In its purest form, business television (BTV) broadcasts programmes
live by satellite to employees watching TV monitors or screens. It is
only really suitable for large organisations with a substantial,
widespread workforce. For many others, video is a more viable option. So
before you take the plunge, ask yourself some questions.
Is BTV the right choice for your company?
The prime reason to invest in a television network is to drive an
internal culture change among a large, decentralised audience.
According to Nick Chaloner, director of corporate affairs at Abbey
National, this was the rationale behind the launch of Abbey Vision last
To live up to its new brand promise, ’Because life’s complicated
enough’, the company created a programme tailored for front-line retail
staff working in branches across the UK.
Delivered by satellite, this 20-minute weekly broadcast covers news and
marketing information and complements the monthly group internal
communications programme, Abbey View.
How should you set objectives?
Rather than get carried away with BTV as a technology toy, it is
important to consider how the power of visual communication will
strengthen internal messages and create a sense of corporate
’We recommend that all companies start with some sort of communications
audit to examine what channels are already available and what the
current mindset is,’ says Stephen Watson, managing director of
production company CTN.
How do you choose the right supplier?
Like finding a good builder, it is vital to study track record. Now that
BTV is an established industry, it is easy to check out company claims
from a wealth of case studies.
Neil Ormsby, business development director at production company APTN,
warns: ’The market tends to divide into two distinct areas of
You need to ensure a supplier has experience in both programme
production and satellite or other distribution methods.’
In addition, much depends on the creative treatment. Shell
International, which has a well-established satellite network, uses
different production companies for different projects. Last December’s
much publicised announcement of a new five-year plan by Shell’s
committee of managing directors was produced by The Edge. But TV company
Myriad made last month’s management restructuring broadcast for the Oil
Are there any guidelines for deciding the content?
The main thrust of a broadcast should be inspiration and motivation,
rather than a deluge of information.
While one-off programmes announcing annual results or a merger are a
practical idea, mountains of data or complicated graphics are always
’The most important question to ask yourself is who the audience are and
why on earth would they would bother to watch,’ says Jacaranda joint
managing director, Gus Colquhoun. His company has been producing regular
staff communication programmes for The Body Shop since 1989. The main
global programme, BSTV World, is seen by all staff in 1,500 shops in 46
different countries, and is translated into 21 languages.
Colquhoun says the challenge is to create a monthly programme that
appeals to predominantly TV-literate women aged between 18 and 25. ’This
means no men in suits and nothing even remotely resembling a corporate
video,’ he says.
How do you ensure editorial integrity?
It is easy for BTV to lose its credibility and slip into some kind of
big brother management speak, so most organisations use professional
For instance, BT’s fortnightly programme, BT Vision, is fronted by
freelance Deborah Hall. BATV at British Airways uses Claire Bishop, who
works for ITN World Service, and Mark Jeffries, a presenter of Channel
5’s Serious Money.
With no corporate axe to grind, these independent interviewers can put
management on the spot and provide a well-rounded story.
BATV editor, David Wilson, says: ’All the research we have done shows
that staff feel BATV brings a clarity and balance to issues. People do
not see it as just a corporate machine because we challenge managers to
justify their actions to the workforce.’
With several years’ experience of BTV, both BT and BA also realise the
benefit of taking programmes out of the studio to live and breath among
the workforce. Staff reporters comment on their own areas of expertise
and senior management are seen in situations outside their day-to-day
How important is the delivery method?
Satellite’s greatest selling point has always been that it is live and
facilitates interaction. However, many argue that for some organisations
satellite is redundant. Their broadcasts tend to be watched on video
after the event. But, recorded or not, viewers of satellite programmes
are still watching unscripted ’live’ TV.
Its claims to interactivity are not so easy to justify. In a question
and answer programme, only a chosen few from a large workforce are ever
going to get their voice heard on air. It is only after a broadcast that
meaningful discussion among co-workers can take place.
Ralph Pitman, head of internal communications at the Halifax, says: ’If
it’s interaction you’re after, team meetings are better. You can run
phone-ins and live debates on TV, but you still can’t beat getting
people in a room, talking to each other.’
How much will BTV cost?
