Television in the United Kingdom

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 viewing. 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 are 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.

Television providers

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. Set-top boxes are generally used to receive these services; however integrated digital televisions (IDTVs) can also be used to receive Freeview or Freesat. Most TVs sold in the UK come with a DVB-T (terrestrial) tuner for Freeview – a rare thing in Europe. BT TV and TalkTalk Plus TV, both based on YouView, 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 Channel 5, are available from all providers.

Current providers

Provider Years Free or pay No. broadcast channels Households Transmission On demand HD Notes
(formerly BT Vision)
2006– Pay 92+ (including 50+ Freeview channels and 42+ multicast channels, HD also available) Just under 1,400,000
November 2014
IPTV and digital terrestrial Yes Yes Based on YouView
Freesat 2008– Free 115 (TV)
38 (radio)[nb 3]
Q4 2012
Digital satellite Yes Yes
Freesat from Sky 1998– Free + PPV 240+ (TV)
80+ (radio)[2]
597,000[3][nb 4]
Q4 2008
Digital satellite No Yes Unmarketed by Sky plc
Freeview 2002– Free 50+ (TV)
24 (radio)
Q4 2012
Digital terrestrial Yes Yes A new service was launched in 2015 called Freeview Play.[4]
(formerly SKY Digital)
1998– Pay 400+ (TV)
160+ (radio)
September 2014
Digital satellite Yes Yes
Smallworld Cable
(formerly Smallworld Media)
2001–2014 Pay 99[6] Unknown[nb 5] Digital cable No Yes South Western Scotland and
North Western England only. Merged to become part of virgin media in 2014
Sure TV 2013– Pay 48[7] Unknown IPTV and digital terrestrial Yes Yes Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man only
TalkTalk Plus TV 2012– Pay 173+ (including up to 70+ Freeview channels) [8] 1,000,000
July 2014
IPTV and digital terrestrial Yes Yes Based on TalkTalk IR Website
Virgin Media
(formerly NTL:Telewest)
2006– Pay 250+ (TV)[9]
35+ (radio)
April 2013
Digital cable Yes Yes
(formerly WightCable)
2001– Pay 120[10] Unknown[nb 5] Digital cable No Yes Isle of Wight only

Other providers

Provider Years No. broadcast channels Households Transmission HD Notes
Blinkbox 2008– On-demand content Internet television
Freewire Unknown 25 free[11]
19 subscription[12]
40,000[13] IPTV via JANET No Available for students in selected universities
Netflix 2012– On-demand content 1,500,000[14]
August 2013
Internet television
Now TV 2012– On-demand content Internet television
Amazon Instant Video
(formerly LoveFilm)
2012– On-demand content Internet television
YouView 2012– 50+ Freeview channels
On-demand content via on Demand (With BT and TalkTalk only)
January 2015
Digital terrestrial Yes Essentially a DTT set-top box with certain features. BT and TalkTalk offer their own services through a YouView set-top box.

Former providers

Provider Years Free or pay No. broadcast channels Households Transmission
Smallworld Cable
(formerly Smallworld Media)
2001–2014 Pay 99[6] Unknown[nb 5] Digital cable
(Unbranded analogue terrestrial) 1964–2012 Free Up to 5 2,600,000[3]
February 2009
Analogue terrestrial
ITV Digital
(formerly ONdigital)
1998–2002 Pay 40
(Q1 2002)
Digital terrestrial
Top Up TV 2004–2013 Pay 4 (including 50+ Freeview channels)
December 2012
Digital terrestrial
Kingston Interactive Television ?–2006 Pay Digital cable
NTL 1992–2006 (analogue)
2000–2006 (digital)
Pay 1,250,000[17]
(Digital, March 2002)
Analogue and digital cable
Sky (analogue) 1983–2001 Free + Pay Analogue satellite
Virgin TV (analogue) 1970s–2013 Free + Pay 35 50,000 Analogue cable
Telewest 1984–2006 (analogue)
1999–2006 (digital)
Pay 150 (TV)
(Digital, at launch, 1999)
(Digital, March 2002)
Analogue and digital cable

Revenue sources

UK households receiving pay vs free TV on their main TVs
Type Percentage Households Providers
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, WightFibre
UK households by broadcast/reception system on their main TVs
Type Percentage Households Providers
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 Virgin Media, WightFibre
Others 3.4% 970,000 BT TV (BT Vision), TalkTalk TV, Top Up TV
Trends of total income from advertising, subscription and BBC grant in the 21st century.Data from Ofcom

In the last ten years, the balance of revenue for TV has changed from being split between advertising and the BBC licence fee to being dominated by subscription services, both satellite and cable. Whereas in 2000, advertising made up 45% of the total revenue received, by 2013 it had shrunk below 29%. At the same time, subscriptions had increased from 26% to 45%. The share of the BBC licence fee devoted to television shrunk slightly. The 'other' category in the graph includes interactive, TV shopping, programme sales & S4C.[18][19]

Analogue terrestrial television

Crystal Palace transmitter. Constructed in 1956, it is the main transmitter for London.

