“Thank you for your email of 26 May, and further email of 22 June, to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), about Freeview channels. I am replying as a member of the DCMS Ministerial Support Team.
It is unfortunately the case that some Freeview viewers receive fewer channels than viewers in other areas. This is because Freeview (terrestrial TV) services in the UK are broadcast from a network of 80 primary transmitter masts. These masts are generally tall structures which operate at high power levels so as to provide coverage to as many viewers as possible and 90 per cent of UK viewers are in areas covered by signals from a primary mast. However, these signals are not available in all areas, often due to factors such as distance from the transmitter or to the nature of the local terrain.In order to extend terrestrial TV coverage to such areas, between the 1970s and the 1990s, broadcasters progressively built an extensive network of smaller analogue relay transmitters which provided fill-in signal coverage where possible which increased the total availability of terrestrial signals to around 98.5 per cent of the UK population. There are now around 1,100 of these relay transmitters in the UK.Relay transmitters do not broadcast as many channels as the primary transmitters. This is because digital television, unlike analogue television, is transmitted in groups of channels known as multiplexes of which there are currently six. Three of these multiplexes are known as the ‘public service broadcaster’ multiplexes and carry the digital equivalents of the old analogue channels (BBC 1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5), and around 11 other standard definition channels. The public service broadcaster multiplexes also include four high definition channels which can be received by viewers with Freeview HD compatible equipment.
At the time of digital switchover, in keeping with the Government’s requirement that the former analogue channels should be as widely available in digital form as they were in analogue, Ofcom required broadcasters to upgrade all their relays as well as the primary transmitters to carry the public service multiplexes. This ensures that these core services continue to be available to at least 98.5 per cent of the UK population.
The other three multiplexes are known as the commercial multiplexes, and are operated by the transmission company Arqiva and SDN Ltd (a subsidiary of ITV plc). The commercial multiplexes have been broadcast from the UK’s 80 primary transmitters for some years. However, because the commercial multiplexes do not carry any of the old analogue channels, the decision about whether to upgrade relays as well as the primary transmitters was a commercial one for the multiplex operators. Ofcom cannot require the operators to upgrade further transmitters to carry the commercial multiplexes and while the commercial operators were given the opportunity to add further transmitters to their networks at the time of switchover, they have chosen not to do so.
It is also worth mentioning that there are insufficient ‘spare’ transmission frequencies available to allow all relays to be upgraded to carry the commercial multiplexes, although the main constraint is that of poor commercial viability.
In practice this means that viewers who use a relay transmitter are able to receive up to 20 Freeview TV channels, including all of the channels they were able to receive before switchover and all of the BBC’s licence-fee funded terrestrial TV services, as well as a selection of HD channels which can be received on Freeview HD equipment. Those viewing from primary transmitters are able to receive more than 40 TV channels.
As the coverage and range of available Freeview channels varies by area, viewers were advised to contact Digital UK before digital switchover took place for information on channel availability at specific locations from the time of switchover. Digital UK can also provide information on alternative reception platforms for viewers who wish to receive a wider range of channels. Alternative reception options include the non-subscription satellite services operated by Freesat (www.freesat.co.uk) and freesat from Sky (www.sky.com/shop/freesat). Digital UK can be contacted on 08456 50 50 50, or via http://www.digitaluk.co.uk.”
I recently spoke with a resident who lives just south of Perth Road in the Sinderins area. She was surprised to have received a mailing in the past few days from Digital UK about TV digital switchover when, like all other residents in the area, she had done this last August.
The mailing was aimed at occupiers of flats and it talks about switchover happening from May of this year. I queried this with Digital UK and am advised by their Assistant National Manager :
“The simple answer is that constituent will have received the mailing as she has a chance of receiving a signal from Craigkelly. Where someone is in an area where there is a chance of receiving signals from different transmitter groups, we include them in mailings for all the relevant transmitters they could be getting their signals from.
We try and target the information we issue as specifically as we can. But, as you can imagine there are some areas where crossovers exist and we have to cover all bases. As you know we do not know which properties have and have not made the switch, so we need to include all possible properties in case they are included in that particular transmitter group.
We appreciate that this will cause confusion for some who made the switch in August. To deal with this, we have a three-point ‘What to do’ list in the leaflet and the first point is to speak to your landlord or property manager to see if anything needs to be done. Any good landlord/property manager should know the answer to this straight away.”
The Craigkelly transmitter covers part of the STV Central area (Edinburgh/Lothians/South Fife) and although quite a few residents in southern parts of the West End may get TV signals from it, it is very much a “secondary” transmitter for the area as its target audience is largely south of Glenrothes/Central Fife. This resident’s primary transmitter is Tay Bridge in the STV North area and it was part of the STV North digital switchover that happened last August.
Although this resident is not elderly, as she points out many of her neighbours are elderly and she’s concerned that this mailing may cause them some confusion. I’ve pointed out to Digital UK that I doubt there’s more than a small handful of people in Dundee who have not already made the digital switch – the vast majority of residents will have transferred to digital TV either before or at the STV North switchover last summer.
