ⓘ Television in the United Kingdom

Television in the United Kingdom

ⓘ 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 for consumers as well as on-demand content. There are six main channel owners who are responsible for most material viewed. There are 27.000 hours of domestic content produced a year at a cost of £2.6 billion. Since 24 October 2012, all television broadcasts in the United Kingdom have been in a digital format, following the end of analogue transmissions in Northern Ireland. Digital content is delivered via terrestrial, satellite and cable, as well as over IP. As of 2003, 53.2% of households watch through terrestrial, 31.3% through satellite, and 15.6% through cable.


1. Broadcast television providers

Free-to-air, free-to-view and subscription providers operate, 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. All providers make available the UKs five most-watched channels: BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

Broadcast television is distributed as radio waves via terrestrial or satellite transmissions, or as electrical or light signals through ground-based cables. In the UK, these use the Digital Video Broadcasting standard. Most TVs sold in the UK come with a DVB-T terrestrial tuner for Freeview – a rare thing in Europe. Set-top boxes are generally used to receive channels from other providers. Most services have integrated their broadcast TV services with additional video streams distributed via the Internet, or through their own Internet Protocol network.


1.1. Broadcast television providers Digital terrestrial television

Digital terrestrial television launched in 1998 as a subscription service named ONdigital. Since October 2002 the primary broadcaster has been Freeview, which is free-of-charge to view.

YouView is also distinctly marketed although it provides the same free channels as Freeview as it uses the same transmitter network.

The TV channels are transmitted in bundles, called multiplexes, and the available channels are dependent on how many multiplexes are transmitted in each area. Three multiplexes, carrying channels from BBC, ITV, Channel 4, S4C, and Channel 5 as well as radio, are available to 98.5% of the population from 1.154 transmitters. A further 3 multiplexes transmit to 90% of homes from 80 transmitters, and another 2 multiplexes are available to 76% of homes from 30 transmitters. The terrestrial service consisting of just the 3 public service multiplexes, available to 8.5% of the population, is informally called Freeview Light by some websites. In Northern Ireland, a multiplex carrying channels from the Republic of Ireland can reach 90% of Northern Irish homes from 3 transmitters. Local TV and radio is available from an additional multiplex at 42 transmitters.

Catch-up TV services such as BBC iPlayer are available via the broadband connection of both Freeview and YouView receivers. On YouView, subscription-TV services from BT, TalkTalk, Plusnet, and global-streaming services can also be received via the broadband connection. SureTV offers a similar service in Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man.


1.2. Broadcast television providers Cable television

Many regional companies developed cable-television services in the late 1980s and 1990s. As of 2020 they have amalgamated in Virgin Media, which is available to 55% of households. Cable TV is a subscription service normally bundled with a phone line and broadband.

WightFibre operates on the Isle of Wight, however it acts as a distributor for Sky and YouView instead of having an integrated TV service.


1.3. Broadcast television providers Satellite television

There are three distinctly-marketed direct-broadcast satellite DBS services also known as direct-to-home DTH, to be distinguished from satellite signals intended for non-consumer reception).

Sky TV is a subscription service operated by Sky Ltd, owned by Comcast, which launched in 1998 as SkyDigital. Compared to the previous analogue service, it provided more channels, widescreen, interactive TV and a near video-on-demand service using staggered start times for pay-per-view content. Innovations since have included high definition, 3D TV, a digital video recorder, the ability to view recordings on other devices, remote operation via the Internet to add recordings, and on-demand content via the satellite-receivers broadband connection of both Sky and third-party TV. The Sky subscription also includes access to Sky Go, which allows mobile devices and computers to access subscription content via the Internet.

Freesat from Sky is a free satellite-service owned by Sky Ltd. Existing Sky TV customers can end their ongoing subscriptions and opt for the Free-To-View viewing-card, which gives them the Freesat from Sky service. Freesat from Sky does not provide digital recording or video-on-demand. Freesat from Sky has more channels than Freesat, which are mostly international or shopping channels. The on-screen programme guide lists subscription channels even thought they cant be viewed.

