A few people who don’t understand Welsh mentioned that they would like to read the take I had on a new S4C, so here’s a rough translation. A bit later than the original post sorry, but even with translation help, these things take time to do.
[Grammatical Health Warning: this blog post was translated from this original Welsh language post using Google Translate as a tool to speed up the process. Subsequently, some of the phrasing and expressions may be a bit wonky. I hope that the wonkiness doesn't affect the communication of the ideas too much.]
Saturday before last I went to Theatr Felinfach after being invited to give some ideas about the future of S4C in the digital context. I did not want to be so bold as to offer a full manifesto but rather to raise questions that could feed into further discussion. The article written by Euros on Click on Wales notes that I focus on the idea that more young people use social networks than television, but I felt that my message was a little different. I thought it was best to publish what I said anyway, in case there was some wider value to it. I’d be delighted to hear any comments.
Set a few challenges, raise some questions
I’m not trying to offer solutions to the business of producing television programs. There are plenty of other people who have long experience of the industry that can do that so much better. But I want to set some challenges or raise some questions of the Welsh broadcast system from the perspective of the enormous changes to every aspect of our lives brought about by the advent of the internet , and especially the way it has disrupted media business models as they had been developed up until the turn of the last century.
Online media is an integral part of the media landscape today. This is not the for the Welsh and particularly Welsh language media. Yet. How can we change that?
- Welsh developments in the field has been hampered until now
- there is institutional inertia across all Welsh language media providers (and arguably English language media providers in Wales)
- not enough is being done to streamline arrangements so that it can adapt to the needs of digital media and the audience that is ready for it
Do we need more TV companies or a stronger digital sector?
- the digital media sector is very weak, and exists mainly as poorly funded wings of companies whose main focus is other media/creative industries
- S4C has a role in growing the digital media sector
- if we want a dynamic media we have to develop companies that can adapt to produce for online
Do we need a comprehensive S4C.com or S4C as a digital brand across the internet and an investor in others?
- trying to create one Welsh-language portal is a folly. Trying to compete as a homepage with the force of the BBC is impossible.
- Better to try to spread the S4C brand across the web and across where audiences gather. Working diagonally rather than vertically.
- Can begin to do this by creating a steady stream of investment for content and services online
Can S4C take the role of enabling and investment rather than commissioning?
- are commissioners the right people to make decisions about the value of certain types of media in the age of the internet?
- Perhaps S4C can begin using new arm’s length models to invest in projects slowly
- There is no need to fund long online series to fill a schedule. Series can be developed incrementally and at their own pace.
- It’s one thing to say they will promote the dreaded UGC, or unpaid content, on their website, but there’s no mention of trying to invest in anyone or any structures to help create that UGC
How can an organization like S4C change from one of grand actions to being an organization of small actions as well?
- Maybe only 200 pounds is needed to start a small project online. Is it possible to develop a model to germinate media. Investing small, and invest more when they see success?
- Models like this are totally alien to S4C but many of the successes of the web have grown from small beginnings.
- If a success is on the cards, then broadcast platforms can boost it through harnessing broadcasts ability to speed up attention
Are there are ways of freeing up online content?
- There is an urgent need to begin negotiations to ensure that Welsh material can have the freedom and conditions favorable to be distributed on-line
- There is a need to re-examine the terms of trade for online content in Welsh
- TAC / Equity / MU etc agreements were designed for the end of the analogue age. They are long overdue a re-assessment.
- Thinking about how it is possible free up certain types of products online so that it can be re-used. Creative Commons licenses is one possibility. A new balance between fair royalties and the freedom to create, remix and share is essential.
How Can S4C provide a space to experiment, fail, explore new methods of production?
- no one has a map for making the most of opportunities and challenges of media as it stands. We must therefore create a space in which to feel our way and see what works in Welsh
If we want to create new forms of civic value, we need to improve the ability of small groups to try radical things…our best chance for finding good ideas is to have as many groups as possible try as many things as possible.
How can S4C think beyond mainstream television whilst continuing to produce mainstream television?
- not the displacemen of one technology / medium with another, but adding media upon media that will work together in new and complex ways
- linear TV is still vitally important, but we must make enough space for the rest to breathe and develop
Is there a prime means of creating a Welsh media on the internet?
