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Television in the United Kingdom started in 1936 as a public service which was free of advertising. Currently, the United Kingdom has a collection of free-to-air, free-to-view and subscription services over a variety of distribution media, through which there are over 480 channels[nb 1] for consumers as well as on-demand content. There are six main channel owners who are responsible for most material viewed. There are 27,000 hours of domestic content produced a year at a cost of £2.6 billion.[nb 2] Since 24 October 2012, all television broadcasts in the United Kingdom have been in a digital format, following the end of analogue transmissions in Northern Ireland. Digital content is delivered via terrestrial, satellite and cable, as well as over IP.
Free-to-air, free-to-view 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. The UK's five most watched channels, BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, are available from all providers.
Broadcast television is distributed as radio waves via terrestrial or satellite transmissions, or as electrical or light signals through ground-based cables. In the UK, these use the Digital Video Broadcasting standard. Most TVs sold in the UK come with a DVB-T (terrestrial) tuner for Freeview – a rare thing in Europe. Set-top boxes are generally used to receive channels from other providers. Most services have also integrated their broadcast TV services with additional video streams distributed via the Internet, or through their own Internet Protocol network.
|Provider||Years||Free or pay||No. broadcast channels||Households||On demand||Notes|
|Yes||Catch-up TV available via Freeview Play devices|
|Sure TV||2013–||Broadcast: Free
|Broadcast: As Freeview||Unknown||Yes||Hybrid Freeview + pay TV service. Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man only|
|Broadcast: As Freeview||Unknown||Yes||Hybrid Freeview and catch-up service|
Optional pay services via BT TV, TalkTalk TV or Plusnet broadband
38 (radio)[nb 3]
|Freesat from Sky||1998–||Free + PPV||240+ (TV)
|Virgin Media||2006–||Pay||250+ (TV)
YouView is also distinctly marketed although it provides the same free channels as Freeview as it uses the same transmitter network.
The TV channels are transmitted in bundles, called multiplexes, and the available channels are dependent on how many multiplexes are transmitted in each area. 3 multiplexes, carrying channels from BBC, ITV, Channel 4, S4C, Channel 5 as well as radio, are available to 98.5% of the population from 1,154 transmitters. A further 3 multiplexes transmit to 90% of homes from 80 transmitters, and another 2 multiplexes are available to 76% of homes from 30 transmitters. The terrestrial service consisting of just the 3 public service multiplexes, available to 8.5% of the population, is informally called 'Freeview Light' by some websites. In Northern Ireland, a multiplex carrying channels from the Republic of Ireland is available to 90% of Northern Irish homes from 3 transmitters. Local TV and radio is available from an additional multiplex at 42 transmitters.
Catch-up TV services such as BBC iPlayer are available via the broadband connection of both Freeview and YouView receivers. On YouView, subscription TV services from BT, TalkTalk, Plusnet, and global streaming services can also be received via the broadband connection. SureTV is a similar service in Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man.
There were many regional companies when cable television services were developed in the late 1980s and 1990s. Today they have amalgamated to become Virgin Media, which is available to 55% of households. Cable TV is a subscription service normally bundled with a phone line and broadband.
WightFibre operates on the Isle of Wight, however acts as a distributor for Sky and YouView instead of having an integrated TV service.
There are three distinctly marketed direct-broadcast satellite (DBS) services (also known as direct-to-home (DTH), to be distinguished from satellite signals intended for non-consumer reception).
Sky TV is a subscription service operated by Sky Ltd, owned by Comcast, which launched in 1998 as SkyDigital. Compared to the previous analogue service, it provided more channels, widescreen, interactive TV and a near video on demand service using staggered start times for pay-per-view content. Innovations since have included high definition, 3d TV, a digital video recorder, the ability to view recordings on other devices, remote operation via the Internet to add recordings, and on demand content via the satellite receiver's broadband connection of both Sky and 3rd party TV. The Sky subscription also includes access to Sky Go, which allows mobile devices and computers to access subscription content via the Internet.
Freesat from Sky, is a free satellite service owned by Sky Ltd. Existing Sky TV customers can end their ongoing subscriptions, and opt for the Free-To-View viewing card, giving them the Freesat from Sky service. Freesat from Sky does not provide digital recording or video on demand. Freesat from Sky has more channels than Freesat, which are mostly international or shopping channels. The on-screen programme guide lists subscription channels even thought they can't be viewed.
Freesat is a free satellite service created jointly by the BBC and ITV. In contrast to Freesat from Sky, it does not need a viewing card. Like Sky, it provides high definition content, digital recording and video on demand via the broadband connection. The on-screen programme guide lists the available channels, rather than encrypted channels which need a subscription to view.
Freesat, Freesat from Sky and Sky TV transmit from SES Astra satellites at 28.2° east (Astra 2E/2F/2G). As the satellites are in geostationary orbit, they are positioned above the earth's equator( ) approximately 35,786 km above mean sea level; this places them above the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
TV via the Internet can be streamed or downloaded, and consist of amateur or professionally produced content. In the UK, most broadcasters provide catch-up TV services which allow viewing of TV for a window after it was broadcast. Online video can be viewed via mobile devices, computers, TVs equipped with a built in Internet connection, or TVs connected to an external set-top-box, streaming stick or games console. Most of the broadcast TV providers have integrated their set-top-boxes with Internet video to provide a hybrid broadcast and online service.
