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News

Updated
MAY
25
CHANNEL 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.
MAY
25
ASTRA 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.
MAY
04
SKY 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”.
MAY
04
ASTRA 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.
MAY
04
ITV 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.
APR
26
NEW 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.
APR
20
ITV 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.
APR
15
SKY 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
MAR
28
WHAT'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.

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS DISH?

Click or tap here for the answer


MAR
28
SKY 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.
MAR
8
ASTRA 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


MAR
8
SUN 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.
FEB
20
ITV 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. ITV3 HD logo 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.
FEB
10
RECORD-BREAKING PREMIERSHIP DEAL
Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore today revealed a huge hike in the amount to be paid by Sky and BT Sky Sports 1 HDfor 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.
FEB
05
SKY 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.
FEB
04
SKY 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.
JAN
27
BT 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.
JAN
27
ASTRA 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.
JAN
5
ASTRA 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.
JAN
5
ASTRA 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.
JAN
5
BBC & 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.
DEC
27
ASTRA 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


DEC
27
ASTRA 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


DEC
27
ASTRA 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.
DEC
12
INTELSAT 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
NOV
30
ASTRA 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.
NOV
26
ASTRA 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.
Proton M crash on 2 July 2013
NOV
26
INTELSAT 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
NOV
9
ASTRA 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.
NOV
2
SKY IN EUROPE RUMOURS CIRCULATE
Sky Sports 1 HD Ireland was moved to UK-only beam in 2014 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 BBC One HD logo 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.
NOV
2
ASTRA 2G ARRIVES AT LAUNCH SITE
Astra 2G being prepared for launch at Baikonur Cosmodrome 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.
OCT
26
NEW 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.
OCT
12
ASTRA 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.
SEP
26
UK 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.
The explanation:
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.
Sun outage. This happens twice a year at the equinoxes when the earth, sun and satellite are in a straight line. Check your dish for obstructions if it sunny- they will cast a shadow on the dish. Anywhere in full sun at this time is a good site for a new dish. 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...
SEP
25
INTELSAT 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.
SEP
13
SOUND 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.
SEP
12
TV 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.
SEP
12
ASTRA 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.
SEP
1
ASTRA 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.
SEP
1
TOP 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.
AUG
21
BBC 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.
AUG
21
SKY 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.
AUG
21
INDEPENDENT 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.
AUG
21
BSKYB 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.
AUG
21
SKY 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.
AUG
21
FOX 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.
JUL
18
SKY 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.
JUL
17
CBBC 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).
JUN
28
AEREO CLOSES
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.
JUN
25
AEREO 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.
JUN
24
NEW 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.
JUN
09
ASTRA 2G LAUNCH DELAYED TO Q3 2014
The third and final replacement satellite for the UK market, Astra 2G, will now be launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome some time between July and the end of September. Originally scheduled for this month, Astra 2G was one of the satellites delayed by US State Department sanctions against Russian interests, following Russia's invasion of the Crimea region of Ukraine.
In a conference call with investors, SES Chief Executive Karim Michel Sabbagh said Astra 2G now has the necessary permit to be moved to the Kazakhstan launch facility.
