MEDIA ANALYSIS: Teletext makes a fresh connection

Teletext is rebranding this month, with enhanced TV services, access via Freeview and an online entertainment presence for the first time since 2004. Adam Hill finds its journalists also want to hear more from PR people.

Teletext, the TV text service accessed via remote control on ITV and Channel 4, looks to have been bypassed in the online arena. While its rival Ceefax has been complemented in recent years by the award-winning BBC Online site, Teletext’s image is still of bucket-shop holidays and the sort of graphics last seen on Space Invaders arcade games.

Media commentator Ray Snoddy’s view is typical. ‘Five years ago, Teletext was good for last-minute clearance holidays,’ he says. ‘I have to say that this part of my media consumption has now gone online.’

However, there may be some rethinking to do. Teletext is rebranding this month in a bid to be seen as more than a repository for last-minute flights or a forlorn, primary-coloured forerunner of the World Wide Web.

Winning back viewers
Editor-in-chief John Sage says: ‘We want to reconnect with lapsed viewers, perhaps people who have fallen out of the habit. We also want to encourage the existing analogue audience to use our digital TV and mobile services and get back onto the web.’

Teletext says these lapsed viewers are likely to be 25 to 44 years old and living in the South-East. They are also likely to be ABC1s – which, although no one at the company says it explicitly, puts them in a higher demographic than the average Teletext viewer.

But while it may be a medium with an image problem, Teletext has one overriding selling point for PROs and their clients: the punters still like it.

Teletext is viewed by 14 million people a week. Ian Haworth, head of PR for Granada TV in the early 1990s, was responsible for promoting shows such as Coronation Street and knew the importance of Teletext in those pre-internet days. ‘It had massive visibility for us then,’ he says. ‘But remember there is still today a core base of millions of “ordinary” people who do not have the internet.’

And viewers’ routes into Teletext are changing. Content will remain the familiar mix of elements such as film, lifestyle, sport, music, showbiz and horoscopes. But a new digital terrestrial service, Teletext Extra, will be available through up to six million Freeview boxes by the end of 2007. ‘That positions Teletext as a brand that is very accessible from every channel,’ says Sage.

Its digital TV and mobile services are being revamped with a clearer design, and including new text services such as celebrity gossip slot Showbiz Spy. And, three years after closing its own entertainment and news site, Teletext is also relaunching online. It runs the risk of looking a little half-hearted, especially when compared to the Beeb. ‘It will be a headline service, run at relatively low cost,’ admits Sage. But as a minimum requirement for a media brand wanting to be taken seriously, at least it is there again

The dozen-strong entertainment, lifestyle and travel editorial team, based in a glass and steel structure on the site of London Transport’s former bus depot in Chiswick, wants more contact with PROs – and access to current names in TV, film, music and so on – as the medium requires a quick turnover of material.

Teletext’s TV coverage is updated four times a day, for example. ‘TV Plus has a huge stomach and digests stars very readily. It has to be up to the minute,’ says features editor Victor Olliver. He also wants ideas on food and non-prescription ‘alternative’ health therapies for lifestyle content. ‘We’re governed by Ofcom rules but will mention products if they can generate a feature,’ he says.

Meanwhile, well-respected music section Planet Sound was an early champion of bands such as Kaiser Chiefs and has daily CD and gig reviews. Film section Big Screen covers half a dozen news stories a day, attends screenings for major releases and reviews DVDs twice a week.

‘PROs are important to us’
Despite Snoddy’s opinion, Teletext’s holiday content has retained an online presence as well as being on TV, and up-to-date information on destinations around the world or promotional ideas are always sought. Travel editor Tina Banerjee says: ‘PROs are important to us and with the expansion of the website we want more from them.’

PR professionals should perk up at the news that this expansion is the upcoming launch of a luxury travel site – quite a change from the cheap sand-and-sangria shorthaul packages that have been Teletext’s traditional bread and butter.

‘We are interested in themes such as golfing, spa, diving, adventure, weddings and honeymoons, sailing and eco-tourism,’ says Banerjee. ‘It is also intended to be very picture-led: we are looking for high-quality, aspirational images.’

It might be pushing it a bit to suggest that Teletext can ever be cool. But like the lapsed viewers who Sage wants to re-engage, PR people should at least look again at what is on offer.

Who’s who at Teletext

Editor-in-chief John Sage

Features editor
Victor Olliver T 0870 731 3112 E

Travel editor
Tina Banerjee T 0870 731 3150 E

Features write
r Ellie White T 0870 731 3156 E

Music writer
John Earls T 0870 731 3139 E

Cinema writer
Mike Martin T 0870 731 3185 E

Assistant editor (sport)
Sue Choularton T 0870 731 3061 E

, a consortium originally comprising Associated Newspapers, Philips Electronics and Media Ventures International, went live in 1993. Its predecessor, Oracle, launched in 1974 – the same year as the BBC’s Ceefax.

The Press Association provides Tele­text’s news/sport /business content.

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