Since 2006, UK channel owners and content producers have been creating Internet services to access their programmes. Often, these are available for a window after the broadcast schedule. These services generally block users outside of the UK.
|Service name||Owner||Broadcast channels with catch-up||Catch-up period||Additional content||Streamed||Download||Free/Pay||Site|
|All 4||Channel Four Television Corporation||Channel 4, E4, More4, 4seven, 4Music||30 days||Yes||Yes||Yes||Free|||
|BBC iPlayer||BBC||BBC channels, S4C||30 days||Yes||Yes||Yes||Free|||
|ITV Hub||ITV plc||ITV, ITV2-4, ITVBe, CITV||30 days||No||Yes||With subscription||Streaming: Free
|My5||Viacom International Media Networks Europe||Channel 5, 5USA, 5STAR, 5Spike||30 days||Yes||Yes||No||Free|||
|Sky Go||Sky UK||Up to 65 channels||Unknown||Box sets with additional subscription||Yes||With additional subscription||Subscription|||
|STV Player||STV Group||STV, STV2||30 days||No||Yes||No||Free|||
|UKTV Play||UKTV Media||Dave, Really, Yesterday, Drama||30 days||Yes||Yes||No||Free|||
There are numerous online services targeting the UK, offering a combination of subscription, rental and purchase options for viewing online TV. Most are available via any Internet connection, however some require a specific broadband connection. Some services sell 3rd party services, such as Amazon's Prime Video. For brevity, the following table does not include catch-up-only or amateur-only services, individual channels, distributors of illegal or adult content, services which solely redistribute free broadcast channels, or services which don't target the UK. In July 2018 Ofcom statistics showed that the 15.4 million subscribers to commercial online video services exceeded the number of traditional pay TV service subscribers for the first time.
|Service||Owner||Availability||On-demand TV||Scheduled channels/streams (IP)||Downloads||UHD||Notes|
|All 4||Channel 4 Television Corp||Internet||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||No||No||Yes||No|
|BBC iPlayer||BBC||Internet||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||No||No||Yes||Test content|
|BT TV||BT Group||BT Broadband||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Unknown||No||Unknown|
|Curzon Home Cinema||Curzon Cinemas||Internet||No||No||Yes||No||No||No||No||No||Unknown|
|EE TV||BT Group||EE Broadband||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||Unknown||On-demand content via 3rd party services|
|My 5||Viacom Int'l Media Networks||Internet||Yes||No||No||No||No||No||No||Unknown||Unknown|
|NOW TV||Sky UK Ltd||Internet||No||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown|
|Plusnet TV||BT Group||Plusnet Broadband||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||No||No||No|
|Prime Video||Amazon.com, Inc||Internet||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Unknown||Yes||Yes||Streamed channels via 3rd party subscriptions|
|Sky Go||Sky UK Ltd||Internet||No||Yes||No||No||Yes
|Yes||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Subscription fee included in Sky TV (satellite) subscription|
|Sky Sports Mobile||Sky UK Ltd||Internet||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||No||Unknown||Unknown|
|Sky Store||Sky UK Ltd||Internet||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||Unknown|
|TalkTalk TV||TalkTalk Group||TalkTalk Broadband||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||Unknown|
|UKTV Play||UKTV Media||Internet||Yes||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||Unknown|
The Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) measures television ratings in the UK. As of November 2017, the average weekly viewing time per person across all broadcast channels was 24 hours 16 minutes. 12 channels have a share of total viewing time across all channels of ≥ 1.0%.
|Channel||Owner||Free/Pay||Weekly viewing time per person (hours:minutes)||Share of total viewing time (%)|
|ITV or STV||ITV plc or STV Group||Free||3:15||13.38|
|Channel 4||Channel 4 Television Corp||Free||1:10||4.83|
|ITV HD||ITV plc||Free||0:46||3.15|
|ITV 3||ITV plc||Free||0:26||1.78|
|ITV 2||ITV plc||Free||0:24||1.66|
|E4||Channel 4 Television Corp||Free||0:18||1.22|
|Film4||Channel 4 Television Corp||Free||0:16||1.12|
For October 2017, there are 9 channel owners with a total viewing share across their channels of ≥ 1.0% (although BARB has separated Viacom channels into two groups, and it's unclear whether STV Group channels are included with ITV plc channels)
|Channel owner||Share of total viewing time (%)||Top 3 channels|
|BBC||32.27||BBC 1, BBC 2, Cbeebies|
|ITV plc||21.84||ITV, ITV HD, ITV2|
|Channel 4 Television Corp||10.76||Channel 4, Film4, E4|
|Sky UK||7.86||Pick, Sky 1, Sky Sports Main Event|
|Viacom: Channel 5 channels||6.39||Channel 5, 5USA, 5Spike|
|UKTV Media||5.35||Drama, Dave, Really|
|Discovery||2.16||Quest, Quest Red, TLC|
|Viacom||1.95||Comedy Central, Nick Jr, Nick Jr 2|
|CBS||1.47||CBS Reality, Horror Channel, CBS Action|
|Sony Pictures Television Networks||1.29||True Entertainment, Pop, True Movies|
The BBC is the world's oldest and largest broadcaster, and is the country's principal public service broadcaster. The BBC is funded primarily by a television licence and from sales of its programming to overseas markets. It does not carry advertising. The licence fee is levied on all households that watch or record TV as it's being broadcast and the fee is determined by periodic negotiation between the government and the BBC.
