Britains 5 Original National Free-to-Air Television Channels
Post author By Charlie April 28, 2022
Britain’s 5 Original National Free-to-Air Television
Featured Photo: Image by Pexels from Pixabay
As always sources are at the end of this post.
In light of the news that Channel 4 is to go into private ownership I received the
magnificent idea of looking into the five original national free-to-air analogue television
channels that have been a staple for British televised culture for decades now, basically
everyone living in Great Britain or even the UK in general knows about the five big
original free-to-air analogue TV channels.
They are BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5.
Now I keep saying original as with the advent of digital television there came many, many
more free-to-air channels, way too many to go over in this one blogpost. But before that,
and before any of the paid channels came along, it was just the five listed channels that
could be obtained via a TV terrestrial aerial.
Of course, this will also be rather England specific as I am conveniently skipping over
channels such as S4C (Wales), UTV (Northern Ireland) although this channel is owned by
ITV, and STV (Scotland) and again STV is kind of confusing as it is part of the ITV
Network although is not owned by ITV plc like UTV in Northern Ireland is.
I am just going to focus on the five mentioned above under the first paragraph.
Let’s get started with the BBC…
BBC One and Two
Photo by Igbofur from Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0. Source.
Part 1: The TV License
BBC One and Two, like all BBC channels and services, are both publicly run channels
and are funded by the TV License. The TV License is paid annually by people who watch
or record television programmes on a TV and with the digital age this has also been
expanded to cover desktop computers and laptops, mobile phones, tablets, game
consoles, and any other device that receives a TV signal and that you can watch a live
television channel on.
The TV license must also be paid by people who watch or download BBC programmes
on BBC iPlayer which is the BBC’s streaming service. As it stands the TV License is £159
per year although anyone still using black and white TV sets only need to pay £53.50 per
year, I do wonder if anyone actually does this to save money, I don’t blame them.
A TV license is not required if one only watches non-BBC programmes on online catch-up
services, videos or DVDs, videos online such as places like Youtube, social media and
other video-sharing websites, and CCTV. Although, this won’t stop them bombarding you
with endless letters about getting a TV License setup.
Note this can be a bit confusing and deceiving so let me explain: so, say you like ITV Hub
which is ITV’s streaming, catch-up and on-demand service. If you only watch non-BBC
programmes on there that are catch-up or on-demand then you do not need a TV
License, BUT if you watch programmes on ITV Hub live (such as watching the ITV
channel on ITV Hub) then you DO need a TV License, this goes for watching live TV on
any other services such as All4, Now TV, Amazon Prime Video and so on, BBC content
If you just watch Netflix then you do not need a TV License because it is all on-demand
and not live television. BUT also NOTE that Netflix has had BBC programmes on it before
and if you decide to watch them on Netflix then again you would NEED a TV License. As I
said, can be a bit confusing.
You would also need a TV License to watch BBC content on video sharing websites like
Youtube, or watching BBC content on video or DVD.
People who are 75 or older are able to get a free TV License if they receive Pension
Credit, while severely vision impaired people can apply for a discounted TV License.
Other than that, you just got to suck it up boyo… unless.
The TV License outside of the exceptions already mentioned is otherwise mandatory to
pay annually with the threat of a £1,000 fine for those who avoid paying the TV License.
There are a lot of people though who claim to avoid paying the TV License when they
should be and that no action has been taken against them in the years that they have
done it, apart for again getting bombarded with increasingly pushy letters.
Now, I do not suggest giving this a go because I am sure if the authorities wanted to
make an example they would not hesitate to do so. But I can attest that the letters do
seem to be some kind of automated mechanism, with even letters claiming the pursuit of
inquiry beginning or sending agents to check up on the property seem to be a load of
baloney. But again, I would not keep testing it out myself. I did eventually get a TV
License setup once I had properly moved in.
Part 2: Quick BBC Origin
Photo by Fresh On The Net from Flickr. CC BY 2.0. Source.
BBC One and Two (available on Channels 1 and 2 on terrestrial TV) are owned by the
BBC – The British Broadcasting Corporation, a company founded in 1922 as the British
Broadcasting Company, which was private at that time.
The founding was initiated through the Post Office (literally the name of the company)
meeting representatives of several major companies for the purpose of bringing regular
radio broadcasting to the UK, having seen its soaring popularity in the United States and
the eagerness of the public for it to come to the UK. Up until this point authorities had
denied regular radio broadcasting in fear of it interrupting essential services. But due to
demand they relented.
The BBC became a public company in 1927 and its name was changed to the British
Broadcasting Corporation and was granted a Royal Charter. So, the entity has existed for
almost a century, it will actually be the 100 anniversary this year on the 18 October.
Part 3: BBC Organisational Structure
Photo by Batchelor at English Wikipedia. CC BY 3.0. Source.
The company is a statutory company with a Royal Charter which means it is a
government entity setup and managed through legislation as a statutory body which gives
it some room to set rules and manage in its own field but ultimately the Government still
controls it via legislation, the Royal Charter is pretty much just a big shiny stamp of
approval from the ruling British Monarch and includes the legislation by which the BBC is
The BBC is governed by the BBC Board which replaced the BBC Trust and BBC
Executive Board in 2017. The Board is chaired by a Chairman. The board also includes
the BBC’s Director-General who is pretty much the BBC’s equivalent of a CEO.
The BBC Board is responsible for the exercise of all BBC functions in accordance with
the BBC’s Royal Charter. The Board is made up of fourteen members, the non-executive
Chair; four designated non-executive members that represents each of the UK Nations,
England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; plus, five other non-executive members
and four executive members, which includes the BBC’s Director-General.
The Chair person and the four non-executives that represent the four UK Nations are
appointed by the Queen-in-Council which means on advice of Government and other
officials, this appointments process is managed by the Department for Culture, Media,
All other non-executive members are appointed by the BBC Board itself through its
Nominations Committee. The executive members, including the Director-General, are
also appointed by the BBC Board through its Nominations Committee.
Non-executive members are as their name suggests not a part of the executive
management team and so will not be part of general day-to-day management of the BBC
but are involved in general policy-making. Non-executives are generally more
independent than executives, as executives will often have deep involvement in the BBC
for many years far more so than non-executives. Executives will more often have come
from other senior BBC positions.
You will also see that none of the non-executive members are part of the Executive
Committee of the BBC Board which handles the day-to-day operations. Out of the 10
non-executive members one of them is named the Senior Independent Director.
The four executive members are the Director-General who is also the Editor-in-Chief; the
Chief Operating Officer; the Chief Content Officer; and the Director for News and Current
The Executive Committee of the BBC Board which runs day-to-day operations includes
the four executives from the BBC Board including the Director-General who is also the
Chair of this committee, the Committee also includes other members who are not a part
of the BBC Board itself, this is the Chief Customer Officer, the CEO of BBC Studios, the
Group Director of Strategy and Performance, the Director for Creative Diversity, and the
Director for Nations.
The Executive Board also have a subcommittee which is called the Next Generation
Committee which basically advises the Executive Board on how it can appeal more to
The BBC Board itself has nine Committees (known as Board Committees), one for Audit
and risk, one each that focuses on the UK Nations, one for complying with fair trade, one
for editorial guidelines and standards, one for renumeration, and of course the already
mentioned Nominations Committee.
The Nominations Committee is chaired by the same person who chairs the BBC Board, it
also includes the non-executive for Wales, the Director-General, a non-executive director,
and the Senior Independent Director. It is not clear why these individuals are members of
this committee and how that is decided/what rules are followed. Perhaps there is some
rotational mechanism to members but I can only speculate.
The BBC also has a Commercial Board which oversees the delivery of the BBC’s
commercial ambitions, reporting to the BBC Board on the delivery of BBC Studios’
objectives, in line with the overall commercial strategy, and also on BBC Studioworks. Its
members are six non-executives including the Chairperson, three executives which
includes the Director-General, Chief Operating Officer, and CEO of BBC Studios. BBC
Studios and BBC Studioworks also have their own Executive Committees but I will not get
BBC Studios is the content company of the BBC that has existed in some form or other
since 2015 but did not come into its current form until 2018 through a merger. The main
point of this entity is to create, develop, produce, distribute, broadcast, finance and sell
content around the world through BBC content services, namely its TV channels. It
centralises production, although does not include everything, certain BBC production
teams remain separate such as BBC News and BBC Radio. BBC Three only became part
of it in 2021.
BBC Studioworks on the other hand has existed since 1998 and is for the provision of
television studios, post-production management, and other related services. It does not
only provide to the BBC itself but also to various other broadcasters and production
companies including ITV, Channel 4 and 5, and Sky among others.
So, if you’re watching some kind of morning talk show, perhaps some cooking show, or
what have you, and you’re thinking ‘I wonder who put together that studio’, there is a
good chance that BBC Studioworks was involved, even if it is not a BBC programme.
So, altogether, we have had a basic overview of the entire BBC organisational structure.
Most people do not really think about any of this at all while they sit down and watch any
BBC Channel or content, but there is a lot to it. I think you kind of have to be a bit mad to
look into all of it though, but it is also interesting to get a look behind the scenes should I
Part 4 – BBC Television Service
Alexandra Palace, home of the BBC’s first regular public television service. Photo by Jack
Rose from Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0. Source.
Anyway, let’s get back to BBC One and Two, the whole point of this. BBC One was
obviously not called BBC One from the beginning but was known as the BBC Television
Service when it first aired in 1932 where it conducted experimental TV broadcasts.
A government-appointed committee in 1934 looked into the viability of setting up a regular
public television service.
The committee entrusted the development of television to the BBC under the rule that it
had to transmit at a definition of at least 240-lines at a minimum of 25-pictures-per-
second, this brought an end to the old 30-line system. The committee suggested the BBC
to experiment between Baird’s 240-line (John Logie Baird was a Scottish Inventor who
invented and demonstrated the world’s first live working television system in 1926) and
Marconi-EMI’s 405-line and decide which would be better.
Gerald Cock, the BBC Director of Radio Outside Broadcasting became the BBC’s
Director of Television, he got together a number of media experts, told them to learn all
they could about television (basically), and hastily organised the BBC Television Service’s
first official programme that took place at Radiolympia, a pioneering exhibition of radio
equipment, taking place on 26 August 1936, this first BBC programme was called Here’s
Looking at You!
The TV show included performances such as singing, dancing, visual performance, a
television orchestra and various other acts.
The BBC Television Service finally begun regular TV broadcasts from November 1936. It
transmitted from Alexandra Palace for two hours each day apart from Sunday’s,
programming on Sunday’s would not happen until April 1938. Programmes included
news, weather, music and comedy shows, and even talent acts. There were also
optimistic BBC films that focused on documenting behind the scenes production, such as
Television Comes to London.
Other things would include variety, demonstrations, talk programmes, bands, singing,
sports talk shows, and operetta. The BBC would also move on to doing some outside
broadcasts. Films would include newsreels, cartoons, English features, shorts, and
As for the battle between 240-line and 405-line, it would come to an unfortunate
conclusion when the Crystal Palace, which contained all of Baird’s television equipment,
burned down. This led to the Television Advisory Committee to recommend ending dual-
transmission and fully moving over to a single standard of Marconi-EMI’s 405-line, which
took place in February 1937. Don’t even think about it conspiracy theorists…
The BBC Television Service would go on to cover the coronation of King George VI in
May 1937, and then the first major sporting event to be televised by the BBC in June
1937, the Wimbledon Tennis Championship. They would then go on to cover the Boat
Race and the FA Cup for the first time.
Story-telling would also come to the channel, as well as the ballet and the broadcasting of
plays with the first being Marigold. Picture Page was one of the early popular
programmes of the time, it included interviews with personalities, featured topics, and
coverage of public events, the show lasted until 1952.
The first children programme on the BBC Television Service was seen in 1937 called For
the Children, which included puppet shows, story readings and songs. One of its popular
programme segments was Muffin the Mule, about an antic-prone puppet mule
accompanied by Annette Mills. For the Children would go on until December 1952 where
it was replaced by other children’s programming.
Newsround, the first news bulletin programme aimed at children, would later be launched
in 1972 and be a great success that still continues on today on the CBBC channel, with it
stopping on BBC One in 2012. I can say for me this was probably one of the earliest
indications that I would have a big interest in world affairs and politics as it was one of my
favourite programmes when little.
In 1938 the BBC Television Service broadcasted the famous Peace in Our Time
announcement by then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who had arrived back from a
meeting with Adolf Hitler.
The channel was soon interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1939 and the channel was off
air until the end of the war as the Government feared Nazi Luftwaffe would use
transmission signals from Alexandra Palace’s aerial to help them navigate. Alexandra
Palace itself was very likely secretly used during this time for the war effort.
Up until 1939 the BBC Television Service had shown 380 plays, 138 variety shows, 165
special studio features, 8 relays from West End theatres, 262 episodes of Picture Page,
and 56 broadcasts from outside of a studio.
The channel would not go back on air until after the war in 1946. It became the first TV
channel to show the Olympic Games in 1948 on televisions in people’s homes, where it
got record-breaking viewership. It is recognised that television broadcasting of a previous
Olympic Games had taken place in Germany first, but this was setup in specific viewing
locations, and not people’s homes.
The BBC Television Service would get its first properly dedicated news programming in
1948, BBC Newsreels, which went over daily events via a filmed sequence of short
reports and often voiced by the famous BBC presenter John Snagge. July 1949 would
also see the return of regular weather forecasts, which has been done prior to the
outbreak of war.
But weather forecasts did not become how they are known today until January 1954 that
saw the map in vision and the first visible ‘weatherperson’ who was George Cowling.
Before that weather forecasts had just been charts with the bulletin read by a
The BBC also launched a dancing competition show in 1949 called Come Dancing which
ran until 1998. It would be re-launched in 2004 as Strictly Come Dancing which remains
one of the BBC’s most popular shows, the show sees celebrities learn to dance and then
compete against others.
The channel had its first programme for woman from 1949 called Designed for Woman,
which focused on various topics, and others followed such as Leisure and Pleasure, and
Women’s Fare. Panorama begun on the channel from 1953, now a days the show is a
current affairs programme known for its investigative reports and interviews, but originally
it often focused on a mix of arts, human-interest stories, scientific and medical topics.
An episode of Panorama in 1995 that featured an interview with the Princess Diana
talking about her marriage to Prince Charles would get 15 million viewers, one of the
BBC’s largest all-time audiences. Her televised funeral would receive 19 million viewers.
Part 5 – The Decade of Television and Appearance of Independent
The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was a big event for BBC television.
Photo in Public Domain.
The 1950s to the BBC is known as the decade of television, when the medium really
begun taking off and becoming properly mainstream over radio broadcasting.
One of the biggest moments for the channel and television itself was the coronation of
Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. It was the first-time television cameras had been allowed
inside of Westminster Abbey. The event sparked a large rise in the sale of televisions.
BBC coverage included three documentaries and a specially commissioned play.
Businesses and shops closed and streets were largely deserted on the day of the
broadcast and for the first time the number of television viewers dwarfed the number of
radio listeners, over half the adult population in Great Britain watched the television on
that day. The day is largely credited for cementing television into British culture.
The 1950s also saw intermittent experimentation with broadcasting live debate of the
House of Commons to the television, although nothing visible could be seen so it
remained similar to radio, which itself had been regularly broadcasting daily proceedings
since 1949. Regular televised proceedings of the House of Commons would not come
about until November 1989 despite the earlier experimentation.
The children’s programme Blue Peter would also launch in October 1958 and still
continues on till this day, being the longest running children television show in history. The
show follows a magazine/entertainment format, includes challenges for presenters and
viewers, competitions, interviews, incorporation of popular culture, and segments for arts
and crafts using household items, as well as various other segments.
The BBC’s channel held a monopoly on UK television broadcasting that remained
unthreatened until ITV, the first independent television network in the UK, begun
broadcasting in 1955. This period saw a big decline in the BBC’s audience and caused it
to focus on a change of strategy in order to remain competitive.
This had come about due to the large expansion of the TV industry, the likely demand of
longer broadcast hours as more people bought television sets, and the likely demand for
a larger variety of programmes to watch. There were questions of whether the BBC would
be able to cope on its own, and also concerns over the BBC’s monopoly and limits from
public funding restricting programmes.
The Government had already said in 1952 before the coronation that there was need for
wider choice and also possibly some competition for the BBC. Groups had formed both in
favour and against the introduction of commercial television. The public itself seemed to
also be becoming more in favour of having an independent channel.
In November 1953 the Government expressed its decision in favour of allowing a
commercial channel saying that due to TV’s great and increasing power to influence the
mind, its control should not remain in the hands of a single authority. Thus, the Television
Bill soon came into being.
