Much as smart TVs might seem like a recent revolution, audiences in the UK have had access to interactive, multi-window content on their boxes for over 13 years. The difference (and in many ways, the problem) is that this bonus "Red Button" material has been delivered over the old-school digital broadcast signal rather than over the web -- which is why today's launch of the Connected Red Button service makes a whole lot of sense.
Starting with the 1.2 million people who happen to own a Virgin Media TiVo box, pressing red will bring up an overlay suggesting programs from iPlayer and the radio channels, tailored by BBC staff to what they're currently watching, plus further curated web content from BBC News, Weather and Sport. They'll be able to read articles in overlay mode, or click on a video to throw it fullscreen. The content isn't new of course -- it can already be accessed via the multitude of apps that the BBC has for iPlayer and other services -- but it'll now be delivered through a much simpler, app-free interface that is already used by around 20 million people per month. We've had a play and can certainly vouch for it being straightforward -- check out our hands-on video after the break to see for yourself.
Of course, it'll only work if your TV is linked into the web somehow, which is the reason the BBC gives for initially only providing the service to TiVo customers. Starting in 2013, it'll roll out the Connected Red Button to Freeview, Freesat, BT Vision, YouView and other connected devices -- basically everything except Sky, which BBC execs say they regard as a "closed service" rather than as a "platform." At the same time, there'll be an awareness campaign urging the mainstream masses to get their TVs or media boxes online and thereby prepare for the inevitable.