Channel 4television broadcaster in the United Kingdom (see British television), launched on November 2, 1982. Like the BBC, it has a public service remit and is operated by a non-profit corporation; unlike the BBC, it is funded by advertising rather than a licence fee. It is thus a hybrid of public and commercial broadcasting. It also has a remit to provide educational content for schools. Channel 4 nominally broadcasts only in England, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland; in Wales, its equivalent is S4C. However many television viewers in Wales receive Channel 4 due to being tuned into broadcasts from the nearest English transmitter, either for reasons of reception or so as to access Channel 4. In recent years the introduction of digital television has also allowed Channel 4 to be broadcast alongside S4C.
From the start, the channel set out to provide an alternative to the existing channels (which at the time were BBC1, BBC2, and ITV). In doing so it sometimes, in the eyes of its critics (who included the public decency campaigner Mary Whitehouse), overstepped the boundaries of acceptability, but it has arguably led to a liberalisation of the UK television industry.
Initially, the station was managed by the Independent Broadcasting Authority through subscription from the ITV franchise holders. In return, advertising on the channel (and advertising revenue) was handled by the ITV regions, thus overcoming any problems a public service broadcaster might have in attracting commercial advertisers.
In 1990, a new Thatcherite broadcasting act altered the organisation of Channel 4, transforming it into a public corporation with a board partly appointed by the new Independent Television Commission. While its original remit was preserved, the channel now had to manage its own advertising (a potential disaster for a public service broadcaster), with a 'safety net' guaranteed minimum income should the revenue fall too low (which it so far has not). This safety net was funded by large insurance payments which the company had to make to the ITV companies. These premiums were phased out by the government in 1998.
One of the channel's strengths is its comedy. In the early days they screened The Comic Strip Presents, a highly innovative series of hour-long one-off comedies produced by a rotating line-up of alternative comedians such as Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Peter Cook, Peter Richardson, and Alexei Sayle. Latterly they have have aired cutting-edge comedy shows such as Brass Eye, The Mark Thomas Product, and Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights.
The first voice ever heard on Channel 4 was that of continuity announcer Paul Coia, who intoned, "Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to be able to say to you: Welcome to Channel Four", before heading into a montage of clips from its programmes set to the station's signature tune, "Fourscore", which would form the basis of the station's jingles for its first decade. The first programme to air on the channel was the teatime game show Countdown, produced by Yorkshire Television and fronted by Richard Whiteley; it is still running to this day.
In contrast to the other terrestrial TV channels, Channel 4 makes few of the programmes it broadcasts, partly as a result of the terms under which it was founded. Its critically acclaimed news service, Channel 4 News, is supplied by ITN, and the channel commissions many of its programmes from independent producers.
Channel 4 launched a subscription film channel, FilmFour, in November 1998. It is available on analogue and digital satellite television. Companion services, such as FilmFour +1, FilmFour World, FilmFour Extreme, and the recently launched Film Four Weekly are also available on some digital services. E4, a digital entertainment channel previously available on the Internet, was launched in January 2001. Rumours also suggest that later in 2004, Channel 4 will introduce a new digital channel under the working title of 'More4' which will cater for older audiences, by accessing Channel 4's vast archive of documentary and history programmes.
Channel 4 has had a long record of success in funding the production of films through Channel Four Films, later renamed FilmFour in 1998 to coincide with the launch of its digital channels. Among its biggest successes are The Madness of King George, The Crying Game, and Four Weddings and a Funeral. However, this dedicated film-making wing was effectively closed in 2002 as a cost-cutting measure in the face of substantial losses.
For years, Channel 4 has broadcast episodes of the most popular sitcoms from the United States on Friday nights. In early 2004, Friday-night sitcoms on Channel 4 included Friends, Sex and the City and Will & Grace.
It may be worth noting that Channel 4 and its associated channels do not cut programmes or movies for commercial timing purposes.