Although a lot of people agreed with the need for a new independent channel, there was
a large disagreement of it being a commercial one, which is a channel funded by
advertisements. Many saw it as unscrupulous and too similar to television in the United
States, and there were questions over advertisers even wanting to support certain
programmes at all. These arguments almost led to the bills defeat, as well as over 130
attempted amendments, all of which were defeated. The bill managed to pass and went
So, you can quite see the inevitability of ITV’s appearance.
Part 6: The Arrival of BBC2
The channel became BBC TV in 1960 and in 1962 the Pilkington Report, which focused
on the future of broadcasting in the UK, took note of the new challenge towards the BBC
and in response they were awarded a new TV channel. BBC2 was then launched in 1964
and meant that BBC TV became BBC1.
BBC2 used 625-line-image and UHF over the now older Marconi-EMI 405-line-image and
VHF used by the other channels, meaning it became difficult for a time to access all
channels unless a complex dual-standard that had both 405-line and 625-line-image
receiver was used alongside both VHF/UHF aerials. In 1985 a new standard ended 405-
The launch of BBC2 was a bit of a disaster, the channel on its launch was originally going
to introduce the audience by showing the best of what it would have to offer as a channel,
but unfortunately for the channel this did not end up airing on the launch day due to a
blackout caused by a fire at Battersea Power Station. Instead, it just ended up
broadcasting the news, ironically beginning with a report on the cause of the blackout.
The first full programme shown on BBC2 was Play School, a show aimed at preschool
children that included songs, stories, activities and a short film, the programme would be
one of BBC2s early successes, and then the line-up performances originally scheduled
for the opening night followed.
Other early BBC2 programme successes included The Great War, a documentary series
on World War One that included archival footage and interviews with veterans, and Jazz
625, a music performance programme. It also included comedy and drama series such as
The Likely Lads and The Forsyte Saga.
BBC2 would go on to feature programmes that included more adult educational content,
and minority interest features, including things like news bulletins for the hearing
impaired. It would also come to be known for social comedy programmes such as
Goodness Gracious Me, broadcasting of other kinds of sport such as Wimbledon tennis,
snooker and skiing, and arts and musical programming that included fresh perspectives.
The football talk show Match of the Day (beginning 1964) and the science and philosophy
show Horizon (beginning 1968) would also begin on BBC2 and remain staple on
Colour television, although having existed for a number of decades, did not really start
becoming more commonplace until the 1960s (certain programmes or segments would
be colour, but most programming remained black and white) and as such BBC2 would be
the first full-colour television channel in Europe from 1967, with BBC1 and Independent
Television following in 1969, all channels would have a full colour service by 1976,
bringing the black and white television era to an end.
Colour television allowed BBC2 to expand into more programming, including factual
programmes such as Civilisation and The Ascent Of Man. It also made Snooker
programming possible due to being able to see the colour of the balls.
BBC2 has also been known for such British classics of comedy and drama such as
Fawlty Towers, I Claudius, Moll Flanders, and Madame Bovary. The 1980s would see
Yes, Minister; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier; The Boys from the Blackstuff; Edge of Darkness; Not
The Nine O’Clock News; and The Young Ones.
The popular automobile comedy-centric Top Gear also first started on BBC2.
Part 7: BBC Television 1960-Present
The Television Centre was headquarters for the BBC from 1960 until 2013.
The decade (1960s) would also see the first satellite television broadcasts, enabling the
first live broadcasts. The Television Centre in London would open in 1960 and would
serve as the BBC Television headquarters all the way until 2013. BBC Television
headquarters is now Broadcasting House.
November 1963 saw the first airing of the iconic science-fiction series Doctor Who which
still continues to make episodes today, it is the longest running science-fiction series in
the world, and a massive part of British television pop culture, the Daleks being one
popular race from the show, and the Doctor’s famous TARDIS.
In June 1967 the BBC became the first broadcaster to do a live worldwide broadcast
thanks to satellite television, doing it via the programme called Our World. The
programme featured live, non-political contributions from participating countries around
The BBC also dabbled in educational television by partnering with the Open University
from 1970, providing early morning and late evening broadcasts that included written
materials and helped give greater access to university and create a foundation for
April 1974 would see one of the earliest examples of reality television in the UK with The
Family, a programme following ordinary family life of the Wilkins, touching on issues of
class, race and manners of 1970s England. The programme was the first to directly film
daily life without direct interviews.
The first teletext service in the world would come from the BBC’s CEEFAX in September
1974, originally designed to help people who are deaf to experience television, it
expanded into a much broader interactive content service and became a template used
by other television channels in the UK and around the world. Many channels still have
teletext services today. The BBC ended CEEFAX in 2012 on BBC Two, it had already
been ended in 1997 on BBC One.
Although CEEFAX continued to 2012 on BBC Two, it had already been superseded by
the BBCi service in 1999 (to replace CEEFAX) which was accessed using the red button
on the tv remote, which provided even more content interaction with ongoing television
programmes, the service continues today as BBC Red Button. Such services exist for
many other channels.
The BBC Red Button service was further expanded from 2012 giving it online functionality
via internet connection, further expanding content and interaction and bringing it in-line
with the internet age.
The BBC would also bring natural history and nature documentary programmes into wider
popularity with its Life On Earth programme on BBC2 in January 1979 hosted and
narrated by none other than David Attenborough, an iconic figure and voice of British
nature television even still today. The BBC has since been known for its popular nature
documentaries such as Frozen Planet, Planet Earth, and Blue Planet among others.
The 1980s would see another of the BBC’s biggest outside broadcasts with the royal
wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, with a global TV audience of 750
million it became the most popular television programme ever to be broadcast.
BBC2 also launched its popular ongoing current affairs programme Newsnight in 1980.
The BBC’s breakfast slot – Breakfast Time – would launch on January 1983. Having a
focus on studio guests, fitness, horoscopes, and morning headline news. It came in
anticipation of the breakfast slot – GMTV – on the ITV Network channels. Breakfast Time
would eventually morph into the now BBC Breakfast programme, having a more
conventional news focus.
The BBC would get a new channel in November 1997 called BBC News 24 which was
the UK’s second 24/7 news channel after Sky News. BBC News 24 would later simply
become BBC News as it is known today.
The BBC would also launch its own soap opera programme – Eastenders – in February
1985 that also still continues to this day alongside the longer-running ITV soap operas
Coronation Street and Emmerdale. Just like the ITV soap operas it went on to become a
big part of British television pop culture, with the Eastenders 1986 Christmas episode
getting a record 30 million viewers.
In July 1985 the BBC aired Live Aid, a live multi-venue rock concert organised by Bob
Geldof and Midge Ure as a charity fundraiser for farmers affected by famine in Ethiopia. It
became one of the largest scale satellite link-ups and television broadcast of all time with
400 million viewers from 60 countries across the globe watching live.
In October 1997 both BBC1 and BBC2 became BBC One and BBC Two as they are
known today. Little detail that no one probably noticed much, but I think it looks better as it
is today, neater and tidier, less bland somehow.
The advent of digital television saw the BBC gain two more channels, BBC Three
(originally called BBC Choice) and BBC Four. Cbeebies and CBBC, aimed at children and
older children/teenagers respectively, also obtained their own channels.
The digital age also saw BBC iPlayer come about, the BBC’s own online, on-demand,
catch-up and live television service. The BBC has since partnered with ITV to create
Britbox a subscription-based streaming service to challenge other streaming services
such as Netflix. The service also includes Channel 4 content, among other exclusive
For me CBeebies was certainly a big part of my childhood, I also watched CBBC from
time to time but not as much. Now a days I don’t really watch the BBC anymore and I
tend to prefer ITV whenever I do be happening to watching anything on television.
But I give the BBC News team credit for me first getting into news and world affairs from
watching their channel and I still use their website on the regular.
I now and again go on BBC iPlayer to see if there are any documentaries or interesting
programmes to watch. BBC can certainly make some good animal documentaries, such
as the Animal Planet, Blue Planet, and Frozen Planet series.
Image by Dr Greg and NordNordWest from Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0. Source.
Part 1: Understanding the ITV Network
ITV stands for Independent Television which is very fitting considering how it came about.
It was the second channel to be allowed to broadcast and the first in Britain to be
independent and commercially-funded by advertisements. It became known as Channel 3
once BBC2 came along.
