Just under 23m people in the UK hold a television licence. It’s a dynamic industry which continues to develop at a rapid rate. In addition to the five terrestrial channels, BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 (S4C in Wales) and Channel 5, there are now hundreds more available on satellite, cable and digital – and a thriving independent production sector. You can shop, surf the internet, play games, bet or buy a pizza – all through your TV set. Or you can simply sit back and watch some of the world’s best television programmes.
The BBC is the UK’s main public service broadcaster, run by a board of governors and funded by the licence fee. In addition to its two terrestrial channels, the corporation runs several digital services including BBC Knowledge and BBC Choice (both soon to be relaunched) and a news channel, BBC News 24.
ITV is made up of 15 regionally based television companies and GMTV, the national breakfast-time service, licensed by the ITC and funded through advertising. The ITV Network Centre commissions and schedules programmes and, as with the BBC, 25% of programmes must come from independent producers. There are over 1,500 independent production companies in the UK which generate over £1bn of programming.
Channel 4 and S4C (the fourth channel in Wales) were set up to provide programmes with a distinctive character and which appeal to interests not catered for by ITV and are also funded through advertising. S4C also has to provide a certain amount of Welsh language programming. Channel 4 has two digital services, FilmFour and E4, a youth entertainment channel.
Channel 5 began broadcasting in 1997 and now reaches about 80% of the population. It is advertising-funded and its remit is to show programmes of quality and diversity.
Satellite and cable services are funded mainly through subscriptions. The UK’s largest supplier is BSkyB, with over 5m subscribers.
Digital television is expanding rapidly. It has been taken up by about a third of the population and offers the potential to access over 200 channels and other services including interactive TV and the internet. The government expects all television transmissions to be digital between 2006 and 2010.
There are also several teletext services available through both the BBC and commercial TV which carry news, sport, travel, weather and other information and also offer subtitling.