Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ceefax to close as digital switchover nears completion

As the last few regions in Britain switch over to Digital television this year it will say goodbye not only to the analogue channels BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel Four and Five, but also to the analogue text service Ceefax.

Pioneering service

Little used now, the 38 year old service aimed to provide viewers with readily accessible information such as news content, weather and travel updates. When launched in 1974 the Internet was in its infancy, and access to the pages of Ceefax was ground breaking in its day.

Ceefax, the name resulting from the phonetic corruption of 'see' and 'facts', opened up a whole new world for the hard of hearing by providing televisual subtitles.

The BBC teletext system was the first in the world, and was followed by ITV's Oracle service, though at first the two were technically different. After agreement between the two companies, Ceefax and Oracle were set to a single standard in the way the data was encoded in the analogue television signal. This standard later became known in the industry as the World System Teletext (or WST) a standard for encoding and displaying teletext information. It is still used as the standard for teletext throughout Europe today where analogue broadcasting still remains.


In Britain though, the digitised block text of the Ceefax pages will soon disappear from viewers' screens. For many people the service will not be missed. Although the digital switchover is nearly complete, most people in Britain have already abandoned analogue broadcasting. Even before terrestrial digital broadcasting began in Britain in 1998 many people had already switched to multi-channel broadcasting systems such as Sky satellite broadcasting and cable, though they were initially analogue services.

Now, there are few people watching analogue broadcasts, and the closing down of Ceefax and ITV's Oracle, now simply known as Teletext and owned by the Daily Mail's parent company, Daily Mail & General Trust. Teletext is also serve Channel 4 and Channel Five, but these two are set to disappear soon. Channel Four no longer transmits a full Teletext service. Since the end of 2010 the channel slimmed down the service to a few pages giving an information page, details about the digital switchover and subtitles for the deaf. After analogue is finally switched off Teletext will continue to provide information services, but only on digital platforms.


At its peak during the 1990s, over 22 million people were using Ceefax every week. But the advent of digital services and Internet has made teletext redundant and consigning a once revered and state-of-the-art technology to history.

Some people will miss the service, much out of nostalgia rather than for its technical prowess. The BBC are archiving some pages for posterity while Matthew Engel, a cricket writer and a columnist on the Financial Times, mourns its demise [BBC]. But for most of us, the closure will probably not be noticed. For those without analogue television, pages can be accessed online, though this website may also close after the digital switchover is complete.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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