The last remaining commercial text services are being removed from Freeview, as the technology underpinning the services is phased out.
Since Freeview launched twenty years ago, text services have provided access to news, holiday adverts, games and interactive services. But since 2009, the number of available services has steadily declined as online services and apps took over in popularity.
The final surviving services, Kiss Chat and Date (channel 252) and Proud Dating (253) will close this week. They are due to be removed on Wednesday 25th May. Both interactive services allowed viewers to submit text or picture messages for inclusion on-screen.
Text services relied on interactive TV middleware MHEG-5, which once powered all text-based and interactive / red button services on Freeview. Support for MHEG has already been dropped by a number of TV manufacturers, in favour of the newer HbbTV standard. As viewers replaced their TVs, this has steadily reduced the number of users able to access the services.
Perhaps the most well-known application for a commercial text service was Teletext Holidays. The service started out as an on-screen classified listing for travel companies to advertise their services. In the pre-internet era, the service gave travel companies unique access to millions of households through the UK. Originally available on analogue ITV through Teletext page 200, Teletext Holidays became a standalone service on Freeview.
Teletext Holidays switched to an online-only service in 2012, three years after the main Teletext service was discontinued. In the decade since, other providers including Mail Travel TV and 365 Travel filled the void, although the number of advertisers on the service continued to decline. 365 Travel closed at the end of June 2021. Teletext Holidays itself ceased trading last autumn.
Red Button Text
From Wednesday, only the BBC’s Red Button Text service will remain as the sole MHEG-5-based text service. Available by pressing red on most BBC channels, Red Button Text continues to have a separate listing on channel 250. Even then, the service is also only available to a dwindling number of viewers. Newer TVs and boxes that don’t support MHEG-5 send viewers to the BBC Red Button+ service, which interlinks with the iPlayer.
MHEG-5 continues to be used to support Freeview’s streaming channels (above channel 260) and to display off-air slates on older TVs and boxes, where the technology is run in parallel with HbbTV versions.