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Changes to BBC services on satellite and cable this autumn

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Alix Pryde Alix Pryde | 16:08 UK time, Friday, 26 August 2011

satellite dishes on flats

Satellite dishes in Tower Hamlets, London

We're planning to make some changes to our satellite transponder line-up in about a month’s time. I wanted to tell you about them in advance in case you find that you have to take some action. For the vast majority of viewers, these changes should occur seamlessly and require no intervention.

However, a few of you may need to switch your receiver off and on again or retune it in order to continue to receive all of the BBC services available to you.

In terms of content, no TV channels or radio services are closing as a result of these changes, although we will be closing a few of the least watched video streams accessed via the BBC Red Button, but most viewers will probably not notice much difference.

The changes in detail

The key change is that we will be closing the transponder we call DSat3 (Astra 2B transponder 38) on 7 October 2011.

As you may have read, the BBC Trust’s review of the BBC Red Button service, published in November 2010, challenged the BBC to reduce the cost of the Red Button service, particularly its distribution costs. The Review also highlighted the disparity in the number of video streams offered to satellite and cable viewers compared with terrestrial viewers.

By closing a few of the Red Button video streams on satellite (and hence cable), and moving some TV channels between transponders, we will be able to close a transponder and reduce our distribution costs.

This also reduces the disparity in level of service across different digital TV platforms:

  • At the moment we broadcast seven ‘Enhanced TV’ (ETV) video streams, which are used to provide enhanced coverage of BBC programmes (for example, sporting and music events). But outside of busy periods the streams are not all fully utilised. As a result of this change, the number of ETV streams on satellite and, consequently, cable, will reduce to five. By comparison, viewers of digital terrestrial television (eg, Freeview) receive only one ETV stream.
  • We will also be closing one of the mosaic video streams used to provide embedded content in some Red Button applications. The News video mosaic stream, or “multiscreen”, is unaffected by these changes.
  • We won’t be closing any of our TV channels or radio stations as a result of these changes, but the BBC News, BBC Parliament and BBC ALBA TV channels will move onto different satellite transponders, helping us to make more efficient use of our satellite capacity. The transponder they are on at the moment, DSat 3, has a footprint wider than the UK. They will be moving onto transponders with a UK footprint, which is the same footprint that BBC One has.

How will these changes affect our viewers?

Following the closure of the transponder, Sky, Freesat and Virgin Media viewers will probably notice little difference to the service we provide and the BBC Red Button will continue to provide enhanced video coverage of major sporting and music events.

Prior to the closure of the transponder on 7 October 2011, we will be preparing for it through some configuration changes to our channel line-ups on our satellite transponders.

The way this impacts you will depend on how you receive our services.

  • Sky viewers should not need to take any action because Sky boxes should update automatically. If you do experience problems, Sky will be best placed to help and can be contacted on 08442 411 653.
  • Freesat viewers in most cases should not need to take any action, although depending on your specific make and model of digital TV or box it might be necessary to turn your device off and back on again, or to do a retune using the box or TV menu. If you have any scheduled recordings for BBC News, BBC Parliament or BBC ALBA you may need to check these after the change, so please look out for this. If you need help with a Freesat box or integrated receiver it would be best to contact Freesat on 08450 990 990 or the receiver manufacturer.
  • If you have another kind of satellite receiver, you will need to retune it in order to continue to receive the services that are moving. Since we are just moving services around our existing transponders, there should not be any problems. However, if you have scheduled recordings on BBC News, BBC Parliament or BBC ALBA you may need to check these after the change, so please look out for this.
  • Virgin Media uses satellite as the source for BBC standard definition TV channels. Virgin Media will therefore need to make a few technical changes, but its viewers should not need to do anything.

The timing of the changes

Towards the end of September we will be making two sets of changes:

Phase 1: Move BBC News, BBC Parliament and BBC ALBA off DSat7 (Astra transponder 13)
• BBC News will move to DSat2 (Astra transponder 47)
BBC Parliament will move to DSat5 (Astra transponder 46)
BBC ALBA will move to DSat6 (Astra transponder 48)

This phase will occur during the week commencing 19 September 2011.

Phase 2: Move five ETV streams to DSat7
This phase will occur during the week commencing 26 September 2011.

DSat3 will then close on 7 October 2011.

