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Dan Brilot 

Ceefax 2.0: The next generation?

Dan.Brilot.2The openness of the Smart TV platform and the ease with which apps can be created is presenting new opportunities for newsbrands - but is there a genuine future for TV text news? Dan Brilot, Media Consulting Director at YouGov finds out.

Consumption of news in the digital age is often talked about in terms of the rapid increase in adoption and use of mobile devices such as tablets and mobile phones. However, it is easy to forget that televisions are still the only ubiquitous device in UK households and that TV is still the primary channel (the 'first' screen) many people use to access news.

Yet, this is changing. As younger audiences gravitate towards digital mediums to get their news 'on-demand' they are relying less on linear models of consumption via traditional media. As smart and connected TVs increase in number, it creates an opportunity for consumers to access news content through their televisions in new ways.

Internet-connected sets offer consumers the opportunity to personalise the news coverage they get from their TVs, giving them what they want when they want it and allowing them to delve deeper into the stories that interest them.

The present

As part for the work conducted for this year's Digital News Report (published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford) we asked Smart TV owners about their news consumption. We found that they look to their devices to access news content.

Currently, 13% of UK consumers own a Smart TV and for owners news is the third most common application (behind linear broadcast and catch-up TV), with well over a third (38%) accessing online news services on a weekly basis.

Apps have changed the way people treat their televisions for news. Throughout last year, we saw significant increases in Smart TV owners' use of them and global current affairs brands such as Yahoo!, USA Today, and CNBC are gaining traction in UK living rooms on the big screen.

While part of this is because these apps come pre-loaded with some TVs, the increase in usage is also down to consumer appetite for the content that they provide.

The openness of the Smart TV platform and the ease with which apps can be created also presents opportunities for news brands to go into new areas. Last year, the Guardian launched a smart TV app in the US alongside its web and mobile portals that was aimed at American audiences. Previously, getting carriage via the US cable networks would have been an expensive and tortuous process.

Passive and active

While at first it may appear counter-intuitive to have text-based content on a big screen, successful precedents exist. The BBC's 'Ceefax' service was available on televisions from 1974 to 2012, delivering time-sensitive text-based information, such as breaking news, financial stock prices, weather, TV listings, and sport.

The rise of text news on TV is despite the fact that the device and the content represent a curious marriage. Television is often seen as a 'lean back' (passive) medium, where content is simply consumed. However, the internet is a 'lean forward' (active) medium, where consumers have an opportunity to either choose what they receive or contribute towards content.

However, the web has also enabled people to experience bespoke content that fits their needs and interests. It is in this area that it is clear to see why the marriage of television and text news has the opportunity to work so well with almost half (46%) of UK consumers wanting to be in control of their news experience.

This indicates viewers' desire to move from a top-down model of news consumption to one where they can curate their television-based news services.

The future

As well as apps, there is also a demand for consumers getting text news on televisions. The BBC red button service provides not only visual but text-based information, with 45% of the UK population using the service on a monthly basis.

Although news providers may still be uncertain whether internet-style content will work on a shared 'lean back' device, our research found a demand for this type of content.

Just over half (56%) of the UK population want a breaking news alert that is pushed to the corner of their screen for a short time (they want this for weather forecasts, too). Sports news is popular with men but is of very little interest to women. News lovers (20% of the sample) were more likely to show interest in all these categories.

For all the talk of mobiles and tablets, Smart TV seems to be a natural fit for the delivery of news content. This is particularly true for breaking news and also in-depth reporting on topics where consumers don't feel they get enough information from their standard bulletin.

This feeds into a basic desire to always be kept up to date and the ability to dig deep into a story beyond the headlines. As our homes (and lives) become increasingly connected this could be the time that we see interactive news pass ever more fluidly from the small to the big screen.

This article is part of a wider piece on News and Connected TV. The full essay can be downloaded here.

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