Thursday, November 11
The BBC must reduce the cost of Red Button and improve audience appreciation of the interactive TV service, the BBC Trust has said.
The corporation's governing body today published a review of the Red Button service that is available on Freeview, Virgin Media, Freesat and Sky. The service enables users to access digital text information on TV, as well as sport, music and entertainment coverage.
The Trust praised Red Button as the UK's most popular interactive TV service, with an average audience of 12.7 million users every week, peaking at 14.7m this summer during Glastonbury and Wimbledon.
However, the Trust criticised the "substantial" cost of providing Red Button, which stood at £39.3m in 2009/10. That works out at 6.4p per week per user, which is low compared to other BBC services, but audience appreciation for the Red Button is "moderate" at best.
The Trust is concerned that Red Button does not have the same high standing with users as the BBC's other interactive services, such as BBC Online or iPlayer.
More than £20m of Red Button's budget goes on distribution to different platforms, specifically because the service differs slightly between the platforms.
The Trust called on the BBC Executive to explore ways to cut distribution costs by "offering a service that varies less between digital TV platforms, and so improves the consistency of service for viewers".
That also means focusing on Red Button's strengths, including its digital text service - offering news stories, weather updates and sport results - and live coverage of events such as Formula One and Glastonbury.
Interestingly, a submission in the review by the BBC Executive stated that Red Button could become an access point to IPTV and broadcast content in the future.
The Trust said that it fully supports the BBC's aim to create an IPTV platform, but warned that it is "too early to be clear about Red Button's future role in the BBC's IPTV plans".
BBC trustee Diana Coyle, who led the review, said: "Red Button reaches a large audience and is effective in helping the BBC promote some of its public purposes.
"It is not as popular as the BBC's other interactive services such as the iPlayer, however, and its overall costs - particularly for distribution - are substantial."
She added: "The Trust will therefore look to the BBC Executive to reduce costs when and where possible by focussing on the aspects of the service that are most successful to date.
"The Trust notes the Executive's statements on the future role for Red Button in the delivery of IPTV and will monitor this as the IPTV market develops."
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