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12.03.03

ABOUT THE BBC


BBC goes in the clear on digital satellite


The BBC today (Wednesday 12 March 2003) announced that from 30 May it will, for the first time, broadcast its eight TV channels unencrypted on digital satellite.


This decision means that digital satellite viewers in the UK will, in the future, be able to receive the BBC channels without a Sky viewing card, through any make of digital satellite receiver. Current and future Sky subscribers will still be able to receive all the BBC's services.


It also means that the BBC will save an estimated £85 million over the next five years because it will no longer be using BSkyB's Conditional Access system.


Of the savings, £40 million will be used to improve access to all the BBC's regional services on digital satellite (DSAT). The BBC national services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, plus, for the first time, all 15 regional variations of BBC ONE in England will all be available on DSAT and listed together on Sky's Electronic Programme Guide (EPG).


BBC Director-General Greg Dyke said: "This is an important decision for the BBC which will save us a considerable amount of money. It will also bring new benefits to viewers right across the country, will broaden the appeal of digital satellite and enable as many people as possible to get the BBC's digital channels.


"For the first time ever, all the BBC's regional and national services will be available to viewers right across the UK. This means that a Scot living in London can get BBC ONE Scotland, or a native of Yorkshire, living in Cornwall could watch regional programmes from their home region."


Today's decision has been triggered by two events. Firstly, the BBC's five year contract with BSkyB for conditional access ends in May, so alternative options can be considered.


Secondly, by moving all the BBC's services to the Astra 2D satellite, whose signals are tightly focused, the BBC can limit broadcasting principally to the UK. This removes the need to encrypt for rights purposes.


However, to ensure that satellite viewers continue to receive the right regional version when they watch BBC ONE or BBC TWO, the BBC will need a one-off change from Sky, for which it has offered to pay a fair price, including a profit margin.


This involves a simple adaptation to the EPG software which allows the viewer to select the regional service they want so they always get 'their' BBC ONE or BBC TWO.


However, if this is not achieved, the BBC will still go ahead with broadcasting its services unencrypted on DSAT.


Notes to Editors


• There are currently 6.6 million Sky subscribers who will continue to receive all the BBC channels. Anyone else with a Sky box, including the estimated 1 million homes that have 'churned' out of subscription or opted for a non subscription 'solus' card, will also continue to receive the BBC's services.


• Ever since the BBC started broadcasting on satellite, it has paid Sky a fee for 'conditional access'. This has meant that the BBC's signal is scrambled (encrypted) to ensure that it is only received in the UK and that audiences get the right regional service for where they live.


• The BBC pays the uplink costs to the satellite and for the cost of Astra satellite capacity. It paid Sky for conditional access and a charge for listing on the EPG.


• There are currently nearly 80 TV channels broadcasting in the clear on satellite in Europe, plus 61 radio stations, including CNN, EuroNews and Turner Classic Movies.


• CNN currently pay Sky just under £30,000 for their EPG listing. The BBC expects to pay a comparable price as it moves to an unencrypted transmission and ceases to require conditional access.


• The national and regional services available on the EPG will include the 15 English regional versions of BBC ONE, plus the English-wide version of BBC TWO, plus the national versions of BBC ONE and BBC TWO in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.


• The BBC will continue to support the other British public service broadcasters to get a satellite 'must carry' clause as an amendment to the Communications Bill, which is now heading for the House of Lords. The BBC will also continue to argue for clarification in the Bill that 'due prominence', under the ITC's EPG code, means making the right regional service available via slots 101 and 102.


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