SKY, BBC & ITV SATELLITE NEWS FOR SPAIN, PORTUGAL & WESTERN EUROPE
JUNEBBC TRUST CONFIRMS BBC THREE TO CLOSE
BBC Trust chairman Rona Fairhead today said that the final decision had been taken to close BBC Three as a live TV channel. It will move online-only from next year. She also surprised many by announcing that there will be no BBC One+1 in its place, meaning broadcast capacity will go unused. There will, however, be an extra two hours each day for CBBC, which currently time-shares with BBC Three. Research found its target audience of older children stays up to watch TV much later than the channel's current close time of 7pm.
The closure of the channel, which caters for 16-24 year olds, will save the BBC £30M a year. This saving will be passed to BBC Drama in the form of increased budgets.
JUNENEW ASTRA 2G FULLY IN SERVICE, NOT MANY NOTICE
The much-anticipated arrival of the new UK satellite Astra 2G appears to have been something of a non-event. The BBC was first to announce that some of its channels had switched to Astra 2G, but as the footprints of the three satellites now in use are so similar, hardly anyone noticed. The final switch-off of Eutelsat's 28A is reported to have been carried out last night.
A number of free to air channels from the BBC and ITV have been transferred in the past two weeks.
Reports from around Europe are thin on the ground, but it looks as though BBC and ITV are slightly weaker in Norway, Denmark and Sweden and have been lost altogether in Slovakia and Czech Republic. There seems to be a pocket of poor reception of BBC HD channels in the Torrevieja area of Spain. It's not known why. It has been suggested that there are a large number of poorly-installed dishes in this part of Murcia.
In south-eastern Germany, BBC signals have returned after more than a year, and the area of very poor reception appears to have moved west slightly.
In all areas, the Europe-wide beam of Astra 2G is very strong, except in the British Isles, where it is weaker than its 2E or 2F equivalent.
Some final switching of frequencies is due to happen this week. No major channels were moved to the UK-only beam, to the relief of many expat viewers.
JUNEASTRA 2G CHANNEL MOVES
Any switch of channels to Astra 2G appears to have had little effect across Europe.
There are few reports of any signals being lost. On the contrary, there are many of improvements in eastern and northern Europe. This due to Astra 2G deploying a more powerful pan-European beam, which is positioned to the east of its sister satellites.
There are some odd features of this switchover. The satellite's operator, SES, has made no announcement that it has gone into service. Normally there is a press release.
Signal strengths on the frequencies which were predicted to move look identical to before at our dish in south-east England. Some are slightly stronger but not at the high power that many were expecting. Things may be clearer by the end of the month.
JUNEASTRA 2G CHANNEL MOVES UNDERWAY
A number of channels are in the process of being moved from Eutelsat's 28A satellite to Astra 2G, which arrived at its permanent orbital slot earlier this week.
BT Sport 1 & 2 HD appear to be staying on the Europe beam, which will be a relief to many sports fans in southern Europe. A duplicate transponder has lit up carry BT's channels, presumably on Astra 2G. (11477 V 23000, DVB-S2, QPSK, 8/9 FEC)
The remaining 28A channels will be transferred, probably to Astra 2G, by the end of the month.
Currently, there are no reports of any channels being lost anywhere in Europe.
Some services may have already been moved to Astra 2G. If so, it was a seamless transition, which no one may have noticed. The three satellites serving the UK have near-identical footprints.
JUNEBBC, ITV, C4 & C5 SIGNALS RETURN
Thanks again for the reports of BBC & ITV signal reception in mainland Europe. There are too many to acknowledge individually, but we do appreciate you taking the time to help others.
BBC & ITV seem to have almost returned to normal, but weaker than before. For some, the signal is still below threshold for clear reception. For others, particularly in France, Astra 2E and 2F's UK beams are being received again.
The reason for the strong dip in reception is unknown, but may be related to the need to make space for Astra 2G, which will arrive on station next week.
JUNEBBC, ITV, C4 & C5 SIGNALS LOST IN FRANCE, ITALY, PORTUGAL, SPAIN
Thanks to the dozens of people who've sent in reports of BBC & ITV signal loss. There are now too many to acknowledge individually, but we do appreciate you taking the time to help others.
The worst affected area is the southern third of France, below a line drawn eastwards between Toulouse and Bordeaux. The Murcia area of Spain has had problems too, with a number of reports of signal loss in the Torrevieja area.
Things improved slightly today in Italy and Germany, but the UK beam is still weaker than before.
A similar event happened last year around May 15 but this only affected Astra 2E.
Our best guess is that Astra 2E and Astra 2F were moved on Friday night to make space for the new Astra 2G, which will arrive at 28.2º east around 15 June. If so, the changes may prove permanent.
Satellite signals normally decrease at this time of year, and may fall further over the hot months of summer, before rising again later in September. This pattern is repeated every year, with the strongest signals being received in late December.
Some correspondents spent large amounts of money last year on new dishes, but found that even larger sizes have now been proven inadequate. We advise making no alterations at all to your installation until the changes in UK satellite broadcasting have come to a conclusion next month.
If you've lost these channels, please email us.
JUNEWHY HAVE SO MANY IN FRANCE LOST BBC & ITV?
In the south of the country, prior to February 2014, 80-100 cm dishes gave 24/7 reception. After February 2014, most of these dishes became undersized. Any small fall in signal (such as during heavy rain) would cause loss of picture.
Why does this happen?
Digital is unlike analogue: signals are either perfect or fail to display, with very little in between. Analogue weak signal gave a snowy or grainy picture, but was usually watchable. If a digital TV signal is too weak by a even a small amount, no picture at all will be displayed. A small increase in signal strength will return a completely perfect picture.
At the threshold, a blocked picture is seen, with parts of the image misplaced and strong interference to sound.
The threshold is known as the 'digital cliff'. Many hundreds, if not thousands of UK satellite installations in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal dropped on the wrong side of it last Friday night.
You might expect that these all belong to UK expats. Surprisingly, we get a large number of emails from French, German and Italian nationals who also want to watch British television.
What can you do?
