Channel 4's logo used since 31 December 2004
|Launched||2 November 1982|
|Owned by||Channel Four Television Corporation|
576i (SDTV 16:9)
1080i (HDTV 16:9)
0.7% (+1) (September 2014 , BARB)
Channel 4 +1
Channel 4 +1 HD
Channel 4 (England, Scotland & Northern Ireland)
Channel 8 (Wales)
Channel 13 (+1)
Channel 104 (HD)
Channel 110 (+1 HD)
Channel 120 (Wales)
Channel 121 (+1)
Channel 126 (HD)
Channel 117 (Wales)
Channel 135 (+1)
Channel 227 (HD)
Channel 136 (+1)
10714 H 22000 5/6
10729 V 22000 5/6 (+1)
|Astra 2F||11127 V 22000 5/6 (HD)|
Channel 143 (+1)
Channel 142 (HD)
Channel 104 (SD/HD)
Channel 127 (+1)
|UPC Ireland||Channel 111|
|Cablecom (Switzerland)||Channel 163 (CH-D)|
|4oD||Main online service of Channel 4|
|Sky Go||Watch live (UK and Ireland only)|
|Virgin TV Anywhere||Watch live (UK only)|
Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster which began transmission on 2 November 1982. Although largely commercially self-funded, it is ultimately publicly owned; originally a subsidiary of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), the station is now owned and operated by Channel Four Television Corporation, a public body established in 1990, coming into operation in 1993. With the conversion of the Wenvoe transmitter group in Wales to digital on 31 March 2010, Channel 4 became an entirely UK-wide TV channel for the first time.
The channel was established to provide a fourth television service to the United Kingdom in addition to the television licence-funded BBC's two services and the single commercial broadcasting network, ITV.
- Conception 1.1
- Wales 1.2
- Launch and IBA control 1.3
- Channel Four Television Corporation 1.4
- Future 1.5
- Public service remit 2
- Carriage 3
- Funding 4
- Most watched programmes 5.1
- Future possibility of regional news 6.1
- Channel 4 HD 7
- 4oD 8
Teletext services 9
- 4-Tel/FourText 9.1
- Teletext on 4 9.2
- See also 10
- References 11
- External links 12
Before Channel 4 and S4C, Britain had three terrestrial television services: BBC1, BBC2, and ITV. The Broadcasting Act 1980 began the process of adding a fourth, and Channel 4, along with its Welsh counterpart, was formally created by an Act of Parliament in 1982. After some months of test broadcasts, it began scheduled transmissions on 2 November 1982.
The notion of a second commercial broadcaster in the United Kingdom had been around since the inception of ITV in 1954 and its subsequent launch in 1955; the idea of an 'ITV2' was long expected and pushed for. Indeed television sets sold throughout the 1970s and early 1980s had a spare channel called 'ITV/IBA 2'. Throughout ITV's history and until Channel 4 finally became a reality, a perennial dialogue existed between the GPO, the government, the ITV companies and other interested parties, concerning the form such an expansion of commercial broadcasting would take. It was most likely politics which had the biggest impact in leading to a delay of almost three decades before the second commercial channel became a reality. With what can crudely be summed up as a clash of ideologies between an expansion of ITV's commercial ethos and a public service approach more akin to the BBC, it was ultimately something of a compromise that eventually led to the formation of Channel 4 as launched in 1982.
One clear benefit of the 'late arrival' of the channel was that its frequency allocations at each transmitter had already been arranged in the early 1960s, when the launch of an ITV2 was highly anticipated. This led to very good coverage across most of the country and few problems of interference with other UK-based transmissions; a stark contrast to the problems associated with Channel 5's launch fourteen and a half years later.
At the time the fourth service was being considered, a movement in Wales lobbied for the creation of dedicated service that would air Welsh-language programmes, then only catered for at 'off peak' times on BBC Wales and HTV. The campaign was taken so seriously by Gwynfor Evans, former president of Plaid Cymru, that he threatened the government with a hunger strike were it not to honour the plans.
