If there is one thing that we have all been doing more of over the past year, it is watching television. After all, with businesses closed, events cancelled, and lockdown enforced, watching television is one thing that we have all still been able to do! With that in mind, we are going to take you through 20 of the most popular TV channels in the UK. This information has been gathered from the YouGov website. It is worth noting that in official UK data, streaming services like Netflix have overtaken most channels, but here’s how the channels stand:
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1. Channel 4
Channel 4 is a channel that is free-to-air as part of the British public-service television network. The company is headquartered in London, but they also have creative hubs in Bristol and Glasgow, as well as a National HQ in Leeds. The channel was created to offer a fourth television service to the UK, adding to BBC Two and BBC One, as well as ITV, which is the single commercial broadcasting network. Transmission started on the 2nd of November in 1982.
Now, to the good stuff, what are some of the most popular programmes on Channel 4? You have to go back to 1985 for the most-watched programme on Channel 4; A Woman of Substance. This was watched by 13.85 million viewers. It is a three-part British-American television drama serial that is based on a 1979 novel of the same name. In more recent times, The Great British Bake Off has been the biggest success on the channel. Channel 4 purchased the programme after its 7th series, with the 12th series set to start later this year.
Film4 is a channel that is owned by Channel4. As you may have gathered by the name, it is a channel that showcases films. It was launched on the 1st of November in 1998. The standard-definition version of the channel is available as an FTA network, yet you need to pay for the high-definition version of the service.
There are plenty of great films available for you to watch on Film4. This includes Slumdog Millionaire, The Little Stranger, Beautiful Thing, A Room with a View, White God, A Fantastic Woman, Dogs Don’t Wear Pants, A Taxi Driver, Lost & Found, and much more! If you want to chill on the sofa and have a movie day, Film4 is the channel for you.
Another channel that you are able to receive as part of your TV license is ITV, and so it is of no surprise to see it featured up so high on the list. This is the primary channel, which was known as ITV1 up until 2013. This channel has an interesting history, having been established following the Television Act being created in 1954. Standing for the Independent Television service, the channel was made up of different regions at the time, with various franchise businesses running the different regions. The largest regions were the North of England, the Midlands, and Londons, which were each divided up into the weekend and weekday services, with a different company running each. A lot has changed since then, but you, of course, still get the regional news.
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ITV has created a number of famous television shows over the years. They are known for their weekday soaps, as they play both Coronation Street and Emmerdale. Reality TV finds a home here as well. Other favourites include Downton Abbey, which is a period drama, as well as Poldark, which is a British historical drama that is based on the novels that share the same title. The company is also known for showing sport. You will find horse racing on ITV on the weekends and for other major festivals, like the Cheltenham Festival, which runs from Tuesday to Friday in March. The channel purchased the rights to horse racing from Channel 4 and they have experienced great success with it, with Ed Chamberlain hosting the shows and special guests including the likes of AP McCoy and Ruby Walsh.
4. BBC Two
Another channel that is free to air in the UK, is BBC Two. As you have probably gathered, it is operated and owned by the BBC. A wide range of subjects are covered on BBC, and in comparison with the popular BBC One channel, the broadcast tends to contain more highbrow shows. The channel is also known for broadcasting some of the BBC One shows when there is a change in schedule due to a BBC News Special, for example, if the UK Government needs to make a special announcement, which we have seen a lot during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
You will find some classic shows on BBC Two, including the well-known Antiques Roadshow. Remarkably, the show has been running since 1979 and it is still going strong today! Lifestyle and documentary programs are popular on BBC Two, as are crime dramas. One showing at the moment is The Investigation, which follows the disappearance of journalist Kim Wall. If you are a fan of the arts, you will enjoy BBC Two as well, with programs like Inside Culture with Mary Beard being showcased. Some of the most popular lifestyle programs being shown at the moment include Your Garden Made Perfect and Interior Design Masters with Alan Carr.
It does not take a genius to work out what sort of programmes you are going to be able to watch on this TV channel, does it? The BBC News Channel was launched back on the 9th of November in 1997. Back then, it was known as BBC News 24. It was launched as part of the company’s foray into digital domestic TV channels. It was the first competitor to the well-known Sky News channel, which has been running for more than three decades now.
