> The British did perfectly well on four channels.
Yes, they did, but with the advent of cable and satellite in the late 80's (and Net-streamed channels in recent years), the number of UK channels exploded and are now probably approaching 1,000. Of course, 950 of those 1,000 channels are completely hopeless and probably have viewers in the hundreds or thousands.
The quality of British TV has nosedived in inverse proportion to the number of channels available - the "big 5" UK channels are now so bad, that I'm down to recording maybe 5-6 shows a week (it used to 40-50 about 20 years ago). BBC and ITV compete for the lowest of the low-brow now - endless quizzes, soaps, reality shows and "talent" shows dominate prime-time viewing and it's been many years since I've liked any UK TV comedy (Have I Got News For You remains the only regular UK comedy show I'll bother recording).
I'm finding that the best US shows are just so much higher quality now than their UK equivalents, so a decent broadband connection is all I need to satisfy my viewing needs...