Normally increasing dish size by one step is enough if you are losing signals for part of the day, such as just the evening. (e.g. 110cm > 120cm) If a blocked-up signal is received for a few hours followed by nothing at all the rest of the day, moving up two steps in dish size is needed. (e.g. 110cm > 150cm)
This assumes the dish is properly installed. Many aren't expertly set up, or have sub-standard components. The easiest and cheapest thing to change is the LNB (Low Noise Block) which is the device at the end of the dish arm. Many have found that upgrading to an Inverto Black Ultra LNB makes a big difference. But beware, there are cheap fakes on the market. Buy from a reputable supplier, or use an installer who will offer a guarantee on parts and labour.
JUNEBBC, ITV, C4 & C5 SIGNALS LOST IN FRANCE, ITALY, PORTUGAL, SPAIN: CONFIRMED
Thank to our correspondents in the Landes area of France, Toulouse, Biarritz, Narbonne, Mormoiron (Avignon area), Maubourguet (near Pau), Cartagena (Costa Blanca, Spain), Tomar (Portugal), Milan, St Baise (France) Foix (S. of Toulouse), Draguignan (France), Le Muy (France), Fréjus (France)
All report loss of BBC, ITV, C4 and C5 today.
In Borlange, 250km NW of Stockholm, BBC & ITV are still receivable but C5 has been lost.
Quite often, signals from one satellite can suddenly drop, owing to the satellite shifting slightly to keep within its 100km-cubed "station" in space.
Two satellites serving the UK, Astra 2E and Astra 2F, may have carried out this manoeuvre simultaneously today. If so, this would be unusual. There may be another reason. One satellite forum user reports an increase in signal in Scotland.
A possible explanation is that this isn't station-keeping and that the UK beams have been eased north-westwards, making the signal weaker in the east and south of Europe. If this is the case, it is likely to be deliberate, and may be related to the forthcoming closure of Eutelsat's 28A satellite.
The probable reason is to enable smaller dishes in the northern British Isles. Currently, much larger Zone 2 dishes have to be used in these areas.
If you've lost these channels today, please email us.
JUNEBBC & ITV SIGNALS WEAKER IN SOUTHERN & NORTHERN EUROPE
There have been reports of loss of BBC, ITV, CH4 and 5 in France and Channel 5 in Norway today.
It's not clear if this is widespread, or if it is a temporary weather-related dip in signal.
If you've lost these channels today, please email us.
JUNEMAINLAND EUROPE LOSES MORE UK CHANNELS
In a planned move, SES Astra have switched some channels from Eutelsat's 28A satellite to their own Astra 2F. Transponders C3 and C4 (11307 and 11343) were moved in the small hours of the morning to Astra 2F's UK-only beam, causing loss of signal in the fringes of Europe, including much of the Mediterranean, southern Spain and Portugal.
We've already received a report from the Algarve that CBS Drama has disappeared this morning.
Sky subscription channels affected:
Universal Channel (and +1), Liverpool FC TV, Syfy, Universal Channel Ireland, Movies 24 (and +1), Movies 24, At The Races Ireland, E! Ireland, E! (and +1), SET+1
Popular free to air channels:
CBS Drama, Flava, Bliss, Scuzz, Chart Show Dance, True Movies 1 & 2, Tiny Pop (and +1), The Vault, Chart Show TV, Pop+1 True Entertainment (and +1), True Drama, S4C.
More switches are planned over the next few weeks.
The bad news for those viewing British TV abroad is that the change was to the UK not pan-European beam. In the past few days, the BBC has opened up more Red Button services in preparation for summer music and sports events. The new channels are on the UK-only beam, leading to speculation that far more services will follow the BBC and ITV into oblivion in UK expat areas.
JUNESKY PRICES RISE TODAY
Sky's subscription price increases have come into effect. Normally rates are increased in September, but this year things have changed. See our earlier story
MAY2G IN PLACE ON 15 JUNE
Astra 2G will be in its final position at 28.3º east on 15th. June. It is currently being moved westwards at 0.64º per day. Services will be transferred to the new satellite almost immediately. Reports indicate there will be a complete migration from Eutelsat's 28A by the end of June.
Some people in the fringes of mainland Europe may see loss of channels, others will see an improvement, as 2G is much more powerful than the older satellites it will be replacing.
MAYRACE AGAINST TIME TO REPLACE FAILING EUROBIRD SATELLITE
One principal role of the new Astra 2G satellite is to take over the TV and radio services currently broadcast from Eutelsat's 28A satellite, which serves the UK from 28.5º east. 28A (formerly Eurobird) was launched in March 2001 and is now two years beyond its projected lifespan.
In time, output power from any satellite falls as solar panels lose efficiency, motor propellant becomes exhausted, and backup batteries lose power.
The situation of 28A is now critical, with some transponders emitting so little power that reception problems have been noticed.
Transponder C5, 11.389 H is now so weak that there is no margin for rain. In the south-east of England, in a test on a typical zone 1 mini-dish, this channel, which carries ESPN HD and CBS Action, registers only 6.9dB in strength, just above the threshold for clear reception in dry weather. In rain, this frequency is likely to be lost on any dish with less than perfect orientation. In the UK, 28A is only half the strength (3dB lower) of the newer Astra 2E and 2F satellites.
The migration of 28A's services to Astra 2G will begin next month.
28A's signal is stronger in mainland Europe, which is nearer the centre of its footprint.
MAYCHANNEL FOUR NEWS NOW IN HD
After a number of years in upscaled standard definition, Channel Four News is now being broadcast in full HD on satellite and Freeview. The show's producers, ITN, had to give the previously-neglected set a clean-up prior to the change.
MAYASTRA 2G BEGINS TO MOVE WESTWARDS
Reports indicate that Astra 2G, the last replacement satellite for the UK, has finished testing and is being moved to its final position to serve the UK. It looks as though it will be at 28.3º east in the first week of June. A number of channel changes will follow fairly quickly, as the 21 frequencies currently in use from Eutelsat's end-of-life satellite, Eurobird, are switched off.