Freesat is a free satellite-service developed jointly by the BBC and ITV. In contrast to Freesat from Sky, it does not need a viewing card. Like Sky, it provides high-definition content, digital recording and video-on-demand via the broadband connection. The on-screen programme guide lists the available channels, rather than encrypted channels which need a subscription to view.

Freesat, Freesat from Sky and Sky TV transmit from SES Astra satellites at 28.2° east Astra 2E/2F/2G. As the satellites are in geostationary orbit, they are positioned above the earths equator 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.


2. Internet video services

TV via the Internet can be streamed or downloaded, and consist of amateur or professionally produced content. In the UK, most broadcasters provide catch-up TV services which allow viewing of TV for a window after it was broadcast. Online video can be viewed via mobile devices, computers, TVs equipped with a built in Internet connection, or TVs connected to an external set-top-box, streaming stick or games console. Most of the broadcast TV providers have integrated their set-top-boxes with Internet video to provide a hybrid broadcast and online service.


2.1. Internet video services Catch-up services

Since 2006, UK channel owners and content producers have been creating Internet services to access their programmes. Often, these are available for a window after the broadcast schedule. These services generally block users outside of the UK.


2.2. Internet video services Online video services for professionally produced content

There are numerous online services targeting the UK, offering a combination of subscription, rental and purchase options for viewing online TV. Most are available via any Internet connection, however some require a specific broadband connection. Some services sell 3rd party services, such as Amazons Prime Video. For brevity, the following table does not include catch-up-only or amateur-only services, individual channels, distributors of illegal or adult content, services which solely redistribute free broadcast channels, or services which dont target the UK. In July 2018 Ofcom statistics showed that the 15.4 million subscribers to commercial online video services exceeded the number of traditional pay TV service subscribers for the first time.


3.1. Channels and channel owners Most viewed channels

The Broadcasters Audience Research Board BARB measures television ratings in the UK. As of November 2017, the average weekly viewing time per person across all broadcast channels was 24 hours 16 minutes. 12 channels have a share of total viewing time across all channels of ≥ 1.0%.


3.2. Channels and channel owners Most viewed channel groups

For October 2017, there are 9 channel owners with a total viewing share across their channels of ≥ 1.0% although BARB has separated Viacom channels into two groups, and its unclear whether STV Group channels are included with ITV plc channels


3.3. Channels and channel owners British Broadcasting Corporation BBC

The BBC is the worlds oldest and largest broadcaster, and is the countrys 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 its being broadcast and the fee is determined by periodic negotiation between the government and the BBC.

Its first analogue terrestrial channel, the BBC Television Service, launched in 1936. It rebranded to BBC 1 in 1964, the same year that BBC 2 launched, the UKs third analogue terrestrial channel after ITV. Both channels styled as BBC One and BBC Two from 1997. BBC News 24 launched as an analogue cable channel in 1997, later rebranding to BBC News. BBC Parliament, which was originally an analogue cable channel known as The Parliamentary Channel, was acquired by the BBC in 1998. From 1998 onwards the BBC started digital TV transmissions, launching new channels and broadcasting via satellite in addition to terrestrial and cable. BBC Three closed as a broadcast channel in 2016, continuing as an Internet video service.

The BBCs Internet-based service iPlayer contains content from the BBCs TV channels, the Welsh-language public-service broadcaster S4C, as well as videos created from BBC radio programmes, with Radio 1 in particular appearing as a channel alongside the normal TV channels.


3.4. Channels and channel owners ITV

ITV is the network of fifteen regional commercial television franchises, founded in 1955 to provide competition to the BBC. ITV was the countrys first commercial television provider funded by advertisements, and has been the most popular commercial channel through most of its existence. Through a series of mergers, takeovers and relaxation of regulation, thirteen of these companies are now owned by ITV plc; the other two are owned by STV Group. ITV plc, the operator of all English, Welsh, Southern Scotland and Channel Island franchises, had branded the channel as ITV1 since 2001, with regional names being used prior to regional programmes only since 2002. The ITV name was restored in 2013. ITV plc also operate the Northern Ireland franchise under the UTV brand name. STV Group, which operates the two other Scottish franchises, has now unified the regions under the single name of STV. ITV has been officially known as Channel 3 since 1990, although this is seldom used to identify itself.

