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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 over 480 channels[nb 1] 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 £2.6 billion. Analogue terrestrial transmissions are currently being switched off and this is due to be completed 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).

Provider Years Free or pay No. broadcast channels VOD HD Red button Households Transmission
Analogue terrestrial 1964-2013 Free Up to 6 No No No 2,600,000[1] Analogue terrestrial
Freesat 2007- Free 106 (TV), 38 (radio)[nb 2] Coming Soon[nb 3] Yes Yes 450,000[1][nb 4] Digital satellite
Freesat from Sky 1998- Free + PPV Over 240[2] No No Yes 232,000[1][nb 5] Digital satellite
Freeview 2002- Free Up to 44 (TV), 24 (radio) No Yes[nb 6] Yes 9,700,000[1] Digital terrestrial
Freewire Unknown Free and subscription 25 free[3], 19 subscription[4] No No No 40,000[5] IPTV via JANET
The Internet Unknown Varies Unknown Yes Yes No 17,275,660[6] Internet television
BT Vision 2006- Non-freePay As Freeview Yes Yes No 433,000[7] IPTV via ADSL and digital terrestrial
Orange 1994- Non-freePay Unknown Unknown No No Unknown Mobile television
Sky TV 1998- Non-freePay 300+ (TV and radio) Push Yes Yes 8,900,000[1] Digital satellite
Smallworld[nb 7] Unknown Non-freePay 99[8] No No No [nb 8] Digital cable
T-Mobile 1993- Non-freePay Unknown Unknown No No Unknown Mobile television
TalkTalk TV 2006- Non-freePay 73 Yes No No [nb 9] IPTV via ADSL
Top Up TV 2004- Non-freePay As Freeview Push No No [nb 9] Digital terrestrial
Virgin 2007- Non-freePay Around 318 (tv & radio) (TV)[9] Yes Yes Yes 3,672,000[1][nb 10][nb 8] Digital cable
Vodafone 1991- Non-freePay Unknown Unknown No No Unknown Mobile television
WightCable Unknown Non-freePay 120[10] No No No [nb 8] Digital cable
UK households receiving pay vs free TV on their main TVs
Type Percentage Households Providers
UK tv pay vs free providers q2 2009.png.png
Free 50.4% 13,033,440 Freesat, Freesat from Sky, Freeview, analogue terrestrial TV
Pay 49.6% 12,826,560 Sky TV, Smallworld Cable, TalkTalk TV, Top Up TV, Virgin Media, Wightcable
UK households by broadcast/reception system on their main TVs
Type Percentage Households Providers
UK tv reception q2 2009.png Terrestrial (free) 47.6% 12,300,000 Analogue terrestrial, Freeview
Satellite (free/pay) 37.1% 9,600,000 Freesat, Freesat from Sky, Sky TV
Cable (pay) 12.0% 3,100,000 Smallworld Cable, Virgin Media, Wightcable
Others 3.3% 860,000 BT Vision, TalkTalk TV, Top Up TV
Bar graph showing number of households for each television provider platform on their main TVs, as of end of June 2009
Reception devices for the UK's television providers
Provider TV or IDTV STB Computer Mobile phone
(Unbranded analogue terrestrial) Yes N/A Yes No
Freesat Yes Yes No No
Freesat from Sky No Yes No No
Freeview Yes Yes Yes No
Freewire No No Yes No
The Internet No Yes Yes Yes
BT Vision No Yes No No
Orange No No No Yes
Sky TV No Yes No No
Smallworld No Yes No No
T-Mobile No No No Yes
TalkTalk TV No Yes No No
Top Up TV No Yes No No
Virgin [digital] No Yes No No
Vodafone No No No Yes
WightCable No Yes No No

Analogue terrestrial television

Crystal Palace transmitter. Constructed in 1956, it is the main transmitter for London.
Digital switchover progress across the UK      Switchover not yet started; area receives both analogue and digital transmissions     Switchover in progress; analogue BBC Two transmissions ceased as a precursor to the full switchover     Switchover complete; area receives digital transmissions and no analogue transmissions

This was the traditional way of receiving television in the UK, however it has now largely been supplanted by digital providers. There are 5 channels with regional variations, of which the first to launch, under the current UHF PAL system, was BBC Two in 1964. Since 1998, a small number of local channels operate under Restricted service licences. Historically, BBC One and ITV were also available using the VHF 405-line television system which ceased in 1985.

Common channel position Channel name Channel owner Regions[nb 11] Original launch date UHF launch date
1 BBC One BBC 18 regional variations[11] 2 Nov 1936 15 Nov 1969
2 BBC Two BBC 4 regional variations [12][nb 12] 20 Apr 1964 20 Apr 1964
3 ITV (on-air brand ITV1, STV or UTV; legal name Channel 3) ITV Network Ltd (ITV plc, STV Group plc, UTV Media, Channel Television) 17 regional variations (14 ITV1,[13] 2 STV,[14] UTV); 24 advertising regions[15]; 13 Teletext regions[16] From 22 Sep 1955 - 14 Sep 1962 15 Nov 1969
4 (England, Scotland and Northern Ireland) Channel 4 Channel Four Television Corporation 6 advertising regions[17] 2 Nov 1982 2 Nov 1982
4 (Wales) S4C Welsh Fourth Channel Authority 1 region 1 Nov 1982 1 Nov 1982
5 Five RTL Group 4 advertising regions[18] 30 Mar 1997 30 Mar 1997
6 Restricted Service Licence channels Various 18 channels (approx) From Oct 1998 From Oct 1998

Analogue terrestrial transmissions are currently being switched off in phases as part of the Digital Switchover. The last region is due to be switched off in the second half of 2012. See Digital switchover dates in the United Kingdom for more information.

As of January 2009, BBC One, BBC Two, ITV and Channel 4 broadcast from a network of 1,134 transmitters. Five broadcasts from 52 transmitters, and the Restricted Service Licence stations broadcast from 14 transmitters.[19] See Category:Transmitter sites in the United Kingdom for information on some of these. The transmitters are operated by Arqiva.

