What happens to Teletext? 

23 January 2009 tbs.pm/1009

Teletext’s public service remit at risk

The fall out of the recent Ofcom report into the future of commercial public service broadcasting continues, with The Guardian reporting that Ofcom are not aren’t convinced that there will need to be a separate Teletext franchise going forward.

Indeed, it is a bit of an anachronism – like the fact that the ITV companies don’t even control the breakfast slot (although ITV plc do own 75% of GMTV.) Such divisions made more sense in an era when there were a mere handful of channels, however in the current climate where pretty much anyone can set up a TV channel (and does!) you have to question the structure of broadcasting we have in place (indeed, I did on this very website back in 2004).

Teletext is already of the believe that it’s public service obligations will become too onerous, and has already started increasing heavily in more commercial services like TV dating, however there’s now real question marks over what happens to it next. It is a commercial company with a Channel 3 franchise, and franchises don’t last forever (well supposedly) so it’s future has never been 100% guaranteed, however for the first time, there’s a serious question being asked as to whether the content mandated by the franchise needs to exist at all.

Ofcom point to the rise of the internet as a reason to ask that. However is that a convincing argument? Even taking into account that nearly 60% of the population have broadband, , 36% of those who can access Teletext (on digital or analogue) do so, and significant amounts of people do likewise with Ceefax and BBC Red Button. It’s still faster to press the text button than it is to boot up your PC after all.

I remain convinced that there will be demand for TV based information services for years to come for precisely that reason – and TV manufacturers do too, as can be seen by a number of new broadband enabled TV sets coming onto the market that can display information using Yahoo!’s TV widgets system.

However systems like that won’t provide for those who don’t have broadband, or who just don’t see the point in connecting their TV to the internet. Traditional broadcast text information systems will be around for a fair few years to come (Ceefax will make it to 38 years old when it finally gets switched off). But the question now is, who, besides the BBC, will provide them?