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Ofcom UK Examine Future of TV Distribution in a Broadband World

Thursday, May 9th, 2024 (12:24 pm) - Score 3,520
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The UK media and telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has today published an interesting new report for the Government that examines the future of TV distribution in an increasing broadband (internet) connected world and proposes how to address the inevitable tipping point – where Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) services risk become too expensive to sustain.

As most people will already be aware from their own experiences, there has been somewhat of a radical shift in how we all access and view TV content over the past decade. Such content is now increasingly being viewed online, via services like Netflix, Amazon (Prime Video), NOW TV, Sky Glass, Virgin Media STREAM, YouTube and so forth.

NOTE: The current level of UK DTT coverage stands at 98.5% of households for the PSB multiplexes. In addition, Freesat Coverage is 98%, but overlaps with DTT such that many of the remaining homes who cannot receive DTT are able to receive Freesat (particularly important for rural Wales).

The average person now spends 25% fewer minutes per day watching broadcast TV in 2023 than in 2018 and this trend is expected to continue. As a result, watching scheduled TV channels through DTT and Satellite is forecast to drop from 67% of total long-form TV viewing in 2022, to 35% by 2034 and 27% by 2040. Many of those who remain (rely solely on DTT) include people who are older, less affluent or have a disability.

As indicated above, this change in trends is typically going at a different pace for different groups of people.

TV Viewing by Different Groups

• Some (especially younger) audiences now only watch content over the internet, and little linear TV. Around 5.3 million households solely access TV over the internet.

• Most audiences (around 17.9m households) are ‘hybrid viewers’ and enjoy the best of both worlds: supplementing viewing of traditional TV channels with on-demand and scheduled content over broadband.

• There are then audiences who solely rely on DTT or Freesat for their TV viewing – around 3.9 million households today. These households are more likely to include people who are older, less affluent, or have a disability.

The difficulty is that this means broadcasters (e.g. BBC, ITV etc.) are now paying to distribute their content both online and via traditional infrastructures like DTT with costs rising. The less time people spend on DTT, the less cost-effective per viewer it is. “For the first time, many broadcasters have told us that they foresee a tipping point at which it is no longer economically viable to support DTT in its current form,” said Ofcom’s report.

Digging deeper into the report, it’s noted that a “significant number of broadcasters voiced concerns” in their evidence that maintaining the existing DTT infrastructure is “unlikely to be commercially attractive after the mid-2030s“. This is relevant as the UK Government have already committed to the future of DTT until 2034.

Broadband coverage plays a role in all this, particularly if online viewing ultimately becomes the only means of accessing TV. At present 99.8% of the UK can access download speeds of at least 10Mbps (i.e. leaving around 0.2% or c.60,000 premises without access), while “superfast” speeds of 30Mbps+ are available to 97% and gigabit (1000Mbps+) speeds can be taken by 78%.

Ofcom correctly notes that a speed of 10Mbps can be sufficient for both several Standard Definition (SD) and a single stream of High Definition (HD) viewing, although they don’t mention that this will inevitably improve as new video standards emerge and compression improves (as it always does, alongside faster computer processors).

However, in practice, multiple users in a household can quickly put this sort of connection under strain, and a speed of 30Mbps+ is thus expected by most stakeholders to become the future minimum – something the new broadband USO review will need to consider.

On the other hand, given the current strong pace of full fibre (FTTP) deployment and the Government’s own Project Gigabit programme (i.e. aiming to achieve c.99% coverage of gigabit broadband by 2030), the issue may end up being more about take-up than network coverage by the mid-2030s.

Ofcom’s Statement

Without intervention, there will likely remain a cohort of people who do not take up broadband because they do not have the means, skills, or interest to do so. To ensure any partial or full managed switchover is as inclusive as possible, Government, industry, and Ofcom would need to work together to design a scheme which provides significant consumer support.

Designing this scheme would be complex but there would be wider societal and economic benefits to increased digital literacy and connection to the internet.

The report then goes on to propose several different approaches for delivering universal TV in the future, which is based on there currently being “widespread support across the sector for TV services continuing to be available to all, with a strong offering from public service broadcasters“.