VHF 405 Line Monochrome

The first regular TV broadcasts started in 1936. Transmissions were originated by the BBC, using the Band I-VHF 405-line television system. In 1955, a second commercial service was created using the higher Band III VHF 405-line television system, administered by the Independent Television Authority. Both systems were superseded and finally closed in 1985.

UHF 625 Line Colour Service

A decision was made to introduce a nationally co-ordinated network of transmitters using the UHF 625-line television system. The first station to appear on this system was BBC 2 in April 1964. From 1969, the two VHF services also started to use this network, which took many years to complete. One reason for the long switch-over period was the difficulty in matching the coverage level of the new UHF 625 line service with the very high level of geographic coverage achieved with the 405-line VHF service. Whereas the VHF system had less than 200 transmitters at approximately 100 locations at closure, the UHF system numbered more than 4,500 transmitters at over 1,100 sites.

Over the next 30 years, whilst the network of transmitters expanded, two additional commercial services were offered (Channel 4 and Channel 5).

Since 1998, a small number of local channels have operated under Restricted service licences. These ceased by 2012.

Common channel position Channel name Channel owner Regions[nb 6] Original launch date UHF launch date
1 BBC One BBC 18 regional variations[20] 2 November 1936 15 November 1969
2 BBC Two BBC 4 regional variations[21][nb 7] 20 April 1964 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,[22] 2 STV,[23] UTV); 24 advertising regions;[24] 13 Teletext regions[25] From 22 September 1955 – 14 September 1962 15 November 1969
4 (English regions, Scotland and Northern Ireland), 8 (Wales) Channel 4 Channel Four Television Corporation 6 advertising regions[26] 2 November 1982 2 November 1982
4 (Wales) S4C S4C Authority 1 region 1 November 1982 1 November 1982
5 Channel 5 Viacom International Media Networks Europe 4 advertising regions[27] 30 March 1997 30 March 1997
6 Restricted Service Licence channels Various 18 channels (approx) From Oct 1998 From Oct 1998

Analogue terrestrial transmissions ceased on 24 October 2012 following the shutdown of the last remaining analogue transmitters in Northern Ireland, with the rest of the United Kingdom having undergone switchover in the four years prior to this. See Digital switchover dates in the United Kingdom for more information. Some of the frequencies previously used for analogue television are used for new high-power digital terrestrial television services, while others are earmarked for use by 4G mobile data networks.

As of January 2009, BBC One, BBC Two, ITV and Channel 4 broadcast from a network of 1,134 transmitters. Channel 5 broadcasts from 52 transmitters, and the Restricted Service Licence stations broadcast from 14 transmitters.[28] See Category:Transmitter sites in the United Kingdom for information on some of these. The transmitters are operated by Arqiva.


Without affecting the definition of the "PAL-I" system, the UK also used a digital stereo companding system on analogue terrestrial television called NICAM. Standing for Near Instantaneous Companded Audio Multiplex and used for digital stereo TV broadcasts to the public, it used the NICAM digital audio system used since the early 1970s for transmitting the audio carrier signal of a broadcast between two or more regional broadcasters and sometimes to the transmitters, where it was converted back to an analogue FM audio carrier almost 6 MHz above the video carrier signal.

Reception of the NICAM signal was possible provided the user had a VCR or a TV capable of decoding the NICAM signal, which was broadcast on a carrier 6.552 MHz above the video carrier, and thus just 0.552 MHz above the FM mono audio carrier. The first UK NICAM stereo broadcast was made in May 1986 on BBC2, NICAM slowly being rolled out across the UK and across the broadcaster's programme schedules over the next 5 years, culminating in the official launch of NICAM on the BBC in 1991, ITV and Channel 4 having begun broadcasting NICAM in 1989 and 1990 respectively.

The service is sometimes referred to by its full, official, name, NICAM-728 – the 728 denoting the datarate (728kps) of the digital stereo information. Adaptive DPCM.