- we must try to find what works for us as Welsh speakers.
- The possibilities are endless, but almost nothing had been examined. Too often we simulate the Anglo-American models.
How can digital S4C help build an audience?
- in the same way that S4C had to build a Welsh language audience for its new channel in 1982, we must build an audience for online material in Welsh
Criticizing present realities is important but insufficient. It can be hard to picture what the future would look like, and so to be making things, as examples of future creative diversity, in the here and now, offers a powerful and tangible form of inspiration to others – and challenges the apparent inevitability of the present.
- the number of examples of online services in Welsh is limited. Without good examples, how to create the necessary continuity, the positive feedback loop?
- S4C has a big role to play in promoting others who do work that matches their brief of providing Welsh public service media
- I’m not talking of media literacy lessons here but trying to develop people with enthusiasm and energy to try something and drive them forward through encouragement and perhaps developmental innovations such as intensive technology courses. eg http://www.apdyfrig.com/2011/02/17/awydd-gwneud-cwrs-dwys-24-awr-mewn-technoleg-newydd/
Are we doing enough to be part of IPTV?
- develop apps with new IPTV commercial funding
- secure the place of Welsh television and interactivity within IPTV, specifically with YouView
S4C is a purposeful intervention in the television market in order to be a tool in the survival of the Welsh language. The media has changed so much, you need a new kind of interference?
- it must be understood that although figures may be much lower than television users at present, that intervention in the online media market is crucial now
- Welsh production companies and individuals within those companies already doing much more than S4C to try to push online services, but are held back.
How can S4C create a closer, more honest connection between itself and its audience/users?
- A natural gap has existed between the television audience and producers in the one to many model. It will not be easy to change this type of organizational relationship.
- So it may be better to leave it and focus entirely on trying to jump over television to the creation of other services that may overlap with TV, and that can reduce that gap
- In order to do this, you might have to create these services outside of S4C as an institution / channel altogether.
- S4C is in a comfort zone in terms of broadcasting. Intervention must be created that will force them to come out of this.
Is S4C as a broadcaster a suitable structure for online media and new methods of co-creation?
- S4C has had almost 30 years to grow. It has perhaps over-grown as an institution (not in terms of content, I hasten to add).
- It has not grown to do more than one thing. It has grown up around one thing: mass television broadcasting.
- I would argue that S4C (and not the S4C Authority) does not have the ability within the organization to adapt.
- So I would argue that there exists a need to create a small body / company, under the Authority who can be a means to implement policies and aspirations that are non-televisual in nature .
- This sister body needs to be a way of educating S4C and work across all of the channel’s activities and other bodies in the same way.
- I do not think either that there is sufficient expertise within the channel. Nobody is responsible for strategy or online content in particular. There are people who operate those elements, but they have no power, no cross-departmental brief, with a basis in content.
- Take a look what the Basque broadcaster EITB did : re-assessing every post in the channel in order to incorporate online; appoint a head of dept. for online
It must create partnerships – but what kind of partnerships and what will they cost?
- S4C is and island. It has been an island for over a decade. We need to zoom out and see S4C as an archipelago of islands (as it was to start?).
- in a digital age it does not make sense to have digital publishing funds issued by the Council books, funding for technology development by the Language Board and funding resources online education by the assembly government department. All apart, and none cooperating.
- Is there a way to re-assess the gross funds available for digital material in Welsh and to co-manage it with a strategy between S4C and other Welsh commissioning / grant-giving / contracting institutions.
- This is not easy – partnering on projects is sometimes as difficult as pulling teeth to organizations that have rusted to the ground. It must find some sort of institutional WD40. I don’t know what (or maybe who) that is yet, but we need something to be a buffer when well-established institutions come head to head to cooperate.
So those were the points I made. Thanks to Eurosfor the impetus to put them together for an event. There was a good crowd, and I thought that the students there had very interesting ideas.
I’m not absolutely certain about the validity of all of the above points, but I think they are worth discussing, and hope they can instigate discussion. It would be great to hear your comments, if you agree or disagree with anything.