Potential Approaches for Maintaining Universal TV Access

1. Investment in a more efficient DTT service – a more efficient, but full DTT service could be an option if audience scale and investment could be sustained over the 2030s. This option may well include supporting audiences with new equipment for more efficient broadcast signals.

2. Reducing DTT to a core service – the DTT platform could retain a minimum number of core channels – for example the main public service and news channels. This would mean viewers mainly using the internet to access TV services, while also maintaining infrastructure that could deliver radio or TV, including if there are internet outages. It could be done as a temporary transition to a fuller switch off or remain indefinitely as a provider of last resort.

3. Move towards DTT switch-off in the longer term – a planned campaign to ensure people are confident and connected with internet services, so DTT could be switched off. It would take careful planning to ensure universality of public service media, with support for people so that no-one is left behind. This could have wider benefits for digital inclusion in other areas of society.

Ofcom doesn’t signal a preference for any particular approach because that’s more a matter for the Government, broadband providers and the broadcasters to decide. But the regulator does note that any transition would “take 8-10 years“, which makes it important that the work on this is starting now.

Report: Future of TV Distribution
https://www.ofcom.org.uk/../future-of-tv-distribution

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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58 Responses
  1. Avatar photo RightSaidFred says:

    Interesting article.

    If we’re going FTTP everywhere then TV via broadband is the natural evolution of broadcasting.

    However, there’s a risk that people become disenfranchised. There’s a lot of folk that take issue with paying the licence fee, so if we add the requirement to pay a broadband provider as well then this could turn sour.

    1. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      But will everywhere have FTTP? It may seem a long time, the mid 2030s, but it is not that long and while FTTP seems to be getting laid in many places, I wonder if it will ever be everywhere. For a start, it has to be viable, and there are many people that live in the middle of no where.
      Also, what about people who don’t have or want broadband for the home? As I have said before in other articles, maybe having broadband installed that can only be used for Freely or what ever system is around at that time., paid for by the BBC licence fee. If these people decide they want to use it for other stuff then they can decide to pay for it and they can then choose their provider.

      Not perfect and yes I know there will be problems, like what fibre network to use and what provider to use.

      I don’t know what the answer is to be honest, I stopped watching terrestrial and linear TV years ago, stopped paying for the licence must be years or more ago. So not going to bother me and by that time it may not bother me anyway

    2. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      According to most surveys on here (and all government propaganda) everyone nationally already has access to FTTP don’t they?? 😉

    3. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      @Buggerlugz, LOL. I know of a fair few people who don;have access to FTTP, either chat online or personally. I know of a couple who can’t even get ADSL, they have to use a mobile network and only able to do that by sticking an aerial on the side of their house. They were using dial up before I set them up with that a couple of years ago.

      Even in the small city I live in, not everyone can get FTTP, granted it is getting better as more of the city is being covered, but there are people in a large estate who can’t get FTTP

    4. Avatar photo graham says:

      @buggerlugz

      havent seen that most surveys say that most have fttp. its around 80% if u include virgin docsis or around 60% ( i think i saw ) that is fttp. openreach will be around 30m by 2030, so around 3m wont be able to have openreach fttp but will have to use virgin or one of the alt nets for that

    5. Avatar photo Simon Farnsworth says:

      Note when you’re thinking about viability of FTTP in a world where Freeview and Freesat are ending, you’ve also got to consider how much subsidy is available for FTTP installations to enable the broadcasters to stop paying for Freeview transmitter sites and Freesat transponders + uplinks.

      It might well be the case that it’s cheaper to subsidise FTTP installs in hard-to-reach areas that have Freeview or Freesat coverage than to keep broadcasting for a shrinking set of viewers.

  2. Avatar photo Kushan says:

    I don’t really see a long future for broadcast TV, anything that isn’t moving away from it is just delaying the inevitable.

    The spectrum DTV uses could be far better used to increase broadband coverage and maybe instead of buying expensive broadcast equipment, providers could subsidise paying for bandwidth specifically for the typical FTA channels.

