What’s the deal with network channels sticking their logo in the corner of the screen during a show?

When CableTV.com blog reader Samia wrote in to ask us about that little logo, we figured it was interesting enough to post about here for everyone to read. Samia writes:

“Is there a particular corner of television that is deemed as best? Top right hand corner is supposed to be best – but I notice a significant number of channels using top left corner to place their logo.”

As it turns out: the little logo is officially called a “digital on-screen graphic” and has been nicknamed “DOG” or “bug” or even, simply, “watermark.” The DOGs first started showing up in German TV broadcasts around the 1980s as a way of preventing video piracy. Soon after Germans started using it, more channels began implementing the DOGs and eventually nearly every channel – not just private networks – were using watermarks on their broadcasts.

Why? Thanks to technology (starting with the medieval VHS player) it is easier than ever to copy a broadcast from TV. If you copy a broadcast you are essentially stealing it from the broadcast network. So what does the network do to prove they own the broadcast that you recorded? They watermark it with their logo. Instant credibility as well as brand recognition for the dozen times you replay that ancient episode of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

Brilliant, right? The watermark does more than just prove broadcast ownership. It also serves as a constant reminder to viewers as to which station they are watching. People do, believe it or not, occasionally tune-in to a broadcast, find out they like what they’re watching, but not remember anything about the actual station. That’s where the DOG comes into play. For major countries around the world, the DOG (or, more appropriately, “bug”) began showing up on mainstream TV stations in the early 90s (just about 10 years after German broadcasts began implementing it). The reason, again, was to preserve copyright so anyone watching a recorded version of a broadcast would know where the content originally came from.

Today the bug, or DOG, or whatever you want to call it, is used to not only show which brand station the broadcast is being played on, but also to share details about other programs on the network, show the date and time, and announce important news. It’s an important part of any broadcast, but how that applies to digital production (through iTunes, Netflix, and Hulu, for example), has yet to pan out.

So which corner is the best for the DOG to appear on, as Samia wrote to ask us? There is no definitive answer, as all corners of the screen will basically get the job done. Traditionally (outside of the U.S.) the bug has appeared on the top left or right corner of the TV screen, but many channels in the United States have been broadcasting with the bug on the lower right or left corner. In terms of brand recognition and acknowledging piracy: it doesn’t really matter which corner the DOG is on. What does matter, when it comes to the on-screen bug, is whether the graphic (which these days is often animated) imposes on your viewing experience. Nobody wants to be watching a show and then see a huge parade march across their screen. For that, the answer to what corner is best for the DOG is entirely in your hands. And now you know.