The message is simple – if you get a mailing about digital switchover and you have already switched to digital TV, ignore the mailing – but if you need any advice, contact Digital UK on 08456 50 50 50.
Freeview viewers should rescan channels again tomorrow. Full details areavailable on the Digital UK website. This does not affect cable and Sky viewers.
As I have previously indicated, I am particularly anxious that elderly residents are given the fullest assistance, and if I can be of any help to any West End resident, do please call me on Dundee 459378 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The article highlights that the relocated transmitter will carry a much-reduced number of digital TV channels compared to the main Angus transmitter at Tealing. This is in common with all relay transmitter – only the main transmitters will carry all Freeview channels.
In the past,I have highlighted the drawbacks of the reduced “Freeview Lite” service planned for the Tay Bridge relay transmitter (that serves much of the West End) after the impending digital switchover – as it gives residents only around 22 of the approximate 58 TV and radio channels that others served by main transmitters (like the Angus transmitter that serves most of the north of the City) get. I have raised the issue with Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator. See : http://tiny.cc/freeviewlite1
Over the weekend, a Perth Road resident has e-mailed me as follows :
“Hi Fraser. Can you please tell me why, because I am served by the stv north tay bridge transmitter I will only get 18 channels come the switchover but anyone that is served by stv north angus transmitter will get 60 channels?
And the answer is that it is going well. Most people are well aware of the digital switchover and are prepared for it. Further information can be found at :Digital UK : http://www.digitaluk.co.uk/ BBC Help Scheme : http://www.helpscheme.co.uk/
Last year, along with Alan Cowie of Digital UK,I held digital switchover surgeries at sheltered housing lounges across the West End – these were extremely well attended and I am holding two further surgeries at Sinderins Court and the Lime Street sheltered lounge next month – this time with Colin Scott from the Help Scheme – details to follow!
I have had helpful feedback from Arqiva’s marketing manager, who confirms that the recent BBC1 reception issues are resolved. He further indicates :“I have spoken with Digital UK and they have sent me the link below which takes you to a document on the Ofcom website. In section 7 the document lays out the terms for notifying viewers: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/transition/transition.pdf.”
Given the quote by the BBC in last night’s Tele :“A spokeswoman for the BBC in Scotland said there was not a transmitter problem, but she was unable to shed any more light on the cause of the interference”
it was interesting to hear from a constituent who lives just south of Perth Road and who, having phoned the BBC was told there were engineering works on the transmitter taking place!
I’m pleased to say that Digital UK and representatives from the help scheme (financed by the BBC and aimed at helping elderly people and people with disabilities get assistance to be able to continue getting their TV programmes after the swtchover) will attend the Community Fayre taking place on Saturday 21st November – at the launch of West End Christmas Week.
The Digital UK team is embarking on a series of activities for council wards within the STV North area. Holding at least one event in every ward, Digital UK will stage a mix of drop-ins and public meetings to engage directly with the communities. The team will work with councillors to address the needs of each community and to ensure that everyone knows what they need to do in the run up to switchover next year. Events will be held in Shetland Isles, Orkney, Western Isles, Highland, Moray, Aberdeen and Shire, Dundee, Angus, North Fife, Argyll and Bute (northern part) as well as Perth and Kinross.
STV NORTH GETS SWITCHED ON TO SWITCHOVER HELP SCHEME
FREEVIEW UPGRADE EXTENDS FIVE AND PREPARES FOR HD
Freeview has completed an upgrade to its service to ensure Five is as widely available as the other main terrestrial channels after switchover. Key changes were also made to the network to prepare for the launch of HD services. Freeview viewers were required to retune their equipment from lunchtime on 30 September to continue receiving all channels in their area.
Following the changes, 500,000 existing Freeview homes are now able to receive Five for first time. ITV3 and ITV4, however, will no longer be broadcast from relay transmitters. Viewers in need of advice on retuning can visit tvretune.co.uk or call an automated helpline on 08456 051122.
DIGITAL TAKE-UP RISES AS VIEWERS CONVERT SECOND SETS
Viewers across Scotland are getting the urge to go digital in their kitchens and bedrooms. Latest research from Ofcom (to June 2009) reveals 70 per cent of all secondary TV sets across the UK have now been converted, up 15 percentage points on this time last year. In total, 80 per cent of the UK’s 60 million sets are now connected to a multichannel TV service.
The Help Scheme has launched a television and print advertising campaign to raise awareness of the help available to older and disabled people so they can continue to watch their favourite television programmes after switchover. The Help Scheme will also be running local activity and poster advertising campaigns and Help Scheme events in the lead up to switchover. The Help Scheme is also working alongside Digital UK and with local charities and organisations to spread the word. More information can be found with the recent press release (seehttp://tinyurl.com/digitalhelp).
Eligible people in the STV North TV region will be offered a Freeview set top box for £40, or free if they also get income benefits. The help also includes installation if requested, a demonstration of how to use the equipment, an aerial check and upgrade if necessary for those that own their own aerials and a free help line to ring for advice while they get used to it.
