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Changes to BBC services on satellite and cable: An Update

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Alix Pryde Alix Pryde | 10:10 UK time, Friday, 23 September 2011

BW photograph of an satellite dish

"reflecting aerial", a BBC R&D prototype satellite dish, 1970

Alix wrote on August 26 about planned changes to how some BBC channels are digitally transmitted. A month later, some BBC channels are now moving between satellite transponders. Alix blogs now to let you know how the changes are going.

I thought you would appreciate an update on the progress we have been making on this change. There are two areas that I think will be of particular interest to you:

  1. Further details of the technical changes
  2. A summary of the communications we have been putting in place



1. The Technical Changes

BBC News, BBC Parliament and BBC ALBA are currently being "dual illuminated", i.e., they are still being broadcast on transponder DSat 3 and now also being broadcast on their new home transponders (DSat 2, 5 and 6 respectively). This enables the platform operators that use our satellite broadcasts to switch from the old feed to the new feed:

  • Freesat made its switch between the current and new transponders yesterday (Thursday 22 September). So if you are a Freesat viewer, please remember to check that any recordings you have booked on these three TV channels are still scheduled after this point. Our work with Freesat and testing leads us to believe that the vast majority of Freesat viewers should not need to do anything special, but if you have any trouble tuning into these three channels, try turning your receiver off and on again. If you are still having trouble, the Freesat call centre will be best placed to advise you and can be reached on 08450 990 990.
  • Virgin Media has also made its switch yesterday. Virgin Media customers should not need to take any action.
  • Sky will be making its switch in the afternoon on Monday 26 September. So if you are a Sky viewer, please remember to check that any recordings you have booked on these three TV channels are still scheduled after this point. And if you have any difficulty receiving the three channels, the Sky customer call centre on 08442 411 653 should be able to help you.
  • If you have another type of satellite receiver and you need to perform a manual retune, please do this at some point between now and Monday 26 September to avoid experiencing a break in your reception of these channels. The tuning details for the relevant transponders can be found via the link provided in my original posting above.

As for the changes to the BBC Red Button ETV streams:

  • The new ETV Stream applications (on all satellite platforms) will begin using the video and audio on DSat7 in the next couple of weeks. Various parts of the BBC Red Button service on satellite will be unavailable for short periods on that day. Don't worry; these should return when we have finished our work.
  • We then intend to broadcast colour bars on the following day on DSat3 for a couple of hours to allow us to confirm that all applications are pointed correctly at DSat7.
  • We will then be switching off DSat3 on 7 October.

2. Communications

We have been liaising with various colleagues and partners to help make sure that (a) our audiences are aware of the changes in advance and that (b) in the small proportion of cases where some intervention may be needed by the viewer, the people they call for help are well-informed.

To support the first of these goals, to ensure our audiences are aware:

  • BBC Red Button page 998 has been loaded with information and advice about this change.
  • BBC News presenters made announcements on air yesterday about the changes to Freesat (there was one around 10.30 for example), pointing viewers to BBC Red Button page 998 for further information. We will liaise with BBC News to do something similar on Monday for Sky viewers.
  • BBC Parliament is broadcasting a "slide" in some of its programme junctions alerting viewers to the change.
  • BBC ALBA has a message on screen during the day alerting viewers to the change and pointing them to BBC Red Button page 998 for more information. There is also a message on its website.
  •  The Radio Times' "Doctor Digital" has highlighted the change as the first item in the current edition (17-23 September, page 153). We also sent details of the change to a number of technical magazines in the hope that they will share the news with their readers too.

Then in support of the second goal:

  • We have briefed the BBC, Freesat and Sky call centres so that agents should be able to provide appropriate advice.
  • We have sought to brief the aerial installer community by liaising with the CAI (Confederation of Aerial Industries) and the RDI (Registered Digital Installers), providing them with information with which to brief their members through their website and/or newsletter.

And of course this blog itself will hopefully be presented to people who perform an internet search seeking assistance.

So to draw this update to a close, I hope this shows you how hard we try to make sure our audiences have a smooth experience through the technical changes we make. Also, I’d like to thank the people who have taken the time and trouble to give us suggestions on how we could improve on the communications around previous changes we have made. As you can see, we listen to and take on board this helpful feedback and use it to help us up our game in how we serve our audiences.

Alix Pryde is the Director of BBC Distribution

Update Thursday 29th September 10 a.m.

I wanted to give you a brief update on the implementation of this change. Freesat and Virgin Media successfully moved over on Thursday 22 September followed by Sky on Monday 26 September. The move of our ETV services was carried out yesterday (Wednesday 28 September) and you may have noticed that parts of our BBC Red Button service were unavailable for periods of time.