According to Robin White, head of broadcasting at Shell International,
one of the reasons his company chose BTV in 1997 was the dramatic fall
in costs. ’Satellite time used to cost around pounds 6,000 for a few
minutes,’ he says. ’Now, for less than pounds 500, you can broadcast for
an hour to the whole of Europe.’
Obviously, a major outlay for satellite is the initial hardware costs,
but even this is getting cheaper. In the UK, installing everything from
the dish to internal viewing connections should cost around pounds 1,000
per site, according to both BT and French telecom company,
More interesting, perhaps, is that price does not appear to effect the
choice between live and recorded programming.
According to CTN’s Watson, the budget for a one-off, high quality,
20-minute live broadcast should range from pounds 15,000 upwards,
depending on variables such as outside broadcasts. Curiously, this is
the exact same starting figure recommended by most video
Is it wise to defer splashing out on the latest satellite BTV packages
until the problems of intranet delivery have been ironed out?
’I think it is very foolish to invest in satellite technology at this
time’ says Jacaranda’s Colquhoun.
He voices the opinion of many when he suggests that improved ISDN and
data technology could ultimately bring broadcast quality BTV to the
desktop, turning satellite equipment into a hefty white elephant.
But just how long will these advances take? Widespread, cost-effective,
PC-friendly BTV has been ’just around the corner’ for a few years
Unsurprisingly, those involved in satellite services are sceptical that
real-time transfer of interactive video over computer LANs (Local Area
Networks) will ever live up to the hype. ’Those who wait, will have to
wait a very long time,’ says APTN’s Ormsby.
Integration appears to be the key, certainly for the foreseeable
As William Pitt, account manager at GlobeCast, says: ’People need to
grasp that technology is always moving forward; there will never be a
definitive point at which it is right or wrong to invest.’
How should you evaluate the benefits of BTV to your business?
Over the past few years, people have highlighted savings in paper-based
communications, travel expenses and senior management’s time as benefits
of a television network. However, this seems to be missing the
BTV is not a substitute, but the right tool for a specific job.
As BTV does not operate in isolation, its impact is hard to
But the most common measurement is to conduct research into BTV’s role
in helping staff understand business objectives and their job. In
organisations where the majority of the workforce is customer-facing,
the impact of effective visual communication can be enormous.
The Body Shop founder, Anita Roddick, says: ’Motivated and informed
staff mean we have no need to advertise. BSTV helps save our company the
pounds 10 million or so per year that our competitors spend on
HALIFAX: HELPING STAFF UNDERSTAND BUSINESS OBJECTIVES
The Halifax group is made up of various parts, the most familiar of
which is probably its network of high street banks.
But it also owns a large chain of estate agencies, has a Treasury
department, and operates from ten corporate sites, including one for
telephone banking, in and around Halifax.
In 1995, to coincide with a merger with the Leeds Permanent Building
Society, Halifax decided to revitalise its staff relations. ’The Halifax
opted for BTV because it needed to make a major improvement to its
top-down communications,’ says Ralph Pitman, head of internal
’The senior management team realised that the organisation had a
structure which was perfect for BTV, with thousands of employees spread
about the country in hundreds of locations.’ This decision was not taken
lightly: initial costs for installing satellite hardware, including
dishes, decoders and monitors, were close to pounds 5 million.
Today, Halifax Televison (HTV) broadcasts to around 36,000 employees at
1,600 sites across the UK. But, unlike most other BTV users, the company
does not employ outside programme-makers. Instead, the Halifax has its
own studios and editing suite and only uses contractors to handle the
The ten-strong HTV team produces ten programmes. The first, Halifax
Television News (HTN), is a six-minute news segment broadcast
fortnightly to all staff throughout the group. The others are targeted
to certain audiences and have more specific objectives. For instance,
the programme for front-line retail staff focuses on products and
marketing initiatives. It looks at key selling points and gives tips
from particularly successful branches.
Another programme delivers training, while a third is aimed at
The latter usually takes the form of an unscripted question and answer
session between the senior management team and managers from across the
According to Pitman, the Halifax believes that using a strong internal
team to produce these programmes allows it to keep output tightly
focused on meeting business objectives. ’With ten different programmes,
each doing a different job, we have to have very close relationships
with all parts of the business,’ he says. ’An in-house team has the
advantage of being close to the top team while also, as employees
themselves, understanding what the audience is thinking.’
