The Welsh Media VII: Television & Film

(Title Image: Daily Post)

Public Service Broadcasting in Wales: BBC

BBC Wales is the main English language public service broadcaster, based in Cardiff. It provides regular “regional opt-outs” in the main schedules. The obvious example is news, but it also includes current affairs programmes like Wales Live and BBC Wales Investigates. In addition, there are shorter homegrown series which have, in the past, included comedies like High Hopes and Satellite City.

In addition to Welsh “regional” services, Wales is served by the UK BBC network, which has 7 channels – BBC 1, 2 & 4, CBBC, Cbeebies, BBC News and BBC Parliament. BBC 3 is a youth-orientated channel that broadcasts online and on-demand only as of February 2016. Some channels are also available in high definition.

BBC One Wales is arguably the most popular television service in the country. According to the Ofcom media nations report from 2018 (pdf – p16), during 2017, sixteen of the top 20 most-watched programmes in Wales were broadcast on BBC One, with live Six Nations rugby matches and major seasonal UK “event” programming dominating the listings.

Cardiff is a centre of excellence for BBC network drama productions, producing UK network shows such as Casualty and Doctor Who. Other popular independently-commissioned programmes either by or in partnership with BBC Wales include Torchwood, Sherlock, Ashes to Ashes and Life on Mars.

A new studio complex to house the centre of excellence opened at Porth Teigr in Cardiff Bay during 2011. In autumn 2019, BBC Wales will move from its current studios at Llandaf to a new £120million headquarters at Central Square in Cardiff city centre.

BBC2W was a 90-minute “channel-within-a-channel” on BBC2, broadcasting special interest shows produced in and for Wales. It started broadcasting in 2001, but due to the low number of Welsh-produced programmes in English, 2W schedules were often made up of repeats and it was quietly abandoned in 2009.

According to Ofcom (pdf – p22), BBC Wales produced 611 hours of first-run programming for Welsh audiences in 2017, costing £23million, with over half of that (£14.6million) dedicated to news and current affairs. It works out at about £37,700-an-hour.

During 2017-18, the BBC spent  £35.1million on Welsh programming (so not just first-run/new programmes), with a further £49.8million spent on UK network programming. The BBC spent a total of £2.04billion on TV content across the UK during 2017-18 and about 6.7% of UK network production spend came from Wales.

Public Service Broadcasting in Wales: S4C

 

(Pic: Rhodri ap Dyfrig)

Before S4C’s establishment, Welsh-language programmes were broadcast during regional opt-outs on BBC and ITV. It was inconvenient for monoglot English-speaking viewers, whilst not being comprehensive enough for Welsh-speakers.

A Welsh-language channel was promised by both the Conservatives and Labour during the 1979 UK General Election alongside the creation of Channel 4. The then Home Secretary, William Whitelaw, considered dropping plans for S4C, suggesting Welsh-language opt-outs could instead be provided on Channel 4. Following a threat by Plaid Cymru MP Gwynfor Evans to go on hunger strike, the UK Government changed their mind and S4C was launched in November 1982.

S4C is a commissioning body which buys programming from independent production companies. The channel itself is owned and overseen by the independent S4C Authority. In 2017-18, it was estimated that for every £1 spent on S4C services, there was a beneficial economic impact of £2.09 (pdf – p80) – which works out at around £175million. S4C’s activities were also said to generate around £39million in tax revenues and during 2017-18 they worked with (by my count) 107 different companies and organisations.

S4C is now almost entirely funded via the licence fee. In 2017-18, just under £75million came from the licence fee, topped up by £6.4million from the UK Department of Culture, Media & Sport – whose contribution is gradually being phased-out.

S4C’s total budget in 2017-18 was £83.8million (pdf – p147), with around £2.4million of that raised from advertising, sponsorship, rights sales and other commercial activities.

BBC Wales and ITV Wales have a public service obligation to produce a minimum number of hours of Welsh language programmes for S4C annually. BBC Wales produces Newyddion 9 and long-running soap opera Pobol y Cwm, while ITV Wales produces programmes like Y Byd ar Bedwar and rural affairs programme, Cefn Gwlad. According to their annual accounts for 2017-18 (pdf – p151), BBC contributed £25.6million worth of programming to S4C.

S4C’s most consistently popular programme is Pobol y Cwm, which averages around 65,000 viewers; other popular staples include rural affairs programme Ffermio, variety show Noson Lawen and early evening magazine show Heno. S4C also provides lots of live coverage, including professional rugby (like the BBC, the Six Nations is amongst the most-watched programmes on S4C), Welsh international football – which was actually more popular than rugby in 2017-18 (pdf – p51) – the recently re-branded Cymru Premier League, as well as comprehensive coverage of major cultural events like the National and Urdd eisteddfodau.

