CPB Office of the Ombudsman

Lose the Logo

Joel Kaplan

August 12, 2013

Darryl Harris, a viewer of WXEL, a PBS station in South Florida, is fed up with the station's logo, which he says blocks important information and ruins the enjoyment he receives from various programs.

"Sadly, WXEL thinks that the WXEL logo they put on the screen is much more important than any other thing they put on the screen," Mr. Harris writes. "As early as last year I continually informed WXEL that their logo covered up names, subtitles, captions, dialogue and other numerous items on the bottom of the screen.

"I begged the station through various emails that the logo was not only too big but too bright and certainly misplaced on the screen. Just recently a wonderful program on dance concerning Jacob's Pillow had almost every name and title covered up by the WXEL logo."

Donald Sussman, president of WXEL, is aware of Mr. Harris' complaints and questions why he is complaining about WXEL when other stations have similar logos.

"We place our logo—a transparent one—in the safe part of the raster," Mr. Sussman said. "It's the same as any other television station, including the public broadcasting stations in this market. We remove the logo if there's an opera or some other program that needs subtitles.

"We are, however, looking into creating something a bit smaller. We're going to try something new in a week or two—and this is not on his insistence—we're going to try to reduce the size of the logo. I will say that it is a little bigger than other stations, but it's not bigger by much."

Mr. Harris takes issue with the notion that the logo is removed when programming has subtitles, since that is what prompted his original complaint. He said he is also frustrated that over the past year and a half he has sent several emails, made numerous phone calls and the station has been unresponsive.

"A public television station like WXEL in good faith, should be considerate and sensitive enough to its viewers about what programs are put on the screen," Mr. Harris said. "Also, in good faith, WXEL should have an obligation to its viewers not to allow its logo to become a total distraction on the screen. When does the logo become more important than the program being offered?"

Mr. Sussman said that the station is trying to fix the problem.

"We're definitely working on this problem; it's not like we're ignoring him," he said. "We appreciate the viewership, but I think you're always going to have people that complain about something. We had people like this when I was at WNET in New York, and we have them here. We're making every effort to accommodate him, quite honestly."

In a follow-up letter about the complaint, Mr. Sussman went into a fuller explanation, which may be useful to others who have experienced the frustration of a logo blocking content:

My response may be a bit longer than desired but there is no simple answer to Mr. Harris' complaint without some understanding of the technical and station identification issues involved.

Mr. Harris' complaint deals with the placement of WXEL's on-screen logo used to identify our channel within the vast universe of channels on cable and satellite services. We, along with thousands of other television broadcasters and cable-casters, use a transparent graphic (the "Bug" as it is referred to) in order to keep our identity visible to our viewers or to those who are simply channel surfing to find us. Licensed to the West Palm Beach, Florida market, over 60% of our audience watches WXEL via Comcast. Our main over-the-air channel is 42.1. On Comcast, our standard definition ("SD") service is on Channel 6, our high-definition ("HD") service is on Channel 440, and our digital standard definition sub-channels are on 201, 202, and 203 respectively. That's the landscape we are dealing with and one that is virtually identical to that of most all other television stations in the nation. Having our identity prominently displayed is vital in keeping our audience and is required by the Federal Communications Commission to the extent that its rules apply. All of this has been explained to Mr. Harris in previous communications.

The process by which we do it is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Mr. Harris complains about the placement of the logo which, for your edification, is in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. More specifically, our logo is placed within the ''title-safe'' area of the 4:3 raster, the aspect ratio of standard definition transmission. We do that to ensure that our viewers watching our channel on an SD-only set can see our logo without any distortion. If, however, a viewer, Mr. Harris specifically, is watching WXEL on our high-definition channel and on an HD set, the logo will appear to be further toward the center than it needs to be. HD uses a much wider 16:9 aspect ratio and, therefore, has a much wider title-safe area. This, too, has been explained to Mr. Harris.

Bottom line, no explanation has sufficed and, as a television consumer, I fully understand and respect his frustration. At this time in the station's life we are limited in our technical capability to originate two separate video streams which would enable us to place the "bug" further to the right in the HD stream with its wider title-safe area. But, as I mentioned to you when we spoke on the telephone, a review of all other local television stations in our market reveals identical patterns of display including that of two other public stations coming into the market.

In his latest email to us, Mr. Harris refers to ''the wonderful programming that WXEL offers," and we are truly grateful for that sentiment. We did take steps to ensure that our logo was dropped from the screen entirely whenever we were broadcasting an opera that required sub-titles and we also made the "bug" more transparent ... both steps taken as a direct result of his earlier complaints. We are looking at possible other modifications: making it even more transparent, reducing its size, or possibly creating a new, smaller adaptation of our corporate logo. The latter is something we are not inclined to do given the investment made in our branding.

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