BBC Satellite Shift Leaves UK Screens Blank

02 June 2003

Thousands of subscribers to Sky Digital, Britain’s leading digital TV platform, may have to dig into their own pockets after losing access to the BBC’s free-to-view channels.

Last week, the BBC switched the satellite it uses to broadcast its digital fare to the 6.7 million Sky customers. In a controversial move announced in March [WAMN: 14-Mar-03], the Corporation shifted its signal from the Sky Astra 2A satellite to its Astra 2D counterpart.

However, the transfer has not been trouble-free, with several thousand subscribers losing reception to the BBC stations, including its main BBC1 and BBC2 channels.

The publicly funded corporation is playing down the glitch, pointing out that the vast majority of Sky subscribers have not been affected. Indeed, it quickly passed the buck, blaming poorly installed satellite dishes for the disappearance of its channels from viewers’ screens.

As a result, affected Sky subscribers have been told to “arrange for qualified satellite installers to visit affected installations in order to correct the installation problems.” In other words, foot the bill themselves – with Media Week reporting the cost at £65 ($107; €90) per customer call-out.

The purpose of the shift is to avoid paying for Sky’s encryption service. Signals from the Astra 2A satellite can be picked up across Europe, making encryption essential to ensure broadcasts are not seen outside the intended country. Astra 2D, however, can theoretically be picked up only in Britain and Ireland, meaning the BBC can transmit unscrambled.

• Separately, the corporation has once again risked accusations of unfairly using public money to compete with commercial operators, this time by setting up its own record label.

Critics fear Inversion Records – a unit of commercial division BBC Worldwide – will benefit from cross-promotion on the BBC’s radio and TV stations.

Data sourced from: multiple sources; additional content by WARC staff