There was an uproar when the BBC originally proposed to close its digital text service. Its closure now comes via the back door.
A campaign to save the text service was launched in 2019 after the BBC announced its closure due to “‘financial pressure”. Plans were put on hold in January 2020 before being scrapped in September of that year.
But a scheme to upgrade satellite households to HD could see affected households lose access to the text service for good.
Beginning in the second half of January, regional BBC One services on satellite will be upgraded to HD. As each region is upgraded, viewers with older SD-only receivers will lose access to regional programmes. Viewers in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales with older satellite receivers will also begin to lose localised versions of BBC One in SD. In early 2024, all BBC SD channels will close.
As a result, any satellite TV user with an older box will need to upgrade. Although the BBC is broadcasting red button text on its satellite HD channels, most newer satellite receivers don’t support it.
- Sky is expected to offer every subscriber with an older Sky digibox a free upgrade to Sky Q. However, Red Button text was discontinued on Sky Q in 2019.
- Freesat users with an old SD-only box will be largely responsible for their own upgrade. This is because they bought their receivers themselves. A help scheme will be available to help vulnerable users. But most newer Freesat devices also don’t include support for the text service.
Sky+HD boxes and second generation Freesat (Freetime) boxes support both red button text and HD TV. Both are discontinued for new users.
The decline of BBC Red Button text
Over 12 million people used to use the BBC Red Button back in 2011. Following the demise of rival services from Teletext Limited and Sky Text, the BBC service became the last text service. Ill-designed for modern high resolution widescreen sets, the BBC says it usage is declining. An increase in smartphone usage in the past decade has led to many users getting news, sport and weather updates from their device.
In 2015, the BBC indicated it was exploring a “phased exit” from the Red Button service. Four years later, the BBC revealed plans to close the text service altogether.
The red button text service uses older MHEG interactive TV standard (OpenTV on Sky). MHEG was never supported on new TV platforms, including Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream. Older TV platforms are also phasing out MHEG support.
Notably, the requirement for a device to support MHEG on Freeview, Freesat and YouView devices was made optional in 2021, but older devices continue to support the service until it is switched off by the BBC.
In the meantime, the BBC needs to wait until the number of receivers that support digital text decline further. At some point, the service can be quietly removed.
by Iain Hatton