Campaign to end second class TV services for thousands of Dundonians

The Courier, Evening Telegraph and Wave 102 recently highlighted my criticism of what I consider the ‘laissez faire and poor response’ I received from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) following my raising with the department the continuing short-changing of thousands of Dundee TV viewers who have a second rate level of TV services since the digital TV switch over in Tayside in 2010.
 
I have long been critical of government handling of the conversion to digital which has meant that all people whose TV reception comes from a relay transmitter rather than a main regional transmitter cannot receive all Freeview TV channels and programmes but get a “Freeview Lite” service with a severely limited selection of channels. 
 
In the case of the Tay Bridge transmitter, its 35 000 viewers do not get access to all Freeview stations, including most residents of the West End and City Centre, together with many in other parts of southern Dundee, including much of Craigiebank and Broughty Ferry.   Additionally, many in the Charleston and Menzieshill areas of Dundee do not get all Freeview services because they are served by a relay transmitter at Menzieshill.   It also affects viewers in parts of north Fife.
 
Information on the anomaly can be evidenced at the Digital UK website at www.tinyurl.com/dundee-freeview – showing that people who get their TV signal from the main Angus transmitter get 108 channels available + 15 HD channels;   those served by the relay Tay Bridge transmitter get only 20 channels available + 6 HD channels.
 
It should be remembered that of those liable to meet a TV licence, everyone pays the same fee but TV viewers face two classes of service depending where they live and what transmitter serves their area and I view that as completely unfair.
 
The sell-off of the no longer used analogue bandwidth after the digital switch-over had the potential to raise billions for government and many feel the limited Freeview services for all served by relay transmitters has simply maximised the government’s financial windfall from the sale of the bandwidth.
 
I have to say I am deeply unimpressed by the department’s ‘do nothing’ response which completely fails to address the issue.    
 
As many constituents have contacted me about the DCMS response, I thought it would be useful if I reproduce the response from the department in full :
“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.”

In my view, the government should be using its influence to compel the TV operators to make their output available on an equal basis for all TV viewers and its inaction on the issue is deeply regrettable.   I will continue to campaign for better coverage of all Freeview channels.
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New Sky TV Family Documentary Series

I was recently contacted by a TV production company called Little Gem who are currently working on a brand new documentary series for Sky that will tell the story of six families over 5 years of their life.
 
They are looking for families who’d like to be a part of this project and hope to capture their dreams, ambitions and the journeys that they go on but also the changes that will happen to the world and surroundings that we live in.
 
They want to embrace the uplifting, challenging and universal experiences of family life that we can all relate to, from young people not flying the nest to weddings on the horizon.
 
They indicate :

 

 
“Perhaps there are some families doing amazing things within your local area e.g. in local business, community work, events or sporting families?
With this in mind, I wondered whether you might be able to help me share this information, to let people know of the chance to be a part of this ground-breaking documentary series.
 
This is a fantastic opportunity for families across the UK to have a unique once in a lifetime film about their family – a home movie that they can pass on to generations to come – made by some of Britain’s best documentary filmmakers.”

 

 
More details below :

Local TV for Dundee – latest news

Further to my last update on moves towards local television for Dundee, many thanks to TayScreen for this latest news :
 
STV is the only bidder for the Dundee, Aberdeen and Ayrshire licences, this report in Broadcast.
 
STV is saying that local TV will reflect Dundee’s focus on creative industries.  As mentioned, they are working in collaboration with Abertay and D&A College.
 
These stations may be on air by the end of 2015 or early 2016.
 
TV has revealed more about its plan to build a local TV empire after bidding for three more licences in Scotland.
 
The commercial broadcaster is aiming to win licences in Aberdeen, Ayr and Dundee.
 
STV director of channels Bobby Hain said it will capture the unique characteristics of each town in the local stations’ output.
 
“The channels will characterise the different areas,” he said. “There is the oil and energy sector in Aberdeen, the vibrancy of Dundee’s creative centre and agriculture, tourism and sport in Ayrshire. We’ll reflect these characteristics.”
 