ITV plc also operates digital channels ITV2, ITV3, ITV4, ITVBe and CITV, some with HDTV streams. ITN, a subsidiary, currently holds the national news franchise, and ITV Breakfast operates the breakfast franchise.


3.5. Channels and channel owners 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, 4seven and various timeshift services. Since 2005, it has been a member of the Freeview consortium, and operates one of the six digital terrestrial multiplexes with ITV as Digital 3&4. Since the advent of digital television, Channel 4 is now also broadcast in Wales across all digital platforms. Channel 4 was the first British channel not to carry regional variations for programming, however it does have 6 set advertising regions.

With Bauer Media Group, Channel 4 jointly owns a range of music channels under the Box Plus Network banner.


3.6. Channels and channel owners ViacomCBS

Channel 5 was the fifth analogue terrestrial channel to launch, in March 1997. Due to constraints with the available UHF frequencies at the time, many households had to retune their video recorders, which shared the frequency on their RF output with the frequency used by Channel 5s new broadcasts. Channel 5 was the first terrestrial channel to also broadcast via satellite. From 2006 onwards, Channel 5 would launch new digital channels and an Internet on-demand service. After changing ownership several times, in May 2014 Channel 5 and its sister channels would be acquired by Viacom, an American media conglomerate.

By the time it acquired Channel 5, Viacom already operated a large number of subscription channels in the UK, including the MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central channels, which are available via Sky TV, Virgin Media and NOW TV. In terms of viewing share, the combined viewing across Viacoms free and subscription channels make Viacom the UKs fourth largest broadcaster, after BBC, ITV plc and Channel 4 Corp, according to BARBs viewing figures for January 2018.


3.7. Channels and channel owners Local television in the United Kingdom

On 18 January 2011, then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt announced his intentions to set up a network of local television channels across the UK. The initial plan was to create a network of local television channels, connected through a national backbone. This plan would create a television network similar to that of the network-affiliate model in the United States and Canada. In June 2011, however, it was announced that the national spine plan would be scrapped, and a bottom-up approach would be followed instead, where channels are individually licensed.

Richard Horwood, a former Trinity Mirror executive, announced that when the local television channels are first licensed, he intends to create a television network called Channel 6; this will be a network of local television channels, with Channel 6 supplying the prime time schedule similar to the American network-affiliate model. Another operator, which has announced its intentions to set up a network of local television channels 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 latters owner, Rogers Communications. City TV is initially bidding on a channel to be based in Birmingham.


3.8. Channels and channel owners Sky

Sky is a European broadcaster owned by global American media conglomerate Comcast. Sky Television launched in 1989, with a 4-channel service received via satellite. The channels at launch were Sky Channel, Sky News, Sky Movies and Eurosport. They were initially free to receive, and Sky Movies was the first to move to a subscription early in 1990. Sky News was the UKs first dedicated news channel. The new service was the UKs first consumer satellite TV service, beating rival BSB, with which Sky would later merge to become BSkyB. Skys satellite service grew to become a subscription platform through which Sky offer their own channels, pay-per-view services and channels from other broadcasters. Skys digital platform launched in 1998, with the original analogue service closing in 2001.

Since 2012, Sky operate NOW TV, an Internet TV streaming service offering subscriptions without a fixed-term contract.

Skys channel portfolio has grown greatly since the launch of digital TV. Sky make their channels available via rival cable and Internet services as well as their own satellite service and NOW TV.


3.9. Channels and channel owners UKTV

UKTV is a multi-channel broadcaster wholly owned by BBCs commercial arm, BBC Studios. Unlike the BBCs public service channels, the UKTV channels contain advertising. It originated as a single channel, UK Gold, in 1992, with an expansion in channels from 1997 onwards. Originally the BBC shared ownership with various other broadcasters, most recently Discovery, Inc., with BBC Studios taking full control in June 2019.


4. Programming

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.


4.1. Programming 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:


4.2. Programming 100 Greatest TV Moments

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


4.3. Programming List of most watched television broadcasts

The majority of special events attracting large audiences are often carried on more than one channel. The most-watched programme of all time on a single channel is the 1973 wedding ceremony of The Princess Anne, shown only on BBC1. The figures in these tables represent the average viewership achieved by each broadcast during its run-time and do not include peak viewership.

