1982-1996: There have been five different eras of Channel 4 presentation. The first began when Channel 4 launched in November 1982. Their first ident was groundbreaking in many ways. It was one of the first anywhere in the world to be computer-generated and was created using the latest technology of the time, and there were also multiple idents for the first time, with six different variations created.
Channel 4’s original ident was made of five colours and split into nine different blocks, and it was soundtracked by a piece of music specially made called “FourScore”. The ident made such an impact with viewers that a variation is still used today. I do think that it is a great ident myself, definitely up there with the BBC2 1991-2001 look for the most creative way that a channel ident was used and it fitted the channel’s programming and ideas perfectly. In the early days in-vision continuity was used but only occasionally, and there was also a clock but that was only usually seen before the news and closedown.
Over the years several variations were used in trails and idents for special seasons. By 1992 a new soundtrack was used for the idents, and more often in the later years of the look programmes were introduced by various personalities who were featuring in programmes currently on Channel 4. After just over 14 years the decision was made that it was time for a change.
1996-1999: Channel 4’s second era featured four circles, which contained the Channel 4 symbol inside one of them. What disappointed me about this look was that the 4 was now colourless and did nothing, just appearing in one of the circles, and that was about it. There were lots of new idents, with most of them again referencing the programme they were about to introduce. Channel 4 also went 24 hours in the early days of this look, meaning no more closedowns. The only creative variations in this era were the special idents introduced for the 15th anniversary in 1997.
Channel 4 did use in-vision continuity again, but it was only a small camera in the announcer’s room. There was no clock by this point and also a generic look was introduced to some extent with all trails finishing in the same way, although this was dropped after a while, with even Channel 4 seemingly becoming dissatisfied with this look after just a couple of years.
1999-2004: Channel 4’s third era moved their symbol from being inside a circle to a square. Again the “4” didn’t actually do much in this era. It was something of a transition time for television when this look was introduced, digital television and widescreen was in its earliest days, and Channel 4 also launched some spin-off channels including E4 in 2001.
There were various idents at the start of this era featuring scrolling stripes in different colours, plus a few again featuring Channel 4 personalities, but these were changed after a while, and again there were lots of creative variations. Trails were also in the same style and slides were used in the early days too.
2004-2015: With the fourth era there was another new set of idents. Various shapes floated in the air and as the camera moved around they created the “4” symbol for a very short time. This suggests that the symbol is now so familiar that it needs to only appear on the screen for a second to be identified by the viewers.
One thing that I like about this look is that it was great seeing the “4” symbol being used creatively again, with it magically appearing in markets, fields, motorways, and many other places. My favourite one is the diner because that’s the one that most reminds me of the original Channel 4 look. Trails feature a 3D version of the symbol.
2015-present: The fifth era of Channel 4 presentation launched in September. The new look seems to have taken the idea of the “4” symbol appearing onscreen for a very brief time and taken it to the extreme – the “4” symbol as such doesn’t appear at all now fully formed – most trails just feature three or four of the nine individual blocks from the symbol as if to say it is now so familiar we can still recognise it. There are also lots of colour combinations and many variations have been made.
The idents themselves though are very peculiar and almost defy description, I certainly haven’t been able to decipher them yet in the short time that they have been on air. There are currently four of them and again they don’t prominently feature the “4” symbol in full or otherwise. Maybe as time goes by it will all begin to make sense as the story is told. It’s definitely got people’s attention though.