  3. Avatar photo Matt says:

    An interesting position and one that makes a lot of sense… in many scenarios.

    What I’m not sure about is how free to access TV gets decoupled from pay for access broadband services. Yes, the connectivity medium is better and would result in a better viewing experience but it would require additional contractual costs that are not currently an issue with Freesat and Freeview services.

    Realistically, I can’t see there every being a nationwide free broadband tier that gives access to IP delivered TV. That’d ultimately be required to give the flexibility that free terrestrial/satellite services provide.

    1. Avatar photo NE555 says:

      That problem will go away by itself, with no need for a “free tier”: already most people pay for broadband, by 2035 almost everyone will.

      TV is not a human right, so the point will come where if you want to watch TV, you need to get broadband installed. Or listen to the radio instead.

    2. Avatar photo Rich says:

      I mean we don’t decouple free to access tv from pay to access electricity services.

      Broadband will be (and for many already is) as essential as electricity.

  4. Avatar photo Al says:

    As long as the group “broadcast2040+” have no say whatsoever then I’m happy. It’s groups like them that ruin it for everyone else.

    1. Avatar photo yeehaa says:

      They did give a response here:

      https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0032/284945/Broadcast-2040.pdf

      DTT is on it’s way out. It’s just a question of when. As others have said, the frequencies could be used for far better applications. Also just think about the amount of power consumption saved from having to power the TV transmitters!

  5. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

    This smells like a fishing expedition to develop a new TV licensing framework that nobody (apart from those able to slurp the cream off the top of the milk) wants.

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      There’s certainly room here to prevent anyone from watching the broadcast channels without paying the licence fee, indeed. They’d have to use a similar service to the ones rebroadcasting premium services otherwise.

    2. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      I wouldn’t worry. Every one will move to PPV or subscription. Then watch the prices rocket as they have control. The new Widevine DRM implemented by some recently and new Apple Fairplay is proving impossible to crack if wanting to keep original quality, so only low quality copies will exist like tv to camera or trying to capture other ways. Watermarking etc will become mandatory and no tools can get past watermarking. Its like hidden forensic.

  6. Avatar photo Karen says:

    They can’t even get to a decision about switching off analog radio – having a drop date is great, as long as they don’t keep putting it off (like they did with Internal Combustion engines)

    1. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      DAB is rubbish anyway, I notice the difference between Dab quality on FM, even on my small portable radio and Dab+ may be better quality sound wise, but the signal strength is worse. Get better sound by using my Echo dots., and that include the 2nd generation.

      The problem is, an Echo dot is not very portable, I can take my radio outside with ease, sadly using Dab will run the batteries down in no time.

      I think FM will still be around for years yet and so will DTT/Freeview, I expect I will be in my grave before it vanishes.

  7. Avatar photo Ali says:

    just release a Freeview app over broadband and make it accessible onto every device under the sun.

    Freely isnt it.

    1. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      Cost for every device support???
      Ensuring the platform has adequate DRM.

      Not going to happen. It’s Freely where these things can be specified to get certification of device and access to platform middleware.

    2. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      How about no DRM at all?

    3. Avatar photo ali hussain says:

      considering every other major streaming and live tv service can implement and deploy this to a wide range of devices, theres no excuses

      but for some reason we give freeview over Broandband a pass, because…reasons?

  8. Avatar photo carlconradw says:

    I am astounded that the French are launching 4K UHD on their terrestrial channels this year. Complete waste of bandwidth. I chatted to one of the former heads a major UK broadcaster a few weeks ago who told me that in the industry they thought by 2030 the vast majority of traditional broadcasters content would be accessed by streaming.

  9. Avatar photo anonymous says:

    I smell DTT frequency sale as the main driver for Ofcom not the BS they spouted to media about Tv viewing changing.

    If they are going to keep core PS channels on DTT only, then it should be the HD channels and not some youtube SD quality channels. They are saying about HD services to go soon, and that’s wrong it’s far too early for years yet and FTTP has not rolled out everywhere. Having just Virgin Media as your sole provider should not count as they are expensive outside of new customer deals, and no competition (they talk about opening up network to other providers, but have not done this even on NexFibre yet and no published commencement date).

