BROADCASTING: BBC scales back Red Button service

The BBC will cut the number of video streams it offers through its interactive Red Button TV service later this month, as it shifts the focus of the service to emerging online platforms.

From October 15, the BBC will reduce the number of red button video streams from five to just one to more than 20 million homes with Sky, Freesat and Virgin Media, bringing the service in line with its existing Freeview offering.

The move is part of the BBC’s wider plan to ‘reinvent red button for the future’, as the broadcaster aims to re-launch the service via web-connected TVs, but the downsizing of the service will have an impact on the BBC’s coverage of sporting events through traditional TV sets.

The popular Red Button service was fully launched on digital platforms in 2001, bringing viewers enhanced coverage of BBC sporting events such as Wimbledon, The Open Championship, World Cup and European Football Championships, Six Nations and the Olympic Games, as well as coverage of niche events such as snooker, F1 practice sessions, triathlon and figure skating.

A selection of extra content will continue to be broadcast on the Red Button but will now share the one remaining video stream, with extra streams to be made available online and via internet connected TVs.

Tom Williams, BBC Vision’s development editor for red button and dual screen, said the consolidation of the video service was necessary because of the high costs in using linear broadcast technology to deliver multiple streams.

In a post on the BBC’s Internet Blog, he said: “We are doing this because these services rely entirely on linear broadcast technologies, which are not cost-effective for an interactive service like the red button.

Though Williams claimed this month’s transition “in no way signals the demise of BBC Red Button”, he acknowledged that the reduction in video streams will have a noticeable impact on viewers, particularly sports fans.

“We won’t be able to offer the choice of coverage we had previously and big events will no longer be multi-screen on red button,” he said.

“This will be a disappointment for many viewers, particularly sports fans, but I’m pleased to say that content previously on red button will be available on BBC Online and we are developing new ways of bringing enhanced coverage of major events to your televisions in the future.

“The BBC is committed to maintaining a vibrant and popular red button service.

“More than 20 million people a month press red on the BBC and our ambition is to develop the service and increase the size of our audience.”

Mock-up of the new red button style BBC Sport App for Connected TVs

The BBC’s Digital Quality First proposals, published in October 2011, outlined plans to reduce the number of red button video streams from five to one after the London 2012 Olympic Games.

A 24-live stream service was made available on digital platforms and via the BBC Sport website as part of the corporation’s promise to deliver live coverage of every session of every sport during the Games.

However, the reduction in the number of video streams will mean that the BBC will no longer be able to offer multiscreen coverage of big events via its traditional broadcast platforms.

The multiscreen services for live sporting events will continue to be available online, meaning that viewers without access to connected TV services will be able to view them on their PCs, laptops and mobile devices via the BBC Sport website.

“BBC Red Button will continue to support a wide range of television and radio output, from big events like Wimbledon and Glastonbury to more niche offerings such as triathlon or BBC Four’s archive collections.

“BBC Sport output will include Formula 1 and extended coverage of UK Championship Snooker; there’s more live music to look forward to from 1Xtra and Radio 2, and for children we’ve got a real treat from CBBC’s Wolfblood.”

The BBC will move forward with plans to develop its ‘Connected Red Button’ service, combining elements of the Red Button service with elements of BBC Online.

New functions will include live restart of programmes, a function already available on the BBC’s iPlayer service. The first version of the service for internet connected TVs is set to launch later this year.

With some of the redundant streams the BBC will be launcing UK nations and regions versions of BBC One HD, and plans are being made to convert the existing BBC HD channel into BBC Two HD early next year. 


Changes to BBC Red Button
By Tom Williams – Development Editor red button/dual screen, BBC Vision
Satellite Shuffling: reducing Red Button & expanding BBC One HD
By Alix Pryde – Director, BBC Distribution

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