Digital terrestrial television

Television aerials used for receiving analogue or digital terrestrial television. The term aerial is in common use rather than antenna.

Digital terrestrial television launched in 1998 as a subscription service named ONdigital. Since October 2002, the primary broadcaster is Freeview, with Top Up TV and ESPN (previously Setanta Sports before it went bust) providing additional subscription services.

Ofcom reports that, at the end of June 2009, there are

  • 29,700,000 television sets equipped to view digital terrestrial in the UK (directly or via a set-top-box)
  • 23,000,000 homes have main TVs equipped to view digital terrestrial
  • 18,200,000 homes using digital terrestrial equipment
  • 9,900,000 homes where digital terrestrial is the only form of digital television received[1]

As of January 2009, digital terrestrial is broadcast from a network of 100 transmitters, operated by Arqiva.[20]

Cable television

A pavement dug up revealing the cables underneath. The green box is a common sight in areas with cable coverage, as are manhole covers enscribed with CATV.

There are three providers of cable television, targeting different geographic areas within the UK. In all cases cable TV is a subscription service normally bundled with a phone line and broadband.

Smallworld Cable is available in south-east Scotland and north-west England. Pricing ranges from £10.50 (cost of phone line with 'free' TV) to £80 per month.[21]

WightCable is available in the Isle of Wight.

Virgin Media is available to 55% of UK households.[22] Pricing ranges from £11 a month (phone line with 'free' TV) to £30.50 a month,[23] with additional fees for premium services such as Sky Sports. Virgin also market V+, a digital video recorder and high-definition receiver.

Virgin Media is the only cable provider to supply high-definition television and video on demand, although these aren't available in areas provided with their analogue TV service.

Existing Virgin Media customers can end their ongoing subscriptions, and opt for their set-top box to be configured to receive digital 'freeview' channels, giving them a freeview service via Virgin Media.

Satellite television

Satellite dishes on a wall in Hackey, UK. The small oval dishes are for viewing Sky, and are known as Minidishes. The larger dishes are for viewing satellite services from outside the UK.

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 owned by British Sky Broadcasting. It is the dominant satellite provider with the largest number of channels compared to other providers. As of September 2008, subscription starts at £18 per month and rises to £47 per month. Installation is from £0 to £150 depending on the chosen set-top-box.[24] Additional pay-per-view films, events and individual subscription channels are available. Sky TV markets Sky+ and Sky+HD, digital video recorders; the latter additionally provides high-definition television. Sky TV does not provide video on demand.

Freesat from Sky, is a free satellite service owned by British Sky Broadcasting. Installation is priced at £75 or £150, which includes the receiver, dish, viewing card and access to all free-to-air and free-to-view channels in the UK.[25] Existing Sky TV customers can also 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 high-definition television or video on demand.

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. It is the UK's first provider of high definition television without a subscription; one channel was available at launch.[26] Freesat does not provide video on demand, or access to specific free channels which use BSkyB's encryption, including Channel 4 HD and Fiver.

¼ scale mockup of the Eutelsat Eurobird 1 satellite, a Spacebus 3000B2 manufactured by Alcatel Space

Freesat, Freesat from Sky and Sky TV transmit from SES Astra satellites at 28.2° east (Astra 2A/2B/2D) and Eutelsat's Eurobird 1 satellite at 28.5° East. As the satellites are in geostationary orbit, they are positioned above the earth's equator(0°00′N 28°12′E / 0°N 28.2°E / 0; 28.2 (Satellites transmitting Sky TV, Freesat and Freesat from Sky to the UK and Ireland)) approximately 35,786 km above mean sea level; this places them above the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

IP television (IPTV)

IPTV services from BT Vision and TalkTalk TV are distributed as data via copper telephone lines

In contrast to Internet TV, IPTV refers to services operated and controlled by a single company, who may also control the 'Final Mile' to the consumers' premises. BT Vision, Freewire and TalkTalk TV are the UK's three providers of IPTV services.

BT Vision and TalkTalk TV offer a range of broadcast channels as well as additional on demand content. BT Vision also offers high-definition programmes for download and playback (near on-demand),

Freewire offers free and subscription channels to students at 40 universities. It is received on PCs and distributed via the academic computer network, JANET.[27][5][28]

Mobile television

Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone provide mobile television services for reception on third generation mobile phones. They consist of a mixture of regular channels (marketed as 'live TV') as well as made for mobile channels with looped content.

Orange provide 9 packages of TV channels, starting from £5/month.[29]

T-Mobile provide 4 packages of TV channels, marketed as T-Mobile TV or Sky Mobile TV. The cheapest package is £3.50/month.[30]

Vodafone provides 5 packages of TV channels collectively marketed as Sky Mobile TV, with the cheapest package at £3/month.[31]

Sky Mobile TV News and Sports is now available on the Apple iPhone on O2 and Orange. This service is restricted to Wi-Fi only at present, however jailbroken devices can access them over the 3G network. The service costs £6/Month and carries Sky Sports 1, 2, 3 and Xtra, Sky Sports News, Sky News, At the Races and ESPN UK.

Internet television

Television received via the Internet may be free, subscription or pay-per-view, and use a variety of distribution methods (e.g. multicast/unicast/peer-to-peer, streamed/downloaded). Playback is normally via a computer and broadband Internet connection, although digital media receivers, media centre computers or video game consoles can be used for playback on televisions, such as the Netgear Digital Entertainer, a computer equipped with Windows Media Center, or a PlayStation 3.

Sky Player is available on the xbox 360 providing both live and catchup services, no BBC content is on the xbox version of SkyPlayer.

Ofcom does not regulate Internet television, nor consider the use of Internet television in its quarterly reports of digital TV penetration.

Catch-up services

Since 2006, UK channel owners and content producers have been creating Internet services to access their programmes. These services generally block users outside of the UK. TVCatchup is the only service not owned by a current UK broadcaster.

