Has the recession just claimed its first national broadcaster? Not quite, but the Daily Mail and General Trust is claiming current economic conditions for the closure of the news and information services that form part of its Teletext service.
Analogue teletext first appeared on British television in 1974, the original commercial service Oracle making its debut opposite the BBC’s Ceefax. Oracle continued until 1993 when it was outbid by the slightly brasher Teletext in the conservative government’s controversial franchise auction.
As the popularity of teletext grew in the 1980s, the commercial operator that surely introduced the first banner ads, developed an interesting sideline in used cars and holidays. In the days before lastminute.com it is hard to believe that people would actually book a weekend away from a service that used the spare lines outside the regular Pal TV picture.
The significance is that they still do, and Teletext is cutting back its analogue service two years ahead of schedule. There is it could be argued little point broadcasting to a dwindling proportion of the UK population as most households have switched to digital.
It should be noted that elsewhere in Europe teletext is very much alive, a lack of commitment to any middleware meaning the system is simply added to the new digital services.
But something else has happened to get to where we are. In all the encouragement by broadcasters for us to use the Red Button it seems to have been forgotten that for years there was, and still is, another button marked Text. The BBC Red Button serves largely the same function as pressing Text, but for ITV, and Channel 4 and Five that also run the Teletext service the link has been broken. Teletext has dedicated channels on both Sky and Freeview, but in the crowded multichannel listings only the keenest of viewers will actually know it is there. Sky still offers a news-based service as part of its teletext offer that is separate from its Red Button offering.
At this point I should inform the reader that in the interests of research I pressed the Text button on my Sky+ HD receiver to view the ITV-based service. The box promptly crashed and I had to wait a couple of minutes for it to reset.
We’re getting our news from other places at the same time that the broadcasters have, prehaps inadvertantly, made it more difficult. So was it the internet that did it for Teletext or was it ultimately Mrs Thatcher?