Updated >> A number of the UK’s biggest TV channels suddenly crashed off air on Saturday night after a playout centre was evacuated.
A fire at Red Bee Media in West London affected live continuity announcements, playout and Freeview multiplexing during Saturday primetime.
The BBC’s live continuity announcements in England were initially replaced by generic recorded announcements. TV channels remained on air by switching to a back up in Salford. Channel 4, Channel 5 and their offshoot channels fell off air completely. S4C in Wales was affected by a knock-on issue affecting Freeview distribution.
Channel 5 switches to back-up
Channel 5 and its offshoot channels were fastest back on air within an hour, using a backup facility. This meant broadcasts included a black and white box in the top right of the channel. However, 5 Select remained off air on Freeview. Its online streams remained unavailable as priority was given to restoring services on linear TV platforms.
Channel 4 crippled
Channel 4 was particularly badly affected, although services were restored to most satellite and cable viewers after 8pm. Freeview viewers remained without a service for longer. Sky boxes struggled with the sound on Channel 4 HD during its broadcast of film Deadpool 2, although other satellite devices were fine.
Its sister network, the Box Plus Network, including Kiss TV, Magic TV and The Box – remained off air for several hours. By 9pm, the first music channels started to resume broadcasts.
More 4, E4 and Film 4 all experienced disruption, but 4seven remained on air throughout.
Red Bee Media provides playout and distribution services on behalf of broadcasters across the world. Its West London facility at White City, close to Television Centre, the former BBC HQ services most of the UK’s biggest broadcasters. All employees at the site were safely evacuated. Affected broadcasters issued statements apologising for the loss of service.
Work is ongoing through the night to restore the remaining disrupted services.
Freeview particularly affected
Red Bee’s role in the distribution of Freeview services meant that some channels could not be restored immediately on terrestrial TV, despite being back on air on satellite and cable platforms.
On Freeview, part of the infrastructure that underpins the distribution of commercial public service channels was severely affected by the fire. This led to S4C becoming temporarily unavailable on terrestrial in Wales, although satellite was unaffected. Channel 4’s services on Freeview were gradually restored on a region-by-region basis around two hours after the initial incident. But the main Channel 4 service remained disrupted in some regions into the night.
In some regions, restored Freeview channels were plagued by poor picture quality due to issues encoding and multiplexing Channel 4’s services. Channel 4’s HD channel and 5Select, which are distributed through the BBC on Freeview, were pulled altogether while the disruption continued.
Channel 4 HD returned to Freeview shortly before midnight.