Service name Owner Catch-up period Streamed Download Free/Pay Site Technology Notes
4 on Demand Channel 4 Television Corp 30 days Yes No Free [1] Flash
BBC iPlayer BBC 7 days Yes Yes Free English Cymraeg Gàidhlig Flash Also distributes radio programmes
Clic S4C 35 days Yes No Free English Cymraeg Flash
Demand Five RTL Group 30 days Yes No Varies [2] Flash Registration required for pay content
ITV Player ITV Plc 30 days Yes No Free [3] Flash
Sky Player BSkyB Unknown Yes Yes Non-freeSubscription[nb 13] [4] Microsoft Silverlight Registration and application download required
STV Player STV 30 days Yes No Free [5] Flash
TVCatchup TV Catchup Ltd Unknown Yes No Free [6] Flash Registration required
uPlayer UTV 30 days Yes No Free [7] Flash

Others services

Other Internet TV services may consist of

  • Live TV streaming, in which a channel is shown as broadcast
  • On-demand video clips
  • Archive TV older than the catch-up period, which may be available free or for a fee

In July 2009, comScore released research on the number of online video views in the UK during April 2009, showing the Google-owned YouTube as the dominant source[32].

Online videos viewed, April 2009
Site / owner (top 10) Views
Google Sites 2,415,292,000 UK online video views april 2009.png
BBC Sites 79,416,000
ITV Sites 34,723,000 31,743,000
Microsoft Sites 30,205,000
Channel4 20,434,000
Dailymotion 20,155,000
AOL 19,135,000
Fox Interactive Media 18,919,000
Facebook 17,028,000

Forthcoming providers

Provider Launch date Free or pay TV No. broadcast channels VOD HD Red button Transmission Status
O2 Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown IPTV Awaiting launch date
Smallworld [IPTV] Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown IPTV Awaiting launch date
Virgin [IPTV] 2009 Non-freePay Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown IPTV and digital terrestrial Awaiting launch date

In December 2007, Telefónica O2 (branded O2) announced the roll out of IPTV services in 2008.[33]

In May 2007, Smallworld Cable stated their intention to roll out an IPTV solution across their unbundled network in early to mid 2008.[34]

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.[35][36]

Channels and channel owners

Most-viewed channels

The Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) measures television ratings in the UK. The following table shows viewing shares from 1992 to 2009 of channels which have once had, or still have, a viewing share of ≥ 1.0%. The figures for 2010 only account for the weeks up until February 7.[37]

As of 2009, 15 channels have a viewing share of ≥ 1.0% together accounting for 67.4% of total viewing share. (4 additional channels had a viewing share ≥ 1.0% in 1992 but have since fallen below this). Of the 15 channels, 7 of these collectively had a viewing share of 79.3% in 1992, the largest of which was ITV with a share of 30.5%. As the number of channels rose and with the launch of digital television, the collective share of these channels had declined to 67.8% in 2002, and has remained at about that level ever since. ITV viewing share fell below BBC One in 2002; whist ITV viewing share declined, BBC One has remained stable at about 20% since 2001. Of these 15 channels, 4 are funded by the license fee; 2 are subscription; 7 of these channels launched after 1999. Comparing 1992 to 2009, only Channel4/S4C has seen an overall increase in viewing share.

Charts showing viewing share of channels with a viewing share of ≥ 1.0% from 1992 - 2009
Area chart showing aggregated viewing share
Line chart showing individual channel viewing share
Table showing viewing share of individual channels from 1992 - 2009, which either have or have had a viewing share of ≥ 1.0%. (Channels which have always had a viewing share of less than this aren't shown)
Channels 1992
BBC One 25.0 24.5 24.4 23.8 23.6 22.1 21.5 20.8 20.0 20.2 20.0 19.3 19.6 19.3 20.0 19.9 20.4 20.0 20.7
ITV [nb 14] 30.5 30.5 30.2 28.2 26.5 24.8 24.6 24.6 22.3 20.6 19.8 19.3 18.8 18.4 17.5 17.6 17.2 16.9 17.6
BBC Two 7.0 6.5 6.1 6.5 6.7 6.6 6.7 6.6 6.6 6.8 7.0 7.0 6.8 6.8 6.9 7.1 6.9 6.9 6.8
Channel 4/S4C 6.4 7.2 6.9 7.2 6.8 6.9 6.8 6.9 7.1 7.0 7.1 6.8 7.3 7.9 8.2 7.5 6.8 6.5 7.1
Five 1.7 3.2 4.2 4.2 4.3 4.5 4.7 5.0 5.3 4.9 4.6 4.7 4.7 4.3
ITV2 0.1 0.3 1.2 1.6 1.8 2.0 2.0 2.0 1.9 2.1 1.8
ITV3 1.2 1.4 1.3 1.6 1.7 2.0
Sky Sports 1 3.3 1.5 3.4 3.8 3.7 3.4 2.2 2.2 1.6 1.8 1.7 1.8 1.8 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.4 1.4 1.2
CBeebies 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.3 1.2 1.3 1.3 1.3 1.3
BBC Three 0.7 0.9 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4
Sky1 7.1 7.0 5.4 4.9 4.7 4.2 4.3 4.0 4.3 3.5 3.7 2.9 2.4 1.9 1.7 1.1 1.0 1.2 0.9
E4 0.7 1.5 1.2 0.9 1.2 1.4 1.3 1.2 1.2 1.1
More4 0.6 0.7 0.9 1.1 1.0
Dave 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.4 0.6 1.1 1.0 0.9
Film4 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.4 0.7 0.9 0.9 1.0
BBC News 0.6 0.7 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.8 1.0
Living 0.6 0.7 1.1 1.1 1.7 1.3 1.2 1.0 1.1 0.7 0.9 0.9 0.8 0.6 0.5 0.6 0.4
G.O.L.D. 2.8 2.7 2.4 2.1 1.9 2.1 2.3 2.4 2.2 1.7 1.5 1.3 1.1 1.0 0.7 0.6 0.5 0.5
Disney Channel 1.1 1.0 0.8 1.1 0.9 0.6 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.4
Sky News 1.8 1.4 1.2 1.5 1.1 1.2 1.0 1.0 0.7 0.7 0.8 1.2 0.6 0.6 0.5 0.5 0.4 0.5 0.6
Sky Sports 2 1.1 1.8 1.5 1.2 0.8 0.8 0.7 0.8 0.6 0.5 0.5 0.4 0.5 0.3
Cartoon Network 2.4 2.4 2.0 1.4 1.1 0.7 0.6 0.5 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.2
Nickelodeon 1.9 1.9 1.7 1.3 1.1 0.8 0.5 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.2
Eurosport 1.0 1.0 1.1 0.8 0.8 0.8 0.6 0.5 0.4 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2
Sky Movies Comedy[nb 15] 3.4 3.3 3.4 3.2 3.0 2.4 2.1 2.1 1.4 1.2 0.8 0.8 0.6 0.4 0.4 0.2 0.2 0.1 0.1
Sky Movies Action & Thriller[nb 16] 6.0 4.8 3.8 3.5 3.2 2.8 1.8 1.3 0.8 0.7 0.5 0.4 0.5 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.1
Home[nb 17] 0.6 1.0 0.8 0.6 0.4 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.1 0.1
MTV 1.6 1.4 1.2 0.9 0.7 0.7 0.9 1.1 0.6 0.4 0.3 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.1

