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Digital quirk forces Freeview change

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Roger Mosey | 13:18 UK time, Friday, 20 July 2012

This blog's changing. As we get into Olympic Games-time it's going to be shorter, snappier and more frequent - maybe even daily when the action starts.

What I'm going to do is pick up some of the main issues about our coverage, and give people the chance to offer us feedback.

So here's the first one, which is advance notice of the way we're going to have to arrange our commentary services for the Opening Ceremony.

We said a while ago that we'd offer Audio Description - a commentary service specially tailored for people who are blind or partially-sighted - for the first time live for the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

The good news is that this will definitely be available on satellite, cable and the BBC website.

But on Freeview unfortunately we've discovered a quirk of the digital age, which is that TV platforms can struggle and go "blocky" when we play out the same pictures on multiple channels - especially when the pictures have a lot of activity in them.

Over the past month a lot of technical effort has gone into trying to finding a solution.

Audio only option

But we've reluctantly accepted that on Freeview we can't broadcast the same pictures, as had been planned, on BBC One standard-definition; channel 301 (which would have accommodated the two audio choices); and on the BBC News Channel, with some pictures also appearing in the News on BBC Two.

The result is that we're having to reduce the Freeview 301 offering to audio-only, which means the AD service will be there - but not the "no commentary" option, which won't be available on Digital Terrestrial services.

We know this will disappoint some people, and we've tried really hard to find a solution.

But we have to follow this course to protect the picture quality on BBC One where the overwhelming majority will be watching.

And, as I say, if you use cable or satellite or click on our website then you will find all the services as previously advertised - and Audio Description will still be on Freeview albeit as sound only.


  • Comment number 1.

    Why not use the bandwidth saved by removing 301 for the duration of the ceremony, to create two audio streams - one with AD and the other without the commentary - linked as alternate streams on BBC1 SD, switchable via the red buton?

    The same could be done on BBC1 HD.

  • Comment number 2.

    What's going out on 5 Live Sports Extra at that time? Surely better to put the audio there rather
    than a TV channel. Then anyone with DAB can listen whilst watching the channels?

  • Comment number 3.

    Yeh, I was going to say, having 1 video stream, 2 audio, and some red button magic would do it? But i guess it'd require some retuning of boxes to setup a new audio stream on the digital text?

    I guess the blocking is due to the statistical multiplexing not being able to cope with the demand of 3 channels requiring the same bandwidth at the same time?

  • Comment number 4.

    Olly - we've looked at radio options but the problem is the varying delays on different digital platforms. So for a lot of people vision and sound wouldn't match.

  • Comment number 5.

    So the commentary free option you've been promising for years is not available on Freeview - not happy at all about that at all. Surely audio description can either be carried on the BBC1 SD feed as is the norm or for coverage without pictures people can go to 5 Live - plus of course Huw Edwards refuses to let the pictures speak for themselves anyway, so it's hardly required, unlike the commentary free version.

    We all know though that with Freeview "technical effort" pretty much amounts to giving up before you even try as otherwise a full time 302 service would have been restored by now. It's really annoying me now actually that all the focus is on the "2,500 hours" and "24 channels" when actually for Freeview viewers it looks like they'll be less options than both Beijing and Athens.

    Also last night was a classic example of why BBC News shouldn't handle key moments in the Olympics. I know you had the football but can't believe the flame arriving into the host city didn't warrant coverage on BBC1 or BBC2 (or even BBC3) and instead we had to watch most of it in quarter screen on the BBC News channel with blatantly obvious graphics telling us the "Olympic flame arrives in London" filling up a third of the screen, with a host that did their best to put a downer on events and doubt that Londoners would be interested in seeing it when the last nine weeks has seen millions and millions of Brits come out in all weathers to greet the flame.

    P.S. Great piece by Des Lynam on how the BBC should cover the games in the Telegraph today - hope everyone involved in the BBC coverage reads it but it's really simple - stick to the sport.

  • Comment number 6.

    @MarkT in #3: yes, it's a statistical multiplexing issue (I'm told!)

    @Brekkie in #5: I think that's unfair to a lot of talented technical people who are (a) delivering massively more choice and more innovation than ever before and (b) have worked very hard to find a way round this relatively narrow issue, but can't. The BBC1 SD audio option you mention doesn't work either.

    On the point about sticking to sport: that's precisely what the 24 BBC channels and 2500 live hours are about...

  • Comment number 7.

    Now that's a bit childish Mr Mosey...

    It's quite unfair on 10m Freeview viewers that you've achieved the impossible and got 24 HD channels on satellite and cable but can't achieve what many people believe would be possible and get one extra channel on Freeview (we do understand the 24 isn't possible)

    I also don't buy it I'm afraid Roger - Audio Description is carried on many programmes now on the channel itself, so I don't see why the Opening Ceremony would be any different. And although I get that you want the best picture quality you can get for the ceremony considering since Athens 2004 you've been able to provide commentary free coverage on a second stream it is nonsense to say you can't this year. You have two streams at your disposal so even if you close one you can still boost coverage of BBC1 SD and the remaining interactive stream (which could carry both audio options). If three channels carrying the same pictures is really the option drop BBC News coverage - there is no reason at all for coverage to be on that channel - or if you really must drop BBC 301/302 could BBC3 carry coverage instead?

