More cuts will shake S4C’s foundations

Ian Jones says sustaining the channel’s funding is not a matter of good fortune but convincing arguments

Like any other aspect of life, broadcasting is always changing, and no good will come of trying to prevent that. Instead, we must move with the times, evolve to embrace new practices and exploit new developments happening around us. I hope that, by nature, I have a positive outlook – I see problems as opportunities, obstacles as challenges, and I am determined to do my best to ensure stability for S4C over the coming years.

Achieving this will depend on our aspirations as a country, which includes Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers, and the way we come together and unite against the threats facing the channel. We must be realistic at a time of economic austerity, but we must not be discouraged.

Somebody recently said to me: “Isn’t it fortunate that the government didn’t cut the £7 million from S4C’s budget for 2015-16.”  In actual fact, this had nothing to do with luck. As a Channel, we cannot survive by depending on good and bad fortune. Behind the scenes, the Channel’s officers, Authority members, politicians from all parties and producers from across Wales worked tirelessly to convince the Government in Westminster that this money should be protected. Mature and responsible arguments were made regarding the Government’s statutory duty to ensure “sufficient funding” for S4C, the responsibility to consider value for money in a just manner, and the effect of cuts on a unique service that is already feeling the pinch.

However, we cannot rest on our laurels either. Our next task will be to face the period post 2016, as the Government’s contribution to S4C’s coffers was only protected for a year. More hard work, more collaboration and more persuasion are all needed in order to protect each and every penny for the future.

Earlier this year, the independent review by the research company Arad showed that for every £1 of S4C expenditure in the creative industries an economic impact of nearly £2 is seen on those industries in Wales. However, having already lost 36 per cent of our funding in real terms since 2010, any further cuts would be detrimental to the economy and would cut the core service to the quick.

S4C’s Annual Report for 2012, which was published recently, shows that the cost of S4C programming decreased substantially during that year. This was no mean feat, not least since standards were maintained at the same time. We acknowledge the independent sector’s achievement in realising this, but we must accept that the biggest savings have now been made. We must acknowledge that any savings in the future will be on a much smaller scale. Such significant reductions will not be possible again without shaking the foundations.

My hope would be to see this coming period as an opportunity to reinforce what we have, and create long-term stability.  Regaining sustainable financial stability in the industry will be tough, but we can succeed. I say that knowing that S4C has no financial security after 2017, as it is the licence fee that provides the majority of our funding, and the BBC’s charter will be reviewed then. Therefore, between now and then, we will support the BBC in every way possible to ensure a fair settlement in terms of the licence fee.

This time last year, I mentioned that the channel would consider relocating if that satisfied a number of conditions, namely that it was practical, cost-neutral and financially sustainable for S4C – but more importantly, that we could create new linguistic and economic benefits for other parts of Wales. A feasibility study was conducted which has suggested some very exciting possibilities and developments, and we’re continuing with that work. It’s too early to make the final announcement now, but when the time comes, you will see that we are aiming for a situation which not only satisfies the conditions that I mentioned, but is also an important step towards reinforcing the Welsh language at a community level.

When S4C published its Annual Report recently, the press focused on the decline in viewers on the whole, which we cannot deny when you compare 2012 with the previous year, although I would argue that there are specific reasons for this. But if we look at the bigger picture and consider the pattern over four years, we see that the number of viewers has remained relatively stable, with approximately 450,000 people in Wales tuning into the service, on average, each week.  And during 2012, more than 5 million people across the United Kingdom watched S4C – a total that has increased significantly over the years.

We shouldn’t disregard the fact that our online following is increasing, and that the Clic service is still growing – last year, there were 2.8 million viewing sessions – an increase of 11 per cent from 2011. Despite this, sadly, those figures are not taken into consideration. For me personally, using one simple performance measure to assess success is no longer enough, considering the multi-platform world we now live in.

And in this new world, I am very pleased that we are announcing today that S4C content will appear on a range of new digital platforms. This includes YouView, YouTube and the BBC iPlayer which will provide approximately 650 new platforms where S4C’s programmes will be available.  This is a very exciting development for us. It shows how determined we are to ensure that S4C is available in as many ways as possible.  Our presence on the iPlayer in particular is an example of the positive partnership that has developed between S4C and the BBC.

Maybe the biggest challenge we face is that S4C is expected to be “everything to everybody”.  We must continue to do that by providing a wide range of content which can be accessed anytime, anyplace, by anyone.  We accept that challenge, and will turn it into exciting developments across the different platforms.

Ian Jones is Chief Executive of S4C

One thought on “More cuts will shake S4C’s foundations

  1. The fact that we have not seen any more stories in the press about S4C since Ian Jones’s arrival shows how much has been achieved by him in turning this troubled channel around.

    Not being a media expert, I’m not able to comment on the ins and outs of the Welsh media but as a potential viewer, fluent Welsh speaker, I tend not to watch S4C or listen to Radio Cymru. If I listen to anything it’s Radio Wales since it much better reflects the city (Cardiff) and society I live in than does Radio Cymru. I have recently been drawn back to S4C by its 9:00pm newscast as it has been livened up by more live reporting, a great deal more interesting than watching someone behind a desk read from an autocue for half an hour (not to mention the pervy wink at the end).

    I have also wondered what type of programme would result in my watching the channel more. The only programme that I have watched that fits this category is ‘Pen Talar’, a fantastic series that I felt compelled to watch every week. Although the characters represented a background different to my own, the script and acting provided insight into their lives and it was well integrated with events in contemporary Welsh history.

    Serious consideration should also be given to providing more than one radio station in Welsh. Dyfodol i’r Iaith’s suggestion that their should be two channels, Radio Pop providing a contemporary youth culture service and Radio Pawb which would offer news, drama and entertainment, a sort of Radio 2 meets Radio 4 in Welsh.

    While I understand that the costs of television production mean that only one channel is realistically available, the same is not true of radio. Like it or not Welsh language broadcasting has to come to terms with audience fragmentation. Having a bit of everything on one radio station does not cut the ice when there is so much competition form English language channels. A Radio Pawb would certainly reawakening my interest in Welsh language broadcasting.

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