Since 1992, there are 11 channels which previously had a viewing share of ≥ 1.0%, but which have now fallen below. (These are depicted with grey titles in the table above). In 1992, these channels collectively had a viewing share of 12.8% via analogue satellite and cable television. This peaked in 1998 at 16.5%, coinciding with the launch of digital television. In 2009, the collective viewing share of these 11 channels is 3.5%. The largest individual loss is for a channel now known as Sky Movies Action & Thriller, from 6% in 1992 to 0.1% in 2009. With the exception of Sky News, these are all subscription channels.

Line chart showing viewing share of channels from 1992 which previously had a viewing share of ≥ 1.0% but which have now fallen below

Availability of channels from various providers

Availability of channels from various providers with channel numbers
Position Channel Analogue terrestrial channel Freeview channel Sky TV channel Virgin [digital] channel Virgin [analogue] channel TalkTalk TV channel Freesat Smallworld channel Wightcable channel Freewire channel Internet
1 BBC One 1 1 101 101 ? 1 101 ? ? 101 [8]
2 ITV [nb 14] 3 3 103 103 ? 3 103 ? ? 103 ITV1 -
3 BBC Two 2 2 102 102 ? 2 102 ? ? 102 [9]
4 Channel 4 Outside Wales - 4
Wales - N/A
Outside Wales - 4
Wales - 8
Outside Wales - 104
Wales - 117
HD - 140
104 ? 4 Outside Wales - 104
Wales - 120
? ? ? [10]
4 S4C Wales - 4
Outside Wales - N/A
Wales - 4
Outside Wales - N/A
Wales - 104
Outside Wales - 134
Wales - 194
Outside Wales - N/A
? N/A Wales - 104
Outside Wales - 120
? ? ?
5 Five 5 5 105 105 ? 5 105 ? ? ? N/A
6 ITV3 N/A 10 119 116 ? 13 115 ? ? ?
7 ITV2 N/A 6 118 114 ? 12 113 ? ? ?
8 E4 N/A 29 136 144 ? 14 122 ? ? ? [11]
9 Sky Sports 1 N/A N/A 401 511 ? 551 N/A ? ? ?
10 Sky1 N/A N/A 106 121 ? 353 N/A ? ? ? ?
= CBeebies N/A 71 614 702 ? 305 601 ? ? ? N/A
12 ITV4 N/A 28 120 117 ? 29 117 ? ? ?
13 BBC Three N/A 7 115 106 ? 19 106 ? ? ?
14 Dave N/A 19 111 126 ? 40 N/A ? ? ?
Availability of programming from channels through mobile and VOD providers
Position Channel Virgin VOD BT Vision VOD TalkTalk TV VOD Internet VOD Orange T-Mobile Vodafone
1 BBC One Yes ? ? iPlayer ? ? ?
2 ITV [nb 14] No ? ?, ? ? ?
3 BBC Two Yes ? ? iPlayer ? ? ?
4 Channel 4 Yes Yes Yes 4oD ? ? ?
4 S4C No ? ? S4C Clic ? ? ?
5 Five No ? ? Demand Five ? ? ?
6 ITV3 Yes ? ? ? ? ?
7 ITV2 Yes ? ? ? ? ?
8 E4 Yes Yes Yes 4oD ? ? ?
9 Sky Sports 1 No ? ? Sky Anytime ? ? ?
10 Sky1 No ? ? Sky Player ? ?
= CBeebies Yes ? ? iPlayer ? ? ?
12 ITV4 Yes ? ? ? ? ?
13 BBC Three Yes ? ? iPlayer ? ? ?
14 Dave No ? ? N/A ? ? ?
Combined viewing shares for all channels from different television companies in 2008[38] Figures for timeshift and "extra" channels, if available, are included in the figure for the main channel. For example, the figure for ITV2 includes both ITV2 and ITV2+1 and the figure for Nick Jr. includes both Nick Jr and Nick Jr 2.

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 government grant; it does not carry advertising. The grant is financed by the payment of a television licence fee that all households with a television must pay. However, the funds do not go directly to the BBC but to the Treasury instead, via a government body known as TV Licensing. The government has no legal duty to hand all or any of this revenue to the BBC but traditionally has done.

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, BBC HD, BBC Alba and BBC Red Button.

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 STV Group 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. STV Group 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 ITV1 HD, 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, More4, 4Music 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.


