20. Memorandum submitted by the Confederation
of Aerial Industries Limited (CAI)
The CAI is the only representative body for
the TV and Radio signal distribution industry.
It functions as a non-profit making trade association
but stretches beyond normal trade association boundaries in that
it actively monitors and regulates its membership by its own inspectorate.
Its broad aim is to:
"Raise standards in the industry, unite
the industry on its common aims and to keep abreast of technological
The CAI is becoming more and more consumer facing,
capitalising on increasing public requirement for guaranteed,
quality service. Broadcasting is very much a mass media issue.
The public is subjected more and more to consumer based programming
where the focus is on "the best service and best price".
We refer to it as the "Watchdog Factor", where companies
deemed to have fallen short of certain standards are held to account
for their failure at peak viewing time. Currently the CAI is handling
12 to 15 calls per day purely from the public seeking impartial
information and help.
The CAI guarantees its members work within the
scope of individual receiving systems. A comprehensive back up
of the mandatory 12 month guarantee on members' equipment and
installation work is provided.
At time of writing the CAI has over 600 member
companies throughout the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.
These range from the small installation businesses right through
to the largest manufacturers and distributors of aerials and ancillary
equipment. There are currently 17 members across Wales, including
one of the leading UK manufacturers and distributors of aerial
With the "link" between broadcaster
and consumer coming more and more under scrutiny as the platforms
for broadcasting extend, the CAI wishes to be consulted more over
regulation that may be necessary to make sure the "playing
field" is an even one. At the moment those installers who
work to mandatory codes of practice cannot compete on price in
a market place driven by price strategy.
The CAI believes a "regulatory touch"
is the only route to consumer protection against the nefarious
practices that exist in industries where cost of entry is low
but the results of negligence dire.
1.1. A somewhat ambiguous question. Notorious
for its terrain and the difficulties this imparts on broadcasters
to reach its audience, Wales has other issues which have served
to complicate the subject of the Welsh people watching TV dedicated
to their lifestyle. The politics are for the Assembly to resolve,
however, once the technicalities which in turn affect the market
forces are understood, the broader picture of why the Welsh viewing
habits exist in the patterns they do today, will also be addressable.
1.2 As broadcasting spreads wider over a
larger frequency bandwidth, then the complexities of viewing habits
tend to rise in a certain proportion. Generally the UK is slower
to change as the BBC and ITV companies have had a marked command
of the market place, their resulting large available budgets giving
us quality programming that is difficult to compete with.
1.3 For this reason C4 has always struggled
to command large viewing figures and an even lower spend from
S4C would inevitably present less attractive viewing. There may
be lessons to be learned from C5. This new channel has commanded
admirable viewing figures considering its comparatively short
time on air and without the luxury of comprehensive terrestrial
coverage of the UK.
1.4 Until the advent of satellite and now
further platforms providing digital multiplexes, the very nature
of analogue UHF broadcasting enabled programming to be received
outside of their normal coverage area. Their nature is such that
signals degrade gracefullyunlike digital where the data
stream is lost as the signal falls over a "cliff-edge".
Signal reception areas for digital are more clearly definable.
Overlap of analogue signals has meant that over the years the
area of Wales bordering English countries have been able to benefit
from a choice of BBC, ITV regional programming and either S4C
or C4 or both.
1.5 Broadly categorised, viewers have been
able to erect aerials enabling:
BBC Northwest and Granada TV from Winter Hill
across coastal North Wales.
BBC Bristol and HTV West from Mendip or TWS/West
county from Huntshaw Cross, receivable across South Wales.
BBC Midlands and Central TV from The Wrekin,
Shropshire across the Mid Borderland and Ridge Hill across the
more southern Welsh counties (Powys and Gwent)
Across these more heavily populated areas we
have (according to installer sources in the CAI working South
Wales), a take up of nearing 90 per cent for out of area TV services,
ie, English programming to serve as an alternative to S4C. Here
attraction to view S4C becomes "diluted". Moving into
the more central, mid-Wales areas the choice simply does not exist
as the local relay transmitter provides the restricted services
of BBC, ITV and S4C. C5 only becomes an option via a satellite
dish. (The reasons for this are explained later). Here S4C will
enjoy higher viewing figures.