The result was that Channel 4 as seen by the rest of the United Kingdom would be replaced in Wales by Sianel Pedwar Cymru (S4C) (Channel Four Wales). Operated by a specially created authority, S4C would air programmes in Welsh made by HTV, the BBC, or independent companies. Initially limited frequency space meant that Channel 4 could not be broadcast alongside S4C, though some Channel 4 programmes would be aired at less popular times on the Welsh variant, a practice that carried on up until the closure of S4C's analogue transmissions in 2010.
Launch and IBA control
The first voice heard on Channel 4's opening day of Tuesday 2 November 1982 was that of continuity announcer Paul Coia, who intoned, "Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to be able to say to you: Welcome to Channel Four", before heading into a montage of clips from its programmes set to the station's signature tune, "Fourscore", written by Lord David Dundas, which would form the basis of the station's jingles for its first decade. The first programme to air on the channel was the teatime game show Countdown, at 16:45 produced by Yorkshire Television; it is still running as of 2014. The first person to be seen on Channel 4 was Richard Whiteley with Ted Moult being the second. The first female on the channel, contrary to popular belief, was not Carol Vorderman and was a lexicographer only ever identified as Mary. Whiteley opened the show with the words "As the countdown to a brand new channel ends, a brand new countdown begins." On its first day, Channel 4 also broadcast controversial soap opera Brookside, which ran for 21 years.
On its launch, Channel 4 committed itself to providing an alternative to the existing channels, an agenda in part set out by its remit which required the provision of programming to minority groups.
In step with its remit, the channel became well received both by minority groups and the arts and cultural worlds during this period, especially under Isaacs, where the channel gained a reputation for programmes on the contemporary arts. Channel 4 co-commissioned Robert Ashley's ground-breaking television opera Perfect Lives, which it premiered over several episodes in 1984. The channel often did not receive mass audiences for much of this period, however, as might be expected for a station focusing on minority interest. Channel 4 for many years had a poorer quality signal compared to other channels.
Channel Four Television Corporation
After control of the station passed from the Channel Four Television Company to the Channel Four Television Corporation in 1993, a shift in broadcasting style took place. Instead of aiming for the fringes of society, it began to focus on the edges of the mainstream, and the centre of the mass market itself. It began to show many US programmes in peak viewing time, far more than it had previously done. It premièred such shows as Friends and ER.
In the early 2000s, Channel 4 began broadcasting reality formats such as Big Brother and obtained the rights to broadcast mass appeal sporting events like cricket and horse racing. This new direction increased ratings and revenues.
Partially in reaction to its new 'populist' direction, the Communications Act 2003 directed the channel to demonstrate innovation, experimentation and creativity, appeal to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society and to include programmes of an educational nature which exhibit a distinctive character.
On 31 December 2004, Channel 4 launched a new look and new idents in which the logo is disguised as different objects and the 4 can be seen in an angle.
Under the leadership of Freeview founder Andy Duncan, 2005 saw a change of direction for Channel 4's digital channels. Channel 4 made E4 free-to-air on digital terrestrial television, and launched a new free-to-air digital channel called More4. By October, Channel 4 had joined the Freeview consortium. By July 2006, Film4 had also become a 'free to air' and restarted broadcasting on digital terrestrial.
Venturing into radio broadcasting, 2005 saw Channel 4 purchase 51 per cent of shares in the now defunct Oneword radio station with UBC Media holding on to the remaining shares. New programmes such as the weekly, half-hour The Morning Report news programme were among some of the new content Channel 4 provided for the station, with the name 4Radio being used. As of early 2009, however, Channel 4's future involvement in radio remained uncertain.
On 2 November 2007, the station celebrated its twenty-fifth birthday. It showed the first episode of Countdown, an anniversary Countdown special, as well as a special edition of The Big Fat Quiz and using the original multicoloured 1982–1996 blocks logo on presentation and idents using the Fourscore jingle throughout the day.
In November 2009, Channel 4 launched a week of 3D television, broadcasting selected programmes each night using stereoscopic ColorCode technology. The accompanying 3D glasses were distributed through Sainsbury's supermarkets.
Channel 4 has raised concerns over how it might finance its public service obligations after digital switch-over. However, some certainty lies in the announcement in April 2006 that Channel 4's digital switch-over costs would be paid for by licence fee revenues.
