Cardiff Breakfast Club 12th December – Ian Jones, S4C

Posted: December 12, 2012 in Business/Cardiff News, Cardiff Breakfast Club, Events
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Breakfast Club Ian Jones was part of the team that originally launched Welsh-language channel S4C in 1982, and returned to Wales from New York to take up the role of Chief Executive in January of this year. He joined the Breakfast Club  to discuss the vast changes in the media landscape over the channel’s 30 years, and how they are embracing these changes in the face of drastic cuts to their budget.

Perhaps inspired by the St David’s Hotel’s beautiful Christmas trees, Ian began by reflecting on the traditions that come with the holiday period – particularly the dependably bad jokes in our Christmas crackers. While traditions have their place, Ian said it was important for businesses to seek out change and innovation as “springboards for future success”. Since his appointment he has actively sought opportunities to embrace the new, simplify processes at all levels, and “question everything”. And with an impending 36% cut to the channel’s budget over the next four years, some changes simply had to be made.

At S4C’s launch there were no mobile phones, no alternative viewing platforms, and only 3 other channels – a setting almost unrecognisable today. Ian likened the evolution of the television industry to that of magazines. While 30 years ago there were perhaps 4 or 5 general titles on offer, consumers can now choose from hundreds of niche and specialist publications. With this increased competitions comes greater consumer choice, but also means the advertising revenue available is spread much more thinly. The same is true of television, with hundreds of channels available today, yet “less money to go round”.

Technological developments have also impacted hugely on the television industry. The variety of viewing platforms now available means there is “much less need” for people to sit and watch scheduled television programmes.  This can be problematic for broadcasters: while Ian said new platforms “could not be ignored”, S4C’s core remit is to provide television services. In acknowledgement of the changes in ways to watch, the Government has informally agreed to the channel’s investment in alternative platforms as long as they are “driving audiences” between them.

Ian also discussed the challenge of measuring success. As the world’s only Welsh-language channel,  S4C must in terms of content “be all things to all audiences”, as well as accommodating fluent, intermediate and learner Welsh-speakers. It is not as simple as measuring viewer numbers; factors such as overall share of viewers, reaching their core audience, and impact on the preservation and promotion of the Welsh language are also relevant. Taking a range of measures gives a truer picture of a channel’s success.

Alongside the upcoming budget cuts, which Ian termed the channel’s “biggest challenge”, changes have been made to S4C’s funding sources. 90% of funding is to come from the BBC licence fee as of April next year, with the remaining 10% in “continuing discussions”. The past 9 months have seen “everything questioned” in response to decreased funding, with production and internal processes simplified, as well as an “unfortunate” 30% decrease in staff. Services have taken the greater impact, in a move to protect programmes on screen, with the channel’s HD service Clirlun to close at the end of this year. Reducing funding also has a wider impact, with everyone from independent production companies to the cafes and taxi companies who garnered business from the production process set to feel the effect.

However, while the cuts have led to radical change within the organisation, change must be viewed as an opportunity, and a catalyst for “bigger and better things”. Indeed, from what was originally intended as a 3 year “experiment”, the channel has become “an integral part of Wales’ cultural and economic landscape”, bringing over £2billion in from outside our borders. With Ian’s commitment to quality, relevant, competitive programming driving the channel forward, the economic impact of S4C should not be considered in danger.  Although “tough”, Ian said, the revised budgets were by no means “the end of the world” – simply one more change in today’s ever-evolving media world.

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