Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

BBC and ITV launches freesat - a new source of expat TV?

BBC Logo
After many years of talking about it (and also owning the Freesat trademark), BBC and ITV have just announced that they're launching the FreeSat free to view satellite digital TV service and as a holiday Gite owner I'm quite interested in this news.

It's not at all that well publicised by Sky but they've been offering their own Free satellite TV service since 2004 which operates by the rather unruly name of FreeSat from Sky - a tongue twister of a name mainly caused by BBC already owning the FreeSat trademark name!

Sky would of course you rather purchased one of their contract offerings but it's little advertised that if you buy a Satellite dish and a Sky decoder then you can receive some 200-odd channels without requiring any kind of decoder card or subscription service at all. Admittedly an awful lot of the channels you can receive are not the sort of things you want to watch regularly (unless you like shopping TV or adult phone sex channels) but there is still more than enough that you can watch without a decoder card - BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, ITV1-4, Men & Motors, Zone Reality, Film 4, CNN, France 24, CBeebies, dozens of radio channels, etc, etc.

For some strange licensing reason you don't receive Channel 4, Channel 5, Five Life, Five US and Sky Three without a decryption card but you can pay a one-off £20 fee to Sky and receive a basic decryption card which enables you to watch these additional channels without any further monthly subscription. If you want to watch Sky One, UK Gold, More Four, E4 and most of the movie and other entertainment channels then you do have to take out a monthly subscription, but for me with our French Gite, the basic channel set is sufficient.

It's also not all that well advertised but the Astra Digital satellite broadcasts not just to the UK and Ireland but also to much of Northern continental Europe. For our Brittany Gite a standard-sized receiver dish is all you need but the signal reaches as far down as Spain and Italy (although a larger dish is usually required).

Installing the Sky Dish (in the dark)

Back in March 2005 we bought a second hand Sky decoder box off ebay (they're readily available for £30 or so, usually from customers who are upgrading to Sky+ or SkyHD) and a satellite dish from a nearby BricoMarche in France and then I climbed up the ladder and erected the dish. A bit of wobbling it from side to side before we got the best signal we could and the job was done, a perfect UK TV picture. I did decide to start doing this at about 7:30pm in the evening so that's why it's rather dark in the picture (and it was even darker by the time I had finished), but all in all it was a comparatively easy thing to do.
Since then we've bought a second decoder box and also put Sky TV into the master bedroom in the Gite so you can watch TV in bed - luxury!

It's not immediately apparent from the Freesat website whether they're also broadcasting their 80-200 channels on the Astra satellite (so in other words my existing dish is already aligned to receive the signal and I wouldn't need to move it), or whether the list of channels is going to be substantially different from the Sky FreeSat offering, although the BBC digital package comparison Q&A seems to imply that there will be more major movies and sports programs on the Freesat offering so it's definitely one to keep an eye on.

I've just found in the Freesat Q&A that Freesat is "broadcast from Astra 2 at 28.2° East and Eurobird at 28.5° East" so my existing Sky dish which is aligned to the Astra 2 satellites should be able to pickup the signal without any problems.

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  • Just a note to say that E4 and More 4 are now on the "freesat" with Sky (I think just as of yesterday).

    By Anonymous pat, at May 07, 2008  

  • Good article and plenty of good info.I have a question though, I have Sky with a free to view card. Is there any major differences between this and the new Freesat service (except of course the need for a decoder card)?

    By Anonymous Bob Toovey, at May 07, 2008  

  • Hi Bob

    From what I can see from the Freesat channel listings it appears that right now they're offering pretty much a subset of the already free channels that are already available on Sky.
    The only things I can see that at launch are additional are E4 and More4 (although as Pat points out these may have switched yesterday to being Free on Sky), and the only other additional free channel is BBC HD (followed "soon after launch" with ITV HD).

    Other channels are promised soon and if they're all being broadcast on Astra 2 then maybe we'll be able to receive them with our Sky dish straight away?


    By Blogger Geoffrey, at May 07, 2008  

  • It might be worth switching to FreeSat just for the HD channels, though I don't have an HD TV yet!

    I live down in the south west, border of 24 and 47. I get Sky fairly well unless it is raining. So I should be able to get FreeSat as the same satellite is being used. I may wait for a while to see how the launch goes and what the general comments about the service are.

    By Anonymous Bob Toovey, at May 09, 2008  

  • Hi Geoffrey,
    Thanks for the here's a slight challenge... do you reckon we could receive the new FreeSat channels from Astra2 down in the south of France (between Nice and Marseilles)? We've just bought a house down there and are trying to set up the satellite reception arrangement.Astra2B and 2D
    seem receivable OK so do you reckon I could find the new FreeSat service on them?

    By Anonymous Gordon, at May 10, 2008  

  • Hi Gordon

    If you can receive Astra 2B and 2D signals OK then I think you ought to be able to receive Freesat OK.

    I use the excellent Lyngsat satellite listings website at for details of what Sky channels are available, and as Pat pointed out, E4 and More4 have changed over to unencrypted from 8th May (or thereabouts).

    Lyngsat don't appear yet to have a specific listing of the Freesat channels (like they do for Sky) but from what I can see on the 28 degree East changes all the Freesat transmissions are on Astra 2D so if you can receive 2D with Sky then you should be OK with Freesat.

    There's actually 5 satellites in the same area of the Sky (28 degree east), Astra 2A through to 2D and Eurobird 1, and Lyngsat also has some handy maps of the signal coverage for each of the satellites - e.g. Astra 2D. Astra 2D is actually the most "narrow focussed" of the satellites (i.e. it's directed more tightly at the UK rather than spread over most of Europe) so you'll probably need a fairly large sized dish if you're down in Marseilles.


    By Blogger Geoffrey, at May 10, 2008  

  • Channel 4,E4 and More4 have recently gone free to air leaving only channel 5 unavailable without a viewing card. Channel 5 is supposed to be changing to free to air later this year.

    Also, you do not need a sky box to receive all the free to air channels in France.

    I purchased a digital satellite receiver and dish from my local 'Brico' shop and it picks up all the tv and radio channels.

    George sans 's'

    By Blogger Auxois, at June 09, 2008  

  • George sans 's',

    My Digibox just got Zapped by lightning and I was looking where to get a new one when I saw your comment.
    "you do not need a sky box to receive all the free to air channels in France"

    Quick question; do you get ALL the free to air like BBC Ch4 etc.?


    By Anonymous Henry Barnett, at August 19, 2008  

  • Henry

    With the BBC Freesat box then yes you should be able to get all the Free channels such as C4, BBC, etc.

    Alternatively you can always pick up a cheap Sky digibox off ebay. Over the last couple of years we've had no problems with the 4 Digiboxes boxes we've bought off ebay, usually for £30-ish from people that have upgraded to SkyPlus and then have a spare "old" Digibox they no longer want.


    By Blogger Geoffrey, at August 23, 2008  

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