Satellite Shuffling: reducing BBC Red Button and expanding BBC One HD

Tuesday 2 October 2012, 16:53

Alix Pryde Alix Pryde Director, BBC Distribution

Just as the Paralympics kicked off at the start of September I wrote about a modification to our HD satellite transponder that I can happily report went ahead successfully as planned on 27 September 2012. This increased the capacity available to us and was the first of a number of modifications we are making to our satellite transmissions over the coming months to enable us to implement two key changes to our service line-up:

  1. In the middle of October we will be reducing the number of BBC Red Button video streams on satellite (and cable) to one. This will mean we close our ‘DSat7’ transponder (Astra 2A tp 13).
  2. Over the next few months we will be launching BBC One HD for the nations of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. They will each be available on terrestrial, satellite and cable platforms. In order to carry these services on satellite we’ll be opening a new transponder (Astra 1N tp 61) which we will be referring to as DSat8.

These changes will affect different people in different ways, and I know from reading your responses to my previous blogs that some of you take issue with the changes, so I wanted to explain the thinking behind the decisions as well as what will be happening from a technical standpoint.

1. BBC Red Button video streams

In November 2010, the BBC Trust published its review of the BBC Red Button and challenged the BBC Executive “to reduce its distribution costs by providing a more consistent level of service across different digital TV platforms”. Accordingly, the BBC’s Delivering Quality First proposals in October 2011 set out a plan to reduce the number of BBC Red Button video streams on satellite and cable from five to one and save the costs of one transponder.

I know that the BBC Red Button service as a whole is very appreciated and used by a wide section of the population, who value the ease of access to text and video at the press of a button. And the BBC is committed to maintaining a vibrant and popular red button service. We have exciting future plans for the BBC Red Button, as my colleague Tom Williams explains on the BBC Internet blog.

What’s happening when?

Turning to the technical changes involved, as I’m sure you can imagine, closing a transponder is not as simple as flicking a switch. There are a number of stages we’ll be working through in the next few weeks. Most of them should be invisible to you but there are a couple of dates in particular to note.

Step 1: Move the TV services

The one remaining BBC Red Button service will move from DSat7 to DSat1 (Astra 1N tp 45) but in order to make this fit and optimise how our more and less capacity-hungry channels are arranged, we need to shuffle some of our TV services around. So in the early hours of 12 October 2012:

• BBC Three / CBBC (DSat1) and BBC News (DSat 2) will move to DSat6 (Astra 1N tp 48)

• BBC ALBA and BBC One North East & Cumbria will both move from DSat6 to DSat2 (Astra 1N tp 47)

• BBC Four / CBeebies (DSat2) and BBC Red Button stream 1 (DSat7) will move to DSat1

Step 2: Move the radio services

On 15 October 2012 we will move our radio services on the Sky platform from DSat2 and DSat7 to be more evenly spread across DSat2 and DSat5 (Astra 1N tp 46). On the 16 October 2012 these changes will take effect on Freesat and Virgin Media. As each of the radio services moves there will be a small outage of a couple of minutes.

This will also mean that our radio services move from a European beam to a UK spot beam as DSat7 is the last of our European beam transponders. We use a UK beam for our TV services, so the radio services will be as available in the UK as our TV services. But it does mean that the radio services will no longer be receivable across much of mainland Europe. I’ve no doubt that some readers of this blog will be disappointed by this news. But I’m afraid European-beam transponders are not cost effective for us. We broadcast our services for UK audiences “in the clear” or unencrypted (which is what makes Freesat possible) and so for rights reasons we are limited in terms of the services that we are able to broadcast on a European beam. The BBC’s radio station for listeners outside the UK is the BBC World Service, and it is widely available throughout the world. In Europe you can receive the World Service in many different ways including on satellite from Eutelsat Hot Bird 8 at 13° East. It’s also available online 24 hours a day via the listen live link from the BBC World Service homepage.

On 15 October 2012 we will also stop using the four other BBC Red Button streams.

Step 3: Close the transponder

DSat7 will then close at the end of October.

How will this affect me?

Full details of the new line-up will be published on our reception advice page from 12 October 2012.

The change will mean different things to different people:

•  If you watch TV or listen to radio using Freeview or Virgin Media, you will not be affected.

