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TV and on-demand audiovisual services in United Kingdom

Description of the audiovisual market

The television market in the United Kingdom has a very high level of multichannel homes (over 90%). Despite this, the public service channel BBC1 (with an audience share in 2011 of 20.7%, just 2% down from 2006) and ITV1 (15.1%) remain the most popular channels. The UK television market is also one of the largest in Europe with an extensive number of national thematic channels and also many channels that target other countries. This includes a very large number of Arabic, Asian and Turkish channels with an international focus that are licensed in the UK.  (Audience data source: Eurodata TV Worldwide / BARB / TNS UK)

Since 2010, there have been significant changes to 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. 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. 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.

Analogue switch-off  takes place in October 2012, and Ofcom data for March 2012 claimed that just 500 000 homes still relied on analogue terrestrial broadcasting. By June 2012 switch-off had taken place in 92% of UK homes. 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 called for applications for local television licences in May 2012. By October 2012 eight local licences  had been awarded (from a planned total of 21).

Ofcom’s Communications Market Report 2012 shows that at the end of March 2012, 96% of all households received digital TV. Digital terrestrial television and satellite are the most important platforms, while cable homes are also almost 100% digital.

In summer 2012, the breakdown for means of reception of the main TV sets was as follows:  more than 10 million households received digital terrestrial television (only),  almost 12 million satellite (free and pay) and 3.7 million cable. Freeview (the free-to-air digital terrestrial platform) is the primary TV platform in about 10.6 million households, including 4.4 million with HD services. 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) claimed over 2 million households in September 2011 and stated that many had defected from the Sky service. The main cable operator, Virgin Media, controls more than 90% of the cable market and launched the country’s first “quadruple play” service. By June 2012, Virgin Media had  almost 3.8 million cable customers.

The main IPTV television providers are Talk Talk (formerly Tiscali) and telecommunications operator BT (BT Vision). BT Vision provides a hybrid service with access to the Freeview DTT channels plus an IPTV video on demand service, and several pay TV sports channels. The number of subscribers to BT Vision is approximately 700 000.

The long awaited “Youview” project (formerly Project Canvas) 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. Part of the delay in launching the project was due to the need for Ofcom to assess the impact of the project on the market, in response to complaints from other operators. The service is accessed via a special Freeview box. In addition to the 70 Freeview channels, viewers now also access the catch-up services of BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5. The other distribution partners in the Youview project launched their services in October (Talk Talk, and BT Vision) both supplying customers specific set top boxes for accessing YouView.

In October 2011 the European Court of Justice issued its judgment in the case of a British pub owner using Greek satellite decoder cards to show British Premier League football matches in her pub. The Court ruled that provisions in UK law that prohibit the import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards are in conflict with the freedom to provide services. The Court ruled that it is not illegal for football fans to buy set-top box decoder cards from foreign broadcasters. However, the use of these cards in a pub or venue does breach copyright rules as this involves communication to the public. The Court found that the way in which the broadcasting rights are sold on a territory-by-territory basis contravened EU laws on free trade.


The UK government is planning a new Communications Bill to be introduced in 2012. Throughout the Summer of 2012 a series of seminars took place regarding the draft of a White Paper on Communications. Among other issues the seminars addressed the issues of: the Consumer Perspective; Competition in Content Markets; Maximising the value of spectrum to support growth and innovation; Driving investment and growth in the UK’s TV content industries; Supporting growth in the radio (audio) sector. The UK government (during the annual budget speech in March 2012) announced 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 would involve a similar assessment as that applied to film. This proposal will be subject to state aid approval and a consultation process,  and may be introduced by April 2013.


This description was last updated in October 2012. The rest of the MAVISE data is updated on a continuous basis.

Licensing authorities / Registers
Population and household equipment
TV channels available in the country
International/National/Regional channels
Local channels
TV channels established in the country
International/National/Regional channels
Local channels
On-demand audiovisual services available in the country
International/National on-demand audiovisual services
Local on-demand audiovisual services
On-demand audiovisual services established in the country
International/National on-demand audiovisual services
Local on-demand audiovisual services
Operators (all types of companies)
Providers of on-demand audiovisual services
Distributors, transmitters and/or packagers
Other activities