I'm pleased to report that we have completed our changes now and all remaining services are back on-air using DSat7. We have some more testing scheduled for today when we will put colour bars up on DSat3 to check that the streams there are no longer being used by Sky, Virgin Media or Freesat.


If you are a satellite or cable viewer, I hope that this transition has been a smooth one for you. My heartfelt thanks to the many teams involved for all the care and attention to detail they have put into implementing the complex changes involved and communicating with our audiences about them.



  • Comment number 1.

    For listeners/viewers outside UK it means that the television channels (BCC News, etc) have disappeared from Astra 2, 11954 Ghz (H). OK.
    The wording of your announcement does not make it clear if the BBC Radios are to stay. May I remind you that a few years ago when BBC was moving from Astra 1 to Astra 2, and later when the whole cluster was moved to a narrow-beam transponder (serving UK only), we reminded the BBC of its own solemn promise that the Radios, which are not covered by licence fee restrictions, would not be switched off. After a break of a few months, the BBC did return to a Europe-wide transponders with the radios, then with BBC News. I don't mind so much your taking away the TV, but I insist that you stick to your promise. I do not believe that cost of renting space for c. 10 radio channels differs depending on whether its an Astra 2B wide beam or Astra 2D narrow beam.
    The T7 Streams (TV) that can now be seen on 11954 GHz must cost a lot of money to broadcast, yet their content is nil.
    bay111, Poland

  • Comment number 2.

    bay111 cont.
    The decision to abandon what you call DSat3 on October 7 has also political implications.
    1/ Have you asked the Scottish and the Welsh Governments whether they wish to see BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Radio Wales go off the air for listeners in Europe?
    2/ As far as news from Britain is concerned, viewers of Europe's prime satellite site (Astra 2), will be left with what's offered by France24, Aljazeera, Press TV and/or Russia Today. Some people already say that their coverage is better than that of the BBC. It clear that we will all have to come round to this judgment, as it were by default.
    bay111, Poland

  • Comment number 3.

    With these changes, it is impossible to wacth BBC Parliament in my area (Astra 2B, South Europe). I am very fond of it, and I am so sorry.
    So, is there any possibility to reconsider this unfortunaly change again and to let the former connection?
    Satellite services must join people in different countries, never separate.

  • Comment number 4.

    An incredibly negative development, especially in these troubled times, to effectively restrict BBC News to the UK only. SKY must be loving this further erosion of BBC coverage. What ever happened to Television Without Borders?

  • Comment number 5.

    I an dismayed that I have now lost both World Service radio and BBC News when I am in Spain - I don't want to keep coming back to the UK so I can see the relevant live news feeds that you have hitherto provided via the wide beam satellite.
    I totally agree with others who see that the BBC has decided to restrict their output to basically the UK only.
    I do not want to see "edited" news as supplied by Sky and others (CNN, NHK world, for example) when I am in Spain since there must also be many UK nationals in Europe on civil and public duties who also would like to have up to date live news FROM THEIR OWN COUNTRY'S national broadcaster.
    I thought the UK was still in Europe.....
    I really wonder if the BBC is transgressing European laws in this case.....

  • Comment number 6.


    The World Service website says that World Service radio is on Hot Bird 8 - these changes are, I understand, on Astra 2B.

    You can find out more about how to listen to the BBC's international services at the "How and When to Listen" section of the BBC World Service Website.

  • Comment number 7.

    Whilst I can understand the frustration of ex-pats and BBC fans on the continent unfortunately in these times of budget cuts the BBC must make efficiencies. It cannot be argued against that maintaining licence-fee funded services for licence fee payers must be the priority at present. If it's cheaper for the BBC to concentrate its services on fewer, narrower beam transponders then, as a UK licence fee payer, this is what I would expect them to do to ensure I can continue to receive the range of programming I pay for.

    BBC World Service Radio and BBC World News TV are intended to provide service to persons residing outside the UK, and are still freely available across Europe and the world on a number of satellite platforms. If that is insufficient then I understand the BBC has a number of commercially funded channels like BBC Entertainment available for subscription via local satellite operators.

  • Comment number 8.

    The Cause: Here in Italy, we are all very aggrieved at the loss of the BBC News and Red Button. Of course CJ_Epping is correct (see above). However, it doesn't change the reality that this is a major loss felt by many and not simply limited to the ex-pat community.

    The effect: Ex-pats are an ingenious bunch and no doubt people will and are finding ways around this. A friend now has a 3m satellite dish planted mid-olive grove and happily watches everything he so wishes! Others are signing up in their droves for internet services which stream UK TV.

    The Hope: We would simply wish the BBC to strongly consider broadcasting the BBC News Channel it so that Europe can watch!

  • Comment number 9.

