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What we'll be building in the next six months

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John Denton John Denton | 12:14 UK time, Wednesday, 6 May 2009

So the roadmap for the next six months has arrived and we want to share it with you good readers of our blog.

It is a really critical time for BBC Red Button, with large audiences still using our services but with many, many more competitors coming into the market. So with one face focussed on serving existing audience and the other facing to the future, we juggle the difficult job of keeping present platforms fresh but ensuring that we are at forefront of new developments.

This year will see more broadband connected TVs and set top boxes arrive on the market. With this potential technology change, a number of our team are concentrating on understanding what the creative, technical and user experience will be on these new devices and how this will shape BBC Red Button in the future.

Initial work includes investigating delivery of video and audio via broadband on to TV screens. Transferring this experience to a TV screen where viewers' expectations are higher will be a real challenge.

Some of our knowledge has come from delivering the award-winning BBC iPlayer on Virgin and this year has seen it launch series-stacking and BBC HD content as part of that offering. We'll also be added radio and an improved user interface in 2009.

The BBC also has a huge amount of feed-generated content and we are working with teams across the BBC to explore what would work using broadband connected devices. From a technical perspective, this requires us to ensure content is properly formatted and easily available, but also editorially we are looking at how the audience, you, can take more control of what BBC programming and information you want to see and how you may wish to control it. We've already done some internal prototypes in this area, using news and sport content, and on the Electric Proms.

So what can our existing audiences expect to see in 2009? Well with broadband at forefront of mind, we are looking at how we can link to this content from our existing homepages.

Each platform will see an update to the homepage beginning with Freesat which is one of the first platforms to explore broadband as a delivery mechanism.

Our next big project to launch this year will be an upgraded CBeebies portal; highlighting the range of exciting programme characters on the CBeebies channel, the new red button service will be graphically richer, bringing all of the content including links to radio, iPlayer (where available) and video into one single destination. We will retain some of the favourite existing content but introduce new games based on key programming brands such as Green Balloon Club and In The Night Garden.

We have just added a headline ticker to both Sky and Freeview homepages which continues our work with bringing more news and sport content and features into the service, especially pertinent as Digital Switch Over removes Ceefax from viewers' screens. A lot more technical work will be needed to assist the BBC in keeping its digital channels available during this period.

Talking of technical work, many of our team will be continuing to support existing platform with operational support and short order work. Projects here include upgrades of feeds, rebrands and ensuring live products are working properly. We have specifically targeted some key tasks including operating system updates and migrations and content publishing systems alignment work to improve and standardise the back-end systems that keep the service going. It also fulfils our aim of creating more efficient systems that are automated and easily scalable.

And of course, we will continue to deliver the very best of BBC programming behind the Red Button by utilising our multi-platform products. These existing products can be re-skinned and re-configured by the BBC's various content teams in support of their programming. For example, BBC Sport will be delivering world-class sport from Formula 1 to MotoGP to Badminton Horse trials; Children's are presently broadcasting the Kerwhizz quiz and have plans for further interactive quizzes over the year; and Vision's Comedy Labs are producing various extra comedy programming exclusively for both red button and online; and finally look out for more music sessions and festival coverage over 2009 starting in May with Radio 1's Big Weekend and including Glastonbury and The Proms during the summer.

One final item that we will also focus on is more marketing and trying to get red button schedule information out to all our viewers as I know that one of the biggest complaints is that we don't tell you enough about what's on the service.

We hope that you agree we are continuing to bring the very best of enhanced programming to you via the red button whilst focussing on some very exciting developments for the future. It's going to be a very busy 6 months!


  • 1. At 2:36pm on 06 May 2009, repletephoenix wrote:

    When you say large audiences using red button services - can you give us any idea how large?

    I've always thought it never fulfilled its potential, and was a poor relation to the WWW - but I'm more than happy to be proved wrong!

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  • 2. At 3:31pm on 06 May 2009, Sam Jacobs wrote:

    You talk about a sort of "internet enabled Red Button" service, but what about the one platform that is able to offer this to all the millions of people who use it? You're very proud of iPlayer on Virgin Media (and only rightly so) but most of the rest of the interface is ancient.

