7. Memorandum submitted by S4C
S4C welcomes the opportunity to contribute to
the Committee's Inquiry into Broadcasting at a time of huge technological
and constitutional change. As a public service broadcaster, S4C
is fully committed to making the most of the opportunities arising
from these changes for the benefit of television viewers in Wales.
In all our efforts to take advantage of these opportunities we
have put Wales and its people at the very heart of our thinking
and activities. As part of S4C's contribution to the European
and UK debate on the implications of change on the future of broadcasting
we have submitted responses to numerous consultation documents.
Our aim in so doing has been to ensure that the Welsh perspective
and Welsh experience have been taken into account. The children
of Wales in the 1990s will be part of a world-wide communications
revolution in the number of television services and in the use
of the computer. It is important for Welsh culture and the Welsh
language to be part of this revolution. A new generation will
be given a chance to bring freshness and excitement to the screen
as we develop new types of services on digital channels. The production
industry in Wales will be able to use its proven creativity and
ingenuity to enter the multi-channel environment and compete in
the international market.
As television enters the digital age, hundreds
of channels will be available. Large, wide screens will deliver
a cinematic experience in the home and high quality video discs
will be used as a means of acquiring and keeping favourite films.
Viewing patterns will change as loyalty to three or four channels
is replaced by the ability to browse across dozens. Increasingly,
television will be used in conjunction with the telephone and
the computer to enable the viewer to interact with the programme
provider, to take part directly in programmes and to make choices,
express opinions and send information from their homes.
The task for S4C now is to define the nature
of the services which we might offer to viewers and to create
for ourselves a unique identity in the multi channel age.
In planning for the future we have been guided
by three principles:
To add value to the lives of viewers
To ensure that our public funds are
used to provide a Welsh language service
To recognise that the intention of
undertaking any commercial activity is to raise income in order
better to enable the fulfilment of the core functions.
Digital television is an opportunity to build
on S4C's peak-time service in the Welsh language and extend the
provision in the Welsh language to other times of day, broadcasting
from midday to midnight. The requirement to carry Channel 4 programmes
has meant that opportunities to broadcast Welsh language material
during the day and later evening have been scarce. Channel 4 will
be available as a separate digital service. Therefore there will
be substantial opportunities for S4C to increase the range of
the Welsh language offering, for example doubling the hours of
children's programming, new and innovative programmes for young
people, more current affairs, sport and arts coverage. The extended
hours will offer alternative viewing opportunities which will
be of particular value to Welsh speaking viewers in mixed language
homes where peak hours' viewing may normally be in English. Sub-titling
has made Welsh language programmes accessible to English speakers
and will be further developed. Full use will be made of the potential
of digital to increase viewer response and participation.
One of the ways in which S4C proposes to add
value to the lives of viewers in Wales is through a new joint
venture with BBC Wales called the Wales Digital College which
is designed to exploit the educational potential of digital technology.
Most of the morning hours on S4C Digital will be allocated to
broadcasts by the Digital College backed up by a network of support
for lifelong learning which we and the BBC are developing in conjunction
with a wide range of education providers in Wales. The aim of
the Digital College is to provide a gateway to education and training
through broadcasting and digital technology. We believe this will
be a major contributor in the drive towards improving the skills
base of the people of Wales together with increasing learning
opportunities of all kinds. Broadcasters and education experts
working together can help achieve public policy objectives. The
Digital College will make the best possible use of every communication
medium available to it at any one time. As digital television
technology develops and penetration increases, every opportunity
will be taken to add relevant and effective services to the television
provision. Television will also be used to attract and support
new students. Digital College material will appear on S4C Digital
and on the BBC's digital services. Viewers will be able to access
the support services offered either while the programme is on
air or at another time.
S4C will provide an extensive Welsh language
service for viewers during the Assembly elections which will be
on a par with the level of coverage available during the General
Election. The service will be provided by a range of suppliers,
including the BBC and HTV. Programme providers will be required
to produce items which seek to inform and educate voters about
the election, the voting methods and other related issues.
Coverage of the Assembly itself will be included
in the news and current affairs output and in magazine programmes
on S4C. In additional to the current political programmes, highlights
of the Assembly will be available in a weekly half hour programme.
This output will be seen on S4C's existing analogue service and
simulcast on S4C's digital service.
In addition, S4C has reserved sufficient digital
capacity so that the possibility exists to provide a second public
service from Wales. This second service would make it possible
to offer uninterrupted live coverage of the proceedings of the
Assembly. This service could start to coincide with the opening
of the Assembly. The decision as to whether the Assembly should
be broadcast on this channel is not for S4C alone to make. The
views of other parties have and will continue to be sought. However,
S4C believes that this second service would make a valuable contribution
to ensuring that the Assembly and its proceedings are as accessible
and open to people throughout Wales and indeed in the rest of
S4C, with the BBC and HTV, submitted a joint
working paper to the Public Access and Communications Group of
the National Assembly Advisory Group in February. A Broadcasting
Task Group was established by the Welsh Office and S4C participated
in the constructive discussions that followed on issues relating
to rules of coverage, space and technical requirements and management,
funding and procurement. These discussions were undertaken on
the basis of partnership between the Welsh broadcasters and the
Welsh Office. S4C believes the proposed arrangements are in keeping
with the desire to make the Assembly open and accessible and recognise
the importance of the broadcasters' role in providing a bridge
between the Assembly and the general public.
S4C's news and current affairs coverage of the
Assembly will be available to viewers in Wales on both analogue
and digital services. The digital service will be available on
all three platformsterrestrial, cable and satellite. Whilst
estimates for digital coverage have varied, we believe that by
the end of March 1999, it will be possible for all viewers in
Wales to receive a digital service from one or other of the digital
platforms. Over half will be able to receive a digital service
from more than one platform, and the viewer will therefore have
a choice as to which platform best suits their particular requirements.
