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Teletext retunes (22.09.2011)

September 25, 2011

(Published in TTG 22.09.2011)

Teletext retunes

Teletext Holidays is making a return to our TV screens, although this time it’s swapping chunky pixels for video content. Matthew Parsons joins the company’s head of TV development, Michael Pollitt, for a demo of what it claims is the first travel app for TV

Since the Teletext Holidays analogue service was switched off at the end of last year, the company has been busy making sure it wouldn’t be left behind. In January it launched a new website, then iPhone and iPad apps, and in July it unveiled a “Smart TV” app for Samsung TVs.

While the format might be constantly evolving, the business model isn’t. Teletext Holidays remains a comparison website, with agents paying per call generated. Yet the new TV app offers wider scope for agents, operators or anyone else wanting to lure viewers into getting in touch.

Interactive television is nothing new; think the BBC’s red button. Previously companies such as Telewest offered interactive services, but were unable to keep pace with the internet.

However, Teletext Holidays’ Michael Pollitt says now is the right time for TV apps as the UK is now “educated” thanks to the arrival of the iPhone and other smartphones. “Now the public gets it, TV companies are latching onto it,” he says. “And Samsung is throwing money at education.

“For a start, it’s Wi-Fi enabled, which was a good move. Currently, it’s the only plug-and-play provider, so setting it up is easy, and it’s also benefitting from other big name apps being onboard, such as Facebook, YouTube, LoveFilm, Skype and the BBC.”

Teletext Holidays is in talks with tourist boards and media-buying agencies to add more content, but Pollitt says he is really keen to hear from travel agents who have their own video content, adding “we sell TV space”.

How it looks

During a demonstration, some of the videos I watch seem full of cliches; I glimpse quite a few palm trees and sunsets, and it feels like I’m watching Wish You Were Here. Another nag was the lack of a text search function – you can only select from the menus on-screen. Pollitt says this is due to a lack of bandwith with the service. However, load times are quick and the bright, bold buttons mean it’s simple to navigate.

The next phase

However, there are plans in the pipeline to make the service more exciting. Pollitt says he has “a list as long as my arm” of new ideas for the service. One is to create a smartphone “companion” app that interacts with the TV app, allowing users to book online instead of having to telephone the agent.

Skype is another, as Samsung is to add built-in web cams to its TVs. Pollitt says Teletext may look into this, to allow a viewer to connect live to an agent, face-to-face, and all from the comfort of their living room.

Pollitt is also excited by the possiblity of “targeted content” and “intelligent services”. He believes that in the future, the videos available will be based on which programmes the viewer has been watching on their TV – similar to Google Ads displaying relevant adverts based on your browsing.

As it stands, the app is already gaining the attention from the TV sector, and is shortlisted for an online advertising award at IBC Amsterdam, a global media and entertainment tradeshow.

It is still early days and viewers still need to be better “educated” about TV apps, but a return to UK TV screens could prove to be a ratings winner for Teletext Holidays.

How the TV travel app works

Samsung’s Smart TV comes installed in its new TVs, or in its Bluray players. On screen, users can download a wide range of apps, mostly free, which are displayed as icons – not too dissimilar from downloading an iPhone or Android app. The Teletext Holidays app is split into three sections – Search, Destinations and Teletext Holidays TV (featuring promoted content).

All content is hand-picked, and prices are live. If a viewer wants to book, perhaps after watching a video on a particular hotel, the agent’s phone number is visible. “We wanted to keep it slim and fun,” says Pollitt. “Our priority is to have great video that’s up to date. It’s all hand-picked.”

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