[dropcap size=small bg_color=”#5e9cd4″]H[/dropcap]ands up if you remember teletext.
If you, understandably, need your memory jogging, it was the black screen that would display news, weather, recipes and the like in bright colours if you pressed your old television remote.
Just a few decades ago, it was a household name. Millions of Brits invested in teletext-enabled TV sets in the 1980s, and by the 1990s, 20 million viewers checked Ceefax (the BBC’s teletext service) at least once a week.
With satellite TV and BBC News 24 having started or just about to start up (BBC News 24 began in 1997), it was obvious that television was in its glory days.
And then the internet got big, and swallowed UK teletext up. To be fair to it, it fought for as long as it could (with Ceefax ending with the digital switchover being completed in Northern Ireland in 2012), but when owners DMGT announced in 2009 that Teletext Ltd, the teletext provider for ITV, Channel 4 and Five, would cease broadcasting most of its services, it cited internet competition as one reason.
Though there are still interactive services alongside the main channels, you rarely hear talk of them, and it’s easy to see why. Want the weather? You can look up your area’s forecast online. Want the news? You can scroll through the headlines online. BBC recipes? You can look them up on the website. Therefore, when the BBC director general Tony Hall announced in September his plans for an “open BBC for the internet age”, suggesting that by the middle of the next decade the internet could become the “main route” for the BBC and noting “tough choices” that would have to be made, it seemed like the internet was coming close to swallowing up traditional television too.
For a lover of good old fashioned telly like me, this is really, really sad, as there is something about watching traditional television that you just can’t get online. With the concept of choice in our viewing now the norm, it seems likely that without traditional TV, our viewing habits, as well as our general knowledge, would get narrower.
Watching TV in my PJs when I can’t get to sleep late at night, I’ve discovered programmes and knowledge that I just wouldn’t have found out about if they hadn’t been scheduled then, because I wouldn’t have looked through catch-up TV mediums to find them.
An episode of the fantastic documentary series Secrets of China, presented by Billie JD Porter, is a great example. There are other things about television that you can’t replicate with the internet.
The transition from one programme to another with a continuity announcer, programme adverts before a show, the announcement of the programme alongside an indent – all of these are reflective of traditional television. Yet, traditional television has a bigger impact on our lives than we initially realise: scheduling of programmes creates a familiar routine.
The presence of a television set in the home is important in both our society and popular culture – both The Simpsons and The Royle Family have famous television-watching elements. What about big events, too? Shows on Netflix, like Orange is the New Black, now create as much hype as scheduled programmes like The X Factor, yet you’re not going get the same big screen, HD detail if everyone sits down on the sofa to watch the latter’s final on a laptop.
There will arguably always be a place for a large-screen, TV-like set in our homes, but whether programmes will continue to be scheduled or all offered to watch as and when we want to remains to be seen. Don’t take away our traditional television, director generals. So much more would be lost than you’d expect.