    Where is personalisation? For one thing, most of what I see on the Bridge is irrelevant to me - a lot of the time, there are two links to Sport (I think I understand why there are two sport sections, but still) of all things! On the other hand, I'd quite like to have links to stuff like local weather - although the current page would be useless because you decided to remove the biggest city in the southwest (I understand why you did this, too - but why Plymouth?!) from the map!

    I know that you probably have a commitment to keep the service roughly the same across the platforms, but it doesn't really feel like the Virgin Media BBC RB service is as good as that on the other platforms.


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  • 3. At 3:45pm on 06 May 2009, Sue_Aitch wrote:

    Good news there, John, for those who don;t, won't or can't have the web at home: freeview Red Button and Ceefax are still the buttons of choice for many.

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  • 4. At 4:10pm on 06 May 2009, Paul wrote:

    My request: For my dad's sake, please please please make red button on Virgin Media faster before you turn off Ceefax! My dad still uses Ceefax despite having digital TV, simply because Ceefax "feels like" broadband whereas you'd think red button services were coming through on dial-up.

    Ceefax opens and closes instantly, whilst red button can take up to a minute to open. Pages on Ceefax load within a minute, and you can hide Ceefax whilst the page loads. Red button pages probably load faster, but you're stuck with a "loading" box on-screen with no indication of how it will take for the page to appear. Also, Ceefax has the handy numbers to quickly jump to your page, whilst this is still an absent feature from red button on Virgin, leaving the user to navigate through menu after menu...

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  • 5. At 4:35pm on 06 May 2009, matt carey wrote:

    Does the work on broadband platforms include a dedicated PS3 and Wii channel/app for iPlayer? These have been mooted for long time...

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  • 6. At 09:10am on 07 May 2009, Digital Elysium wrote:

    I have to echo the thoughts in post #4.

    Ceefax is fast. BBCi is not. If I want to quickly check a football score, there is no competition. By the time the "red button" has initialised, I could have already been on to Ceefax, found the score, and closed it down again. Headline tickers and the like - toys for the boys - probably do little to improve the speed.

    To the majority of users who just want some quick information, turning off Ceefax at the expense of "red button" will be a backwards step, unless the access times are made comparable.

    So the million-pound question.... is fixing the "red button" loading times part of the roadmap?

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  • 7. At 11:00am on 07 May 2009, Andrew Bowden wrote:

    Hello all - John wrote his post them promptly went away for a few days. So in the meantime I'll reply on his behalf on those bits I can.

    Sammyjakuk - personalisation is something we're looking at, however it's tricky using the current technology as many set top boxes don't actually have a reliable place for us to save your settings. They may be deleted when the boxes are turned off for example. Even if they do have space, it's usually very limited and other services could overwrite the data! It's a challenge, but one we are thinking about.

    Pauljcg and digital_elysium - speed is very important to us and something we regularly look at.

    One of the reasons Ceefax loads quickly is because the television itself caches all the data in its memory, so it can access the pages very quickly - especially if it has a lot of memory.

    Freeview and Freesat boxes work in a similar way, however Sky and Virgin Media designed their boxes differently and this caching doesn't exist there. This unfortunately means that we will probably never be able to have that ability to just press red and then the service instantly appear on those two platforms.

    What we can do is make sure our code is as light and as optimised as possible, and that's something we do review regularly to try and get some performance boosts. For example, we recently shaved about 5 seconds off the loading time on our Sky service by looking at the code

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  • 8. At 5:08pm on 07 May 2009, Brekkie wrote:

    I never understood the complaints about BBCi being slow until I found myself spending a few days in a Sky household. Indeed I was considering switching to Sky, with getting the full sport multiscreen service being one factor, but the clunkiness of the BBCi (and others) text services really put me off.

    One thing I want to see across all platforms though is the press red prompts fading out automatically after 30 seconds or so. They always used too, and despite whatever any focus group may say, it's clear from the forums nobody wants them.

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  • 9. At 7:51pm on 07 May 2009, Fee_Payer wrote:

    Yep, I agree, the red button banner should not be there as there is no need for it. If the red button works on a particular channel it will load when pressed, if not - then not - no problem - so simple an imbecile could work it out.

    Years ago when digital was first launched I was looking forward to the digital text as I was a very fond user of ceefax/teletext. Boy was I disappointed when I got to use it for the first time - abysmally slow, and still is, but the worst of it is the lack of interesting content. I can spend a fair bit of time on ceefax/teletext, but not a minute longer using digital text.


