A television channel used to be a fairly simple affair: A presentation director, supported by a team of operators and runners, kept a stack of VTRs (Video Tape Recorders) fed.
In turn the operator would cue and take a programme part, then some commercials, maybe a trailer or two, then another programme part. There might even be the odd station ident caption in the mix too. Largely unheard of now, but there was a time in the not too distant past, when continuity announcers actually popped up in vision, from a little studio next to the playout suite, to enthuse us of the excitements to come.
But, as we moved from a humble handful of channels into the multi-channel digital world, broadcasters quickly realised they would have to work a great deal harder to keep the audience tuned to their programmes (and, perhaps more importantly, their commercials). Giving audiences a chance to change channels was akin to commercial suicide.
The marketing people pushed the technology people to find new ways of reinforcing their brand and retaining eyeballs. The first way they did this was to insert a station logo in the top left-hand corner of the screen.
This seemed like an easy thing to do: just take the output of the master control switcher and feed it through a downstream keyer to insert the logo. Except, of course, the logo has to be turned off during commercials: advertisers tend not to appreciate what amounts to ambush marketing!
Having an operator stand by the logo inserter all day, watching the output and turning the box off and on as appropriate was not really an efficient use of resources. So, turning the logo on and off had to become part of the automation.
This was not an event in the sense that programmes, commercials and promos are events: the logo was secondary to the main business of the channel. So, it became known as a secondary event.
Once created, the concept of secondary events grew rapidly. Lower thirds started appearing before the end of a programme (usually at the emotionally critical point in a drama) to tell you what was up next. Music over the end credits was ducked to allow a voiceover to promote the DVD box set etc.
Some would say that the low point of the secondary event phenomenon came with the squeeze-back: This is where the end credits of a programme are literally squeezed back in a DVE (Digital Video Effect) move, in order to create screen real estate for promotions to run simultaneously with the credits.
The absolute nadir came from US networks who toyed with the hot start. The end of one programme was squeezed back, and on the other side of the screen the next programme started, to pop up to full screen – half way through the tease – when the first programme finally reached its end-board. If the programmes even overlap, how can you tune away?
So, in essence, a secondary event is something which overlays the main output. It might be tied directly to primary events, like the logo inserter, or it could be timed independently as a means of increasing channel branding and marketing. And, as has been proven by the continued evolution of the secondary event, they have the potential to greatly increase the premium look and feel of a channel, as well as boost audience retention through promotion and teasers.
The value of this tool to broadcasters and the ever-present need to both retain viewers and increase revenue, only means that the concept of the secondary event will continue to evolve and develop – something we’ll be looking at in upcoming posts. But broadcasters must be ready to embrace and exploit the opportunities that will undoubtedly come as a result.