Newstalk and UCB Ireland Leave Satellite

Changes that have escaped my attention until I started using satellite TV myself, are the removal of two radio stations, Newstalk and UCB Ireland, from satellite transmissions. Both changes appear to have occurred this year (2021), with Newstalk leaving satellite on the 31st August.

This will impact on most on Sky viewers in both the UK and Ireland, where both services could be found on the Sky EPG. Both services were broadcast free-to-air, so could also be accessed via generic satellite receivers, including dedicated Freesat receivers in manual or non-Freesat mode. Both stations are aimed at Irish listeners and continue to be available on other platforms, including FM (Newstalk), and Saorview terrestrial TV (UCB Ireland) in Ireland. For satellite listeners seeking Irish radio, stations from RTE continue to be available.

Both changes are understood to be cost driven, although few if any public announcements appear to have been made. Unlike with analogue radio, where there is one clear platform that proves most popular (FM), digital radio has struggled to see a clear winner.

DAB in particular has seen mixed fortunes, with DAB seeing a lot of investment in the UK, but hasn’t seen widescale adoption in Ireland. After a brief foray into semi-national DAB, RTE closed the only national DAB multiplex in Ireland, with commercial broadcasts never commencing beyond a handful of trials. The UK, although seeing more investment, has seen a race to the bottom with DAB and the newer DAB+ format. Broadcasters have sacrificed bit rates to squeeze on an ever increasing number of stations. This has (broadly) widened choice, but at the expense of audio quality, to the point at which some stations become unlistenable.

Going back to Ireland, beyond on-line listening, it would appear that digital listening is struggling in the popularity contest, with neither satellite or DAB able to muster much interest.

Sky News Expands Reach with Terrestrial in Ireland

Sky News has expanded its reach in the Republic of Ireland, by joining the Saorview terrestrial platform today (30th November 2021), increasing the number of TV channels on the platform to 12. Saorview is Ireland’s equivalent of the UK’s terrestrial TV platform Freeview, using land based transmitters to broadcast two multiplexes both using the DVB-T2 broadcast standard. Sky News is broadcast on multiplex 2, and can be found on channel number 23.

Unlike Freeview, however, all Saorview transmitters carry both multiplexes, with no distinction made between main and relay transmitters. However, compared to even the UK Freeview relay service, Saorview carries significantly fewer channels. Another difference is that a satellite based service Saorsat is used to reach rural locations, which unlike the UK based Freesat, is aimed squarely at plugging coverage gaps in the terrestrial service. Saorsat carries even fewer channels, with the three Virgin branded services being notable absentees. Sky News is also unavailable on Saorsat.

Sky News broadcasts a single service for the UK and Ireland, meaning that the Republic or Ireland doesn’t get a specific Irish only service from Sky News. However, separate feeds are provided to allow for advertising targeted to Ireland. The addition of the service to Saorview provides a near universal reach for the channel. However, thanks to its absence from Saorsat, and the 2% of population not covered by Saorview, Sky News is yet to become available to all viewers.

Fox to Close in the UK

Disney owned TV channel Fox is to close in the UK and Ireland, in the latest phase of Disney’s move away from linear TV to on demand streaming.

The channel is currently broadcasting via the Sky satelite, and Virgin Media cable platforms, but will close on the 30th June (2021). Some content is expected to migrated to Disney+, under the Star brand.

Fox had been available in the UK for 17 years, and the its closure in the UK and Ireland is the latest stage in its gradual withdrawal.

Ireland: Virgin Pulls Channels From eir Sport

A dispute between Irish broadcaster eir and Virgin Media has seen Virgin pull Virgin Media Sport and Sport Extra from eir Sport at very short notice.

The row surrounds the non payment of license fees to Virgin Media who own the rights to show Champions League games on Irish television.

Virgin Media want the full amount owed under the contract, but eir are only willing to pay for games that actually take place.