2012 is set to be the BBC's greatest year of broadcasting. In BBC Distribution, we are currently making preparations for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee followed closely by the London 2012 Olympic Games, not to mention the Euros, Wimbledon, the European Championship Athletics, The Scottish Open ... and many other great events.
Most of these events will be brought to you by the BBC using our existing services, but for the Olympics we have some special changes planned, as readers of Roger Mosey's blog will know. In preparation, I wanted to give you some more detail of the changes we will be making to our TV and radio services to bring you the best possible Olympics experience.
- BBC Three's hours will be extended on all platforms
- 24 Olympics sports channels will be launched on Sky, Freesat and Virgin Media, available in both HD and SD
- A high definition BBC Red Button video service will be launched on Freeview
- BBC Red Button video service 302 on Freeview will return
- 5 live Olympics Extra will launch on DAB
- The Space will bring the Cultural Olympiad to Freeview
BBC Three Extended Hours
BBC Three will be one of the BBC's flagship channels for the London 2012 Olympic Games and so for the first time we're going to be making the channel available during the morning and afternoon. On satellite we will be doing this using some recently vacated capacity on our existing Astra 1N Transponder 45. On Freeview, whilst Parliament is in recess, we will use BBC Parliament's capacity. This means that for Freeview viewers, BBC Parliament will be off-air during the Olympics, which was also the case during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. BBC Parliament will continue on satellite and cable platforms with its usual summer schedule.
All satellite, cable and terrestrial viewers should be able to enjoy the extra sports coverage on the extended BBC Three without needing to do anything to their TV or set-top-box.
24 Live Streams of Olympics Coverage
As Roger announced on his blog we are going to add 24 SD and 24 HD channels to Sky, Freesat and Virgin Media to allow you to watch sports from every venue from first thing in the morning until last thing at night. The BBC channels will be part of the BBC's Red Button service but will also appear in the EPG along with full schedule information to allow you to record any events you might otherwise miss. You won't need to do anything to receive these BBC channels and they will be free, but you will need an HD box to view the HD ones. The streams will be launched just before the Olympics in time to carry the very first events on 25 July 2012. I know some of you want to know exactly which satellite transponders will be carrying these services and we will publish that information nearer the time alongside our existing satellite frequency information on the Reception Advice FAQ site.
Some Freeview HD receivers will also be able to access the 24 live streams over an internet connection using the new BBC Sports App for connected TVs.
High Definition BBC Red Button on Freeview HD
Freeview HD may be only just over 2 years old, but already 5 million TVs and digiboxes have been sold in the UK. Thanks to a lot of hard work and the ingenuity of BBC Research & Development and our technology suppliers, there is now capacity on Freeview HD for a fifth HD channel, alongside BBC One HD, BBC HD, ITV1 HD (STV HD for viewers in Scotland) and Channel 4 HD (Clirlun for viewers in Wales). We are currently working hard on finding a permanent use for this 5th slot. In the meantime, to make the most of this valuable asset during the Olympics, the fifth slot will be used to give viewers an HD BBC Red Button stream on Freeview channel 304. The channel will show the same content as is available on BBC Red Button video service 301 but it will be native HD. As with 301, the channel will be scheduled and listed in the EPG to enable you to book recordings but the primary method of access will be via a simple BBC Red Button application which we will enable on our HD channels.
Thanks to the clever way that most Freeview HD receivers work, viewers won't have to re-tune because the service should appear automatically in the EPG. But if you find that you don't have anything at channel 304 by the middle of July then you should re-tune your receiver.
The Return of BBC Red Button 302 on Freeview
No doubt many of you will remember that on Freeview we used to have a second BBC Red Button video stream which appeared in the EPG on channel 302. Well, it is making a brief return to Freeview for the Olympics. Because BBC Three is becoming a 24hr service on Freeview using BBC Parliament's capacity, BBC Three doesn't need to share capacity with CBBC during the Olympics. This means that we can use CBBC's off-hours (from 7pm) to broadcast BBC Red Button 302. The 302 channel was made available in the EPG from 26 April nationwide. You can check if you have it or not simply by trying to tune to channel number 302. If you see our message you are good to go, otherwise you will need to re-tune your digital TV or box to pick it up. I've included a link to some helpful advice on how to do this below.