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 and a subsidiary of Bertelsmann, took full control of the channel in August 2005. Five launched two new channels, Five US and Five Life (now known as Fiver) 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 Alibi, Blighty, Dave, Eden, G.O.L.D., Good Food, Really, Home, Watch, Yesterday 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 Virgin Media, Viacom, Discovery Networks and Disney.[citation needed]


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:

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

100 Greatest TV Moments

100 Greatest TV Moments was a list compiled by Channel 4 in 1999. The top 10 entries are:

# Programme Channel Year Moment
1 (Various) BBC One / BBC Two / ITV 1969 The Apollo 11 moon landing
2 News 1990 The release of Nelson Mandela
3 News 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 1997 The Death of Diana, Princess of Wales
5 News 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 1963 John F. Kennedy assassination

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:

Rank Show Episode Number of Viewers Date Network
1 1966 World Cup Final 32.30 million 30 July 1966 BBC/ITV
2 Funeral of Princess Diana 32.10 million 6 September 1997 BBC1/ITV
3 British Royal Family documentary 30.69 million 1969 BBC1/ITV
4 EastEnders Den divorces Angie 30.15 million 25 December 1986 BBC1
5 Apollo 13 splashdown 28.60 million 17 April 1970 BBC1/ITV
6 FA Cup replay: Chelsea vs. Leeds 28.49 million 29 April 1970 BBC1/ITV
7 Royal Wedding of Charles & Diana 28.40 million 29 July 1981 BBC1/ITV
8 Wedding of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips 27.60 million 14 November 1973 BBC1
9 Coronation Street Alan Bradley killed by tram 26.93 million 8 December 1989 ITV
10 Coronation Street Hilda Ogden leaves 26.00+ million[39] 25 December 1987 ITV

Top 20 Most Controversial TV Moments

Top 20 Most Controversial TV Moments was an E4 programme from 2005. The top 4 programmes were:

  1. Ghostwatch (BBC One, 1992)
  2. Jerry Springer: The Opera (BBC Two, 2005)
  3. Brass Eye paedophilia special (Channel 4, 2001)
  4. Derren Brown: Séance (Channel 4, 2004)

Genre lists

100 Greatest Kids' TV shows

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
  2. Danger Mouse 1981-1992
  3. Bagpuss 1974
  4. Grange Hill 1978-2008
  5. Mr Benn 1971-1972

Britain's Best Sitcom

Britain's Best Sitcom was a poll conducted in 2004 by the BBC to identify the United Kingdom's best situation comedy. The top 5 programmes were:

  1. Only Fools and Horses 1981-2003 — 342,426 votes
  2. Blackadder 1983-1989, 2000 — 282,106 votes
  3. The Vicar of Dibley 1994-2007 — 212,927 votes
  4. Dad's Army 1968-1977 — 174,138 votes
  5. Fawlty Towers 1975, 1979 — 172,066 votes

British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Series

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:

Soap operas

Award totals for soap operas as awarded by the British Soap Awards:

  1. EastEnders - 60
  2. Coronation Street - 50
  3. Emmerdale - 19
  4. Hollyoaks - 16
  5. Brookside - 7
  6. Doctors - 7
  7. Family Affairs - 2
  8. Night and Day - 1

Analogue terrestrial programming


Weekday programming on terrestrial channels begins with breakfast national news programmes (along with regional news updates) on BBC One and GMTV, with children's programming on BBC Two and Five. Channel 4 and S4C predominately broadcasts teen-orientated programmes in its morning slot, T4, including soaps, music and comedy programming. The weekday breakfast news programme ends at 9:15 am on BBC One and 9:25 am on GMTV.

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 US dramas with the word "Murder" in the title currently occupy the schedule. ITV on the other hand takes over from GMTV at 9:25 am, and generally broadcasts more human-interest chat-style shows, including 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 continues its T4 slot, often with home-project and archaeology lifestyle programming in the early afternoon after the News at Noon. Five broadcasts chatshow programmes in the morning including The Wright Stuff and Trisha Goddard with regular news bulletins. In the afternoon it shows a drama followed by an hour of Australian soaps such as Home and Away and Neighbours and a film.

At around 3:05 pm, BBC One switches to its CBBC children's output, before the game show The Weakest Link at 5:15 pm. BBC Two often carries lifestyle programming such as Animal Park and often many sporting events. ITV shows a lifestyle programme followed by a chat show called The Alan Titchmarsh Show and a daily soap opera called The Royal Today 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 6pm and 7pm on both BBC One and ITV, with BBC One beginning with the national 6 O'Clock news and ITV with the flagship regional news programme. At around 6.30, BBC One broadcasts the regional news programmes whilst ITV broadcasts the national news. Both Channel 4 and Five have news programmes at around 7pm.

Primetime programming is usually dominated by further soaps—including 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 on as available on information services on the television: Ceefax/Teletext/BBC Red Button as well as built in Electronic Programme Guides.


Weekend programming traditionally contains further children's, lifestyle programming, as well as sporting events and the occasional afternoon film. There are further battles for viewers in the weekend primetime slot, often featuring reality or talent game shows in the evening. Morning and late evening news programmes still continue on BBC One and ITV, yet even these can be shifted about due to delays in sporting events.

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, displaying news in the form of Ceefax or a test card. However, recently programming has been shown continuously. BBC channels will join BBC News in a multichannel simulcast. Since 2005, ITV has broadcast the ITV Play strand of phone-in participation TV programmes. Depending on the time of year, Channel 4 will close down to show live feeds of Big Brother (in the summer) and its spin-off, Celebrity Big Brother (in January). On weeknights, Five generally shows various sports from around the world, including boxing and football from European leagues, with phone-in participation-TV Quiz Call on weekends.

Cultural impact

Moral decline of the country

In 1963, Mary Whitehouse claimed Sir Hugh Greene, then director of the BBC, was "more than anybody else [...] responsible for the moral collapse in this country". She subsequently launched the Clean Up TV Campaign, and founded the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association in 1965, now known as Mediawatch-uk.

