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Sky pulls plug on Gibraltar TV providers

Two television providers in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar have been told to stop distributing Sky channels.

The availability of British TV channels in Gibraltar has proved to be a grey-area ever since satellite signals from Sky became available and began to be unofficially distributed on local networks.

Following the launch of a 'fully-licensed' IPTV service from Government owned Gibtelecom, rival competitors say they've been told to remove Sky channels including Sky Arts, Sky Sports and Sky Cinema from their channel offering.

Local broadcaster GBC reported this week that Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has even arranged a meeting with Senior Management at Sky to discuss its legal coverage in Gibraltar.

One of the affected TV providers - U-Mee - said in a statement, issued on Tuesday:
"Although representatives from U-Mee have been corresponding with Sky for the past 9 months for an arrangement for Gibraltar we have been forced to agree to withdraw Sky channels from our fibre TV and Internet TV products."

The other rival, GibSat, has also been told to cease distributing Sky TV, according to GBC.

But the product offered by Gibtelecom only offers Sky News, Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports F1, leaving inhabitants on the Rock without access to other Sky channels. The Gibtelecom IPTV offering is limited to a relatively restricted number of broadcasters who have agreed to make their services available in Gibraltar, including Discovery, TCM and MTV. BBC World News is the only BBC channel currently carried on the service, while Spain's public broadcaster TVE and Spain's largest commercial channel Antena 3 are also available.

Gibtelecom told GBC the crackdown banning its rivals from carrying Sky is to do with efforts at reducing piracy, and that it is not responsible for the possible effect of these on Gibraltar. GBC said Sky did not respond to questions put to it regarding the situation.

GibSat indicated it had been trying to obtain the rights from Sky "for years", and that until Gibtelecom acquired access to the three Sky channels, no action had been taken against GibSat.

Being outside of the UK and not one of the Crown Dependencies around the British Isles, Gibraltar has been in a legal vacuum surrounding the provision of British channels, as most broadcast rights and licensing deals have not included Gibraltar. Many UK broadcasters have quietly tolerated the unofficial retransmission of their channels in Gibraltar until now. 

Traditionally, military personnel and their families in Gibraltar have had access to the best of British TV via BFBS. In the 1980s, GBC showed a selection of programmes bought in from British television, while in the 1990s, GBC relayed the now defunct BBC Prime service on its terrestrial frequencies. In recent times, GBC has focused on offering a schedule of just four hours of mostly local programmes each night, leaving the door open to satellite, communal cable and IPTV providers to offer a wider variety of content. Terrestrially, only GBC and Al Jazeera English are available from the transmitter on the Rock.

IPTV providers such as GibSat and U-Mee are cagey as to which channels they offer to subscribers. U-Mee says it does not provide a channel list "as this could imply a commitment to continue delivering the included channels as part of a TV service subscription." In a 2015 article published by Gibraltar International, U-Mee confirmed it was bringing "most of the channels down from the UK via fibre-optic cables." 

It's known that some IPTV and communal cable providers in Gibraltar and the South of Spain were caught out in 2014 when changes to satellite footprints were made, leaving them without a reliable signal of the main UK channels from the Astra 2E satellite, despite their large satellite dishes. Some openly offer access to unofficial online feeds or provide channels originating from encrypted feeds on Intelsat, intended as a back up to remote relay transmitters on the UK's terrestrial TV network. The large dish sizes required to receive British television in Gibraltar mean it is not a viable option for many households to use their own dish to receive services directly.