    Sadly thanks to the BBC's "Delivering Quality First" programme, otherwise known as "Mass cuts and redundancies" the team that were so instrumental in developing interactive services on ALL platforms has been ripped apart and the focus of the BBC has switched from television broadcast to internet broadcasting.

    P.S. What about 301 HD - if you tell me that's carrying commentary free coverage in HD I'll find something else to moan about. I suspect many people will want to record the night for keeps and many wishing to do so would prefer the version without commentary, so it's essential to offer it IMO on ALL platforms.

  • Comment number 8.

    A couple of questions

    - will there be the pink DOG during BBC3 coverage?
    - will the 24 streams be available on YouView, which hits the shops this week?

  • Comment number 9.

    I have read elsewhere that the excellent Barry Davies will be providing the OBS World Feed commentary; my views on Messrs Edwards & Davies are well on the record, and I would like to know is whether it is possible on one of your many digital streams to have the ceremony with OBS commentary, and not the BBC one?

  • Comment number 10.

    @Brekkie in #7: Our technical experts reply is that during the Athens and Beijing Olympics BBC Red Button channel 301 was on a different multiplex to BBC One so there was no problem. We've had to put all our SD channels on our PSB1 multiplex now to allow us to carry HD channels on the PSB3 multiplex. This is the first Olympics where there has been any HD on Freeview - which is obviously a great extra service. On the Audio Description issue, they note the difference between AD on recorded programmes and the challenge of incorporating what is an extra sound feed on a live event.

    That explains why @Jordan D's suggestion in #9 can't be done. Bear in mind that we will have "no commentary" and Audio Description on Freesat, Virgin, Sky and online. Then there will be an additional commentary on BBC HD for 3D - which is fine because HD channels aren't affected by the problems on SD. But that should be enough options for almost everybody...

    Finally to Robinho02 in #8: yes, there will be a BBC Three DOG but it will move to top right.

  • Comment number 11.

    Thanks Roger. I'm intrigued by the no reply on the YouView question, literally no one has said yay or nay on this. Which makes me curious. I know there's only 2,000 of us with a box at the moment but it is going on sale this week!

  • Comment number 12.

    Roger - sorry to clarify: I appreciate why OBS commentary can't be carried on the Freeview system due to multiplex isues, but you clarify why it can't be done on any of the other platforms (Freeset, Virgin, Sky and Online).

    Can you further clarify if the BBC aren't carrying it for whatever reason, whether it will be available through the EBU online distribution platform?

  • Comment number 13.

    I understand that you have announced that there are to be athletes participating from Palestine. To the best of my knowledge there is not a Palestine on any map in the world. In which case, Jerusalem can not be stated as the capital of a non existent country. Perhaps this statement should be carefully rethought . To the best of my knowledge Jerusalem is the capital of my country of Israel, which does exist on all maps.

  • Comment number 14.

    Thanks Roger - hadn't thought about the mux switch, though ironically had things been left as they are thanks to "improvements" we'd probably have at least half a dozen interactive feeds. In reality though thanks to "improvements" we're left with less than in Beijing, just in a better quality.

    Any news on 301 HD - or does a stupid BBC Trust rule mean that if 301 SD doesn't show it that 301 HD can't offer it either. Obviously if 301 HD is simulcasting the ceremony it would be great if that is used as a commentary free option for Freeview folk with HD (even if to protect BBC1 HD the quality on 301 HD is nearer SD) - would be ridiculous to use it for audio description though considering you've decided SD viewers don't need the pictures.

    And though we've had our words over the years Roger and there has definately been some jitters since the Jubilee, I absolutely wish you and your team all the best for the weeks ahead and really appreciate the effort that you personally take to communicate with us folk who often do little but whine and moan at you.

    Just three more sleeps now... plus the evening naps of course!

  • Comment number 15.

    It's great to see the 24 hd Olympic channels on the sky EPG, but I hope the large bright bbc sport dog which Is in the top right of each channel won't be there, as this will spoil the coverage on these channels greatly.

  • Comment number 16.

    Quick replies:

    #11 Robinho02: My understanding is the 24 streams aren't being supported on YouView.

    #12 JordanD: I honestly can't see demand for yet another choice.

    #13 farmchickisr: Athletes compete in the Olympics as a "Palestine" team and have done since 1996.

    #14 Brekkie: Thanks! The news that your broadband has speeded up has made my week.

    And while I'm writing: there've been some bizarre stories online about alleged tensions between the BBC and Danny Boyle about commentary on the ceremonies. They're completely untrue. We've actually been working with Danny to make sure we get the commentary right - hence the meetings with him, Huw Edwards and me. The relationship is very good indeed.

