Analogue terrestrial television in the United Kingdom

Analogue terrestrial television in the United Kingdom

Analogue terrestrial television in the United Kingdom is, traditionally, the method most people in the UK, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man used to receive television. Analogue terrestrial television is currently being phased out in the UK and will be completely replaced by digital terrestrial television in the United Kingdom by 2012.

Channels available

The following channels, all of which are free-to-air, are available on a national basis:

# BBC One
# BBC Two
# ITV (made up of a number of regional franchises)
# Channel 4 (S4C in Wales)
# Five

While most of the UK population can receive all of the channels, not all services may be available in all areas; Five, in particular, does not have as great a coverage as the other channels, with only 70% coverage (compared to 99% for the other four channels). Furthermore, there are a number a smaller local channels available in particular areas, such as Channel M, which is available in Manchester, and Six TV, which is available in Oxford, Southampton, Reading and Portsmouth. BBC One and BBC Two both have some regional programmes, such as the local news. The ITV Network is made up of a number of regional operators, though most are now owned by ITV plc and virtually indistinguishable from each other as they all broadcast the nearly identical output and do not use their regional names onscreen any more.

Additional services

All channels carry at least one teletext service. This includes subtitles for many programmes.


The terrestrial analogue services themselves are in most cases unique when compared to most non-analogue broadcast services (such as those available via digital satellite), in that they are much older, contain a much more diverse range of programming, rather than centring around a specific genre (all five major stations carry news bulletins, for example) and all hold some form of public service requirement in terms of their output.


The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) began a regular television service, one of the first in the world, in 1936 as the BBC Television Service, funded to this day by a yearly mandatory licence fee. Since 1964, the BBC have provided two analogue television services, BBC One and BBC Two. Both services carried a wide variety of content, as well as regional variations in programming, and sometimes continuity. Such variations have been scaled down in latter years on BBC Two, such that the only variants for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the areas where BBC1 historically provides the most variants, are catered for. For many years, BBC1 in Wales was effectively a separate service, BBC Wales, though many programmes were common to both it and BBC1 proper.


Independent Television (Independent Television) was established in 1954 to provide a commercial alternative to the BBC. Programmes would be funded through the 'selling' of air-time for the playing of advertisements, and the broadcasters, the first of which began broadcasting in 1955, would be privately owned. Nonetheless, the television act which established what became popularly referred to as ITV, placed many restrictions on what these private companies could broadcast, types of programmes they were obliged to broadcast, how many hours a day or week they could broadcast for, how much advertising time could be sold, and even who could own the operating companies. An Independent Television Authority, (superseded by the Independent Broadcasting Authority) would choose the companies licensed to broadcast on a periodic basis, and administer the various obligations and restrictions described above. Each company would be (and nominally still is) afforded a 'franchise' to broadcast to a specific coverage area of the UK, with larger areas having originally had two broadcasters, one for the week and one for the weekend, though this practice ended outside of London in 1968.

Because the ITA were only given one frequency to license in any one given area, most viewers would only receive one service (unless they happened to receive signals from two transmitters in different areas), though each regional broadcaster would often broadcast unique programmes, continuity and adverts, a practise performed far less today but that is nonetheless still apparent, and required. Originally each company would broadcast with their own, unique station name, such as "Yorkshire Television" or "Associated Rediffusion", and it wasn't until the late 1980s that popular use of the name "ITV" was used on screen. ITV Broadcasters would sell major programmes to one another, for 'network' play-out nation-wide, or to the majority of the nation, and for most of its history, ITV would have a shared, single schedule for much of its air-time.

Subsequent relaxations on the requirements and restrictions placed upon the ITV companies now mean that one company, ITV plc own and operate the majority of the franchises, and broadcasts under the name ITV1. A company, SMG, own two franchises in Scotland, and broadcasts as STV, whilst UTV broadcast to Northern Ireland under that name and Channel Television broadcast to the Channel Islands, as ITV1. GMTV own the franchise to broadcast a national breakfast service, under that name. Ofcom now regulate ITV, and its formal name is now Channel 3, though this name is only used legally, and not on-screen.