As of 2012, and the close of the analogue service, the NICAM digital stereo system will be obsolete. It has been superseded by digital stereo and surround-sound audio systems on digital TV platforms.

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 BT TV providing additional subscription services.

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

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.
Main article: Cable television

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-west Scotland and north-west England. Pricing ranges from £10.50 (cost of phone line with 'free' TV) to £80 per month.[29]

WightFibre is available in the Isle of Wight.

Virgin Media is available to 55% of UK households.[30] Pricing ranges from £11 a month (phone line with 'free' TV) to £30.50 a month,[31] 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.

Satellite television

Satellite dishes on a wall in Hackney, London. The small oval dishes are most likely being used for viewing British services, and are known as Minidishes. The larger dishes are most likely being used 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 is a subscription service owned by Sky plc. It is the dominant satellite provider with the largest number of channels compared to other providers. As of September 2011, subscription starts at £20 per month and rises to £52 per month. Installation is from £0 to £180 depending on the chosen set-top-box.[32] 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 also provides video on demand branded as 'On Demand'

Freesat from Sky, is a free satellite service owned by Sky plc. 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.[33] 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 HD channel was available at launch.[34] Freesat now provides five HD channels, BBC One HD, BBC Two HD, ITV HD, Channel 4 HD and NHK World HD. Freesat currently provides the BBC iPlayer in terms of video on demand, which has been rolled out to all compatible HD receivers, and ITV Hub is currently testing, available only to Humax boxes at the present time. To access on-demand services, you must have a broadband connection of at least 1 Mbit/s, and an ethernet connection is required (using either a cable or Homeplug adaptors).

¼ scale mockup of the Eutelsat 28A 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 Eutelsat 28A 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
See also: IPTV

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 TV and TalkTalk Plus TV, both based on a YouView set-top box, offer a range of broadcast channels as well as additional on demand content. BT TV also offers on demand content.

Freewire offers free and subscription channels to students at 40 universities. It is received on PCs and distributed via the academic computer network, JANET.[13][35][36]

Mobile television

See also: Mobile TV

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.[37]

T-Mobile provide 4 packages of TV channels, marketed as T-Mobile TV or Sky Mobile TV. The cheapest package is £3.50/month.[38]

Vodafone provides 5 packages of TV channels collectively marketed as Sky Mobile TV, with the cheapest package at £3/month.[39]

Sky Mobile TV News and Sports is now available on the Apple iPhone on O2 and Orange. This service can be accessed over Wi-Fi and 3G networks. 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 Go is available on the Xbox 360 providing both live and on demand catchup services.

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
All 4 Channel Four Television Corporation Varies Yes Yes Varies [40] Flash
BBC iPlayer BBC Varies (typically 28 days) Yes Yes Subscription or license required English(subscription required) Cymraeg(subscription required) Gàidhlig(subscription required) Flash / HTML5[41] Also distributes radio programmes
Clic S4C 35 days Yes No Free English Cymraeg Flash
My5 Viacom International Media Networks Europe 30 days Yes No Varies Flash Registration required for pay content
ITV Hub ITV plc 30 days Yes No Varies [42] Flash Registration required for pay content
Sky Go Sky plcUnknown Yes Yes Subscription[nb 8] [43] Microsoft Silverlight Registration and application download required
STV Player STV Group 30 days Yes No Free Flash
UTV Player ITV plc 30 days Yes No Free [44] Flash

Other services

See also: List of Internet television providers and Category:Internet television

Other Internet TV services may consist of

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.[45]

Online videos viewed, April 2009
Site / owner (top 10) Views
Google Sites 2,415,292,000
BBC Sites 79,416,000
ITV Sites 34,723,000 31,743,000
Microsoft Sites 30,205,000
Channel 4 20,434,000
Dailymotion 20,155,000
AOL 19,135,000
Fox Interactive Media 18,919,000
Facebook 17,028,000

Cancelled providers

In December 2007, O2 announced the roll out of IPTV services in 2008.[46] However this never occurred.

In May 2007, Smallworld Cable stated their intention to roll out an IPTV solution across their unbundled network in early to mid-2008.[47] This plan never managed to get forward.

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.[48][49] However, this never occurred.

Channels and channel owners

See also: List of British television channels and Category:Television channels in the United Kingdom

Viewing statistics

Most viewed channels

The Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) measures television ratings in the UK. The following table shows viewing shares from 1992 to 2015 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 14 November.[50]

As of 2015, 15 channels have a viewing share of ≥ 1.0% together accounting for 64.9% of total viewing share.