In 2005, the BBC's broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera elicited 55,000 complaints,[40] and provoked protests from Christian organisation Christian Voice,[41] and a private prosecution against the BBC by the Christian Institute.[42] A summons was not issued,[43] however as a reaction against the campaigns, the website was formed, claiming to "keep an eye on those groups and individuals who, in order to protect their beliefs from offence, seek to limit freedom of expression."[44]

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.[45]

In 2008, the BBC broadcast a docudrama entitled Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story. In a commentary of this, a journalist of The Independent speculated at the time that Whitehouse had been right in the sense that "allowing channels to broadcast [...] what they like after the 9pm watershed [has led to] a dramatic decline across the board [in programming quality]". He concluded "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 – scarcely a day passes without a teenager being stabbed to death in broad daylight – but it is unfair to lay the blame entirely at the feet of BBC2 and Channel 4."[46]


The British Academy Television Awards (BAFTAs) 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:

  • Specification of the Broadcast Code, which took effect on 25 July 2005, with the latest version being published October 2008. The Code itself is published on Ofcom's web site, and provies a mandatory set of rules which broadcast programmes must comply with. The 10 main sections cover protection of under-eighteens, harm and offence, crime, religion, impartiality and accuracy, elections, fairness, privacy, sponsorship and commercial references.[47] As stipulated in the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom enforces adherence to the Code. Failure for a broadcaster to comply with the Code results in warnings, fines, and potentially revokation of a broadcasting license.
  • Rules on the amount and distribution of advertising, which also took effect July 2005[48]
  • Examining specific complaints by viewers or other bodies about programmes and sponsorship. Ofcom issues Broadcast Bulletins on a fortnightly basis which are accessible via its web site. As an example, a bulletin from February 2009 has a complaint from the National Heart Forum over sponsorship of The Simpsons by Domino's Pizza on Sky1. Ofcom concluded this was in breach of the Broadcast Code, since it contravened an advertising restriction of food high in fat, salt or sugar.[49] (Restrictions in food and drink advertising to children were introduced in November 2006.)[50]
  • The management, regulation and assignment of the electromagnetic spectrum in the UK, and licensing of portions of the spectrum for television broadcasting
  • Public consultations on matters relating to TV broadcasting. The results of the consultations are published by Ofcom, and inform the policies that Ofcom creates and enforces.[51]

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.[52]

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, progammes and advertising, unnacceptable products, political and controversial issues, misleading advertising, harm and offence, children, medicines, treatments, health claims and nutrition, finance and investments, and religion.[53]

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) 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 British Broadcasting Corporation, and Welsh-language television programmes for S4C. The BBC[54] gives the following figures for expenditure of licence fee income:

  • 50% - BBC One and BBC Two
  • 15% - local TV and radio
  • 12% - network radio
  • 10% - digital (BBC Three, BBC Four, BBC News 24, BBC Parliament, CBBC, CBeebies)
  • 10% - transmission costs and licence fee collection
  • 3% - BBC Online, Ceefax, and Interactive Content (including and BBC Red Button)

Recent technical developments

Digital television

Digital television has been available in the UK since 1998 via satellite, cable or terrestrial, and since 1999 via IPTV. It introduced interactive television, 16:9 widescreen, electronic programme guides and audio description.

UK households receiving digital vs analogue TV on their main TVs[1]
Type Percentage Households Providers
UK tv digital vs analogue providers q2 2009 main TVs.png Analogue 10.2% 2,637,720 Analogue terrestrial
Digital 89.8% 23,222,280 Freesat, Freesat from Sky, Freeview, Sky TV, Smallworld Cable, TalkTalk TV, Top Up TV, Virgin Media, Wightcable
UK households receiving multichannel vs analogue terrestrial TV on all TVs[1]
Type Percentage TV sets Providers
UK tv multichannel vs analogue terrestrial providers q2 2009 all TVs.png Analogue terrestrial 19.5% 11,700,000 Analogue terrestrial
Multichannel 80.5% 48,300,000 Freesat, Freesat from Sky, Freeview, Sky TV, Smallworld Cable, TalkTalk TV, Top Up TV, Virgin Media, Wightcable

Ofcom is tracking digital television penetration as part of the digital switchover, and releases quarterly reports. The report for Q2 2009 states:[1]

  • 89.8% (23.2 million of 25.6 million televisions) of main TV sets now receive digital television
  • 70% (24.3 million of 35 million televisions) of secondary TV sets now receive multichannel television (multichannel refers to any digital television, and analogue cable)
  • 80.5% (48.3 million of 60 million televisions) of all TV sets now receive multichannel TV; the remainder receive analogue terrestrial television

Ofcom does not consider households which use Internet television as their primary source, whether connected to a TV set or not, nor television from the mobile TV providers or Freewire.

Broadcast digital television uses the MPEG-2 and H.264/MPEG-4 AVC technical standards, encapsulated as MPEG transport streams, which are themselves packaged/multiplexed using the Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) suite of technical standards.

Video on demand

Video on demand (VOD) offers the viewer a choice of programmes in an on-screen programme guide. When the viewer selects a programme to watch, it starts playing immediately. The programmes may be free, pay-per-view or subscription.

BT Vision, TalkTalk TV and Virgin Media are the UK's three providers of video on demand delivered via IPTV or cable. They offer a combination of catch-up and archive content from programme makers and channel owners. Virgin is the UK's largest provider of on-demand content, with over 3,000,000 subscribers. Video on demand in the UK is also seeing overseas programme makers such as HBO launching VOD services.[55] Virgin also offers high-definition VOD.

BSkyB and Top Up TV market Sky Anytime and Top Up Anytime. Sky Anytime is available to subscribers of Sky+ or Sky+HD with a particular model of set-top-box. Both are 'push VOD' services which offer access to pre-selected programmes which are played back from the set-top-boxes hard disk drive.

In July 2009, BSkyB stated the intention to launch a full video on demand service in 2010, accessible to Sky+HD subscribers with a broadband Internet connection.[56]

Internet television also provides access to VOD, e.g. YouTube and other streamed video websites.

High-definition television

Close-up view
HDTV example - Fish 40x46 squares.svg Raster graphic fish 20x23squares sdtv-example.png
HDTV resolution SDTV resolution

High-definition television (HDTV) has four to five times as much picture information compared to standard-definition television, which results in sharper pictures. HDTV uses three resolutions, with equipment baring the HD ready or HD ready 1080p logos to signal their display capability and connectivity. The 1080p logo signifies reproduction of the three HD resolutions without distortion or overscan, however the 1080p resolution itself is not currently used for broadcasting. Unlike standard-definition television, all HD is widescreen (16:9 aspect ratio).

