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The Future of Red Button

Daniel Danker

General Manager

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What a future connected Red Button service might look like

I'm Daniel Danker, General Manager of On Demand at the BBC, and today I spoke at the Future of Broadcasting conference on integrating online and traditional TV, focusing on our vision for Red Button.

Thirteen years ago this week, the BBC launched the first interactive experience for Wimbledon audiences via the Red Button. While watching Wimbledon, audiences could choose their court, monitor the scores in detail, and play along with an interactive quiz. A million people accessed this in 1999. Just two years later this figure was four million - fully 44% of our audience who tuned in played along.

Wimbledon helped us define what Red Button could deliver to our audiences. Since that launch thirteen years ago, Red Button has gone from success to success, with a third of the population of the UK pressing Red on a weekly basis.

Today's Red Button

Each month, Red Button reaches a third of the population of the UK. While watching TV, users simply press the Red button on their remote and get quick and easy access to news headlines, sports scores, and the weather. While new forms of interactivity have popped up around TV and struggled to really become an inherent part of how people watch telly, the Red Button has been a quiet hero in the world of companion experiences. It has brought simple, elegant interactivity to television for over a decade.

The BBC is committed to delivering quality programming - the challenge and opportunity of Red Button is in figuring out how we can add even greater value to that content for audiences, right on the TV. A prime example developed last year was the Maestro Cam, which enabled Proms fans to see the concert from the perspective of the conductor.

One of our more surprising experiments has been to see if Red Button could make radio services richer on TV. With the Red Button, audiences have had the opportunity to watch the Radio 1 studios live, and get up close and person with live music sessions on Radio 2. This is a great way for me and my team to experiment with transforming the way audiences think about the radio experience and what it can offer them visually as well as aurally.

Maestro Cam

Red Button reborn

Yet Red Button has its limitations. Because it relies entirely on broadcast technologies, Red Button competes with other channels for spectrum. This is a scarce resource. So scarce, in fact, that this year we've seen a phased reduction of broadcast Red Button services, as part of our Delivering Quality First strategy.

This presents us with an opportunity to give Red Button a new lease of life, taking advantage of new web-based technologies that deliver richer, more visually-enticing experiences. And today at the conference I outlined our ambition to connect the very best of traditional Red Button with the breadth and depth of BBC Online.

This new "Connected" Red Button will become the foundation for interactivity around the BBC's television channels on the TV, and I believe that it will set the benchmark for seamlessly bringing broadcast television together with the internet.

Making great TV even better

This isn't about browsing the web, ordering a pizza, or doing your banking on your TV; nor is about pouring all of BBC Online into the TV experience.

It's about making great TV even better. How will it do this?

Imagine you're watching Eastenders and realise you missed the previous episode. Press Red and instantly bring up iPlayer to catch up on the episode you missed.

Or you're watching a cooking programme and you see a recipe you'd like to try. Press Red, save it for later and access the recipe on your computer, tablet or mobile when you're ready to cook.

With a wealth of content at our fingertips, Connected Red Button seamlessly brings together broadcast and online television. Audiences will be able to experience this first-hand during the Olympics, where they'll be able to watch 24 live channels, in HD, available exclusively online but delivered to the TV in a way that blends the media and makes the technology truly invisible.

We'll be exploring ways we can extend these experiences to mobile and tablet devices also, with our upcoming companion screen experience for Antiques Roadshow being a good example of what's possible. And we're looking beyond the tech-savvy to ensure simplicity and ease of use is at the heart of everything we do. The Antiques Roadshow pilot is very much a mainstream experience, built around a mainstream programme, extended and made better through participation and interactivity.

Reinventing Red Button

Red Button might have started simplistically as a way for the BBC to provide audiences with instant, highly relevant information right on the TV. And what a success it's been, still continuing its impressive growth over a decade after it was first unveiled. But while some might have expected Red Button to slowly be replaced with the web across an assortment of devices, no one would deny that the simplicity and ease of Red Button is as important today as when it was first introduced.

So rather than anticipate a transition away from Red Button, at the BBC we're bringing the very best of Red Button together with the very best of BBC Online, to reinvent the experience on any screen.

This is our vision for the future, and I hope to build on this in more detail later in the year. Until then, do leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Daniel Danker is General Manager, Programmes & On-Demand

N.B. image and caption at top of post changed at 13.55 p.m. Wednesday 27th June

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