Charts showing viewing share of channels with a viewing share of ≥ 1.0% from 1992 to 2015
Area chart showing aggregated viewing share
Line chart showing individual channel viewing share
Table showing viewing share of individual channels from 1992 to 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 20.6 21.3 21.9
ITV[nb 9] 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 16.4 15.1 13.9 14.9
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 6.9 6.6 6.1 5.8
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 6.4 5.8 5.5 5.6
Channel 5 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 4.6 4.4 4.2 4.3
ITV2 0.1 0.3 1.2 1.6 1.8 2.0 2.0 2.0 1.9 2.1 1.9 2.2
ITV3 1.2 1.4 1.3 1.6 1.7 2.0 2.2
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 1.1 0.9
CBeebies 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.3 1.2 1.3 1.3 1.3 1.2 1.4
BBC Three 0.7 0.9 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4
Sky 1 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 1.0
E4 0.7 1.5 1.2 0.9 1.2 1.4 1.3 1.2 1.2 1.2 1.9
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 1.3
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 1.4
BBC News 0.6 0.7 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.8 1.0
Sky 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 0.5
Gold 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 0.4
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 0.3
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
British 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 10] 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 & Adventure[nb 11] 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 12] 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

NOTE- Figures after 2010 are an average of the monthly viewing figures from BARB.

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
Combined viewing shares for all channels from different television companies in 2008[50] 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.

Availability of channels from various providers


Abbreviation Meaning
AD Audio Description
BT YouView from BT
Eng Availability in England
HD High Definition
NI Availability in Northern Ireland
Scot Availability in Scotland
SD Standard Definition
TT YouView from TalkTalk
Availability of channels from various providers with channel numbers
Position Channel Freeview Freesat Sky Virgin Media YouView
1 BBC One 1
101 (HD)
106 (Eng)
108 (Scot, Wales, NI) (HD)
115 (Eng) (HD)
141 (Scot, Wales, NI) (HD)
108 (HD)
101 (HD)
2 ITV 3
103 (HD)
111 (HD)
178 (HD)
113 (HD)
103 (HD)
3 BBC Two 2
102 (HD)
106 (Scot, Wales, NI) (HD)
108 (Eng) (HD)
115 (Scot, Wales, NI) (HD)
141 (Eng) (HD)
162 (HD)
102 (HD)
4 Channel 4 4 (Eng, Scot, NI)
7 (Wales)
104 (HD)
104 (Eng, Scot, NI)
120 (Wales)
126 (HD)
104 (Eng, Scot, NI)
117 (Wales)
227 (HD)
142 (HD)
4 (Eng, Scot, NI)
7 (Wales)
104 (HD)
5 Channel 5 5
105 (HD)
105 (SD/HD) 105
171 (HD)
150 (HD)
105 (HD)
6 ITV2 6 113 118
225 (HD)
176 (HD)
7 ITV3 10 115 119
263 (HD)
177 (HD)
8 E4 28 122 136
202 (HD)
145 (HD)
9 CBeebies 121
124 (HD)
608 (HD)
624 (HD)
711 (HD)
124 (HD)
10 Film4 15 300 315
342 (HD)
429 (HD)
11 Dave 12 N/A 111
246 (HD)
194 (HD)
12 5 USA 21 129 174 153 21
13 Sky 1 N/A N/A 106
217 (HD)
109 (HD)
110 (SD)
301 (TT)
Availability of programming from channels through mobile and VOD providers
Position Channel Freesat VOD Virgin VOD BT TV VOD TalkTalk TV VOD Internet VOD Orange T-Mobile Vodafone
1 BBC One iPlayer Yes Yes ? iPlayer ? ? ?
2 ITV[nb 9] ITV Hub No ? ?, ? Yes ?
3 BBC Two iPlayer Yes Yes ? iPlayer ? ? ?
4 Channel 4 No Yes Yes Yes All 4 ? ? ?
4 S4C No No Yes ? S4C Clic ? ? ?
5 Channel 5 No No Yes ? My5 ? ? ?
6 ITV3 ITV Hub Yes ? Yes ? ? ?
7 ITV2 ITV Hub Yes ? Yes ? ? ?
8 E4 No Yes Yes Yes All 4 ? ? ?
9 Sky Sports 1 NoNo Yes ? Sky Go ? ? ?
10 Sky 1 No No Yes ? Sky Go ? ? ?
11 CBeebies iPlayer Yes ? Yes iPlayer ? ? ?
12 ITV4 ITV Hub Yes ? Yes ? ? ?
13 BBC Three iPlayer Yes ? Yes iPlayer ? ? ?
14 Dave No No Yes ? Dave OD ? ? ?

