Welsh broadcaster S4C’s £4 million digital fund is open for business

Welsh-language public broadcaster S4C has now opened its planned digital production fund to submissions, becoming the latest TV firm to set aside money for online investments.

The money pot is up to £1 million ($1.56 million) per year over the next four years, derived from the approximately £26 million remaining from the broadcaster’s £33 million ($51.5 million) S4C Digital Media unit.

That company was established as an investment vehicle in 2005 when S4C made a windfall from selling its stake in the SDN Freeview TV multiplex to ITV. But its sole investment, in IPTV firm Inuk, went sour and was severely diluted. Now the firm is re-allocating some of the money…

S4C hopes applications to the new fund will result in new digital content and products, not related to its TV output, like e-books, apps and games, which it currently does not commission at scale. It wants ideas to help stimulate the Welsh language.

The fund will make investments between £1,000 and £150,000 (releasefull details). S4C will also try to make a share of profits from investments, for re-investment back in to the fund or to support its struggling core TV service.

S4C has been downsizing recently after the UK government announced it would all but end its £90 million annual taxpayer subsidy and charge the BBC instead with financing it. It has axed its HD TV channel to save money.

Amid that backdrop, the broadcaster’s online efforts are trailing. Last fall, a forum of eight new media professionals hired by S4C to assess its digital strategy reported that the broadcaster’s position is weak, years behind fellow UK public broadcasters and technically crude. It urged S4C to appoint its first digital director.

Channel 4 has previously launched a digital investment and commissioning fund, 4iP, but closed it down in its own funding cutbacks. BBC Worldwide this summer launched BBCW Labs, a short-term accelerator programme in which start-ups will get to work with the firm.

It remains to be seen whether the kinds of independent producers S4C is likely hoping will submit product submissions to the fund will favour its wish to take a share of their profits.