What can you still do with the BBC Red Button?

The BBC Red Button has earned a reprieve, but what does this interactive text service allow you to do?

Monday, 2 November, 2020

For readers of a certain age, the word Ceefax conjures up nostalgic memories of a time before the internet.

Other than computer games and the short-lived Prestel, Ceefax and its ITV rival ORACLE/Teletext provided many people’s first taste of interactive on-screen content.

A page hierarchy resembled an embryonic internet, with a main index and section headers leading down to individual pages on specific topics.

It carried news, sport, weather and entertainment coverage, while special sections were periodically added to cover key events like elections.

In 2012, Ceefax died when the analogue TV signal was switched off, but its spirit lived on in the BBC Red Button service on digital terrestrial TV.

The principle of loading blocky text-only on-screen content remained the same, and even the three-digit page numbers and root structure were reassuringly familiar.

Last year, it looked as if the Red Button would go the way of its predecessor, when the BBC announced a cost-driven decision to close the service down.

Yet to the surprise (and relief) of many, the Corporation announced in January that the Red Button service had earned a reprieve.

This followed a campaign by the blind and partially-sighted charity NFBUK, prompting a review of the original decision and more research into how people used the Red Button.

It was finally confirmed last month that the service will survive, though some existing sections will be dropped.

But what will the BBC Red Button be able to provide for people who prefer on-screen information to online data?

You’ve got red on you

For some people, Ceefax and Teletext were synonymous with local, national and global news, at a time when daily newspapers were the other main source of information.

These sections will be staying on the streamlined Red Button.

For other people, Saturday afternoons weren’t complete without football scores from each division displaying on-screen. Sports headlines, fixtures and results have also been spared.

The third section most beloved to Red Button users – and therefore also reprieved – is the weather forecast service.

Indeed, the only elements of the existing service being dropped are lottery results and more in-depth sports reporting.

These proved to be the least important sections when the BBC engaged with disabled and elderly licence fee payers, and sought the views of people with no internet access at home.

Even these comparatively unpopular elements will continue to be published on the Red Button until the middle of 2021.

Does this affect video coverage?

Confusingly, as well as its interactive text service, the BBC Red Button also provides access to live video streams for events not deemed worthy of broadcast on terrestrial channels.

This might include one of several simultaneous sporting events, such as alternative snooker or Wimbledon ties to the ones chosen for mainstream broadcast.

These Red Button streams won’t be affected by the diminution of interactive text services.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!