Channel 4 has had to build a new play-out system, following damage caused when a fire alarm was triggered at Red Bee’s Media broadcast centre on Saturday 25 September.

Red Bee Media’s broadcast centre transmits all Channel 4’s services, as well as services for other broadcasters, including the BBC and Channel 5. A large number of hard disks in a variety of systems were severely damaged. This significantly impacted the play-out servers which meant that channels and on-demand services were temporarily taken off-air.

While Channel 4 immediately activated its emergency back-up system, there are still what the channel describes as “significant problems, ” whilst operating in recovery mode.

One temporary problem is not being able to provide access services – subtitles, audio description or sign language support – for programmes broadcast since the incident.

In a statement, Channel 4 said: “The damage caused by the incident has meant that we have had to build a completely new system. Not only will this enable our channels to move back out of disaster recovery, but it also means we will be able to provide subtitles, audio description and sign language services as well.

“We have been rebuilding the system over the last few weeks, and there is still a considerable amount of work to be done.”

Completion is estimated for mid November.

When the emergency back-up was activated, the system that should have provided subtitles failed. The services were irretrievably lost during the incident and won’t be restored until the Channel moves to a new system under construction.

The channel has been testing alternative solutions for sub-titling and is gradually adding subtitles to programming using a work-around.

The Times reported that the fire suppression system at Red Bee’s headquarters sucked all the oxygen out of a room, causing a “sonic wave” that shut down the transmission servers.

Popular programming with subtitles will appear on All 4.

Pippa Considine

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