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

Main article: BBC

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[51] and the fee is determined by periodic negotiation between the government and the BBC.

Its analogue channels were BBC One and BBC Two (styled BBC 1 and BBC 2 until 1997). 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 was launched in 1964. In addition to the now-digital BBC One and Two, the British Broadcasting Corporation also offers BBC Four, BBC News, BBC Parliament, CBBC, CBeebies, BBC Alba and BBC Red Button.

Independent Television (ITV)

Main article: ITV (TV network)
See also: Category:ITV franchisees, ITV plc, and List of ITV channels

ITV (Independent Television) is the network of fifteen regional 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, 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, ITV Encore and CITV, some with HDTV streams. ITN, a subsidiary, currently holds the national news franchise, and ITV Breakfast operates the breakfast franchise.

Channel 4

Main article: 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.

Channel 5

Main article: Channel 5 (UK)

Channel 5 was the fifth analogue broadcaster to be launched, in March 1997. Its analogue terrestrial coverage was less than that of the other analogue broadcasters, and broadcast in reassigned frequencies, often at a lower power from major transmitters only. The UHF analogue network was only designed for 4 channels, and so a small number of additional sites, already used for radio broadcasting, were used to boost coverage. It was also the first terrestrial broadcaster to broadcast on satellite and carry a permanent digital on-screen graphic (DOG). The channel was renamed "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. Channel 5 launched two new channels, Five US (now 5 USA) and Five Life (now 5Star) in October 2006. All of these channels are also carried on satellite television, cable television and digital terrestrial television services. Channel 5 also owned 20% of the digital terrestrial pay-TV provider, Top Up TV.

In July 2010, Channel 5 was sold to Richard Desmond's Northern & Shell[52] which then decided to reinstate the channel's original name, "Channel Five".[53] It was then changed to "Channel 5" in February 2011. Desmond sold Channel 5 to Viacom in May 2014, and now operates under the Viacom International Media Networks Europe division.[54] Like Channel 4, Channel 5 does not have programming regional variations, however it does so for advertising, having 5 advertising regions.[55]

Local television in the United Kingdom

On January 18, 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.[56] 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.[57]

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).[58] 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.[59]


Main article: Sky plc

Sky operates a satellite television service and numerous television channels including Sky 1, Sky 2, Sky News, Pick, Challenge, Sky Atlantic, Sky Living, Real Lives, Sky Arts, Sky Cinema and Sky Sports.


Main article: UKTV

UKTV is a joint venture between the BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, and Scripps Networks Interactive (previously co-owned by Virgin Media). Both companies additionally wholly own a number of other channels, broadcast domestically or internationally.

Channels under the joint venture are Alibi, Drama, Dave, Eden, Gold, Good Food, Really, Home, Watch, Yesterday plus a number of timeshift and high-definition 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 BT, Virgin Media, Viacom, Discovery Networks, Disney & Turner.


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

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:

Rank Programme Channel Year
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:

Rank 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 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[60] 25 December 1987 ITV
10 2012 Summer Olympics Closing Ceremony 24.46 million 12 August 2012 BBC One

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:

Rank Programme Year
1 The Muppet Show 1976–1981
2 Danger Mouse 1981–1992
3 Bagpuss 1974
4 Grange Hill 1978–2008
5 Mr Benn 1971–1972

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:

Terrestrial channel programming


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 end of 2012. 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—includingDoctors, 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. 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). 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. These days Quiz Call is 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.

Cultural impact

Christian morality

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."[61]

In 2005, the BBC's broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera elicited 55,000 complaints,[62] and provoked protests from Christian organisation Christian Voice,[63] and a private prosecution against the BBC by the Christian Institute.[64] A summons was not issued.[65]

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.[66]


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.[73]

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, unnacceptable products, political and controversial issues, misleading advertising, harm and offence, children, medicines, treatments, health claims and nutrition, finance and investments, and religion.[74]

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[75] gives the following figures for expenditure of licence fee income:

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. The last analogue terrestrial transmissions ceased on 24 October 2012, meaning all television in the UK is now digital.