MAYSKY ARTS 2 CLOSES ON 9 JUNE
One of Sky's two arts channels, Sky Arts2, will close next month, after failing to win a big enough audience. As few as 10,000 people tune in to its primetime offerings of classical, opera and rock music, though its Playhouse Presents first-run drama strand at times managed up to 100,000, aided by Daniel Radcliffe and Mad Men's Jon Hamm, who starred in the 2012 A Young Doctor’s Notebook.
Sky Art2 will be merged into its sister channel, Sky Arts1, giving up its programme guide slot to the new "super channel", which will have its programme budget raised by 10%.
On the same day, Sky 3D wil also close, following falling viewer numbers for the technology. 3D will in future be on-demand only. The BBC decided to drop 3D in 2013, blaming a “lack of public appetite”.
MAYASTRA 2G TEST TRANSMITTING
Signals from Astra 2G are being received from its test position, which is well away from its permanent slot at 28.3º east, from where it will serve the UK and ROI in late May or early June.
SES have wasted no time in commissioning the satellite's transponders. When it goes into service in a few weeks, it will take over transmissions from Eutelsat's Eurobird satellite. Whilst some channels may be stronger than before, any that are moved to the UK spot beam will disappear from much of eastern and southern Europe.
MAYITV 2HD and ITV 4HD NOW ONLY ON UK BEAM
ITV's subscription HD versions of ITV 2 and ITV 4 moved last week to the UK-only beam, as predicted. The encrypted pay channels can only be easily received in northern Spain, France and western Europe as part of Sky's HD pack.
The move may signal an end later this year to ITV's carriage deal with Sky which prevents the channels from being received on the Freesat platform. If the five-year deal was about to be renewed, it's unlikely ITV would have requested they be switched to the UK beam.
APRNEW ASTRA 2G MOVING EAST FOR TESTING
The UK's new satellite, Astra 2G, is being moved eastwards to 43.5º east for testing, following the completion of its military mission for the Luxembourg government.
It's expected that the tests will last around a month. Astra 2G is likely to enter service in June.
APRITV 2HD and ITV 4HD TO SWITCH TO UK BEAM
It looks as though ITV's subscription HD versions of ITV 2 and ITV 4 will shortly follow ITV 3HD to the UK spot beam, cutting off these channels to large parts of Europe, including southern Spain and Portugal.
Two new test channels have opened up on Astra 2F's UK-only beam.
(11053 H, DVB-S2/8PSK, MPEG-2/MPEG-4, data rate:23000, FEC: 3/4, Videoguard encryption)
Since their inception in 2010, the encrypted ITV HD simulcasts were on Europe-wide beam, available only as part of Sky's HD pack.
Whether this signals the end of ITV's Sky HD deal is unknown. This year it wil be five years since the deal was signed. Switching to the UK spot beam might allow these channels to be free to air and be added to the Freesat platform.
ITV executives may want a larger audience at the expense of the shared revenue from Sky HD subscribers. This may be a smart move, as Sky's imminent June hike in prices (See story below) may see subscriber numbers to begin falling for the first time.
APRSKY CHANNELS HARDER TO RECEIVE
Some Sky channels on the Astra 2E Europe beam have had their error correction reduced, making them harder to receive in the fringes of Europe. Transponders 11 and 23 have moved from 2/3 to 5/6 FEC.(Forward Error Correction). This means less of the signal is used to correct errors in the data. Use of 5/6 FEC is why the old Astra 2D was so difficult to receive out of the UK.
A lower rate of FEC frees up bandwidth and can allow broadcasters to squeeze more channels on a satellite. Astra 2E Europe is very strong in much of western Europe. Only in eastern and far northern parts of the continent will any effects be noticed at some times of day and in wet weather.
If, however, your dish is not pointing exactly at the satellite or the installation is not up to standard, you'll find some channels will go in heavy rain.
The full list of affected channels:
Sky Sports 5 UK - Sky Sports 3/4 Ireland
Sky Atlantic HD UK +1 - Disney Channel UK
Disney XD UK - Disney Junior UK
Disney XD UK +1 - Disney Channel UK +1
Disney Junior UK +1 Sky Sports 4/1/2/3 in Pubs - Sky Arts 2
Sky Atlantic HD Ireland - Sky Sports News Ireland
Sky Sports 1 Ireland - British Eurosport 2
FX UK +1 - Sky Sports 4 - Comedy Extra UK
MARWHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS DISH?
Can you spot anything wrong with this Gibertini 1.5 metre offset dish?
It was photographed in storage by an owner who had decided to sell it, probably because the signals it received fell well short of expectations.
It was bought by one of our readers, who asked for help after losing all BBC in February 2014. On a visit to Madrid, our engineer decided to drive down to Extremadura to investigate. The long and difficult road to achieving a reinstatement of lost BBC & ITV forms Derek's Story, of which more later.
Click or tap here for the answer
MARSKY SUBSCRIPTION PRICES TO RISE
In a surprise move, Sky have announced an earlier-than-usual hike in subscriptions, effective from June. Prices normally rise in September. Sky Sports packages will rise by £1 per month.
Regular readers of this column will not be surprised at the move. (See our 10 Feb story, below). It was predictable in the light of the near-doubling of the price paid by Sky to screen Premiership football from 2016.
Sky and BT had to pay 71% more than last time.
Cynics might suggest that Sky is milking a near-captive market for its Entertainment packages by increasing these by a higher amount than the Sports Pack: the Family Bundle goes up by £3.00 to £36.00 per month from June.
Final Score: The Premier League: 1. Sky subscribers who don't have Sports: 0.
MARASTRA 2A SATELLITE CEASES TRANSMISSION
Channels carried by the ageing Astra 2A have been switched to the European beams of the new satellites at 28.2º east, Astra 2E and Astra 2F.
Launched in 1998, with a predicted lifespan of 15 years, Astra 2A was two years beyond retirement age.
For many viewers in western Europe, the 5th March switch has meant signals are now stronger than before, notably the UK and near continent, but also in Spain and Portugal.
Losers are the eastern Mediterranean, north Africa and parts of Scandinavia.