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  • 10. At 11:00am on 08 May 2009, Andrew Bowden wrote:

    Fee_Payer - it's worth mentioning that the majority of Ceefax content is on BBC Red Button. There's some that hasn't been migrated over, however it's small pieces like Foreign Office Travel Advice, some shares and so on.

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  • 11. At 1:15pm on 08 May 2009, bobbobbly wrote:

    Freesat is very much the poor relation of the red button service. Do these plans include bringing the red button service for Freesat up to the levels of Freeview/Sky? i.e. news multiscreen etc?

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  • 12. At 09:01am on 10 May 2009, Sue_Aitch wrote:

    Other small pieces that haven't migrated are contact details for all the Local News contacts and all the Radio Stations Postal Addresses and so on. Please would the BBC consider those who don't have internent access at homeso can't look thes up on BBC Online, the Royal Mail WEbsite, Thomson Local, Yell and the new BT Exchnages sites (some of which don't have hte right details after the changes form 08 to 03 telephoen numbers in the first place.)

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  • 13. At 11:58pm on 10 May 2009, Sam Jacobs wrote:

    Andrew, thanks for your reply. On Virgin Media, you could use cookies, which are at least more persistent than anything the other platforms have. If you're ok with using stuff that might not be available cross-platform to provide a better RB experience, (as you so obviously are, considering that it'll be a long time before you can do the streaming stuff on Sky) you ought to be taking advantage of what VM's platform has to offer.

    Anything would be better than the inferior service we have now!


    PS. I assume you generate stats from the server logs for VM RB? I'd be interested to know how many people actually use it... Thanks, Sam

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  • 14. At 10:32am on 11 May 2009, Andrew Bowden wrote:

    Virgin Media is certainly one of the easier platforms because of the cookie option.

    At the moment we try to offer as consistent level of services across all platforms as we can because it reduces maintenance costs quite substantially. However we have been known to play to platform strengths when the proposition is right.

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  • 15. At 4:54pm on 11 May 2009, monkeynutsami wrote:

    Surely before providing all this new improved service the red button could be used provide services for many viewers left out such as deaf and blind users.

    The red button could be used to offer programmes with signers, audio descriptions etc ...

    Yes all these new features and improvements will be great but the BBC need also focus efforts on current viewers being left behind

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  • 16. At 09:43am on 12 May 2009, Andrew Bowden wrote:

    monkeynutsami - the BBC already broadcasts a number of audio described programmes, and this functionality is built into Sky, Freesat and Virgin Media set top boxes. If you have Freeview, you'll need a special set top box. Audio description can sit alongside normal TV programmes.

    There's more information at
    and schedules for all broadcasters at

    For signed programmes, the BBC provides the Sign Zone overnight, and there are various other signed programmes at different points in the day.

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  • 17. At 8:54pm on 12 May 2009, jasondvs wrote:

    Like a lot of Brits that travel the EU with work even on short term contracts we miss our telly from home....its impossible to use BBCi online outside the UK because of legalities in broadcast content outside UK. But what if we are already UK license payers and have our computers from home with us abroad.

    Shouldnt we have a RIGHT to log into BBCi anywhere in the world to watch TV from home, afterall we are paying for it!

    I would be interested to see if the BBC will introduce, or if anyone can come up with a solution to allow me to watch telly from my hotel room in Helsinki (here for some months) and Im paying my telly license back home still!

    Maybe we can ask someone at the top to sort it out for us?

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  • 18. At 08:45am on 13 May 2009, Sue_Aitch wrote:

    monkeynutsami Andrew's post is spot on. RNIB had a big campaign to rasie awareness on AD last year. I have a Freeview Box that has AD as a toggle on and off option and the description for the ' "Doctor!" "Donna?!" ' scene in the Doctor Who episode 'Partners in Crime' is a work of wonder.

    The Communications Act 2003 sets minimum target for the three access services by broadcasters and Ofcom intends to conduct a review of the Television Access Services Code in 2009. BBC Three alrady audio describes over twenty per cent of its output, and BBC One and BBC Two exceed to target set at the last review in 2006 of ten per cent.

