[tig] Freeview

Dick Hobbs dick
Thu Jun 12 07:43:28 BST 2003

I really hate to disagree with Peter Swinson, my friend and mentor of very
many years, but he is wrong on a couple of counts.

There are five national networks in the UK which are available free to air
via analogue terrestrial of which the fifth, imaginatively called five, is
not available everywhere because of channel limitations.

Freeview is the brand name of the UK's digital terrestrial service, run by a
consortium led by the BBC. As I said before, buy a decoder for ?99 and there
is no subscription. Freeview offers around 30 television channels, including
the five national free to air networks, plus, as Peter rightly says, a lot
of radio networks, too. Incidentally, there are a number of BBC radio
networks which are only available via DAB digital radio, which in practice
means no-one can hear them. Relaying them over digital television boosts the
audience significantly.

The digital satellite service in the UK is provided by Sky, a Murdoch
company. Murdoch is looking to buy DirecTV, so the UK service may get a
rebrand in the near future. Peter is correct with all the technical stuff he
says about the satellites and their being close to each other in orbit. Sky
offers many hundreds of channels and a tiered service: the more you pay the
more channels you get. Sport is the big earner for Sky, of course.

The five national networks and all the other theoretically free-to-air
channels (like another six BBC services) are also available on Sky. But the
free smart card for the satellite decoder that Peter mentioned no longer

A month or so ago the BBC moved its channels to another satellite in the
Astra group (co-located as far as a domestic 60cm dish is concerned). This
saves the BBC the ?85 million a year it was paying Sky to handle the
signals, which is good news. The bad news, of course, is that the BBC can
hardly expect Sky to co-operate by offering the free smart card on its
behalf. So, while it remains theoretically possible to get the free to air
channels via satellite for free, in practice - because the only decoders
available are for Sky, and you need a smart card to operate them - you now
have to pay a subscription to the Murdoch empire.

The fun debate at the moment is that the two main BBC channels are currently
101 and 102 on the satellite EPG. Not unreasonably, Sky sees these as prime
positions from which it might make a bit of money, and certainly sees no
reason to give them to a broadcaster which is not paying a penny for them.
This one will be an interesting clash between Sky and the regulators.

Not, of course, that many TIG readers are interested in any of this, but I
didn't get where I am today without dragging a thread out as long as it will
possibly go.



Dick Hobbs
Freelance writer and consultant on television and film technology
+44 1435 830988
dick at hobbsonline.tv

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