The television market in the United Kingdom has a very high level of multichannel homes (98%). Despite this, the public service channel BBC1 still had an audience share in 2012 of 21.3%, a figure that has remained stable over the last five years. At the same time ITV1 had 14.9% and these two remain the most popular channels. They are followed by BBC2, Channel 4 and Channel 5 in terms of audience share. (Audience data source: Eurodata TV Worldwide / BARB / TNS UK)
The UK television market is the home of a large number of channels that target other countries. These include a very large number of Arabic, Asian and Turkish channels with an international focus that are licensed in the UK. Channels licensed in the UK also include a broad range of pan-European brands (mainly of US origin) such as Discovery, Disney, MTV, National Geographic etc.
Regarding developments in the media ownership landscape, in 2010, the RTL Group sold the Channel Five Group to the UK company Northern & Shell (involved in publishing, Express Newspapers, and adult channels). In June 2010, Virgin Media sold Virgin Media Television to BSkyB (including the Bravo, Challenge, Living, and Trouble brands). The last broadcasting interests of the company: 50% share in the UKTV channels, a joint-venture with the BBC Worldwide, were sold to the US company Scripps Networks in August 2011. Following this, a major development in the market was the completion of the takeover of Virgin Media cable by Liberty Global in June 2013.
In 2011, ITV PLC took over Channel Television, and aside from the channels STV and UTV, ITV PLC now holds all the Channel 3 licences. In 2010 News Corporation announced its intention to increase its ownership of BSkyB (from 39% to 100%). The proposed merger was subject to examination by both the Ofcom and the Competition Authority due to the interests of News Corporation in media and publishing industries. The proposal was also the subject of much criticism due to concerns for pluralism and independence of news production. Following the emergence of the phone-hacking scandal involving various News Corporation tabloid papers the bid was dropped. Ofcom carried out a consultation regarding ownership and plurality in the UK media with particular reference to news media with a final report published in June 2012. News Corporation completely restructured its business in 2013: it was split into News Corp holding just the publishing assets, and 21st Century Fox with the broadcast, audiovisual and film assets.
The position of BSkyB regarding the market for Pay-TV movie rights was examined by the Competition Commission who published their findings in August 2012. The Commission found that Sky’s position does not have a negative impact on competition. One of the reasons for this was the increased competition from new services such as Netflix and Lovefilm.
Several new sports channels emerged on the British media landscape in 2013. These were launched by British Telecom (BT) as they had acquired broadcast rights to the Premier League from the 2013-14 to 2015-16 season (alongside BSkyB). ESPN were outbid for the rights. In February 2013, BT announced that it had acquired ESPN’s UK and Ireland channels and their sports broadcasting rights. The new channels BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2 and HD versions were launched on August 1st 2013.
Analogue switch-off took place in October 2012. In 2011, the Government announced its intention to launch local channels on the DTT network. Following a public consultation on the issue in early 2012, Ofcom started a call for applications for local television licences in May 2012. By August 2013 nineteen local licences had been awarded. The licence to operate the local Multiplex was awarded to Comux UK Ltd (a company owned in equal measure by the companies with licences to broadcast local TV). Comux claimed that they planned for the nineteen local channels to start broadcasting from November 2013.
According to the Ofcom Communications Market Report 2013, at the end of March 2013, 97% of all households received digital TV. Digital terrestrial television and satellite are the most important platforms, but the cable homes are also almost 100% digital. Regarding personal communications devices, the report claims that the proportion of adults who own a Smartphone was over 50%, while household take-up of tablets had doubled from the previous year to 24%. In contrast, just 7% claim to have Smart TVs.
Ofcom’s Digital Update Report of 2013 showed that 10.3 million households received digital terrestrial television (only), almost 11.5 million satellite (free and pay) and 3.8 million cable. Freeview (the free-to-air digital terrestrial platform) is the primary TV platform in about 10.3 million households. The households that mainly receive television by satellite are split between subscribers to BSkyB (over 9.4 million households) and households that receive a free-to-air satellite service. FreeSat (the free-to-air digital satellite distribution platform for Freeview) had 2.12 million households in December 2012 (they claim many have defected from the Sky service). The main cable operator, Virgin Media (see above regarding Liberty Global takeover), controls more than 90% of the cable market and launched the country’s first “quadruple play” service. By December 2012, Virgin Media had 3.79 million cable customers.
The main IPTV television providers are Talk Talk (formerly Tiscali) and telecommunications operator British Telecom (BT Vision), both of which also operate through the “Youview” platform (see below). As noted above, BT has recently launched several sports channels and holds rights for the premiership football competition. The long awaited “Youview” project finally launched in July 2012. The connected TV, VOD project linked to the DTT service Freeview involves an open Internet platform with common standards allowing viewers to access programmes from various video providers on a broad range of devices, and includes catch-up TV. The project involves BT Vision and Talk Talk and the broadcasters BBC, ITV, Channel 4, FIVE and network operator Arqiva. In addition to the 70 Freeview channels, viewers now also access the catch-up services of BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD, Demand 5 and Dave. The other distribution partners in the Youview project launched their services in October 2012 (Talk Talk, and BT Vision) both supplying their customers with specific set top boxes for accessing YouView. Close to 400 000 Youview boxes had been sold by the end of May 2013.
The UK government announced in March 2012 a proposal to extend the tax credit scheme, previously available to film production to the high quality television productions, video games and animation. Qualifying for the scheme involves a similar assessment to that applied to film. This proposal was subject to state aid approval and a consultation process and was introduced in April 2013. The government is carrying out consultations for the development of a new Communications Bill. A series of seminars on policy were held throughout 2012, and the government planned to issue a White Paper in 2013. A new Communications Bill is expected in 2014.
This description was last updated in August 2013, along with details on channels and line-ups. Changes to channel offers are updated on a regular basis.