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BBC BITEBACK

Ceefax was relaunched on Saturday 16-Nov-1996 with a new look and new sections. At the time, Ceefax encouraged feedback on the changes - but they got a little more than they bargained for.
 
The BBC described the changes as an opportunity to expand and improve the service. It was also a bid to increase the number of viewers - Ceefax was losing viewers to ITV's 'Teletext' service which was now drawing 17 million viewers a week compared to 13 million for the BBC service.
Initially, many viewers complained that the new service was too slow, jumbled and less user friendly. In the two weeks following the relaunch, over 1,400 calls about the new service had been logged.
Peter Clifton, Editor Ceefax, explains: "The weekend of the relaunch was a nightmare - there's no doubt. We did lots of testing beforehand - everything was covered - but a couple of unexpected hitches struck us down on the morning of the relaunch which meant that the service slowed down dramatically. We had a lot of problems but we threw a lot of resources at it and quickly rebuilt the situation."
Was it a case of change for the sake of change?

"We've simply responded to what people have asked for and that's more variety and trying to make it a little bit simpler to get around. The other clear message from audience surveys was that our audience was declining and we wanted to do something to reverse that and these changes are designed to draw in more people who have a look at Ceefax - maybe for the first time - and think 'there's something there for me'.

The editorial changes were causing problems - viewers complained that in an attempt to be more popular and to cater for younger audiences, Ceefax had become more tabloid.
Peter Clifton replies:
"It does irritate me when people say that we have suddenly become more tabloid and a pale imitation of Teletext - that really isn't the case. If people have looked at just one or two of our front pages and said 'they're brighter, there's a few more graphics' - if that's what they have made the judgment on then I'm very sorry. 
"But if they just go beneath the surface and look at we're actually doing every day, there are actually more pages of news available now; we cover far more things on a national and international front than Teletext do; we have expanded the number of sport pages we do to a hundred basic pages of sport - Teletext would pale into insignificance against that.
 "It's a very difficult balancing act and I don't know whether we would ever say that we'll get it completely right. We've got a lot of very positive feedback from younger viewers about the new things that we're doing and the Features section. And we've had thousands of letters in the first three weeks in answer to our 'send us your views on this' or 'your favourite film'. So that has obviously gone down very well. 
The other side to it is you try and make some changes in other areas, you prune back one or two things that you do to make way for the new things and of course there'll be a number of people who will say 'that's the only thing that I looked at'. 
To strike the perfect balance is probably a job beyond me and beyond anybody else I can think of." 

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