Astra 2G will broadcast to the UK using Europe-wide and UK-only spot beams.
JUN
09
ITV ENCORE LAUNCHES TODAY
ITV's new pay-tv drama channel, Encore, launches exclusively on Sky channel 123 at 7pm. The full series of Broadchurch will be shown at 9pm over four nights from today.
ITV Encore is on the UK-only Astra 2E spot beam.
JUN
08
INTELSAT 907 27.5W KEYS CHANGE
BISS keys to de-encrypt transmissions from Intelsat 907 are reported to have changed towards the end of last week. The satellite, at 27.5ºW, is used by Arqiva to feed terrestrial TV transmitters in the UK. The channels are not for public use. (See our 13 Feb story, below).
Reception, formerly easy throughout western Europe, is also reported to have steeply declined in strength. The changes have been expected for some time and are probably intended to reduce anticipated widespread piracy of BBC & ITV World Cup coverage.
New keys have already been posted on websites.
JUN
05
ITV'S GOOD MORNING BRITAIN RATINGS DISASTER
ITV's new breakfast show Good Morning Britain has suffered a humiliating ratings collapse. Since it launched at the end of April, ITV's new morning show, fronted by highly-paid Susanna Reid, has seen its audience figures fall below its predecessor Daybreak. For the past fortnight the programme has won less than 15 per cent of the audience, with the majority of viewers tuning in to Reid's former show BBC Breakfast. Industry pundits are speculating that the show may be axed after just a few months, but are puzzled as to the reasons. One factor may be the odd four-abreast lineup behind a glass table, which many viewers find disconcerting.
JUN
05
SKY BOX OFFICE PROBLEMS
A couple of readers have written in lately complaining of unobtainable Sky Box Office channels.
Sky runs Pay Per View for both Sports and Movies. Some, but not all are on the UK beam, which can't be received in many parts of Europe.
The best advice is to check you can receive the channel the event is scheduled on before you order a Box Office programme.
MAY
23
TREE SURGERY
Our Madrid dish was performing so poorly it became obvious the problem was more than a cracked LNB. I had foolishly planted a couple of trees to one side of the garden seven years ago. When small, they caused no problems, but in past years branches have grown into the path of the signal.
Foliage is as effective as lead sheet or brick in blocking weak satellite broadcasts.
To analyse this, I loaded an iPhone App from dishpointer.com, Dishpointer AR.
This clever App combines data from the website with the iPhone's compass, to give an indication of the Clarke belt with its constellation of satellites. The app is not perfect: the position of 28.2 east is different in the two pictures, though both were from the same spot. (The left picture is more accurate.)
After some tree surgery (right), signals were hugely increased, giving good results on even the weakest BBC HD channels and plenty of rain margin.
MAY
18
BAKED IN THE HOT SUN
On a visit last week to our base in Madrid, I was dismayed to find poor BBC and ITV reception on our 1.8 metre dish, in the sierra to the north of the city.
BBC HD was the worst: nothing in the morning and break-up in the evenings. SD was less affected.
The culprits proved to be overhanging branches (more later) and a cracked LNB. This reveals the principal weakness of the otherwise excellent Inverto Black Ultra: it is much less robust and durable than LNBs from main rivals Invacom.
The LNB (Low Noise Block) is the device at the ends of the arms on your dish which converts weak microwave-band signals from space into intermediate signals which can be passed down the cable to a satellite receiver.
These devices have to be regarded as consumables, as they rarely last more than 5 years in hot countries.
The combined effects of heat and ultra-violet light degrade the plastics, breaking down the front cover of an LNB. (see image above right)
Excessive heat is also bad for the internal electronic circuits.
Heat and UV will degrade cables where they pass over a roof. Initially flexible, after a few years the PVC sheath will become rigid and brittle, causing it to crack and fall off. After this point there will be complete loss of all signals in heavy rain.
The photo right shows the characteristic yellowing from UV damage.
The Inverto LNB is new: I returned to dish installation for a Madrid client. He previously had a poorly performing 60 cm, which was only receiving some Sky channels, with many missing. An upgrade to a Skyware/ChannelMaster 1.2 metre increased signals enough for 24/7 BBC and ITV reception.
This dish is the best on the market: more expensive than the mediocre dishes most installers like to fit, but well worth the money.
I have to make a return visit later this year to replace the cables before they fall to pieces.
MAY
15
ASTRA 2E SIGNAL WEAKENS
We have received many reports of weaker signals from the Astra 2E UK spot beam, which carries BBC & ITV.
In S.E. France, a local English language radio station was "swamped with complaints" according to our correspondent in Frejus.