Predictions of complete loss of Sky in Cyprus following Astra 2A and Eurobird shutdown no longer look valid. The latest published Europe beam footprint (see below) of the forthcoming Astra 2G shows predicted signals very similar to the old Astra 2A.
As 2G is a modern, efficient satellite, transmitting at higher power than 2A, it's possible, likely indeed, that any Sky channels switched to Astra 2G will be received on the large dishes common in Cyprus.
The BBC and ITV will remain a lost cause in this expat area.
Eurobird, operated by Intelsat at the UK position of 28.2º east, is also due for retirement soon. Its services will in future be carried by Astra 2E, 2F and 2G.
Compare Astra 2A, Astra 2E, Astra 2F, Astra 2G Europe beams
MARSUN OUTAGE: SPRING 2015
Satellite viewers in many parts of Europe have been losing UK channels at around 11 am CET, for up to 14 minutes, for the past ten days.
Twice a year at the equinox, the satellites pass close to the sun, which temporarily overwhelms transmissions. (If they are being received weakly on the ground).
Strong channels such as Sky News, Sky Sports and Movies aren’t affected. Viewers in the British Isles see a slight reduction in signal but no practical effects.
Sun outage lasts until 10th. March in southern Europe and 4th. March in northern Europe. It returns in the autumn and is a bi-annual event.
If you are suffering sun outage and it is sunny, you can check for anything obscuring your dish’s view of the satellites. Any shadows on the face of your dish at this time indicates it is being obscured. This can have a drastic effect on signal.
It's also useful to determine a good location for a new dish. Any potential site in full sun at 11am Central Europe Time will have an unobstructed view of the UK satellites at 28.2º east.
FEBITV 3 HD LOST IN SOUTHERN EUROPE, MAY BE FOLLOWED BY OTHERS
On Wednesday, 18th. February, ITV 3 HD was moved to the UK narrow beam, causing loss of signal across large parts of Europe. When BBC and ITV moved satellites last February, encrypted broadcasts of ITV2 HD, ITV3 HD, and ITV4 HD remained on the Europe-wide beam of Astra 2A, and could be received as part of the Sky subscription-only HD pack on 60 cm dishes in much of the continent of Europe.
ITV 3HD is now broadcast on Astra 2F, 11068 V, DVB-S2, 8PSK, and has the same reception pattern as the BBC on satellite.
ITV3 HD may well be followed to narrowbeam by the other ITV HD services.
ITV's distributors, Arqiva, are now testing five channels on the adjacent frequency 11053 H, Astra 2F. In recent weeks, the test signals have been tweaked to make them harder to receive in mainland Europe.
( Forward Error Correction or FEC was changed from 3/4 to 5/6, meaning the signal is more prone to break up in weak areas. Now only 15% of the signal is used to correct errors, instead of 25% before).
Of the five channels, three are encrypted, one is free to air in SD, and one free to air in HD. Currently showing a test card from Arqiva's London Media Centre, the HD channel may be allocated to an existing or new ITV HD service.
Thanks to Sandra Slater in the Algarve region of Portugal for alerting us to the change.
FEBRECORD-BREAKING PREMIERSHIP DEAL
Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore today revealed a huge hike in the amount to be paid by Sky and BT for the rights to show live Permiership football from 2016.
At £5.136bn, the settlement is 71% higher than the last round in 2010. Sky will now show 126 games, to BT's 42. Both figures are higher than previously.
Sky will be paying almost double this time, up from £2.3bn to £4.1bn.
The bad news: Sky subscriptions won't be getting any cheaper any time soon. Expect steady price rises across all Sky services for the forseeable future.
FEBSKY RAISES ORIGINAL PROGRAME BUDGET
Sky's chief executive Jeremy Darroch has said its budget for original, home-grown content has hit its target of £600 million, with the launch of its new series Fortitude (right).
Increasingly, Sky is ploughing money into big-budget drama, to compete on level terms with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, who have already discovered that high-budget drama is a big hit with audiences.
Though Sky makes billions from its subscribers, historically it has always spent less than its British rivals on UK-generated content, favouring imported series, sport and movies in its programme mix. Even at this increased level, Sky's will still be spending less than ITV's £1bn budget.
In a speech in 2010, former BBC Director General Mark Thompson drew attention to the fact that Sky spends more on marketing than ITV's entire spend on programming.
As it increases prices almost every year, Sky has always required a huge advertising spend to retain existing subscribers, and to replace those who cancel and leave.
FEBSKY SNATCHES OPEN GOLF FROM BBC
After 60 years, the Open Championship golf tournament will shown by Sky Sports in two years' time. Currently aired by the BBC, from 2017 the corporation will only be able to show a two-hour highlights programme each night. It's believed Sky doubled the amount on offer from the BBC, making the five-year deal worth around £70 million.
JANBT SPORT SET TO SIGN GARY LINEKER
Hugely successful as a player and at the BBC, acknowledged by industry insiders as "the best in the business", Match Of The Day presenter Gary Lineker may soon anchor for BT Sport when its coverage of Champions League football begins next season. Though the BBC has Lineker under contract until 2016, it's thought it may agree to share the former England Captain with BT, retaining his services for major events such as the World Cup, The Olympics, and, of course, Match Of The Day.
That is, unless ITV snatches the rights to Premier League highlights in the 2016-17 negotiation round.
Also up for grabs shortly are the rights to show 168 live Premiership matches per season. Sky currently holds the lion's share of the games with 116 matches. Currently with just 38, BT will need a huge sum to overturn Sky's dominance of League Football on TV.
JANASTRA 2G PARKED IN MILITARY TEST POSITION
Following its successful launch late last year, SES's new satellite for the UK has been stabilised in an orbit west of its final destination of 28.2º east, and is likely to stay in this position for some weeks.
At some point, probably before Easter, it will be moved eastwards to join its sister spacecraft serving the UK.
Astra 2G is being held at 21.5º east to preserve a broadcasting slot in space for the Luxembourg government, prior to the 2017 launch of its military satellite, GovSat.