With the Television Act drama over and it having been passed a commission was set up
called the Independent Television Authority led by an ex-journalist and politician Sir
Robert Fraser Brown, and Sir Kenneth Clark as deputy, and under this the Government
appointed a Board of Directors whose goal were to grant franchises to the successful
applicants for the broadcast of commercial television to different regions of the UK.
Now to understand ITV is to understand the ITV Network. No one company owns the ITV
Network as they are regional licenses awarded to franchises by a government authority.
Nowadays, ITV plc holds a monopoly on the majority of the regional Independent
Television licenses, but before 2004 this was not the case. Today, ITV plc is leased all of
the England licenses, as well as the one for Wales and Northern Ireland where it is called
ITV Cymru/Wales and UTV respectively.
The remaining two regional licenses in Scotland are held by the STV Group which is the
only remaining independent television company part of the ITV Network that is not part of
or merged with ITV plc.
There is also a national license for the breakfast time slot which as of 2009 is also leased
to ITV plc. The national news slots are appointed and must have approval from Ofcom
which is the government-approved regulator for broadcasting, telecommunications and
postal industries in the UK. Independent Television News has held the ITV national news
slot since its beginning in May 1955.
Independent Television News is not fully owned by ITV plc but is partially owned by
several companies. ITV plc has the largest stake at 40%, followed by the Daily Mail and
General Trust plc, the Thomson Reuters Corporation, and Informa PLC who all hold 20%
each. ITN plays a big role in producing news shows for various UK channels, as you will
come to realise.
It can be a little confusing and I think a lot of people assume that the ITV Network is ITV
plc but this is not the case. ITV plc, even if it did own all ITV Network licenses, still would
not own the ITV Network itself, they are just being leased it by the Government.
Part 2: The First Independent Television Franchises
When the ITV Network licenses were created/planned, the applicants who applied were
asked to give a broad picture of the type of programme they would provide, proposals for
network or local broadcasting of their programmes, as well as some indication of their
financial resources and the length of contract they would like.
The Government gave the Independent Television Authority some strict guidelines to
follow in its goal, such as the insistence for programmes to be high quality; that a proper
proportion of films and programmes were British; and that the amount of advertisement
shown should not detract from the programmes value.
Such guidelines gave the Independent Television Authority the power to call for schedules
and scripts in advance, the ability to ask contractors for recordings of programmes for
examination, the ability to forbid broadcasts on certain subjects and the regulation of
But although the authority had these powers the view was that they would be kept in
reserve while the companies appointed mostly self-regulated, which was indeed the case
by and large.
There came 98 applications to the authority for commercial television but this was whittled
down to 28 after the Independent Television Authority demanded that those wanting to be
considered for a franchise must be able to back itself with an initial capital investment of
£3m. The 28 were then reduced to 6 who were seen as most experienced and with
These included the Associated Development Broadcasting Company; Associated
Rediffusion, having been formed by Broadcast Relay Services and Associated
Newspapers; Granada Television, a subsidiary of Granada Theatres; the Kemsley-
Winnick Group; and the Associated British Picture Corporation.
The sixth applicant was the Independent Television Corporation (ITC). The ITC had
managed to achieve the required financial backing mostly through a number of theatre
organisations. ITC managing to partner with variety theatre was a major breakthrough in
the television industry and something the BBC had been attempting for years but had
continually failed at.
Many in the theatre industry had worried that television would spell the end of audience
attendance and live theatre and so were reluctant to incorporate television. But with the
times changing there was very little stopping the unstoppable train that was television and
theatres had to choose between being left behind or joining the train.
Now, this may sound good from our perspective, but sometimes you can be too good,
and indeed the ITC had overplayed its hand. The fact that the ITC now controlled so
many theatres was the reason they were refused a franchise. They were now accused of
holding a monopoly over Great Britain’s entertainment. The Independent Television
Authority instead suggested they supply programmes to companies that would be given
The first franchises to be officially announced by the authority were Associated
Rediffusion from Monday to Friday in London; the Associated Development Broadcasting
Company that got Saturday and Sunday in London and Monday to Friday in the Midlands;
Granada Television got Monday to Friday in Lancashire and Yorkshire; and the Kemsley-
Winnick Group got Saturday and Sunday in Lancashire and Yorkshire.
Independent Television would not reach other regions until later years, and initially only
London would be available for Independent Television, with the Midlands not joining until
March 1956, and then Lancashire from June 1956.
Before Independent Television could be launched though one of the franchises, Kemsley-
Winnick, already found itself to have overestimated its ability to raise funds, and with
Kemsley and another pivotal financial backer pulling out, the Independent Television
Authority replaced their slot with the initially rejected Associated British Picture
Corporation, with that made official only one day before the launch of Independent
ITC continued on outside of the ITV Network by getting a deal to produce a show called
The Adventures of Robin Hood for American TV that would be distributed by Official
Films. ITC also saw potential opportunity when one of the ITV franchises, the Associated
Development Broadcasting Company, begun facing issues with investment.
This eventually led the company to almost collapse. The Independent Television Authority
attempted to wait it out, hoping the company would find a way to save itself, as they did
not want to give ITC a contract.
But ITC agreed to make a masterful business move by merging with the failing company
in a 50-50 partnership, with such a deal still allowing ITC to exist as a production
company. This would allow ITC to still produce their own programmes, sell them to the
company they owned 50% of, and also sell these shows to TV stations across the world,
and receive the full revenue.
With little other choice for it this merger took place and created Associated TeleVision,
and they were awarded the contract for both London on the weekends and the Midlands
during the weekdays. But the beginning was rocky, with the new board of the company
facing many arguments between different factions, and also the fact that Independent
Television itself, in its infancy did not cover as large an area as the BBC.
Part 3: Independent Television Launches
The opening ceremony for Independent Television took place at London’s Guildhall. photo by
Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA.
The first commercial TV broadcast took place at 7:15pm 22 September 1955, with the
broadcast done by Associated Rediffusion. An opening ceremony took place at London’s
Guildhall including music and inaugural speeches. The first show after this was Variety
which featured the first advertisement break where an advert for Gibbs SR toothpaste
was the first to be aired.
Other shows on that day included drama excerpts, a boxing match, and a newsreel. All in
all, at the end of it, critics did not really see anything special with the first showing and the
BBC as of yet saw little threat from the challenge of independent television.
Associated TeleVision would air its slot for the first time two days later. Its programming
included The Adventures of Robin Hood; a variety show called Saturday Spectacular; a
US import called I Love Lucy; Sunday Night at the London Palladium; and a drama
Associated TeleVision also decided to experiment with religious programming, which up
to that point had not yet taken place on television. It was a great success, and Associated
TeleVision’s weekend programmes became a success in general. Sunday Night at the
London Palladium became a top-rated show in London – the show still existed as Tonight
at the London Palladium on ITV up until 2017, it is possible there may be further episodes
at some point as it was never officially cancelled.
The company had also shown the BBC that independent television was no longer to be
taken lightly and the BBCs programmes begun falling out of London’s top 20 until only
two were left.
But despite the success the infancy of Independent Television meant there was still an
initial financial burden to overcome due to the relatively limited viewership in the earlier
days, the Independent Television Authority had warned franchises to not expect stability
until at least the 3 year in.
Although initially sales of TV sets for Independent Television had greatly risen, many of
these were actually just hires that could not be paid back and so it was clamped down
upon and demanded at least nine months payment in advance for rentals. This gave a
further knockback to the Independent Television franchises.
Associated TeleVision itself, despite being one of the most successful franchises of
Independent Television so far, eventually ran out of money by March 1956. To recover the
company sold shares to The Daily Mirror Group which included 29% of ordinary shares
and 25% of voting shares, and Lew Grade even claimed to have had to sell his wife’s
Once the Midlands and Lancashire had joined the Independent Television network true
recovery begun for Associated TeleVision and the other franchises. ITC itself broke big by
netting a deal with Roy Thomson, enabling the company to supply the entire output of
Scottish TV for 10-years, with Thomson’s company – Thomson Group of Newspapers –
winning the franchise for Scottish TV.
The end of 1957 also saw Associated TeleVision fully buy out ITC ending the 50-50
partnership and fully merging the two companies, this was done as to avoid conflicts of
1959 also saw a franchise chosen for the East of England which was Anglia Television.
