The BBC has been told to concentrate its Red Button services on the provision of news and information through digital text and additional coverage of major live events. Providing a consistent service across all platforms should reduce the substantial distribution costs.
Of the £39.3 million (€46.35m) budget in 2009/10, distribution accounted for £20.4 million of the cost.
In its service review of BBC Red Button, previously branded as BBCi, the BBC Trust says that audience appreciation is moderate when compared to other BBC interactive services like BBC Online and BBC iPlayer. The BBC’s regulatory body concludes that the same can be said for similar activities on other broadcasters and that in general this type of service does not have the same level of appeal as other interactive technologies.
The most popular element of BBC Red Button is Digital Text, the successor to the much-loved analogue service Ceefax, while items such as the Wimbledon Tennis multiscreen and live coverage from the Glastonbury music festival are also appreciated. Digital Text represents but a small proportion of BBC Red Button’s overall budget.
Criticism comes the way of services designed to offer viewers a simulated website experience, often used to explore content at the end of a linear broadcast, but more likely to win industry plaudits than audience. The Trust says in future such initiatives should only be produced when there is little or no incremental cost.
In all 12 million people use the Red Button service every week, making it the most used interactive service in the country. Significantly, and given the role the BBC is expected to play in the development of broadband, 5 million people are reached by BBC Red Button and not BBC Online.
The Trust says it is too early to say what impact the emergence of IPTV – in this context services such as the hybrid platform YouView – might have on the Red Button. In the short term the intention is to repackage Red Button content onto the new IPTV platform, a process that will have to be achieved without any increase in budget. Already there is a trend to reuse content originated for other platforms such as BBC Online. The role of IPTV will be studied during the Trust’s next review in 2012 and the Trust has asked the BBC to list the additional cost of reversioning for IPTV.
It has emerged that BBC management plans to reduce the amount of capacity given to Red Button on satellite and cable platforms after the 2012 Olympics. Already the BBC News Multiscreen has been dropped from the terrestrial service Freeview, leading to a substantial reduction in promotion for the service on satellite and cable platforms.