Channel 4 is a public-service television and radio broadcaster in the United Kingdom, centred around a television channel of the same name which began transmissions on 2 November 1982. Although entirely 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 the Channel Four Television Corporation, a public body established in 1990 for this purpose and which came into operation in 1993, following the abolition of the IBA.
The station was established to provide a fourth television service to the UK that would break the duopoly of the BBC's two established television services and the single commercial broadcasting network, ITV, then the only services in the UK. Though having seen new competition through the subsequent availability and growth of cable, satellite and digital terrestrial services, Channel 4 still enjoys almost universal coverage in the UK, coverage in some neighbouring countries and a significant audience share.
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 Schools Programming, and a substantial amount of programming produced outside of Greater London.
Towards the end of the 1980s, the government began a radical process of re-organisation of the commercial broadcasting industry, which was written onto the statute books by means of the Broadcasting Act 1990. Significantly, this meant the abolition of the IBA, and hence the Channel Four Television Company. The result led to the creation of a corporation to own and operate the channel, which would have a greater deal of autonomy and would eventually go on to establish its other operations. The new corporation, which became operational in 1993, remained publicly owned and was regulated by the new Independent Television Commission (ITC), created under the same act. The ITC and its duties were later replaced by Ofcom, which like its predecessor is responsible for appointing the Corporation's board, in agreement with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
In terms of the station's remit and other duties, the creation of the corporation meant little change, however the new corporation would have to manage its own advertising, rather than this being carried out on its behalf by the local ITV contractors (see Funding).
The result was that Channel 4 proper would be replaced by "Sianel Pedwar Cymru" or "Channel 4 Wales". Operated by a specially-created Welsh Fourth Channel Authority, S4C would air programmes in Welsh as made by HTV, the BBC, or from independent companies. Initially limited frequency space meant that Channel 4 proper could not be broadcast alongside S4C, though some English Channel 4 programmes would be aired at less popular times on the Welsh variant, a practice that still carries on to this day on S4C analogue.
Since then, carriage on digital cable, satellite and digital terrestrial television means that Channel 4 is now available to over 70% of Welsh viewers. Following the completion of switchover to digital broadcasting in Wales in 2009, Channel 4 should become available to all Welsh TV viewers, alongside S4C. Consequently "S4C Digidol" does not carry Channel 4 programming.
The notion of a second commercial broadcaster in the UK 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 somewhat 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 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 five's launch 15 years later.
An actual channel named ITV2 did not launch until 1998, after the advent of digital terrestrial television.
The first voice ever 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 Lord David Dundas-penned signature tune, Fourscore, 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, produced by Yorkshire Television; it is still running as of 2008 and is contracted until 2009.
Upon 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. Its new style of programming often drew critical attention, with some, such as the public-decency campaigner Mary Whitehouse, claiming the station had overstepped the boundaries of acceptability whilst others argued that the new style of broadcasting had led to a liberalisation of the UK television industry.
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. 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 also began the funding of independent films during this time.
After control of the station passed from the Channel Four Television Company to the Channel Four Television Corporation in 1993 (see above) 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.
Latterly, it began broadcasting various reality formats (including Big Brother) and obtained the rights to broadcast certain popular sporting events such as cricket and horse racing (the contract to broadcast Test Match Cricket ceased with the end of the Summer 2005 Ashes series). 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.
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, 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 re-started broadcasting on Digital Terrestrial.
Venturing into radio broadcasting, 2005 saw Channel 4 purchase a 51 per cent of shares in the Oneword radio station with UBC Media holding onto the remaining shares. New programmes such as the weekly, half hour The Morning Report news programme are among some of the new content Channel 4 has provided for the station, with the name 4Radio being used.
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.
On 28 March 2007, Channel 4 announced plans to launch a music channel as a joint venture with UK media company EMAP which would include carriage on the Freeview platform. Channel 4 has since acquired a 50% stake in EMAP's TV business for a reported £28 million.
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 overseas: Some viewers in the Republic of Ireland and parts of the European mainland, have been able to receive terrestrial transmissions from Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and some overseas cable networks, especially in the Republic of Ireland, have carried the service. From 4 December 2006 Channel 4 was officially available to Sky viewers in the Republic of 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.
