Channel 4Channel 4 is a television 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 the 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 broadcasts only in England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland; in Wales, its equivalent is S4C.
When the channel started its remit was to provide an alternative to the pre-existing channels (which at the time were BBC1, BBC2, and ITV). In doing so it sometimes, in the opinions of some, 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 public service 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 of the channel 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. The first programme was the teatime game show Countdown, fronted by Richard Whiteley, which is still running to this day.
Compared to other channels, Channel 4 makes few of the programmes it broadcasts, as a result of part of the terms of its inception. Its critically acclaimed news service, Channel 4 News, is supplied by ITN and it 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 and digital terrestrial 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 also available on the Internet, was launched in January 2001.
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.