Changes to BBC Red Button

Tuesday 2 October 2012, 18:05

Tom Williams Tom Williams Development Editor

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Four buttons on a TV remote

20 million people use the BBC's red button service every month

I'm Tom Williams, Development Editor for red button and dual screen in BBC Vision.

Over the next few weeks, there will be some changes made to the BBC's red button service. I'd like to explain briefly what these changes are, why they are taking place and what they mean for viewers. I also want to share our exciting plans for how we are reinventing the red button for the future, bringing audiences with internet connected TVs the best BBC content, multiple video streams and interactive services by still pressing red.

What changes are being made and why?

On 15th October the video component of BBC Red Button on Sky, FreeSat and Virgin Media will be reduced from five to one stream, bringing it in line with our Freeview offer. We are doing this because these services rely entirely on linear broadcast technologies, which are not cost-effective for an interactive service like the red button. At the end of this post, I've summarised the background to the decision and provided links to relevant documents which expand on the reasoning behind reducing the number of video streams.

What does this mean for red button?

Firstly, this change in no way signals the demise of BBC Red Button. The BBC is committed to maintaining a vibrant and popular red button service. Twenty million people a month press red on the BBC and our ambition is to develop the service and increase the size of our audience.

BBC Red Button will continue to support a wide range of television and radio output, from big events like Wimbledon and Glastonbury to more niche offerings such as triathlon or BBC Four's archive collections.

This autumn's schedule will be as rich as ever. We'll see the return of the Strictly Come Dancing live commentary and a new play-along game for Antiques Roadshow. BBC Sport output will include Formula One and extended coverage of UK Championship Snooker; there's more live music to look forward to from 1Xtra and Radio 2, and for children we've got a real treat from CBBC's Wolfblood.

Of course, the reduction in video streams will have an impact; we won't be able to offer the choice of coverage we have previously and big events will no longer be multi-screen on red button. This will be a disappointment for many viewers, particularly sports fans, but I'm pleased to say that content previously on red button will be available on BBC Online and we are developing new ways of bringing enhanced coverage of major events to your televisions in the future.

Reinventing the Red Button

Red button is central to our vision of the future of television. Even though video streams will be reduced on Sky, FreeSat and Virgin Media, we are reinventing red button for the future. In June this year, my colleague Daniel Danker outlined our plan to bring the best of BBC Red Button together with the best of BBC Online on your television - something we're calling Connected Red Button. This will take advantage of new web-based technologies that deliver richer, more visually-enticing programmes. New functions like 'live restart' will be introduced directly to your TV, meaning that next time you come in halfway through The Apprentice, you can simply skip back to the start of the programme. Or, if you don't like what's on, find your favourite programme in BBC iPlayer or catch up with the latest news and sport live and on-demand, all on your TV.

I believe Connected Red Button will be a real step forward for audiences and will lay the foundations for new creative opportunities; new ways of thinking about television and radio programmes.

The first version of the Connected Red Button launches later this year. Look out for more details soon.

I hope this short post gives you an understanding of the changes we're making to the BBC Red Button and gives you a sense of the exciting things to come. Our goal is to create the best possible TV experience for our viewers in a way that is cost effective and flexible, enabling us to update the service with new functionality in the future. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Background to the decision the reduce the number of video streams on red button

Changes to the BBC's Red Button services were first proposed in the BBC's Strategy Review (Putting Quality First) in March 2010, with a new BBC Online strategy, leading to a 25% reduction in spending by 2013/14. In January 2011, the BBC Trust approved this strategy. In November 2010, the BBC Trust Red Button Service Review highlighted the high cost of delivering content on multiple video streams. This review references plans by the BBC's Executive Board to reduce the service on satellite and cable after the Olympics to reduce costs.

The BBC's DQF proposals, published in October 2011, outlined plans to reduce the number of red button video streams from five to one after the Olympics. This was approved and published by the BBC Trust in May 2012.

The change to BBC Red Button requires a number of technical modifications that are happening over the next month. My colleague, Alix Pryde explains more about this on the About The BBC blog.

