MEDIA: TV TEXT SERVICES - A future guide to what’s on television With the digital revolution setting new challenges for the television text services, opinion is divided on how change will affect the industry.

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 results.

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

and images.

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

Position: Editor-in-chief

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

Position: Editor

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.’


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.’

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