Satellite interference affects broadcasters & consumers

SINGAPORE: We've recently seen it happening to Sony Entertainment Television (SET) India during the telecast of a popular film awards ceremony. Star India, too, has faced some minor problems due to this in the past. We're talking about a growing menace called satellite interference, which affects both satellite operators and the end user.

Whether deliberate or not, satellite interference means a huge revenue loss for broadcasters, which is eventually recovered from the consumers. 

With an excess of 300 satellite channels in India and more than 200 in China, satellite interference is becoming an increasing problem as the technical uplinking requirements within these market places are not fully efficiently deployed.

Satellite interference today are caused by: equipment (40 per cent), unknown (22 per cent), human error (15 per cent), crosspol (13 per cent), antenna (8 per cent), deliberate (1 per cent) and terrestrial (negligible). Apart from this, military interference is also one of the causes.

"The different types of military interferences are: airborne and ship born radar, which generally affects downlinks; spread spectrum hidden use, which results in higher noise floor and is difficult to identify and transponder hopping. While the military are generally cooperative (except in war zones) as far as airborne and ship born radar is concerned, but in case of transponder hopping, they deny responsibility and hence it is difficult to ensure resolution," said Satellite Users Interference Reduction Group (SUIRG) chair of the board R James Budden.

ESPN Star Sports director of engineering Andy Rylance pondered over the economic losses caused by satellite interference. "The economic losses caused by satellite interference are very high and run into millions of dollars. At the end of the day, not just the broadcaster but even the consumer pays for it. The types of interference can be intentional (piracy or political), unintentional (faulty kit, misalignment), terrestrial and limited to channel, transponder or multi transponder," he said. 

So what are the costs? In terms of commercials, there is a loss of commercial breaks, which means huge revenue loss of the broadcaster. And if the interference is during prime time, the monies can run even deeper. Ratings is the other factor that are affected if the interference is extended. Apart from this, if the interference is extended, the broadcaster stands a chance of losing credibility in the eyes of the consumer, who will eventually switch to other channel, which have an uninterrupted broadcast. 

"The broadcaster will also have to pay for extra protection and maybe have a diverse feed, which actually doubles the cost or they can use fibre. But, that needs huge care in engineering to ensure availability. Some of the indirect costs of satellite interference are that the unusable space costs satellite operators real money and locating rogue uplinks is not cheap. What's more, the losses to satellite operators must ultimately be borne by users," Rylance said. 

While most interference is out of our hands, the fact is that it is draining cash from everyone's pocket. "What ever we can do to reduce the risk, we must do. Operational and engineering best practices will help," he concluded.

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