You can use the BBC Red Button to view weather, sport, and looped news bulletins. There are headlines on each quarter-hour every weekday, and there is an extended headline at the top of the hour, which will form the main part of the schedule for that day.
Some of the exclusive programmes that have been running on this channel include the World Business Report, Asia Business Report, Newsday, The Briefing, and BBC News with Katty Kay and Christian Fraser.
Dave is a channel that has been running since 2007. However, it was in operation under different formats prior to this. You may remember UK Gold, for example!
There are a number of UKTV Originals that have been made specifically for this channel. This includes Storage Hunters UK, which ran from 2014 to 2016. As you have probably gathered, this is a remark of the American version. Some of the shows that are still in production today that have been made specifically for Dave include Porters, Judge Romesh, Jon Richardson: Ultimate Worrier, and Sliced.
The channel also shows a number of imports and reruns, which have proven very popular. This includes 8 Out of 10 Cats, which was originally shown on Channel 4. It also shows a number of programmes that have been taken from the United States, including American Pickers, which has been shown on Dave since 2010 and continues to be available today. Would I Lie To You? Is another programme that has been running on Dave for quite some time, having originally been shown on BBC One.
In more recent times, we have seen Dave move into the world of sport. Back in 2016, the company announced that they would begin showing sporting events, and since then a number of boxing shows have been available on the channel. The most notable was when the company teamed up with David Haye to show some of his events. Dave has since broadcasted MMA events with promotion BAMMA, as well as Caribbean Premier League cricket.
7. BBC One
Of course, we cannot talk about popular television channels in the United Kingdom without mentioning BBC One. This is a television network that is free to air and it is the flagship service for the BBC in the UK, Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man. it was first launched back on the 2nd of November in 1936, and it became the first regular TV service in the world to have a high level of image resolution.
BBC One has undergone many changes over the years, and it has a remit to be the most popular mixed-genre TV service across the UK from the BBC package. The BBC has played host to a number of important events, including Royal weddings and major sporting events. Aside from this, the most popular show is Eastenders. In fact, when it comes to the top five most-viewed programmes on BBC One (excluding news and sporting events), Eastenders episodes feature in the top 5 four times. The most-watched episode was when Den divorced Angie, bringing in 30.15 million viewers. The only other programme that features in the top five is Only Fools and Horses, with the episode Time on Our Hands bringing in 24.35 million viewers.
Now, we have the first American channel that has really become popular within the United Kingdom. Often simply referred to as Discovery, this is a pay television and flagship channel that is owned by American company Discovery, Inc. In the US, it is the third most-watched channel, and it has become very popular here in the UK as well.
The Discovery Channel features a lot of reality television programmes, with speculative investigation being very popular on this channel. Examples include shows like Best Evidence Unsolved History, and MythBusters. There are also a lot of shows on occupations, with Deadliest Catch being a well-liked show, and shows on automobiles are popular as well. Shark Week is a popular yearly feature on the channel, which is aired sometime during the summer.
You will find a lot of documentaries on the Discovery Channel, which have been created for younger audiences and families specifically. Aside from this, some of the other programmes that have proven very popular include Man vs. Wild, Cash Cab, and How It’s Made.
In addition to this, we have the National Geographic Channel, which is a pay television channel in Britain that showcases documentaries that have been created by the National Geographic Society. The channel first started to be aired in 1997. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength and has experienced a number of different changes over the years.
There are plenty of popular shows that you can find on the National Geographic Channel, such as:
- The Dog Whisperer
- The Living Edens
- Thrill Zone
- Thunder Beasts
- Interpol Investigates
- Is It Real?
- Living Wild
- Banged Up Abroad
- Be the Creature
- Big Bang
- Built for the Kill
- Car S.O.S.
- Science of the Bible
- Seconds From Disaster
- Situation Critical
- Storm Stories
- Strange Days on Planet Earth
Also launched in 1997, we have Channel 5, which is a network that is free-to-air in the United Kingdom. Between 2002 and 2011, the channel was branded as Fie. However, it returned to its original name after this.
The company is very much known for being a general entertainment provider. Some of the shows that have been internally commissioned by Channel 5 include Gibraltar: Britain in the Sun, Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away!, The Hotel Inspector, The Gadget Show, Celebrity Big Brother, Big Brother, and Fifth Gear.
