Digital TV Interactive Service Explained

Goodbye Ceefax

Before we all had the Internet, the BBC and ITV text service allowed information to be retrieved via our TV set’s remote control. For many years, the UK has had good old Ceefax from the BBC, ITV’s Teletext (formerly Oracle), and Channel 4’s 4-Tel. Now that the UK’s TV service is digital, the old Ceefax and Teletext services are redundant.

The ITV Teletext service stopped broadcasting in 2009, and BBC Ceefax services will die when the last analogue TV transmitter is switched off as part of the Digital Switchover.

Screens from BBC Ceefax

Two screens from the old BBC Ceefax service

Hello Digital Interactive

The replacement for the old teletext-based systems, is “Digital Interactive Television”. The BBC’s service, known as either “BBC Red Button” or its previous name, “BBCi”. It works in a similar fashion to the old Ceefax service, and rather than the old blocky retro Teletext pages, supports additional video content, smooth graphics and text.

Interactive Digital TV Screen 1

Example of the main BBC Red Button Home Page

Accessing Interactive

The Digital Interactive service is available on Freeview, Freesat, Sky, Virgin and BT Vision. It’s accessed by tuning to a channel that supports the service, such as any BBC TV channel, then pressing the red button on the digital service’s remote control.
As with the old Ceefax and Teletext, you can select a page by typing in the page’s three digit code number.

Interactive Digital TV Screen 3

Full-screen weather display on BBC Red Button

Red Button Services

For sporting events, such as Wimbledon, the BBC makes use of the Interactive Service for live sporting information, or additional video channels. The service can also be used to watch recent news videos and playback a video of a recent weather forecast. It’s also often used by the BBC to show extra material, such as an interview with a TV show’s maker.

How it works

The Digital Interactive service uses something called MHEG-5, which is a standard for the interactive service, complete with a programming language. A digital TV set or set-top box is required to have appropriate MHEG-5 software to allow the service to be accessed. Almost all digital TV equipment can handle Interactive TV services.

Interactive Digital TV Screen 4

A screenshot of Sky

Your questions

“Will it be possible to watch the replacement for Ceefax on digital WITHOUT the distraction of the left side of the screen? The facility exists on analogue to go full screen, but not it seems on digital to go to full page for text. That to me is major, not being able to access news headlines without also having to view other items?” (Submitted by Gordon)

There is no option for the viewer to customise how Digital Interactive is displayed. The layout of each page is defined by the broadcaster. Some pages show text together with live video, some offer full-screen text, some have images and text, some have images only and some support multiple video windows. Decisions about page layout are made by the broadcasters and in general can’t be changed by the viewer.

“Who do I talk to about Red Button services?”

If you have a general question about Digital Interactive TV and how it works, please get in touch with us, or add a comment below – we’ll try to help if we can.

If you have a comment or a complaint about the BBC Interactive “Red Button” service, this is best addressed to the BBC. Their email address is, or you can contact them via the BBC Red Button website

Related Pages

This entry was posted in Digital TV.

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