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12/03/2003

BBC move to pull plug on encrypted digital satellite

The BBC have announced that from May 30 they will, for the first time, broadcast their eight TV channels unencrypted on digital satellite.
This decision means that digital satellite viewers in the UK will in the future be able to receive the BBC channels without a Sky viewing card, through any make of digital satellite receiver.
This move would mean that the BBC could save an estimated £85m over the next five years as it will no longer be using BSkyB's Conditional Access system.
The BBC said today that £40m of the savings will be used to improve access to all the BBC's regional services on digital satellite (DSAT). The BBC national services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, plus, for the first time, all 15 regional variations of BBC ONE in England will all be available on DSAT and listed together on Sky's Electronic Programme Guide (EPG).
BBC Director-General Greg Dyke said: "This is an important decision for the BBC which will save us a considerable amount of money. It will also bring new benefits to viewers right across the country, will broaden the appeal of digital satellite and enable as many people as possible to get the BBC's digital channels.
"For the first time ever, all the BBC's regional and national services will be available to viewers right across the UK. This means that a Scot living in London can get BBC ONE Scotland, or a native of Yorkshire, living in Cornwall could watch regional programmes from their home region."
According to the BBC the decision has been triggered by two events: The BBC's five-year contract with BSkyB for conditional access ends in May, and second, by moving all the BBC's services to the Astra 2D satellite, whose signals are tightly focused, the BBC can limit broadcasting principally to the UK - removing the need to encrypt for rights purposes.
However, the BBC will need a one-off change from Sky, for which it has offered to pay a reported £30,000. This involves a modification to the EPG software which will allow the viewer to select the regional service they want so they always get the regionalised BBC ONE or BBC TWO transmission.
The BBC have warned that if agreement on this is not forthcoming the Corporation will still go ahead with broadcasting their services unencrypted on DSAT.
The BBC's decision will add fuel to the ongoing controversy concerning the carriage rights of public service broadcasters on the Sky platform, an issue that the corporation believe has been left unresolved by the forthcoming Communications Bill. It is also unclear how the decision will affect the BBC and BSkyB's partnership in Freeview, the free-to-air digital terrestrial network.
Commenting on the BBC's announcement, a BSkyB spokesman said: "Digital satellite is an open platform so channels can choose whether to broadcast unencrypted or take up Sky's offer of conditional access services on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms. The BBC's proposals mean that all digital satellite viewers would continue to receive their channels and Sky look forward to negotiating charges with the BBC for the technical services they are requesting."
(SP/GB)
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