Like the BBC, S4C has a growing reputation for drama, with several programmes commissioned for (or in partnership with) S4C having gone on to enjoy UK network success on the BBC, most notably Y Gwyll (Hinterland), Un Bore Mercher (Keeping Faith), Bang and Craith (Hidden).

 

(Pic: S4C)

 

Children’s programmes are broadcast under the “Cyw” branding, which has subsequently become a channel-within-a-channel during the morning, with many children’s programmes produced for S4C successfully exported abroad or translated into English – the most famous examples perhaps being Sam Tân (Fireman Sam), Superted, Sali Mali and Meees (which was perhaps more popular in the Middle East and South America than at home).

An online channel aimed at teenage audiences, Hansh, launched in 2018 and attracted 4.9million viewing sessions during 2017-18 (pdf – p45). S4C’s online services are relatively well-used, with more than 8.2million viewing sessions via on-demand services Clic and BBC iPlayer in 2017-18 (pdf – p45).

Unfortunately, programmes aimed at young children aren’t counted in audience figures and are officially logged as having “zero viewers”. Although S4C’s “reach” is said  to be extensive – 9.4 million invidivual viewers around the UK watched S4C at some time during 2017-18 (pdf – p6) – average live viewing figures are poor, rarely reaching six figures. Having said that, when you treat BARB audience figures at a Wales-only level (with a smaller population), then S4C probably isn’t doing too badly and its performance could be comparable with smaller commercial stations like Channel 5, E4 and Dave.

 

Commercial Broadcasting in Wales

 

(Pic: ITV Wales)

The three terrestrial commercial stations (ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5) are still bound by public service broadcasting obligations (Part XIIa) but don’t receive funding from the licence fee. The largest commercial broadcaster in Wales is ITV, represented by the ITV Wales nation-region franchise, and is funded primarily via advertising.

The Channel 3 licence has a chequered Welsh history, having been first established as a sub-region of the Wales & West of England ITV advertising franchise.

It was originally served by the London, Cardiff & Bristol based Television for Wales & the West (TWW), which lost its franchise licence in 1967 and closed the following year. Harlech Television (HTV) won the Channel 3 licence for the Wales & West region in May 1968, running two separate channels for each sub-region (Wales, West of England) under the HTV brand.

Despite serious industrial unrest taking ITV completely off the air for several weeks in 1979, during the 1970s and 1980s (much like S4C today), HTV developed a reputation for children’s programming, producing some popular network shows like Robin of Sherwood.

In 2000, Carlton and Granada – the two largest ITV franchise holders in the UK, with HTV then a subsidiary of Granada – sought to merge. After an all-clear from the Competition Commission, they forged a generic EnglandandWales ITV brand, with HTV consigned to the history books.

ITV Wales carries the main EnglandandWales ITV1 schedule with a few regional opt-outs mostly consisting of ITV Wales news bulletins and other Wales-focused programmes like Wales this Week, Coast and Country and Sharp End.

ITV’s advertising revenues for 2018-19 (pdf – p2) were just under £1.8billion (all other income would be difficult to apportion). On a pound-for-pound basis (and after taking into account Wales’ economic performance) ITV Wales would proportionally generate ~£67million in revenues annually, but the true figure is likely to be different. For want of comparison, during 2018-19 the revenues of the (independent) STV stations in Scotland were £125.9million.

According to Ofcom (pdf – p22), ITV Wales spent £6.1million on Welsh content in 2017, a massive fall from a peak of £12.7million in 2007 – almost certainly caused by the Great Recession, but having never recovered afterwards.

As a result of Ofcom’s decision to create a separate Channel 3 licence for Wales, ITV Wales news programming is protected from cuts carried out to English regional news, retaining a minimum 30 minutes in the early evening.

ITV Wales was previously based at large studios at Culverhouse Cross in the Vale of Glamorgan. In 2014, ITV Wales moved to Assembly Square in Cardiff Bay, with operations now significantly reduced as just 100 staff moved in total.

Channel 4 was established at the same time as S4C as a public service broadcaster but has since become a part-publicly-owned commercial broadcaster; plans to completely privatise Channel 4 were dropped by the UK Government in 2017. Cardiff unsuccessfully bid to host Channel 4’s headquarters and/or become a regional “creative hub” in 2018. Channel 4 primarily broadcasts culturally diverse minority programming and used to run schools programming on behalf of ITV until the early 2000s.

Channel 4 News – produced by ITN – has a reputation for focusing in-depth on current affairs, though rarely features news from or about Wales. There are also several sister channels available on digital terrestrial including E4, 4Music (both aimed at youth audiences), More4 (documentaries) and Film4 (independent and art house films). Channel 4 has also long supported the UK’s independent film industry, funding productions like Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire.