The company was put together by a Norfolk farmer (classic East of England) called Lord
Townshend, this group included the Guardian newspaper and Romulus Films. The
company would buy Agricultural Hall in Norwich and rename it to Anglia House. A mast
was also put up at Mendlesham for the broadcasts, which for a time was the tallest mast
in Europe. The broadcaster went on to be very successful.
Popular shows included regional news such as About Anglia, The Midday Show, another
was Police Call that sort out vital information from the public on unsolved crimes, and
Round Robin Child was a programme that, alongside welfare authorities and adoption
agencies, looked to home children who were difficult to place due to things like physical
and mental disabilities. They also made and ran a popular animal documentary show
called Survival, it helped educate the public about conservation.
Other shows by the company were Tales of the Unexpected, based on Roal Dahls books,
and Sale of the Century. The company also produced popular drama plays such as The
Violent Years, Sweet Poison, and Carrington VC.
The success of Independent Television would go on to have a big impact on the BBC has
they continued to feel the heat and fall behind. Independent Television arguably
dominated from 1956 (following the initial bumpiness and financial issues) all the way
until 1962 when the BBC finally got one of its programmes, a detective series called
Maigret, up into the top 20 again. Seven more BBC programmes would get to the top 20
in 1963, and then one of its programmes got the top spot in 1969, the Miss World
This showed that the BBC and Independent Television became equally competitive,
which I guess you could say was the original intent of introducing Independent Television
in the first place.
Part 4: New Challenges and Regulations
Some of the earliest controversies of Independent Television were that on the showing of
advertisements. On a number of occasions adverts had been shown outside of so-called
natural breaks, or a natural break had gone over its allotted time and interrupted the
programme, and also false or misleading advertisements. Such occurrences were often
brought up angrily in the House of Commons.
Independent Television would eventually face much more regulation of its advertisements
from 1964 with the Independent Television Companies Association (a company now
called United Kingdom Independent Broadcasting representing independent television
interests, it includes today the ITV Network Centre; seventeen ITV companies; Channel
4; and S4C) creating a committee for vetting commercial scripts of advertisements before
they were aired.
One of the interesting things that did come about were Ad-Mags. These tended to be
short television shows that incorporated television programming and product
advertisement into one. Outside of this one exception advertisement and TV
programming had to be kept separate and unrelated. These Ad-Mag shows ended up
becoming quite popular, one such was Jim’s Inn which ended up becoming soap-like.
The programme included a fictional pub in a fictional place called Wembleham where
customers came in and talked about various domestic products, focusing on their price
and quality. Of course, it was nothing like a traditional advertisement and was woven into
the episodes crafted story, which is what made it so engaging and popular. One of the
rare exceptions where advertisements were not a pest and nuisance, but actually
Eventually Ad-Mags would fall out of favour and the final death blow came from the
Government’s 1962 Pilkington Report which strongly criticized Independent Televisions’
standards and populist policies. The report picked out Ad-Mags in particular which they
said blurred distinction between programme and advertisement.
The report saw Ad-Mags as a way to get around advertising rules and that it amounted to
sponsored television. The report recommended that Ad-Mags should be abolished. This
death knell led to the ending of the majority of Ad-Mag programmes and those that did
hold out were soon forced off air by Parliament officially making Ad-Mags against the
But the targeting and ending of Ad-Mags was only one focus on the Pilkington Report. A
large portion of the report itself threatened the existence of Independent Television. The
BBC on the other hand had managed to avoid any criticism from the report, and the
report even led to the awarding of a second TV channel to the BBC in order for them to
better compete (BBC2).
Many criticize the report for its one-sided-ness and some allege that it was the
Government’s way of putting Independent Television in its place, preventing it from
becoming too powerful and potentially too far away from the influence and control of the
The report also brought forth a number of recommendations that very well could have put
an end to Independent Television, such as the Independent Television Authority taking
scheduling away from Independent TV channels and the authority itself commissioning
programmes from independent producers. But many of these extreme recommendations
never got put in place as Independent Television itself changed enough, in light of the
report, to not warrant it.
Ad-Mags as already stated were the first casualty, quotas were also put on the number of
quiz shows and US imports shown per week, the Independent Television Authority also
gained the power to force the scheduling of news, current affairs, and drama shows. The
Independent Television companies also faced harsher taxes as well, putting a dent in
With the backlash in full swing, it was expected by many of the franchises of the time that
a number of them may be replaced in the next license renewals, initially no changes
came about in 1964, but in 1967 a number of franchises, such as Associated Rediffusion
lost their franchise and more broadcast areas were made that carved into existing
Granada Television was affected by this when their broadcast area was split to create
Yorkshire Television, and two new contractors were added to the London area. Television
Wales and the West had been broadcasting to Wales since 1958 but were replaced in
1967 by Harlech Television. Associated TeleVision took over a license from the
Associated Development Broadcasting Company but lost its weekend slot in London.
Associated Development Broadcasting Company and Rediffusion were forced reluctantly
to merge together to both have the weekday broadcasting of London, this created
Thames Television. The other broadcast rights for London were then given to a new
franchise called the London Television Consortium, who upon getting the franchise
became London Weekend Television.
This new company had been put together by David Frost who had been eager to get into
the television franchise of Independent Television ever since attending a Rediffusion party
near the beginning of Independent Television. The new company’s request largely
pandered towards the Pilkington Report, basically removing populist content and showing
quality arts and social commentary programs.
But this move of the Independent Television Authority accepting this new franchise would
show just how out of touch they were with the general public who were, not surprisingly,
more interested in the so-called populist television programming that the authority and
Pilkington Report so seemed to deride.
London Weekend Television would get off to a poor beginning due to unexpected strike
action, and an emergency television service was put in place until London Weekend
Television could properly go on air. The channel was not well received, it included avant-
garde drama, Stravinsky musical drama, and a number of shows hosted by David Frost
himself. Many viewers switched over to the BBC during this time and boosted their ratings
to the best they had been since Independent Television had been founded.
London Weekend Television spiraled until Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World group
obtained enough shares to effectively take control of the company. Murdoch would go on
to fire the top people in that company and attempted to take the helm himself until the
Independent Television Authority intervened and prevented it.
The authority allowed the franchise to remain but prevented Murdoch from being its face,
and so Murdoch and his company moved over into the US, with Murdoch remaining a
board member on London Weekend Television. John Freeman became the new head
with agreement that Murdoch remained on the board of the company to handle financial
matters but on condition he did not interfere with his own power over the company.
Freeman’s presence saved the franchise and enabled the channel to become popular.
Murdoch remained on the board of that franchise until 1980.
1981 would see Associated TeleVision lose its ITV franchise due to lack of regional
programming and production.
Part 5: The Rise of ITV plc
Yellow and purple = ITV plc, although ITV plc has the NI license it still brands it as UTV. Photo
by Dr Greg and NordNordWest. CC BY-SA 4.0. Source.
So. How did the rise of ITV plc begin? I mean we could talk about all the smaller
companies for a long time, because there were quite a few of them. But I would say we
know enough to understand how independent television became successful, how it faced
challenges, and how a BBC-ITV duopoly emerged.
Granada and Carlton would be the two companies that begun ITV plc. We already know
Granada as one of the original Independent Television franchises from its inception in the
North of England where it built its very successful television enterprise.
Carlton on the other hand did not come into the picture all the way until 1991 when it
outbid Thames Television for the London weekday license, up until this point it had tried
and failed to get hold of a franchise but were continually rebuffed by the then Independent
Broadcasting Authority until it was replaced by a new system via the 1990 Broadcasting
Act under the Thatcher Government.
The 1990 Broadcasting Act would be fundamental in allowing the eventual rise of ITV plc
as the legislation gave much more freedom for ITV franchises to merge. And considering
even before this shared broadcasting of programmes and cooperation were common
among ITV franchises, there was little reason in the way of merging for greater
consolidation and profit for many franchises.
The mid 1990s and early 2000s were a time of expansion for both Granada and Carlton,
both of whom would take over numerous regional licenses in England. Carlton would take
Central Independent Television, Westcountry Television, and part of UBM plc (giving them
the Wales and West license) to become Carlton Communications.
Granada on the other hand would absorb the majority of UBM plc (giving them the South
and Southeast and East of England licenses), London Network Television, Yorkshire-Tyne
Tees Television (giving them Yorkshire and North East England licenses), and also gained
Border Television covering the England-Scotland border region.
