So Dafydd Elis-Thomas has been on the attack against S4C and Welsh language broadcasting. I like Dafydd, information pills and know him well as he used to live round the corner to me in Dolgellau, anesthetist but he really is talking through his hat on this occasion.I’ve picked out a few choice quotes:
Everything has to be up for grabs. I don’t see any point in protecting the name or the brand of S4C
The brand is “damaged beyond recognition” is his opinion, but I would argue that the S4C brand is not tainted to the degree that people will turn away from viewing programmes associated with it. He might be pissed off at the political hoo-ha and that the Assembly has been powerless to do anything to intervene but most people I would think would have little interest in the procedural shenanigans that are currently taking place between S4C, the UK government and the BBC. What most people care about is the stuff that the channel produces.
To scrap a brand of more than 25 years with the history and quality of material associated with it, would be tantamount to suicide for Welsh language media which is already in a severely weakened position. I have just been to Bilbao to hear about developments in broadcasting in relation to the internet, and all three broadcasters present (EITB, TV3, and TVE) were sure that their main channel and brand was still of great importance. TV3 Catalunya said that much of their internet activity was used to drive people to television content (albeit tv content to be watched on several platforms). They have lots of material on iTunes and YouTube but they don’t put it all there. It is still important to them to use those other platforms to direct people to the high-quality content which is still mainly delivered through television sets.
Would they ever consider destroying a brand that is instantly recongisable as a brand that delivers Basque or Catalan content? No way. And neither should S4C.
“The idea that our priority should be to save a television channel appears to me to be bizarre because what we want to be looking for is as much Welsh language content with sufficient choice across as many platforms as possible. Obviously, it is a help if there is an identifiable place where some of this can be found.
Who on earth has said that saving a television channel is the priority here? S4C is far from perfect in the way that it has prepared itself for the multiplatform world, but it is making some inroads. Nobody says that any of this is about saving TV – it is about developing Welsh language TV to becoming a modern broadcaster. A television channel has to be a part of that picture as well as other non-linear means of viewing across different devices.
TV channels will still have relevance for the near future. It is true that S4C has work to do in terms of finding its place in the realm of IPTV and it is very unclear how it will fit into YouView, if it is known at all at this moment in time, but television viewing through an EPG will not disappear overnight. It will coexist with online on-demand viewing, it will coexist with viewing through YouView, it will coexist with viewing via other hardware such as games consoles.
And as for the second sentence: finding content will be THE major problem for media content. Distributing Welsh language content to different platforms means nothing if nobody can find it. The user base, brand identification, and recognisable internet home that S4C have as a TV channel provide the means for finding audiences for Welsh language online content. If anything, more should be made of this, not less! With the scaling down of the BBC’s online activity, they will not be in a position to strengthen their Welsh language content. S4C are in a position to leap forward with the right strategy.
Now, I’m not sure a whether a broadcast channel run by an authority should be the repository of that; in fact, I don’t think it should be because we are well beyond that.”
“Well beyond that?” What does that mean exactly? If one accepts that somebody has to regulate the media, it means one of two things:
1. that he is happy that the BBC Trust take their role, and regulate S4C without compromising its independence (if indeed he thinks that independence is an issue).
2. that he wants Ofcom to regulate S4C
In terms of the fact of there being a broadcast channel under an authority, well Channel4 have now reversed their 4ip experimental online strand and brought all online activity in-line with their television work, recognising the continuing power of TV in delivering audiences whilst developing online audiences alongside that.
TV3 Catalunya and EITB have several TV channels – they would not dream of hacking away a vital branch in their operation. Are any other comparator broadcast operations thinking along these lines. I can see that there could be another body set up alongside S4C – let’s call it S4Carlein – which would focus more on the development of unique online content (but in close collaboration with the TV channel). I accept though that S4C is an organisation which still thinks in an analogue TV mode. Channel4 have developed their non-TV way of thinking through different ventures outside of their TV programmes and now that those have matured, they have brought them back into the fold to influence TV. In S4C’s case, I believe we would have to have two separate organisations, at least initially, if only to bring a fresh outlook on Welsh language media.
“All those platforms are screaming out for content. Clearly, it’s got to be produced in a way which is cost-effective.
I have no idea what this is about. Which platforms are “screaming out for content”? The ones completely saturated with content already? There is little Welsh language content beyond TV I accept, but it is clear to all (and I’m sure that includes S4C) that S4C has to find ways of making content available on all kinds of new platforms. As Marc Mateu from TV3 Catalunya said – we have to be where everybody else is, and where audiences are going to find content, in order to reach the maximum audience possible (although content branding is still extremely important to them on these other platforms). In this respect, S4C needs investment, and the move to invest in HD rather than other platforms may have been a mistake.
It is not too late to sort out, although there needs to be calmer waters for any strategic thinking to take place, and a new chief executive before that can happen. These comments by Dafydd are damaging and unconstructive and certainly does not help the future of Welsh language media.