•  If you have Sky, you should not notice the change and shouldn’t have to do anything. If you do have an issue receiving any of our channels after these dates, you can try unplugging your Sky set top box, waiting 30 seconds and plugging it back in again. If that doesn’t resolve your problem it’s best to contact Sky on 08442 411 653.

•  If you have Freesat you may need to put your digital box or TV into standby for 30 seconds and then switch it back on again. If the channels are still unavailable then carry out a 'Freesat channel retune'. Full instructions can be found in the manual for your digital TV or box. Further help with retuning can be found at or by calling the Freesat customer support team on 08450 990 990.

•  If you have any other kind of satellite receiver that can currently receive our services you’ll need to either get it to retune or configure it manually using the details on our reception advice page. Please consult the manual for more information.

As well as briefing Sky and Freesat, we have contacted satellite and aerial installer trade associations – the CAI (Confederation of Aerial Industries) and the RDI (Registered Digital Installers) – providing them with information with which to brief their members in case anyone experiencing a problem contacts an installer rather than their platform operator. We have also put information about this change on BBC Red Button page 998 and it will be in the Radio Times because we know not everyone has access to the internet.

2. BBC One HD for the nations

We will be launching BBC One HD for Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland over the next few months. I’ll update you with exact dates when we have them confirmed. We are launching them across all of our broadcast platforms so the channels will be available subscription-free on Sky HD, Freeview HD, Virgin Media and Freesat HD at the same position in the EPG where BBC One HD is currently found. As with our other nations and regional channels on satellite, the nations HD services won’t carry audio description. So we will be listing the current version of BBC One HD in the 900s on Sky HD and Freesat HD so that viewers in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland will still be able to access audio description.

If you live in Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland, you should find that the service appears automatically from launch if you have an HD satellite or cable service. If you have Freeview HD, you may well find that your TV or set-top-box retunes itself to pick up the channel. If not, you will need to do a re-tune after the new service has launched. Help with this can be found on Whichever platform you use, if you have scheduled recordings on BBC One HD, please check them after your new national HD service launches to make sure you don’t miss any episodes of your favourite programmes.

When I mentioned in my previous blog that preparations for the launch of these services were underway, a number of readers posted comments querying why the BBC has chosen to launch BBC One HD for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland instead other BBC TV channels in HD. So I thought I’d include an explanation of that in this main post. At its heart, it comes down to striking a balance between the different technical and cost considerations on DTT compared with satellite.

•  Technical: On DTT, we are constrained in terms of the space available to launch services in HD, whereas on satellite, the capacity is there…at a price.

•  Cost: On satellite, it costs essentially the same to launch an HD service whether it is a pan-UK TV channel, like BBC Three or BBC Four, or a national or regional variant of BBC One HD. However, on DTT, it is somewhat cheaper to launch a national or regional variant, as we tailor the network in that part of the UK to point to the new feed.

So with limited DTT spectrum and limited funds, our expansion of HD has focused on the nations versions of BBC One HD.

One reader pointed out that there are a number of English regions that have larger populations than the nations, and asked why they weren’t prioritised. Population size is one factor we have borne in mind. However, another key factor is the length of time that the BBC One schedule in that part of the UK is different from a “network” feed. For English regions, this time is mostly made up by the regional news bulletins. However, in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the schedule can vary significantly from network particularly in peak time. So this launch of the HD services for the nations will help to make BBC One HD more relevant to its viewers in the nations and more true to the SD service the BBC broadcasts.

One other reader suggested BBC Two HD as a priority, and I’m pleased to confirm that plans announced earlier this year to convert BBC HD into BBC Two HD are progressing towards completion next year.

Finally, some readers were curious to know how we planned to fit BBC HD and four versions of BBC One HD into a single transponder without messing up picture quality. The answer is that we’re not. We have bought a new DVB-S2 transponder (DSat8) alongside the existing DSat4. Each of these transponders will carry two versions of BBC One HD and DSat4 will also carry BBC HD, as it does now. (We are evaluating options for the spare capacity on DSat8.) My esteemed colleagues in BBC Research & Development have put a great deal of painstaking work into the configurations of these two transponders to try to match the picture quality of each version of BBC One HD to the one we have at the moment, and maintain BBC HD’s picture quality, for which I am very grateful.

So we have a busy autumn ahead of us in BBC Distribution, helping to deliver the above transitions. I hope your experience of these changes will be a smooth one and that this post has given you a clearer picture of the rationale and work behind them.

