Satellite dishes on an apartment block in Fuengirola. SUR
Speculation has been rife across southern Spain in recent weeks that subscribers to Sky, the digital satellite television and radio service from the British Sky Broadcasting Group, are about to lose certain channels, due to the service soon to be carried via a new satellite.
The rumours have, perhaps unsurprisingly, been met with dismay from the many thousands of British foreign residents who are currently able to enjoy their favourite programmes shown on the primary British television channels, including BBC 1, ITV and Channel 4, via the Sky platform.
SUR in English contacted Sky’s communications department several times for comment. It quickly became apparent that the corporation’s senior press officers did not know anything about the rumoured changes and, after waiting for two days for them to investigate, a spokesman simply told this newspaper: “Sky sells subscription services in the UK and Ireland and customers are only permitted to access their Sky services at their registered address.”
It was suggested that SES Astra, the Luxembourg-based company which operates the satellites over the UK and Europe, should be contacted for clarification. No-one, however, was available from the firm for “on-the-record interviews.”
Of the situation, Mark Wood of The Sky Doctor says: “These satellites have an orbit life of about 12 years so it was expected that at some point they would have to change. It has been talked about for a while that the Astra 2F satellite would replace Astra 1N, but we had no idea that the Astra 2F would have such a reduced spot beam. Some channels have already migrated, others will do so soon.”
Carl Smitham from Pro-Sky Communications comments: “This satellite [Astra 2F] has three beams, a UK spot beam, a European beam, and a west African beam. The UK spot beam is extremely tight to cover as much of the UK as possible.
“However it is still possible [to reach a signal] outside of the UK, and actually covers most of France and Spain, but Andalucía seems to be a major issue with reception of this particular beam.”
Jason Wild from Future Lifestyle Installations explains: “This will mean BBC 1, BBC 2, BBC 3, BBC 4, ITV 1, Channel 4 and Channel 5 will no longer be available in southern Europe using the usual satellite dishes. Sky subscription channels, such as Sky One, Sky Sports and Sky Movies, on the whole, should not be affected.
“And if you possess Sky HD with subscription box you should still be able to receive ITV2, ITV3, ITV4 and Channel 5 in HD.”
So, when do they expected that the ‘freeview’ channels will be lost due to the switchover to a UK satellite beam from the current European one being used?
It seems it is a question of ‘wait and see’.
“The switchover is taking place as we speak. ITV, 4Seven and Channel 5’s selection of channels are the first to go. Expect more to disappear gradually, but there is no official date - but two we have heard of are the 16th of this month but also the first few days of January,” says Jason Wild.
Similarly, Carl Smitham affirms: “This Sunday, 16th of December, is, apparently, the day of gloom. But this is not guaranteed, although it is from a good source. More recently, I found out that the changes may not occur until mid 2013.”
However, The Sky Doctor’s Mark Wood, believes that the change will not happen before Christmas. He says: “No-one really knows as we’re all in the hands of SES Astra; they are the only ones who know and they’re not very forthcoming with such details.
“My hunch is that it [the switching of satellites] will not take place this month. I expect it will happen in the early part of 2013.”
The BBC comments on the changes on its blog
In a recent blog post, the BBC’s Director of Distribution, Alix Pryde, writes: “In February 2012, SES retired [the satellite] Astra 2D and BBC services moved to a new temporary home on Astra 1N. Astra 1N is due to take up its permanent position in 2013 (19°East), so the BBC’s services will move to their new permanent home on Astra 2E (28.2°East) when that becomes operational … during summer 2013.
“In all likelihood the move of BBC services from 1N to their new permanent homes will have no impact on UK households. Astra 2E and 2F have the same, tighter but slightly more powerful UK spot beams which means that UK households should get a slightly stronger signal.
“The overspill of the BBC’s services will [however] be reduced so viewers outside the UK will find it even harder to receive them. I know that this causes unhappiness to some of you living outside the UK. However, it is entirely appropriate because the BBC domestic services are for people living in the UK only. For viewers outside the UK, BBC Worldwide offers a number of channels which are available in various territories.”
The internet: the future of watching British television in Spain?
Even a three metre dish, which would be prohibitively large and costly for many people, would not be able to resolve the issue of a loss of certain channels, say experts contacted by SUR in English.
This, according to many, means that streaming programmes through the internet will provide the best, if not only, way to watch the likes of BBC 1 and 2 in southern Spain.
Fuengirola resident and Sky viewer, Mary Worsley, says: “I guess that what they say about the internet being the future of watching television is true!
“But for me, as someone, who rarely uses the internet and who doesn’t possess a computer, it’s quite a daunting prospect - a prospect I’m dreading as TV is a vital link to ‘home’ for me and many others, especially the elderly.”