The BBC is to switch off its news and sports text services on the television red button, twenty years after they launched as the successor to Ceefax, the teletext information service it began in 1974. It means that viewers will no longer be able to read news sports headlines, together with weather and other information, on their television. The red button will still be used to access occasional multiscreen services and to promote the BBC iPlayer.
The BBC said its executive committee had made the difficult decision to cease the text service side of red button from late January 2020 in view of the opportunity cost of the work that would have been required to maintain the service.
Viewers will no longer be able to access text-based BBC News and BBC Sport content by pressing red on their TV remote and will instead be encouraged to access this content on the BBC web site, news, sport and weather mobile apps and through the 24-hour BBC News channel.
The red button will continue to be used to access multiscreen services, such as showing different tennis matches at Wimbledon. The BBC also plans to use it as a means of promoting its iPlayer.
The BBC said in a statement: “It’s always a difficult decision to reduce services, and we don’t take decisions like this lightly, but we have taken it because we have to balance the resources needed to maintain and develop this service with the need to update our systems to give people even better internet-based services.”
The red button refers to the colour button on television remote controls used to access the service. The colour buttons were originally introduced to support faster access to pages on the original teletext system, a digital data service transmitted using spare lines in the analogue television system.
The BBC teletext service, known as Ceefax, was announced in October 1972 and launched on 23 September 1974. In a largely analogue age before the internet, it became widely used to access news and sport headlines. It was known for its editorial responsiveness although access to individual pages was notoriously slow. The teletext service was closed in October 2012, when analogue television was switched off in Northern Ireland.
By then a replacement digital text service was well established. It was launched in 1999 as BBC Text with the advent of digital television, initially on terrestrial and later on satellite and cable platforms. It was relaunched in November 2001 under the BBCi brand.
The red button text service changed little after 2004, when it added page numbers to the navigation, a throwback to the teletext system it was intended to replace. The service was rebranded BBC Red Button in late 2008.
While it continued to reach a large proportion of the population, still being used by 17 million adults a week in 2012, the text service appeared to receive little love at the BBC, which became more pre-occupied with promoting online services.
The budget of of the BBC Online and Red Button news, travel and weather service was over £45 million in 2015-2016, the vast majority of which would have been spent online.
It is now possible to combine television services with the web to deliver much more advanced hybrid broadcast broadband services, but the BBC appears to have little appetite to innovate in this area.
The BBC is instead putting more resources into online services and apps, which can be accessed on computers, tablets and phones, as well as some televisions.