Pirate television

For the Free Speech TV television program, see Pirate Television (television program). For the act of illegally decrypting a TV signal that would usually require payment, see Pirate decryption.

A pirate television station is a broadcast television station that operates without a broadcast license. Like its counterpart pirate radio, the term pirate TV lacks a specific universal interpretation. It implies a form of broadcasting that is unwelcome by the licensing authorities within the territory where its signals are received, especially when the country of transmission is the same as the country of reception. When the area of transmission is not a country, or when it is a country and the transmissions are not illegal, those same broadcast signals may be deemed illegal in the country of reception. Therefore, "pirate TV" can mean many things to many people. Pirate television stations may also be known as "bootleg TV", or confused with licensed low-power broadcasting (LPTV) or amateur television ATV services.


Pirate Television stations are not as abundant in the United States or UK as pirate radio stations are. Only since 2004 has the technology for pirate television stations become easier to obtain and construct, due to advances in technologies and the availability of equipment.

The first pirate TV station in the US was Lanesville TV, launched in 1972, the broadcast station of video pioneers, the Videofreex.[1]

In April 1978, a weekend broadcast on Channel 7 in Syracuse, NY called "Lucky 7" captured headlines across the nation. "Lucky 7" broadcast episodes of Star Trek and the pornographic movie Deep Throat. The source of the transmission was not identified, but it was speculated in an article in the New York Times that the signal may have been transmitted from the area of Syracuse University, as the signal was strongest in that area.[2]


There are several techniques for pirate TV broadcasting, most of which have been made very difficult, or obsolete, by better security measures and the move to digital television.

Relay hijack (analogue)

Many analogue relay transmitters would "listen" to a more powerful main transmitter and relay the signal verbatim. If the main transmitter ceases broadcasting (for example, if a channel closes down overnight) then a pirate signal on the same frequency as the main transmitter could cause the relay to "wake up" and relay unauthorized programming instead. Typically this would be done by outputting a very weak RF signal within the immediate vicinity of the relay: for example, a video cassette recorder (such as a 12v system designed for use in trucks) sending its signal to a home-made antenna pointed at the relay. As the pirate signal is relatively weak, the source can be difficult to locate if it is well hidden.

A significant benefit of this attack is that the potential viewers do not have to re-tune their televisions to view the content. The content simply appears on an existing channel, after close-down.

This attack is generally now prevented by the channels broadcasting 24 hours per day (e.g. showing test cards instead of closing down), by using satellite feeds instead of repeating terrestrial signals, by electronic security to lock the relay to the authorised source, or by the switch to digital television.

Unsecured analogue satellite transponders have also been reported to have been hijacked in a similar manner.

Source hijack (analogue or digital)

In this scenario, a man-in-the-middle attack is performed upon the source material, such that authorized official transmissions are fed with unauthorized programming from the central studio or play-out facility. For example, a link feed (e.g. outside broadcast) is hijacked by a stronger pirate signal, or pre-recorded media (such as videotapes or hard drives) are swapped over for unauthorised content. This attack would generally have to be performed by an insider or by gaining access to studio facilities by social engineering.

Unauthorized transmitter (analogue)

As with most pirate radio stations, reasonably powerful VHF/UHF transmitters can be built relatively easily by any sufficiently experienced electronics hobbyist, or imported from a less strict country. The primary challenge to this technique is finding a suitable yet inconspicuous vantage point for the transmission antenna, and the risk of getting caught. If the pirate signal is strong enough to be received directly, it will also be strong enough to be tracked down.

Unauthorized multiplex (digital)

The advent of digital television makes pirate television broadcasting more difficult. Channels are broadcast as part of a multiplex that carries several channels in one signal, and it is almost impossible to insert an unauthorized channel into an authorized multiplex, or to re-activate an off-air channel. In order to broadcast an unauthorized digital TV channel, not only must the perpetrator build or obtain a VHF/UHF transmitter, he must also build or obtain, and configure, the equipment and software to digitally encode the signal and then create a stand-alone multiplex to carry it.

In Spain, in major provincial capital cities, usually operates one or more than one pirate TV digital multiplex. Some multiplexes started to operate after digital switch-over migrating pirate channels from analogue pirate television to DVB-T digital multiplexes.