There is no denying that Big Brother is one of the greatest successes to come from Channel 5. If you have never watched it before, the concept is very simple. A number of strangers lived in a property, and they did not have any contact with the outside world. Every week, the housemates would nominate two people to be evicted, with those with the highest votes being put up for the public vote. The public would then decide who would leave until there was an ultimate winner. This marked the very beginning of reality television, and it was a huge moment for Channel 5!
The station has also been incredibly successful when it comes to showing imports, especially those that have come from the United States. This includes the first three series of Law & Order, as well as the NCIS and CSI franchises. Other shows that have been popular on Channel 5 from overseas include Friends, Under the Dome, Dallas, Once Upon A Time, Body of Proof, The Mentalist, and Power Rangers.
E4 is a television channel that is free-to-air in the UK, and it is part of the Channel Four banner. The E in the name stands for entertainment, so this gives you a great insight into the sort of shows that you can expect on this channel.
The channel is primarily aged at those between the age of 16 and 34-years-old. It has featured a number of homegrown British shows, including repeats of The Great British Bake Off and Taskmaster, which used to be on Dave. Other shows include Made in Chelsea, Coach Trip, Hollyoaks, Fonejacker, Shameless, The Inbetweeners, Misfits, and Skins. One of the reality shows that it features that is very popular at the moment is Celebs Go Dating. This show sees matchmakers find dates for celebrities who have been unlucky in love. It is showing at the moment, with the celebrities living in a mansion so that the show in-keeps with the COVID regulations.
E4 has also experienced a lot of success when it comes to showcasing shows that have been imported from the United States. This includes the following:
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine
- The Goldbergs
- The O.C.
- Veronica Mars
- Rules of Engagement
- The Big Bang Theory
- RuPaul’s Drag Race
- 2 Broke Girls
- Rules of Engagement
- The Big Bang Theory
- RuPaul’s Drag Race
- 2 Broke Girls
- What About Brian
- Desperate Housewives
- How I Met Your Mother
Out of all of the programmes that have been shown on E4, two standout in terms of popularity: The Inbetweeners and The Big Bang Theory. In fact, the sixth most watched episodes on E4 are all from The Inbetweeners, with the Home Alone episode, which featured in 2010, drawing in 3,721,000 viewers. After this, The Big Bang Theory comes in with the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th most watched episodes. The episode The Date Night Variable from the 15th of November garnered 2,803,000 viewers.
Another free-to-air television channel in the UK is ITV2. As you have probably gathered, it is part of the ITV banner! The show launched on the 7th of December in 1998. After the five analogue terrestrial stations, it had the biggest audience share for a number of years.
The channel is well-known for showing a number of American programmes, such as The Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl. Adult animated shows have also been a popular feature, with American Dad and Family Guy being the two most popular.
If you do not get your fix of Emmerdale and Coronation Street during the week, you will be able to catch the repeats of this on ITV2. Aside from this, there are original programmes like Love Island and Celebrity Juice, as well as spin-off shows, including I’m a Celebrity: Extra Camp. Finally, in-between films you will see FYI Daily, which is a 60-second entertainment news bulletin.
13. Sky News
As mentioned earlier, Sky News was the primary news channel for many years, and then BBC decided to launch their own news channel, acting as their main competitor. However, Sky News is still immensely popular today. The channel is free-to-air and it is also distributed through online channels and via a radio news service.
There are a number of different original programmes that are showcased on Sky News, including Sunday Agenda, Outsiders, Jones + Co, AM Agenda, The Friday Show, The Bolt Report, Sunday Edition, To The Point, The Latest with Laura Jayes, and The Last Word.
14. Sky One
Next, we have Sky One, which is a pay television channel in the UK that is owned by Sky. It was launched back on the 26th of April in 1982. The channel can be accessed via a number of different means. You can view it online via Now TV and Sky Go, on IPTV on TalkTalk TV, digital cable on Virgin Media, and digital satellite on Sky.