  10. Avatar photo Tom says:

    It’s ok, no one will be watching TV in 10 years.

    1. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      Nobody other than super rich will be able to afford it 🙂

    2. Avatar photo Munehaus says:

      There are certain things like news and sport that are really only popular live or in real time. Try telling people they can’t watch the world cup as it happens due to rights or bandwidth limitations. Of course modern IP multicast networks can support that, but once a year sporting events and breaking 9/11 style news stories aren’t the sort of thing a lot of people pay a monthly subscription for.

      I never understood the push for residential DTT as satellite was always the obvious solution and it’s just not been able to provide anything like the capacity or quality. Personally I’d plan to keep two DVB-T2 multiplexes, one for PSBs and state broadcasters such as the BBC. The other for commercial channels that justify the business case like news and sport.

  11. Avatar photo Steve says:

    I see substantial problems for multiple areas.

    These include:
    Bargain Hunt
    Properties under the hammer
    Whoever replaced Schofield
    Inner City Sumo, Youth Hostelling With Chris Eubanks, and finally, Monkey Tennis

  12. Avatar photo Fred says:

    When BT first muted the idea / roll-out of FTTP some 30 yeas ago the aim to deliver TV by means of the FTTP was one of the drivers; it’s more than a pity that the political masters of OfCom put a stop to it on the grounds it was ‘anti-competitive’. Had BT been allowed to do it the UK would have been a world leader, we wouldn’t have every road being dug up by various companies* rolling out their own version of fibre connectivity. and the UK would have a load of surplus UHF radio spectrum to use for radio comm’s, Mobile Telephony, ISM, Public Safety and Security.

    To me the best idea is a move to Public service broadcasting to either Fibre or Satellite (but that apparently has limited life left) and free up the UHF spectrum. As it is that spectrum is getting more and more squeezed so why not accelerate the plan to move away from it quickly.

    *I visit a relations in Rugby – there is now 4 companies offering FTTP to them with the threat of yet another provider in their road.

    1. Avatar photo Munehaus says:

      But it was anti-competitive. The fibre that was being proposed 30 years ago was the same technology that ended up in the hybrid fibre-coax networks that were built back then and came to be what we know as Virgin Media today.

      They were designed for TV not broadband and are totally unsuited to two way communications, hence the issues Virgin have upgrading to actual fibre to the premises.

      If BT had been given a monopoly on cable TV 30 years ago we would be in an even worse state now than we are.

  13. Avatar photo Steve says:

    Which will be around the longest, Freeview or Freesat? Assuming the prediction of Freeview ending in the mid 2030s, is it likely Freesat will last that long even, given that Sky will likely have gone from satellite long before then leaving Freesat to foot transponder bills in their own

    1. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      Freesat will go before Freeview. It’s more expensive and they (rights holders) have never liked transmissions being received outside of JUST UK, despite managing satellite footprint beams. Sky already trying to pump Sky Stream and started to wind down recommending satellite reception installations.

    2. Avatar photo Munehaus says:

      Freesat is orders of magnitude cheaper than Freeview for a national station. The only significant cost to be on satellite is ironically the EPG costs (you need to pay both Sky and Freeview to appear on their boxes), something that shouldn’t exist if we had an effective regulator.

    3. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      Of course what you are not including is the cost of infrastructure for DSAT and cost of having to upgrade various parts of it to have any hope of keeping it……….For Freeview, the transmitters are run by Arquiva for a service plan for the broadcasters, and run on more modern kit. Most of the transmitter sites themselves were upgraded for analogue switch off and refresh projects for infrastructure since.

  14. Avatar photo Lucian says:

    It’s not Tv if it’s not over radio.

    I bet the “broadbased-based alternative” will come with all sorts of DRM, tracking and other invasive things. Not a big fan of the proposal.

    Really, you’ll need to have a “licensed” device to watch it instead of any TV tuner?

    Big thumbs down.

