Channel 4 and Channel 5 Disrupted by Red Bee Media Incident

Viewers of Channel 4 and Channel 5 are continuing to face disruption caused by an incident at transmission provider Red Bee Media. Some BT Sport channels are also affected, as is the BBC.

Red Media Media provide playout facilities, forming part of the infrastructure that enables the channels to broadcast. An incident has caused damage to the servers which enable this.

The BBC were able to switch seamlessly to a backup service, allowing all TV channels to continue broadcasts as or close to normal. Channel 5 has also returned to air, with a black and white triangle logo in the right hand corner of the screen indicating the channel is using back up facilities.

Channel 4 and it’s sister channels (including the Box Plus Network) is experiencing the most disruption. The disruption varies from platform to platform, but E4 +1 is currently off-air on Freeview, and most Box Plus Network channels are simulcasting either The Box or Kiss. Online live streams are off-air, and viewers are reporting problems with sound and picture quality.

It is unclear what the exact cause of the disruption is, or when problems will be resolved.

Bilsdale Transmitter: Alternative Arrangements for TV

I’ve held of publishing further updates on the Bilsdale transmitter disruption due to the rapidly changing situation, but as things have started to settle, I’m now confident in being able to provide summaries on the alternative arrangements that are being put in place. This second post focuses on terrestrial TV (Freeview) services, and where possible refers to information published on the Arqiva website (although supplementary information from other sources may be used).

The arrangements for TV are a little more complex that those for radio, but can grouped into four segments. In short, TV coverage is utilising Eston Nab relay in a greater capacity, temporary transmitters at Arncliffe Wood and Sutton Bank, re-activated relays, and a temporary mast at Bilsdale.

The first stage of recovery centred on the Eston Nab relay. Using a temporary mast, this has in effect been turned into a main transmitter, and now broadcasts a full Freeview service (minus the temporary COM7 multiplex). Initially broadcasting to of Hartlepool, Redcar, and the eastern edge of Middlesbrough, further work has seen the power output increased to reach more homes including parts of the Darlington, Richmond and Barnard Castle areas.

A second temporary transmitter at Arncliffe Wood has now entered service, to provide or improve coverage to the Darlington, Stockton, Catterick, Leyburn, Masham and Ripon areas. This is only broadcasting the PSB1, PSB2, and PSB3 multiplexes, providing coverage of the main BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5 services. A third transmitter similar to that at Arncliffe Wood has now followed. Sutton Bank provides coverage to the Harrogate, Knaresborough, Pickering, Ripon, Masham, and Leyburn areas, as well as northern parts of York.

If you are in the areas covered by the Arncliffe Wood, Eston Nab, and Sutton Bank transmitters, you will need to retune your TV/set top box to restore services, as both transmitters are using temporary frequencies.

The situation with the existing relay transmitters is a little more complex, but all relay transmitters have been restored. In some cases, these transmitters have been reconfigured to relay the Pontop Pike transmitter, in which case a normal service with full local programmes is being broadcast. These include the Peterlee relay.

Other transmitters are broadcasting from a backup satellite feed. This utilises a permanent BBC satellite back up facility, alongside a temporary facility mirroring the PSB2 multiplex. The permanent BBC back up is allowing all BBC national channels to be broadcast, plus HD versions of ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5. Local variations, and local radio services are not carried on this backup, so remain unavailable. However, the PSB2 backup feed is carrying full regional variations, to ITV Tyne Tees news and other local optouts is available to these viewers.

All relay transmitters are using their normal frequencies, so unless you’ve already tried retuning, you won’t need to retune. However, if you have previously retuned, you may need to do this again to restore services.

Finally, a longer term temporary solution is the building of an 80m temporary mast at Bilsdale. This will provide a reduced coverage compared to the damaged mast, but will restore Freeview services to more households. Arqiva have now confirmed that construction has now begun, following legal hurdles.

Plusnet TV Service to Close in October

Plusnet is closing its YouView based TV service, which combines the standard terrestrial TV service from Freeview with additional premium channels delivered over an internet connection.

The wind down of the service commenced during January, when the service was withdrawn from sale to new customers. During March, a number of channels were removed for existing customers.

The final two stages will happen in October and November. On 1st October (2021), existing customers will no longer be charge for the service. A final switch off date is scheduled for the 1st November, at which point the remaining channels will be switch off, and associated recordings will be lost.

Plusnet TV viewers can continue to use the YouView boxes after the switch off to access Freeview channels, but will no longer have access to technical support.

Although trials began in 2013, Plusnet TV did not launch until 2015, meaning the service has been available for only 6 years. The move comes as parent company BT switches focus away from multi-platform services to the wide scale roll out of fibre broadband. BT had already slimmed down its TV offering, rebuilding it around Sky’s Now (formerly Now TV) platform.

Partial Restoration of Services Following Bilsdale Fire

Some TV and radio services have resumed following the Bilsdale West Moor transmitter fire, from other transmitters in the area.