    See http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/DisabledPeople/Everydaylifeandaccess/LeisureAtHome/DG_4018341

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  • 19. At 1:51pm on 13 May 2009, mrgodfrey wrote:

    I agree with posts 4 & 6. If the speed issue with BBCi is unable to be resolved Ceefax will continue to be the number one instant source of information. I have had BBCi from the start but I turn to Ceefax every time for news, weather, markets etc.
    The BBC is so pre-occupied with competition and fast-evolving internet and interactive broadcast technology it has failed to effectively replace the simple, hugely popular 35 year-old Ceefax before many viewers had the analogue signal switched off.
    The answer is: Instead of broadcasting the message on page 100 "ceefax replaced by new digital service..." simply continue to broadcast ceefax in full alongside BBCi. Some boxes may not handle it (I know my sky one does) so give people the choice. Don't force BBCi on us!

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  • 20. At 12:57pm on 15 May 2009, emdeeme wrote:

    I couldn't agree more with Brekkie and fee_payer re dropping or auto-fading the red button prompt. I discovered last night that the cBeebies "play" logo appears to be burnt into my plasma screen.

    Unfortunately whilst pre-school kids are more than able to switch on the tv, they're not particularly diligent at hitting "exit" on the remote to kill the icon when it appears. Not helped by the fact that the large icon on their channel is static with high colour saturation.

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  • 21. At 1:48pm on 04 Jun 2009, dave_naylor wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 22. At 6:10pm on 04 Jul 2009, tintertui1 wrote:

    You say that Freesat will be the first of the red button services to be overhauled in '09... any chance of a peek into when in '09?? Still really annoying to have to go back to freeview to use the news multiscreen. Has there been any further updates for the i-player to be used with the freesat platform, there seems to be conflicting information all over the place.

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  • 23. At 11:11am on 08 Jul 2009, Shambles wrote:

    why not just admit that the 'red button' is just access to other channels. why not just give them names like bbc 1,2,3,4. they merely route to channels in 300 series anyway. or is the bbc sensitive about the number of their channels at public expense? and also please fade out all on screen prompts, dogs etc after, say, 30 seconds. why if i go to these channels does it take 2 button pushes to watch the screen clean?

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  • 24. At 10:44am on 15 Jul 2009, Josquine wrote:

    It was great to be able to choose courts at Wimbledon, but tennis is the only sport I'm interested in! On the other hand, I do miss, from Skybox days, the News multiscreen, garden tours at the Chelsea Flower Show, and so on. What plans to widen the red button services on Freesat in these directions please?

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  • 25. At 2:41pm on 15 Jul 2009, vfrvulcan wrote:

    What are the chances of releasing full Freeview schedules to Radio Times online?

    I use DigiGuide on my PC for all schedules and that data is obtained from the Radio Times XML feeds. At the moment it looks like it carries data for 301, but not 302.

    Also, on the web pages for schedules - any chance the relevant channel number could be mentioned. Eg. Golf 15:00-17:00 301, F1 Replay 15:00-1700 302? The current listings are ambiguous and leave you hunting for the correct channel to record/watch.

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  • 26. At 5:58pm on 20 Jul 2009, RBJdenton wrote:

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  • 27. At 6:05pm on 20 Jul 2009, RBJdenton wrote:

    Dear Mr Godfrey,
    On certain platforms, BBC Red Button performs well and the load times are good. We accept that Sky and Virgin do not operate as well and a post elsewhere outlines why this is the case - boxes do not cache content and the architecture of each of those platforms splits up content so it takes longer to get to it.
    Meanwhile, we offer a full range of digital text content that market research has shown viewers want and like. We cannot offer everything but we do take a serious look at what is best offered via TV and what people can access elsewhere such as the web or on Teletext.

    Dear Shambles - we cannot legally call these channels and much of the content made available on them recognises that they are only accessible via a red button which controls access and protects rights.
    We have since last Olympics carried programme data about all Red Button Sporting content both on line, within the Sport Multiscreen and on the now/next 301 and 302 streams.

    Dear vfrvulcan
    Most red button programming now gets a mention in the Radio Times magazine as part of the programme listings. We will look into how we can better note which stream is being used and how we can get more information out to the viewers so they can plan their schedule better.