Its first analogue terrestrial channel, the BBC Television Service, launched in 1936. It rebranded to BBC 1 in 1964, the same year that BBC 2 launched, the UK's third analogue terrestrial channel after ITV. Both channels styled as BBC One and BBC Two from 1997. BBC News 24 launched as an analogue cable channel in 1997, later rebranding to BBC News. BBC Parliament, which was originally an analogue cable channel known as The Parliamentary Channel, was acquired by the BBC in 1998. From 1998 onwards the BBC started digital TV transmissions, launching new channels and broadcasting via satellite in addition to terrestrial and cable. BBC Three closed as a broadcast channel in 2016, continuing as an Internet video service.
|Public service channels||Commercial channels|
|Free channels||BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Four, BBC News, BBC Parliament, CBBC, CBeebies, BBC Alba, BBC Red Button||See UKTV for the BBC's jointly owned commercial channels|
|Internet TV services||BBC Three, BBC iPlayer|
ITV is the network of fifteen regional commercial television franchises, 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, thirteen of these companies are now owned by ITV plc; the other two are owned by STV Group. ITV plc, the operator of all English, Welsh, Southern Scotland and Channel Island franchises, had branded the channel as ITV1 since 2001, with regional names being used prior to regional programmes only since 2002. The ITV name was restored in 2013. ITV plc also operate the Northern Ireland franchise under the UTV brand name. STV Group, which operates the two other Scottish franchises, has now unified the regions under the single name of STV. ITV has been officially known as Channel 3 since 1990, although this is seldom used to identify itself.
ITV plc also operates digital channels ITV2, ITV3, ITV4, ITVBe and CITV, some with HDTV streams. ITN, a subsidiary, currently holds the national news franchise, and ITV Breakfast operates the breakfast franchise.
|ITV plc||STV Group|
|Free channels||ITV, ITV2, ITV3, ITV4, ITVBe, CITV||STV, STV2|
|Subscription/pay-per-view channels||ITV2 HD, ITV3 HD, ITV4 HD, ITV Box Office||None|
|Internet TV Services||ITV Hub||STV Player|
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, More4, 4Music, 4seven 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 6 set advertising regions.
With Bauer Media Group, Channel 4 jointly owns a range of music channels under the Box Plus Network banner.
|Channel 4 channels||Box Plus Network|
|Free channels||Channel 4, More4, Film4, E4, 4seven||The Box, Box Upfront, Box Hits, 4Music, Kiss, Magic, Kerrang!|
|Internet TV Services||All 4||Box Plus Network|
Channel 5 was the fifth analogue terrestrial channel to launch, in March 1997. Due to constraints with the available UHF frequencies at the time, many households had to retune their video recorders, which shared the frequency on their RF output with the frequency used by Channel 5's new broadcasts. Channel 5 was the first terrestrial channel to also broadcast via satellite. From 2006 onwards, Channel 5 would launch new digital channels and an Internet on-demand service. After changing ownership several times, in May 2014 Channel 5 and its sister channels would be acquired by Viacom, an American media conglomerate.
By the time it acquired Channel 5, Viacom already operated a large number of subscription channels in the UK, including the MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central channels, which are available via Sky TV, Virgin Media and NOW TV. In terms of viewing share, the combined viewing across Viacom's free and subscription channels make Viacom the UK's fourth largest broadcaster, after BBC, ITV plc and Channel 4 Corp, according to BARB's viewing figures for January 2018.
|Free channels||Channel 5, 5Star, 5USA, 5Spike, 5Select|
|Subscription||MTV, VH1, MTV Base, MTV Classic, MTV Dance, MTV Hits, MTV Music, MTV Rocks, Nickelodeon, Nicktoons, Nick Jr., Nick Jr. Too, Comedy Central, Comedy Central Extra, BET|
|Internet TV Services||My5|
On 18 January 2011, then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt announced his intentions to set up a network of local television stations across the UK. The initial plan was to create a network of local television stations, connected through a national backbone. This plan would create a television network similar to that of the network-affiliate model in the United States and Canada. In June 2011, however, it was announced that the national spine plan would be scrapped, and a 'bottom-up' approach would be followed instead, where stations are individually licensed.
Richard Horwood, a former Trinity Mirror executive, announced that when the local television stations are first licensed, he intends to create a television network called Channel 6; this will be a network of local television stations, with Channel 6 supplying the prime time schedule (similar to the American network-affiliate model). Another operator, which has announced its intentions to set up a network of local television stations with a television network connecting them, is City TV Broadcasting. That company says it is basing its operations on the Citytv television system in Canada, but there does not appear to be any official affiliation with the latter's owner, Rogers Communications. City TV is initially bidding on a station to be based in Birmingham.
Sky is a European broadcaster owned by global American media conglomerate Comcast. They operate a satellite television service and numerous television channels including Sky One, Sky Two, Sky News, Pick, Challenge, Sky Atlantic, Sky Witness, Real Lives, Sky Arts, Sky Cinema and Sky Sports.
