S4C Urged To Improve ‘Crude’ Digital Strategy

Welsh-language broadcaster S4C must make significant corporate changes to turn around an online record that is weak, crude and years behind the industry, according to a report it commissioned to influence its digital strategy.

The firm, which does not have anyone in charge of digital strategy, in February assembled a “new media forum” of eight outsiders, paid £1,000 each a year, to give it some ideas. The forum’s report has now been submitted to S4C’s governing Authority and obtained by paidContent. It recommends…

  • Redefine S4C’s core purpose from providing “television services” to content “across a range of different media”. (May require amended UK Broadcasting Act and Communication Act, which task S4C only with providing TV services).
  • Create a digital director role, for only a two-year term before digital becomes shared responsibility of a whole restructured management team to avoid creating a “digital ghetto”.
  • New CEO and future Authority appointees must have new media understanding.
  • S4C’s new £1 million digital fund should invest in, rather than commission, online content, particularly content targeting Welsh learners and non-fluent Welsh speakers. It must be prepared to take risks.
  • S4C should obtain archive rights for online VOD exploitation (ie. rights to shows older than 35 days), and should license commissioned content under Creative Commons to ensure further distribution, including to schools. (This will require negotiation with independent producers and bodies like Equity.)
  • A project team must be formed to steer creation of S4C’s proposed new S4C.com service so that it is open and personalisable.
  • Form an online S4C Shop to sell items to users, rather than rely on banner ads for commercial strategy.

According to the report:-

S4C’s position in new media is weak … the reality is that S4C is years behind broadcasters like the BBC and Channel 4. S4C’s online provision is peripheral to the main business of the channel, and technically crude in places.

“it is essential that steps are taken to undo this way of thinking. It is no small feat to achieve this, and nobody would of sound mind expects it to happen overnight. But the forum is convinced that S4C must give priority to change the culture here … to create an organisation that is more open to new ideas.

“Those who are responsible for commissioning and creating television programmes are making fundamental changes to the way they have worked for decades. In this regard, S4C has more work to do than any other public broadcaster.”

But it is thought unlikely many of the recommendations will get adopted before S4C appoints its new CEO, rumoured to be History Channel owner A+E Television’s managing director Ian Jones. Even when the appointment is made, it is likely he or she will take some time to conduct his own review of operations, as would be expected of any new leader.

  • S4C’s TV audience has been falling in the multi-channel era and many fear its inability to connect with younger, multi-media users jeopardises the future of the Welsh language, which it was established in 1982 to help safeguard.
  • CEO Iona Jones left last year in controversial circumstances.
  • S4C’s budget was cut and its funding source switched from the Department for Culture, Media & Sport to the BBC.
  • S4C is currently led by interim CEO Arwel Ellis Owen.
  • Cuts to the BBC’s own budget have led to it withdrawing Welsh-language online services including a sports news website.

S4C, which, like Channel 4, does not make TV content but commissions it from independent producers, has been a laggard online but has recently launched its Clic (VOD), Cyw (kids TV) and Tywydd (weather) apps for iOS…

These apps have been made by two dedicated online production houses and one TV producer that has extended itself in to multimedia. “S4C has taken a giant step in the right direction within the last few months,” according to the forum’s report, which recommends that it be put out to public consultation.