The deterioration has affected southern France and Spain. It's likely that the satellite has been the subject of "station keeping", which can result in a slight movement of the beam. This happens every 4-6 weeks, resulting in loss of signal if the receiving dish is right at the margin of a viewable signal. All geostationary satellites need to be kept on station, which is achieved by firing tiny jets on the spacecraft.
Digital broadcasting is normally either received perfectly or not at all. Analogue systems in the past would just become more grainy.
Hot weather and humidity can also weaken faint satellite signals.
The solutions to push the signal back over the threshold for breakup are:
better LNB
adjustment of the dish
bigger dish
more sensitive receiver.
The signal should improve again in June or July.
MAY
11
SKY'S NOW TV SERVICE SUFFERS MAJOR FAILURE
Sky's online streaming service Now TV has been unavailable to many of its users for most of today, forcing Sky to apologise and to offer refunds.
Sky "will contacting all sports pass customers automatically to provide a refund or a replacement pass"
The problems have come to a head on the last day of the football season, after servers became overloaded. A glance at Now TV's Twitter feed reveals that the problems are not new. A typical response on the feed reads".@nowtvhelp you are like a full time apology service that runs a bad streaming tv service on the side."
Sky has a history of failures of its online services. Early versions of the Sky Go app were unreliable and crash-prone. Sky has also released satellite operating systems blighted with major software bugs, and been forced to recall tens of thousands of faulty set-top boxes on more than one occasion.
BSkyB recently announced a 9% rise in full-year operating profit to £1.33 billion.
MAY
10
BBC TO BROADCAST CLASSIC WORLD CUP MATCHES 'LIVE' ONLINE
BBC Sport has announced BBC World Cup Rewind, which will deliver ‘live’ digital coverage of the home nations’ greatest World Cup matches in the run-up to the 2014 tournament. Complete matches will be presented as though they are happening for the first time, with their with original commentary. Included are 1966 World Cup final, Archie Gemmill’s wonder goal in 1978, the ‘Hand of God’ in 1986, Gazza’s tears in 1990, and Gerry Armstrong stunning Spain in 1982.
The full schedule includes:
Friday 30 May, 12pm: England v West Germany, 1966 final
Saturday 31 May, 3pm: Scotland v The Netherlands, 1978 group match
Wednesday 4 June, 12pm: England v Argentina, 1986 quarter-final
Saturday 7 June, 3pm: England v Germany, 1990 semi-final
Sunday 8 June, 3pm: Spain v Northern Ireland, 1982 group match
BBC World Cup Rewind is available on PC, tablet, mobile and connected TV though iPlayer.
The BBC's line-up for its coverage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil (12 June-13 July) has Gary Lineker leading the TV coverage. He will be joined by former England captain Rio Ferdinand, France World Cup winner Thierry Henry, and former Dutch midfielder and current AC Milan coach Clarence Seedorf. There will also be programmes across TV and radio about Brazil and its football culture, with contributions from David Beckham.
MAY
9
SKY NEWS LAUNCHES CATCH UP TV SERVICE
Sky News has been added to Sky’s On Demand platform, and is available to 5 million Sky customers with a connected Sky+HD set-top box. Content will include key bulletins, specially commissioned programmes in the form of documentaries and the Sky News archive. As well as being able to access current stories, news, features and analysis, the news service will offer special programming such as Week in Review, a look back at the week’s news, chaired by Jayne Secker, featuring paper review regulars Andrew Pierce (Columnist and Consulting Editor – The Mail) and Kevin Maguire (Associate Editor – Daily Mirror).
MAY
7
BBC TO SHOW DEDICATED COMMONWEALTH GAMES CHANNEL
The BBC has begun testing a new channel in preparation for the Commonwealth Games, which begin in Glasgow on 23rd. July. The test broadcast is on 11.469 H, 22.000, 5/6, Astra 2E/2F UK beam, a previously unused frequency in the band occupied up to now by Eutelsat's Eurobird. It may be the first move in the transfer of Eutelsat's previously disputed frequencies to SES's satellites, and may signal the end of Eurobird at 28.2º east.
Sky have opened a test HD channel on 10864H 23000 ⅔ DVB-S2/8PSK, Astra 2E UK beam today, labelled 4035, currently carrying no picture. Sky Sports 1 HD Ireland was moved to this transponder a couple of months ago. There's no indication yet on which Sky channel will be carried.
MAY
2
SKY'S NOW TV RAISES PRICES UP TO 40%
Sky's internet service Now TV will increase its prices at the end of this month, with the Entertainment Pass rising from £4.99 to £6.99 per month.
The Sky Movies pass rises by £1 to £9.99, the same price as the Sports pass, which is unchanged.
The service, with its Now TV-branded Roku box, is Sky's answer to competition from internet streaming services such as Netflix, YouTube and Apple's iTunes store.
See earlier news, up to May 1 2014, in the News Archive