British television differs from other countries, such as the United States, in as much that programmes produced in the United Kingdom 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 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:
|2||Cathy Come Home (The Wednesday Play)||BBC1||1966|
|3||Doctor Who||BBC1||1963–1989, 1996, 2005–present|
|4||The Naked Civil Servant||ITV||1975|
|5||Monty Python's Flying Circus||BBC2||1969–1974|
|7||Boys from the Blackstuff||BBC2||1982|
|9||Yes Minister / Yes, Prime Minister||BBC2||1980–1988|
100 Greatest TV Moments was a list compiled by Channel 4 in 1999. The top 10 entries are:
|1||News||BBC One / BBC Two / ITV||1969||The Apollo 11 moon landing|
|2||News||BBC One / BBC Two / ITV||1990||The release of Nelson Mandela|
|3||News||BBC One / BBC Two / ITV||1997||Michael Portillo loses his seat in the general election, which came to symbolise the end of the period of Conservative government which had begun in 1979 with Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister|
|4||News||BBC One / BBC Two / ITV||1997||The death of Diana, Princess of Wales|
|5||News||BBC One / BBC Two / ITV||1989||The fall of the Berlin Wall|
|6||1966 FIFA World Cup||BBC One / ITV||1966||Final: England beats Germany 4–2; commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme's quotation "They think it's all over"|
|7||Only Fools and Horses||BBC One||1989||"Yuppy Love": Del Boy falls through a bar flap|
|8||Live Aid||BBC One||1985||The multi-venue rock concert to raise funds for the famine of Ethiopia|
|9||Blackadder Goes Forth||BBC One||1989||"Goodbyeee": the protagonists go over the top|
|10||News||BBC One / BBC Two / ITV||1963||John F. Kennedy assassination|
In 2005, the British Film Institute compiled a list of programmes with the biggest audience since 1955. The top 10 are:
|Rank||Show||Episode||Number of Viewers||Date||Network|
|1||1966 World Cup Final||32.30 million||30 July 1966||BBC One|
|2||Funeral of Princess Diana||32.10 million||6 September 1997||BBC One|
|3||British Royal Family (documentary)||30.69 million||1969||BBC1|
|4||EastEnders||Den divorces Angie||30.15 million||25 December 1986||BBC One|
|5||Apollo 13 Splashdown||28.60 million||17 April 1970||BBC One|
|6||FA Cup Final: Chelsea vs. Leeds||28.49 million||29 April 1970||BBC One|
|7||Royal Wedding of Charles & Diana||28.40 million||29 July 1981||BBC One|
|8||Wedding of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips||27.60 million||14 November 1973||BBC One|
|9||Coronation Street||Hilda Ogden leaves||26.65 million||25 December 1987||ITV|
|10||2012 Summer Olympics Closing Ceremony||24.46 million||12 August 2012||BBC One|
The 100 Greatest Kids' TV shows was a poll conducted by the British television channel Channel 4 in 2001. The top 5 UK-produced programmes are:
|1||The Muppet Show||1976–1981|
The British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Series is one of the major categories of the British Academy Television Awards. The last 5 winners are:
Weekday programming on terrestrial channels begins at 6 am with breakfast national news programmes (along with regional news updates) on BBC One and ITV, with Channel 5. BBC Two also showed children's programming all morning until the start of 2013. That channel now broadcasts repeats of BBC One's daytime programmes. Channel 4 predominately broadcasts comedy and music programmes such as Everybody Loves Raymond and Freshly Squeezed in its morning slot. The weekday breakfast news programme ends at 9:15 am on BBC One and 8:30 am on ITV.
Following this on BBC One, lifestyle programming is generally shown, including property, auction and home/garden makeover. BBC One continues this genre until after the lunchtime news, whereby afternoon has a soap called Doctors followed by dramas currently occupy the schedule. BBC Two broadcasts repeats of recent BBC One programmes with on-screen signing before airing news and politics programming between 11 am and 1 pm. ITV on the other hand takes over from GMB at 8:30 am, and generally broadcasts more human-interest chat-style shows, including Lorraine, The Jeremy Kyle Show, This Morning and Loose Women, in the morning to mid-afternoon slots, with the ITV Lunchtime News (including a regional bulletin) at 1:30 pm. Channel 4 often shows home-project and archaeology lifestyle programming in the early afternoon after a Channel 4 News summary. Channel 5 broadcasts chatshow programmes in the morning including The Wright Stuff with regular news bulletins followed by the last nights Big Brother (when the show is on air). In the afternoon it shows a drama followed by an hour of Australian soaps such as Home and Away and Neighbours and a film.
Until the end of 2012 BBC One showed children's programmes in the late afternoon but the channel now continues to show lifestyle programming until broadcasting the game show Pointless at 5:15 pm. BBC Two used to show lifestyle programming such as Animal Park in the late afternoon before these programmes were switched to BBC One. BBC Two now broadcasts repeats unless it is showing sporting events. ITV shows a lifestyle programme followed by a chat show such as The Alan Titchmarsh Show before repeats of classic ITV shows, such as Heartbeat, Poirot and Midsomer Murders in late-afternoon, before a gameshow-style programme at 5:00 pm, which have included Golden Balls and The Price Is Right.
News bulletins are broadcast between 6 pm and 7 pm on both BBC One and ITV, with BBC One beginning with the national BBC News at Six and ITV with the flagship regional news programme. At around 18.30, BBC One broadcasts the regional news programmes whilst ITV broadcasts the ITV Evening News. Channel 4 News starts at 7 pm.
Primetime programming is usually dominated by further soaps, including Doctors, EastEnders on BBC One, Coronation Street and Emmerdale on ITV, and Hollyoaks on Channel 4. These soap operas or 'continuing dramas' as they are now called can vary throughout the year, however weekly dramas, such as Holby City, are also fixed to scheduling. Because of this, the UK can often rely more heavily on TV guides, be it with the newspaper, online, via information services on the television such as the BBC Red Button service or the built in Electronic Programme Guides.
