CPB Office of the Ombudsman

Logo Wars (Cont.)

Joel Kaplan

June 10, 2014

A WXEL viewer continues to complain about the public television station's logo, the station's general manager is fed up with the personal attacks on what he says is adhering to professional standards and now a California viewer weighs in on more logo complaints.

Darryl Harris remains unsatisfied that his West Palm Beach, Florida public television station (link to http://www.cpb.org/ombudsman/display.php?id=169) is taking appropriate measures about the size and location of WXEL's logo:

I thought this would be a good time for an update on WXEL TV. Sadly, I have to report that WXEL has not lost its logo! WXEL's logo stays on the screen almost the entire time of any program they are broadcasting. They have not moved the logo at all from the same place on the screen, which is just right of center on the screen on the bottom. The only positive note I can report is that they have made their logo a little less white, possibly a little more transparent. Even then, with this slight 'improvement' WXEL's logo is a sore sight, a blight on the screen, a disrespect for their viewing audience, a distraction that flies in the face of all who love public television and its great programming.

Mr. Harris has now been joined by California viewer Jesse Skeen, who says:

The reasons given for using a logo are disgusting, and anyone with that mindset should not be allowed to work in ANY type of broadcasting, much less PUBLIC broadcasting which is supposed to be a reprieve from everything that is wrong with commercial TV. A permanent logo on the screen is 100% UNACCEPTABLE. How dare Mr. Sussman say that "Having our identity prominently displayed is vital in keeping our audience"- the station's PROGRAMMING is what keeps a station's audience, and a permanent logo always onscreen ruins it. I hope I never meet this person, as I would have some very choice words to say to him.

I am in California where I receive two PBS stations- KVIE and KQED, and both of them have been displaying permanent logos for several years now. Neither of them have given a logical reason for doing this. The FCC should have banned this practice a long time ago. Saying that "other stations do this" is complete nonsense- other stations also show commercials, so will PBS be doing THAT as well? It is especially insulting that these stations rely on viewer donations, and yet they are alienating those who would most likely donate money to them. They will not receive a single penny from me as long as this madness continues. Making a logo "smaller" is not an acceptable solution either- there should be NOTHING on the screen during a program except the program itself. Anyone who does not understand this should simply not be allowed to control what goes out over the allegedly "public" airwaves.

As can be expected, the general managers of these stations take issue with these complaints, particularly the personal attacks imbedded within them:

First is this response from Mr. Sussman, the president of WXEL:

On September 11, 2001, I was working as Director of Engineering at WNET/New York and was the last person at our headquarters building to speak with one of our engineers who was on duty that morning at the World Trade Center.

The first plane had struck the north tower where our transmitter was located and I implored him to leave immediately. Unaware of what the next 20 minutes would bring, he assured me he would keep the transmitter operating "as long as he could." His body was never recovered.

Over the next few hours a small group of WNET leadership debated what we could do programmatically to serve our community via the cable services that were still carrying our signal and those of the other NYC broadcasters. It was clear that our commercial colleagues would provide the essential news and emergency alerts so needed by our community but what about the kids?

Was there something we could for the children of the New York City region? What we decided to do was to become a safe haven for children, to provide a safe viewing area for young, impressionable minds so that their parents had a place to direct them to even momentarily let them escape the visual horror that was unfolding. Our continuous stream of children's programming up to the primetime hours was a testament to WNET's commitment to mission, a mission shared by all public broadcasting services and the people they employ.

In that context, I find debating the merits, or lack thereof, of on-screen logos to miss the point. To suggest, even hypothetically, that our adherence to industry practice on this and so many other technical issues will somehow lead to the commercialization of public broadcasting is absurd on its face and displays a remarkable ignorance of why we exist. I assume by this email that the viewer has researched the ombudsman website and is knowledgeable of my prior responses. I have nothing further to add. In addition, with all due respect to you, your role and the great work that CPB does, I will no longer respond to any email that contains the acrimony expressed toward me on a personal basis as this email does as have so many previous emails.

Next comes the response from David Lowe, president and general manger of KVIE:

Jesse Skeen is well known to us through various direct inquiries and public posts. Quite frankly, no answer will satisfy him unless it includes us removing the bug altogether, never using snipes to promote programming, etc.

On February 19, he posted on our Facebook page regarding a petition he had created at whitehouse.gov. We left that post on our page. The petition has now expired, failing to receive the necessary number of signatures. The last I checked, it had 2. This is what he titled it: Amend FCC regulations to ban the use of constant onscreen logos by TV stations and networks. |... petitions.whitehouse.gov

While I can't say with certainty, I believe he is also the YouTube user "BugKiller98" based on the number of local videos and the extreme nature of the concerns regarding bugs. That user made derogatory personal comments on a video where I was interviewed shortly after becoming the GM. The user wished testicular cancer upon me for running a station that used bugs. Other totally inappropriate comments have been made about other individuals and organizations.

Here is a link to the videos posted along with the user's comments - https://www.youtube.com/user/BugKiller98

The views I have regarding the use of station bugs, animated bugs, and snipes are consistent with Mr. Sussman's and those that I have seen credited to PBS in the PBS Ombudsman's column - http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/2013/10/the_mailbag_some_viewers_want_to_give_pbs_a_p_1.html

Quite frankly, the television landscape has changed from the days when the majority of viewers knew exactly what channel they were watching. In order to continue to attract and retain viewers, we must evolve with that landscape or risk being left behind with no one to serve. Use of these devices does not make us commercial. It helps us to continue to be relevant.

Finally, there are these comments from DeLinda Mrowka, executive director of communications at KQED:

We have been using a transparent KQED logo on air for approximately 14-15 years. Neither the design nor placement of the logo has changed recently. Our audience service department has only received three complaints on the logo since 2011.

Here is the response we have shared with viewers who previously contacted KQED with concerns about the logo:

Thank you for writing to express your disappointment with the identity mark that we place on our programs. KQED takes great care in placing only a single translucent identifier with the station's name on screen.

These watermarks are used for several reasons: One is that is prevents duplication of a program for unlawful purposes. In other words, the program cannot be taped and then transferred to a DVD or other device for sale without it being clear that the duplication is illegal. Secondly, in this day of You Tube and other online screening opportunities, this branding allows users across the world to learn from where content was first seen. This is extremely important to KQED as it builds viewership, as well as support for public media.

We do periodically review our policy regarding our identifiers, and I will be sending your comments along to our Chief Content Officer and television programmer so that they can be made aware of your thoughts. Once again, we thank you for your input. Viewer feedback is important to us, and we sincerely appreciate that you took the time to let us know what you think.

This is the third report I have written about on-screen logos and it is clear that this is one of those intractable situations that probably can never be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. Given that, I agree with Mr. Sussman that further reports on this topic are unnecessary.

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