There are a number of original programmes and imported shows that are featured on the channel. Some of the imported shows that have proven to be very popular include the following:
- Battlestar Galactica
- Lie to Me
- Prison Break
- The Simpsons
- Stargate (SG-1, Atlantis, and Universe)
- Touch and You
- Me and the Apocalypse
In terms of the most watched shows on Sky One, the top spot is taken by Friends. The episode aired on the 13th of January in 2000, called The One After Vegas, and it brought in 2,860,000 viewers. The second most watched programme is An Idiot Abroad, with the Desert Island episode in 2011 drawing in 2,659,000 viewers. The show also had the third most-watched programme, Climb Mount Fuji. Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, Part one, is the fourth most-watched programme, which drew in 2,647,000 viewers on the 17th of December in 2006.
15. BBC Four
Next we have BBC Four, which is owned and operated by the BBC. This channel was launched 19 years ago, back in 2002. The channel shows a number of different programmes, including current affairs, drama, original programmes, international film, music, documentaries, comedy, and arts. It is a great alternative to the programmes that are showcased on mainstream TV channels.
Some of the original programmes on this channel are as follows:
- Hive Minds
- The First World War
- Dinosaurs, Myths, and Monsters
- Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe
- Britain’s Best Drivers
- A Very British History
- Beyond 100 Days
- Survivors: Nature’s Indestructible Creatures
- The Life of Rock with Brian Pern
Some of the imports you will find on BBC Four are:
- Inspector Montalbano
- The Killing
- Arne Dahl
- The Bridge
- The Joy of Painting
16. Sky Cinema
Sky Cinema, as you may have expected, shows films! Another great channel for anyone who fancies a movie day!
Not only will you find some of the great blockbusters from around the world on Sky Cinema, but there is a dedicated production team that creates more than 100 hours of original film per year. This not only includes movies but the likes of Sky Cinema News, which is a weekly 30-minute round-up of the latest film releases.
17. Comedy Central
We could all do with a laugh from time-to-time, couldn’t we? Comedy Central is here to save the day! Despite being a channel that is US-owned, it is very popular in the UK since the company made the decision to expand globally in the early 2000s.
There is a lot of mature content on Comedy Central, including Halfway Home, The Sarah Silverman Program, Tosh.0, and South Park.
Other programmes that are currently shown on Comedy Central include Schitt’s Creek, Parks and Recreation, The Cleveland Show, The Office, Futurama, The Daily Show, Awkwafina is Nora from Queens, and Crank Yankers.
You will also find stand-up comedy on Comedy Central, including:
- This Week at the Comedy Cellar
- Good Talk with Anthony Jeselnik
- Bill Burr Presents: The Ringers
Next, we have ITV4, which is another free-to-air channel in the UK. This channel was launched on the 1st of November in 2005. The line-up includes classic ITV action series of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, as well as US dramas and comedies, Bond films, police shows, and sports.
The channel shows live racing when it is not featured on the mainstream channel, including the Opening Show, which is a preview show for the day’s racing ahead. Other sports you will find on this include motorsport, rugby union, and football. Cycling is also regularly shown on ITV4. You will also find snooker and darts on the channel, with the World Series of Darts Finals being shown at present.
19. Sky Atlantic
Sky Atlantic is a television channel that is owned by the Sky Group. This is dedicated to programmes importanted from the United States primarily. Some of the programmes you will find having initially been shown on Sky Atlantic are the following:
- Silicon Valley
- True Detective
- The Deuce
- Game of Thrones
- Big Little Lies
20. BBC Three
Finally, we have BBC Three! It was launched in February of 2003 as a replacement for BBC Choice. The remit of the channel was to offer innovative programming to a target audience of viewers between the age of 16 and 34-years-old.
Unlike a lot of the commercial rivals, 90% of the content comes from the United Kingdom on BBC Three. Moreover, 70% of the content was original, covering all genres, including drama, current affairs, comedy, and animation.
Some of the most popular series on BBC Three are:
- BBC Comedy Feeds
- Impractical Jokers UK
- People Just Do Nothing
- Russell Howard’s Good News
- World’s Craziest Fools
There have been a number of one-off comedy pilot specials as well, such as Living With Two People You Like Individually… But Not As A Couple, Hurrah for Cancer, The Bunk Bed Boys, Chris Moyles’ Comedy Empire, Ketch! And HIRO-PON Get It On, and The Totally Senseless Gameshow.
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