BBC Red Button is the more public of two entities that resulted from the 2004 splitting of BBCi into a an on-demand digital television service known as BBCi Red Button, and a web content provider known as BBC Online. While Online formed directly from the 2004 split, the brand "BBC Red Button" dates only to 2008.
BBC Red Button is standard on all digital televisions in the United Kingdom. It seeks to offer more non-linear content to enhance the viewing of particular programming on standard, linear television. Because its history is so intertwined with those of BBCi and BBC Online, this article will consider all three entities.
The name "Red Button" derives from the fact that viewers access it by pushing an actual red button on the remote control. This drops a menu in a box over the programme being watched, allowing a viewer to pick from a variety of different "channels". Some of these channels are text-based and generally remain displayed over the main programme being watched. Some are video based and can be optionally viewed as a picture-in-picture display, or simply chosen as a regular, full-screen channel would be.
Relationship to Doctor Who
Historically, Red Button and BBCi have generated the most content for sports, news, business and other non-fiction programming. However, the BBC have occasionally used both the broadband and interactive television capabilities of Red Button to add to their viewers' enjoyment of Doctor Who.
Because the BBCi was the combination of what is today the separate entities of the Red Button and BBC Online, it is difficult to know if some of the things that BBCi broadcast online would have been made available on digital television today. Regardless, their early forays into commissioning new fiction for their web services are the earliest efforts of the BBC to provide additional narratives outside regular television episodes, and shaped the futures of both Red Button and Online.
Their first webcast was an experiment. Death Comes to Time was originally commissioned as a pilot for BBC Radio 4 in 2001. Radio 4 declined to pursue the series, so BBCi picked it up. They converted it to an animated story in 2002. In December of 2002, they followed with the first project actually conceived as a webcast: Real Time. In 2003 they returned to converting audio projects to video. Shada was a step up in terms of animation, but it took already-existing audio and married it to newly commissioned artwork.
Scream of the Shalka came towards the end of 2003. It was a "test case" for the digital broadcast platform, created by the BBCi to a standard that could have been broadcast via the Red Button of the day. In the end, it received only a web debut.
Around the same time, BBCi started to generate content for what became the iPlayer. They envisaged offering whole episodes of Doctor Who to their web users. They commissioned animated versions of the missing episodes of The Invasion to offer the whole serial for the first time since its original broadcast. This newly-complete Invasion would instantly drive Doctor Who fans to their new player. This would differ from the way they had earlier made video available. People would not have to navigate to the Doctor Who subsite, and access a fixed video display dedicated to showing one particular video. Their new player would offer multiple video feeds from anywhere on the BBC site. In the end they chose not to offer any Doctor Who episodes and the reborn Invasion instead went straight to DVD.
BBCi Red Button programming
In 2004, BBCi divested itself of its online responsibilities, spinning off BBC Online as a separate division.It also rebranded itself as "BBCi Red Button", and focused on digital television programming
The BBC Wales Doctor Who made use of the platform, offering original programming during the Christmas season. Attack of the Graske was the first major piece of Doctor Who to debut on Red Button. Its 4:3 aspect ratio reveals the age of the piece; Red Button adopted a widescreen ratio after its parent networks did. In 2007, a Cardiff concert of music from Doctor Who was exclusively premiered on Red Button.
BBC Red Button programming
In 2008, another rebranding followed, and all reference to "BBCi" was dropped. The process was leisurely, and references to "BBCi" can, as of 1 April 2010, still be seen on the BBC Website. Under the "BBC Red Button" brand came 2009's Dreamland, originally broadcast in its entirety on the service. The BBC Red Button has also been used as a marketing tool to broadcast clips from upcoming episodes. On 24 March 2010 they showed the first scene from The Eleventh Hour.
BBC Online programming
BBC Online split from BBCi in 2004. The most obvious impact BBCi's other successor has made on Doctor Who has been to maintain the official websites of Doctor Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood. As a result they have become major producers of video content. The difference between the video contributions of BBC Online and BBCi has been extreme. Indeed, Online have gone well beyond simple video to offer their users truly interactive experiences. The first major piece of original BBC Online programming was the documentary The Doctor Who Years, a 2005 web documentary that gave viewers a history of the classic series in the run-up to Rose. The documentary attracted hundreds of thousands of hits, and demonstrated there was a market for original, web-based video.
Online has been continually feeding their websites purpose-built video since that humble beginning. Tardisodes, Advent Calendars, video diaries, Captain Jack's Monster Files, and the Doctor Who Video Explorer series are a few of the original productions commissioned by BBC Online to enhance viewers' enjoyment of Doctor Who. Unlike BBCi's efforts, no significant animation has debuted on BBC Online sites. Instead, live action video — most of it documentary — has been supplemented by much interactive materials In addition to videos, BBC Online have provided Flash animation games, trailer makers, comic makers and sound samples.
- BBC Statement of Future Media policy, the effective "job descriptions' of Red Button and Online