S4C's digital terrestrial service begins in November this year.
The "must carry" provision for cable franchise holders
ensures that S4C's digital services will be freely available to
cable viewers in Wales. In order to ensure that universality is
achieved at the earliest possible opportunity, S4C will also be
providing its services on satellite. This will be important in
order for S4C digital to reach parts of Wales which will not enjoy
digital terrestrial distribution, at least in the early years
of roll-out. The cost of providing the digital service on satellite
has been borne by S4C in the belief that it is a necessary part
of public service broadcasting's commitment to universality. It
will also bring a contingent bonus of facilitating S4C digital's
reception amongst the estimated 400,000 Welsh speakers living
in other parts of the UK.
Whilst universality of coverage can thus be
achieved, the question of affordability remains. The market will
maximise the affordability of receiving equipment to the public.
However, there will be a residual proportion of the population
who will be unable to afford the new equipment. The Government
is aware of the benefits of an early switch-off of analogue, not
least the potential revenue which is likely to derive from eventual
sale or licensing of the transmission frequencies which will then
be made available. There is a case for significant incentives
to be provided to those viewers of analogue who would not otherwise
be able to upgrade.
Given that the National Assembly for Wales will
have political responsibility for economic development policies,
S4C is keen to ensure that the Assembly takes full account of
broadcasting as a significant industry and employer in Wales.
As an indigenous business S4C is fully committed to investing
in and strengthening the independent production sector in Wales,
and exploiting the opportunities presented to Wales' creative
talents by digital technology, in particular, the demand for content
in the multi-channel environment. S4C is already successful in
the field of international co-production and international programme
sales. As in other Welsh industries, the broadcasting sector needs
to develop SMEs, to increase entrepreneurial skills, to enable
the development of new products and more efficient firms. We are
pleased that media has already been identified by the Welsh Office
as part of its economic strategy "Pathway to Prosperity"
and that the independent television production sector and the
Welsh animation industry are cited as considerable strengths which
have derived from the establishment of S4C.
Firstly, it may be useful to set the funding
of Welsh language broadcasting in Wales in a UK context. The broadcasting
industry in the United Kingdom has an annual turnover of nearly
£4.5 billion. S4C received £72.2 million in 1997. As
of 1 January 1998, the 1997 figure is adjusted in line with inflation.
There will therefore be no increase in public funding to meet
additional costs or fund new plans more generally. The BBC, Channel
4 and ITV have been assisted by various Government measures to
fund digital development. Nevertheless, S4C has taken on the funding
challenge in partnership with the independent production sector
by seeking to modernise the industry and to encourage efficiency
in the production process.
S4C's record of its activities is presented
to Parliament by the Welsh Fourth Channel Authority in the form
of the Annual Report and Accounts. We expect and would welcome
a discussion with the National Assembly for Wales based on the
Annual Report and Accounts as part of its remit to ensure the
successful implementation of economic development policies. In
the interests of full and proper debate all broadcasters in Wales
should be encouraged to provide a similar level of detailed information
to the Assembly as that contained in S4C's Annual Report and Accounts.
The Welsh Fourth Channel Authority is an independent
regulatory authority with a duty to operate its programme service
in line with the ITC Programme Code. The Welsh language output
is subject to regulation by the Authority on this basis. Since
75 per cent of the output contains Channel 4 programmes which
have been prepared for a Channel licensed and regulated by the
ITC, its main responsibility for this part of the output is the
effect of rescheduling the programmes. Authority membership aims
to reflect geographical spread, gender balance and a variety of
interests and experience. The achievement of this aim has been
strengthened by the introduction of an open appointments procedure.
The current Chair and subsequent new members have been appointed
following an open advertisement and interview. This transparent
and accountable system has been implemented by the Department
of Culture, Media and Sport in conjunction with the Welsh Office.
We anticipate that the current role of the Welsh Office may be
adopted by the National Assembly for Wales.
The impact of convergence has already resulted
in wide-ranging debate both on a UK and European level on the
future shape of regulation. New hybrid programming will use the
web as well as conventional television; users will order, browse,
call down material and chat on forums related to programmes. Similarly,
a new breed of carriage emerges, where present telephone services,
web services and digital television may not only share carriage
but the way the consumer uses these services may actually converge.
In spite of the complexities arising from convergence,
we are not aware of any pressure to affect radical change in S4C's
regulatory structure nor see any possible benefit to be gained
from it. If all broadcasting regulation were to be centralised
in one UK body, we would be concerned that the diverse interests
and variety of opinion currently represented should not be confined
to a single Welsh voice in a large, potentially unwieldy body.
The same principle would apply to centralising regulation in Wales.
The current model of self regulation is rigorous and clearly focused.
It may interest the Committee to know that the current trend of
thinking tends to be towards lighter-touch, self regulation as
evidenced by both European and UK green papers on convergence.
S4C, as a self-regulatory Authority, has also
established a post-broadcast monitoring group. The group has an
independent Chair who has a background in regulation. Issues,
which are deemed important enough for further discussion, are
referred to the S4C Authority which remains the ultimate arbiter.
This pattern of self-regulation seems to work effectively.
In conclusion, we think it desirable that the
Welsh Fourth Channel Authority should retain responsibility for
the regulation of programme content; and we welcome the prospect
of the National Assembly for Wales assuming a role in ensuring
S4C's accountability through the open appointment procedure and
through discussion of the Annual Report and Accounts.
S4C will contribute fully to any discussion
or process by which the National Assembly seeks to form a view
on future broadcasting policy in Wales and for the benefit of
the people of Wales.
Chief Assistant Director of Corporate Affairs
30 September 1998