Tom Williams, is Development Editor for red button and dual screen, BBC Vision.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    We knew it was coming but was hoping that after proof beyond any doubt that viewers wanted extra content available easily via their TV (not via their TV via the net) over the summer that you'd review the decision and actually answer those who've been saying one stream isn't sufficient on Freeview for the last three years by reinstating a second, rather than closing all the other streams on other platforms and hiding behind platform neutrality.

    It's a major step back today for the BBC.

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    Comment number 2.

    Totally agree with the comment above. What you are doing my be an exciting step forward technically, but for viewers who do not have connected TV it is a backward step. Have you considered the impact to the viewers on freesat, Sky or Virgin. Reducing down to one stream restricts choice of the viewer now. More importantly what if you have a older HD freesat with IPlayer not HD Freesat + or one of the new freesat freetime boxes will the new technology be backward compatible? Have you also thought about the cost to the viewer if they have to invest in New equipment!? The above post points out the great summer of sport we have just had & how much BBC red button enhanced viewers enjoyment yet you ignore that and continue with this madness and restrict viewer choice just like sky for the haves and have nots. There are people who have freesat for the extra choice & don't have or don't want broadband yet you force their hand!


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    Comment number 3.

    A step backwards for the BBC. But then, post-Beijing, with the loss of 302, no one at the BBC listened and you said it was "for the greater good". Turns out, it was an early sign of the negative change that would come about in 2012. What a shame.

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    Comment number 4.

    I am at least reassured that there is no plan afoot to further reduce the content of the Red Button Digital Text Service: however the Red Button Digital Text page 9990 is nowhere near as comprehensive as Ceefax pages 180, 695, 696 and 698 were in keeping viewers and listeners closer to the content of BBC Online's About The BBC pages, which is a real shame in my opinion, whereas the Horoscopes page on CBBC Extra page 570 ans the repeat of the singles Chart (compare Page 520's Music Charts page) would hardly be missed.

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    Comment number 5.

    The Red Button coverage over the summer was a triumph. I genuinely do not understand why you don't seem to understand that. People *like* the Red Button coverage, and want more of it, not less. Why are you taking this backwards step? Do you, at any point, ever consult users before making these arbitrary decisions?

    'Putting quality first'? Putting cost-cutting first and to heck with the viewers.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    In response to Sue's comments about the text service it seems so neglected now. With Ceefax gone surely it's time to get rid of the ridiculous four digit codes and streamline the numbering of pages, plus the whole service just needs a bit of TLC. Considering you would never put out sport stories online or even on Ceefax under the wrong sport heading why have you done this for years on the digital text service, while the news headlines can be a bit of a mess - for example the April Jones story was completely absent from the main headlines index for a period last night, even though it's the top story of the day.

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    Comment number 8.

    Sorry, Tom, this doesn't make sense. After the critical acclaim and renewed interest in the Red Button during the Olympics, how can you justify cutting the service to be a subset of its former self? Was the criteria for this decision data driven?

    Can you provide the raw date which justifies this decision - e.g.
    - cost per license fee viewer of Red Button streams vs Online streams?
    - % of license fee payers who can access broadcast streams but not Online streams?

    Your comments about growing the red button audience aren't congruent with Phil Fearnley's comments on this blog (the '10-4-1' strategy) which misses out red button and non-IP platforms completely.

    The message is very mixed and confusing - what's happening exactly?

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    Comment number 9.

    Thanks for your comments.
    I believe Connected Red Button will be a significant improvement to our offer, but I realise it won’t fill the gap created by the video stream reduction in the short term. Most people don’t have connected televisions and I realise not everyone has a broadband connection, but it’s worth remembering that not everyone had digital television when we launched red button. If we’d waited for 100% digital take up, red button would have had to wait until 2012 to launch. Sometimes it’s important to be ahead of audience take-up.
    I’m a huge fan of red button. I’m also proud of the service we created, that we continue to deliver and our plans for its future. I am also committed to ensuring that red button uses resources as effectively and efficiently as possible. Reducing the number of video streams will deliver a substantial cost reduction and, in my opinion, does not undermine the core offer. The decision to reduce the number of streams wasn’t taken lightly and it’s worth noting the process that led to the decision included a public consultation. The public consultation, the rationale for the decision and the broader context of the financial challenges facing the BBC are summarised in the documents linked to at the end of my post.
    I do hope you continue to press red and enjoy the line-up of events we have on offer this autumn and beyond.