1.6 What is evident at this stage is that
the Welsh population living in the described areas of alternative
coverage are quite willing to invest in the necessary aerial installation
to view C4 and C5 where possible. An investment between £100
and £250 on combined receiving aerials is not uncommon.
2. THE MULTI-CHANNEL
2.1 The Satellite Choice
2.1.1 Until now the extension in multi-channel
viewing has only been a restricted free satellite service in the
early days of satellite, to what became a platform dominated by
pay-TV giant BSkyB. However, the field has now widened. Firstly
the complex history attached to the breaking down of the UHF TV
frequency spectrum into digital multiplexes drove BSkyB into a
competitive urge to extend its platform by accelerating its switch
to digital broadcasting via the Astra satellite system. The desire
by the BBC to broaden its offerings channel-wise also pushed forward
its need to be on all platforms. With few other "drivers"
other than ambition, BSkyB successfully launched its digital service,
which also enables viewers to the system to see BBC, C4, C5 and
SDN (S4C digital network). The only drawback here is the complexity
of the deal. Both digital platforms are accessed by a set-top
box (STB) and the product is subsidised. In the case of satellite
this makes the installation, connection and possible subscription
package complicated. A separate company operates the interactive
side of the deal making the whole deal a skill in itself to explain
to the customer.
2.1.2 Satellitethough complex in
its packagesdoes not have the reception problems associated
with land-based transmitters. A satellite in orbit can cover an
area 100 per cent from launch. The only potential loses on the
group are those shielded by large buildings or foliage. (Estimates
vary, but the aerial industry agrees that only 15 per cent of
the population are unable to view satellites at the top of the
arc either side of due south, this figure includes those restricted
to terrestrial signals as they live in flats served only with
2.2 The Terrestrial Offerings
2.2.1 Now referred to as "Digital through
an Aerial" to help distinguish the prospects to the consumer,
this platform has reception complexities all of its own. The terrestrial
UHF network across the UK as whole was only ever planned around
a 4-channel network. In most cases these channels were grouped
nicely together enabling reception from a relatively low cost
aerial installation. C5 changed the face of this plan, the channel
restricted to areas where space in the spectrum could be found.
This in itself creates a whole set of complexities making the
reception of C5 difficult if you are not in a major population
area. In other areas, only channels outside of the range of existing
aerial installations could be found. Couple this with lower transmission
powers and the viewer is faced with considerable investment in
order to view a single extra channel.
Up till now this has not deterred a high percentage
of Welsh viewers seeking alternatives when the options are limited.
2.2.2 We will now see however, that this
appetite for an alternative creates a receiving aerial landscape
that is not conductive to digital terrestrial reception.
3. WALES AND
The Terrestrial UHF Frequency Spectrum Explained
3.1 If we look closely at the Channel allocations
for the Wenvoe transmitter serving the densely populated areas
of South Wales the complexities of the Welsh TV reception issue
become easier to understand. (See fig. 1)
3.2 It must first be noted that the South
Wales area has been unavoidably "short changed" with
regard to digital multiplexes. Most of the UK will have access
to 6 multiplexesproviding the necessary signal level is
availablebut Wenvoe has only been allocated 4 out of 6
meaning that 2 multiplex options carrying ONdigital packages will
not be available for the foreseeable future. The reasons are simply
related to the fact that more frequency space is needed to provide
the multiplexes. Across the South Wales valleys the numerous relays
are frequency "hungry" and the complexities of relocated
channels already in use would be extremely costly and may disenfrachise
too many existing analogue viewers.
3.3 This makes the sale of an STB for digital
through an aerial giving restricted service a somewhat "hard
bargain" when pitched against a Sky package numbering in
WENVOE CHANNEL ALLOCATIONS
3.4 The box represents the complete UHF spread of channels
from 21 to 68. 1 to 4 in the centre is the existing BBC, ITV and
S4C channels. This conveniently illustrates the point made earlier
about the "grouping" of channels for which an aerial
can be manufactured that optimises reception of this "group".