  • Pre-1981 figures supplied by the British Film Institute BFI
  • Post-1981 figures verified by the Broadcasters Audience Research Board BARB


  • At least two Muhammad Ali boxing matches were reported to have been watched by at least 26 million viewers in the United Kingdom: the Fight of the Century Ali vs. Frazier was reported to have been watched by 27.5 million British viewers in 1971, and The Rumble in the Jungle Ali vs. Foreman was reported to have been watched by 26 million viewers on BBC1 in 1974.
  • The Wedding of Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon 6 May 1960 was watched by an estimated 25 million viewers in Britain.
  • The Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton 29 April 2011 received a total audience peak of 26 million viewers, but this is a combined figure aggregated from the ten different channels that broadcast the ceremony. The highest figures of these were 13.59 million on BBC1, with an extra 4.02 million watching on ITV.
  • Live Aid is reported to have reached approximately 24.5 million British viewers in July 1985.

4.4. Programming 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:

  • 2017: Happy Valley – Red Production Company / BBC One
  • 2013: Last Tango in Halifax – BBC Television / BBC One
  • 2015: Happy Valley – Red Production Company / BBC One
  • 2016: Wolf Hall – Company Pictures / BBC Two
  • 2014: Broadchurch – Kudos Film & Television / ITV

4.5. Programming Weekday

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 childrens programming all morning until the start of 2013. That channel now broadcasts repeats of BBC Ones 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 9:00 am, and generally broadcasts more human-interest chat-style shows, including Lorraine, 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 Jeremy Vine 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.

Until the end of 2012 BBC One showed childrens programmes in the late afternoon but the channel now continues to show lifestyle programming until broadcasting the game show Pointless at 5:15 pm. BBC Two used to show lifestyle programming such as Animal Park in the late afternoon before these programmes were switched to BBC One. BBC Two now broadcasts repeats unless it is showing sporting events. ITV shows a lifestyle programme followed by a chat show such as The Alan Titchmarsh Show before repeats of classic ITV shows, such as Heartbeat, Poirot and Midsomer Murders in late-afternoon, before a gameshow-style programme at 5:00 pm, which have included Golden Balls and The Price Is Right.

News bulletins are broadcast between 6 pm and 7 pm on both BBC One and ITV, with BBC One beginning with the national BBC News at Six and ITV with the flagship regional news programme. At around 18.30, BBC One broadcasts the regional news programmes whilst ITV broadcasts the ITV Evening News. Channel 4 News starts at 7 pm.

Primetime programming is usually dominated by further soaps, including Doctors, EastEnders on BBC One, Coronation Street and Emmerdale on ITV, and Hollyoaks on Channel 4. These soap operas or continuing dramas as they are now called can vary throughout the year, however weekly dramas, such as Holby City, are also fixed to scheduling. Because of this, the UK can often rely more heavily on TV guides, be it with the newspaper, online, via information services on the television such as the BBC Red Button service or the built in Electronic Programme Guides.

At 10pm with the flagship national news on BBC One in BBC News at Ten and on ITV on ITV News at Ten followed by the regional late night news

After midnight, when late evening films are shown, many channels cease broadcasting "normal" programming or simulcast with another channel. Before 2000, the channels simply closed down. However, since then programming has been shown continuously. BBC One will join BBC News in a multichannel simulcast and BBC Two shows a continuous loop of forthcoming programme previews and trailers, although prior to the completion of Digital switchover BBC Two had filled its overnight downtime with Pages from Ceefax. Between 2005 and 2007 ITV broadcast the ITV Play strand of phone-in participation TV programmes but now much of the night is dedicated to the text-based ITV information service ITV Nightscreen. Previously, Channel 4 had closed down to show live feeds of Big Brother in the summer and its spin-off, Celebrity Big Brother in January. However, since 2010, repeats of Channel 4 daytime shows have typically been shown. Until the end of the 2000s Channel 5 generally showed various sports from around the world, including boxing and football from European leagues as well as live American sport, with phone-in participation-TV Quiz Call on weekends. Quiz Call is now shown every night of the week.


