Your complete guide to the various UK terrestrial TV stations
We’ve come a long way from just one station on our TVs to triple digit channels. Where the BBC was once the only game in town, stations are popping up all over the place. With that in mind, here’s your guide to stations in the British Isles, from the BBC to ITV and everything in between. Many of these stations are available on Freeview, a free-to-air digital television service accessible to anyone with the correct reception equipment. Freesat is its satellite TV counterpart.
This list is mostly limited to terrestrial (over-the-air) channels that anyone can receive with an antenna and a receiver. Like the US, the UK has a few hundred different cable and satellite channels – many of which are just UK counterparts to US channels – these channels are not on this list.
There are two types of television in the UK, there is the BBC which is funded by an annual license fee which all television owners have to pay. There is no advertising on the BBC. Then there is commercial television, which is everything else. Commercial television has advertisements.
British television is now fully digital, much like the United States. They completed the switch to digital TV in 2012 (this was done in time for the Olympics), the process started in 2007. Freeview is the main digital TV system and most TVs are now integrated. Although UK is digital, they have different formats. Some channels are available in HD – HD defined by the BBC, a television that broadcasts in 1080i resolution – that is, 1080 lines of interlaced resolution. However, not all channels are available in HD. HD channels are simply the same channel as standard channels, just broadcast in HD.
Non-HD digital television is broadcast in SDTV – Standard Definition Television, also known as PAL Format Television. It has 576 lines of resolution and is pretty sharp. The shape is large screen, so it fits most HD broadcasts, with just fewer lines of data.
BBC One – Flagship of the British Broadcasting Corporation, it was launched in 1936, and like other BBC stations, funded through the television license. BBC One is a mixed genre station with news, sports, comedy, drama and more. Landing a program on this channel almost guarantees that someone will watch it.
bbc two – While BBC One is considered the station with more âmainstreamâ or âpopularâ programs, BBC Two is its more educated cousin. In recent years, the resort has moved somewhat away from its original mission and offers more traditional rates. Its most popular program at the moment is Top Gear, and can often be a testing ground for newer programs that may eventually “graduate” to BBC One.
bbc three – This channel is the youngest and most trendy of the family, dedicated to programs intended for viewers in the 16 to 34 age group. Shows such as The Mighty Boosh debuted on the channel. However, earlier this year the BBC announced that BBC Three would be switching to an online-only format, sparking protests from many viewers and celebrities such as Greg James, Matt Lucas and Jack Whitehall. As their efforts continue, the channel is expected to cease broadcasting in August 2015.
bbc four – Adopting many of the types or programs that were broadcast on BBC Two, BBC Four is dedicated to showing at least 100 hours of new artistic programming, 110 hours of new factual programming and at least 20 international films per year. Everything from Proms to American programs like Parks and Recreation can be seen here.
BBC News – A 24-hour news channel in the vein of CNN and Sky News’s number one UK competitor.
BBC Parliament – Similar to C-SPAN in the US, the BBC’s Parliament broadcasts parliamentary sessions as well as sessions and news from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It also presents its own original programming related to government affairs.
CBBC – A channel with a target audience of 6 to 12 years old, it broadcasts everything from classic kids’ shows like Blue Peter to The Sarah Jane Adventures, a more kid-friendly spin-off of Doctor Who.
CBeebies – Original name for fans of CBBC programming, the network is dedicated to providing fun and educational programming for children under the age of 6.
ITV – One of the first independent stations to be broadcast in the UK, ITV stands for “Independent Television”. As a competitor of the BBC, it broadcasts programs of several genres and broadcasts news and sports. Popular shows such as Downton Abbey, Ant & Dec, and the original Avengers are or have been in its lineup. Unlike the BBC, all ITV channels are supported by advertisements. In Scotland, ITV is called STV.
ITV2 – Broadcasts numerous American programs as well as reruns of ITV programs.
ITV 3 – A channel dedicated mainly to dramatic programs.
ITV 4 – The ITV channel mainly dedicated to male programming, including sports, comedy and action programs and films.
C-ITV – ITV’s children’s programming channel, rival of CBBC and Cbeebies.
Channel 4 – A third competitor launched in 1982, while Channel 4 is a commercial station a bit like ITV, it is also a public company like the BBC. While broadcasting popular multi-genre programming, it also has public service commitments to broadcast culturally diverse and innovative programming.
Channel 4 + 1 – Channel 4, but an hour later, so if you’re late for your favorite show, you can watch it there instead.
Channel 5 – It is the fifth and last national terrestrial network after BBC One, Two, ITV and Channel Four. It includes both general UK and overseas entertainment programming as well as in-house commissioned programs. Channel 5 is considered the lowest end of UK TV channels and tends to fill its schedule with US shows.
More4 – More4 is a digital TV channel, operated by UK broadcaster Channel 4. The channel was launched on October 10, 2005. The channel airs on Freeview and focuses on lifestyle content.
Dave – Dave is a UKTV-owned channel that focuses on male-centric programming and broadcasts a lot of Top Gear Repeats. UKTV said the name of the channel was chosen because “everyone knows a guy called Dave”.
Yesterday – Yesterday is a television channel broadcasting in the UK as part of the UKTV Channel Network. The channel was originally launched on October 30, 2002 and relaunched in its current format on March 2, 2009. Yesterday the focus was on historic programming and aired many of the original BBC documentaries. on the main networks.
Sky1 – British Sky Broadcasting’s flagship channel, the child of Rupert Murdoch, is the UK’s oldest non-terrestrial station, having been launched in 1982. The majority of its content is multi-genre with many imported programs the United States . They broadcast a mix of news, drama, comedy and more. Plus, when most people say they have Sky, they are talking about the satellite service which offers tons of satellite channels.
+1 networks – Many major networks now offer a +1 service where it’s just the same channel, except everything is broadcast an hour later. It’s a great way to catch a show if it missed its original airtime.