Huw Jones contemplates a big birthday as he considers the impact of the recent review of S4C
It’s 7:00pm and RTS Wales is hosting an open session to discuss the recently published review of S4C. It’s my job to present S4C’s response and, alongside our CEO, Owen Evans, and the author of the review, Euryn Ogwen Williams, to take part in Q&As. We’re coming to the end of what has been a long road in terms of reviewing S4C’s remit and funding needs since our fixed funding formula was ended in 2012.
The review has recommended a change to our statutory remit to make it clear that we should be a digital media service and not just a 1982-style television service. We have already taken important steps in this direction on digital, with Cyw Tiwb for preschool children and Hansh for the 16-34s, and will now press ahead with creating a more personalised relationship with our viewers. I will be announcing the allocation of £3m over three years to get this strategy under way.
The review emphasises the need to provide a stable funding environment for S4C, and uses the BBC’s five-year funding agreement as a template. Following a 34% (real-terms) cut from 2011, the prospect of further cuts in the DCMS element of our funding has been the cause of political tension.
The review’s solution is that, from 2022, the whole of S4C’s funding should come from the licence fee. The Government has made a firm commitment to S4C’s independence, but this plan is likely to form an important part of discussions regarding the overall level of licence-fee funding from 2022 onwards.
The review recommends creating a unitary board for S4C on the BBC model, with a majority of non-execs. Too often, in the past, there has been a perception that S4C and the S4C Authority are separate bodies. We will be happy to evolve the present structure to form a shadow board while awaiting legislation.
One key aspect of the review amounts to a redefinition of S4C’s relationship with the Welsh language. A successful channel is a central component in securing the future of the language, but the way in which this is done has always been left undefined. With language policy being the preserve of the Welsh government, and broadcasting policy remaining a Westminster responsibility, the suggestion is that S4C should formalise a partnership with the Welsh government and other agencies. Building on existing efforts, the obvious fields will be education, language learning, children, young people and skills.
Tomorrow, we will start discussing our annual report. Reach on television, both in Wales and across the UK for 2017-18 looks to be up, with digital audiences continuing to grow. We’ve had a great run of gripping drama series, including Y Gwyll/ Hinterland, Un Bore Mercher/Keeping Faith and Craith /Hidden (all co-productions with BBC Wales). These have truly opened the door for UK and international viewers to Welsh drama, and we’ve just heard that Byw Celwydd – a Borgen-style take on politics in the National Assembly, entirely in Welsh – has been sold to the US and Canada.
Sport was good for us last year, but competition for broadcasting rights is fierce. Our joint bid with the BBC for rugby’s Pro14 competition lost out to a new subscription service. Our small but experienced negotiating team reports a chance that some Welsh-language rights may still be available to us. We will follow developments with a keen interest. Sport is a key element in enabling us to keep in touch with young Welshspeakers and less-fluent viewers.
Finally, Friday brings a prerecorded interview with Dewi Llwyd on BBC Radio Cymru for his weekly “Happy Birthday” slot. Mine comes up in a week’s time, with a big zero in it.
Huw Jones is Chair of the S4C Authority.