BBC Red Button: BBC Trust Service Licence Review
Today the BBC Trust published its review of the BBC's interactive television service, BBC Red Button. The BBC Trust regularly reviews BBC services, inviting public opinion to assess how well our services are performing and what, if anything, should change.
This review follows a public consultation undertaken in late 2009, which produced over 5,600 responses, and included a study of the BBC's own research into how viewers engage with the service.
I have captured the key points below but the full report can be read on the BBC Trust website.
The review shows that BBC Red Button has a large and varied audience. With 12 million people using the service every week, it's the most used interactive TV service in the UK and the only interactive BBC service available to the UK's 'offline' population. As the digital replacement for our analogue text service Ceefax, it's an important source of instant information for millions of people. It's also a means to deliver a greater choice of programming; near on-demand video from large events such as The BBC Proms and Glastonbury, as well as minority sports that wouldn't otherwise make it into a crowded schedule. Given BBC Red Button's value in delivering what's often niche content we're delighted that the review points to such broad appeal.
Value for money
Digital Text is the most used part of the BBC Red Button service and accounts for only a small proportion of its total cost. By drawing upon news, weather, and sports content already produced for BBC Online we're able to offer audiences great value for money.
Making the most of interactivity
The review points out where there's room for improvement. Generally speaking, features that run on top of live TV viewing like sing-along lyrics during Eurovision or interactive quizzes during shows like In It To Win It are shown to be popular, as is our support for big events like Wimbledon and T in the Park.
Certain content is proven to be more expensive to produce and tends to be less popular, particularly interactive experiences which are not related to live channel broadcasts. Although we've already started to move away from producing this type of content it's helpful to have this confirmed and the Trust has agreed that we should continue to play to our strengths in providing cost-effective services that enhance and complement the live TV experience.
The review suggests that viewers some times struggle to find what is actually being broadcast on the BBC Red Button service. Although this information is available online and inside the Radio Times magazine, we are investigating better ways of making this information more widely accessible.
Clear editorial priorities
The review shows that despite its popularity, audience appreciation of BBC Red Button is moderate in comparison to what we offer online. Whilst this is true of interactive services from other broadcasters across the board, we'll need to look into why exactly this is. It's also important that we articulate more clearly what the service stands for. For instance, the review suggests provision of information on local politics falls below users' expectations but that they don't feel that this should be a high priority for the service.
It's a tricky balancing act, but the findings will help us to focus on delivering quality core content, and to avoid providing information that users already access elsewhere. In the context of the recent Strategy Review 'Putting Quality First' which places an emphasis on doing fewer things better, it's important we keep in mind audience expectations as we shape our products.
The review reflects that, unusually for our services, BBC Red Button distribution costs account for the majority of service spend. This is partly due to the efficiencies of re-versioning material from BBC TV, Radio and Online (and so less spend on content), but also because the cost of serving BBC Red Button across different platforms is relatively high.
The Trust has asked us to review these distribution costs to ensure better value for money and posed the question whether, in a world of constrained bandwidth, this is the best use of the BBC's broadcast capacity.
That said, despite substantial distribution costs, the sheer number of BBC Red Button users equates to a relatively low cost per user, of 6.4p per user per week.
BBC Red Button has always been about innovation and as Internet and broadcast technologies converge, we should look to introduce more services via broadband, where capacity is less of an issue.
And, it's clear that as Internet-connected TV develops, standardised products built (as much as possible) on open technologies will enable us to maintain cost-effectiveness and minimise complexity for both users and the industry.
There is huge creative potential for the future of BBC Red Button. The service currently provides a link between linear TV viewing and interactive features so could prove to be an important gateway into Internet-connected TV experiences.
BBC Red Button could also contribute to the growth of media literacy within the new TV landscape. More than 40% of BBC Red Button users (five million people each week) don't use BBC Online, and we believe the service could play an important role in taking these offline audiences online, or by providing digital content to them via broadcast.
Our thinking over what we'll be doing is still evolving and we'll provide more updates on this in due course. In the meantime, we'll continue to post round ups of 'What's On' BBC Red Button, on the Internet Blog.
John Denton is Managing Editor, TV Platforms, BBC Future Media & Technology