Welcome, teletext fanatics! I'll just leave this here...

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Want to save Teletext? Don't press the red button

Yesterday the BBC axed another swathe of Ceefax pages as it continued the switch to digital text in anticipation of the end of analogue TV.

Of course Teletext has been dying a slow, largely unreported death since its heyday. Despite most channels dabbling in the technology, it's the BBC that held this medium together since first introducing it in 1976 and continuing to keep faith while others dithered. Ironically, ITV at last seems to be investing but still can't figure out quite where the service belongs. Channel 4 still shares the one-sided alliance with ITV that allows it racing and financial information, but no news pages - especially ridiculous given the schedules are anchored by Channel 4 (and more recently More 4) News while ITV can't even agree whether its News still belongs at 10.

The BBC, meanwhile, threw license money and newsroom staff until, by the mid 80s, Ceefax provided our most reliable source of breaking news before the internet and rolling news channels took over. In fact, with so many digital channels now around, Teletext still provides something worthwhile for your remote that doesn't involve hopping between the same loan commercial on different channels while missing the restart of the show you were watching in the first place.

Ceefax has been clinging onto life since 2001, repeatedly flatlining and then sitting up in bed shouting "No, I'm feeling better!" However, this time the decline does seem terminal, as indicated by the decreasing frequency of page updates. During last week's Wimbledon, for instance, score updates were lagging nearly a set behind the live action - so no more watching Tellytubbies with the kids whilst keeping the cricket scores onscreen.

And it's all the more painful because of what is now meant to replace all this. Was there ever a TV advance more pathetic than Digital Text? Now, I am a Virgin Cable customer, so I'm used to being at least two years behind the times, but my digital text seems to involve a 30 to 60-second delay while the screen goes blank, then the complete loss of the programme I'm watching - while single paragraphs of text have to be cued by hand at 15-second intervals. Compared to this, Teletext still looks state of the art to me.

And don't get me started on those omnipresent red button services, that clutter up the screen while allowing ITV to promote This Morning on every peak time show, incurring further 60 second delays should you be stupid enough to press it. Once again, BBC Interactive does it best, but it's not nearly good or fast enough and after nearly five years in development and nobody has ever explained why.

All in all, I feel a Save Teletext campaign coming on but I simply can't be arsed to launch it. And if that doesn't say something about the red button generation, I don't know what does.

Mike Anderiesz, Guardian Unlimited, July 12 2007