After midnight, when late evening films are shown, many channels cease broadcasting "normal" programming or simulcast with another channel. Before 2000, the channels simply closed down. However, since then programming has been shown continuously. BBC One will join BBC News in a multichannel simulcast and BBC Two shows a continuous loop of forthcoming programme previews and trailers, although prior to the completion of Digital switchover BBC Two had filled its overnight downtime with Pages from Ceefax. Between 2005 and 2007 ITV broadcast the ITV Play strand of phone-in participation TV programmes but now much of the night is dedicated to the text-based ITV information service ITV Nightscreen. Previously, Channel 4 had closed down to show live feeds of Big Brother (in the summer) and its spin-off, Celebrity Big Brother (in January). However, since 2010, repeats of Channel 4 daytime shows have typically been shown. Until the end of the 2000s Channel 5 generally showed various sports from around the world, including boxing and football from European leagues as well as live American sport, with phone-in participation-TV Quiz Call on weekends. Quiz Call is now shown every night of the week.
Weekend daytime programming traditionally consists of more lifestyle programming, as well as afternoon live and recorded coverage of sporting events and films. There are further battles for viewers in the weekend primetime slot, often featuring reality or talent game shows in the evening. Lunchtime, early evening and late evening news programmes continue on BBC One and ITV although the length of the bulletins are shorter than during the week.
In 1963 Mary Whitehouse, incensed by the liberalising policies followed by Sir Hugh Greene, then director general of the BBC, began her letter writing campaign. She subsequently launched the Clean Up TV Campaign, and founded the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association in 1965. In 2008, Toby Young in an article for The Independent wrote: "On the wider question of whether sex and violence on TV has led to a general moral collapse in society at large, the jury is still out. No one doubts that Western civilization is teetering on the brink ... but it is unfair to lay the blame entirely at the feet of BBC2 and Channel 4."
In 2005, the BBC's broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera elicited 55,000 complaints, and provoked protests from Christian organisation Christian Voice, and a private prosecution against the BBC by the Christian Institute. A summons was not issued.
In 2007, the General Synod of the Church of England claimed that programmes such as Celebrity Big Brother and Little Britain were eroding moral standards. The Synod criticised broadcasting trends that "exploit the humiliation of human beings for public entertainment", and called for research to determine the behavioural impact of sexual or violent images.
The British Academy Television Awards are the most prestigious awards given in the British television industry, analogous to the Emmy Awards in the United States. They have been awarded annually since 1954, and are only open to British programmes. After all the entries have been received, they are voted for online by all eligible members of the Academy. The winner is chosen from the four nominees by a special jury of nine academy members for each award, the members of each jury selected by the Academy's Television Committee.
The National Television Awards is a British television awards ceremony, sponsored by ITV and initiated in 1995. Although not widely held to be as prestigious as the BAFTAs, the National Television Awards are probably the most prominent ceremony for which the results are voted on by the general public. Unlike the BAFTAs, the National Television Awards allow foreign programmes to be nominated, providing they have been screened on a British channel during the eligible time period.
Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the communication industries in the United Kingdom, including television. As the regulatory body for media broadcasts, Ofcom's duties include:
In 2008, Ofcom issued fines to the total of £7.7m. This included £5.67m of fines to ITV companies, including a £3m fine to LWT over voting irregularities on Saturday Night Takeaway, and fines totalling £495,000 to the BBC. Ofcom said phone-in scandals had contributed significantly to the fine totals.
The Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP, or BCAP) is the body contracted by Ofcom to create and maintain the codes of practice governing television advertising. The Broadcast Advertising Codes (or the TV codes) are accessible on CAP's web site. The Codes cover advertising standards (the TV Code), guidance notes, scheduling rules, text services (the Teletext Code) and interactive television guidance. The main sections of the TV Code concern compliance, programmes and advertising, unacceptable products, political and controversial issues, misleading advertising, harm and offence, children, medicines, treatments, health claims and nutrition, finance and investments, and religion.
The Advertising Standards Authority is an independent body responsible for resolving complaints relating to the advertising industry within the UK. It is not government funded, but funded by a levy on the advertising industry. It ensures compliance with the Codes created by CAP. The ASA covers all forms of advertising, not just television advertisements. The ASA can refer problematic adverts to Ofcom, since the channels carrying the adverts are ultimately responsible for the advertising content, and are answerable to Ofcom. Ofcom can issue fines or revoke broadcast licenses if necessary.
In the United Kingdom and the Crown dependencies, a television licence is required to receive any publicly broadcast television service, from any source. This includes the commercial channels, cable and satellite transmissions. The money from the licence fee is used to provide radio, television and Internet content for the BBC, and Welsh-language television programmes for S4C. The BBC gives the following figures for expenditure of licence fee income:
As of 2002, 27,000 hours of original programming are produced year in the UK television industry, excluding news, at a cost of £2.6bn. Ofcom has determined that 56% (£1.5bn) of production is in-house by the channel owners, and the remainder by independent production companies. Ofcom is enforcing a 25% independent production quota for the channel operators, as stipulated in the Broadcasting Act 1990.
ITV plc, the company which owns 12 of the 15 regional ITV franchises, has set its production arm ITV Studios a target of producing 75% of the ITV schedule, the maximum allowed by Ofcom. This would be a rise from 54% at present, as part of a strategy to make ITV content-led chiefly to double production revenues to £1.2bn by 2012. ITV Studios currently produces programmes such as Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Heartbeat.
In contrast, the BBC has implemented a Window of Creative Competition (WOCC), a 25% proportion over and above the 25% Ofcom quota in which the BBC's in-house production and independent producers can compete. The BBC produces shows such as All Creatures Great and Small and F***off I'm a Hairy Woman.
Channel 4 commissions all programmes from independent producers.