If it wins the licences, STV will boast five local TV stations, having already secured channels in Glasgow and Edinburgh in Ofcom’s first round of licencing.
 
The Scottish broadcaster submitted bids for Aberdeen, Ayr and Dundee after conducting research that revealed that more than 94% of respondents in the three towns wanted to receive more news programming from their area.
 
Each channel will be populated by “tailor-made content from the area” supplemented by “common current affairs content”, such as activity from the Scottish parliament in Holyrood.
 
STV Glasgow launched in June and airs 35 hours of local programming a week, including seven hours of repeats and 12 hours of current affairs. Hain said the proposals for the new licences are in line with these quotas. “We’re playing to our strengths. We have a very strong connection with our audience across channel three, and people know the STV brand,” said Hain.

Local TV for Dundee?

I have long campaigned for local TV for Dundee and, now that, for example, STV Glasgow is up and running and STV Edinburgh scheduled to launch on 5 January 2015, I am pleased to note that the local TV licence for Dundee is now being advertised.
 
Ofcom advises that “The closing date for applications for the Scottish areas of Aberdeen, Ayr, Dundee, Forth Valley and Inverness, and the English areas of Carlisle and Stoke on Trent, is 23 October 2014.”
 
I am hoping there will be real interest in the local TV licence for Dundee.
 

Call to tackle the continuing digital TV postcode lottery

I have again described Dundee’s digital TV output as a continuing postcode lottery and have written to the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, Maria Miller MP, calling for the government to review the multiplex arrangements on Freeview that mean that thousands of his West End constituents continue to receive far fewer TV channels from digital terrestrial TV than other Dundonians served by a different TV transmitter.
 
This is a long-standing anomaly caused by the previous government’s decision to make several of the Freeview multiplex channels available to only the so-called “main” transmitters and it means many people get a second-class service, despite paying the same TV licence fee as everyone else.     Never a month goes by when I don’t get an enquiry or complaint from a West End constituent.   It is an on-going complaint for many of my constituents as the majority of them – particularly in the southern part of the West End ward – can only get TV signals from the Tay Bridge relay transmitter that carries a reduced number of TV and radio channels.
 
It is really about time the government looked again at the issue.   It affects about a quarter of Freeview viewers across the UK, particularly in rural areas.   Here in Dundee, those who are served by the main Angus main transmitter get all Freeview TV and radio channels, but in the case of Tay Bridge transmitter, its 35,000 viewers do not get access to all channels on Freeview, including most residents of the West End and City Centre and much of Craigiebank and Broughty Ferry, as well as parts of north Fife.  
 
Additionally, many in the Charleston and Menzieshill areas using Freeview are similarly disadvantaged because they are served by the Dundee Menzieshill relay transmitter, again, without the full digital TV output.
 
The difference in TV and radio total channels is stark – 18 from Tay Bridge and Dundee Menzieshill transmitters;   78 from Angus transmitter.   
 
People quite rightly are continuing to complain about this.   They pay the same TV licence fee but they get a second-class service and it’s a postcode lottery depending on where you live in Dundee.   That is completely unfair.
 
I hope that Maria Miller will give consideration to requiring broadcasters whose output is delivered via Freeview to ensure their channels are available from all transmitters.   

TayScreen is 10!

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a very enjoyable event at Dundee Contemporary Arts as part of the 10th Anniversary celebrations of TayScreen that has done so much good work to promote Fife and Tayside for media development and film and TV production, post-production and animation.   

My involvement with TayScreen stems from our joint interest in promoting local television for Dundee, wider Tayside and North Fife, a project now with great potential.

Keith Partridge (right), a Fife-based adventure cameraman, gave a superb talk with dramatic film footage of some of his work.   

In his seminar session, Keith talked about adventure camera work and what it is like to undertake production in remote and dangerous places.  His presentation was hugely impressive and you can find out more about Keith’s work at www.adventurecamera.co.uk.