Alix Pryde is Director, BBC Distribution

Red Button Development Editor Tom Williams has also written about changes to Red Button on the BBC Internet Blog. 


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Does this mean the end of coverage of multiple snooker tables during the championships the BBC covers? If so, that will really be a step in the wrong direction. It's not always the match that BBC2 has chosen to go with that's the most interesting or exciting...

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Tom Williams, the missing link, or at least the link missing at time of posting

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Hi, Alix thanks for the post.
    It's good to hear that you won't be cramming all the bbc one hd's into one transponder. I am also glad that you are keeping them all 1920x1080.
    This is properly not your department, but if you could pass on the info, I would like to thank you for removing the DOG from bbc one hd, it looks so much better now without it. I wish the same could be done for bbc hd and the others.

    I would also like to say a big thanks to the R&D department and yourself for all of your hard work you have put in.

    One thing I'm still unsure about is the AC3 audio streams, on DSat which are down to 192kbps, which I have found on occasions to effect the quality of audio on bbc one hd especially, where it seems to have a slight but audible crackle, but switching to the audio description track gets rid of it, and it doesn't happen on other channles or audio sources. I am listening via a 5.1 amp. Just a thourght.

    Many thanks again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    So because DTT is limited, you again use that a a template for how much the BBC will and will not expand into HD services and what will be culled to keep the DTT users happy, at the expense of those more millions that use either satellite & cable..
    When o when will the BBC drop this silly, stupid and pathetic line from the book of excuses about platform neutrality and exploit each platform to the max it can take, not limit everything to the one platform that can handle next to nothing.
    And, i wouldn't be boasting about BBC HD PQ, its shocking if not a shambles and frankly, embarrassing to even claim it to be HD, but of course, the BBC don't listen to the masses that have been telling you this for how long..?? You listen to one or two folks that know nowt.
    BBC One HD Scot, Wales & NI are a good idea in principle, but the fact you will then go ahead and kill off BBC HD, leaving BBC Three & BBC Four, with no outlet for HD content, is nothing short of braindead. The channels are still not 24 hours a day, and now, will be left with no HD.
    I can't believe i pay a LF for all this nonsense, yet those on the European continent, get stunning BBC HD content, topend bitrates and yet the BBC in the UK, paid for by the public, get something thats nothing remotely to be proud of in terms of HD quality.
    Im also in the mindset to think you took the BBC One HD logo off, because it looks nothing close to real HD, like ITV, Channel4 & NHK are able to deliver.
    A reply to any of this? Ive more hope of winning millions on the lottery haven't i.
    I wonder if this will make it through the moderation process...

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Have BBC Research & Development looked at possibility of transmitting just one single HD stream when all 4 nations are in sync but switching to a SD stream for each nation when necessary for example local news. All the SD variations & the HD stream would be on the one mux. Each Sky/freesat decoder would switch to the correct SD stream depending on postcode while SD streams are transmitted but switch back to a common HD after. A DVB-S2 mux could easily handle multiple SD (18 odd versions of BBC1) MPEG4 encoded channels. Obviously some legacy version(s) of BBC1 would need to be transmitted on a DVB-S mux in mpeg2 for any non HD decoder users. This method if possible would reduce the number of satellite muxes required by BBC & still provide localised programming for those who have a HD decoder. SD users would need to upgrade to HD to keep their local BBC1 versions but would at least have access to some region of BBC1 if legacy DVB-S mpeg2 version is kept.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Whilst I'm happy the BBC have taken the decision not to cram all five HD feeds in to a single transponder it is disappointing DSAT users (Sky/Freesat) and to some degree VM too all suffer at the expense of the bandwidth limited DTT. If no further spectrum is ever made available, as is looking more and more likely on DTT, then surely the BBC's natural technological expansion cannot be halted because one platform can't handle a couple of extra services when others can? BBC HD was available for three years before it arrived on DTT, platform neutrality wasn't an issue then otherwise it wouldn't have launched until 2010?

    With all childrens programming now coming from Salford and thus the majority of it being made in HD, once the CBBC strand finishes on BBC1 and BBC HD morphs in to BBC2 HD then there will be no outlet for this programming in it's native format. Likewise there will be programmes on BBC Three and Four which have no HD outlet once BBC HD goes.

    In principle I do agree with your point about closing the last BBC widebeam transponder. Yes, the expats will all be unhappy but at the end of the day the BBC is a UK licence fee funded operation which is made available freely to the UK public, not necessarily for the rest of Europe to enjoy at our expense! BBC WS TV and Radio is available for international audiences.