From June 2006 to Early 2008, Channel 4 allowed Internet users in the United Kingdom to watch Channel 4 live on the Internet. However, for legal reasons all adverts have been removed and some programmes (mostly international imports) are not shown. 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.
Channel 4 also makes some of its programming available 'on demand' via cable and the internet (see 4oD).
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. 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 method came about by 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.
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 in order 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 broadcaster in the UK to completely commission its core product from third parties, and after 25 years in-house, Channel 4 will now become the last terrestrial broadcaster to outsource its transmission and playout operations (to Red Bee Media).
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 (potentially about to expand soon into a full channel in partnership with Emap) 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, whilst 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.
Following the sale of Quiz Call (a gaming channel operated by the then-owned subsidiary Ostrich Media) in 2006, a restructure of 4Ventures saw many of its activities re-integrated back into the main channel's operations (including day-to-day running of E4, Film4 and More4).
4Rights, was formed from an amalgamation of Channel 4 International and Channel 4 Consumer Products. As part of the restructure, much of the 4Ventures management team either left the company - chief executive (and Channel 4 commercial director) Rob Woodward and managing director Anmar Kawash are now Chief Executive and Director of Strategy of SMG respectively - or transferred to other posts within Channel 4.
In 2007, the expanding, UK-based, independent distribution group Digital Rights Group (DRG) announced an intention to buy Channel 4 International (adding it to Zeal and ID Distribution among its other companies), following a review by Channel 4 of its commercial division. The deal was completed in November of the same year The Consumer Products division has been retained by Channel 4 as part of a new, restructured, 4Rights division.
Channel 4 launched a subscription film channel, FilmFour, in November 1998. It was available on digital satellite television and digital cable. Companion services, such as FilmFour+1, FilmFour World and FilmFour Extreme were also available on some digital services. In 2003 Extreme and World were discontinued, and replaced with FilmFour Weekly. FilmFour Weekly closed in July 2006, when the main, newly named Film4 channel went free-to-view and became available on Digital Terrestrial. The switchover to digital terrestrial was heavily advertised. The adverts featured Lucy Liu, Christian Slater, Ewan McGregor, Judi Dench, Gael García Bernal, Willem Dafoe, Mackenzie Crook, Rhys Ifans and Ray Winstone declaring "Film4 is now free" in various situations across London. It remains the only film channel available free on digital terrestrial television.
In 2002, Channel 4's film financing division (Film4 Productions) was seriously scaled back, due to massive losses, although total closure was averted. It had however had various successes, most notably Four Weddings and a Funeral and Trainspotting. In 1994, BAFTA/LA (the Los Angeles branch of the British Academy of Film & Television Arts) presented a full-length film festival in Los Angeles in conjunction with the American Cinematheque (the US equivalent of Britain's National Film Theatre that saluted the considerable contributions to British film of Channel 4's film division since its inception. The festival presented many of the most celebrated Channel 4 films, and also featured panel discussions about Channel 4's role between Channel 4 chief executive Michael Grade and US TV producer Norman Lear.
When Channel 4 had the rights to broadcast test match cricket in England, the downtime of the FilmFour channel was often used to broadcast uninterrupted coverage of a match when the main channel was committed elsewhere, usually to racing. At these times FilmFour was available unencrypted and free-to-air.
In 2005 it launched on Digital Terrestrial. E4 now has as much coverage as other services available on Cable, Satellite and Digital Terrestrial like ITV2 and BBC Three. It is a very successful channel with a first look or sneak peek, with the next episode of some series, such as Hollyoaks and Desperate Housewives appearing on E4 immediately after the show on Channel 4 has finished. Also they have "Second Chance Sunday" which allows you to see programmes you have missed during the week on a Sunday. New show Skins was a massive success for E4, peaking at the 2 million mark - one of the most viewed premières in digital TV history. There has, however, been some criticism that E4 (like many other digital channels), relies on seemingly endless repeats of a small selection of shows (notably Friends), with further suggestion that it is often the same season of a particular show that is endlessly repeated.
During Big Brother, E4 plays host to live coverage of the show, subject to a delay. Until 2005, programmes on the channel didn't air until 14.00 GMT, but on 12 August 2005 the widely-advertised E4 Music airs from 06.00 until 14.00 GMT, with various music shows and videos being showcased. This however is rested during Big Brother.
