Luvvies get temporary reprieve
West End not reduced to opera as yet
Ofcom has guaranteed some radio channels will be available for the wireless microphones used in theatre and for events, at least until 2009 - but the available frequencies won't be the same across the country, which could be a nightmare for touring shows.
The problem for Programme Making & Special Events (PMSE) users is the uncertainty as to what frequency will be available where, as the country switches to digital TV. This lack of information is preventing companies investing in radio equipment, in the fear that it might become impossible to use within a few years.
Ofcom has now stated that channels 63-69 will be available in the first areas to switch over, but only until 2009 when those frequencies are sold off.
The British Entertainment Industry Radio Group told Policy Tracker that this is "a small but significant" decision. But what the group would like to see is all the auction details made available and no usage of the ex-analogue blocks until 2013.
"There is nothing stopping Ofcom from getting on and designing the auctions for the released spectrum," says the group. "But the awards should stipulate that it cannot be used for new services until 2013."
The group points out that this would ensure effective operation of PMSE services at the 2012 Olympics.
In June, Ofcom put out a consultation document suggesting that either a body be established to bid for frequencies for resale to productions, or that a block of frequency be reserved until 2018, in the hope that a technical solution would make the problem go away by then. A decision on those options isn't expected until the end of the year.
PMSE users have always had privileged access to the spaces between the analogue TV channels, and the switch to digital threatens to leave them shouting, or going back to wired equipment. The industry has argued it needs special treatment thanks to the money it brings into the country (in terms of tourism), very little of which goes directly to the theatres or their productions. ®
"wireless mics would operate at such low power "
They do, and they extend to only about 100 metres outside the building.
However, the SAME frequencies cannot ALSO be used by high power equipment, even 20 miles away.
At the moment, it works because TV stations in Wales and the Midlands do not use the same frequencies as those in London, because if they did they would interfere with each other at the borders -- so low power radio mikes in Wales and the Midlands can use the London TV frequencies, and vice versa.
However, the winning bidder will get nationwide use of each frequency and therefore there will be no longer be any guarantee of regional availability for the use of low power devices -- except possibly in channel 69, but that is too small on its own to support even one theatre let alone several in close proximity, as is the case with many of the West End theatres.
It's other signals interfering that's the problem
The signals given off by small radio mics buried in a luvvies' wig aren't that strong, which means that if someone else down the road is using the same frequencies then there's going to be interference. See 'Spinal Tap' for an example of what happens. The entertainment industry therefore needs it's own nationwide frequencies to be sure that there won't be any problems.
It's not just theatre that's affected it's also rock'n'roll, and the massive conference and events industry. Everything from the lighting up of the London Eye at New Years to those crazy lighting pantographs used in the last Coldplay tour relies on radio control.
Britain is an international leader in such things; Cirque du Soleil rely on a British company to build their automated set pieces and there was a heavy British involvement in the Asian Games opening, the Turin Winter Olympics opening and the Athens Olympics opening. Yet despite this OFCOM seem determined to undermine the industry. Similar threats against the financial sector would be short-lived, it's a shame the government don't care about the technical side of the entertainment industry.
@ Karl Lattimer
Your prognosis is wrong on two counts :
1) Firstly, once the spectrum is sold off then these systems will become illegal to use - actually the licence will be removed before that.
2) It's not so much what these systems will do to the new services, but what the new services will do to them. I'm sure we're all familiar with the interference you can hear in analogue systems from mobiles - now consider what this would do to the theatrical uses once the bands are filled with (relatively) high power digital transmissions.