Resolution Aspect ratio Standard definition HD ready HD ready 1080p
576i (720 x 576 interlaced) 4:3 or 16:9 Yes Yes Yes
720p (1280 x 720 progressively scanned) 16:9 No Yes Yes
1080i (1920 x 1080 interlaced) 16:9 No Yes Yes
1080p (1920 x 1080 progressively scanned) 16:9 No No Yes

BT Vision, Freesat, Freeview, Sky TV and Virgin Media are the UK's providers of high-definition television. Freesat and Freeview are free, and also provide ITV1 HD without manual tuning. BT Vision and Virgin Media are the only providers of on-demand high-definition. Sky TV's and Virgin's services are marketed as Sky+ HD and V+ respectively. BT Vision does not offer channels, but pay-per-view programmes which are downloaded and then played back.[57].

Freeview coverage is within the area served by Crystal Palace and Winter Hill transmitters, which includes London, Manchester and Liverpool. Coverage is expected to expand to 50% of the country in time for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in June 2010. Reception requires purchase of a set-top-box or IDTV capable of decoding MPEG-4 and DVB-T2.[58]

Provider Free/Pay BBC HD ITV1 HD Channel 4 HD Other HD channels On-demand Percentage Households[1]
UK high definition providers q2 2009.png
BT Vision Non-freePay-per-view No No No 0 Yes Unknown Unknown
Freesat Free Yes Yes No 1[nb 18] No 15.2% 355,500
Freeview Free Yes Yes No No No Unknown Unknown
Sky TV Non-freeSubscription/pay-per-view Yes Yes[nb 19] Yes 35 No 56.2% 1,313,000
Virgin Non-freeSubscription/pay-per-view Yes No Yes 5 Yes 28.6% 668,500
Total households 2,337,000

As of June 2008, there are almost 10 million high-definition TVs in the UK.[59] Historically, the UK's first television service using the 405-line television system was also termed 'high definition' when it launched; for comparison, the screen resolution would be called 377i (377 visible interlaced rows) using the nomenclature of the table above.

3D television

Three-dimensional television (3D television) displays an image with an illusion of depth, the third dimension. In July 2009, BSkyB announced a plan to launch a 3D television channel in 2010, accessible to Sky+HD subscribers with a '3D Ready' television.[56]

3D television is also available via the Internet; video website YouTube launched online 3D videos in July 2009.[60]

3D television has occasionally been broadcast before, such as the Dimensions in Time crossover of EastEnders and Doctor Who in 1993, requiring special spectacles.


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.[61]

In-house production

ITV plc, the company which owns 11 of the 15 regional ITV franchises, has set its production arm ITV Productions a target of producing 75% of the ITV1 schedule,[62] the maximum allowed by Ofcom. This would be a rise from 54% at present, as part of a strategy to make ITV1 content-led chiefly in order to double production revenues to £1.2bn by 2012.[63] ITV Productions currently produces programmes such as Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Heartbeat.[64]

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.[65] The BBC produces shows such as All Creatures Great and Small and F*** off I'm a Hairy Woman.[66]

Channel 4 commissions all programmes from independent producers.

Independent production

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


Alexandra Palace, the headquarters of the BBC Television Service from 1936.
A plaque at Alexandra Palace commemorating the birthplace of generally receivable television. Here, 'high definition' refers to the 405-line television system rather than modern-day high-definition.


1936 Analogue terrestrial Following mechanical television test transmissions starting in 1926, and the first official broadcast in 1929,[67] 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
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 others programmes until 1998.
1985 Analogue terrestrial The two-station analogue terrestrial VHF transmissions cease on January 3rd[68]
Late 1980s Analogue cable Issue of franchises to local cable operators, which will eventually merge to become Virgin Media, Smallworld and WightCable
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 11 franchises), STV Group plc (2 franchises), UTV Media, and Channel Television (1 franchise each). 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.
BSB was received via an antenna known as a squarial. Despite the service ceasing in 1992, and the two Marcopolo satellites having since moved, squarials are still occasionally seen.
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 TSW; Carlton Television replaced Thames Television; Meridian Broadcasting replaced TVS; Sunrise Television replaced TV-am, and aired with the name GMTV; Teletext Ltd replaced ORACLE, the national teletext franchise holder
1997 Analogue terrestrial Five 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.[69][70] ITV will not join SkyDigital until October 2001.[71] 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 and Wireless begin digital cable services with similar characteristics to SkyDigital. Unlike SkyDigital, 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 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.

Closed and aborted television providers

Provider Years Free or pay No. of channels Colour Digital VOD Transmission
(Unbranded VHF collection) 1936-1985 Free 2 No No No Analogue terrestrial
405-line cable service 1938-? Unknown 2 No No No Analogue cable
Virgin [analogue] 1984-2009 Non-freePay 35[72] Yes No No Analogue cable
Sky [analogue] 1989-2001 Non-freePay Unknown Yes No No Analogue satellite
BSB 1990-1992 Non-freePay 5 Yes No No Analogue satellite
OnDigital / ITV Digital 1998-2002 Non-freePay Unknown Yes Yes No Digital terrestrial
KIT 1999-2006 Non-freePay Unknown Yes Yes Yes IPTV

Orange had announced the desire for IPTV services to be launched in 2007. In November 2008, Orange stated there was 'no rollout imminent' as the service was too similar to BT Vision. [73][74]

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.[75][76]

'Project Kangaroo' was an on-demand Internet service announced by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 in November 2007 to be launched in 2008.[77][78] After an inquiry, in February 2009 the Competition Commission blocked Project Kangaroo, stating that viewers would benefit from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 competing with each other rather than collaborating. During the inquiry, Sky and Virgin Media had claimed that Kangaroo would concentrate too much power over content.[79]

Defunct channels

There are around 100 defunct British channels. For a list, see List of former TV channels in the UK or Category:Defunct British television channels.


The rise of television in the UK

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)

History of satellite 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 4 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.