The only remaining franchises these two behemoths of Independent Television did not
manage to buy up were GMTV which held the Breakfast slot license, Channel Television
which was the contractor for television in the Channel Islands, and of course UTV
covering Northern Ireland. Naturally I did not include the STV Group as they still remain
The Communications Act 2003 (as well as being known for replacing Oftel with Ofcom)
would further loosen restrictions on cross-media ownership paving the way for the biggest
ever merger in Independent Television history between Carlton and Granada, creating the
now dominant ITV plc across England and Wales, with Granada being dominant in the
This company would then obtain GMTV in 2009 giving them the Breakfast slot, Channel
Television in 2011 giving them the Channel Islands, and UTV in 2016 giving them the
Northern Ireland license, leaving STV Group (covering all of Scotland) as the last
remaining ITV franchise separate from ITV plc.
Although ITV plc and STV Group are separate they often still share programmes and
cooperate, as has always been the case between ITV franchises. ITV plc also sells
advertising on both STV Group licenses.
ITV plc has continued to expand ever since, acquiring various US, UK, and Dutch
production companies between December 2012 and 2017.
The mergers and creation of ITV plc has been blamed for the decline on more regionally-
focused television programmes that were once more common. It is now a much more
national affair. Of course, the ITV Network is nonetheless still subject to strict public
service rules which have helped against dumbing down of content and potential foreign
acquisition from companies that may fundamentally change Independent Television in a
way it was never meant to be.
One example is that ITV plc, like STV, must still provide local news together with a local
weather forecast. Local bulletins must take place at 6pm and regional bulletins must
come after each national news programme.
Part 6: ITV Into the Digital and Internet Age
ITV Hub, the online free-to-use and on-demand service for ITV plc content came into
being from 2008 but did not have its stable release until 2015. It is not to be confused with
the ITV Network proper as it is purely owned by ITV plc, but obviously ITV plc holding the
ITV Network licenses that it does allows ITV Hub to survive.
And even if they didn’t there would still likely be cooperation between franchise holders to
keep ITV Hub going anyway.
In 2016 Britbox International, a subscription streaming service, was launched in the
United States as a joint venture between ITV plc and the BBC in the face of the rise of
digital streaming services such as Netflix. It includes both ITV and BBC content with
Channel 4 also contributing.
Britbox UK was launched in 2019 to compete against Netflix in the UK, this version is
100% owned by ITV plc after the BBC sold their share of it to ITV plc, although BBC and
Channel 4 among others still participate in it with content. The BBC decided to sell its
share after ITV plc announced it was working on a new on-demand and streaming service
called ITVX that would replace ITV Hub in the future and would include Britbox
Britbox UK joined Amazon Video Channels in 2021 to enable UK Amazon Prime
subscribers to have access to Britbox UK.
As well as the United States and United Kingdom, Britbox currently is available in South
Africa, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.
Perhaps one day ITV plc will hold the KEYS TO ALL WORLD INDEPENDENT
TELEVISION MWAHAHAHAHA. Just kidding.
The advent of digital television had also enabled ITV plc to obtain more channels, such as
the long awaited ITV2, followed by ITV3 and ITV4. CITV also got its own channel which
broadcasts programmes for children. One of its most recent channels is ITVBe, focusing
on reality television and unscripted shows.
ITV plc is considered to be fairing and competing better in the digital and internet age
compared to the BBC (although ITV has nonetheless been heavily impacted by it) this is
pointed out via ITV’s ability to maintain a stable share of the broadcast market while the
BBCs has been on a decline. Though of course the Britbox partnership shows the BBC is
trying to better adapt. ITV plc itself adopted a 5-year plan to better adapt in 2010.
And that is as it stands today.
ITV, alongside Channel 4, is one of my favourite channels though, and considering I
hardly ever watch television anymore that’s tough. But ITV still has a few of the television
programmes I still watch on an annual basis – Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway,
Britain’s Got Talent, and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. No judging.
CITV was also one of the various channels I watched as a child while growing up.
The Channel 4 headquarters. Photo by Matt Brown on Flickr. CC BY 2.0. Source.
Part 1: Its Creation
Channel 4 is the other free-to-view publicly-run television channel in the United Kingdom
and was the 4 national Channel to be founded, it had launched one day after the Welsh
S4C channel which is also publicly owned but not affiliated with Channel 4.
Now I say OTHER publicly owned television channel but this may not actually be for
much longer as the UK Government very recently announced its intention to privatise
Channel 4 which would leave the BBC as the single national publicly owned channel once
Also, although Channel 4 is publicly owned it is not funded by the TV License but through
advertisement. It was launched on 2 November 1982 under the Thatcher Government
as the Channel 4 Television Company Limited, a subsidiary of the Independent
Broadcasting Authority. This was set up through the Broadcast Act 1980.
Ever since the launching of Independent Television in 1955 which showed the success of
commercial-funding it was strongly anticipated there would soon be a second
independent or commercial television channel, many anticipated an ITV2. Of course, as
we know BBC2 would instead come next in response to the Pilkington Report and
political pushback against independent and commercial television.
The public and various personalities and people working within the British television
industry begun seeing television as something locked behind a bureaucratic balance of
BBC and ITV red tape, many people wanted to have greater access to the medium.
Debate on a fourth channel would not begin until 1970. Preference was initially set on
having a second ITV channel. The highly critical Pilkington Report itself had suggested
that if Independent Television were to reform itself it should be given the fourth television
channel. But there was also a growing desire for a brand-new commercial channel that
would compete with the existing one.
Another growing idea was for a more open channel funded through a variety of means
from commercials to charity to sponsorships. The idea would see the public more
involved in the production of content and direction of the channel via influencing editors.
The channel in question would not aim to compete but would focus on representing the
changing interests of the audience and makers of programmes and would give increased
open opportunity over the duopoly of ITV and the BBC.
The Government’s Annan Committee found that there was an appetite from many people
and small companies who wanted to make programmes and that a new channel could
give them that ability, and that the channel could also take advantage of emerging
The report from this committee also highlighted that the Broadcasting Authority should be
used to keep editorial power out of reach of the Government, but that Parliament would
have the ability to publicly review the channel. In response ITV companies put forth that
they would become more open to freelance production if they were to be given a second
channel, where airing time would be dedicated to such a thing.
But it was not until the Thatcher Government that a fourth channel would come to fruition.
William Whitelaw, the Home Secretary and person also in charge of broadcasting policy
at the time, laid down the framework for Channel 4.
Whitelaw supported a new channel that would not be an Independent Television channel,
but that the channel would be able to take programmes from existing commercial and
regional companies, but by and large programmes would come from independent
producers. And Whitelaw said although it would be placed under the Independent
Broadcasting Authority, this authority should make sure to prevent Independent Television
from dominating it.
The goal was for it to give opportunities to smaller interest groups and would have a
distinct approach to various topics. The aim was for it to become the third force within the
British television broadcast industry.
Finally, it came in 1982 with Channel 4, and although it is publicly owned and not
(currently) independent it is still a commercial channel making it rather similar to
Independent Television in the way it is funded. It did also used to have a funding and air
time selling relationship with Independent Television.
Channel 4’s Board of Directors were appointed by the Independent Broadcasting
Authority. The authority made sure to be diverse in its appointments, including a Tory
member, former Labour Cabinet member, a television filmmaker, academic,
representative of the British Film Institute, a local councillor, a trade unionist, a well-
known actor, among various others with diverse backgrounds.
Channel 4 was originally funded by having a subscription levied on Independent
Television companies who in return got to sell Channel 4’s air time. Edmund Dell was the
first Chairman of Channel 4 and Jeremy Isaacs the first Chief Executive.
Part 2: Channel 4’s Launch
Channel 4’s first airing on 2 November 1982 had Countdown as the first show and it still
continues on Channel 4 to this day, it is a fast-paced cross-word quiz game. I myself have
watched Countdown numerous times and was always fascinated by its iconic large clock
it used for the countdown of Countdown. I also like the sound when they were writing on
the whiteboard, and I really like the board where they placed the letters.
I never really understood the show back when I originally caught it on television but for
some reason those things, I just mentioned seemed to have some odd effect on me. It felt
satisfying to watch.
Other shows included:
a preview show which looked at upcoming shows for the new channel.
The Body Show which encouraged exercising with music.
a US-import called The People’s Court.