    1. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      Broadcasters and content providers will have various means of collecting viewer data to help them with demographics and statistics and quality of service. I would not be surprised if the TV has to be logged in with an account. Not saying that is right here…

  15. Avatar photo Vanburen says:

    I wonder if ditching DTT for something like 5G Broadcast would work.

    For users who dont want a home internet connection, a set-top box with 5G modem could be provided with an embedded SIM locked down to only accessing 5G broadcast channels, so not requiring an ongoing subscription.

    The DTT frequency could then be rearmed for more 5G network capacity.

  16. Avatar photo BH FG says:

    I suspect some hard to reach places may keep some form of DTT service, I know 5G broadcast was pitched and trialled a while back, I know the main PSB channels have to be accessible so a solution will have to be sought.

    I think someone cited France and Spain, which have a different attitude towards broadcast TV, where it still has a usage but a forum poster will know how to be spend a French Government better than they do!

    Interesting times, all up in the air at the mo!

    1. Avatar photo Vanburen says:

      SpaceX is deploying 5G on their satellites, I wonder if 5G broadcast would work in that use case for remote areas.

  17. Avatar photo name says:

    I don’t watch broadcast television. I do share a house with some that do. I also stayed at another household where they also watched Freeview.

    A few takeaways;

    > Consumed content is mostly just BBC, ITV, channel 4, and channel 5. The first 2 taking priority over the others. Additionally, every other channel may as well not exist but sometimes other channels watched include the likes of Quest, DMAX and similarly owned channels.

    > HD Channels ‘do not exist’ – obviously they do and they can be received just fine, but nobody seems to register that they can watch stuff in HD. Even the smart TVs that tell you about simulcast don’t default to HD so everyone I’ve saw watches in sub 720p even if it’s a sport such as football, rugby etc.

    > Repeat, repeats, repeats, repeats – you get the idea.

    > Adverts, adverts, and more adverts – mostly life insurance, equity release, funeral/cremation plans*

    TV mostly exists as background noise as all except 1 person was soon to be on their phone, the only person not using their phone is older and uses their smartphone as a regular phone, you know, for phone calls.

    * I think the advertisers understand their audience very well. Either pensioners or the middle aged. Not much advertising aimed at people under 35, because they’ve long gone elsewhere.

    Broadcast television is basically a dead medium. It’s a thing but it has no future so transitioning to Freely makes more sense. People don’t watch it, it exists as background sound.

    1. Avatar photo Billy Shears says:

      I think you’ve nailed it. Thank you for telling what the adverts are for. I a. Don’t understand them b. Subconsciously filter them out or c. Fast forward through them. You can reduce from this that I rarely watch TV as it is broadcasted.

      On a slightly different note, I renewed my TV licence recently. I subsequently received a thank you email which included information on what it pays for. Did you know it pays for independent channels and streaming? You and I know that it doesn’t but I wonder how many have the wool pulled over their eyes. Take a look next time you renew. I don’t understand how the BBC get away with it.

    2. Avatar photo Billy Shears says:

      @me deduce. Darned auto correct.

    3. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      S4C in Wales is one. £1.28 per month goes to World Service which in my view, no license fee should pay for as that is a government requirement not UK population one and some other stuff the government now take from license fee for “government initiatives”. DTT switch off and initially broadband investment also took money 2012-2015.

    4. Avatar photo Crotchety says:

      And of course, adverts won’t be able to be fast forwarded as now on a hard drive. Programs will be able to be paused and that will probably be all!
      Its all about profit and not quality, dumbing down will be the norm.

  18. Avatar photo Bob says:

    Longer term keeping terrestrial TV going will not be viable as OFCOM states viewing numbers are falling fast and that changes the economics. I can see a number of the minor channels dropping terrestrial and just streaming quite soon

    To stream TV you do not need FTTH, FTTC is quite capable of supporting streaming TV which means almost everyone could get streamed TV , Factor in that a lot of the terrestrial transmitters are near end of life then I think we will go down the streaming only road, In addition there may be pressure to release the TV frequencies for other uses

    1. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      FTTC is good enough ROTFL. Yeah, lightning and a resync event, water ingress on cable that BT cant seem to fix. Optical FTTP just works or doesn’t. Too many variables for copper FTTC to be taken seriously along with DLM reactions to what it think it needs to do (like seriously reduce bandwidth / speed until it thinks line conditions are better again). I would 100% not want FTTC over aerial feed for my TV picture.

