promo when we have one over-riding central message and want to push users straight through deep into the relevant part of the site. We’ve used them for a number of things,Strictly Come Dancing final, BEst British SIt-com, Guide to UK comics and 1xtra’s new DJs

Here’s my first ever mock up ‘Gone to Lunch’, which I made into a small presentation and showed to the Internet Controller Tony Ageh(heh heh). At the beeb if you’ve got an idea, and the guts to push it through, you can make changes, it just takes a bit of grunt to convince all relevant parties, and there are a lot of parties who have an opinion on the homepage.

Normally promos are formed of image, headline, body copy and 4/5 links. This is great for most treatments; we offer a subject, an accompanying image, a text explanation, and a set of links that broaden it out into other relevant areas of bbc.co.uk. It’s this as an editorial unit that is different from other broadcasters and more like a portal page. This is in contrast to the likes of Channel 4, who in their recent redesign say ‘here’s show X’ and that’s pretty much it, nice strap lines though… Or take the flash-tastrophy that is five.tv, I’m on broadband, and I just waited 6 minutes to watch a shark bite their logo – that says the marketing-bots are in charge. Not much of a broad offering there, but then both those sites function in very different ways to bbc.co.uk. Anyway, no matter the treatment, our aim is to change that promo space frequently, to keep it fresh and different, to promote large messages, or just do a big bit of eye catching artwork.

So, to the death of Den.. I’ve talked about the development of the treatment, but that’s only part of the process. The other side of things is planning, scheduling and writing. The homepage team monitor various sources of information in deciding what we promo. We receive a heads up from the various BBC divisions; News, iF&L (interactive factual and learning), DEC (drama, entertainment and…commisioning I think), N&R (nations and regions) amongst others. We also use news planning services like everyone else, AMIPLAN is the main one. And of course the BBC press office. The Editor then drafts a schedule weighing up all the options and things jockying for a homepage promo. The amount of content, programmes, competitions, webchats, quiz’s, communities, and just shear stuff the BBC has on it’s servers means we can’t please everyone sadly.

So we got the nod that the Den special was coming a while ago. We knew that Sam, Zoe and Chrissy were all instrumental in his death, and BBC Pictures had done some ‘police line up’ type photos. BBC Pictures provide all the publicity material for BBC shows, they have a relationship with the production staff across the BBC and so can get great stuff. So then it was just a case of finalising the final design and more importantly, the strap line. Here’s the various versions we went through. So, in this case, it’s the relationship between the three women, and how they each deal with the guilt. As you can see, the Writer and the Sub Ed kept distilling the strapline to get the maximum punch in. So there’s the crime reference in the EastEnders font as well as the TX information. Looking at some other TV listings mags What’s on TVand TV Mag in the newsagents, I think we pitched our promo just right. We then had a second version for post TX, as the viewers would know who killed Den, and to offer them an exclusive preview clip of the next episode. This featured a shot from the actual show this time.

So that’s pretty much it, the history of the end of Dirty Den on the BBC homepage. Hope you’ve enjoyed this little peak behind the curtain that is bbc.co.uk The great thing is that you can be doing this one minute, then some Panorama special on Iraq next, then a Dick & Dom webchat all topped off with Radio 1 in Ibiza, it’s that varied. If you’ve any questions or comments, feel free to get in touch (but remember all this is my opinion not the BBC’s offical line, natch).

2 Responses to “A day in the life of a BBC promo.”

  1. 1 Frankie Roberto February 28, 2005 at 12:04 am

    I like the promos where the text is overlaid onto the picture best. But they all certainly keep the home page interesting, and are the only reason I keep bbc.co.uk as my homepage.

    The only thing I have to say though is ‘bring back the old colour schemes’ – I much preferred the home page when the colours changed daily and the sections ‘reacted’ to how often you clicked them. Oh well…


  2. 2 Tom March 1, 2005 at 2:02 am

    Very interesting, I’ve often wondered how the site works. Cheers for this little insight.

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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
February 2005
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