Alterations have been made to the Easton Nab relay transmitter to allow it to recomence terrestrial (Freeview) broadcasts to Hartlepool, Redcar, and the eastern edge of Middlesbrough. Temporary frequencies are being used, so a retune is required in these areas.

BBC Radio Tees 95.0 FM service has been relocated to the Easton Nab transmitter, which already broadcasts Smooth Radio to the Teesside area. Albeit with more limited coverage, most listeners should now be able access this service, particularly in the north of the normal coverage area. It is unknown whether further FM services will follow.

Further relay transmitters are being reconfigured to operate from a satellite backup link, which should allow more viewers to access terrestrial TV services. However, these may not broadcast the correct regional programmes.

A temporary mast is being transported to the Bilsdale site, to allow more services to resume whilst the damaged transmitter is repaired.

Bilsdale Transmitter: Services Affected

The Bilsdale West Moor transmitter broadcasts terrestrial TV, FM radio, and DAB digital radio to the North Yorkshire and Teesside areas. These services are impacted in slightly different ways, but all are facing major disruption.

The transmitter is a main terrestrial TV (Freeview) transmitter, broadcasting all public service broadcaster (PSB) and commercial multiplexes, including temporary multiplex COM7, and the local TV multiplex. The transmitter also provides the provides the feeds for the PSB relays in the area (excluding Scarborough). As a result, all Freeview services from these transmitters are off-air. If you can, repositioning your aerial towards Pontop Pike to North, or Emley Moor to the south may be an alternative.

For FM, the Teesside frequencies of national stations Capital, Classic FM, Heart, and BBC Radio 1 to 4 are off-air. Additionally, local station BBC Radio Tees and network station TFM are also off-air. For most national services, signal from another transmitter should be available, although as Classic FM uses a network of fewer but larger transmitters, this may not always be the case.

Local FM services are facing more disruption. The BBC Radio Tees relay at Whitby should still be operating, but otherwise there is no FM service for BBC Radio Tees. TFM has no relays, and is off-air completely on FM. In the north of the area, Capital and Heart may be available on frequencies from Pontop Pike, but are otherwise off-air completely.

DAB is likely to be the least impacted by the disruption, as the Bilsdale transmitter is one of a number within the networks. National multiplexes BBC National, D1 National, and SDL National are broadcast alongside the Teesside and North Yorkshire local multiplexes. For BBC and D1 national services, other transmitters in the area should provide some service. SDL National listeners will face more disruption, as this network uses fewer but larger transmitters.

Local DAB should still be available to most listeners, with listeners in northern fringe of the North Yorkshire multiplex most like to be affected. For all multiplexes, DAB transmitters broadcast using single frequency networks. As all transmitters use the same frequencies, your radio should automatically pick up the signals from other transmitters if signal is available.

This list is not comprehensive, and there may be other alternatives for receiving TV and radio, such as cable, satellite, and online.

Major Disruption Caused By Transmitter Fire

The Bilsdale West Moor television and radio transmitter is currently off-air due to a fire, causing major disruption to some services in North East England.

The transmitter broadcasts terrestrial TV (Freeview), FM and DAB radio to around 1 million people in the Teesside and North Yorkshire. A further post will follow explaining how these services are disrupted in more detail.

It is understood that problems were caused by a lightning strike, but it does not appear that this is the direct cause of the fire. The fire was first reported by an engineer working at the transmitter site, with North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service sending multiple engines to site.

Arqiva, the operator of the transmitter, are currently working on a temporary transmitter to restore services, but this will take time to complete. The temporary transmitter may need to operate at a lower power output, meaning a reduced coverage area.

Reduced Summer Service for BBC Parliament

As a result of the latest round of BBC cuts, the BBC Parliament channel has been suspended over the summer, coinciding with the national and devolved governments summer recess.

The suspension is a result of a reduction in the amount of programmes commissioned specifically for the channel, and sees a simulcast of the BBC News channel air in its place.

However, the option to reactivate the channel remains, in the event of a major political development during the summer break. The channel will return when the parliaments reconvene.

BITE Launches in the UK

BITE (or as the author will now type it, Bite), has launched in the UK via Channel Box, a streamed channel on the Freeview terrestrial platform.

Bite specialises in programmes around fresh food, and plans to launch on Rakuten TV and other platforms in due course.

Channel Box can be found on Freeview channel number 271, in the areas covered by the commercial multiplexes, offering coverage to around 90% of the UK population. Viewers will need to have their Freeview box or TV connected to the internet in order to access the service.

Multiplex Change for Shopping Quarter

Shopping Quarter, which as the names suggests is a shopping channel, has switched frequencies on Freeview.

The channel has moved from temporary multiplex COM7 to COM6 (Arqiva B). This expands the coverage area of the channel, and allows users of older standard definition equipment to view the channel.

A retune may be required if your equipment has not detected the change.

Correction: Shopping Quarter was in fact previously on the PSB3 (BBC B) multiplex. Although the move to COM6 has allowed non HD equipment to view the channel, coverage has reduced slightly.