For many years, the ITA, IBA and the ITV companies campaigned for further frequencies on which to broadcast, though these goals were never wholly realised on analogue.

Channel 4 and S4C

After many decades of demand by the commercial broadcasters for a second commercial station, or network of stations, Channel 4 and S4C were launched in 1982. Channel 4 was originally run as a uniform national service, by the IBA itself, through a subsidiary called the Channel Four Broadcasting Company. Channel 4 would not make the programmes it broadcast, and all content was, and still is, commissioned from independent, private production companies, such as the ITV companies, but also companies not related to ITV who had previously little space to broadcast in the UK. Channel 4 would be funded by allowing each local ITV franchisee to sell adverts during the station's airtime in their area, in exchange for a guaranteed income to be paid to the IBA. The station was established with the intention to provide programmes for minority groups and cater for specialist interests, and has a remit that details these obligations.

Since the abolition of the IBA, taking effect in 1993, Channel 4 has been run by the publicly owned, Channel Four Broadcasting Corporation, and manages its own advertising.

S4C was created at the same time, after many demands for a dedicated Welsh-language service for Wales. Previously ITV and the BBC were obliged to air Welsh language programmes, though these were often shown at inconvenient times of the day, and upset English speakers by taking English programming off the schedules. The new S4C would broadcast only in Wales, in place of Channel 4. S4C is operated by the Welsh Fourth Channel Authority, independent of the IBA or latterly Ofcom, and is funded through advertising and direct government funding. Furthermore, the BBC airs its Welsh language programmes on the service, which are funded by the licence fee. As Channel 4 is not broadcast to Wales, with S4C in its place, some Channel 4 programmes are aired during off-peak times on S4C. (On digital platforms both services are available in Wales, and as such S4C's digital variant does not follow this practise).


A fifth service was licensed during the 1990s and began broadcasts in 1997, originally called by its legal name, Channel 5, it has since been rebranded as Five.

The Channel 5 licence has one single licensee and provides a nation-wide service. Compared to the other analogue broadcasters, it has relatively few public-service obligations, provision of news programming being one exception. Limited space within the analogue television bands, means Channel 5 has substantially reduced coverage compared to the other networks, at around 70% coverage.

Restricted service licences

In addition to the five national networks, a limited number of local stations are broadcast to various towns and cities under what is known as a Restricted Service Licence. These occupy channels unused by the other broadcasters that can be used without causing interference in other regions, and are frequently broadcast at a lower power than the major channels. Their output is mainly local, and each contract for an RSL lasted four years until 2004 when media regulator Ofcom stated that each licence will be renewed up until digital switchover.

*c9tv - Coleraine, Derry, Limavady and Strabane
*Capital TV - Cardiff
*Channel M - Manchester
*MATV - Leicester
*NvTv - Belfast
*Six TV - Oxford, Portsmouth, Fawley, Southampton and Reading
*Solent TV - Isle of Wight
*York@54 - York

Some licences are not currently in use:

*Lanarkshire TV - Lanarkshire
*Teeside TV. - Teeside
*Carlisle TV - Carlisle
*TV Norwich - Norwich

Broadcasting technology

405 lined system

No date was announced for the fifteenth ITV region, Channel Television, as this broadcasts from the Channel Islands, outside the jurisdiction of the UK Government. Under the original proposals it would convert last, after UTV.

Some concern has been raised that the London region will be switched shortly before the city hosts the Olympic Games. Jowell said "I can assure you that I did not slog for two years to bring the games here just to see Londoners reduced to huddling round the wireless to find out who won the hundred metres, I am completely confident that our timetable is a sensible one which will ensure that digital services are delivered with no disruption to the viewing public during the Games themselves."

It was also announced that a support scheme will be put in place to ensure that no one is left behind in the switch. It will provide help with equipment and installation and follow-up support for people aged 75 years and over and people with significant disabilities. The scheme will be funded by the BBC through the licence fee. Help will be free for the most needy, with a small change levied for others.

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