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Saturday, April 21, 2012

BBC ITV on a 1 meter satellite dish - how long will it last? The Future of UK TV in Spain.

BBC ITV on a 1 meter satellite dish - how long will it last? The Future of UK TV in Spain.

Over the last few weeks I have been inundated with emails and phone calls from many people confused about what they have heard or read about the current availability of UK TV channels on a small satellite dish in Spain.

This has been made even more confusing with the usual Expat "bar talk" and with different “satellite installers” saying different things, some acknowledging that things will change, others not saying anything, and others being very “economical” with the truth.

So hopfully this will help confirm some of the facts and dispel some of the rumours about the availability of UK TV on smaller satellite dishes, and try to put forward what may well be happening with regards to the future of UK TV in Spain.

The reasons for reception of UK and Sky TV on small satellite dishes in Spain.
As many people are now aware a new “more powerful” satellite, Astra 1N, is providing a much stronger satellite signal that previously available. This has meant that many channels that previously required a large 1.8 metre satellite dish or a 2.4 metre satellite dish are now available on smaller 1 metre satellites dishes.

UK satellite TV has been transmitted from 4 satellites: Astra 2A, Astra 2B, Astra 2D and Eurobird 1.  These are located at 28.2-28.5 degrees east. Many of the main UK TV channels, such as BBC and ITV, were transmitted from the Astra 2D satellite.
The Astra 2D satellite had a tight reception footprint. This means that the further away from the UK you went the Astra 2D signal became harder to receive. To overcome this reduction is signal strength, larger satellite dishes, the 1.8 metre and 2.4m metre, are required in Spain for these signals.

The new UK TV Astra 2 Satellites and Astra 1N temporary mission.
Satellites need replacing, as they only have a finite lifespan. SES Astra, the Luxembourg company that own and operate the Astra satellites have said that Astra 2A, Astra 2B, Astra 2D will be replaced between 2012 and 2014. This was always been known as the expected useful lifetime of the satellites are published on the SES Astra website.

The UK TV satellite replacement process started with the launch of the Astra 1N satellite in October 2011.
Astra 1N, as per its “1” designation, was designed for 19 degrees east, and to provide more satellite capacity to that location that serves France, Spain and other European countries. However, in the short term, its mission was to help out with the replacement process of the Astra 2 satellites.

By February 2012, all the channels on the Astra 2D satellite were transferred over to Astra 1N. Astra 2D was coming to the end of its mission life and was also rumoured to be experiencing some transmission problems, meaning channels had to be transferred to another satellite.
Because it was designed for another location and not for UK TV, Astra 1N has a more “generous” signal footprint than Astra 2D. This has meant that many channels that previously required a large 1.8 metre satellite dish or a 2.4 metre satellite dish are now available on smaller 1 metre satellites dishes.

However, reception of these channels on Astra 1N is only temporary. SES Astra has confirmed the launch of Astra 2E in quarter 4 of 2012. When Astra 2E has been launched, tested, and positioned, it is expected that the channel s on Astra 1N will be transferred over to Astra 2E. Then, as SES Astra have confirmed, Astra 1N to be in its proper location, expected to be during 2013.

Reception in Spain of the new UK TV Astra satellites

In March 2012, SES Astra made reception footprints available for the three new Astra 2 satellites: Astra 2E, Astra 2F and Astra 2G. These footprints show that the new Astra 2 has a mix of both Pan European and UK “Spot” beams.
The Pan European footprints for the new satellites do actually show that reception of channels on this beam should be available in Spain using 80cm satellite dishes.

The UK Spot beam footprints for the new satellites do not actually show any meaningful data, and give no indication as to reception outside the UK.

Reception of this UK spot beam in Spain can only be speculated. Although the new Astra 2 satellites are more powerful than their predecessors, the amount of signal drop off at the edge of reception, in areas like Spain, is pure guesswork, at least until the satellites are operational.

Future UK TV Reception In Spain - Speculation and Guesswork
As SES Astra are aware of the requirements for the UK Spot Beams for its clients, including BBC and ITV, you can almost certainly expect those channels to be located on this UK Spot beam, just like the channels were located on the UK spot beam on Astra 2D. This means that the BBC, ITV and other broadcasters’ contractual obligation with content owners that requires that transmission of that content for reception in the U.K. and Northern Ireland, are satisfied. If channels are moved to this UK Spot beam, is is highly likely that they will not be available on the smaller satellite dishes like they currently are.

You can also expect that, with the advances of satellite beam shaping technology, the erroneous “sidelobe” of Astra 2D to be corrected. This sidelobe confusingly allowed reception of channels on smaller satellite dishes, like 1.25m and 1.4m dishes, in the Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca south, whereas north of these areas, in Alicante for example, 2.4 metre satellite dishes were required.
Not all UK TV channels will be located on the UK beam, so you will not lose all reception of UK TV. You can expect many of the Sky pay channels to be located on the European beams, just as they currently are today. This would certainly help Sky retain some revenue from the many expats who subscribe to the Sky Pay TV service. Although contractually, many Sky channels do not own the broadcaster rights to transmit programmes in Spain, by making reception of these pay channels harder would certainly mean less subscribers and thus less revenue for Sky.

Another reason for these new satellites for having Pan and UK beams could be to cover any future changes in broadcast right requirements within the EU. It could be that in the next decade, the EU could force all EU broadcasters to make all their signals available to all EU countries. Currently no legislation or law covers true Pan European broadcasting for all EU citizens. This is due to how broadcast rights are currently sold (on a country by country basis), and, as the EU has admitted during the recent "Pub vs The FA" court case, how complex it would be to deal with these rights contracts fo all EU countries as a whole. For example, how to overcome the issue where a few countries fund their public broadcasters via a tax or lisence fee, yet it would be unfair to make those signals available freely to other countries that have no legal requirement to fund that broadcaster.

In summary, reception of the main BBC ITV Chanel 4 and Five channels on a small satellite dish in Spain is only a temporary situation. With the launch of the first of three new Astra 2 satellites it can be expected that these channels will return to a UK Spot Beam in late 2012 or early 2013/2014. The size of satellite dish required for reception of channels on this new UK Spot Beam in Spain will be unknown, probably until the channels actually move onto this UK Spot Beam.

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