Television in the United Kingdom started in 1936 as a public service which was free of advertising. Currently, the United Kingdom has a collection of free-to-air, free-to-view and subscription services over a variety of distribution media, through which there are over 480 channels[nb 1] for consumers as well as on-demand content. There are six main channel owners who are responsible for most viewing. There are 27,000 hours of domestic content produced a year at a cost of £2.6 billion.[nb 2] Since 24 October 2012, all television broadcasts in the United Kingdom are in a digital format, following the end of analogue transmissions in Northern Ireland. Digital content is delivered via terrestrial, satellite and cable as well as over IP.
Free-to-air, free-to-view and subscription providers are available, with differences in the number of channels, capabilities such as the programme guide (EPG), video on demand (VOD), high-definition (HD), interactive television via the red button, and coverage across the UK. The UK's five most watched channels, BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, are available from all providers.
Broadcast television is distributed as radio waves via terrestrial or satellite transmissions, or as electrical or light signals through ground-based cables. In the UK, these use the Digital Video Broadcasting standard. Most TVs sold in the UK come with a DVB-T (terrestrial) tuner for Freeview – a rare thing in Europe. Set-top boxes are generally used to receive channels from other providers. Most services have also integrated their broadcast TV services with additional video streams distributed via the Internet, or through their own Internet Protocol network.
YouView is also distinctly marketed although it provides the same free channels as Freeview as it uses the same transmitter network.
The TV channels are transmitted in bundles, called multiplexes, and the available channels are dependent on how many multiplexes are transmitted in each area. 3 multiplexes, carrying channels from BBC, ITV, Channel 4, S4C, Channel 5 as well as radio, are available to 98.5% of the population from 1,154 transmitters. A further 3 multiplexes transmit to 90% of homes from 80 transmitters, and another 2 multiplexes are available to 76% of homes from 30 transmitters. The terrestrial service consisting of just the 3 public service multiplexes, available to 8.5% of the population, is informally called 'Freeview Light' by some websites. In Northern Ireland, a multiplex carrying channels from the Republic of Ireland is available to 90% of Northern Irish homes from 3 transmitters. Local TV and radio is available from an additional multiplex at 42 transmitters.