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Channel 4 subtitles outage breached licence, Ofcom rules

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Channel 4 breached the conditions of its broadcast licence by failing to provide enough subtitled programming to some viewers in autumn 2021 after a sonic boom destroyed equipment used to broadcast its programmes, the media watchdog has found.An investigation by the media regulator Ofcom concluded that Channel 4, which is under threat of privatisation, breached its licence conditions when a fire alarm caused the sonic boom to damage computer servers.Ofcom said that on the evening of 25 September, a fire alarm activated at a broadcast centre run by Red Bee Media, a private company that specialises in “playout” services for British broadcasters.

The fire alarm system was designed to quickly reduce the oxygen level in the area through the release of nitrogen gas that is stored under high pressure.

Unfortunately, this also created a sonic boom that damaged many computer servers beyond repair.Red Bee acts as an intermediary on behalf of most of the UK’s television channels, taking the data files for each programme and combining them with subtitles and associated technical information.

It sends the combined data stream onwards for transmission to people’s homes through Freeview, satellite and cable television services.While the BBC and Channel 5 were also affected by the fire alarm incident, they were able to restore services relatively quickly by using well-established backup procedures.

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