The fourth British television network and second commercial network, after the two BBC
channels and ITV
; also one of the big five UK TV channels to have been available free to air before the start of digital broadcasting.
Not to be confused with 4chan
When British TV switched to UHF in the 1970s four frequencies were allocated to each transmitting site, but political wranglings kept the fourth channel vacant for many years. Eventually, in 1982, Channel 4 was created by the Government to break the duopoly of The BBC
, with a mandate to produce innovative, distinctive and arty programs. The initiative arrived just in time to take the final coveted terrestrial space (until years later when the development of technology allowed the creation of Channel Five
It is publicly owned like the BBC but unlike the BBC it does not get public funding. Until 1992 it was funded by the ITV companies, who in turn sold advertising on the channel. Since then it has been independent, funded by its own advertising revenue.
In its early years it was mocked as "Channel Bore" for its perceived ultra-intellectual high-culture slant, and also mocked for its early red triangle on-screen graphic warning for potentially disturbing material, which many people viewed as a euphemism for Euroshlock. During the 1990s it moved in a more ratings-driven direction and came under sustained attack by Moral Guardians
as "Channel Swore" or "pornographers to the nation" for the sexually-explicit and sexually libertarian nature of some of its comedy and drama programmes, including the debauched light-entertainment shows The Word
and the pioneering prime-time gay drama Queer as Folk
. More recently it has become well-known as the British pioneer of Reality TV
, including the UK version of Big Brothernote
. This and other developments led to some criticism that it had become too ratings-driven and abandoned its traditional interest in the arts and quality documentaries.
It now exists as a number of channels on cable and digital as well.
- Channel 4
- Channel 4 +1
- E4 (Entertainment 4)
- Film 4 (through whom they have produced a significant number of cinema films; see below)
- More 4
It was the first network in the UK to create virtually none of its own programmingnote note
(as part of their original charter from Parliament, BBC was to educate and entertain, ITV to allow competition, and Channel 4 to allow smaller production houses to have somewhere to sell to) allowing smaller production houses to take off and for US imported programming to appear (although American series were fairly prominent in prime time on both the BBC and ITV until the '90s). It also exists to provide a platform for programmes catering to minorities such as audiences of colour, people with disabilities and the Queer community. While it has drifted from this aim, it's never fully abandoned it.
Channel 4 also usually means controversy. It holds the current record for channel with the most complaints about one of its shows (for Celebrity Big Brother
). It does an "Alternative Queen's Speech" every Christmas and has wandered into the realms of sex far more than the other channels.
4's most famous show was the first one shown when it began transmitting: Countdown
It has been the UK licensee of some significant US shows over the years, especially Fox and HBO ones, including Friends
, NYPD Blue
, Homicide: Life on the Street
, Babylon 5
, Six Feet Under
, The Sopranos
, and True Blood
in particular was subject to a severe case of Adored by the Network
, with parodies suggesting that Channel 4 would shut down after airing the last Friends
episode in 2004. In 2013 it achieved a first for a UK free-to-air network by licensing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
and getting permission to broadcast the episodes in the same week as their original US airing (although this may backfire since UK audiences expect a show to be on every week without random gaps).
Its Channel 4 News
is traditionally viewed as the most liberal and anti-establishment of the major UK channels' news broadcasts, within the tight boundaries laid down by UK regulators on overt partisanship in TV news.
It has also been a significant producer or co-producer of films (both British and international) since the early 1980's through its subsidiary Film4 Productions. Among them: