Guide to TV in the UK

With hundreds and hundreds of TV channels to choose from, and thousands and thousands of programmes, it can be hard to know where to start. This guide will explain why TV is such an important part of British culture, describe each of the main channels in the UK, and provide information about TV licences, and whether or not you need to have one.

Square eyes

Since the invention of television at the start of the last century, the amount of time we spend watching the box has grown and grown. The average UK viewer now watches more than three and a half hours a day, so of course it has a massive impact on our lives. TV is how many of us learn about the world, what we talk about, discuss on social media, laugh at, cry at, it’s how we keep children distracted, how we learn to cook, how we relax. Which is why it’s important to choose what you watch carefully, especially when you’re spending over a decade of your life in front of the TV screen. 

Channel guide

Channel
What’s on?
Programme pick
BBC1
current affairs, documentaries, drama, sport
Planet Earth II
BBC2
documentaries, comedy, drama and music
Later... with Jools Holland
BBC4
culture, arts, world cinema, science and history
The Thick of It
ITV
soap operas, chat shows, talent shows, drama
Britain's Got Talent
ITV2
reality TV, game shows
Love Island
ITV4
sport and cult classics
Tour de France Live
Channel 4
comedy, drama, panel shows
Peep Show
E4
drama and comedy aimed at young people
Made in Chelsea

Do I need a TV licence?

You’ll need a TV licence if you want to watch or record programmes on a device (TV, computer, tablet etc.) as they’re broadcast, or if you want to watch or download BBC programmes on iPlayer. A TV licence covers all devices in one property, and costs £147. You don’t need one to watch videos, DVDs, online catch-up services (apart from the BBC), or online video clips (YouTube etc.). You could be fined £1000 if you’re caught watching without a valid TV licence. 

Comedy TV on travel TV

Cultural immersion

Watching TV is one of the best ways to learn about the language and culture of the UK. You get exposure to a wide range of different regional accents, it’s not just the Queen’s English anymore. An insight into the British way of life. You’ll understand the random references people make when they talk to you. I probably use quotes from my favourite TV programmes in conversation at least a few times every day. 

Television, don’t go to my head

“Television is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome.” T.S. Eliot

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” Groucho Marx

“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace.” John Lennon

Follow Living Abroad on Facebook for more expat tips and travel inspiration!

About the author

Joseph

Leaving rainy Plymouth to move to cold and rainy Hamburg, Joseph has been trying to pronounce ridiculously long German words ever since. If he’s not drinking a cool Weizenbier he spends his time on his bike or reading books by the river. Now working as an intern at bab.la.