We've received messages from expats anxious that the opening of Astra 2G will mean the further loss of popular services in mainland Europe. The truth is that no-one outside Sky, the BBC and SES knows what's being planned.
JANASTRA 2G HAS X-BAND MILITARY CAPABILITY
It has emerged recently that Astra 2G has been fitted with a transponder in the military X-band group of frequencies.
SES, in partnership with the Luxembourg government, plan a standalone Military satellite, GovSat, to be launched in 2017, intending to lease facilities to NATO and western governments. SES has been slow to enter the field of military use, which is highly lucrative for satellite fleet operators. Astra 2G will test its X-band transponder at an orbital slot reserved for the Luxembourg Government, to prevent the position being lost.
It's not known if the military frequencies will continue to be used alongside channels used for Eastenders and Coronation Street once 2G goes into service for UK broadcasters. SES makes no mention of X-Band on its website, nor has a footprint map ever been published.
What is known is that Astra 2G has a west Africa beam, which will be used for 2-way satellite communication, initially for a trial of a healthcare communications network. Astra 2E has a Middle East beam, which to date has not been used. It's unknown if 2E was also fitted with military X-Band. The satellite was kept for three months at its testing position and may have been used for early X-band tests.
Satellites are used to control military drones, often used with lethal force by the US in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
JANASTRA 2G NOT YET IN STABLE ORBIT
Recently-launched Astra 2G, the last of replacement three satellites for the UK, has still not achieved a stable orbit. It is likely to be brought into a fully geostationary position in the next week.
JANBBC & ITV DISAPPEAR OVER LARGE PARTS OF EUROPE- AGAIN
Following three months of gains, signals from Astra 2E and 2F went into sudden reverse on the first day of the new year. Whilst a number of readers have sent in reports of lost BBC, including HD, over the past week, it seems a favoured few in the existing "hot spots" in Sweden and the Costa Blanca area of Spain have seen no decrease.
The likely culprit is "station keeping", which is an adjustment in the satellites' positions within their "virtual cube" of 100 km in space. This causes beams to shift slightly, often accompanied by a small decrease in power.
This effect is nothing new: the old Astra 2D, used by the BBC from 2003, behaved in exactly the same way. Every four to six weeks, transmissions became either harder or easier to receive. Very little can be done to rectify the loss, apart from installing a larger satellite dish.
DECASTRA 2G SUCCESSFULLY LAUNCHED
This evening ASTRA 2G was lifted into space, on schedule, by International Launch Services (ILS) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.
The 100-km long space complex has been used for spaceflight since the 1950's, and was the launch site of Yuri Gagarin's Vostok rocket when he became the first man in space in 1961.
There was no repeat of the technical problems seen on modern-day Proton missions.
If the remaining stages go according to plan, at 7am GMT tomorrow the satellite will enter geostationary orbit above the equator, at an altitude of 22,236 miles. (35,786 km)
Control will be then handed over to SES, who will prepare Astra 2G for extensive tests, prior to service at the UK orbital slot at 28.2º to 28.5º east.
Astra 2G will provide replacement and extra satellite capacity for the UK's broadcasters.
It is likely to go into service in late February or March 2015.
Astra 2G lifts off from Baikonur
DECASTRA 2G SCHEDULED FOR LAUNCH TODAY
The much-delayed launch of ASTRA 2G from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan is set for launch at 21.37 GMT today, more than six months behind schedule. Technical problems have repeatedly beset the project, including failure and explosion of the Proton booster and a forced emergency landing of the plane carrying the satellite to Baikonur.
Astra 2G will carry an as yet unannounced package of channels including those from from Sky, the BBC, ITV, C4 and C5.
Photo of Astra 2G on launchpad
DECASTRA 2E AND 2F SIGNALS AT THEIR STRONGEST FOR THE YEAR
It's not entirely a coincidence that the winter solstice, Christmas and the strongest satellite signals on the UK-only beams are at the same point of the calendar. Whilst viewers in the UK and near continent enjoy good reception all year round, those in fringe areas of Europe trying to view BBC & ITV suffer seasonal variations. Probably due to the attitude of the satellite's solar panels, signals peak at this time of year. From February onwards, levels decrease, with a low point in the hot months. Whilst in part this is caused by an increase in background electronic noise from the ground and your own device in warm weather, the rest is down to the satellite's orbit.
On the ground, this means that many who lost their BBC in February have found pictures returning over the past three months. Sadly, the gain is temporary.
DECINTELSAT 907 27.5W KEYS CHANGED AGAIN
BISS keys which secure the Arqiva BBC and ITV feeds to Intelsat 907 27.5w have again changed today, for the second time in two weeks. The last change was on 26th. November.
New keys are already freely available on hackers' websites.
There are unsubstantiated rumours that frequent key changes are now the norm, pending a complete change of encryption to a much more secure system.
It's extremely unwise, given this uncertainty, to buy new equipment or have an installation carried out to receive 27.5w. In southern Spain and the Algarve region of Portugal, offers of boxes and dishes to get the BBC back are common. A typical deal might be an 80 cm dish and a "reprogrammed" decoder. If an installer has turned round your dish to face west, it is likely to be pointing to 27.5w. See story below
NOVASTRA 2G LAUNCH POSTPONED TO 28 DECEMBER
Russian space news agency federalspace.ru reports that faults were found in Astra 2G's launch vehicle, leading to Thursday's launch to be postponed. TASS now reports that the Yamal 401 mission scheduled for 12th. December will be the next launch from Baikonur. 2G will follow on 28th. December.
NOVASTRA 2G LAUNCH TOMORROW
SES managers in Luxembourg face an anxious 24 hours, awaiting the much-delayed launch of their communications satellite ASTRA 2G from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan at 21.24 GMT tomorrow. The hugely expensive satellite, designed to broadcast to the UK, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, sits atop a Proton rocket, of a type that has suffered two disastrous failures in as many years. For the following 6-8 weeks, If things go according to plan, Astra 2G will be tested in an orbit some distance from its final destination at 28.2º east, from where it will carry BBC, ITV and Sky services, beginning in early 2015.