Tracking research on the reaction to programmes seems to bear this
theory out. It shows that 88 per cent of staff believe they have a
better understanding of business objectives because of HTV.
SAINSBURY’S: THE SMART WAY TO USE BUSINESS TELEVISION
Sainsbury’s invested in BTV in September 1996 as part of a strategy to
encourage open dialogue at the heart of its business. The supermarket
giant installed satellite technology to link up 500 sites and around
160,000 staff across the UK.
Today, Sainsbury’s SMART Network broadcasts once a fortnight on
The flagship programme for store managers, It’s The Business, goes out
live on the first Tuesday of every month. The magazine format includes
news items, outside broadcasts and usually a phone-in.
The past two-and-a-half years have been a learning process for all
Initially, group chief executive Dino Adriano and colleagues were not
used to answering unseen questions from staff. Similarly, store managers
were shy of challenging the senior management team. Now Adriano has
become a real ratings winner and employees are happy to ask his opinion
on key issues.
Lisa Baitup, Sainsbury’s internal communications manager, says BTV has
also developed in other ways. ’We have found new ways of using the
medium to help our staff understand how the company is run and to
improve their individual performance,’ she says. Phone-in shows with
senior managers take a short break in the middle for the different
audience groups to discuss the issues among themselves.
Programme restructuring has also increased participation and generated
more frequent special broadcasts. The most significant of these was last
May when the SMART Network relayed an address by Adriano on the
company’s annual results from a meeting of senior management at the
Retail is such a fast moving environment that one-off bulletins also
play a big part in communicating information updates to staff. Most
recently, this has included a food safety programme and changes to
Sainbury’s Reward Card offers.
However, the greatest change took place 18 months ago, when Sainsbury’s
built its own studio at head office in London. This has saved time and
money and increased the input of the senior management team. The number
of outside broadcasts from sites around the UK has risen, so Adriano,
especially, is now more likely to be able to contribute to
Baitup hopes to continue encouraging even more involvement. ’It hasn’t
been easy to get a good level of partnership,’ she says ’but we’re
developing new ways to encourage people to join in.’ She thinks the
greatest challenge will be maintaining the momentum of BTV without
losing sight of the need to be relevant.
’We’re still looking to increase interactivity, but our audience’s prime
objective is to serve the customer; we can’t dictate what they will be
REBRANDING: ENLIGHTENING EXPLANATIONS OF EXPANSION PLANS
Investing in a full, satellite delivery BTV system is not always the
most suitable option. Last year, TNT underwent a massive internal and
external programme to prepare for Stock Exchange listing. It launched a
new corporate identity to revamp its image and position itself as the
global expert in express distribution, logistics and mail.
TNT has expanded far beyond its roots in Australia to encompass a
variety of operations and brands worldwide. Its future business
objectives demanded a whole new corporate culture.
For such a radical rethink to work, it was vital for TNT to involve
employees closely in the process. The company hired internal
communications specialists Banner McBride, part of the WPP Group, to
explain the rationale for rebranding and communicate positive
TNT has 55,000 employees around the world. Banner McBride decided visual
communication was the most effective way to deliver undiluted messages
directly to them. The agency asked Jacaranda to make a series of three
programmes to explain the new corporate identity and to announce its
plans for going public. Between April and June 1998, all TNT staff in
more than 200 countries watched the three videos, dubbed into their
native language where necessary.
’The first film was designed to stimulate interest and create an
understanding of why we needed to change,’ says Stefan Nerpin, TNT’s
internal corporate communications manager.
’The second was able to show the new identity in action, explain why we
had to change in this way and give the brand personality.’ The third
film celebrated the corporate identity launch in Liege, Belgium,
relating it to the Stock Exchange listing, and unveiled a new
The internal communications programme included information packs and
local events. But there was a specifically good reaction to the films,
and feedback from an internal research questionnaire sent to employees
in 13 countries was excellent.
The TNT management was similarly impressed. ’We needed to develop a
monolithic brand which would embrace all our different activities and
bring them together on a business, social and visual level,’ says
’Video communication, together with face-to-face local communication,
formed the spine of this internal communications project, as it combined
both rational information and the ability to boost emotions in a way
that the printed word alone cannot,’ Nerpin concluded.