The rise and fall of Teletext, the first real-time tool for investors

There is a place to find the daily news, sports results, lottery numbers or weather forecasts. And it’s not Google, but Teletext, a tool present on the televisions of all Spaniards… at least for now.

It is a British invention, first introduced by the prestigious BBC in the 1970s. It took a little longer to arrive in Spain. It was not until May 1988, 34 years ago now, that Teletext could begin to be consulted on the most modern ‘teles’.

Teletext was a very rudimentary, very basic system, which was accessed with the television remote. It was, and still is, completely free, but it required a decoder, which cost about 15,000 pesetas, or to have a device that already had it built-in, which cost between 120,000 and 180,000 pesetas, being the first from Sony or ITT.

Spain was then a country with only two channels, 1 and 2, and they were the ones who launched that first version. Despite the years that have passed, the design was very similar to the current one, marked by the limitations imposed by an interface with few colors, scarce typography and reduced space.

TVE invested 500 million pesetas, which it was able to recover quickly

The public chain invested 500 million pesetas, about 3 million euros, in the project. An amount that was quickly recovered, according to a director of the channel, thanks to the increase in audience, since in order to consult Teletext it was necessary to access the channel.

Shortly after and privately, and with more or less enthusiasm, they also launched their own Teletext services. Which were, in form and substance, quite similar. That said, it was marked by limitations.

As if it were a prehistoric website, it was organized into pages, which were accessed from the command with 3-digit codes, ranging from 100 to 888. And the problem of moving from one to another was that it was quite slow. .

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To facilitate “navigation”, all those pages were divided into categories. What could be found on Teletext? Mainly news. . National, international, economic, sports information… It was like having an interactive newspaper on television.

For example, at a time when it was very difficult to know the football results in real time, when the league match was not broadcast on television… Teletext made it possible to easily see the score of each match live.

The first tool to know in real time stock prices

In the case of economic news, his work was essential, especially with regard to investment in the stock market. Today it may sound strange, because, in any search engine, or in media, such as . But at that time you could only check stock information by buying the newspaper, on paper, the next day. There was also some radio or television program that reported on the evolution of the stock market, but coinciding with its programming. But the investors’ dream of knowing the prices in real time, updated at the moment, could only be done by phone, by calling their broker, or by going in person to the stock exchange building.

And Teletext was a revolution in this sense. It made it possible to consult the price of the main stock market indices and their titles almost in real time, with a lag of about 15 minutes. Just as it can now be done with Bloomberg, although it is an application that is worth thousands of euros a year.

It also included very useful information on traded volumes, and above all it had a section on the best and worst performing stocks. This data is key to calculate . It allows you to measure the degree of correlation of a stock with respect to its own index, which is why it is very useful for analysts and investors. It is a way of calculating systematic or market risk. The more volatile a stock is relative to the market index, the higher its market risk.

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Service information, curiosities and accessibility for the deaf

Teletext also offered service information, such as weather forecasts throughout Spain, traffic conditions, television programming, the cultural agenda, public aid… But there was also room for lighter content, such as daily horoscope, crossword puzzles or a primitive messaging service, with which people could do something similar to chat with strangers. And even more ‘geeky’ data, of relative success, such as the state of the reservoirs or agricultural prices.

However, we must highlight the key role played by Teletext in facilitating accessibility for deaf people, since it allowed them to subtitle programs and series, even live in some cases.

Of course, and in order to maximize the income of Teletext, which required a team of people to keep it alive and updated, this tool also had advertising, which at its peak allowed the channels to earn up to 6 million euros year. In fact, in the private ones you can still see ads, the most prominent right now being those of a well-known alarm company.

But as in the press of the time, the main source of income was related to short advertisements. The tarot is the most common. The telephone numbers are constant, most of them with special rates, which are followed by card readers, fortune tellers, futurologists… It is what appears most throughout the almost 800 pages of this service. At its peak there were also job advertisements, contacts…

Although the audiometers used to measure television audiences did not reveal the use of Teletext, they did. At its peak, more than 10 million people claimed to use this service. The last study available, from 2019, ensured that more than 2 million people continued to access it daily.

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swept up by the internet

Like so many other businesses and services, the arrival of the internet and smartphones took it away. In England, for example, the BBC has already announced the end of this service. In Spain, although with very small staff and cut services.

The infinite possibilities offered by the web left Teletext as something obsolete, limited and very slow. If someone wants to know what Netflix is ​​premiering today, to know the result of any soccer game in the world, or to see if it will rain tomorrow, they take their phone out of their pocket and check it.

For the nostalgic, there are mobile applications and web pages that allow you to consult the teletext of any channel in the world, which add up to hundreds of thousands of downloads in the main app stores.

But with fewer and fewer people without internet access, and with the appearance of new applications that facilitate accessibility for deaf people, the future of Teletext is increasingly dark.

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