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Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Twenty years of Channel 4
Countdown was the first programme broadcast
Countdown was the first programme broadcast
Channel 4 has recorded its first financial loss in 10 years. BBC News Online looks back at its history

Twenty years after it was first launched, Channel 4 is now firmly established as one of the key UK broadcasters.

Whether it is the broadcaster's controversial programmes like the satirical series Brass Eye or imported US comedies including Frasier and Friends, Channel 4 has always tried to maintain a balance between popular and minority tastes.

Brass Eye
Brass Eye: Controversy hit the headlines
The channel has produced a variety of hit shows from So Graham Norton to David Starkey's history programmes as well as one of the most talked about TV series over the last two summers, Big Brother.

However the channel's producers have also had to keep their eye on their original remit which is to show edgy programming which is not shown on any other terrestrial channels.

Plans for a fourth channel to rival the BBC and ITV were first started in 1979 and three years later testing was started for Channel 4.


Programming started at 16.45GMT on 2 November, 1982, with the quiz Countdown the first show to be aired.

The daytime programme, hosted by Richard Whiteley, is still one of the channel's top programmes.
Big Brother
Big Brother has been a big hit

The service was funded by a subscription levied on the ITV companies, who would then sell Channel 4's airtime in return.

Innovative programmes including The Tube, Treasure Hunt and The Max Headroom Show helped mark Channel 4 out from the more mainstream broadcasters.

In 1984, the historical drama A Woman of Substance, starring Jenny Seagrove and Liam Neeson, pulled in Channel 4's biggest ever audience - 13.8 million viewers.

Three years later and the channel broadcast, Shoah, Claude Lanzmann's nine-hour study of the holocaust, over two nights without commercial breaks.

In 1992 The Big Breakfast was launched and the wacky morning show, hosted by Chris Evans and Gaby Roslin, helped Channel 4 reach an overall audience share of more than 10% for the first time ever.

The Big Breakfast ended after 10 years in 2002
The Big Breakfast ended after 10 years in 2002
A year later and the broadcaster started to sell its own advertising for the first time.

1995 was one of Channel 4's most popular years, with Four Weddings and a Funeral, backed by FilmFour, pulling in ratings of more than 11 million, soap opera Brookside reached nine million with the body-under-the-patio storyline and the launch of teen soap Hollyoaks.

Four years later and it provoked controversy again with the screening of gay drama Queer As Folk.

The racy plotlines and sex scenes made it a hit and it was later sold to the US to be remade into a series there.


However the channel was attacked last year by founding chief executive, Sir Jeremy Isaacs, who said it was obsessed with finding a young audience.

Brookside has been the channel's flagship soap
Brookside has been the channel's flagship soap
He wrote in The Independent newspaper: "To target and reach a demographically clearly defined audience - the 18-35 year-olds - and single-mindedly commission a bulk of programmes that suits their tastes, however laddish or yobbish."

Over the last couple of years, the broadcaster has branched out into digital subscription channels with FilmFour and E4, a youth entertainment channel, which it gives the first runs of its US shows.

The channel's biggest hit in recent years has been Big Brother.

The reality quiz show, where 10 people are locked into a house for up to three months and videoed around the clock, has seen some of the biggest ratings for the station in years.

Trigger Happy TV was a recent hit
Trigger Happy TV was a recent hit
However despite the success of Big Brother, Channel 4's audience share dropped to 10% in 2001, it's lowest since 1991.

It could be partly due to new competition from Channel 5 and other digital channels.

Channel 4 also announced its first loss for 10 years in 2001, but has forecast a return to profits in 2002.

Despite seeing its share of total terrestrial TV advertising revenue rise to 23.5% last year, from 22% in 2000, the group made a loss of 20.6m.

See also:

30 Apr 02 | Business
Channel 4 hit by advert downturn
29 Apr 02 | TV and Radio
New breakfast show Rises
23 Apr 02 | TV and Radio
Channel 4's stately test
12 Dec 01 | TV and Radio
What now for Channel 4?
16 Nov 01 | TV and Radio
Favourites abandon C4 race
24 Jul 01 | TV and Radio
BBC man 'tipped' for Channel 4
15 Oct 01 | TV and Radio
Michael Jackson: Media man
21 Nov 00 | Entertainment
British TV's Emmy glory
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