Hawaii public TV forces distracting logo on viewers
I WAS A longtime subscriber to KHET (PBS Hawaii) until 2003. I had become increasingly annoyed by KHET's intrusive use of its logo in the bottom right-hand corner of the television screen. After several unsuccessful attempts to meet with the station manager, I reluctantly ended my decades-long membership and support of PBS Hawaii.
Hawaii public television's intrusive display of its logo has three negative consequences: It's distracting, it encourages graffiti and it can cause "screen burn."
KHET undermines worthwhile content by imposing its distracting trademark throughout entire programs. Instead of enjoying the harmonious display of visual elements carefully composed by professionals, one's attention is diverted to "the stupid little head in the corner," as University of Hawaii art historian Lewis Andrews put it. Another UH art professor, Duane Preble, explained that:
» anything visible within an image has to be considered part of the total configuration
» anything that does not contribute to the image actually denigrates the image.
England's 1,800-member Campaign for LOGO FREE TV proclaims, "We believe that logos create unnecessary and unwanted visual noise in an already crowded and noisy visual environment." (See logofreetv.org)
In my classes I still use KHET programs taped 10 to 20 years ago, but not more recent ones because they are spoiled by the station's intrusive "bug."
KHET's logo is graffiti, a discordant element imposed indiscriminately, without regard for the subject of the program. It is no better than adolescent scribbling on walls, benches, signs or other public places. In fact, it is worse, because it is written not on blank spaces but over images carefully composed by cameramen, painters or cinematographers. It desensitizes viewers to good design, dulling appreciation of artistic composition, and perhaps of Hawaii's natural beauty. Although KHET claims to be educational, its ever-present bug teaches that visual integrity doesn't really matter, and it is OK to scribble anywhere you want.
Independent of aesthetic concerns is the danger of screen burn. Unmoving images left on for any length of time can be permanently ingrained into the television screen. User manuals warn against this. Panasonic, for instance, cautions, "Do not allow a still picture to be displayed for an extended period. ... Examples of still pictures include logos, video games, computer images (and) teletext."
The Campaign for Logo Free TV reports that "A number of BBC staff, as well as visitors to BBC premises and people who work in 'industrial' environments, have told us that they have seen many TV sets 'burnt,' 'prematurely aged' and 'permanently distorted' by BBC DOGS (digitally originated graphics). ... A screen once burnt will constantly show the logo, and a distortion in that area of screen thereafter."
The same danger threatens computers, giving rise to use of screen savers.
Beyond these specific problems, the logo has implications for the station's survival. Momentous changes have occurred in the 40 years since it began. A vast array of new technologies has displaced television as the sole electronic medium for education.
This was acknowledged by former station president Mike McCartney, who said, "Today there are hundreds of channels, multiple choices on the Internet" (Honolulu Weekly, Jan. 2006). He mentioned the Food Channel, History Channel, Discover, A&E, Disney and Nickelodeon, and asked, "How do we stay relevant? How do we meet the needs of an audience?"
The answer to McCartney's question is to provide service not available elsewhere, but KHET staff take the opposite approach, responding to complaints about logo intrusion by saying, "Everybody else is doing it."
When the logo problem is mentioned to the public, a common response is, "Oh, they do that to prevent piracy," but that is not the reason given by KHET personnel themselves. Instead they do it to identify the station. The vice president for development wrote, "The management team has discussed the issue and we feel that we must continue to brand our programming with our logo."
In addition to new technologies, other challenges confront the station. There is a widespread belief that television is irrelevant. KHET is no longer a government agency. The university's needs today differ from what they were decades ago, calling to question the continuing lease of prime UH land at Dole Street and University Avenue to the station whose educational value to the community is less than it used to be.
Presentation quality deteriorated as the station adopted the glitzy branding of commercial media; now fine art and great performances are sabotaged by shoddy production.
Four ironies face KHET. First, all except one of the changes are beyond the station's control. The only change it could do something about is deteriorating production standards, but the station itself chooses to impose its intrusive logo throughout entire programs.
Second, the practice might not help the station much and could be counterproductive. The small minority of TV channel surfers who are potential KHET subscribers are smart enough to figure out which station they are watching, and don't need to have the logo pushed in their faces. Many people object to heavy-handed product labeling like this admitted branding. As a viewer complained, "I pay to watch TV, not these bugs."
A third irony is that the bugs infesting KHET programs could be exterminated immediately, without cost, equipment, technical expertise or lengthy procedures, by a simple order from the management.
Fourth, current attempts to compete with mainstream media by emulating their tawdry techniques are doomed to failure. As the station struggles to survive, its justification for existence depends not on doing what everyone else is doing, but instead by providing a unique service -- offering uncluttered images of the highest quality.
A century ago the Outdoor Circle encouraged Hawaii to ban billboards. Similar wisdom is needed to offer today's indoor circle members at least one channel free from visual blight.
David Swift, Ph.D., is a professor in the Sociology Department at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, where he has worked since 1966. Swift coordinated the efforts to bring the first close-up images of Uranus from the Voyager 2 spacecraft to UH as the images reached Earth on Jan. 24, 1986.