Book Four, a literary discussion programme.
the first edition of Channel 4 News, known as Britain’s first hour-long nightly news
programme which was done by Independent Television News (the same that does
news programming for ITV channels).
a new soap-opera called Brookside that would become popular.
an Australian import comedy show called the Paul Hogan Show.
the first film featured on Film on Four slot was Loving Walter, a sensitive portrayal
about a mentally-handicapped man.
then a comic-strip show.
and then finished off with a programme celebrating women’s lives called The Raving
Beauties’ in the Pink.
The channel managed to get horse racing from the ITV channels in 1984 and also
expanded the time it broadcast during the week now beginning at 2:30pm rather than
5pm. 1985 would see Channel 4 get its largest number of viewers at 13.8 million in
January during A Woman of Substance, a drama miniseries about a Yorkshire woman
rising to power and wealth.
1985 also saw Independent Television move its ITV Schools programming over to
Channel 4. This year also saw the first Channel 4 programme to be banned by the
Independent Broadcast Authority – 20/20 Vision: MI5 Official Secrets, which was banned
due to the possibility it might be illegal under the Official Secrets Act.
1986 would see the Government’s Peacock Report recommending Channel 4 start selling
its own air time rather than ITV doing it. Channel 4 experienced its first major advertiser
boycott on this year in response to Channel 4 announcing it would begin showing explicit
art films in the late evening, typically after midnight.
Up until this point Channel 4 had already garnered a reputation for showing more edgy,
graphic, and shocking content for the time due to the later airing of the Channel (originally
beginning in the evening hours). But the introduction of explicit avant-garde art films rated
X (18) was a step too far and caused a massive outcry and advertiser boycott. The
backlash led to Channel 4 abandoning these ‘red triangle’ films by February 1987.
Part 3: Channel 4 Comes Under New Structure
A major shake-up caused by the landmark Broadcasting Act 1990 led to the abolishment
of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and Channel 4 coming under the publicly
owned (by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) statutory body of
Channel Four Television Corporation from 1993.
The new law kept Channel 4 publicly-owned and made it so ITV agreed to fund Channel
4 if the channel fell below 14% of total TV advertising revenue, although this would not
come into effect until the channel begun selling its own airtime from 1993 onwards. The
new funding formula would have Channel 4 make regular payments to ITV.
1992 would see Channel 4 break through 10% audience share for the first time and in
1993 the channel would also exceed BBC2 in the annual share of TV viewing for the first
time. Channel 4 would once again meet controversy in 1995 when it introduced the Red
Light Zone which had films and shows that featured and focused on sexual content, and
the channel also showed The Last Temptation of Christ.
This time though the public backlash was not as strong as it was back in the 1980s and
so Channel 4 managed to push through the mostly tabloid-led attacks, and there was no
The first battle against the privitisation of Channel 4 came with the introduction of the
1996 Broadcasting Act (yeah there are a lot of these acts it seems), Channel 4 managed
to win in this and remain a public company. In 1998 funding formula payments to ITV
made by Channel 4 would be ended by the Government, the final payment actually took
place in 1999.
1999 would see Channel 4 gain airing rights for the next three series of Friends and ER,
and the first airing of Big Brother took place in 2000 which would later be moved to the
newly launched digital E4 channel. It was quite clear that by the early 2000s Channel 4
had become one of the most successful television channels in the United Kingdom.
Part 4: Channel 4 Into the Digital and Internet Age
And with the advent of digital television It had turned into a whole TV Network with
several other channels such as the already mentioned E4 that tended to aim for a
younger audience with reality television, Film4 which expanded upon the Film on Four
slots aired on Channel 4, a network of music channels, and also 4Seven and More4 with
all of these channels soon becoming free-to-air.
The online age would see Channel 4 launch All4, its online live television, catch-up and
on-demand service which is also free to use for people living in the UK (although again
watching live TV on it does require a TV License).
And later Channel 4 would contribute its content to Britbox that had been launched jointly
by the BBC and ITV in a bid to compete against Netflix and other streaming services.
Part 5: Channel 4 Organisational Structure
Channel 4’s business structure as it stands today is similar to the BBC’s due to it being a
public company, but has a few differences. It is governed by a unitary board that includes
both non-executive and executive members. The Non-Executive Directors and the Chair
are appointed by the Ofcom regulator with agreement from the Secretary of State for
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
The Chief Executive, the Channel 4 equivalent CEO basically, is appointed by the Board
itself, and the other Executive members are nominated jointly by the Chief Executive and
Chair of the Board.
There are currently eight non-executive members on the board which includes the Chair
and Deputy Chair, and three executives which are the Chief Executive, the Chief
Operating Officer, and the Chief Content Officer.
It would seem this structure is not as complex as that of the BBC’s.
The main purpose of the Board is to ensure Channel 4 fulfils its remit and delivers its
financial responsibilities. Channel 4 has a public service remit that currently aims to
represent unheard voices, challenge with purpose and reinvent entertainment.
Part 6: How Channel 4 Stands Out
One example of unheard voices being represented on Channel 4 is its recent It’s A Sin
programme, a powerful miniseries about a group of gay men and their friend’s living life
during the time of the HIV/AIDS crisis, and the effect that it would have. The show has
been praised for spreading awareness and eliminating misinformation and
misconceptions surrounding HIV/AIDS, as well as lessoning its stigma.
Research by Ofcom has highlighted how Channel 4 stands out among public service
broadcasters for taking creative risks, tackling challenging issues, and allowing a
representative range of voices to be heard.
Channel 4’s own research has shown that when compared to other television channels
(BBC One and Two, ITV, and Channel 5) they are…
More likely to make people think in new and different ways;
That they are viewed as catering to different audiences that other channels do not
That Channel 4 better challenges prejudice;
That it is one of the best channels for modern independent film;
That it shows the viewpoints of minority groups in society;
It is seen as a home for alternative voices;
That its programming shows different kinds of cultures and opinions in the UK;
Best at presenting documentaries with alternative views;
Takes different approach to subjects than other channels;
Tackles issues other channels avoid;
Is more experimental;
And takes more risk with its programmes.
And so, when you look at its original purpose for having been founded, I think we can
certainly say it has indeed made itself stand out as a unique third force in British
Channel 4 is perhaps one of my other favourite television channels, although for me it
may rank a little under ITV (as ITV has more shows I watch on an annual basis). But
Channel 4 was the first to introduce me to The Simpsons which it showed an episode
weekly at I think around 6pm.
Something else I used to watch a lot on Channel 4 was Come Dine with Me where
ordinary people cooked for each other at their own homes and they decided who was
best. And Gogglebox is something else I also liked watching, it was like the television
adaptation of a Youtube reaction channel.
I also should get back to watching The West Wing on All4. I also very much enjoyed The
Tudors and Screw and looking forward to the next seasons. Okay, that’s enough from
Part 1: Creation of Channel 5
Channel 5 is the fifth free-to-air terrestrial television channel in the UK that launched on
30 March 1997 as a privately operated channel. The Channel is broadcast by Channel 5
Broadcasting Limited which itself is currently owned by Paramount Networks UK &
Note that while the company who broadcasts on the channel is privately owned, the
license to broadcast is still leased by the Government in a similar fashion to how
Independent Television licenses are.
The idea for a fifth terrestrial channel came about not too long after Channel 4 had been
founded, with it being placed on the political agenda in 1987 after Government studies
identified spare frequencies that such a channel could use to broadcast nationally to the
A consulting firm called Booz Allen Consultants was in favour of a fifth television channel
saying that it could reduce the monopolistic power of the Independent Television network
and also reduce advertisers’ costs. 1988 would see the idea of a fifth channel officially
included in a broadcasting white paper.
It would not be long after this that the Independent Broadcasting Authority also
recommended a fifth terrestrial channel. The Channel 5 license and its terms were then
setup by the 1990 Broadcast Act and that the license would be awarded to the highest
It was also put forth that the channel should be dedicated to general entertainment, have
public service duties, the channel’s broadcast would only reach 74% national coverage,
and the channel operator must retune viewers video recorders to enable viewing of the
The initial deadline for the applications came around in June 1992 but by this point only
one bidder had submitted an application. This bidder was Channel Five Holdings (a joint
bid by Thames Television and the Italian politician and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi)
who had put in a £1,000 bid and wanted to create a network of city television stations.
The Independent Television Commission (which had replaced the Independent Broadcast
Authority following the 1990 Broadcast Act) rejected the bid and suspended the process
of creating a fifth channel.
In 1995 the process begun again and this time it would be a full national service rather
than limited to 74% of the nation. This time the commission received four much heftier
bids between £2m to £36m. One of these bidders was Channel Five Broadcasting Limited
who had put forth £22m.
