Press the red button to find out how interactive applications can change the way you watch the box
Whether you want to re-play Frank Lampard’s goal 50 times or vote a caterwauler off The X Factor, the red button will grant your wish.
That little button plays a big role in this summer’s top TV events, from the World Cup to Love Island. “Press red” to turn a plain telly programme into an interactive experience in which you can vote, enter competitions and quizzes, watch exclusive footage and access a wealth of background information.
We’ll outline the interactive treats available – and show you how to get them.
It’s the best of times and the worst of times for interactive TV. In January, Channel 4 chief Andy Duncan dismissed it as “clunky”, and declared the station’s red button dead.
It’s the end of an era: in 2002, two-thirds of Big Brother’s eviction votes came via interactive TV, but this year voters must text or phone. Meanwhile, ITV has retired its unprofitable interactive betting service.
But rumours of the red button’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Interactive features are popping up in programmes from Little Britain to the snooker, and broadcasters including the BBC, ITV, MTV and Cartoon Network are investing big money in interactive TV.
Get inside your TV
We’ll start with the science bit. Interactive TV applications are only available if you have digital TV. You’ll either need a digital satellite subscription through Sky, cable such as NTL or Freeview.
Freeview is the most cost-effective way of going digital, but some interactive options are off-limits. We discuss how to access Freeview with links to the necessary equipment at the end of this article.
The two main types of interactive TV application are programme enhancements, and always-on (“24/7”) features. You can access enhancements during a particular show, or for a fixed period after transmission.
Press red, and a clickable menu appears, with options such as switching to a different court at Wimbledon, or playing the ‘Four Nations’ quiz during Blue Peter.
Always-on applications are accessible by pressing red at any time of day. For example, press red when watching BBC1 (on digital) for listings, news and weather updates – much like a hi-tech Ceefax.
Updating your subscription status