What is Teletext and why is still being used in 2023?

Captura de pantalla del teletexto digital de laSexta.

Once upon a time, long before mobile phones, the Internet and one click away from anything, Teletext landed in Spain. Yes, that invention, so anachronic and typical of our grandparents’ house, still exists. Of course, it exists! According to the last study on audience metrics, more than two million spectators still check Teletext every day. This tool —so vintage, disregarded and outdated— has been providing its service to Spanish households for 35 years. Let’s go over its history!

It was 1972 and British designer, John Adams, developed this informative service for BBC, made up of text and vibrant colours. His intention had always been to take advantage of the gaps in the company’s television signal to transmit information. Even though the BBC was a pioneer of Teletext, it quickly got to different European countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands. Yet, it didn’t make it to Spain until 1988, when Televisión Española started using it. It would be later integrated also by private and autonomous television companies. La 1’s investment of 500 million pesetas —about three million euros— was covered in a matter of months.

What’s the Purpose of Teletext?

Teletext has always worked the same way: you press a button on your remote control and your tv shows a series of pages, graphics and indexes with the news of the day. When it first came out, it became a great ally of deaf people, since it allowed for the subtitling of tv content. It marked the start of television for people with hearing disabilities.

But Teletext can be used for much more. Besides providing information on current affairs, this rudimentary system shows the weather forecast, the tv guide, the cultural agenda and the horoscope, and it lets you do crosswords, chat or even get sporting results. This last one would turn out to play a crucial role. 

In the 90s, the Internet didn’t work as well as it does today and finding out the score of a football match in real time was unthinkable. What we now get in a matter of milliseconds used to take a few minutes. In those times, league matches were not broadcasted on tv, so Teletext allowed people to follow the score almost live.

A Revolution on the World of Investments

Another one of Teletext’s greatest attributes was the retransmission of financial information, especially stock market investments. In those times, investors couldn’t check prices in real-time and had to wait and read it the next day in the newspaper. However, thanks to this invention, they could access the main stock market indexes in less than 15 minutes. A real revolution.

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Then, the Internet came and smartphones followed. In England, they stopped using Teletext in 2012. Here, in Spain, even though it’s in the doldrums, no tv channel has dared to take it down. What will happen with this format? Is it a chronicle of a death foretold? In times in which technology moves forwards in a frenzy, in which we consume Tinder, Alexa, digital newspapers and social networks, it’s amazing that Teletext is still among us. We still don’t know for how long, but if I have to guess, I’d say that, pretty soon, this nostalgic, revolutionary invention will come to an end. 

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