The BBC is proposing to reinvigorate the red button in the connected television environment. After more than a decade since its inception, pressing the red button has become synonymous with interactive television in the United Kingdom. Now the BBC hopes to use the red button to connect its television services to the internet, including the BBC iPlayer. But should we still be thinking about coloured buttons as the interactive television user experience evolves?
Daniel Danker, the general manager of on demand at the BBC, wrote on the BBC web site that “thirteen years ago this week, the BBC launched the first interactive experience for Wimbledon audiences via the Red Button”.
In fact, in June 1999 there were no commercially available receivers to show the first enhanced Wimbledon coverage, although it went on to receive a BAFTA award in 2000 and 2001. It was not until 2002 that the BBC was able to offer enhanced television services such as multiscreen Wimbledon coverage across satellite, cable and terrestrial platforms.
Ironically, from the launch of digital cable television in the United Kingdom, interactive applications have been delivered with web technologies, so the integration of television and the internet is nothing new.
In the following decade there were many experiments with enhancing traditional television with various interactive features, although these were generally limited by the nature of the broadcast medium.
Meanwhile, the most popular service proved to be the digital text service introduced as a replacement for the venerable teletext add-on to analogue television, first demonstrated in 1972 and launched by the BBC as CEEFAX in 1976.
A review of Red Button services by the BBC Trust, published in November 2010, suggested that it was used by 12 million people a week, making it the most used interactive television service in the United Kingdom.
The BBC has since begun to reduce its broadcast multistream services and is now looking at how it can use the red button to connect to services delivered over broadband, including the BBC iPlayer.
“This new ‘Connected’ Red Button will become the foundation for interactivity around the BBC’s television channels on the TV,” writes Daniel Danker. “I believe that it will set the benchmark for seamlessly bringing broadcast television together with the internet.”
“So rather than anticipate a transition away from Red Button, at the BBC we’re bringing the very best of Red Button together with the very best of BBC Online, to reinvent the experience on any screen.”
Now, as over a decade ago, the red button on the remote control, one of the four coloured buttons originally introduced to enhance Teletext, still represents a way to promote services that can work consistently across multiple platforms.
It means, for instance, that a user may be able to press the red button on their remote to access the BBC iPlayer, rather than going through different menu options to launch an application. That means the BBC can have more control over the experience, where it can be so integrated.
So where does that leave YouView? With its long-awaited launch due to be announced imminently, YouView was originally intended to offer a seamless integration of broadcast and broadband. Yet this is no longer a unique selling proposition.
Although YouView may benefit, if the BBC can use the red button to integrate internet delivered services with broadcast television it will be able to do so seamlessly across many different devices and displays, and promote this without favouring any particular platform, with a graceful default for legacy devices.
Other European broadcasters have also embraced the concept of the red button, and standards like HbbTV assume that this will be how viewers will interact with broadcast channels.
However, in taking advantage of the learned behaviour associated with use of the red button, broadcasters like the BBC may be inadvertently limiting themselves to the legacy of coloured buttons first introduced in the mid-eighties.
In a connected world where the remote control and user interface are ripe for innovation, people may be interacting with their televisions in many new ways. Their remote control may not have coloured buttons, or even any buttons at all, so telling them to press red may be unhelpful.