However, if there is a repeat of the previous failures, expect a fireworks show of a type you can't buy at the corner shop. An earlier disaster was caused by incorrectly-installed guidance components, which led the Proton to plunge to the ground shortly after blast-off (below). The parts had been installed upside down. Human error was blamed.
NOVINTELSAT 907 27.5W KEYS CHANGED
BISS keys which secure the Arqiva BBC and ITV feeds to UK land-based transmitters from Intelsat 907 27.5w have again changed today.
The keys are normally easily broken by hackers and posted on key-sharing websites. There are indications that the new keys are already available online.
The encoded signals from Intelsat 907 are widely viewed across Europe by those who lost the BBC last February.
See story below
NOVASTRA 2A BEING PREPARED FOR CLOSEDOWN AND RELOCATION
Some Sky services have been switched from Astra 2A to Astra 2E over the past week, earlier than expected.
Though the elderly satellite is one year beyond its expected operating life, it will be relocated to a different orbital position, to serve other European markets. It has remained at 28.2º east since launch, unlike other Astra satellites, and will have unused fuel reserves.
Viewers in most of Europe will have noticed little change from the switch, though in eastern Scandinavia, some channels have disappeared. Conversely, signals are stronger in south-west Europe and the Canary Islands. In Istanbul, reports indicate a 1.8 metre dish can continue to receive these services, which include The Box, Kiss TV and Channel Four's services for Ireland. There is no word yet if Cyprus has lost services, as many have predicted.
Transponders 6, 9, 10, 15, 17, 18 and 40 have moved from Astra 2A to Astra 2E's European beam. The remaining channels on Astra 2A are likely to be moved soon.
NOVSKY IN EUROPE RUMOURS CIRCULATE
We've received some email from expats worried that a new satellite will cause more services to be lost. Some have asked if Sky will return to Spain and Portugal when 2G is fired up.
No-one knows what SES has planned for the channels it carries for UK broadcasters. We know that the BBC intends to add HD to all BBC One regions, so this may happen next year. Less certain is whether Sky will move more services to the UK-only beam, resulting in the kind of loss which so upset many in mainland Europe last February. Sky turns a "blind eye" to the widespread use of Sky cards and boxes outside the UK. (Breaking its terms and conditions). So much money is made in mainland Europe from the grey market that Sky would find it very hard to cut off the estimated one million subscribers in mainland Europe, and then only if its hand is forced by rights owners. Premium services such as Sky Sports, Movies and first-run drama from the US are sold on a geographical basis. Sky maintains a charade that their channels can only be received in the UK, and pays a little less as a result. American studios know what's going on, but don't kick up a fuss, so long as the deal is lucrative. The pretence has grown thinner in recent years, and may one day be unsustainable.
As for the second rumour, Sky has always been available all over Europe. It's just the BBC and ITV which left.
NOVASTRA 2G ARRIVES AT LAUNCH SITE
Following an en-route forced landing of the transport plane carrying Astra 2G to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, SES must be relieved that their new multi-million pound satellite for the UK has arrived in one piece. A Proton-M launch vehicle will blast the satellite into space on the night of 27th. November, UK time, if the mission succeeds.
Only when 2G has been tested then moved onto its service position will we know its likely signal strength and beam pattern. In February 2014, Astra 2E surprised many by being distinctly weaker than its identical twin Astra 2F.
This could have been deliberate on the satellite's operator's part to restrict reception of the BBC and ITV to the British Isles only, or there was a problem with the spacecraft's solar panels, antennas or power generation.
The three satellites were built to almost identical specifications. Astra 2F and 2G have additional west Africa beams. 2E has a middle-east beam. Astra 2G will only be using part of its total capacity at the outset: 10 transponders will be lit up next year, fewer than a quarter of its total.
It seems likely that the ageing Astra 2A will be retired when 2G goes into service.
Owing to the importance of the UK market to SES, a number of satellites will be kept in reserve at 28.2º east to provide cover in case of emergency. Geostationary satellites are vulnerable to solar flares, X-ray damage and impact from space debris.
OCTNEW BBC TRUST CHAIR BACKS BBC THREE CLOSURE, MAY OR MAY NOT SUPPORT CHARGING FOR PREMIUM CONTENT
Giving evidence last week to MPs sitting in the Culture, Media and Sport select committee , new BBC Trust chair Rona Fairhead appeared to support the BBC's decision to close BBC Three next year as a broadcast over-the air TV channel. The BBC earlier this year announced it would be available online-only through iPlayer, subject to the BBC Trust's approval.
Research indicates that most of its young target audience has stopped watching live TV, largely preferring to consume on-demand content on a computer or mobile devices.
Whether the BBC Trust Chair also told MPs she supported a move away from a universal licence fee after the next review is open to debate, and which news source you believe. The Daily Telegraph ran a story saying she was in favour of paying for some premium content, in exchange for a lower licence fee, quoting her as saying "subscriptions could be an "intelligent way" to generate extra money for the Corporation." The Guardian concluded the exact opposite: that she is in favour of the current licence fee being set in stone for a further ten years.
OCTASTRA 2G LAUNCH DATE
The Russian Interfax news agency reports that the launch of Astra 2G from the Baikonur Cosmodrome will be on 28th. November 2014, many months later than scheduled.
If the new satellite goes into orbit without problems, it is likely to begin begin broadcasts to the UK in late February or March 2015. A Proton M missile will be used to blast Astra 2G into orbit following the resumption of the launch programme on 28th September. A Proton-M carrying the communications satellite Express-AM4R failed to reach orbit on May 16th, the second costly failure of a rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the space of a year.
SEPUK SATELLITES WILL BE HIT BY SUN OUTAGE FROM 4TH OCTOBER
Satellites serving the UK will soon be passing directly in front of the sun in the mornings, starting around the 4th October (9th October in Scandinavia)
For about ten days, signals from the UK beams of Astra 2E and 2F will be completely lost for up to 14 minutes during every morning just after 10.30 am CET (GMT+1) in Spain, Portugal, southern France, Eastern Germany, Austria, Italy and Scandinavia.