As a consequence of the launch of Channel 4 in 1982, and the 25% independent quota from the Broadcasting Act 1990, an independent production sector has grown in the UK. Notable companies include Talkback Thames, Endemol UK, Hat Trick Productions, and Tiger Aspect Productions. A full list can be seen here: Category:Television production companies of the United Kingdom
|1936||Analogue terrestrial||Following mechanical television test transmissions starting in 1926, and the first official broadcast in 1929, the BBC launches electronic television broadcasts, the BBC Television Service, from Alexandra Palace. The picture format is monochrome, 405-line, and the transmission analogue terrestrial VHF. The service rebrands to BBC TV in 1960.|
|1938||Analogue cable||Community Antenna TV launches in Bristol and Kingston upon Hull, the UK's first cable services, distributing the 405 line service|
|1939||Analogue TV||The BBC Television Service ceases from September 1939 to June 1946, during World War II|
|1955||Regulation||The Independent Television Authority (ITA) is appointed to oversee the creation of ITV by the Television Act 1954|
|1955||Analogue terrestrial||ITV, the UK's second channel, begins when Associated-Rediffusion, the first ITV franchise, launches. ITV is initially arranged as 14 regional franchises, with three of these (London, Midlands and North) being further split into weekday and weekend franchises. The franchisees launch between September 1955 and September 1962, the franchise holders being Associated-Rediffusion, Associated TeleVision (holds two franchises, ATV London and ATV Midlands), Associated British Corporation, Granada Television, Scottish Television, Television Wales and the West, Southern Television, Tyne Tees Television, Anglia Television, Ulster Television, Westward Television, Border Television, Grampian Television, Channel Television and Wales (West and North) Television|
|1964||Analogue terrestrial||BBC Two launches, in a higher definition 625-line format (576i). As it is broadcast in UHF frequencies and a different format, owners of 405 line TVs are unable to receive it. Simultaneously, BBC TV rebrands to BBC One|
|1960s||Analogue cable||Rediffusion Vision start a 625-line cable service|
|1966||Programming||The 1966 World Cup Final broadcasts on BBC One and ITV, with 32.3 million viewers in total making it the most watched broadcast|
|1967||Analogue terrestrial||Colour transmissions begin on BBC Two using the PAL format|
|1968||Analogue terrestrial||The ITA made changes to the ITV franchises: the weekday/weekend split for the Midlands and North franchises is removed, but the North was split into North West and Yorkshire. From 1968, Telefusion Yorkshire held the new Yorkshire franchise. Thames Television was created for the London weekday franchise, formed from ABC and Rediffusion. London Weekend Television replaced the London weekend franchise holder, ATV.|
|1968||Analogue terrestrial||The ITV Emergency National Service replaces the regional ITV network in August 1968 due to strike action as a consequence of the implementation of the franchise changes|
|1969||Analogue terrestrial||Colour transmissions begin on BBC One and ITV|
|1969||Programming||The Apollo 11 moon landing broadcasts on BBC One, BBC Two and ITV, listed as the Greatest TV Moment in a 1999 list compiled by Channel 4|
|1972||Regulation||The Sound Broadcasting Act 1972 reconstitutes the ITA as the Independent Broadcasting Authority|
|1972||Analogue cable||Licenses issued for experimental community cable stations in Bristol, Greenwich, Sheffield, Swindon and Wellingborough|
|1974||Analogue terrestrial||Ceefax and ORACLE, the UK's first teletext services, launch|
|1975||Programming||Fawlty Towers firsts broadcasts, listed as the Greatest British Television Programme in a list compiled by the British Film Institute in 2000|
|1979||Analogue terrestrial||Almost all ITV broadcasts and production ceased due to a 10-week industrial dispute. When programming resumed on 24 October, there was a lack of original programming, so ITV showed repeats of 3-2-1. Original programming resumes two and a half months later|
|1982||Analogue terrestrial||ITV franchise changes took effect: Central Independent Television was created from a restructured ATV. Television South (TVS) replaced Southern Television. Television South West (TSW) replaced Westward Television. A new national ITV franchise is created for breakfast television, and awarded to TV-am|
|1982||Analogue terrestrial||Launch of Channel 4 and S4C, the UK's second and third independent channels. S4C broadcast to Wales, and Channel 4 the remainder of the country. The ITV companies sold Channel 4's airtime until the end of 1992. ITV and Channel 4 cross-promoted each other's programmes until 1998.|
|1985||Analogue terrestrial||The two-station analogue terrestrial VHF transmissions cease on 3 January|
|Late 1980s||Analogue cable||Issue of franchises to local cable operators, which will eventually merge to become Virgin Media and WightFibre|
|1989||Analogue satellite||Sky launches, a subscription satellite service, with pay-per-view movies and events|
|1990||Regulation||The Broadcasting Act 1990 abolishes the Independent Broadcasting Authority and Cable Authority and replaces them with the Independent Television Commission. The Act makes mergers between ITV franchises possible – the regional franchises will ultimately consolidate to ITV plc (holds 13 franchises) and STV Group (2 franchises). Most Franchises that would ultimately be owned by ITV plc adopt the ITV1 brand in 2001, and drop regional identity in 2002. The two STV Group franchises standardise on the STV brand in 2006, with Channel Television taking on the ITV1 brand despite being independent of ITV plc at that time.|
|1990||Analogue satellite||BSB launches, a subscription 5-channel satellite service|
