SVT in Sweden recently used its teletext system to marry a very old bit of technology with another very new one: Twitter. A developer created a program that automatically uploaded the tweets of certain Twitter users to the teletext system, and the Tweets then appeared as subtitles on the television. SVT used this method during a big European Idol-esque contest show. It got a mixed reaction. “Parts of the Swedish Twitter-elite didn’t appreciate the project—they argued that this robbed Twitter of its social aspects,” writes Hanna Larsson, head of online news at SVT in an email. “Others thought it enhanced the TV broadcast in a nice way.”
Larsson’s evaluation of the experiment contains a significant point: at the moment, a relatively small number of Scandinavians have signed up for Twitter. Throughout Scandinavia, the percentage of people who have signed up for Facebook is relatively high, but Twitter has not caught on nearly as quickly. For instance, according to Swedish news siteThe Local, about 43 percent of Swedes have Facebook accounts, while only 2 percent are on Twitter.
If and when Twitter takes hold in Scandinavia, it remains to be seen what effect that might have on teletext’s longevity, especially as the older generations of teletext readers—who read exclusively on their television sets—are replaced by smartphone-addicted younger generations. Will they continue to download teletext apps, and appreciate the uncluttered, all-business content that the news outlets put out? Or will younger users prefer the conversational, brightly-colored, and nearly-immediate social network as the go-to place for the news of the moment?
NRK’s Erik Bolstad doesn’t think that social media necessarily replaces teletext, nor does the Internet; each one has its own particular purposes. But he noted in a follow-up e-mail conversation that mobile news apps accessed via smartphone could be starting to replace Teletext for users under 50. “We have a very steep increase in mobile news usage, and a slow decline of Teletext, which seems to be related,” he writes. Teletext was designed to be used for quick, frequent headline-checking, rather than long reads or analysis, he explains, and many mobile news apps have the same function and usage patterns.
Although teletext has survived—even thrived—in Scandinavia for much longer than even its developers could rightfully expect it to, its gradual decline is inevitable. So enjoy its artful simplicity while you can.