Sun outage is a twice-yearly event, and happens when the sun, satellite and earth are in a straight line during the spring and autumn equinoxes. A satellite dish always has to point to the satellite 24 hours a day, even if this means the dish is pointing straight at the sun. Random electrical noise from the sun overwhelms signal in weak areas. Dramatically worse signal-to-noise ratio results in total loss of data. The British Isles are unaffected. Strong signals also weaken, but within normal margins.
At night, satellites pass through the umbra, or area of total eclipse, forcing operators to switch to built-in batteries, compensating for the absence of sunlight.
For some weeks either side of total eclipse, satellite reception in fringe areas is disrupted owing to the reduced amount of sun the satellite's solar panels receive as they pass through the penumbra, or outer shadow.
There is one compensation for the loss of signals. It's the perfect time to check whether there is anything shading your dish, such as trees or foliage. Any obstruction will cast a shadow on your dish at sun outage, revealing that signals will be reduced all year round. Green leaves are as effective as lead in blocking satellite signals.
Any site with full sun at this time is a good site for a new dish installation.
Of course, this only works if the sun is shining...
SEPINTELSAT 907 BISS KEYS CHANGE-AND ARE HACKED WITH 24 HOURS
The weak BISS encryption keys for Intelsat 907's BBC and ITV transmissions to UK Freeview masts were changed last weekend. Within 24 hours, hackers had broken the new codes and posted them online. Intelsat 907 is an illegal alternative for those who lost UK Public Service channels last February. Over most of Europe, all that's needed to receive the Arqiva-delivered backup broadcasts is a Technomate 5402 receiver, an 80cm dish and the technical ability to enter new 16-character codes every three months.
Just one code is needed to decrypt all BBC transmissions.
Publicly selling systems designed to receive Intelsat 907, cracking the codes and offering paid help are criminal offences, however, carrying the risk of arrest and prosecution in the UK.
Arquiva are well aware of the piracy, but have so far chosen not to make any public statement, let alone act to change the encryption system.
This may not be the case in the future. It's unwise to make any substantial financial outlay to receive this satellite.
In a probably-unrelated issue, Intelsat 907 went out of control last Sunday morning during a station-keeping routine. Signals were lost for a few minutes before engineers were able to stabilise the ageing 11-year old spacecraft.
SEPSOUND PROBLEMS HIT LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS
The BBC's live broadcast of The Last Night of The Proms from the Royal Albert Hall suffered sound problems in its first half on BBC2, forcing the BBC to apologise to viewers. Sound was affected by drop outs for the first half hour. Subsequently an alternate sound feed was used, but this was out of sync with the picture. The problem was particularly noticeable on BBC Two HD and BBC One HD, owing to the increased time taken to process and encode HD signals. Pictures lagged behind sound for the rest of the broadcast.
SEPTV LICENCE FEES "MAY RISE SUBSTANTIALLY" IN AN INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND
A internal study carried out by the BBC three years ago, leaked to the media but never published, reveals that the TV licence fee in Scotland after independence would rise by a large amount, should the referendum vote be in favour to break away from the UK next week.
Scottish TV licence fees raise £350 million annually for the BBC, but the costs involved in production, transmission and distribution in a large, mountainous, sparsely populated country are considerably higher than this.
The BBC has chosen not to comment, fearful of yet more accusations of bias from the proponents of independence, including the SNP's Alex Salmond.
SEPASTRA 2G LAUNCHED PLANNED FOR 11th DECEMBER
Reports suggest that the much delayed Astra 2G mission will lift off from Baikonur on 11th. December 2014. If this is correct, Astra 2G will go into service in February or March 2015. The satellite will have a similar mix of beams as Astra 2E and 2F, including a UK-only spot beam.
Speculation as to which channels will go to which beam is pointless at this stage, but one thing is certain: the move to Astra 2G and the switch-off of Astra 2A will signal the end of Sky reception in Cyprus.
Eutelsat's satellite at the same position, Eurobird E28A is likely to close at the same time, following agreement between SES and Eutelsat over a group of previously-disputed mid-band frequencies. In future, all satellites at the UK position of 28.2º east will be operated by SES.
SEPASTRA 2G'S LAUNCH DATE SLIPS TO FOURTH QUARTER 2014.
The third and final replacement SES Astra satellite for the UK 28.2º position, Astra 2G, has still not been allocated a date for its Proton rocket launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. Sanctions imposed by the United States have caused the date to slip back repeatedly from the intended slot in May, causing a number of problems for International Launch Services (ILS), a joint Russian-US venture. The Astra 2G mission is not expected before October.
SEPTOP GEAR TO HAVE FRENCH EDITION
BBC Worldwide have agreed a deal with French broadcaster RMC Decouverte to produce a local version of the motoring TV show Top Gear, one of the BBC's most successful exports. France has often featured in filming for the UK version, once resulting in Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond receiving speeding fines from traffic police. A Chinese version is also to hit far east screens later this year.
AUGBBC iPLAYER "TO BE ENCRYPTED"
BBC Director-General Tony Hall confirmed last month that the corporation is looking to close the loophole of online viewers of the BBC not paying the Licence Fee, by introducing a form of encryption at some point in the future. At present, to view live TV on iPlayer, all a person has to do is to state that they have a licence, whether or not that is true (no check is made). Geo-blocking is enforced, however, meaning only users who have a UK IP address can have access. In the run-up to the next licence fee negotiations the government, BBC management is trying to preserve the licence fee in its current form, rather than move to a subscription model, often proposed by its competitors and media organisations with vested interests, such as those who own both newspapers and TV channels.
AUGSKY SPORTS 5 LAUNCHES
Sky have added a fifth sport channel to its line-up. Specialising in football coverage, broadcast in SD and HD, the channel is free to existing Sky Sports subscribers on satellite, Virgin Media, Talk Talk and UPC. Sky Sports 5 is in HD on 11720 V and in SD on 11914 H, both on Astra 2E's Europe beam.