    One final point on the subject of transponder reshuffling. I have noticed since the changes last September to move BBC News, Parliament and Alba to 1N transponders, these three services seem to be bandwidth starved at the expense of the rest. BBC News in particular has been throttled back and the PQ degradation is noticeable where before this move it was averaging 3.5Mb/s and PQ better. Is there any chance this will be redressed with these transponder changes?

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    What a shame for an institution like the BBC!!! I mean to go on a UK beam with the main TV channels is somehow reasonable. But to quit broadcasting the radio stations and switch them also to a UK spotbeam transponder is embarrassing. Have the responsible people at the BBC ever heard anything about a united europe, and do they know what it does mean? Certainly not to utterly compartmentalize of all their radio stations, only to safe some bucks on costs of a transponder lease, cause much more than some bucks the 1N transponder will not be cheaper. Another IMPORTANT question at last, will the BBC radio stations be available without geo blocking for us all over europe in the future, or is it planned to block this (last) opportunity too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Will the current version of BBC One HD be listed in the channel 800s on Virgin Media ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    @popeye3 - with due respect, I am quite happy with the picture/audio quality of the BBC HD programmes on Freeview. So much so that I have now cancelled my Virgin Media subscription.

    Why should I have to subsidise those watching via Satellite to get more and better PQ? Would you be willing to pay a higher license fee for better PQ than Freeview?

    And with the rollout of Freeview HD across 97% of the country and the perfectly workable regional solution from terrestrial transmissions, perhaps this is the time for the BBC to further cut back on satellite based transmissions?

    Why should the BBC bother with any regional/national channels on satellite anymore? Sky doesn't (AFAIK) with any of their channels - and ITV/C4 are only different for their local news services / advertising.

    To me, transmitting all the different regional variations across the entire country is a very wasteful approach of satellite capacity.

    With the introduction of local TV next year, perhaps it is time to reinforce the "one nation" approach?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Re Comments 5 and 6 above: I do think it will be a real shame that access to BBC Three and Four and CBBC programmes in HD will have to go to take the BBC HD Channel off air to make room for BBC Two HD: the smorgasboard the BBC HD Channel has been able to provide will be missed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    The Grail: Freeview had the capability of offering loads more in terms of HD from a technological progression point of view but the Government are selling a fifth of UHF Band V spectrum, rumoured to be even more if they want to flog the 700MHz element off too. This means that Satellite and cable are the only platforms able to offer future bandwidth expansion to cope with HD transmissions as like it or not, that's the way TV is going. TV sets are getting bigger and bigger, SD resolution just doesn't cut the mustard anymore for those wanting quality pictures and sound.

    I'd take your argument if you had to subscribe to VM or Sky to get any extra BBC HD services, even if FTA and you needed equipment from both suppliers you'd be tied in to their terms (ie Sky+ recording disabled without subscription) but Freesat offers the same service Freeview does, "buy once, watch forever" with no subscription and free pause, rewind, recording and potentially access to more HD than is technically feasible on Freeview.

    Most people have redundant dishes on their house, if not installation of a Satellite dish isn't expensive and neither is purchase of a decent Freesat receiver or PVR. Like it or not, Satellite is the future for those who want more than five HD channels!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    @neil201 - thanks for your comments.

    I'd query why the need for more than 5 HD channels requires Satellite? As you say, at the moment if you are happy with 4-5 HD channels you either have to go Freeview (for 4 channels) or Freesat (for 5 if you include NHK).

    If you want more than 5 channels - sure - go to Sky or Virgin. But currently there are no more FTA HD channels - mostly, I understand, because Sky has contractually locked the potential other HD channels into subscription only.

    Whilst satellite provided a way of providing multiple streams, the mechanism of providing gigabits worth of data to everyone and then selecting the 10 mbit/sec you need for the one channel you are watching seems very wasteful (see,

    I see terrestrial and satellite broadcasting both as just the current technology - long term the move to IPTV must be the way to go and - with the likes of Youview, Netflix, Blinkbox, Lovefilm and Now TV, and of course iPlayer and all the others. What they all need is a faster broadband link to provide all the 1080P streams needed in a household - roll on Virgin Cable (if it were cheaper) and BT Infinity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    @ The Grail: I agree that the main PSB channels suits most and having these in HD alone satisfies a lot of viewers, it's the sister services that add value and choice I guess, plus offers the chance to catch up on repeats of programmes you may have missed on the PSB's. I for one would like to see BBC Three and Four in HD as there's some great stuff particularly that I like on BBC Four which may have been aired on BBC Two/BBC HD but missed first time around.