In 1994 17% of the group was floated on the London Stock Exchange (with ADRs listed on the New York Stock Exchange), and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation owns a 35% stake.[citation needed]

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.

In May 2008, a free-to-air satellite service from the BBC and ITV was launched under the brand name Freesat, carrying a variety of channels from Astra 28.2°E, including some content in HD formats.

See also

Industry bodies

Genres and programming



  1. ^ Taking the base Sky EPG TV Channels. A breakdown is impossible due to a) the number of platforms, b) duplication of services, c) regional services, d) part time operations, and e) audio. For the Sky platform alone, there are basically 485 TV Stations, additionally 57 "timeshifted versions", 36 HDTV versions, 42 regional TV options, 81 audio channels, and 5 promotion channels
  2. ^ Around 200 additional channels available if manually tuned; see List of free-to-air channels at 28E
  3. ^ iPlayer on Freesat expected 2010
  4. ^ Freesat sales figures, as quoted in §3.13 of Ofcom report
  5. ^ Derived from total free satellite households (figure 12) and Freesat sales figures (§3.13) in Ofcom report
  6. ^ Freeview HD available in parts of the country
  7. ^ Known as Smallworld Media prior to Dec 2009
  8. ^ a b c Smallworld, Virgin and Wightcable have 3,100,000 subscribers combined according to Ofcom figures
  9. ^ a b TalkTalk TV and Top Up TV have 433,000 subscribers combined according to Ofcom figures ('other pay tv platforms' (fig.1) minus BT Vision subscribers (§2.7))
  10. ^ This figure is from Virgin Q2 2009 results as quoted in Ofcom report
  11. ^ The region counts shown are for the channel overall, and do not account for regions which have undergone digital switch-over and hence are digital-only
  12. ^ Count of BBC Two analogue regional variations
  13. ^ Free content also available as part of promotions
  14. ^ a b c Branded ITV1, STV or UTV
  15. ^ Formerly known as The Movie Channel, Sky Screen 2, Sky Premier and Sky Movies 1
  16. ^ Formerly known as Sky Movies, Sky Screen 1, Sky Moviemax and Sky Movies 2
  17. ^ Formerly known as UK Style and UKTV Style
  18. ^ 1 additional HD channel available on Freesat when manually tuned
  19. ^ ITV1 HD available if manually tuned


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k The Communications Market: Digital Progress Report - Digital TV, Q2 2009
  2. ^ Pay Once Watch Forever > What's on TV
  3. ^ Freewire - Freewire
  4. ^ Freewire - Freewire Extra!
  5. ^ a b Broadcasting - News - We've doubled IPTV viewers, says provider - Digital Spy
  6. ^ 1c. Total broadband subscribers by country (December 2008), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development,, retrieved 2009-07-05 
  7. ^ §2.7 of Ofcom report
  8. ^ Digital TV
  9. ^ TV Size: XL - Channel Listing
  10. ^ Wightcable Telephone Broadband and Cable Television on the Isle of Wight
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ ITV1 regions consist of 10 owned by ITV plc, of which Central, Westcountry and Meridian are split into 2 subregions each; plus Channel Television
  14. ^ STV regions, Central and North -
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ U.K. Television Stations (UHF Analogue System)
  20. ^ U.K. Television Stations (UHF Digital System)
  21. ^ Price Guide
  22. ^ Virgin media launch to cost £20m
  23. ^ [ Virgin Media Digital TV: - Digital TV coverage across the UK plus VOD & TV on demand at great prices
  24. ^ - Sky Products>Sky TV>Prices and Packages
  25. ^ Home - Freesat from Sky
  26. ^ Digital Spy: In full: Freesat channels at launch
  27. ^ Inuk Networks | Universities | JANET and UKERNA
  28. ^ Freewire - get started
  29. ^ Orange & TV − mobile TV Packs
  30. ^ Mobile TV - Mobile TV & Video Services - T-Mobile
  31. ^ Vodafone live! - Mobile TV
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ Small World Media TV Broadband Phone ( Was Wight Cable North & OMNE ) Cable TV Information, News And Reviews -
  35. ^ DTG News: Virgin Media to launch off-net IPTV service
  36. ^ Virgin Media scales back TV ambitions - Times Online
  37. ^ BARB Monthly Multi-Channel Viewing Summary
  38. ^
  39. ^ "Hilda and Stan UK's most romantic". Daily Mail. February 8, 2002. Retrieved 2006-11-08. 
  40. ^ BBC 'right' to screen Jerry Springer musical
  41. ^ Protest held over Springer show
  42. ^ Legal threat over Springer opera
  43. ^ Springer Opera legal bid rejected
  44. ^
  45. ^ Blame TV for moral decline, says Synod
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^ BBC News (2005-03-02). "BBC governors set to be scrapped". Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  55. ^ Cable - News - HBO to launch UK video on demand service - Digital Spy
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  59. ^ HD TV in the UK | Register Hardware
  60. ^
  61. ^ Ofcom television production sector review | Ofcom
  62. ^ Our businesses
  63. ^ Media FAQ: Is Grade's ITV strategy right? | Media | The Guardian
  64. ^ Granada Media, a world leader in television production and distribution
  65. ^ BBC - Commissioning - Window Of Creative Competition (WOCC)
  66. ^ BBC - Press Office - BBC Worldwide sells 200 hours of programming to NOS
  67. ^ Television in 1932
  68. ^
  69. ^ BBC NEWS | Entertainment | TV and Radio | BBC ends Sky digital deal
  70. ^ BBC - Press Office - Digital Satellite East
  71. ^ sub-TV : DSat : ITV Tests on DSAT
  72. ^ Non-digital postcode
  73. ^ Missing, presumed tardy: Orange IPTV
  74. ^ Orange IPTV: Missing, presumed dead
  75. ^
  76. ^
  77. ^ BBC NEWS | Entertainment | TV rivals form on-demand service
  78. ^ Broadcasting - News - Broadcasters sign up for 'Project Kangaroo' - Digital Spy
  79. ^ Comptetition regular kyboshes Project Kangaroo


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