BBC to end Red Button digital text



(updated) The BBC has announced it's ending its news and information service via the red button.

The broadcaster has confirmed a report in The Sunday Telegraph that its digital text service, a replacement for original teletext service Ceefax, will close in early 2020.

Ceefax was phased out during digital switchover between 2008 and 2012.

In recent years, the information on the red button digital text service largely consisted of the first couple of paragraphs of articles published on the BBC News and Sport websites, with much of the former Ceefax content that was originally included in the early years of digital text having been phased out.

As more and more users choose to inform themselves via the internet, through smart TV apps and social media feeds, demand for the red button text service continues to fall. Ten years ago, the last remaining commercial text operator, Teletext Ltd, closed its service as the internet made its service commercially unviable.

A BBC spokesperson said:
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 technology that underpins the Red Button digital text service is itself being phased out.

BBC Red Button text uses the MHEG5 standard, which has been used as the basis of text and interactive services on many digital TV services in the UK over the past twenty years.

But newer smart TVs and connected boxes now support HbbTV or hybrid broadcast broadband television. And some newer models have even dropped full support of MHEG5, favouring HbbTV.

Since 2012, the BBC has offered two main versions of its Red Button service - the traditional digital text version, based on MHEG5, and a connected red button service, later rebranded "Red Button+", which is now being based on HbbTV version 2.0.

In 2016, the BBC first announced its intent to move away from MHEG5 in favour of HbbTV. Funding constraints means there's little leeway to continue operating the two services side-by-side.

The connected version of the service will remain available, allowing smart TVs and connected TVs to link up with content from the BBC News, Sport and iPlayer apps.

As a side effect of the decision, the red button content via BBC Radio on Freeview will also be downgraded, but there will be more bandwidth available on BBC digital multiplexes and transponders, which could help with current capacity tightspots, e.g in Scotland, where some BBC Radio services go off-air on Freeview in the evening to make room for BBC Alba.


How do I tell which version of the Red Button I'm using?

If pressing red results in a screen looking like the one shown at the top of this article, you are using the 'original' MHEG5-based service that is being discontinued.

The connected Red Button+ service looks like this (picture credit - BBC):

This service, which pulls content from the BBC News, BBC Sport and BBC iPlayer apps and is based on HbbTV is staying on-air.


Further reading
What is HbbTV?
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This is an updated version of the article first published at 16:47.