On 28 March 2007, Channel 4 announced plans to launch a music channel "4Music" as a joint venture with British media company EMAP which would include carriage on the Freeview platform. On 15 August 2008, 4Music was launched across the UK. Recently, Channel 4 have announced interest in launching a high-definition version of Film4 on Freeview, to coincide with the launch of Channel 4 HD, however the fourth HD slot was given to Channel 5 instead. Channel 4 has since acquired a 50% stake in EMAP's TV business for a reported £28 million.
Public service remit
Channel 4 was established with, and continues to hold, a remit of public service obligations which it must fulfil. The remit changes periodically, as dictated by various broadcasting and communications acts, and is regulated by the various authorities Channel 4 has been answerable to; originally the IBA, then the ITC and now Ofcom.
The preamble of the remit as per the Communications Act 2003 states that:
"The public service remit for Channel 4 is the provision of a broad range of high quality and diverse programming which, in particular:
- demonstrates innovation, experiment and creativity in the form and content of programmes;
- appeals to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society;
- makes a significant contribution to meeting the need for the licensed public service channels to include programmes of an educational nature and other programmes of educative value; and
- exhibits a distinctive character."
The remit also involves an obligation to provide programming for schools, and a substantial amount of programming produced outside of Greater London.
Channel 4 was carried from its beginning on analogue terrestrial, which was practically the only means of television broadcast in the United Kingdom at the time. It continued to be broadcast through these means until the changeover to digital terrestrial television in the United Kingdom was complete. Since 1998, it has been universally available on digital terrestrial, and the Sky platform (initially encrypted, though encryption was dropped on 14 April 2008 and is now free of charge and available on the Freesat platform) as well as having been available from various times in various areas, on analogue and digital cable networks.
Due to its special status as a public service broadcaster with a specific remit, it is afforded free carriage on the terrestrial platforms, in contrast with other broadcasters such as ITV.
Channel 4 is also available outside the United Kingdom where it is widely available in Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. Here viewers receive the channel either on basic cable subscription services or premium services.
Channel 4 Ulster has been available in large parts of Ireland, especially border counties which have been able to receive terrestrial transmissions from Northern Ireland. Channel 4 Ulster has been carried on Irish cable networks since the station went on the air in 1982. S4C has been available as a terrestrial transmission from Wales in southern counties such as Cork, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow.
From 4 December 2006 Channel 4 was officially available to Sky viewers in Ireland; some programmes, mainly imports, are not aired on this channel variant, due to Channel 4 not owning the relevant broadcast rights within the country.
Channel 4 allowed Internet users in the United Kingdom to watch Channel 4 live on the Internet. However some programmes (mostly international imports) were not shown and this service no longer exists. Channel 4 is also provided by Virgin Mobile's DAB mobile TV service which has the same restrictions as the Internet live stream had. Channel 4 is also carried by the Internet TV service TVCatchup and was previously carried by Zattoo until the operator removed the channel from its platform.
Channel 4 also makes some of its programming available "on demand" via cable and the Internet through 4oD.
During the station's formative years, funding came from the ITV companies in return for their right to sell advertisements in their region on the fourth channel.
Nowadays it pays for itself in much the same way as most privately run commercial stations, i.e. through the sale of on-air advertising, programme sponsorship, and the sale of any programme content and merchandising rights it owns, such as overseas sales and video sales. For example, as of 2012 its total revenues were £925 million with 91% derived from sale of advertising. It also has the ability to subsidise the main network through any profits made on the corporation's other endeavours, which have in the past included subscription fees from stations such as E4 and Film4 (now no longer subscription services) and its 'video-on-demand' sales. In practice, however, these other activities are loss-making, and are subsidised by the main network. According to Channel 4's last published accounts, for 2005, the extent of this cross-subsidy was some £30 million.
The change in funding came about under the Broadcasting Act 1990 when the new corporation was afforded the ability to fund itself. Originally this arrangement left a 'safety net' guaranteed minimum income should the revenue fall too low, funded by large insurance payments made to the ITV companies. Such a subsidy was never required, however, and these premiums were phased out by government in 1998. After the link with ITV was cut, the cross-promotion which had existed between ITV and Channel 4 also ended.
