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Department for Culture Media and Sport response to FTA/FTV debacle
....regarding the free to view Solus card.
Firstly, as you may know, most of the digital satellite programmes intended
for reception in the UK are transmitted from the Astra 2A, 2B and 2D
satellites, although a few services make use of the Eurobird 1 satellite. In
May, the BBC services changed over from using Astra 2A to 2D. Astra 2A
covers the UK together with a large part of continental Europe. Whereas
Astra 2D has a tighter footprint covering, primarily the UK and Republic of
Ireland, with some spillover into France and Benelux.
BSkyB and the BBC announced on 13 June a five year agreement which includes
the continued allocation to BBC1 and to BBC2 channel numbers 101 and 102
respectively on BSkyB's Electronic Programme Guide (EPG). As part of that
agreement, the BBC is buying a regionalisation service from Sky to ensure
that viewers with a Sky viewing card within the UK will continue to
automatically receive the right national and regional versions of BBC1 and
BBC2. But this will also enable digital satellite viewers to receive any of
the BBC's national and regional services anywhere in the UK.
The BBC agreement will end payment by the BBC to BSkyB for the provision of
"Solus" viewing cards to digital satellite viewers who do not have a
subscription to a pay-TV service.
I appreciate your concerns as to whether this means consumers will have to
subscribe to receive ITV, Channel 4 and Five in the future, As yet, no
changes have been made to ITV, Channel 4 or Five. ITV continues to be
transmitted form Astra 2D and Channel 4 and Five are on Astra 2A. These
channels use the Sky conditional access system, so a viewing card is
required. We are advised by the Independent Television Commission that their
present conditional access agreements with Sky have some time to run.
However, as things stand, BSkyB will not be sending new viewing cards to
"Solus" card viewers as part of the card swap-out programme - unless a
free-to-view broadcaster, other than the BBC, wishes to pay to provide
replacement cards. Once the existing cards are disabled, access to these
services will cease. In the longer term it could be that the commercial
public service channels may consider alternative arrangements if they wish
to continue to provide free-to view access to their services by satellite. I
should clarify that there are provisions in the Communications Bill,
presently before Parliament, empowering OfCom to require/approve the
provision of arrangements to ensure reception of a 'must provide' satellite
service (as defined in the Bill and subject to modification by the Secretary
of State). However, we hope that this situation can be satisfactorily
resolved without the need to use legislation.
Finally I would like to let you know that Tessa Jowell has written to the
respective Chief Executives of ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and BSkyB seeking
clarification regarding their position over current and future free-to-view
access to their services on digital satellite. We will publish the results
of those enquiries on the digital television website
www.digitaltelevision.gov.uk as soon as it is possible to do so.
Digital and Commercial Television Policy Advisor
Department for Culture Media and Sport
2-4 Cockspur Street
London SW1Y 5DH