Television in the United Kingdom

Television in the United Kingdom

British television broadcasting started in 1936, and now has a collection of free and subscription services over a variety of distribution media, through which there are up to 600 channels for consumers as well as on-demand content. There are six main channel owners who are responsible for most viewing. There are 27,000 hours of domestic content produced a year at a cost of £2.6bn. Analogue terrestrial transmissions are currently being switched off and this is due to complete in 2012.

Television providers

Free and subscription providers are available, with differences in the number of channels, capabilities such as the programme guide (EPG), video on demand (VOD), high-definition (HD), interactive television via the red button, and coverage across the UK. Set-top boxes are generally used to receive these services; however Integrated Digital Televisions (IDTVs) can also be used to receive Freeview or freesat. Top Up TV and BT Vision utilise hybrid boxes which receive Freeview as well as additional subscription services. Households viewing TV from the internet (YouTube, Joost, downloads etc) are not tracked by Ofcom. The UK's five most watched channels, BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4 and Five, are available from all providers (although in many areas, including almost the whole of Wales, Five is not receivable on analogue terrestrial television).

In December 2007, Telefónica O2 (branded O2) announced the roll out of IPTV services in 2008.]

Orange announced the desire for IPTV services to be launched in 2007. Orange has revealed one content partner, Disney, and some cartoon mascots for the service. As of November 2007, there are no other details.]

In November 2007, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 announced a joint on-demand Internet service to be launched in 2008. [ BBC NEWS | Entertainment | TV rivals form on-demand service] ] The working title is Project Kangaroo. [ Broadcasting - News - Broadcasters sign up for 'Project Kangaroo' - Digital Spy] ]

In May 2007, Smallworld Media stated their intention to roll out an IPTV solution across their unbundled network in early to mid 2008. [ Small World Media TV Broadband Phone ( Was Wight Cable North & OMNE ) Cable TV Information, News And Reviews -] ]

In February 2007, Virgin Media announced a hybrid IPTV and digital terrestrial service to target the half of the country unable to receive their cable TV services. In November, they stated it will be at least 2009 before launch. [ DTG News: Virgin Media to launch off-net IPTV service] ] [ Virgin Media scales back TV ambitions - Times Online] ]

Channels and channel owners

Most-viewed channels

The Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) measures television ratings in the UK. In multi-channel homes, the channels with a viewing share of >= 1.0% according to BARB's measurements in January 2008 are: [
] ]

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

The BBC is the world's oldest and biggest broadcaster, and is the country's first and largest public service broadcaster. The BBC is funded by a television licence fee that all households with a television must pay. Its analogue channels are BBC One and BBC Two. The BBC first began a television service, initially serving London only, in 1936. BBC Television was closed during World War II but reopened in 1946. The second station, BBC Two, was launched in 1964. As well as these two analogue services, the British Broadcasting Corporation now also offers digital services BBC Three, BBC Four, BBC News, BBC Parliament, CBBC Channel, CBeebies, BBCi and BBC HD.

Independent Television (ITV)

ITV (Independent Television) is the network of fifteen regional and three national commercial television franchises, originally founded in 1955 to provide competition to the BBC. ITV was the country's first commercial television provider funded by advertisements, and has been the most popular commercial channel through most of its existence. Through a series of mergers, takeovers and relaxation of regulation, eleven of these companies are now owned by ITV plc, two by SMG plc while UTV and Channel Television remain independent. ITV plc, the operator of all English, Welsh and Southern Scotland franchises, has branded the channel as ITV1 since 2001, with regional names being used prior to regional programmes only. SMG plc, which operates the two other Scottish franchises, has now unified the regions under the single name of STV. UTV, the Northern Ireland franchisee operated by UTV plc, uses its own name on air at all times, while the independent Channel Television uses the generic ITV1 stream and its own name prior to regional programmes. ITV has been officially known as Channel 3 since 1990. ITV plc also operates digital channels ITV2, ITV3, ITV4, Men & Motors and the CITV Channel. ITN currently holds the national news franchise, GMTV operates the breakfast franchise and Teletext Ltd operates the national teletext franchise.

Channel 4

Launched in 1982, Channel 4 is a state-owned national broadcaster which is funded by its commercial activities (including advertising). Channel 4 has expanded greatly after gaining greater independence from the IBA, especially in the multi-channel digital world launching E4, Film4, More 4 and various timeshift services. Since 2005, it has been a member of the Freeview consortium, and operates one of the six digital terrestrial multiplexes with ITV as Digital 3&4. Since the advent of digital television, Channel 4 is now also broadcast in Wales across all digital platforms. Channel 4 was the first British channel not to carry regional variations for programming, however it does have set advertising regions.