In 2007 due to severe funding difficulties, the channel sought government help and was granted a payment of £14 million over a six-year period. The money would have come from the television licence fee and would have been the first time that money from the licence fee had been given to any broadcaster other than the BBC. The plan was scrapped by The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Andy Burnham, ahead of "broader decisions about the future framework of public service broadcasting". The broadcasting regulator Ofcom released their review in January 2009 in which they suggested that Channel 4 would preferably be funded by "partnerships, joint ventures or mergers".
Channel 4 is a "publisher-broadcaster", meaning that it commissions or "buys" all of its programming from companies independent of itself, and was the first broadcaster in the United Kingdom to do so on any significant scale. This had the consequence of starting an industry of production companies that did not have to rely on owning an ITV licence to see their programmes air, though since Channel 4, external commissioning has become regular practise on the numerous stations that have launched since, as well as on the BBC and in ITV (where a quota of 25% minimum of total output has been imposed since the 1990 Broadcasting Act came into force). Ironically, having been the first British broadcaster to completely commission its programmes from third parties, Channel 4 was the last terrestrial broadcaster to outsource its transmission and playout operations (to Red Bee Media), after 25 years in-house.
The requirement to obtain all content externally is stipulated in its licence. Additionally, Channel 4 also began a trend of owning the copyright and distribution rights of the programmes it aired, in a manner that is similar to the major Hollywood studios' ownership of television programs that they did not directly produce. Thus, although Channel 4 does not produce programmes, many are seen as belonging to it.
Channel 4 also pioneered the concept of stranded programming, where seasons of programmes following a common theme would be aired and promoted together. Some would be very specific, and run for a fixed period of time; the 4 Mation season, for example, showed innovative animation. Other, less specific strands, were (and still are) run regularly, such as T4, a strand of programming aimed at teenagers, on weekend mornings (and weekdays during school/college holidays); Friday Night Comedy, a slot where the channel would pioneer its style of comedy commissions, 4Music (now a separate channel) and 4Later, an eclectic collection of offbeat programmes transmitted to a cult audience in the early hours of the morning.
In its earlier years, Red Triangle was the name given to the airing of certain risqué art-house films due to the use of a red triangle DOG in the upper right of the screen, dubbed as being pornographic by many of Channel 4's critics, while general broadcasting of films on the station for many years came under the banner of Film on Four prior to the launch of the FilmFour brand and station in the late 1990s.
Most watched programmesThe following is a list of the ten most watched shows on Channel 4 since 2002, based on Live +7 data supplied by BARB.
|Rank||Series title||Viewers (millions)||Date|
|1||Big Brother||10.01||26 July 2002|
|2||Friends||9.64||28 May 2004|
|3||Big Brother||8.98||6 August 2004|
|4||The Grand National 2013||8.98||6 April 2013|
|5||Big Fat Gypsy Weddings||8.80||8 February 2011|
|6||Celebrity Big Brother||8.78||19 January 2007|
|7||Big Brother||8.54||26 July 2002|
|8||Big Brother||8.20||18 August 2006|
|9||Big Fat Gypsy Weddings||8.05||15 February 2011|
|10||Big Fat Gypsy Weddings||8.03||1 February 2011|
Channel 4 has, since its inception, broadcast identical programmes and continuity throughout the United Kingdom (excluding Wales where it did not operate on analogue transmitters). At launch this made it unique, as both the BBC and ITV had long established traditions of providing regional variations in their programming and announcements between transmitters in different areas of the country (although in the case of BBC2, variations have by and large tended to be limited to national idents as opposed to regional ones). In ITV's case, this was a consequence of its inherent federal structure (see ITV companies). Since the launch of subsequent British television channels, Channel 4 has become typical in its lack of variations of this nature.
A few exceptions exist to this rule for programming and continuity: Ireland has a dedicated variant broadcast on Sky Ireland which omits programmes for which broadcast rights are not held in Ireland. For example, the series Glee is not available on Channel 4 on Sky in Ireland.
Some of Channel 4's schools' programming (1980s/early '90s) were regionalised due to differences in curricula between different regions.
Part of Channel 4's remit covers the commissioning of programmes from outside London. Channel 4 has a dedicated director of nations and regions, Stuart Cosgrove, who is based in a regional office in Glasgow. As his job title suggests, it is his responsibility to foster relations with independent producers based in areas of the United Kingdom (including Wales) outside of London.
