TapHoliday TV

A friend was asking today why you can never get decent British TV when you are on holiday (in Europe). The only English language programs seem to be BBC World, Sky News and CNN. The answer is down to the way the Satellites have been set up. All UK free-to-air programs, which includes all BBC, ITV, Film4 and recently C4 are on the Astra 2D satellite. This is very tightly beamed to the British Isles. But there is sufficient leakage to allow it to be viewed as far away as the Canaries and Cyprus, just that you need an ever larger dish the further you get from the UK; 3.5m diameter at the extremes. I presume that the apartments and hotels we stay in don’t bother.

The other 3 Astra satellites, 2A, 2B and 2C, carry Sky encrypted services and the rubbish (shopping) channels and have a much wider footprint but even if the hotels subscribe to this, it doesn’t enable them to get the standard services on 2D.

The reason for the restriction, because it is certainly deliberate, would seem to be copyright restrictions and also the terms of the BBC mandate which only allows a service for UK residents, hence also the control of the internet iPlayer service.

The situation may soon change a little. Freesat is due to launch on the 5th of May. This will include the majority of channels covered by terrestrial Freeview except Five, Virgin 1 and Dave and will be broadcast using the Eurobird 1 satellite. This has a wider beam than Astra 2D (which will continue to host most of the same services, at least for the time being) and so should be more widely available. The bird is located in nearly the same place as the Astra one but I don’t know if the receivers are compatible. They may use other methods, such as encryption and a free entitlement card, to control access.

Most of the information for this post was obtained from the excellent Astra 2D Website.

[Update 6-May] The Freesat service was announced today as expected. Either I misunderstood the information available beforehand or it has changed; now it seems that Freesat will broadcast from Astra 2D not Eurobird 1 so there will be no improvement for overseas viewers. Eurobird 1 will only be used for the Electronic Programme Guide. Their web site seems to be off the air this afternoon.

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