4.6. Programming Weekend

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.


5.1. 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."

In 2005, the BBCs broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera elicited 55.000 complaints, and provoked protests from Christian organisation Christian Voice, and a private prosecution against the BBC by the Christian Institute. A summons was not issued.

In 2007, the General Synod of the Church of England claimed that programmes such as Celebrity Big Brother and Little Britain were eroding moral standards. The Synod criticised broadcasting trends that "exploit the humiliation of human beings for public entertainment", and called for research to determine the behavioural impact of sexual or violent images.


6. Awards

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 Academys 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.


7. Regulation

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, Ofcoms duties include:

  • The management, regulation and assignment of the electromagnetic spectrum in the UK, and licensing of portions of the spectrum for television broadcasting
  • 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 Dominos Pizza on Sky One. Ofcom concluded this was in breach of the Broadcast Code, since it contravened an advertising restriction of food high in fat, salt or sugar. Restrictions in food and drink advertising to children were introduced in November 2006.
  • 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 Ofcoms website, and provides 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. 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 licence.
  • 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.
  • Rules on the amount and distribution of advertising, which also took effect July 2005

In 2008, Ofcom issued fines to the total of £7.7m. This included £5.67m of fines to ITV companies, including a £3m fine to LWT over voting irregularities on Saturday Night Takeaway, and fines totalling £495.000 to the BBC. Ofcom said phone-in scandals had contributed significantly to the fine totals.

The Committee for Advertising Practice CAP, or BCAP is the body contracted by Ofcom to create and maintain the codes of practice governing television advertising. The Broadcast Advertising Codes or the TV codes are accessible on CAPs web site. The Codes cover advertising standards the TV Code, guidance notes, scheduling rules, text services the Teletext Code and interactive television guidance. The main sections of the TV Code concern compliance, programmes and advertising, unacceptable products, political and controversial issues, misleading advertising, harm and offence, children, medicines, treatments, health claims and nutrition, finance and investments, and religion.

The Advertising Standards Authority is an independent body responsible for resolving complaints relating to the advertising industry within the UK. It is not government funded, but funded by a levy on the advertising industry. It ensures compliance with the Codes created by CAP. The ASA covers all forms of advertising, not just television advertisements. The ASA can refer problematic adverts to Ofcom, since the channels carrying the adverts are ultimately responsible for the advertising content, and are answerable to Ofcom. Ofcom can issue fines or revoke broadcast licences if necessary.


8. Licensing

In the United Kingdom and the Crown dependencies, a television licence is required to receive any publicly broadcast television service, from any source. This includes the commercial channels, cable and satellite transmissions. The money from the licence fee is used to provide radio, television and Internet content for the BBC, and Welsh-language television programmes for S4C. The BBC gives the following figures for expenditure of licence fee income:

  • 12% – network radio
  • 10% – transmission costs and licence fee collection
  • 3% – BBC Online, Ceefax, and Interactive Content including and BBC Red Button
  • 10% – digital
  • 50% – BBC One and BBC Two
  • 15% – local TV and radio

9. Production

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.


9.1. Production 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, the maximum allowed by Ofcom. This would be a rise from 54% at present, as part of a strategy to make ITV content-led chiefly to double production revenues to £1.2bn by 2012. ITV Studios currently produces programmes such as Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Heartbeat.

In contrast, the BBC has implemented a Window of Creative Competition WOCC, a 25% proportion over and above the 25% Ofcom quota in which the BBCs in-house production and independent producers can compete. The BBC produces shows such as All Creatures Great and Small and F***off Im a Hairy Woman.

Channel 4 commissions all programmes from independent producers.


9.2. Production 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


10.1. History Closed and aborted television providers

The following Internet TV services have closed:

The following services were aborted before launch:

  • Sky Picnic, a proposed subscription digital terrestrial service from Sky in 2007
  • Project Kangaroo, an Internet TV service announced by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 in 2007. It later launched as SeeSaw.

10.2. History Analogue terrestrial television

Analogue TV was transmitted via VHF 1936 and later UHF 1964 radio waves, with analogue broadcasts ending in 2012.

