Ancient info source shuts down

Created (mainly) by the BBC during the 1970s, after 40 years of service, Teletext (AKA Ceefax) will start shutting down from tomorrow, 16 December, as the UK continues its move to digital TV and Internet-based services. In Ireland, the Teletext service from the national broadcaster (RTE) will continue to be offered via the existing analogue TV service and via emulation over the digital service.

Teletext is a broadcast service, so it doesn’t matter if there is one, or one million people connected. There’s not impact on service quality. Unlike the Web, which can suffer when servers are simultaneously hammered by eager users.

The biggest threat to the service is not technical, it is commercial. In the UK and many other regions, the service was funded via advertising. In most other cases, the cost is a burden carried by the main broadcaster, which is often seen as a target for cost cutting.

The biggest losers will be niche user communities. The partially-sighted, who often “surf” Teletext using enlarged text displays. Sailors, who rely on the regularly updated weather pages. Travellers, who check departures and arrivals on live update pages. Even the average punter who wants to check the lottery results.

Some say that mobile Web technology can take the place of Teletext (Ceefax, Guide+, Aertel and others). However, the simplicity of the Teletext service and interface is hard to replace, unless someone is willing to create an equivalent portal. (You can see what this might be like by checking out RTE’s online Aertel service.)

As with many other things that we have cast aside over the years, we won’t know what we’re missing in Teletext until it’s gone.

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