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CBeebies Through the Years - part 1

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Andrew Bowden Andrew Bowden | 09:00 UK time, Wednesday, 19 August 2009


In 2002 a new channel hit the airwaves as CBeebies was born. Since day one, the CBeebies red button service has been a key part of the proposition, providing games and stories to young children.

It's also been the service which our designers have been able to make the most visually rich services. Anyone who has ever met a 3 year old will be able to guess that a page full of text probably isn't what you want in order to engage them. So we've tried to make the CBeebies service a lot more visual and colourful than the average BBC Red Button page.

The actual designs have varied between our different platforms too. Normally we've try to keep visual designs similar between platforms, so if you've use the News Multiscreen on a Sky set top box, the Freeview version won't look a million miles away. However with CBeebies we've played a lot more with the design, when we can. For example, on Sky and Virgin Media we have more capacity for fancier graphics than we do on Freeview.

The result is that the CBeebies service has had quite a few guises over the years. And, for, ooooh, no particular reason, we thought it would be fun to have a look at the way it has grown over the years.

In part 1, we look at the first service which launched in 2002.

CBeebies homepage on Sky in 2002

If you were to press red back in 2002 on a Sky set top box, this is what you would have found. It's rather simple and straightforward featuring two games and a story and a lot of orange.

CBeebies homepage on DTT in 2002

The Freeview service was similar in colour, however was a bit plainer.

One of the challenges with Freeview is that we don't have much space compared to satellite - we have just 700k for our whole service. That's text, images and code. To put that into some context, the BBC Online homepage comes in at around 300k. On satellite we can happily have a background image for CBeebies that's about 25k - but on Freeview that's 1/28th of your service and the same as about 50 news stories.

Inevitably that means that CBeebies on Freeview hasn't looked quite as flashy as its satellite cousin as you can see from the first homepage. It's very simple, and still rather orange. Rather than separate images for the characters, there's two stars. The star images can be made of two colours and therefore would compress down very easily.

CBeebies homepage on cable in 2002

On cable it's different again. One of the most noticeable things is the screen size.

BBCi was accessed via the Interactive button rather than the red button. This put the service in what we call. "the walled garden". This is a cable operator owned window of which we were allowed to use roughly two thirds of - the screenshot above shows how the homepage would have looked on to people on NTL's network.

All three versions contained games, with the Sky and cable versions offering a story too.  In the case of Sky and Freeview, the games were (and still are) rotated on a regular basis as there is not enough space to have them all available, all of the time.

As cable set top boxes feature a permanent broadband connection, there aren't the same constraints so the team at that point decided to take a different approach and make all the games available, all of the time.

In part 2 tomorrow, we fast forward to 2004 - a CBeebies world of castles, buses and a large picture of Bob the Builder.

Andrew Bowden is a producer for the TV Platforms group and has worked on more versions of the CBeebies service than he can remember.


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