Advertising on Channel 4 does contain regular variation: prior to 1993, when ITV was responsible for selling Channel 4's advertising, each regional ITV company would provide the content of advertising breaks, covering the same transmitter area as themselves, and these breaks were often unique to that area. After Channel 4 became responsible for its own advertising, it continued to offer advertisers the ability to target particular audiences and divided its coverage area into six parts coining the term 'LEMNUS' standing for "London, The East [and South] of England, The Midlands, The North of England, Ulster and Scotland.
At present, Wales does not have its own advertising region, instead its viewers receive the southern region on digital platforms intentionally broadcast to the area, or the neighbouring region where terrestrial transmissions spill over into Wales. The Republic of Ireland shares its advertising region with Northern Ireland (referred to by Channel 4 as the 'Ulster Macro') with many advertisers selling products for Ireland here. E4 has an advertising variant for Ireland, although Northern Ireland receives the UK version of E4. The six regions are also carried on satellite, cable and Digital Terrestrial.
Future possibility of regional news
With ITV plc pushing for much looser requirements on the amount of regional news and other programming it is obliged to broadcast in its ITV regions, the idea of Channel 4 taking on a regional news commitment has been considered, with the corporation in talks with Ofcom and ITV over the matter. Channel 4 believe that a scaling-back of such operations on ITV's part would be detrimental to Channel 4's national news operation, which shares much of its resources with ITV through their shared news contractor ITN. At the same time, Channel 4 also believe that such an additional public service commitment would bode well in on-going negotiations with Ofcom in securing additional funding for its other public service commitments.
Channel 4 HD
Previously, in the summer of 2006, Channel 4 ran a six-month closed trial of HDTV, as part of the wider Freeview HD experiment via the Crystal Palace transmitter to London and parts of the home counties, including the use of Lost and Desperate Housewives as part of the experiment, as US broadcasters such as ABC already have an HDTV back catalogue.
On 10 December 2007, Channel 4 launched a high definition television simulcast of Channel 4 on Sky's digital satellite platform, after Sky agreed to contribute toward the channel's satellite distribution costs. It was the first full-time high definition channel from a terrestrial UK broadcaster.
On 31 July 2009, Virgin Media added Channel 4 HD on channel 146 (now on channel 142) as a part of the M pack. On 25 March 2010 Channel 4 HD appeared on Freeview channel 52 with a placeholding caption, ahead of a commercial launch on 30 March 2010, coinciding with the commercial launch of Freeview HD. On 19 April 2011, Channel 4 HD was added to Freesat on channel 126. As a consequence, the channel moved from being free-to-view to free-to-air on satellite during March 2011. With the closure of S4C Clirlun in Wales on 1 December 2012, on Freeview, Channel 4 HD launched in Wales on 2 December 2012.
The channel carries the same schedule as Channel 4, broadcasting programmes in HD when available, acting as a simulcast. Therefore SD programming is broadcast upscaled to HD.
On 1 July 2014, Channel 4 +1 HD, a timeshift of Channel 4 HD, launched on Freeview channel 110.
4oD is a video on demand service from Channel 4. Launched in November 2006, 4oD stands for "4 on Demand". The service offers a variety of programmes recently shown on Channel 4, E4, More4 or from their archives, though some programmes and movies are not available due to rights issues.
Channel 4 originally licensed an ancillary teletext service to provide schedules, programme information and features. The original service was called 4-Tel, and was produced by Intelfax, a company set up especially for the purpose. It was carried in the 400s on Oracle. In 1993, with Oracle losing its franchise to Teletext Ltd, 4-Tel found a new home in the 300s, and had its name shown in the header row. Intelfax continued to produce the service  and in 2002 it was renamed FourText.
Teletext on 4
In 2003, Channel 4 awarded Teletext Ltd a ten-year contract to run the channel's ancillary teletext service, named Teletext on 4. This has now ceased and Teletext is no longer available on Channel 4, ITV and Channel 5.
- Annan Committee
- Channel 4 Sheffield Pitch competition
- List of television stations in the United Kingdom
- 3 Minute Wonder
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