The tuning details for our remaining transponders will stay the same and these details can be found at our satellite frequencies page.

We will update that page with the new service line-up when we have completed the changes.

I hope you find this information useful and that it gives you enough warning of our plans. I’d like to reassure you that we are working closely with Sky, Freesat and Virgin Media on implementing this change.

Also, we are sharing the above information with receiver manufacturers and the CAI (Confederation of Aerial Industries) to try to ensure that any satellite customers contacting their manufacturer or a CAI-registered dish installer receive appropriate advice.

We expect that the vast majority of viewers will not even notice the change and hopefully those of you who do need to take some action will find this relatively straight forward.

Alix Pryde is the Director of BBC Distribution


  • Comment number 1.

    Having just got in from a frustrating day at work, all I can say is I wish more companies were as open and informative about upcoming changes as this blog post is.

  • Comment number 2.

    Actually cjedj the reason the BBC has given this notice is because of the critisism they got when they changed the BBC HD transponder. Unfortunatly this is more bad news from the BBC. This is another reduction in the value for money of the BBC. It's about time the licence fee was abandoned. It is another example of the reduction in satellite services to the limited terestrial service. It also means a reduction in picture quality for some channels to squeeze the moved channels onto other transponders.

  • Comment number 3.

    Save some more cash, and just close BBC Alba.

  • Comment number 4.

    (This comment is mainly aimed at those in the BBC Trust - I'm reasonably sure the people making these blog posts have nothing to do with BBC's official statement of why things happen, and I feel sorry for how much anger you get from people on blogs like this for decisions made by other people. I congratulate you on the detailed nature of the post, which other companies wouldn't do - they rarely even give a day's notice)

    I'd be perfectly fine if it was just done as a measure to save money, to save renting out so many transponders. And I'm pretty sure that's what it is. But the way it's justified just makes me sick - because digital terrestrial is inherently not as good as satellite as far as broadcasting a load of services is concerned, we're going to cut back on our satellite services, rather than trying to find a solution for the problem of lack of terrestrial services, or, you know, not caring that satellite has a load more services than terrestrial (that is, after all, the whole point in satellite).

    I mean, come on, what kind of twisted, messed-up logic is this? Can someone explain to me why closing three video streams on satellite is perfectly fine because terrestrial has only one?

    By this argument, why don't you just close the BBC radio stations whilst BBC Alba is on on satellite, because that's what you do on terrestrial in Scotland? Why don't you remove Freesat's iPlayer support from all but one TV because it's like that on terrestrial? (I still don't understand why it is like that on terrestrial, btw). Hell, why do you bother with News Multiscreen - that's not on terrestrial either! (Perhaps that's already happening - Freesat still doesn't have it...)

    As I said - I'm perfectly fine with the change, but please, admit that it's being done for the money, not because of the situation on terrestrial!

  • Comment number 5.

    Hi Alix,

    I can understand why you've done this as your right that not all the ETV streams are active 24/7 and, unlike some others who will disagree, I don't think anyone will really notice the difference. Encoder efficiencies and VBR Encoding mean you can fit BBC Alba, Parliament and News on to existing 2D Txp's, hopefully we won't see any degredation in picture quality but if the BBC 1 London test (probably in preparation for this) on TP47 is anything to go by then not.

    I do have a question though that I hope you can answer:
    Apart from five ETV streams on Astra 2B TP38 being terminated, I notice there's a lot of data (10MB/s), presumably all red button MHEG based stuff on a data carousel? Surely combined with the data being transmit on TP13 already all this combined isn't going to fit on to the remaining 2A TP13 along with the relocated streams as there's simply not the space. Does this therefore mean that all the data will be transmitted within one 'carousel' with red button applications/MHEG on TP13 meaning DSAT viewers find pages and apps taking twice as long to load?

    If it's the case that some of the Red Button data on both transponders is currently duplicated then this won't be an issue but would be interested for your input on this.

  • Comment number 6.

    Close BBC alba, use the bandwidth for hd

  • Comment number 7.

    Is the BBC going to be taking space on the recently launched Astra 1N satellite?

  • Comment number 8.

    Further to my comments above and also Jason97's, is DSAT7 (TP13) going to move to 1N on a spotbeam?

  • Comment number 9.


