British television broadcasting has a range of different broadcasters, broadcasting multiple channels over a variety of distribution media.
Free-to-air analogue terrestrial broadcasters:
- The BBC is the oldest British broadcaster. Its analogue channels are BBC ONE and BBC TWO. The BBC first began a television service, initially serving London only, in 1936. BBC Television was closed during World War II but reopened in 1946.
- Independent Television (ITV) was the name given to the original commercial British television broadcasters, set up on a regional basis in 1955 to provide competition to the BBC. Almost all of these companies have now merged into a single business. Its flagship analogue channel is ITV1
- Channel 4, and S4C in Wales, were launched in 1982.
- five (previously known as Channel 5) was the final analogue broadcaster to be launched, in 1997. Its coverage is less than that of the other analogue broadcasters.
No further analogue broadcasters are expected to be launched, and efforts are being made to move analogue channels to digital television so that the bandwidth allocated to analogue television can be reused.
The major competitors to the old free-to-air analogue broadcasters are subscription-based services of the cable companies NTL and Telewest, and the satellite broadcaster BSkyB. BSkyB is available nationwide. NTL and Telewest are each available in a substantial number of districts, but they do not compete in the same locations. Both provide a large number of channels produced by BSkyB to their customers.
Digital terrestrial television was originally launched as a subscription-based service by a company called ONdigital, later ITV Digital, which failed commercially. The digital television service was relaunched as Freeview, a free-to-air service which is promoted by the BBC. The Freeview package includes all of the terrestrial channels mentioned above, some extra BBC channels, and a selection of the specialist channels found on the three subscription services, but not any of the premium ones such as top sport and movie channels. A more limited package of subscription channels has since been added under the name Top Up TV.