Since shortly after digital switch-over and still today in secondary cities, some channels broadcast by means of a DVB-T transmitter with four analog input sources (in this case, four tuned satellite receivers connected by composite video cable) and then to amplifier, and digital signal is feed to antenna or tower. This method is the one used by most pirate TV channels. However, over the years and due to economic returns, some have begun broadcasting almost professionally. New equipment that they have been installing since three years ago allows remultiplexing of DVB-S programs into DVB-T multiplexes and most parameters can be configured at will.[3]

Since 2010, its number has been increasing in Madrid and in Valencia,[4] for example, and, as of March 2016, there are more than ten DVB-T pirate multiplex in Madrid metropolitan area[5] transmitting without authorization with programming ranging from divinatory, esoteric and occult tarot [6] or fundamentalist Christian to community television[7] (which isn't regulated in Spain as of 2016).

In other countries, there are reports of pirate TV digital multiplexes, but they are very rare and usually suspected to have been false reports, mistaking overspill from authorized multiplexes in neighboring regions or nearby foreign countries. Viewing numbers may be much smaller than analogue pirate TV since re-tuning a digital television may be an entirely automated process which may ignore unauthorized multiplexes, or place such channels in an obscure section of the electronic program guide.


Known stations

During the 1980s, large numbers of pirate TV stations operated in Italy, Greece, Spain and Israel. Subsequent legislation lead to the licensing of many of these stations and the closure of (most of) the remainder.

Proposed stations

Pirate television in popular culture


Movies often show Pirate TV channels simply "breaking in" over the top of existing channels, often all of them simultaneously.




Comic books

See also


  1. http://www.skipblumberg.com/website/Bio_files/VideoPioneerSBJFVInt.pdf
  2. "F.C.C Hunts an Illicit TV Station That Pirated Some Notable Shows.", The New York Times, April 19, 1978.
  3. Canales piratas en la TDT - Mundoplus
  4. TDT País Valencià - MónDigital
  5. Canales piratas en la TDT - Mundoplus
  6. Las emisiones ilegales en TDT: esoterismo y teleayuda 24 horas - Mondoplus
  7. Las emisiones ilegales en TDT: televisiones locales - Mundoplus
  8. !Mediengruppe Bitnik. "!Mediengruppe Bitnik - Pirate TV Station". bitnik.org.
  9. http://www.tranquileye.com/free/files/kanalx.txt
  10. "3.12: The Russian (Media) Revolution". wired.com.
  11. http://www.vdb.org/VIDEOFREEX.html
  12. "Greetings From Lanesville". Media Burn Archive.
  13. "Ocala Star-Banner - Google News Archive Search". google.com.
  14. "Network 21 Archive". Retrieved 2013-01-15.
  15. http://www.havenforthedispossessed.org
  16. "Odelia T.V.". offshore-radio.de.
  17. http://www.diymedia.net/archive/0605.htm#060905
  18. http://www.piratecatradio.com/
  19. "The Peoples Community Radio Link, 103.5 F.M Stereo". virgin.net.
  20. "The Thameside Radio story". thamesideradio.net.
  21. "Thameside Radio". thamesideradio.net.
  22. "Pirate Radio by Barry Taylor". btinternet.com. Archived from the original on 16 July 2003.
  23. 1 2 "405 Alive - History - Pirate Television". bvws.org.uk.
  24. Popular Communications July 2009, pp. 73-74, "The Church Rummage Sale UHF Television Station and Other Minor TV Tales"
  25. Hans Knot. "Inside Radio Caroline". rug.nl.
  26. Hans Knot. "More Caroline cut-outs: March 1968 - September 1972". rug.nl.
  27. "News - Radio Today #15: August 1987 - AM/FM". amfm.org.uk.
  28. "-- Offshore Manual - We walk the walk, and talk the talk! --". offshore-manual.com.
  29. "Radio Tower 2". bobleroi.co.uk.
  30. "Sigue Sigue Sputnik – Flaunt It (CD, Album) at Discogs". Retrieved 2013-01-15.
  31. Collins, Suzanne (2010). Mockingjay. Scholastic.
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