    As yet another expat (part year) in Southern Europe, maintaining a house in the UK I pay the full whack BBC licence fee (like very many others) but am only able to use 3 months out of the 12 months I pay for in the UK! So I have a very valid gripe, but yes Al Zazheera does provide an excellent news service but I am to be deprived of the comedy act in the palace of Westminster that does affect us and as another viewer rightly points out UK citizens are being deprived by virtue of location within the EU.
    On the other hand (touch wood) we still have ITV and STV, thank God! plus CNN, CNN9, Russia and Ariran so can seek for a balanced opinion.

  • Comment number 10.

    Exactly Val, in years gone by the BBC was the voice of the free world, regrettably now it seems to be losing its way and the original intentions of its founders, going like the bankers and those overpaid ceo's and members of the civil service who now seem motivated purely by greed and deteriorating morals which are all too often forming the basis of tv programs.
    Many of the other countries in Europe and especially in the former communist nations have a cultural program that shows only items of national heritage of which the nation should be proud, the BBC should emulate and build on this not merely chase the common denominator and what is deemed most popular, education, documentaries and culture are beyond price so should be created and broadcast regardless of so called viewer statistics that can so readily be rigged like all statistics.

  • Comment number 11.

    I live in the small Etruscan town of Sutri,Central Italy,and I have found it very difficult,to say it impossible, to get reception of BBC channels.Your broadcasts are concentrated solely on Astra 2D whose narrow footprint segregates most viewers in Europe to complete blindness and sets them apart as outcasts!
    Now you (the Governors) have done it again:moving BBC News to cover only the UK under the pretence to shave off costs! What an opprobrium!!!! Perhaps you should consider to migrate all of the BBC programmes to a satellite network served by Astra 2A/2B either North or South beams,thus covering most of Europe.
    You could consider charging a small licence fee for it,I'm confident you would have an eager audience ready to consider the option.......Meanwhile I am left with the only alternative left to me which is the one of having to watch SKY News as an alternative of last resort......boring!!!!!

  • Comment number 12.

    Like Scotty, I have a house in the UK for which I pay the annual BBC Television licence, although most of the time I live in Central Italy. Radio 4 with the Today programme is our lifeline and thankfully still available on the wider beam but the disappearance of BBC NEWS with it's red button is extremely galling. I can quite understand the apparent outcry from UK resident licence payers having to share the channels they pay for with free-loading ex-pats in Europe. How much money has the switching off of the wider beam transponder saved the BBC? If these European ex-pats bought a UK Television Licence, could this not be used to gain access to encrypted BBC channels thus possibly increasing the BBC's income?

  • Comment number 13.

    I concur totally with MountSkiBatten et al - if one can receive a UK pension direct in Spain (and the other EU countries) then why can't we be allowed to pay for a UK TV licence (by proxy?)and receive (encrypted) BBC News on the same old wide beam satellite frequency at least!!
    Let's face it, the Red button streams are now on the old BBC News transponder......

  • Comment number 14.

    What a pity the BBC is gradually becoming "The Sun" and restricting its' activities to programs for children. The United Kingdom is now the only major European country without a service in its own language available in most of Europe on the radio, and gradually it is withdrawing from television. I remember when the BBC was the only foreign language service available in many European countries and provided a diet of quality entertainment over large parts of the world via the BBC World service. Regrettably the quality of its journalism has fallen well below the standards of other broadcasters, and there is no longer any entertainment available from the BBC on the radio outside the United Kingdom.
    Their television has been declining in much the same way, so perhaps it is better that they stop transmitting it to other countries. Those of us who used to listen are now very old, and younger people seem content to listen to rhythmic sounds on solid state recording devices.
    I still use a valve radio, and with the aid of a very long piece of wire can get the BBC Long Wave on 200 metres (sorry 198 since they let the French move Droitwich from the middle of the dial so that they did not have to change the Lyon transmitter.)
    At the same time my 3.4 metre parabola also enables me to see all of the rubbish they transmit for the present but when they move to the more expensive Astra 1N I suspect I will have to fork out for a 10 metre dish, which will probably need another letter to Cavaliere Berlusconi to obtain "planning permission"...

  • Comment number 15.

    Until now my "sanity lifeline" here in southern Sweden has been BBC radio 3, 4 & 7 on my Astra 2A satellite. I gather that this satellite will soon cease transmission. What then will happen to these channels on satellite ?
    At times I really do not understand BBC's stinginess regarding ex-pats. Surely in this technoligical age it cannot be neither difficult not expensive to arrange for us to pay a suitable fee by way of a smart card or the like. In the days of the old valve radios one could get BBC over most of Europe which was in accordance with the Reithian aim of the general principle of "peoples speaking unto peoples". Is the BBC not aware of the enormous amount of goodwill it creates for non-native speakers in mainland Europe ?


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