Note for CBBC viewers in Northern Ireland and North-East England: By the summer there will be just two parts of the UK still to go through digital switchover: Northern Ireland and North East England. For viewers in these areas we are making an additional change to move CBBC to a different channel number - but just for the period of the Olympic Games. This is to do with the way that BBC Three and CBBC usually share capacity. So just for viewers in these two areas, CBBC will temporarily move from channel 70 to channel 73 on Freeview.
Viewers in Northern Ireland and North East England will need to re-tune between now and the Olympics to carry on watching CBBC, but the benefit of that re-tune is that you will gain access to our additional BBC Red Button service 302 (see above). During the Olympics, CBBC's usual channel number, 70, will show a message to remind viewers to go to channel 73. If you live in one of these areas you should be able to see channel 73 once you've done a re-tune. The good news is that the temporary channel number means that you will not need to do a second re-tune when the Olympics finish in August in order to get CBBC back at channel 70. Given that switchover this autumn will require you to re-tune your Freeview TV or box twice, we thought that viewers would appreciate our removing the need to re-tune an extra time.
This change doesn't impact Freeview viewers across the rest of the country, who can continue to watch CBBC at channel 70. Nor does it affect satellite or cable viewers where CBBC will stay on its current channel number.
BBC Radio 5 live Olympics Extra on DAB
In order to offer additional listening choice as well as viewing choice during the Olympics, we will be launching a special Olympics radio channel: 5 live Olympics Extra. If the service hasn't appeared automatically on your DAB digital radio by 23 July, then try retuning.
Finally, in support of what promises to be an amazing summer of culture we will be carrying 'The Space' which is an experimental service developed by The Arts Council England in partnership with the BBC. The service launched on 1 May at https://thespace.org as a browser based service accessible on connected TVs, tablets, mobiles and computers. It will give arts and culture organisations the opportunity to experiment and engage with new and existing audiences in a completely new digital environment. The Space uses your broadband connection to deliver free content, such as plays from Shakespeare's Globe, live dance from Sadler's Wells, a virtual recreation of John Peel's home studio and rare archive content from the BFI.
Viewers who have certain Freeview HD TVs or boxes and are able to plug them into their broadband connection can access The Space on channel 117. If the channel doesn't appear automatically for you it's best to do a re-tune. When you tune to channel 117 The Space will tell you if you have a compatible digital TV or box and will help you connect it to your broadband if you haven't done so already. The Space keeps a list of devices which are known to work with the service on its FAQ and as the project progresses it expects to add to this.
You can read more about the Launch of The Space on the BBC Internet blog and on the About the BBC blog.
We have thought very carefully about the way we have organised our channel changes to minimise the interventions that our audiences will need to make.
Viewers on satellite and cable should not need to take any action because the changes to BBC Three and the extra BBC Olympics channels should appear for you automatically. BBC Parliament and CBBC will not be affected.
Viewers on Freeview who don't currently have channel 302 in their EPG will need to re-tune to watch all our services during the Olympics. CBBC viewers in Northern Ireland and North East England will need to re-tune to pick up CBBC in its temporary home of channel 73. If you need help with re-tuning, an excellent place to go for advice is www.tvretune.co.uk which provides detailed instructions for many different makes and models of Freeview receiver.
As with changes we've made in the past we'll also be putting information up on our Reception Advice website and on BBC Red Button p9991 on Freeview. Nearer the time we will be reminding Freeview viewers to re-tune using pop-up messages onscreen as well as a reminder on the BBC Red Button bridge.
I trust that this information helps you understand the changes we are making in preparation for the London 2012 Olympic Games along with anything you need to do in order to enjoy all our new and extended services. I hope you can see that we've thought really hard about how to get the most out of our capacity and how to make it as easy as possible for you to enjoy the full range of this amazing summer in the BBC's greatest year of broadcasting.
Alix Pryde is the Director of BBC Distribution