VHF transmissions started in 1936 and closed in 1985 with a gap 1939–1946, carrying two channels. The launch channel was the BBC Television Service, known as BBC 1 since 1964. This was joined by Independent Television, a network of regional franchises launching between 1955 and 1962. The channels transmitted in monochrome using the 405-line television system at 25 frames per second, initially with an aspect ratio of 5:4, switching to 4:3 in 1950.

UHF transmissions started in 1964 and closed in 2012. The launch channel was BBC 2. This would be joined by BBC 1, the ITV network, Channel 4 or S4C in Wales, Channel 5 as well as a network of local TV channels. Transmissions started using the System I standard, a 625-line monochrome picture at 25 frames/second 576i and a 4:3 aspect ratio. Technical advancements included colour 1967, teletext 1974, and stereo sound 1991. The drive to switch viewers from analogue to digital transmissions was a process called the digital switchover.

Whilst there are no longer any analogue broadcasts in the UK, a PAL signal may be present in closed RF distribution systems, e.g. a video feed from an intercom in a block of flats, or a security system.


10.3. History 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.


10.4. History 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 UK Government.

Television caught on in the United Kingdom in 1947, but its expansion was slow. By 1951, with only two transmitters, near London and Birmingham, only 9% of British homes owned a television set. The United Kingdom was the first country in the world to have a regular daily television schedule direct to homes and it was the first to have technical professions to work on TVs. A. Smith, Television: An International History 1995

Up until 1972, television broadcasting hours were tightly regulated by the British government, under the control of the Postmaster General. Before the launch of the commercial channel ITV in 1955, the BBC was restricted by law to just five hours maximum of television in a day. This was increased at the launch of the commercial channel ITV to a 7-hour broadcasting day for both channels. Gradually the number of hours were increased. Typically during the late 1960s the law regulated a 50-hour broadcasting week for all television channels in the UK. This meant BBC1, BBC2 and ITV could only broadcast normal programming for 7 hours a day Mondays to Fridays, and 7.5 hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays.

Until 1957, television in the United Kingdom could not air from 6.00pm-7.00pm. This was called "Toddlers Truce", where the idea was that parents could put their children to bed, before prime time television would commence. This restriction was lifted in 1957. However, on Sundays, television remained off the air from 6.00pm-7.00pm. This was in response to religious leaders fears that television would interfere with people attending church services. In 1958 a compromise was reached, where only religious programming could be aired during this time slot. This restriction was lifted in January 1972.

The Postmaster General allowed exemptions to the regulations. All schools programming, adult education, religious programming, state occasions, political broadcasts and Welsh language programming were totally exempt from the restrictions. Sport and outside broadcasting events were given a separate quota of broadcasting hours which could be used in a year, starting off at 200 hours a year in the mid 1950s, rising to a quota of 350 hours a year by the late 1960s. Broadcasting on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Eve and New Years Day were also exempt from the tightly controlled restrictions.

The election of a conservative government in June 1970 brought in changes to the control of broadcasting hours. At first the typical broadcasting day was extended to 8 hours a day, with an increase in exemptions over Christmas and an increase in the sport/outside broadcasting quota. On 19 January 1972, the then Minister for Posts and Telecommunications, Christopher Chataway, announced to the British House of Commons that all restrictions on broadcasting hours on television would be lifted from that day, with the broadcasters allowed to set their own broadcasting hours from then on. By November 1972 a full daytime schedule had been launched on ITV from 9.30am each day, with the BBC also expanding their schedules to include more daytime programming.

The UK Government previously appointed people to the BBCs 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.


10.5. History 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 four analogue TV channels. The channels and subsequent VideoCrypt video encryption system used the existing PAL broadcast standard, unlike the winner of the UK state DBS licence, British Satellite Broadcasting BSB.

In 1990, BSB launched, broadcasting five channels 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. Skys 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. BSBs D-MAC/EuroCypher system was gradually replaced with Skys 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 Murdochs News Corporation owns a 35% stake.

By 1998, following the launch of several more satellites to Astras 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 Astras new satellite, at 28.2° east position under the brand name Sky Digital. BSkyBs 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.

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