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Television in the United Kingdom

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Television in the United Kingdom started in 1936 as a public service which was free of advertising. Currently, the United Kingdom has a collection of free-to-air, free-to-view and subscription services over a variety of distribution media, through which there are over 480 channels 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. 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.

Digital terrestrial television

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

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

    WightFibre is available in the Isle of Wight.

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

    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 only satellite provider to offer 'premium channels' (Fox, Crime & Investigation, Comedy Central etc) with the largest total number of channels compared to all other television providers. [4] As of January 2017, subscriptions starts at £22 per month for the basic package and rise to £74 per month for their top package. There is an upfront cost of £15 on sign up. Sky TV markets SkyQ Silver & SkyQ boxes as well as SkyQmini boxes. Unlike the previous Sky+HD boxes, the new SkyQ hardware including the SkyQ router are not given to the customer but are 'lent' until the customer cancels their subscription with hefty charges if the hardware is not returned to Sky. Sky TV also provides video on demand branded as 'SkyTV On Demand'. As of October 2016, Sky UK stopped offering there aging Sky+HD hardware.

    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. 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. 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).

    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°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 and mobile television

    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.

    NOW TV is a Internet Television service owned and operated by Sky offering 4 passes. The user is able to add more than one pack at any one time with no long term contract. (Prices correct as of January 2017). Entertainment Pass includes 11 premium live channels and most of the On Demand content for there respective channels and costs £6.99/month. Sky Cinema Pass includes all 11 live channels and access to the whole Sky Cinema On Demand library and costs £9.99/month. Sky Sports Pass includes access to all live sky Sports Channels at a cost of £6.99/24 hours, £10.99/7 days access or £33.99/month. Kids Pass included 6 premium child channels and costs £2.99/month. NOW TV claims there content are not available on Freeview (UK) & Freesat.NOW TV can be viewed via many devices such as NOW TV branded smart boxes as well as other branded smart box devices, Smart TVs & via apps for mobile and tablet.

    TVPlayer is a free app based internet television service which offer most channels on Freeview but without the need for a aerial. This service is free. TVPlayer also offers TVPlayer Plus, a selection of 30 premium channels not on Freeview or Freesat such as Lifetime, MTV & Nick Jr. and as of January 2017 costs £5.99 with a no commitment monthly subscription.

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

    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.

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

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

    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.

    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.

    Revenue sources

    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.

    Former broadcast providers

    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.

    Internet video services

    Video 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.

    Other Internet TV services may consist of

  • Live TV streaming, in which a channel is shown as broadcast
  • On-demand video clips
  • Archive TV older than the catch-up period, which may be available free or for a fee
  • In July 2009, comScore released research on the number of online video views in the UK during April 2009, showing the Google-owned YouTube as the dominant source.

    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.

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

    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.

    Availability of channels from various providers


    British Broadcasting Corporation (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 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)

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

    ITV plc also operates digital channels ITV2, ITV3, ITV4, ITVBe, 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

    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

    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 which then decided to reinstate the channel's original name, "Channel Five". Plans were later changed to "Channel 5" in February 2011. Desmond sold Channel 5 to Viacom in May 2014, and it now operates under the Viacom International Media Networks Europe division. Like Channel 4, Channel 5 does not have programming regional variations, however it does so for advertising, having 5 advertising regions.

    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 stations across the UK. The initial plan was to create a network of local television stations, connected through a national backbone. This plan would create a television network similar to that of the network-affiliate model in the United States and Canada. In June 2011, however, it was announced that the national spine plan would be scrapped, and a 'bottom-up' approach would be followed instead, where stations are individually licensed.

    Richard Horwood, a former Trinity Mirror executive, announced that when the local television stations are first licensed, he intends to create a television network called Channel 6; this will be a network of local television stations, with Channel 6 supplying the prime time schedule (similar to the American network-affiliate model). Another operator, which has announced its intentions to set up a network of local television stations with a television network connecting them, is City TV Broadcasting. That company says it is basing its operations on the Citytv television system in Canada, but there does not appear to be any official affiliation with the latter's owner, Rogers Communications. City TV is initially bidding on a station to be based in Birmingham.


    Sky 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.


