Independent Television was created following the Television Act 1954. The Independent Television Authority was set up to control and review the network. In the three main areas – London, the Midlands and the North of England – ITV was launched in September 1955, February 1956 and May 1956 respectively. The shape of the ITV Network and the course it has taken down the years has largely been controlled by regular reviews by the Authority which occurred in 1964, 1968, 1974, 1982, and 1993. These reviews saw regions and contract areas reshaped and licence holders changed. Additionally, since the Broadcasting Act 1990 the consolidation of ITV companies has also had an important bearing on the direction of the network. The 1990s saw the number of broadcasters drop dramatically, for instance in 1992, Yorkshire Television acquired Tyne Tees Television to create Yorkshire-Tyne Tees Television, only for this entity to merge with Granada Television in 1997. A similar process happened with the Southern Regions, leaving Carlton Television and Granada Television as the two major players, until the failure of ITV Digital saw these two merge.
Unlike many of the TV channels in the United Kingdom, ITV is not owned by one single company, although it has come close to becoming so in recent years. Ofcom has issued licences to four companies to provide regional Channel 3 services. ITV Broadcasting Limited provides the service for 10 regions in England and Wales plus the Scottish borders and the Isle of Man, with a separate weekday and weekend licence for the London region. For the rest of Scotland, STV Central Limited holds the licence for the central Scotland, and STV North Limited holds the licence for northern Scotland, including the Hebrides, Orkney, and Shetland Islands, with both services carrying on air branding as STV. Ulster Television Limited was issued the licence for Northern Ireland and is branded as UTV. In the Channel Islands, the licensee is Channel Television Limited which carries ITV1 branding. The licences were last put out to full tender in 1991, and have since been renewed and modified on a rolling basis.
Additionally, Channel 3 has since 1983 included a national breakfast franchise for the period between 06:00h and 09:25h, with the licence currently issued to ITV Breakfast Ltd., and has a national contractual teletext provider.
Since 1998, each of the Channel 3 franchises have received gifted capacity on digital terrestrial television (DTT). As per the original agreement, each regional ITV contractor broadcasts its Channel 3 service from 9:25am to 6:00am daily, with the breakfast operator broadcasting in the remaining hours. However, unlike analogue broadcasts, the assigned capacity across DTT is able to carry multiple television services which, like Channel 3, are broadcast by the regional franchisee between the hours of 9:25am and 6:00am, with the breakfast contractor operating between 6:00am and 9:25am.
At present, all licensees opt to broadcast ITV plc-owned channels, being ITV2, ITV3, ITV4 and CITV, as opposed to broadcasting their own. Up until 2002, UTV in Northern Ireland ran a service known as UTV2, while both Scottish and Grampian ran S2. The breakfast operator, currently ITV Breakfast, is obliged to broadcast between the hours of 6:00 and 9:25am daily. Alongside the Channel 3 breakfast service, ITV also broadcasts CITV Breakfast, which is on the same capacity as the CITV channel. ITV is available all across the UK and is also available in the Republic of Ireland on Freeview and Digital satellite. Channel 3 shares its space with Channel 4 on Multiplex 2, known as Digital 3&4.