Five (previously known as Channel 5) was the final analogue broadcaster to be launched, in March 1997. Its analogue terrestrial coverage is less than that of the other analogue broadcasters, and broadcast in re-assigned frequencies, often at a lower power from major transmitters only. Many ex-VHF transmitters which were used for black and white transmissions prior to the switchover to UHF transmissions in the 1970s–80s are now used to broadcast Five, mainly due to capacity restraints on the masts. It was also the first terrestrial broadcaster to broadcast on satellite and carry a permanent digital on-screen graphic (DOG). The channel was re-named "five" in 2002, which saw an overhaul of the channel's identity and removal of the infamous DOG. RTL Group, Europe's largest television broadcaster, took full control of the channel in August 2005. Five launched two new channels, Five US and Five Life in October 2006. All of these channels are also carried on satellite television, cable television and digital terrestrial television services. Five also owns 20% of the digital terrestrial pay-TV provider, Top Up TV. Like Channel 4, Five does not have programming regional variations, however it does so for advertising.

British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB)

British Sky Broadcasting operates a satellite television service and numerous television channels including Sky1, Sky2, Sky3, Sky Movies and Sky Sports.


UKTV is a joint venture between the BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, and Virgin Media Television. Both companies additionally wholly-own a number of other channels, broadcast domestically or internationally.

Channels under the joint venture are Dave, UKTV Documentary, UKTV Drama, UKTV Food, UKTV Gardens, UKTV Gold, UKTV History, UKTV People, UKTV Style, plus a number of timeshift services.

Other channel owners

The most watched digital channels are owned by the six broadcasters above. Other broadcasters who have secured a notable place on British television include Viacom, Discovery Networks and Disney.Fact|date=January 2008


British television differs from other countries, such as the United States, in as much that programmes produced in Britain do not generally have a long 'season' run of around 20 weeks. Instead, they are produced in a series, a set of episodes varying in length, usually aired over a period of a few months. See List of British television series.

100 Greatest British Television Programmes

100 Greatest British Television Programmes was a list compiled in 2000 by the British Film Institute (BFI), chosen by a poll of industry professionals, to determine what were the greatest British television programmes of any genre ever to have been screened. Although not including any programmes made in 2000 or later, the list is useful as an indication of what were generally regarded as the most successful British programmes of the 20th century. The top 10 programmes are:

# "Fawlty Towers" BBC2 1975-1979
# "Cathy Come Home" ("The Wednesday Play") BBC1 1966
# "Doctor Who" BBC1 1963-1989, 1996, 2005-
# "The Naked Civil Servant" ITV 1975
# "Monty Python's Flying Circus" BBC2 1969-1974
# "Blue Peter" BBC1 1958-
# "Boys from the Blackstuff" BBC2 1982
# "Parkinson" BBC1/ITV 1971-1982, 1998-2007
# "Yes Minister" / "Yes, Prime Minister" BBC2 1980-1988
# "Brideshead Revisited" ITV 1981

List of most-watched television broadcasts

In 2005, the British Film Institute compiled a list of programmes with the biggest audience since 1955. The top 10 are:

Closed and aborted television providers

Sky Picnic, a subscription digital terrestrial service proposed by BSkyB in October 2007, was aborted in September 2008. BSkyB claimed this was due to regulatory delays, whereas Ofcom claimed BSkyB 'dragged its feet' in providing the necessary information.]]

Defunct channels

There are around 80 defunct British channels. For a list, see .


Television caught on in Britain in 1947, but only 9 percent of British homes owned a TV during the first four years of its existence. These statistics were extremely familiar to the United States. In fact most of Britain’s TV statistics were identical to the U.S., but two years behind (Smith, 1995, p. 49). Although, Britain was the first country that had a regular daily television schedule direct to homes and they were the first to have technical professions to work on TVs. (A. Smith, "Television: An International Hero" 1995)

The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) was established in 1927 to work with radio and inevitably became involved in TV in 1947. The BBC has very close ties with the government because of their financial support to the broadcasts. Even though the government is involved with the BBC financially, the station has the independence to decide what to do with money. (J. Gabriel, "Thinking About Television" 1973

The British government also appointed people to particular positions on the Board of Governors, (the people who run the station). Instead of appointing someone that would help the government take over the station, the BBC and British government worked together to fill the needs of both organisations and hire someone that would fit the system that is in place. (A. Smith, 1995)

When commercial television was first introduced in Britain, advertising during the broadcasts operated similarly to the way the United States operated. They both received money from advertisers, although how they received their money was very different. English advertisers had nothing to do with the programme they were advertising with. The station controlled where the advertisement would go and the product’s company had no say on this. In America, the advertiser would directly pay for their ad to be played during a particular programme. (J. Gabriel, 1973)

See also

* British sitcom
* ITC Code on Sports and Other Listed Events
* Soap opera
* Sports broadcasting contracts in Great Britain


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