    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:

    100 Greatest TV Moments

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

    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:

    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:

    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:

  • 2015: Happy Valley – Red Production Company / BBC One
  • 2014: Broadchurch – Kudos Film & Television / ITV
  • 2013: Last Tango in Halifax – BBC Television / BBC Three
  • 2012: The Fades – BBC Television / BBC One
  • 2011: Sherlock – Hartswood Films / BBC Wales / BBC One
  • 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 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. Previously, Channel 4 had closed down to show live feeds of Big Brother (in the summer) and its spin-off, Celebrity Big Brother (in January). However, since 2010, repeats of Channel 4 daytime shows have typically been shown. Until the end of the 2000s Channel 5 generally showed various sports from around the world, including boxing and football from European leagues as well as live American sport, with phone-in participation-TV Quiz Call on weekends. Quiz Call is now shown every night of the week.


    Weekend daytime programming traditionally consists of more lifestyle programming, as well as afternoon live and recorded coverage of sporting events and films. There are further battles for viewers in the weekend primetime slot, often featuring reality or talent game shows in the evening. Lunchtime, early evening and late evening news programmes continue on BBC One and ITV although the length of the bulletins are shorter than during the week.

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

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


    The British Academy Television Awards are the most prestigious awards given in the British television industry, analogous to the Emmy Awards in the United States. They have been awarded annually since 1954, and are only open to British programmes. After all the entries have been received, they are voted for online by all eligible members of the Academy. The winner is chosen from the four nominees by a special jury of nine academy members for each award, the members of each jury selected by the Academy's Television Committee.

    The National Television Awards is a British television awards ceremony, sponsored by ITV and initiated in 1995. Although not widely held to be as prestigious as the BAFTAs, the National Television Awards are probably the most prominent ceremony for which the results are voted on by the general public. Unlike the BAFTAs, the National Television Awards allow foreign programmes to be nominated, providing they have been screened on a British channel during the eligible time period.


    Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the communication industries in the United Kingdom, including television. As the regulatory body for media broadcasts, Ofcom's duties include:

  • Specification of the Broadcast Code, which took effect on 25 July 2005, with the latest version being published October 2008. The Code itself is published on Ofcom's website, and provies a mandatory set of rules which broadcast programmes must comply with. The 10 main sections cover protection of under-eighteens, harm and offence, crime, religion, impartiality and accuracy, elections, fairness, privacy, sponsorship and commercial references. As stipulated in the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom enforces adherence to the Code. Failure for a broadcaster to comply with the Code results in warnings, fines, and potentially revokation of a broadcasting license.
  • Rules on the amount and distribution of advertising, which also took effect July 2005
  • Examining specific complaints by viewers or other bodies about programmes and sponsorship. Ofcom issues Broadcast Bulletins on a fortnightly basis which are accessible via its web site. As an example, a bulletin from February 2009 has a complaint from the National Heart Forum over sponsorship of The Simpsons by Domino's Pizza on Sky1. Ofcom concluded this was in breach of the Broadcast Code, since it contravened an advertising restriction of food high in fat, salt or sugar. (Restrictions in food and drink advertising to children were introduced in November 2006.)
  • The management, regulation and assignment of the electromagnetic spectrum in the UK, and licensing of portions of the spectrum for television broadcasting
  • Public consultations on matters relating to TV broadcasting. The results of the consultations are published by Ofcom, and inform the policies that Ofcom creates and enforces.
  • In 2008, Ofcom issued fines to the total of £7.7m. This included £5.67m of fines to ITV companies, including a £3m fine to LWT over voting irregularities on Saturday Night Takeaway, and fines totalling £495,000 to the BBC. Ofcom said phone-in scandals had contributed significantly to the fine totals.

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

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


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

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

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

  • 89.8% (23.2 million of 25.6 million televisions) of main TV sets now receive digital television
  • 70% (24.3 million of 35 million televisions) of secondary TV sets now receive multichannel television (multichannel refers to any digital television, and analogue cable)
  • 80.5% (48.3 million of 60 million televisions) of all TV sets now receive multichannel TV; the remainder receive analogue terrestrial television
  • Ofcom does not consider households which use Internet television as their primary source, whether connected to a TV set or not, nor television from the mobile TV providers or Freewire.

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

    Video on demand

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

    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. 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.

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

    High-definition television

    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).

    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.

    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.

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

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

    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.

    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 BBC's in-house production and independent producers can compete. The BBC produces shows such as All Creatures Great and Small and F*** off I'm a Hairy Woman.

    Channel 4 commissions all programmes from independent producers.

    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

    Closed and aborted television providers

    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.

    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.

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

    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.


    Television in the United Kingdom Wikipedia