The company was a partnership between four other companies, Pearson Television
(which also owned the Independent Television franchise Thames Television) led by a
Greg Dyke; MAI (later UBM plc) owned by Lord Hollick who was also Chief Executive of
the Independent Television franchise Meridian Television; CLT UK (now called RTL Group
and known for Radio Luxembourg) which had replaced Time Warner who had pulled out
of the partnership; and a private equity firm called Warburg Pincus, but we can ignore
Channel Five Broadcasting Limited won the franchise.
Part 2: Launch of Channel 5 and Its Long-Term Struggles
The Spice Girls performed at Channel 5’s opening ceremony. Photo in the Public Domain.
After a challenge from one of the losing bidders the winning franchise begun going door-
to-door to offer help tuning televisions to the new channel ready for its launch. Following
this the channel launched on 30 March 1997.
The opening day begun with a performance from the Spice Girls who performed a parody
of Manfred Mann’s 5-4-3-2-1 song (by reversing the numbers, hah… get it because
Channel 5). Other shows on the opening day included a soap-opera called Family Affairs,
a British television special comedy called Hospital! And a comedy chat show called The
Jack Docherty Show.
The channel had opened with an ambition of capturing a mass youth audience, promising
a modern alternative to old-style television channels that expect viewers to fit in with their
schedules, it promised a film every weeknight, enjoyable documentaries, comedy, and
relatable dramas, but much of this would not end up coming to fruition.
You see the irony of it was that Channel 5 had launched amidst the rise of digital
television, bringing with it many more channels and much more competition than there
had ever been before, and online streaming would follow not so long after that. Channel 5
had billed itself as a modern alternative but the reality was is that it was itself old-style in
the very sense of the word, the last of the analogue channels to be launched.
The question was… why go over to Channel 5 when we have the existing and well-
established BBC, ITV and Channel 4, as well as all these up-and-coming digital
channels… as well as the ever-expanding internet and the entertainment that provided?
There seemed little incentive to give it a go.
All in all, it probably was not the best opening for the channel or the most exciting. The
channel would go on to feature US-imported shows, films, and football.
The channel also had its own news programme just like the other channels, which is also
produced by Independent Television News, the same who do it for the ITV channels and
Channel 4. There was a period between 2005 and 2012 where Sky News produced
Channel 5’s news programming, but Independent Television News came back from
In 1999 the channel showed an edgier side when it started showing late-night adult
softcore porn programmes, going far beyond even the wildest experiments of Channel 4.
Interestingly there did not seem to be much controversy over it though, I guess it was a
sign of the times, rewind back to the 1980s and there would have been absolute uproar.
These lewd programmes would end by the early 2000s as Channel 5 wanted to up its
By 2000 the channel was actually doing okay in profits, although was still seen as the
lowest of the five channels, and with a recession soon hitting, the company lost a lot of
money, and a shake-up of the company took place. But Channel 5 continued its poor
profits into 2003 leading to another new Chief Executive and an attempted merger with
Channel 4, but this was eventually rejected by Channel 4.
Channel 5s continued struggle to compete with the existing channels, as well as with
digital television begun to become a real problem that threatened its existence.
In 2005 UBM plc sold all of its shares in Channel 5 to the RTL Group (who had merged
with Pearson Television and then became part of the Bertelmanns conglomerate) as the
channel’s main owner. The channel’s financial issues continued into 2009 and with its
share of TV advertising dropping to just 8% that same year the channel is soon deemed
too small to survive by itself.
Part 3: The Channel 5 Comeback
Merger talks with Channel 4 once again take place in 2009 and 2010 but failed both
times. The channel was eventually bought by the British publishing group Northern &
Shell owned by Richard Desmond in 2010, saving the channel from likely collapse.
Programmes included on the channel over the time period since around 2010 have been
shows such as Rich House, Poor House, and Can’t Pay We’ll Take it Away, which have
been derided by many as exploiting those in poverty for entertainment; there were also
shows such as Saving Britain’s 70 Stone Man, with many seeing such programmes as
exploitative and bad for mental health; and true crime programmes such as Born to Kill?
And Crime Files which were seen by many as overly salacious.
The channel also featured industry documentaries and imported the soaps Home and
Away and Neighbours from Australia, while importing US drama shows such as CSI, Law
and Order, Grey’s Anatomy, and House. The channel also got the rights to show the
revival of The X Files and Will & Grace, neither of which turned out to be big hits.
Although its programming was at times subpar and controversial it was enough to keep
the channel going, but did not enable it to be seen in the same light as Britain’s other four
original analogue channels.
The Channel did manage to net a big win though during this period by obtaining the
popular Big Brother reality show from Channel 4 in 2011 and aired it until 2018 with it
becoming the channels most popular show. There were reports in April 2022 that Big
Brother may go over to ITV plc for a revival in 2023.
Desmond eventually set out to sell Channel 5 in 2014 and a large number of bidders were
said to be interested including Channel 4; ISP and media provider BT; ITV plc; media
company Viacom; NBCUniversal; Time Warner; as well as a joint bid from BSkyB and
Discovery Communications, among other bids.
Viacom would be the successful one to pick up Channel 5. Viacom would re-merge with
the CBS Corporation in 2019 to form ViacomCBS and from 2020 the channel came under
ViacomCBS Networks UK & Australia which would become Paramount Networks UK &
Australia in 2022 after ViacomCBS changed its name to Paramount Global.
The digital television era saw Channel 5 launch other channels such as 5Action focusing
on action, crime and wrestling programming; and 5Select focusing on documentaries,
arts, dramas and comedies.
Another is 5Star which was originally aimed at female audiences but performed poorly
and so moved over to content more focused on younger audiences, such as reality
programmes, drama, entertainment, and television series such as the Walking Dead. The
channel has since moved on to largely showing drama, documentaries and comedy.
And then there is 5USA which shows US-imported programmes and movies.
Channel 5 also has an on-demand, catch-up and live television service online called My5,
but also allows some of its shows to be streamed on platforms such as FilmOn, Sky Go,
and Virgin TV (UK only).
Given its poor start, surge, then fall… the channel has since managed to recover in
recent years having won its first BAFTA award in May 2018 and in August of that same
year it was named best UK broadcaster at the Edinburgh TV Awards.
One of its most popular shows in 2018 (second to Big Brother) was a Michael Palin
travelogue series to do with North Korea. Such a programme was something many would
have expected of a channel such as Channel 4 or BBC2, not Channel 5 and so it became
a place of creative renewal of the channel. If you had gone back in time to Channel 5’s
poorer performing years, the talk of such a show as one on North Korea being featured
on Channel 5 would have been seen as very far-fetched.
Although Big Brother was the channels most popular show, many are happy that it was
cancelled from the channel in 2018 and hope it means Channel 5 will be going in a more
interesting direction as it did with the travelogue programme, and there were hopes for
further investment in more engaging drama shows.
Such praised Channel 5 dramas have included a psychological thriller called Cold Call
and a female prison drama called Clink. It also got rights to import the popular Irish thriller
drama series Blood. Channel 5 has since committed to focusing on more original
programming, a more diverse schedule, and introduction of new genres, including issue-
led documentaries, history programmes and travelogues.
The new focus on natural history, historical, and acclaimed documentaries, more typical
of channels like BBC2 and Channel 4, have largely been possible thanks to a boost in
funding that Channel 5 received when it was first acquired by Viacom in 2014.
Entertainment has also continued on the channel with things like Blind Date and Lip Sync
Battle UK. Viacom’s funding into UK original programming for Channel 5 was a relief to
many who had been afraid of Viacom simply largely importing US-shows to the channel.
Channel 5 also made sure to take on popular presenters across its shows, similar to
Channel 4, BBC and ITV. This can help with audience engagement and connection, as
many define a channel by those that they see on it, such as Ant & Dec on ITV, and David
Attenborough on the BBC, as some examples.
Channel 5 has also made sure to improve its confrontational shows by making sure they
have more positive outcomes and have balanced it out with more positive feel-good
shows such as The Yorkshire Vet and The Dog Rescuers.
With this change in direction and new found boost in success and viewership, the
Channel hopes to one day surpass Channel 4 in ratings and also challenge BBC2,
something that would have once been scoffed at.
BBC One and Two
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10)
(1) (2) (3)
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)
(1) (2) (3)
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