E4 is widely available in the Republic of Ireland in close to 70% of homes. It is carried on the NTL / Chorus cable networks and also on Sky Digital. The channel operates a separate advertising opt-out in the Republic allowing advertisers to directly target Irish audiences. This has been a highly successful commercial operation and all airtime sales are handled on the channels behalf by Medialink in Dublin.
Channel 4 runs time-shift variants of all its services (excluding 4Music and Channel 4 HD), including Channel 4 +1 since 20 August 2007. across all digital platforms. In common with many other broadcasters, these channels output exactly the same programmes and continuity as was broadcast an hour previously, and are titled with the station name followed by a "+1" suffix.
Channel 4 +1, E4 +1 and More4 +1 all carry a "+1" indication onscreen. There was some concern about how it would be indicated on Channel 4 +1 as Channel 4 doesn't carry its own on-screen graphic. Eventually, a "+1" symbol that is derived from the Channel 4 logo was unveiled. However, it should be noted that neither Film4 or Film4 +1 carry on-screen graphics.4Music, The Box, Smash Hits, Kerrang!, Q, Kiss and Magic). Emap's stake in Box Television Limited was transferred to new owners, Bauer Consumer Media, following Bauer's acquisition of Emap's publishing and radio businesses.
The channel carries the same schedule as Channel 4, broadcasting programmes in HD when available. Initially this has been mostly American imports (such as Ugly Betty for example) and movies, however, original programming such as Hollyoaks and Skins have been broadcast in HD. Although the intention is to increase the amount of "home grown" material being broadcast in HD. It has been announced as the UK's first full-time high definition channel from a terrestrial broadcaster.
Previously, in the summer of 2006, Channel 4 ran a six month closed trial of HDTV, as part of the wider Freeview HD experiment in London, including the use of Lost and Desperate Housewives as part of the experiment, as US broadcasters such as ABC already have a HDTV back catalogue.
Channel 4 is the leading member of a the 4 Digital Group consortium, which includes EMAP, UTV and STV Group plc as partners (although STV's involvement will cease when Virgin Radio is floated as a separate company). In July 2007 The group was awarded the 12 year licence to operate the second UK national DAB radio licence after having defeated its only rival, National Grid Wireless, in the three-month bidding process.
The service will operate ten radio stations, including Channel 4 Radio, E4 Radio, Sky News Radio (operated by BSkyB and Global Radio UK) and Radio Disney (in association with Disney). Many of the services, especially Channel 4 Radio and E4 Radio, will attempt to compete directly with national BBC Radio stations. Podcast and text services will also be provided when the stations go on air in 2008.
In June 2006 Channel 4 launched 4radio, offering audio programmes in the shape of podcasts aimed at introducing new public service radio services informed by C4's values of creativity and innovation. Coupled with its strategy of becoming a truly multimedia company, 4radio hosts shows that tie in with its flagship TV hits including Big Brother, Lost, and Channel 4 News.
The successful multiplex consortium is not expected to launch until 2008. However a taste of Channel 4 Radio's audio output was made available earlier, including a revival of the channel's The Tube music programme, and a very small amount of 4radio-branded content could be heard on Oneword until its closure in January 2008.
Launched in November 2006, 4oD stands for "4 on Demand", a service which allows some internet, Virgin Media, Tiscali TV and BT Vision users to view programming recently shown on Channel 4, E4 or More4, or from their archives. 4oD also includes a selection of films and content from the National Geographic Channel and FX (UK). The cable version is operated through an appropriate set top box whilst the internet variant requires the installation of a free piece of software, which allows users to download the programmes to a computer for viewing.
The services are limited to UK and Republic of Ireland viewers only, and the internet version is at present further limited to Windows XP (32 bit editions only) and Windows Vista, PC users only. This is due to the proprietary Microsoft DRM system chosen for the service, being only available to that platform at this time. Channel 4 state that this choice of system is at the stipulation of many of the programme copyright holders, thus such a limitation is unavoidable if their programmes are to be made available in this way. At this time there is no widespread, secure multi platform DRM technology available which is accepted by the major content producers, including the Hollywood studios - although the BBC's rival offering, BBC iPlayer, has a Flash-based streaming option available on several operating systems including Linux and Mac OS. The "Catch-up" service offers content free of charge for both streaming and downloaded versions of a programme for thirty days after its broadcast on Channel 4. Some content is available free of charge, whilst most other programmes and films, including archive programming, is charged for on a per-download basis, typically around 99p per standard programme or £1.99 per film. Video can be viewed multiple times, for up to forty-eight hours after the first time it was played, or for a month until played. The video on the internet service is advertised as being 'DVD quality', and estimates download time to be around twice the programme length on an average broadband connection, though speeds vary dramatically dependent on ISP, connection speed and other factors, and may be less or more than this.