We can see the "D" numbers, representing the new digital
multiplexes lie outside this group so an aerial change is called
for should the viewer purchase an STB for digital.
3.5 Add to this the scenario of the viewer combing 2
aerials for out of area reception of English C4 from Huntshaw
Cross (Devon) or Mendip (Avon) then the nature of the installation
further hinders the penetration of working STB's.
3.6 Three technicalities intervene here:
(a) The response pattern of the aerials effectively screens
out other frequencies.
(b) The combiner unit which "mixes" the aerials
down the same cable and filters signals.
(c) The orientation of the out of area receiving aerial.
The total of all three factors result in no digital frequencies
will be present at the STB. A "wideband" aerial directed
towards Wenvoe will need to replace the existing array in order
to facilitate operation of a digital STB.
3.7 Compared to the rest of the UK's heavily populated
areas, the South East, Midlands, Lancashire, Yorkshire and Strathclyde,
where frequencies have been located within existing aerial capability,
then a radical aerial expenditure will be required across this
particular area of Wales.
4. ASSEMBLY COVERAGE
4.1 In any area where UHF TV reception proves difficult
because of terrain then satellite coverage is a logical step forward.
There are definable limits with the use of a terrestrial network
limited to a certain bandwidth. However in the immediate future
a vacating of frequencies currently used for analogue and re-use
digitally will enable more gaps to be filled by digital relay
4.2 In the short term, while an analogue "switch-off"
would seriously disenfranchise many viewers, alternative means
of reaching the maximum audience should be sought. Satellite can
fulfil this destiny but its history so far has been slightly marred
by two characteristics.
(1) Apart from the necessary purchase of hardware, there
is the associated purchase of programme packages.
(2) The environmental stigma that a satellite dish is
an unsightly "blot" on the landscape. (An interesting
issue this when we consider nine million aerial masts on chimneys
as acceptable and necessary).
4.3 With the Welsh Assembly seeking a broadcast platform
from a "standing start" digital or even existing analogue
satellite do not offer any sort of mass audience. S4C is the obvious
vehicle with maximum penetration via existing analogue terrestrial.
However, there are undeniable benefits in promotion via digital
satellite. As already argued close to 90 per cent of the population
are covered and via the Astra satellite there is a potential "fast-track".
Dish size has helped the cause with the smaller digital dishes
allowed on chimneys in the same way as terrestrial aerials. This
in turn gives even greater population penetration.
4.4 The speed will be decided by the public decision
to go with satellite as the favoured platform in the short term.
The challenge lies in the marketing methods to relay the benefits
of satellite TV.
4.5 A key factor will be the price of multiple choice
of programming against a small number of terrestrial channels
from a complex, and therefore expensive, aerial installation.
The nature of Welsh terrain demands highly expensive remote aerials
feeding long cable runs. Some of these installations can amount
to the cost of a satellite system plus a year's subscription to
a full Sky programme package With the BBC looking towards "BBC
Parliament" could it well herald the launch of "BBC
Welsh Assembly"? The BBC is dedicated to all forms of broadcast
platforms so this would seem to be the logical step forward to
a new political era in Welsh history.
5. THE CAI CAN
5.1 The CAI wishes it to be known that it will be well
placed to help in any practical way it can in order to see that
a quality supply and installation service is provided to the consumer.
5.2 Some form of incentive may need to be offered if
the Assembly wishes to be aired to a wide public platform. Market
consultants employed to tackle that issue will need to consult
the aerial industry more seriously than broadcasters have done
5.3 The CAI is willing to spend time with those employed
to examine the logistics of reception, or even consult with the
assembly directly. There will be no financial charge here, merely
an assurance required that the CAI membership takes part in any
reception projects resulting from a policy decision.
5.4 Avoid this opportunity and purchasing on price may
restrict any political ambitions held by the Assembly. The public
may vote with their wallets or chequebooks when it comes to which
platform offers the best value TV.
5.5 With a "light regulatory touch" an even
better policing of the aerial industry would be possible which
in the long term would serve the population better. The CAI hopes
to outline how this could be carried out by representation to
the Department of Trade and Industry in the very near future.
Tim Jenks FSCTE CAI
11 December 1998