While the more high-profile media like television and radio have
been making a fuss of their switch to digital technologies, screen-based
text services like the BBC’s Ceefax and Teletext, which runs on ITV and
Channel 4, have been embracing the new format with equally interesting
The BBC and Teletext already have services running which take advantage
of the extra functionality allowed by digital. Out are the slow load
times as the system waits for the page to be transmitted and the system
of block graphics. In is a service which wraps around the picture you
are watching, loads immediately and features attractive graphics, text
When Sky makes the move to digital for its Sky Text service in the
coming months, viewers will also be able to use their modem in the
set-top box to send e-mails and buy things, with more interactive
services arriving next year. The idea is that viewers who feel less than
compelled by the programming on offer can chat to friends using e-mail
or make purchases at the same time. And all from the remote control and
with the television picture still in view.
To those who know how easily this can be achieved by other devices,
these abilities may not sound too spectacular. However, the majority of
people are still unfamiliar with these technologies. Almost half the
country uses television text services every week. For many, getting an
e-mail template with one easy click from the screen may indeed prove
But despite this advantage, text services are in danger of being crowded
out by interactive television and the internet on the home receiver, and
SMS and digital radio text services on mobile devices. The problem is
that text services do not rate highly on the sex-ometer with those in
positions of power.
For Teletext, the battle for survival is even more acute. With ITV and
Channel 4 running their own text services on digital (Channel 4 has
something already; ITV is keeping its powder dry) Teletext has had to
start its own channel.
It is a game move, and Teletext’s recent appointment of a new features
editor - Chris Heard (an internal promotion) - underlines the company’s
determination to make it work. Heard and his team start with a healthy
base of 20 million regular users but the question remains as to whether
these people will stay loyal to Teletext when it means migrating away
from ITV and Channel 4’s digital services to do it.
TELETEXT - John Sage
Channels: ITV and Channel 4
Users: 23.5 million a week
’We hold the franchise to broadcast on ITV and Channel 4 analogue
services which we do now to a record number of viewers. We started in
1993, taking over from Oracle. We have expanded since then from 30
editorial staff to 120 and we offer a range of content to support all
tastes. The majority of our viewers use the television listings (15
million a week), closely followed by sport (14 million) and weather (10
million), then there is finance, cinema and holidays.
’We carry display ads in all areas and get a lot of our information from
PR agencies. Editorially, it is much the same as Ceefax except we carry
more news-based, women’s interest and entertainment features. Our tone
of coverage is slightly more domestic and less international or
political than Ceefax.
’We split the service between ITV and Channel 4, with the core services
such as news, sport, television listings and holidays on ITV and
slightly different material on Channel 4 - cinema and entertainment
listings and sections on topics like education and environment.
’The coming of digital is crucial for us - it will see text services
come of age. We have our own channel on digital terrestrial which we
shall have a big re-launch for in the autumn. We think it is
CEEFAX - Paul Brannan
Channels: BBC1 and BBC2
Users: 19 million a week
’Despite the growth of the internet I still think there are legs on the
analogue television text service for quite a few years yet - it is easy
to use, one click away from your television, and needs no special
knowledge. We are getting 19 million users every week to our 3,000 pages
of copy. There is a big regional element to what we do as we have 13
regional newsrooms. We also play to the BBC’s strengths and have more
world news than our competitors.
’With four-paragraph resumes of everything, the service has a lot of
pluses. It is always there for a quick hit of information. If you can
carry that to a WAP arena it will work very well and we are already
trialing a service on those lines.
’Aside from the analogue service we already have three different
versions for the three different digital platforms - satellite, cable
and terrestrial. These have shed the clunky Lego-brick-design and we now
have far nicer typography. And, as digital technology expands, we can
start talking about the options of running audio and video as well.
’The mobile platform is the area of new development that interests me
most. When GPRS arrives (a new mobile protocol that allows more
information to be carried) it will free us from the tyranny of sitting
in front of the television screen.’
SKY DIGITAL PUBLISHING - David Klein
Position: General manager
Channels: Sky One, Sky News, Sky Sport and Sky Movies
Users: Four million a week
’We produce the text services behind every Sky analogue channel. We run
four different services on Sky News, Sky Sports, Sky Movies and Sky One.
It is the same basic service on each but with more information in the
specialist area of each channel. We tend to be rather less
’establishment’ than the BBC in our choice of material - and our service
is more personality-based and more ’fun’ than the BBC’s.
’We will launch the digital service over the next couple of months and
this will be completely different. It does away with Lego-block graphics
- instead we can carry stills and the navigation changes so that you can
go to whatever page you choose. We are also taking it on-line so that
you can send and receive e-mails while you are watching television, and
you can bet at the same time using a modem and a phone line. You will
also be able to do simple shopping.
’The screen will divide so that you can continue watching television
while doing the other things - it is similar to Open in some ways (the
digital interactive service in which Sky has a stake) but it is quite a
different proposition - this is much more closely related to television.
There are further interactive developments planned for next year.’