AUGINDEPENDENT SCOTLAND COULD LOSE BBC SERVICES
In addition to uncertainty over what currency an independent Scotland would use, some BBC figures have suggested that a future Scottish Broadcasting Service (SBS) would not have an automatic right to carry BBC programmes if Scots vote for independence next month.
£320 million of BBC licence fee revenue is generated in Scotland, a source of funds likely to be diverted after independence to a newly-created SBS. The BBC would be forced to sell its shows to the highest bidder, which could mean popular shows being sold to rival, commercial broadcasters, or not be broadcast in Scotland at all.
AUGBSKYB BUYS SKY ITALIA AND SKY DEUTSCHLAND
Sky last month announced it is buying its counterparts in Germany and Italy, in a deal worth £7.4 billion. Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland were owned by Rupert Murdoch's Fox network, which also has a large stake in BSkyB in the UK. A minority shareholder in Sky Deutschland, Crispin Odey, formerly son-in-law to Rupert Murdoch, rejected the deal, arguing it undervalued his stake. The takeover by BskyB is likely to go ahead regardless.
BskyB partly funded the deal by selling a stake in ITV to Virgin Media for £481 million.
The merger will create a pan-European pay-TV giant, and enable a newly-enlarged Sky to achieve economies of scale in programme acquisition, delivery and technology. It's likely that the internet-enabled Sky HD box currently seen on the UK market with be supplied all over Europe.
Pay TV has much lower market share in Italy and Germany, where a far smaller number of people are accustomed to paying for their TV by subscription.
It remains to be seen how a Pan-European Sky will work in practice. Currently, premium channels from Sky UK can be received all over Europe on satellite. An enlarged Sky Europe will want to boost subscriptions in Italy and Germany from their current modest numbers, which could place this pan-european delivery of one country's Sky channels in doubt.
AUGSKY ITALIA TO BE CARRIED ON FASTWEB INTERNET
In Italy, a deal has been reached between Sky Italia and media company Fastweb to deliver Sky on Demand and live TV over the internet, using Fastweb's new fibre-optic network. The deal puts Fastweb in a collision course with Mediaset, the media group owned by Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, which had opposed the deal.
AUGFOX PULLS OUT OF $80bn TIME WARNER TAKEOVER BID
Rupert Murdoch's Fox has pulled out of its long battle to buy the Time Warner media empire after a protracted battle, despite being flush with cash following the sale of Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland (see above).
It would have been Murdoch's largest-ever corporate deal.
Some media commentators regard this retreat as a tactical move, and may not be the end of the story. If Time Warner fails to deliver on its promises to shareholders, Fox may be back to pick up a cheaper deal later.
JULSKY TO RAISE PRICES IN SEPTEMBER
Sky subscription prices will rise on 1st. September by up to 10%, the biggest rise for years. Sky Sports 1&2 increase by £2.50 per month.
Other packs will also see rises.
Sky has raised its prices almost every year since its digital service launched on Astra in 1998. For initially less than £10 per month, four channels could be received: The Sky Channel, Eurosport, Sky Movies and Sky News.
JULCBBC HD OFF AIR
BBC's HD service for young people, CBBC HD, is now off air for the duration of the Commonwealth Games, which start next week. It normally time-shares with BBC Three HD, which has had its hours extended into the daytime on satellite and terrestrial platforms to allow coverage of the Glasgow games. In addition, CBBC HD has now changed transponders, moving from 10.847 V 23.000 2/3 on Astra 2E to 11.464 H, 22.000, 5/6 on Astra 2F, making the channel easier to receive in areas of Europe which have difficulty receiving BBC channels.
CBBC will be shown as normal in standard definition (SD).
Following Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling, US-based streaming service Aereo announced it will cease its operations today.
In a related development, Fox has used the Aereo judgement to act against another streaming service, Dish, which uses a similar business model to Aereo.
For the moment, FilmOn carries on regardless. The free streaming service is used by thousands of expats in Spain and Portugal following the loss of BBC and ITV in February this year.
JUNAEREO LOSES SUPREME COURT BATTLE, EXPECTED TO CLOSE
North American streaming service Aereo was ruled illegal in the US Supreme Court today in a landmark ruling which may have far-reaching implications for online TV services.
US broadcasters, including ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS, had sued Aereo, claiming breach of copyright. The start-up company, backed financially by billionaire Barry Diller, refused to pay the big networks the fees they had demanded for re-transmission of their signals over the internet.
One casualty may be another streaming service FilmOn, which has also been repeatedly sued for the same reasons. US Court action and fines of $20,000 a day against FilmOn have been suspended, pending the outcome of the Aereo case, allowing the company to continue live TV streaming around the world, including BBC and ITV channels in Europe.
JUNNEW FREEVIEW CONNECT TO USE FREESAT'S EPG TECHNOLOGY, NOT YOUVIEW'S
Freesat's 7-day catch up technology, known as Freetime, will be incorporated into a new terrestrial TV standard by UK broadcasters in partnership with TV and set top box makers in a joint venture to be known as Freeview Connect
Freesat's Freetime allows access to the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) forwards and backwards in time, seamlessly.
It had been expected that the terrestrial system YouView would be the only way forward for free-to-air TV, however this year, broadcasters, including the BBC and ITV, cut its funding by a huge amount, fearing it had been hijacked by BT and TalkTalk as a pay-TV platform. Public service broadcasters are keen for the "free' to mean just that: subscription-free TV available for just the cost of the hardware.
YouView has become successful owing to pay-tv add-ons such as BT Sport, given away free by BT (for the moment) but this wasn't how the project was initially conceived when it was known as Project Canvas. Many years late, re-named, and over-budget, YouView offers an interactive 7-day programme guide with access to on-demand players from the timeline.
The big downside of YouView is performance. Schedule information is slow to load, with considerable lag in most functions. BT's Humax YouView HD box is particularly poor. This may be another reason Freesat's Freetime technology has been chosen over YouView. Freeview Connect is already being built in to new Panasonic TVs, with Sony and Samsung likely to follow Panasonic's lead.
YouView, Freeview and the new Freeview Connect are terrestrial TV services, and should not be confused with Freesat, which a is a satellite service available in large parts of western Europe.
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