Prior to 20 August 2007, in addition to the main channel, Film4 also operated a one-hour-timeshifted variant, Film4+1, on satellite, cable and Freeview. This channel was dropped on Freeview to make way for Channel 4+1 yet continues to be broadcast on Sky, Virgin and Freesat services. Tiscali TV offers the non time-shifted channel along with a Video on demand service, Film4 on Demand.
Film4 broadcasts from 1:00 pm to about 3:30 am. Unlike its rivals, Film4 does not focus on broadcasting blockbusters. Instead, it aims for a more niche and highbrow market by showing a mixture of old and new independent, arthouse, British, foreign language and specialist cinema, along with some critically-acclaimed Hollywood films. The channel frequently has themed nights or seasons in which a number of films centred around one genre, director or actor are shown. As Channel 4 also owns a film production company, Film4 Productions, it shows many of its products.
Occasional non-film (but film-related) programmes are also shown.
Film4 was originally known as FilmFour and became Channel 4's second channel (after Channel 4 itself) when it launched on 1 November 1998. It was a subscription-only service available on satellite television via the Sky Digital platform, Digital terrestrial via ITV Digital (until the platform went into administration in 2002), and most UK cable services. It cost £5.99 or £6.00 a month (depending on platform), eventually rising to up to £7. The launch night, which was also broadcast on Channel 4, was hosted by Johnny Vaughan and the first film to be shown was What's Eating Gilbert Grape.
Later, additional channels were added, FilmFour World and FilmFour Extreme which operated on a timeshare and the time-shift channel FilmFour +1. FilmFour World and Extreme were discontinued in 2003 and replaced by FilmFour Weekly, which screened four films across the week at the same time each day to make it easier to catch a film at least once . FilmFour Weekly ceased broadcasting on 19 July 2006 when the subscription service ended.
The subscription service ended on 19 July 2006 and the channel re-launched (under the slightly modified name of Film4) as a free-to-air service a few days later on 23 July. When the channel became free, it also returned to digital terrestrial as part of the Freeview brand, and became completely free-to-air on satellite television. Due to the change, the channel's availability increased from 300,000 (subscribers) to 18 million households. It also changed its broadcasting hours to 3:00 pm - 3:00 am, and commercial breaks were included during films for the first time. The first film broadcast under the new format was the British non-subscription television premiere of Lost in Translation. It remains the only free film channel available on digital terrestrial television.
Film4's rival, Sky Movies, has countered this with a new advertisement. Sky's advert shows a shot of a tomato and a lobster sitting next to a small sign with the words "FILMS AD FREE" appearing on it, a sly play on the words of Film4's own slogan. The ad then shows clips from films starring the above celebrities, all of which are available on Sky Movies. Unlike Film4, Sky Movies does not broadcast adverts during films (although it does show adverts between films). However, Sky Movies can only be viewed as part of a subscription package with a minimum cost of £34 per month. Sky Movies had also been advertising its World Cinema strand, which competes with Film4's speciality of independent and foreign films.