Most people will have heard of Channel 5 by now. It's the newest terrestrial TV station in the UK to transmit using current systems, but to view it, people will need to retune their videos and computer equipment from frequencies that may conflict with those allocated to Channel 5. Newer channels will use digital broadcast techniques.
Most TV Web sites are heavily into providing a support role for their programs. They may be used to advertise coming attractions or to build a community around a series. Merchandising, schedules and bookmark lists are all common features of these sites, but Channel 5 isn't in a position to do this. It isn't broadcasting yet, so its Web site has a different slant.
The opening page is simply the striped Channel 5 logo which has a client-pull to the main home page. With some sites this can be a waste of time, but clever design on the site makes this overhead around 6Kb, which takes little time to download.
The home page is minimal in design. Apart from two animated GIFs at the top of the page, all the graphics are black and white (with some grey shades), resulting in small files to be downloaded. It isn't very pretty, but it is functional.
All the graphics have sensibly valued ALT tags which make the site navigable by Lynx. Unfortunately, little thought seems to have gone into the site's appearance under such a browser - the layout isn't very clear and it's a bit hard going.
The main logo on this page states "essential launch information". It isn't a program support site, though no doubt will evolve into one. It's a pre-launch site, giving information on the station and its plans.
Site layout is traditional, if that word can be applied to such a new industry. Along the top is a navigation bar pointing to the five main topic areas. The current area is underlined. On the left is a list of subtopics for the current area, with the current subtopic highlighted. All the labels are graphics icons which can result in lots of hits on the server to download small files. This can mean longer download times than one large image file using an image map because of latencies in the way the Internet works.
The site's designers need to take a close look at this site. The technical errors extend beyond the scope of the Web site itself and into its general setup, such as DNS and email handling. Fortunately, most of the errors don't actually impact the use of the site itself, which is why they may have gone unnoticed.
Interactivity on this site is minimal. One simple form allows you to enter your STD code and answer other questions - the site will inform you if retuning is required. Another form is for advertisers that want more information on Channel 5. Surely an advertiser with enough money to spend on TV advertising isn't going to fill in a Web form!
One of the main sections that is likely to be of interest is the section describing the planned scheduling and the type of programs that will be available. Unfortunately this is also where graphics bloat unnecessarily and page loading is slow. With the current stage of browser technology, progressive JPEGs should be used.
Navigation through this section isn't as flexible as it should be. Organisation is a mixture of time slots (daytime/primetime/night-time) and program types (news/ movies). Confusingly, different types of programs also appear in the time slots, with the night-time section being split into sports and comedy.
Another point of interest is the section that addresses retuning. It has a question and answer page for viewers, electrical retailers and aerial installers. But the information contained is very basic and sparse. The site addresses concerns about security - letting a stranger into the house to retune your TV - only in passing. As this is a common concern, Channel 5 should have given it more importance.
All in all, this site is little better than a "we will be here" place marker. Content is minimal, but once Channel 5 starts transmitting, I expect this site to undergo a redesign. It'll be interesting to see the improvements.
Launch: January 97
Design: New Media Factory
Target Audience: General public, potential advertisers, electrical retailers and aerial installers
Competitors: BBC, Channel 4 and Sky
Setup: Running on 128Kb access, with full support and statistical traffic profiling and reporting
Hits Per Day: 20,000 Size: 3.4Mb.
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