There are many ways to go digital and additional Help Scheme options are available at extra cost – these are set out in the options guide sent to eligible people. The Help Scheme will write to all those who are eligible, starting with the islands as a distinct mailing burst to allow installers to complete installations within a fixed window of time.
The Switchover Help Scheme has appointed Luke McCullough as its National Manager, Scotland.”
I have had a number of constituents (and a gentleman from Gowrie Park, across the ward boundary into Lochee Ward) contact me to say that the net effect of the retune was the loss of Channel Five! However, if you retune again, Five should reappear.
I am indebted to Alan Cowie, the former Grampian TV presenter – who spoke at the meetings. Alan is assisting Digital UK’s effort to liaise with people to ensure that their TV and digital questions are addressed and answered. He is excellent at covering the issues and engaging with the audience. Many elderly people in particular had questions about how they ensure they continue to receive television reception after the switchover and it was appropriate to hold these meetings at sheltered housing lounges in the area.
As a result of the meetings today, I have taken up some individuals’ TV reception complaints and am – as always – pleased to assist any other West End residents with them.
Above : Alan speaking to Pennycook Court residentsAbove : Morven Terrace Sheltered Housing meetingAbove : The meeting at Blackness CourtAbove : The doggie audience!
The meetings will allow local residents to raise complaints and concerns about TV reception and on the issue of the digital switchover with John MacNeil, Digital UK’s Assistant National Manager for Scotland. Many elderly people in particular have questions about how they ensure to continue to receive television reception after the switchover and it seems highly appropriate to hold these meetings at sheltered housing lounges.
I am grateful to Digital UK for taking part in the local meetings this week. Their expertise will help residents with any TV reception and digital switchover issues they wish to raise. Digital UK are the experts regarding the digital switch-over and will be there to provide advice to any resident with questions about the impending changes and help that is available.
There have been many TV reception issues raised with me recently and I felt it would be helpful to allow residents in the West End to speak with the experts directly.
The meetings take place this Wednesday (24th June) at the following locations:
10.15am Morven Terrace Sheltered Lounge
11.00am Pennycook Court Sheltered Lounge
11.45am Blackness Court Sheltered Lounge
12.30pm Paton’s Lane Sheltered Lounge
1.15pm Tullideph Sheltered Lounge
2.00pm Corso Street Sheltered Lounge
Digital UK’s Assistant National Manager for Scotland has now said that where a resident gives me permission to pass on their contact details to him with detail of their reception problems, he is willing to look into their specific reception problems, which is I think is a helpful response.
“I have passed this on to our interference team, who will be able to do a possible investigation for you and any information that they may know about this transmitter.”
I have made the point that the extent of the problems is such that there clearly is an issue with the Angus transmitter – I have had calls from people living as far away as Perth and the one thing virtually all people who have complained about the issue have in common is that they receive their TV pictures from the Angus transmitter, the main TV transmitter for the area, sited near Tealing. I am continuing to pursue the issue on behalf of residents.
I should also add that – aside from this particular reception issue – Digital UK has offered to attend a community public meeting in the West End to update residents on the digital TV switchover as it is now becoming quite close. The organisation has previously spoken to West End Community Council some time ago and I will certainly be taking up their offer as there are clearly a lot of issues residents have with the TV changes that are upcoming.
I recently highlighted complaints from constituents in parts of the West End about reduced and poor television reception in recent weeks, and have since had been inundated over the past week with feedback from people in the West End and from across the city about the issue. Today’s Courier covers the issue – see http://www.thecourier.co.uk/output/2009/04/06/newsstory12908876t0.asp
As indicated in the Courier article, it is very clear that there is an issue about the quality of TV signals for many people – particularly affecting ITV1 and Channel 4 reception and, for Freeview viewers who receive signals from the Angus transmitter near Tealing, also some digital channels such as ITV3.
I had previously spoken with Arqiva, the company that owns and manages TV transmitters across theUK, and, although they accept that there may be some disruption to services nearer to the time of the switch-over from analogue to digital, they assured me that there should be no disruption for Angus and Tay Bridge transmitter’s viewers at the moment.
There is, however, engineering work on-going at the Craigkelly transmitter, resulting in breaks in service and possible poor reception, although only a minority of viewers in Dundee get their TV signals from this transmitter situated in Fife.
However, it is very apparent from the dozens of calls I have received from local people that there is indeed some form of reduced power problem from Angus transmitter resulting in poorer reception on some channels for many viewers.
I have therefore raised the matter with Digital UK, who are charged with ensuring a smooth switchover from analogue to digital only signals, due in our area next year. Given the extent of the TV licence cost nowadays, at the very least people should expect good quality reception, not continual poor pictures or interruptions in programmes.
Interestingly, having been down in Sussex over the weekend, I had a read of the English edition of the ‘Sunday Express’ which led on the very issue of poor TV reception caused by the digital switchover – go to http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/93382/TV-Blackout-Chaos to view.