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    Comment number 10.

    Thank you very much for your reply, Tom.

    Now, please might we have an updated list of Red Button Digital Text pages from those given on Andrew Bowden's Blog Post

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    Comment number 11.

    While I'm all in favour of the shift to the connected Red Button services, how will this affect the delivery of current Red Button only live content?
    In this instance I'm specifically thinking of the F1 Forum - Having been unable to watch it via the original Red Button setup due to having VM's TiVo service which only supports the BBC Connected apps, how would I now go about watching the F1 Forum live?
    Would I have to go to the BBC website, or will the broadcast be pushed live to the iPlayer app as well?

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    Comment number 12.

    PrinterElf I am not sure what you talking about , I am sure the F1 Forum has been showing Live on the BBC Sport app.

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    Comment number 13.


    We still plan to update these pages, however the single stream changes are taking priority at the moment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Thank you, James. I was doing my best to be patient, honest!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I do understand Tom you have your hands somewhat tied but the argument that now Digital TV is at a point where 100% can receive it that the BBC should switch to a technology which is very much in it's infancy is just a massive step backwards.

    Since axing 302 on Freeview you've effectively had a 3 year trial of how having just one video stream affects the red button service and there are dozens of blogs here which say it is insufficient. Scaling back the satellite/cable service to save costs may be necessary - but it would be much more in the licence fee payers interests to just cut back to at least two streams, and at the time using some of those savings to reinstate a stream on Freeview (which could be done as the BBC have fewer channels on their mux than all the other muxes).

    Also after the success of the summer and to continue to provide viewers with the service they expect for events like Wimbledon and the Olympics if the BBC aren't going to permanently have the red button streams available to them they at least need to lease the space for the events which require them, certainly in the short term until connected TV truly is the norm (at which time I'm sure you'll scrap broadband streams to save costs!)

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    Comment number 16.

    Hmmmm. It looks almost as if the BBC bean counters are on the lookout for any BBC service that has the terms "award winning" or "popular" associated with it. Won an award' has it? Must be spending too much money on it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    One thing that I don't think has been addressed in the comments above, is that the New Improved service delivered via the Virgin TiVo is awful. I was looking forward to all the extra streams during Wimbledon, but the quality was so poor that it was unwatchable. On the other hand, the extra streams for the Olympics were additional TV channels rather than IP streams, and so worked a treat - but these were NOT red button. If the Beeb wants to deliver content via IP in future it really has to address the shortcomings of the technology.

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    Comment number 18.

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    Comment number 19.

    Yet more discrimination against the poor, who either have no broadband or restricted capacity broadband to keep the cost down. They are also less likely to have the latest 'smart' tv sets.

    As someone who scrimped and saved to change to Freesat to preserve the interactive content I am disgusted by this. The BBC has totally forgotten that its mission is to provide the widest possible content to the majority of its viewers NOT to be continually playing around with new technology eg 3D and now this that only a minority can afford.

    We don't pay our licence fee so we then have to pay extortionate broadband costs to watch what should be available via Freeview and Freesat.

    This also penalises rural viewers who are less likely to have broadband of sufficient speed to watch TV this way in the first place.

    Stop thinking that everyone lives in cities with a well paid job and a super fast broadband connection.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Once again viewers are left with obsolete equipment.

    Just 18 months I bought two Free-to-Air satellite receivers so I could directly watch the five red channels on the satellite.

    My 3 year old LCD TV is obsolete because it doesnt have Freeview HD.

    I could go on.


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