    Your question is very interesting but I doubt you will get a straight answer from the BBC. It has been clear for some time that the BBC has no long term stratergy and seem to be in survival mode. If this excercise is to reduce costs and reduce disparity with Freeview the answer will be no. Extra multiplexes on Freeview will not become available till 2016 so that implies that they will not be needing any more satellite space till then.

    The key point here is that the compulsary Licence Fee is an illogical way to finance a broadcasting service in a multi channel age. The BBC has agreed to cut back services and keep the licence fee low enough to ensure it's survival at least for a few more years. What has annoyed many is the way the BBC has waisted billions on building projects and on the move to Salford at the cost of reducing broadcasting services.

  • Comment number 10.


    The BBC does have a long term strategy however like all organisations, public or private, they can't afford to waste money. When Encoder efficiencies mean they can fit more services in using VBR and newer Encoders then why waste money renting an extra satellite transponder. I agree the red button ETV streams are being reduced and this whole "Freeview doesn't have it so Satellite shouldn't" way of thinking isn't logical in terms of what's offered across the platforms.

    The compulsary licence fee is not an illogical way to fund a PSB, BBC services provide an important quality benchmark compared to some of the low grade stuff shown on other satellite channels. Sadly the licence fee has been frozen by the conservative led government because that's what Murdoch wanted when he twisted Mr Cameron's arm to give his support. Now Murdoch's been kicked in to touch along with the dirty politics I feel we need a review of the licence fee settlement with the view of raising it as it funds what is an excellent public service broadcaster.

  • Comment number 11.

    Going back to my query about Astra 1n, I was particularly curious to discover whether plans to introduce regional variations for BBC1 HD are on hold.

  • Comment number 12.

    This isn't strictly ontopic, but I haven't noticed a post about Freeview for a while.

    Back in the early days of Freeview, we used to have one mosaic stream with four possible video "slots", only three of which were ever used. One on the left was for BBC parliament, and the two on the right were BBC News Multiscreen screens.

    That was a perfectly good arrangement back then. Some people did get annoyed at the physical size of the BBC Parliament screen, but I don't believe the complaints were directed towards its resolution as much.

    So, why not go back to that arrangement, now that we have one fewer video stream? What with modern MHEG technologies, you could stretch the BBC Parliament one to fill the screen, so most people won't know any better. And you could fit more News Multiscreen streams in. This seems like a great arrangement - is it really necessary to have too high a resolution on BBC Parliament? People survived with it at this size for years, and audio-only before that!

    Just a suggestion, of course, feel free to shoot it down if you disagree.

  • Comment number 13.

    Couldn't the BBC share their interactive streams with commercial broadcasters and use the money they receive from the commercial subletting of their interactive streams to fund some of the 7 interactive streams

  • Comment number 14.


    Very please you are giving more notice than last time (the DVB-S2 change), but please will you also be provide on screen announcements on the affected satellite channels for those that do not track your blogs.

    Also no problem with me for you staying funded by the license fee - to me you are excellent value for money for what you deliver versus the alternatives. I fully appreciate that the BBC have to make savings but are constrained by political pressures (such as having to provide BBC Alba).

  • Comment number 15.

    Another question, further to my others above;

    When there is talk of reducing the streams down from seven to five, surely this only leaves four main streams available as one is displaying the sports multiscreen menu? If this is the case, one suggestion which will save the BBC money in bandwidth terms and free up another stream, why isn't this menu created in MHEG5 (and OpenTV for Sky) so as such it can be displayed from the STB and not taking up a full stream?

  • Comment number 16.

    Thank you all for your comments over the past few days. I’ve really appreciated your feedback on this topic.

    I wanted to answer a few specific points that have been raised. First though, I wanted to say thank you to those of you who took the trouble to write with positive feedback, like cjedj and Muzer0. It’s really good to hear that you’ve liked the openness, the level of detail and the advance notice I’ve given. It was important to me to achieve those things. As some of you noted, I’ve adapted the approach in response to previous comments, so I hope you can see how your feedback, good or bad, is taken on board to help us better meet your needs and expectations.

  • Comment number 17.

    COMMUNICATIONS feels like a good place to start. Pchallis asks about whether we’ll be making on screen announcements. It’s a really good question – as well trying to get right what we say and when we say it, we’re also thinking hard about where we say it. The short answer is that my team is currently in dialogue with the channels that are moving about how best to communicate with their viewers.