  19. Avatar photo Gareth says:

    Freely needs to be available on a wide range of devices and televisions if it has a chance of succeeding. Strict DRM restrictions that restrict it’s availability to be available everywhere will render the platform obsolete and leave British media in the hands of large American conglomerates behind various paywalls.

    There is also the cost of transmission and radio. If the TV companies stop funding Arqiva to broadcast television, the radio companies will be expected to make up the shortfall in revenue. Considering the competition from Spotify and YouTube, they’re already starting to make the switch to their own app based streaming where they can paywall stations and run targeted advertising that they can’t on terrestrial radio. We won’t just lose DTT and DSAT but also FM and DAB too.

    1. Avatar photo Bob says:

      A lot of the Radio stations have already left Freeview due to falling audience numbers

    2. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      Most left primarily because of additional carriage costs and distribution costs to broadcaster (commercial) vs estimated people using it.

  20. Avatar photo John says:

    It’s glorious to finally see the end of propaganda TV. In a world where anyone can get real time on the ground news on X, and long form commentary on YouTube/rumble, it makes no sense to tune in to the state narrative which is proven to lie all the time and pay insane amounts to pundits who hate their audiences and whatever they are doing to franchises like Dr Who

    1. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      I think you REALLY mean governments that enforce their own politically motivated preferred people into broadcaster management and boards, enforcement of inclusivity and metrics around it by Government and Ofcom and threats by government to do what they want else risk being closed down or for commercial lose their license. Yeah, the facts. Only news broadcasters with links to physical newspapers and certain people get away with it because government too scared of them. That’s my observation. Social media sites are people’s opinions most of the time with no fact checking.

    2. Avatar photo 125us says:

      No, you’ve just found a ready source of lies that corresponds with your prejudices.

    3. Avatar photo Crotchety says:

      Do you really mean “on the ground news on X” surely you mean profit driven propaganda ?

    4. Avatar photo John says:

      Except unlike all other social media sites that blindly censor at governments will, the Australian government tops the list with over 4000 accounts censored and most people don’t even call it an authoritarian regime, X has Community Notes which weed out all the lies

      Not only that, most of the time it is the only way to directly follow the horse’s mouth, most politicians are on X, the best ones even run their own accounts rather than having it be staffed

    5. Avatar photo Shaun says:

      Don’t worry, OFCOM will censor the internet soon when Labour gets in, restoring the libtopia.

    6. Avatar photo Darkstar says:

      Elon, is that you?

  21. Avatar photo Andrew says:

    My only question here would be: If we get it via broadband we pay for, will there still be a license fee? As it won’t be free to air anymore

    1. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      The answer is easy really, but I think your agenda was to stir up license fee comments.

      Here is the answer: Unless the government decide a different funding model, YES the license fee remains. If the BBC were to go adverts – it would bankrupt ITV/C4/C5 for TV and many commercial radio stations if on BBC Radio. Subscription based, and many services would have to close including radio where no money is made and people would not pay subscriptions for News and other Public Service programmes. Only populist stuff that brings in money work on subscription; and being part of a traditional Sky package would not bring in enough revenue and that format will die at some point based on ‘cord cutting’ as its called.

  22. Avatar photo tonyp says:

    Looks like no-one has an Internationalist view and is only concerned about what can be viewed (hah!) domestically. Sleepwalking into UK only restricted viewing if the ‘powers that be’ let them. Who listens to short wave anymore? No Voice Of America, Radio Moscow, Hilversum, Motala and so-on! 🙂 By ‘powers that be’, I don’t just mean Government but the media giants that compete for our or Madison Avenue’s successors pockets!

    No hope for UK dwelling ex-Pats wanting something from home either. I guess I’ll have to scrap my European Dish and get extremely bored with bland UK repeats and adverts.

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