UK households receiving digital vs analogue TV on their main TVs[3]
Type Percentage Households Providers
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, WightFibre
UK households receiving multichannel vs analogue terrestrial TV on all TVs[3]
Type Percentage TV sets Providers
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, WightFibre

Ofcom is tracking digital television penetration as part of the digital switchover, and releases quarterly reports. The report for Q2 2009 states:[3]

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.

Freesat, BT TV (BT Vision), TalkTalk TV and Virgin Media are the UK's four 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.[76] Virgin also offers high-definition VOD.

BSkyB and Top Up TV market on Demand and Top Up Anytime. On Demand 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.[77]

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

High-definition television

Close-up view
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 bearing 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 × 576 interlaced) 4:3 or 16:9 Yes Yes Yes
720p (1280 × 720 progressively scanned) 16:9 No Yes Yes
1080i (1920 × 1080 interlaced) 16:9 No Yes Yes
1080p (1920 × 1080 progressively scanned) 16:9 No No Yes

BT TV (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 ITV HD without manual tuning. BT TV (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 TiVo respectively. BT TV (BT Vision) now offer some channels, as well as pay-per-view programmes which are downloaded and then played back.[78]

97% of the UK can now receive Freeview HD as of December 2012. Reception requires purchase of a set-top-box, IDTV or TV tuner card capable of decoding MPEG-4 and DVB-T2.[79]

Provider Free/Pay BBC One HD BBC Two HD ITV HD Channel 4 HD Other HD channels On-demand Percentage Households[3]
BT TV Subscription/Pay-per-view Yes Yes Yes Yes 14 Yes Unknown Unknown
Freesat Free Yes Yes Yes Yes2 (plus 2[nb 13]) No 15.2% 355,500
Freeview Free Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Unknown Unknown
Sky TV Subscription/pay-per-view Yes Yes Yes Yes 65 Yes 56.2% 3,313,000
Virgin Subscription/pay-per-view Yes Yes Yes Yes 40 Yes 28.6% 668,500
Total households 4,337,000

As of June 2008, there are almost 10 million high-definition TVs in the UK.[80] 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.[77]

3D television is also available via the Internet; video website YouTube launched online 3D videos in July 2009.[81]

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.[82]

In-house production

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,[83] 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.[84] ITV Studios currently produces programmes such as Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Heartbeat.[85]

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.[86] The BBC produces shows such as All Creatures Great and Small and F*** off I'm a Hairy Woman.[87]

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.


See also: Category:British television series by decade, Category:Years in British television, and List of years in television
1936 Analogue terrestrial Following mechanical television test transmissions starting in 1926, and the first official broadcast in 1929,[88] 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[89]
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[90]
Late 1980s Analogue cable Issue of franchises to local cable operators, which will eventually merge to become Virgin Media, Smallworld 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.
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 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.[91][92] ITV will not join SkyDigital until October 2001.[93] 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 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] 1984–2009Pay 35[94] Yes No No Analogue cable
Sky [analogue] 1989–2001 Pay Unknown Yes No No Analogue satellite
BSB 1990–1992 Pay 5 Yes No No Analogue satellite
OnDigital / ITV Digital 1998–2002 Pay Unknown Yes Yes No Digital terrestrial
KIT 1999–2006 Pay 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.[95][96]

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.[97][98]

'Project Kangaroo' was an on-demand Internet service announced by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 in November 2007 to be launched in 2008.[99][100] 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.[101]

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

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 British Government.

Television caught on in the United Kingdom in 1947, but its expansion was slow. By 1951, with only 2 transmitters, near London and Birmingham, only 9 percent of British homes owned a TV. The United Kingdom was the first country 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)

The British 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.

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.

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 as of mid-2010
  2. Taking the data from note 1 above, this is a very crude estimate
  3. Around 200 additional channels available if manually tuned; see List of free-to-air channels at 28°E
  4. Derived from total free satellite households (figure 12) and Freesat sales figures (§3.13) in Ofcom report
  5. 1 2 3 Smallworld, Virgin and WightFibre have 3,100,000 subscribers combined according to Ofcom figures
  6. 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
  7. Count of BBC Two analogue regional variations
  8. Free content also available as part of promotions
  9. 1 2 Branded ITV, STV or UTV
  10. Formerly known as The Movie Channel, Sky Screen 2, Sky Premier and Sky Movies 1
  11. Formerly known as Sky Movies, Sky Screen 1, Sky Moviemax and Sky Movies 2
  12. Formerly known as UK Style and UKTV Style
  13. Arise News HD and STV HD available on Freesat when manually tuned


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External links

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