|1991||Analogue terrestrial||Two ITV regions and Channel 4 broadcast stereo sound transmissions using NICAM, with the rest of the ITV network following in the next couple of years. The BBC launches NICAM stereo broadcasting on 31 August, having started test transmissions in 1986|
|1992||Analogue satellite||After merging with Sky, BSkyB ceases transmissions on BSB's old satellite|
|1992||Programming||Ghostwatch broadcasts on BBC One, listed as the Most Controversial TV Moment in a 2005 list compiled by Channel 4. The programme had 2,215 complaints following the broadcast|
|1993||Analogue terrestrial||ITV franchise changes took effect: Westcountry Television replaced Television South West; Carlton Television replaced Thames Television; Meridian Broadcasting replaced Television South; Good Morning Television replaced TV-am; Teletext Ltd replaced ORACLE, the national teletext franchise holder|
|1997||Analogue terrestrial||Channel 5 launches; it is the UK's first terrestrial broadcaster to also launch on Sky|
|1998||Digital satellite||BSkyB launches SkyDigital, now marketed as Sky TV, the UK's first digital satellite service. Unlike the analogue service, it includes an Electronic Programme Guide, interactive TV and text services, widescreen picture format from certain channels (16:9), audio description and near video-on-demand pay-per-view movie channels. This also sees the BBC, Channel 4 and S4C to broadcast via satellite for the first time; as such, Channel 4 becomes available in Wales, and a new Welsh-only version of S4C broadcasts nationally. The BBC is initially encrypted and non-regional; it will drop encryption and launch regional variations from May 2003. ITV will not join SkyDigital until October 2001. SkyDigital launches with around 200 TV or radio channels|
|1998||Digital terrestrial||Launch of OnDigital, a subscription digital terrestrial service|
|1998||Digital cable||NTL, Telewest and Cable & Wireless begin digital cable services with similar characteristics to Sky Digital. Unlike Sky Digital, cable remains a regional service, carrying all versions of BBC channels and ITV|
|1999||IPTV||Kingston Interactive Television (KIT), the UK's first IPTV service, launches in Hull. It is the UK's first video on demand service|
|2001||Analogue satellite||BSkyB ceases its analogue satellite service|
|2002||Digital terrestrial||Closure of ITV Digital (né OnDigital)|
|2002||Digital terrestrial||Launch of Freeview, a free digital terrestrial service to replace ITV Digital|
|2003||Regulation||The Communications Act 2003 abolishes the Independent Television Commission and replaces it with Ofcom|
|2004||Digital terrestrial||Launch of Top Up TV, a subscription service on digital terrestrial|
|2006||Cable||Merger of NTL and Telewest; they will later merge with Virgin Mobile and relaunch as Virgin Media|
|2006||Cable||The UK's first public high-definition broadcasts, as BBC and ITV show the 2006 FIFA World Cup in high-definition via NTL:Telewest|
|2006||IPTV||Kingston Communications cease KIT|
|2006||IPTV||Launch of BT Vision, a subscription video on demand service combined with a Freeview receiver|
|2006||Internet television||BSkyB launches Sky Anytime, a program to download television shows to PCs via the Internet, for subscribers to Sky TV|
|2006||Internet television||Channel 4 launches 4 on Demand, allowing free and paid-for downloads via the Internet of television shows|
|2007||Internet television||ITV relaunch itv.com as an on-demand portal|
|2007||Analogue terrestrial||The digital switchover begins as a consequence of switching off analogue terrestrial UHF transmissions|
|2007||Internet television||The BBC launches BBC iPlayer, a tool for watching BBC programmes online|
|2008||Digital satellite||Freesat launches, a free satellite television service|
|2009||Analogue cable||Virgin Media closes the last analogue cable areas|
|2012||Analogue terrestrial||Analogue terrestrial UHF transmissions cease in all regions.|
|Provider||Years||Free or pay||No. of channels||Colour||Digital||VOD||Transmission|
|VHF terrestrial TV||1936–1985||Free||2||No||No||No||Analogue terrestrial|
|405-line cable service||1938–?||Unknown||2||No||No||No||Analogue cable|
|UHF terrestrial TV||1965–2012||Free||5 (or 6)||Yes||No||No||Analogue terrestrial|
|Multiple cable services||1970s–2013||Unknown||Free and pay||Yes||No||No||Analogue cable|
|Sky [analogue]||1989–2001||Pay||Unknown||Yes||No||No||Analogue satellite|
|OnDigital / ITV Digital||1998–2002||Pay||Unknown||Yes||Yes||No||Digital terrestrial|
|Top Up TV||2004–2013||Pay||Unknown||Yes||Yes||No||Digital terrestrial|
The following Internet TV services have closed:
The following services were aborted before launch:
Analogue TV was transmitted via VHF (1936) and later UHF (1964) radio waves, with analogue broadcasts ending in 2012.
VHF transmissions started in 1936 and closed in 1985 (with a gap 1939–1946), carrying two channels. The launch channel was the BBC Television Service, known as BBC 1 since 1964. This was joined by Independent Television, a network of regional franchises launching between 1955 and 1962. The channels transmitted in monochrome using the 405-line television system at 25 frames per second, initially with an aspect ratio of 5:4, switching to 4:3 in 1950.
UHF transmissions started in 1964 and closed in 2012. The launch channel was BBC 2. This would be joined by BBC 1, the ITV network, Channel 4 or S4C in Wales, Channel 5 as well as a network of local TV channels. Transmissions started using the System I standard, a 625-line monochrome picture at 25 frames/second (576i) and a 4:3 aspect ratio. Technical advancements included colour (1967), teletext (1974), and stereo sound (1991). The drive to switch viewers from analogue to digital transmissions was a process called the digital switchover.
