Trust review of Red Button finds service has high reach but should look to tighten focus and reduce costs

Date: 11.11.2010     Last updated: 23.09.2014 at 09.48
Category: Service reviews
A BBC Trust review published today has concluded that the BBC's Red Button is the UK's most used interactive TV service and serves a large and diverse group of users, but that its substantial distribution costs need to be reduced, and audience appreciation of the service could be higher.

The service is available to Freeview, cable and satellite viewers through the red button on the remote control and provides a digital text information service, as well as sport, music and entertainment content.

The review looked at Red Button's performance, including usage, quality and value for money. It found that the service is used by a broad cross-section of the population, with an average of 12.7 million users every week. It also found that Red Button has a role in providing interactive services to sections of the audience who don't access the BBC's other interactive services – 5 million Red Button users do not use BBC Online.

The total cost for the Red Button service is substantial, at £39.3m in 09/10. The large number of people that access the service means that cost per user is low compared to other BBC services, at 6.4p per week. Nonetheless, audience appreciation is moderate rather than high, and it does not achieve the same high quality scores as other BBC interactive services, such as BBC Online and iPlayer.

More than £20m of the cost of running Red Button is spent on distribution – the cost of delivering the service to different platforms - as it provides a different level of service depending on the TV platform through which it is viewed. In its review, the Trust asks that Red Button should seek to reduce costs and refine its remit by offering a service that varies less between digital TV platforms, and so improves the consistency of service for viewers.

To improve value for money, the review asks that Red Button should strive to reduce its costs by focussing on its strengths rather than seeking to cover all genres. Red Button's digital text service, providing news stories, weather updates and sports results, draws the most visitors; its additional coverage of live events – such as Glastonbury, Formula 1 and the Olympics - is also popular with audiences.

A submission to the review from the BBC Executive states that Red Button could have an important role to play in the future, by providing an access point to IPTV and broadcast content. The Trust supports the BBC's development of an IPTV platform, but thinks it is too early to be clear about Red Button's future role in the BBC's IPTV plans.

BBC Trustee, Diane Coyle, who led the review, said:

"Red Button reaches a large audience and is effective in helping the BBC promote some of its public purposes. It is not as popular as the BBC's other interactive services such as the iPlayer, however, and its overall costs - particularly for distribution - are substantial.

"The Trust will therefore look to the BBC Executive to reduce costs when and where possible by focussing on the aspects of the service that are most successful to date.

"The Trust notes the Executive's statements on the future role for Red Button in the delivery of IPTV and will monitor this as the IPTV market develops."

Notes to Editors

  • Red Button provides mainly news stories, weather updates, sports results and entertainment content, with over half of its weekly visitors using it to access news and weather information
  • It is available on cable, satellite and freeview, accessible via the red button on the viewer's digital remote control
  • User figures peaked at 14.7m in summer 2010 during Glastonbury and Wimbledon
  • The review began in September 2009 and included a twelve week consultation with licence fee payers. This was promoted on the services and elsewhere. The consultation received over 5,600 responses from licence fee payers. The Trust also drew on a range of audience research, performance and financial analysis
  • This is the Trust's sixth service review. The seventh, on Radio 3, Radio 4 and Radio 7, is scheduled to report in early 2011. Previously the Trust has published service reviews of BBC Online, the BBC's services for children, the BBC's services for young people (BBC Three, Radio 1 and 1Xtra), Radio 2 and 6 Music, and BBC One, Two and Four.