    Best Regards,

    John Denton, Managing editor

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  • 28. At 08:25am on 31 Jul 2009, Sue_Aitch wrote:

    Dear John

    Now that Teletext has announced it is ging off air in January 2010, is hter any hoipe of some of its public service broadcasting coming over to red button? In particular, it would be good to be able to look up the tide times on Ceefax and red button

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  • 29. At 11:39am on 11 Sep 2009, Night Watchman wrote:

    Regarding page 240 - Foreign Currencies.
    Why does Red Button use archaic and non-conventional currency abbreviations? Throughout the world the 3 letter currency codes as published by the ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) are used.
    This would avoid any confusion such as the use of the letter 'R' which could mean a Rupee, Real, Rupiah, Ruble, Rial, Renmunbi, Rufiyaa etc. as well as the Rand.

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  • 30. At 11:13am on 29 Sep 2009, mrgodfrey wrote:

    Thankyou for your reply John (27). If Dsat boxes are slower to load than other platforms may I suggest a temporary re-introduction of Ceefax onto Dsat until they load fast?

    At the moment for e.g you cannot access travel info without BBCi broadcasting the weather forecast! So you can't continue listening to the main programme and mix reading text at the same time - one of the joys of ceefax that the web/BBCi are incapable of.

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  • 31. At 6:16pm on 05 Oct 2009, RBJdenton wrote:

    Dear Sue_Aitch,
    We are always reviewing what content is made available on the Red Button digital text service especially what content remains on Ceefax that we should bring across. In terms of what is available on Teletext we have had a meeting with them to discuss whether there is anything on their present service that could be carried by BBC but until all of their plans are made public there doesn't seem anything that we should carry.

    29. Dear Dilston1942,
    I will take this up with editorial team who provide the foreign currencies content.

    30. Dear Mr Godfrey,
    Firstly not all satellite boxes are slower to load but as content is arranged across a number of satellite transponders there is a "re-tune" from certain content to other content. This can make the load time longer. We have worked hard over the last few years to reduce this load time but due to the satellite infrastructure we will never reduce it fully.
    We have also made a call about putting key content next to BBC channels. Other content such as travel information is located on a separate transponder and so it takes a "re-tune" to get to it. We also made the decision to add the weather video to this section as there is no linear broadcast available where this content is located.
    Ceefax can not be re-introduced as it relies on an analogue TV signal for broadcast and obviously as these signals are now being switched off as part of the government's initiative to deliver a fully digital UK, it will disappear by 2012. see DigitalUK website for more information.
    If you wish to make your voice heard then the BBC Trust is running a Red Button Service Licence review. Visit the Red Button help pages to see more or else go online to BBC Trust Consultations.
    Best Regards,

    John Denton

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  • 32. At 11:52am on 11 Oct 2009, Josquine wrote:

    You had comments from Bobobbly in May and from me in July, about the lesser services available on Freesat, but I see no reply as yet. In moving over to HD, and therefore Freesat, the expectation was that red button services would be at least maintained, if not improved. However, in this respect, going over to HD/Freesat was clearly a retrograde step. When (if ever) will we be able to have interactive services on Freesat other than sport please?

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  • 33. At 08:58am on 17 Oct 2009, Sue_Aitch wrote:

    Hallo John Denton again!

    You write that "In terms of what is available on Teletext we have had a meeting with them to discuss whether there is anything on their present service that could be carried by BBC."

    This is good to know. Please would you consider announcing any changes on Ceefax and Red Btton once Tleletext has made public the date when the Teletext service metnion on Tletext page 139 will go off air?

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  • 34. At 12:16pm on 20 Oct 2009, Night Watchman wrote:

    Dear John Denton,
    Thanks for your reply to my comments about the currency codes - I see that they have now been changed into the official ISO codes. Thanks to the editorial team too.
    Best regards

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  • 35. At 2:00pm on 13 Nov 2009, Sue_Aitch wrote:

    Re my 33. Teletext has not yet declared when it is closing doen, but it would be good to see some bringing together of the five versions of analogue text page 283 soon, please.

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  • 36. At 11:22am on 17 Nov 2009, Sue_Aitch wrote:

    Re my 35.

    Dates are in: Teletext is closing on 14/15 December

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  • 37. At 02:38am on 14 Dec 2009, Kaylee Vieira wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

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