A Download to Own (DTO) or "Buy" feature is also available on selected content, allowing users to purchase a programme and keep it for as long as they wish.
The 4oD internet service uses exactly the same technology (Kontiki Delivery Manager and Microsoft DRM) as the BBC iPlayer test service that was successfully trialled at the end of 2005. However, the BBC player's streaming service is accessible to Mac and Linux users, while 4oD still remains restricted to Microsoft customers some eight months after launch. Since early 2008 BBC iPlayer is also available to iPhone users which again 4oD is not. It launched in 2007, with an additional Flash based service launching in December of that year. The BBC service makes no charge for watching recently aired programmes. It is also the same technology used by the Sky Anytime service.
Over recent years 4Music has risen, showing new single releases, as well as other music shows frequently broadcasted across T4, Channel 4 and E4. 2007 saw its own logo being devised and since then has had many themed weekends dedicated to a current band or performer. In February 2008, it announced there'd be a 4Music takeover weekend on The Hits
On Sundays, Channel 4's 4Music strand aired between 5.00pm & 12.00am (Midnight) on The Hits. The first 'episode' was presented by the Sugababes, however 4Music Sundays were meant to feature live acts and also The Shockwaves Album Chart Show.
On 20 February 2008, it was announced that The Hits was to be rebranded as 4Music later in the year, and on 15 August 2008, Channel 4 replaced The Hits with 4Music. 4Music is available on Sky channel 360, Virgin 330 and Freeview 18. (See Box Television)
Channel 4 originally licensed an ancillary teletext service to provide schedules, programme information and features. The original service was called 4-Tel and was provided in collaboration with Oracle. In 1993, with Oracle losing its franchise to Teletext Ltd, the running of 4-Tel was taken over by Intelfax, and in 2002 was renamed FourText.
In 2003, Channel 4 awarded Teletext Ltd a ten year contract to run the channel's ancillary teletext service, named Teletext on 4. The service is provided on both Channel 4 analogue and digital television services, Channel 4, E4 and More4.
Originally based at 60 Charlotte Street (the same building in which former chief executive Jeremy Isaacs later originally based his Artsworld channel), close to the BT Tower in London's film and media heartland, Channel 4 has occupied since 1994 a distinctive, purpose-designed building at 124 Horseferry Road, Westminster, designed by Richard Rogers Partnership with structural engineering by Ove Arup & Partners. Architecturally it follows on from, but is more restrained than, the Lloyd's building in the City of London, and was constructed between 1991 and 1994. It was built on the former site of a Methodist teacher-training college, which occupied a neo-Gothic campus intermittently from its foundation in 1851 until World War II, when the buildings were badly damaged by an incendiary bomb. The College eventually moved to a purpose-built site in Oxford in 1959 and became Westminster College, Oxford.
Despite commissioning all programmes from independent production companies, the Channel 4 headquarters contains a studio and post production facility, marketed as 124 Facilities The studio has been used for Channel 4 programmes (such as T4 continuity), and third party programmes (such as the base for Five's football coverage). The studio was closed at the end of October 2007.
As of June 2008, there is a sculpture outside the building with the Channel 4 logo; note how from one angle the 4 is not visible, as can be seen in many of the company's onscreen presentation.
A few exceptions exist to this rule for programming and continuity: The Republic of Ireland has a dedicated variant broadcast on Sky Digital which omits programmes for which broadcast rights are not held in the Republic, whilst some schools' programming (1980s/early 90s) were regionalised due to differences in curricula between different regions of the UK.
Part of Channel 4's remit covers the commissioning of programmes from outside of 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 UK (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 analogue 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 the Republic here. E4 also has an advertising variant for the Republic.
The six regions are also carried on satellite, cable and Digital Terrestrial. Five and GMTV use a similar model to Channel 4 for providing their own advertising regions, despite also having a single national output of programming.