  • Comment number 17.

    Thanks Roger - a big disappointment regarding YouView, glad I didn't pay for my box! I've been thinking for the last 2 years that's how I'd access the 24 streams, so I am disappointed it won't be there.

    Still the Freeview coverage will be awesome I am sure, as will the iPhone app, which looks so so comprehensive.

  • Comment number 18.

    This is not a quirk. Statistical multiplexing relies on the channels in the same multiplex having different picture complexity. The problems experienced here shows that the BBC is too dependent on statistical multiplexing. Basically the BBC is sacrificing quality for costs as usual.

    One question why is BBC One HD showing the football with dolby surround sound and the BBC Olym 1 is showing the same match in stereo. It is also very noticable that the picture qualiy on BBC Olym channels is much better than BBC One HD?.

  • Comment number 19.

    I was also wondering why there is no Dolby digital sound on any of the 24hd Olympic channels, seems odd to have a hd channel broadcast with Mp2 sound!

  • Comment number 20.

    The commentary free option on virgin/sky/freesat is a fat lot of use to people like me who only have freeview. I specifically wanted to record the commentary free option but I can't now.

    Roger it really is not good enough for the BBC only to discover this at the last moment. I (and others) have raised the need for a commentary free feed of the ceremonies with you for years (and it has been mentioned on the POV message boards too) and have accepted your previous (now worthless) assurances that our needs would be met.

    Anything else you are hiding from us in relation to coverage?

    Am very dissapointed !

  • Comment number 21.

    #20: magnificentpolarbear - it's hard to know about something before it's discovered by our technical teams. In the circumstances, we couldn't risk the picture quality of BBC One deteriorating for millions of viewers, so this was the only option available to us on Freeview. But, as I've said, a clear majority of our audience will still have the "no commentary" option - though we understand the disappointment of those who won't.

  • Comment number 22.

    Ok Roger - still not happy and feel very badly let down especially as you previosly led us to belive that there would be a commentary free feed on freeview.

    Strange that only having freeview now means I am part of the minority of TV viewers!

    So how about

    1. NOT showing it on the News Channel at all so the ceremony can be shown on 301 with the no commentary option and 302 for the AD (audio) version? In any case a huge ticker will obscure part of News Channel screen saying 'BREAKING NEWS - Olympic Ceremony taking place' (or will you be removing the ticker). Why show it on the News Channel anyway when it is on BBC1. Who is going to watch it on News Channel rather than BBC1?

    2. Use the News Channel to show the commentary free feed (but without the 'breaking news ticker')

    You would still only be showing it on two channels (so no blocky pics) yet meet the needs of a significant number of your audience who want a commentary free feed.

  • Comment number 23.

    So a quick reading here explains loss of PICTURE for BBC HD?
    Channel 54 on freeview displays initially, then goes BLACK save for the red button "suggestion"leading to the YELLOW band interface between the 3 HD options...but BBCHD is SOUND only?
    So the next two weeks has basically lost BBC HD to freeview? Bit of a bummer if you wanted to watch "The Night Watch" tonight... so it's the I-Player for anything OTHER than Olympics in HD for the next two weeks?. Or has my "Techni-Sat" Freeview HD box gone wrong? Whatever. Please put it back as it was before ...when "it's" all over.

  • Comment number 24.

    @polarbear: it's just not practical for the BBC News Channel not to have any access to the Opening Ceremony, and the problem is that even a short simulcast risks the picture quality on BBC One. Equally, it couldn't broadcast the whole lot without commentary or captions to the exclusion of all other news.

    My point about majority/minority was simply about the amount of access there is in total to cable, satellite and online -though Freeview is a massively popular and important platform too.

    @chris: We're not aware of any problems with Freeview HD. There should be three fully-functioning HD channels there including the 301 red button service being in HD on 304 as a new service for the Games.

  • Comment number 25.

    Thanks for the reply Roger, maybe it was just a glitch last night...maybe it's the box...or a glitch with the tv inputs...will do all the usual checks.

  • Comment number 26.

    Roger: "it's hard to know about something before it's discovered by our technical teams. In the circumstances"

    It is definitely not hard! The statistical multiplexing is a mature process and issues with same picture stream repeated within the MUX is well documented. BBC is not the only broadcaster that uses statistical multiplexing. There are ways to circumvent that happening (including delaying one of the streams a few frames).

    BBC had more than five years to find solutions. Neither the relevant DTT, nor the AD spec. has changed during that time. The fact that BBC has only "now discovered a quirk of the digital age" is total whitewash as far as I can see.

  • Comment number 27.

    I'm surprised that no-one thought of this before Riz - why not add a slight delay to the various channels so that the statmuxing isn't compromised? This only needs to be a fraction of a second, though no harm would come from a longer delay if one should occur.


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