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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 14:55 GMT
Q&A: The BBC and Sky Digital
The BBC is going "in the clear" on digital satellite from May - and quitting the Sky Digital set-up. But what does this mean for viewers? BBC News Online explains.

Does this mean BBC One goes off air on my satellite from 30 May?

Not at all. All BBC services will stay on the digital satellite service, and viewers will not need to do anything to keep watching their services.

The main change viewers will notice at first is that you will no longer need a Sky card to watch BBC channels.

So why has the BBC done this?

It means the BBC no longer has to pay BSkyB millions of pounds in fees to encrypt - scramble - its services, to make sure they cannot be received by viewers outside the UK.

The money it is saving - about 85m - can then go back into programmes, and improving the service for digital satellite viewers.

How is it doing this?

Sky Digital kit
The kit: Sky currently dominates the digital satellite system
The BBC's services will move to a different satellite, one which focuses on the UK rather than the whole of Europe, so they will not need to be encrypted.

While Sky currently markets the boxes and dishes needed to get digital satellite - and operate the electronic programme guide (EPG) - it only controls a handful of the hundreds of channels available.

Now the BBC is moving off Sky's satellite, all it will need to do is pay about 30,000 a year for a listing on the EPG.

What does this mean for viewers?

It means the BBC can make all its regional programming - 15 services in England, plus the national networks for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - available on satellite.

At present, just a handful of regional news programmes are available. Now the BBC will have the money to buy the space on satellite to ensure that, say, a Welshman living in London can watch BBC One Wales rather than the English version.

ITV viewers have been able to do this since autumn 2001, although it has been little-publicised and does involve a cumbersome retuning process.

Celtic v Rangers
Sports rights will need to be renegotiated by the BBC
So I can watch Gaelic football or Scottish Premier League action in London?

Maybe. The rights for these are only for Northern Ireland and Scotland respectively. The BBC is hoping to renegotiate the contracts so these sporting events can be shown across the UK - but if it is unsuccessful, they will be kept off the satellite service.

What about Sky?

Viewers will no longer need to go to Sky to get digital satellite TV. Competitors could now come in, sell their own boxes and dishes, and install them - without having to deal with Sky at all.

CNN presenter Becky Anderson
CNN is available on satellite, but is not part of Sky Digital
Admittedly, viewers who do not have a Sky card have a patchy range of about 80 "in the clear" services to choose from - they include CNN and auction channel bid-up.tv.

But with the BBC going "in the clear", it opens up the way for other channels to join them, and even - possibly - for a rival subscription operation to be set up.

Viewers have been able to obtain cards to watch BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 services only since Sky Digital launched in 1998.

But these have been little-promoted - and Sky even used BBC Three's showing of EastEnders episodes first to push Sky Digital boxes, and therefore subscriptions to its own services.

Why did the channels need encrypting?

To prevent them from being seen outside the UK - sport and film rights are often sold on a country-by-country basis and, for example, the FA would not be happy to see French viewers watching the FA Cup for free in France, when it may be trying to sell the rights to another channel there.

The satellite the BBC is moving to - Astra 2D - covers much less of Europe, so the BBC does not need to worry about scrambling its services.

What about ITV1, Channel 4 and Five?

Their position with Sky remains the same. But when their deals with Sky end the BBC has said they are welcome to join it "in the clear".

Indeed, ITV is known to be unhappy about the money Sky charges the network.

To have all the UK's public service broadcasters operating independently of Sky would be a huge challenge to the satellite operator, on top of it losing even more money from the loss of the contracts.

The BBC and Sky still work together on Freeview
What about Freeview and cable?

No change. In fact, the BBC is aiming to make getting its digital services on satellite as simple as it is to get it through an aerial - all you would need to do is buy a box and a dish, and ignore Sky's subscription system. All Freeview viewers have to do now is buy a box.

What happens next?

The BBC will still not want to fall out completely with Sky. It needs to negotiate with Sky to get its regional services onto the electronic programme guide - but it has threatened to go to the regulatory authorities if it does not get its way.

The BBC says there are advantages for Sky in this in that people could buy a cheap free-to-air satellite kit to get the BBC - and upgrade to Sky later.

And the two outfits will still work together on the Freeview service, which only launched late last year.

BBC ends Sky digital deal
12 Mar 03 |  Entertainment

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