Tens of thousands of British TV viewers around Europe have lost touch with the BBC and ITV as broadcasters moved onto new satellites.

BBC channels began moving onto Astra 2E and Astra 2F on February 6, with ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 also moving over the next few days.

The new satellites delivers higher power over the UK and Ireland, but their tightly-focused beams drop in strength very rapidly beyond France, Belgium and The Netherlands.


View Analoguesat's Astra 2E UK reception reports in a larger map

Satellite operator SES publicised the swap in advance, with satellite enthusiasts, Anglophiles and expats across Europe tuned in through the early hours as the channels moved.

Less tech-savvy expats woke on Thursday morning to find their TV channels missing and no information from the BBC or ITV.

Previously-useful dishes in Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece and beyond were no longer capable of picking up useful signals.

As with previous spot-beam reception, unexpected patterns appeared across Europe creating hotspots and notspots in fringe areas.

For instance, the official footprint of the two satellites doesn’t include the hotspot which seems to have emerged again over the Costa Brava, although even large dishes seem out of luck further south and west.

Ross Lockley, aka Analoguesat on the satellites.co.uk forum, has mapped members’ reports onto Google Maps, creating a guide of dish sizes which might work.

Astra 2E and Astra 2F were launched in late 2013 and completed their in-orbit testing before Christmas, but couldn’t be put into action until SES and its European rival, Eutelsat, had reached an agreement over disputed frequencies.

BBC and ITV satellite moves cut off expat viewers

In January, the satellite operators ended their dispute, which had run since both launched satellites to the 28 degrees East orbital position in the late 1990s.

An interim agreement had allowed both operators to use the position, but this expired last year as Astra prepared a new generation of satellites for 28E.

While early satellite TV signals blanketed the entire continent, the introduction of spot beams has allowed satellite operators to reuse valuable frequencies by targeting different areas from the same piece of orbital real estate.

TV satellites use a special orbit called the Clarke Belt (identified by the late science and science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke), 36,000km above the Earth’s equator.

At this distance - and nowhere else - satellites orbit the Earth at the same speed the planet rotates, so they appear to be stationary from the ground and satellite dishes don’t need a motor to follow them across the sky.

Spots in this geostationary orbit are allocated equally to every country, and usually leased out to commercial satellite operators like Astra.

BBC and ITV in Europe: broadcasting without permission

It's only been a happy accident that expats and our European cousins have been able to pick up the BBC and other British channels - even if you're an expat with a UK TV Licence, the BBC doesn't have permission to broadcast outside the UK.

That's because the copyright for film, sports and TV is sold on a territorial basis, and BBC Worldwide makes a lot of money reselling BBC shows to subscription channels on European TV, and that money goes back into the BBC's programme-making funds.

The only exception to this is news, which is why BBC World News is available free almost anywhere in the world.

Spillover has always been tolerated, whether it's UHF broadcasts in northern France and the Low Countries or satellite TV over Europe, but it turns out that was always living on borrowed time.