Whilst there are no longer any analogue broadcasts in the UK, a PAL signal may be present in closed RF distribution systems, e.g. a video feed from an intercom in a block of flats, or a security system.
|Common channel position||Channel name||Channel owner||Regions[nb 5]||VHF launch date||UHF launch date|
|1||BBC One||BBC||18 regional variations||2 November 1936||15 November 1969|
|2||BBC Two||BBC||4 regional variations[nb 6]||N/A||20 April 1964|
|3||ITV (on-air brand ITV, STV or UTV; legal name Channel 3)||ITV Network Ltd (ITV plc, STV Group)||17 regional variations (14 ITV, 2 STV, UTV); 24 advertising regions; 13 Teletext regions||From 22 September 1955 – 14 September 1962||15 November 1969|
|4 (English regions, Scotland and Northern Ireland)||Channel 4||Channel Four Television Corporation||6 advertising regions||N/A||2 November 1982|
|4 (Wales)||S4C||S4C Authority||1 region||N/A||1 November 1982|
|5||Channel 5||Viacom International Media Networks Europe||4 advertising regions||N/A||30 March 1997|
|6||Restricted Service Licence channels||Various||18 channels (approx)||N/A||From Oct 1998|
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was established in 1927 to develop radio broadcasting, and inevitably became involved in TV in 1936. The BBC is funded by income from a "Broadcast Receiving Licence" purchased by UK residents. The cost of this is set by agreement with the UK Government.
Television caught on in the United Kingdom in 1947, but its expansion was slow. By 1951, with only two transmitters, near London and Birmingham, only 9% of British homes owned a television set. The United Kingdom was the first country in the world to have a regular daily television schedule direct to homes and it was the first to have technical professions to work on TVs. (A. Smith, Television: An International History 1995)
Up until 1972, television broadcasting hours were tightly regulated by the British government, under the control of the Postmaster General. Before the launch of the commercial channel ITV in 1955, the BBC was restricted by law to just five hours maximum of television in a day. This was increased at the launch of the commercial channel ITV to a 7-hour broadcasting day for both channels. Gradually the number of hours were increased. Typically during the late 1960s the law regulated a 50-hour broadcasting week for all television channels in the UK. This meant BBC One, BBC Two and ITV could only broadcast normal programming for 7 hours a day Mondays to Fridays, and 7.5 hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays.
Until 1957, television in the United Kingdom could not air from 6.00pm-7.00pm. This was called "Toddler's Truce", where the idea was that parents could put their children to bed, before prime time television would commence. This restriction was lifted in 1957. However, on Sundays, television remained off the air from 6.00pm-7.00pm. This was in response to religious leaders fears that television would interfere with people attending church services. In 1958 a compromise was reached, where only religious programming could be aired during this time slot. This restriction was lifted in January 1972.
The Postmaster General allowed exemptions to the regulations. All schools programming, adult education, religious programming, state occasions, political broadcasts and Welsh language programming were totally exempt from the restrictions. Sport and outside broadcasting events were given a separate quota of broadcasting hours which could be used in a year, starting off at 200 hours a year in the mid 1950s, rising to a quota of 350 hours a year by the late 1960s. Broadcasting on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day were also exempt from the tightly controlled restrictions.
The election of a conservative government in June 1970 brought in changes to the control of broadcasting hours. At first the typical broadcasting day was extended to 8 hours a day, with an increase in exemptions over Christmas and an increase in the sport/outside broadcasting quota. On 19 January 1972, the then Minister for Posts and Telecommunications, Christopher Chataway, announced to the British House of Commons that all restrictions on broadcasting hours on television would be lifted from that day, with the broadcasters allowed to set their own broadcasting hours from then on. By November 1972 a full daytime schedule had been launched on ITV from 9.30am each day, with the BBC also expanding their schedules to include more daytime programming.
The UK Government previously appointed people to the BBC's Board of Governors, a body responsible for the general direction of the organisation, and appointment of senior executives, but not its day-to-day management. From 2007, the BBC Trust replaced the Board of Governors. It is operationally independent of BBC management and external bodies, and aims to act in the best interests of licence fee payers.
Commercial television was first introduced in the United Kingdom, in 1955. Unlike the US, there was a distinct split between advertisements and programming. Advertisers purely purchased spots within pre-defined breaks within programming, and had no connection to the programme content. The content and nature of adverts being strictly controlled by the ITA the body controlling commercial television.
The first commercial direct-broadcast satellite (DBS, also known as direct-to-home) service in the United Kingdom, Sky Television, was launched in 1989 and used the newly launched Astra satellite at 19.2° east, providing four analogue TV channels. The channels and subsequent VideoCrypt video encryption system used the existing PAL broadcast standard, unlike the winner of the UK state DBS licence, British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB).
In 1990, BSB launched, broadcasting five channels (Now, Galaxy, The Movie Channel, The Power Station and The Sports Channel) in D-MAC format and using the EuroCypher video encryption system which was derived from the General Instruments VideoCipher system used in the USA. One of the main selling points of the BSB offering was the Squarial, a flat plate antenna and low-noise block converter (LNB). Sky's system used conventional and cheaper dish and LNB technology.
The two companies competed over the UK rights to movies. Sky operated from an industrial park in Isleworth in West London, whereas BSB had newly built offices in London (Marco Polo House). The two services subsequently merged to form British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB). BSB's D-MAC/EuroCypher system was gradually replaced with Sky's VideoCrypt video encryption system.
By 1998, following the launch of several more satellites to Astra's 19.2° east position, the number of channels had increased to around 60 and BSkyB launched the first subscription-based digital television platform in the UK, offering a range of 300 channels broadcast from Astra's new satellite, at 28.2° east position under the brand name Sky Digital. BSkyB's analogue service has now been discontinued, with all customers having been migrated to Sky Digital.