    The tricky balance we’re trying to get right is getting clear messages to the small proportion of our viewers who need them, without causing confusion among the vast majority of viewers who shouldn’t need to do anything […]

  • Comment number 18.

    [...] I’m very aware that the internet isn’t the ideal medium for reaching some sections of our audience. That’s why we make sure relevant call centres are briefed. It’s one really important way to target our advice at the people who need it most. So if someone does experience a problem and hasn’t seen our comms on the topic, we think about who are they most likely to call if they have a problem connected with a change like this. It could be that they call the BBC; it could be that they call their platform operator (eg, Sky, Freesat, Virgin Media); and it could be that they call their receiver manufacturer. So, as with the S2 change in June, we make sure these call centres have access to information about the change so that they should be able to help callers. This time we have also made sure there is relevant information on the members’ area of the CAI website because we learned from the blog responses about the S2 change that some people called an aerial installer rather than the BBC, their platform provider or their receiver manufacturer. With S2, there were some isolated cases where aerial installers came out and charged to realign a dish, even though only a couple of channels had been affected. To reduce the chances of that happening again, we’re working with the CAI to raise awareness of our changes among CAI-registered aerial installers.

    The next area I thought I’d respond on is VALUE FOR MONEY. And I can see that there some of you who think this will improve value for money and some, like trevorjharris, who don’t. Some of you think the BBC isn’t good value for money and some, like pchallis, do. I’d emphasise that satellite capacity is expensive. And what we are doing here is closing the least watched streams. This will save money. And the BBC’s goal will be that the money saved will mean that other things that our audience insight tells us are more valued will be protected. By prioritising the most valued things that we do, we seek to maximise value for money across all of our audiences.

  • Comment number 19.

    Neil201 asked an in-depth question about BBC RED BUTTON DATA and how will it all fit onto DSat7. The data we broadcast can be categorised in to three different types. Generally speaking there is:

    o Tier1 data – This set of data is carried on every transponder and allows you to see Red Button services overlaid on the TV channel you are watching. However we don’t carry everything like this, so there is a second tier…
    o Tier2 data – This set of data is broadcast on one transponder only. When you try to use these Red Button services your receiver re-tunes to find the necessary data and so you don’t experience it alongside the TV channel you were watching.
    o ETV Apps – This set of data allows a simple ETV video stream to become an application that you can interact with.

    When we move BBC News, BBC Parliament and BBC ALBA away from DSat7, this transponder no longer needs most of the Tier1 data because it doesn’t have linear TV channels on it anymore. In addition, because there will be only five ETV streams, the block of ETV Apps data that was on DSat3 will be smaller on DSat7. These two things plus a bit of housekeeping mean we should get everything we need onto DSat7.

    I hope the above addresses some of your queries and helps explain our thinking and how we are trying to plot a course through lots of different challenges to meet the needs of our varied audiences. Thanks again for taking the time and trouble to engage with me on this subject.

  • Comment number 20.

    Hi Alix,

    Many thanks for responding, particularly the question about data carriage. I wasn't aware of the structured tiered data in respect to linear channels so I've learnt something there too. Now you've explained it I can see how all should fit on to DSAT7 with the bandwidth freed up from the Tier1 data no longer needed.

  • Comment number 21.

    I am totally disillusioned by this. Do you realize quite how many people are going to be denied BBC News?
    Very few non UK dwellers are aware of this, very shortly though the news will just vanish from our screens.

  • Comment number 22.

    ... and there was I thinking that the BBC News Service @ 28 east was for for the UK only whilst BBC World News (for example @ 13 east) was for the rest of the planet (outside the UK).

    Silly me ...

  • Comment number 23.

    Red Button services should be made available online.

  • Comment number 24.

    dabbott @ # 21 said:
    "Very few non UK dwellers are aware of this, very shortly though the news will just vanish from our screens."

    As a wise man once said: "You pays your money and you takes your choice". In these fiscally challenged times perhaps the BBC should extend the licence fee to the rest of Europe then these "non UK dwellers" could legitimately watch the UK programmes.

  • Comment number 25.

    Thank you for all your comments.

    Alix Pryde has written an update to this post, so I am closing comments here and directing you to her new post.


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