A fire at Red Bee Media – which provides playout and distribution services for many broadcasters – caused a number of UK TV networks to fall off air this evening.
Staff were evacuated from the Red Bee building at around 6.30pm. BBC network announcer Duncan Newmarch tweeted that staff could smell smoke in a corridor:
I’ve just spent the last two hours stood outside the building. The fire alarm rang out and we could smell smoke in the corridor so had to evacuate- nobody’s hurt. BBC1 and BBC2 are currently broadcasting from Salford.Duncan Newmarch (@DuncanNewmarch)
Red Bee Media issued a statement shortly before 11.30pm this evening:
We confirm that all staff at our Broadcast Centre in West London were safely evacuated following activation of the fire suppression systems this evening.Red Bee Media
As a result of this incident and the automatic safety measures set in motion at the time, several services originating from the Broadcast Centre have been disrupted.
London Fire Brigade attended the scene, and once they had determined that the building is safe, people were allowed to return to the building. We are continuing to work to restore all services and remedy any issues caused by this incident.
To avoid speculation, we will not make any further statements until all services have been fully restored and we have concluded a full investigation of the cause. We apologise for any inconvenience for our customers and their viewers.
Playout of BBC One England and BBC Two England was seamlessly switched to Red Bee’s Salford facility. CBBC, CBeebies and BBC Four are routinely based at Salford anyhow.
This meant that none of BBC TV’s UK services were impacted by the incident at Red Bee’s London building – albeit BBC One and BBC Two in England had generic, pre-recorded announcements into programmes for a period. The announcements are available at the TV Home website.
The BBC’s international news channel BBC World News is reported to have suffered a brief loss of ad breaks – which are inserted by Red Bee. Programming was not affected.
All Channel 4 and Channel 5-owned channels are also played out from Red Bee. They didn’t fare quite as well.
At the start of the incident, many of the Channel 4-owned stations were left broadcasting still images of programmes or advertisements. Many viewers reported that trails and ads continued to play out on some Channel 4 channels – but no programmes.
Channel 4 services were gradually being restored on digital satellite and cable from shortly after 8pm. Though there were some issues with sound on Channel 4 HD.
Channel 4 services on Freeview continue to be plagued by issues. This is because Channel 4 and some of its channels are distributed to the terrestrial transmitter network from the Red Bee facility – on a regional multiplex – and this portion of the Red Bee operation appeared to struggle to get back to normal. Services were being restored on a region-by-region basis.
Channel 4 SD on Freeview was reportedly playing out ads at the wrong time. Channel 4 HD was unavailable on Freeview for the remainder of the evening – a static apology message was broadcast instead. It returned to normal around midnight. The HD version of the channel is distributed to the Freeview network by the BBC.
Some eagle-eyed viewers noticed that elements of the on-screen DOGs now appeared solid white rather than the usual fully transparent logos. This is believed to indicate the channel is being broadcast from Channel 4’s DR facility.
Viewers in various parts of the country reported picture quality issues with some Channel 4 services on Freeview. This was due to issues with encoding and multiplexing.
It’s also been reported that subtitles have not been available on any of Channel 4’s TV services since the start of the Red Bee incident. It looks as though the teletext signal was not being broadcast in the correct position (usually outside of the viewable picture area). A portion of the teletext signal was visible in the top left corner.
The Box, The Box Hits, Magic and Kerrang – also owned by Channel 4 – were also struck down. In some cases, on-screen graphics continued to appear but there were no music videos. Some of these channels started coming back online shortly after 9pm. Magic was the last of the group to be restored, at around midnight.
S4C has been replaced by E4 on Freeview in Wales, as a result of tonight’s problems at Red Bee. Although S4C playout is based at BBC Wales HQ in Cardiff, the channel’s output is sent to Red Bee in London for distribution to the DTT network.
Channel 5’s portfolio of channels were off air for about an hour, during which time a generic apology message was broadcast. The broadcaster’s DR operation then kicked in (indicated by a black and white square in the top tight corner of the screen) and most services were restored on all platforms, with the exception of 5Select on Freeview (distributed to the DTT network by the BBC), which was reinstated around midnight.
Channel 5 suffered a playout issue at 1am. The continuity announcer (pre-recorded) introduced The 21.co.uk Live Casino show but it failed to appear. The channel remained on black and silence for five minutes, before looping Entertainment News on 5 (which was scheduled to air at 3am) every ten minutes. This continued until the next scheduled programme at 3.10am.
Some BT Sport channels were also impacted by the issues at Red Bee.
RELATED ARTICLE: the ongoing fallout from this incident is being tracked on this special status page.
PICTURED: Red Bee control area. COPYRIGHT: Red Bee Media.