    Yes it's bad that Sky have tied up PSB's in to making their HD counterpart channels exclusive and behind a paywall but hopefully as HD matures this will change as exclusivity never lasts forever!

    I too see the future of TV IP-based in 10-15yrs. There will be a need for linear TV, particularly live sport and news, but on-demand TV is definitely the future, delivered via broadband. I'm keen to see what the Connected Red Button service offers and hopefully it will be available across all platforms with 'connected' availability (be it Freeview HD, Freesat HD, Sky + VM). It would be nice to see the return of the news multiscreens via connected means, or be it individually selecting the weather, news headlines, entertainment or what other ex-multiscreen offer they have depending on news stories.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    @neil and the grail - It would be nice to have all PSB channels - the 7 or 8 from the BBC and the 3 from others in HD on all platforms.... and I think it will come - even though one PSB cannot afford to be on DTT HD and hides their DSAT HD behind a pay wall - but the other two are on DTT and DSAT FTA..
    But at the moment the BBC does not have the money - but the DQF channel pairing will means that there will be HD showing of BBC Three and BBC four content - and Joe GLadwin of BBC Children's has said that some children content will be on HD channels...... and of course BBC News can be in HD over night ...

    There is a need for all platforms to be used to get universal coverage - and what the BBC is doing in connected TV - content and technology leads the world ... But through the air emission is very very spectrum efficient for mass audiences ,

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I know you say that you are going to using Astra 1N but it is my understanding that Astra 2F will be replacing 1N very soon. Is this correct or are you not expecting Astra 1N to be replaced this year?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    An interesting blog.

    I'm disappointed that now we're into the promised land of astra 1N (finally) that the BBC has chosen to develop the nations variants of BBC1 in HD only at the moment. I was really hoping that not only would you do this, but there would be a proper roadmap for getting BBC2/3/4/News into HD between 2012 and 2015. BBC2 by the end of 2013 seems a bit slow, but at least it is coming. I can only hope that as in the past the BBC will change it's mind at some appropriate time.

    Platform neutrality seems an outdated policy. The numbers of HD households with freesat/sky/cable is so high now even I've stopped reading what the numbers are! It could be towards the end of this decade or even into the next before a second mux on freeview is made into DVB-S2 and HD channels put on it. Is it a wise policy when by this time ITV2/3/4 HD will probably be on virgin media and possibly even on freesat by that time as well as other PSB channels?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    I really don't care to be patronised and deceived by anyone over the loss of the extra satellite Red Button services - this was purely and simply a crude cost cutting measure and it's about time that the BBC were honest with viewers about this unfortunate move. I do appreciate that the ultimate architect of the current situation was the squalid and compromised Murdoch poodle that was Culture Secretary Hunt but that's still no excuse for the BBC to use mendacious spin about this matter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    To the tens of thousands of UK citizens living on the Continent the decision to drastically reduce the Radio Channel Footprint will be a bodyblow.
    The Overseas Service is of little value to us,who wish to remain in touch with events locally and in the UK generally ,and to listen to our favourite prorammes . Do we no longer exist ?
    For many of us the Radio channels are more important than the TV,whose Programmes frequently lack interest to we of advancing years!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I certainly am Louis Norman Wells!.A Britsh citizen born and brought up in Norfolk.Reached my 87th birthday a week ago,and have lved in France as a pensioner for the last 24 years,moving here on retirement for health and economic reasons,like so many others of my generation.The whole of my career was spent in the Radio and Electronics Industry,so I am well able to understand the technicalities behind the BBC,s decisions. It would be more fitting for the BBC to make its economies elsewhere,salaries for instance, than in the information service it has furnished nationally and to the rest of the World for many generations. A service which is still highly regarded for its truth and lack of partiality

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Louis, sorry to say this so bluntly but the BBC's domestic services are for us UK residents who support the corporation in paying a licence fee. If you choose to live in France then that's your issue in terms of loss of UK PSB radio or TV. I recommend you listen to the French radio networks if you speak French, alternatively BBC World Service radio. If you miss things like this offered in the UK you could always move back to Norfolk!


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