Channel 5, which launched in 1997, and its sister channels (5Select, 5Spike, 5Star, 5USA) are commercial general entertainment channels with a reputation for imported dramas, sport and UK-made reality shows. In 2014, it was sold to US company Viacom for £450million.

UKTV – a multi-channel broadcaster owned by BBC Studios (the BBC’s commercial arm) – run several digital free-to-air (Dave, Yesterday, Drama) and subscription-only (Alibi, Eden, Gold, W) channels. It mainly broadcasts archive programming but also produces some first-run material like Taskmaster and The White Princess. Some UKTV channels were sold to Discovery in 2019.

 

(Pic: Daily Post)

According to Ofcom’s 2018 media nations report (pdf – p8), 50.4% of homes in Wales have a satellite TV service, with 41.8% having a Sky subscription and 8.6% having a free service from Freesat. This means Wales has a far higher proportion of satellite TV users than the UK as a whole (37.1%) – though the high number of Freesat users could well be down to attempts to overcome poor digital terrestrial reception through a traditional aerial.

As part of Sky’s drive to produce more UK-originated programming, Stella – a comedy-drama based in the south Wales Valleys – was commissioned and quickly became one of Sky’s most popular home-grown productions, running for six series between 2012-2017 and regularly getting more than 700,000 viewers (high by Sky standards).

Cable television take-up in Wales is much lower than the UK average. 10.1% of homes in Wales had cable TV services in 2018, compared to 14.9% across the UK as a whole. However, cable services – almost entirely provided by Virgin Media – are only available to 21.2% of Welsh homes compared to 98% for satellite.

There are currently three local TV stations operating in Wales – That’s Swansea Bay (owned by That’s TV) and Cardiff TV and North Wales TV (both owned by Local Television Ltd, formerly Made TV).

Local TV was developed on the understanding that a network of US-style city-based stations would address a failure of local news to establish itself as commercially viable. Local TV hasn’t exactly taken off in the UK and in 2018 Ofcom halted the roll-out of further stations due to financial viability concerns. While local stations generally lived up to their expectations by broadcasting locally-produced news and lifestyle programming, on many channels the “local” element is now often reduced to a holding screen providing text-based news, while the bulk the rest of the schedule is filled with imported and simulcast US programming and programming shared between multiple local stations owned by the same company.

The Film Industry

 

(Pic: National Assembly of Wales)

See far more on this at Wales in the Movies (Youtube).

It’s fair to say the Welsh film industry is under-developed, especially when compared to the television industry. While a Senedd Culture Committee inquiry found the economic impact of the film & TV industry has more than doubled since 1999, the overall monetary impact was relatively small (£187million) and most of that is likely to be down to television rather than cinema.

Wales has long been marketed more as a filming location rather than an originator of films in our own right and there’s a good reason for that. Unlike Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, Wales has never domestically produced a “blockbuster” – a film that generates a return several times more than its original budget and captures the imaginations of the global film industry. The only Welsh-themed film that’s come close to doing this – 1941’s How Green Was My Valley, which (in)famously beat Citizen Kane to three Oscars – was an American adaptation.

Most Welsh-originated films are usually small (often independent) productions, which occasionally produce a cult classic (Twin Town, Human Traffic, Grand Slam), or a critically-acclaimed but lesser-known work (Hedd Wyn, Solomon & Gaenor, Submarine; the recently-released Gwen is likely to join them). The focus on film in Wales has generally been artistic and cultural rather than economic – and in principle there’s nothing wrong with that.

There’s almost no point mentioning or listing Welsh people in front of the camera. If anything we’ve long massively punched above our weight in terms of acting talent.

According to the 2017-18 annual report of the film agency, Ffilm Cymru (pdf), it awarded grants totalling around £785,000 to 14 different productions and just over £220,000 towards the development costs of 17 other productions. Most of these grants tend to be quite small.

Further, more commercial, support is available via Business Wales’ Wales Screen programme, while the film industry in Wales has its own representative body, Screen Alliance Wales, which acts as an industry-led promotional body.

Most of the elements necessary for a thriving film industry are here: settings, stories, talent (on and off-screen), production capacity, political support. The key missing elements appear to be a proven track record of successful productions, finance and perhaps general awareness amongst the global film industry. Some nations have used tax breaks and other forms of indirect support to boost their own film industries, but this had had a number of unintended consequences; the infamous filmmaker, Uwe Boll, was effectively underwritten by German tax rebates aimed at supporting domestic film productions (until loopholes were closed).

Issues affecting Welsh TV & Film

Lack of relevant coverage of Wales – It’s a similar problem to newspapers (Part V). It’s not that broadcasters aren’t trying; they are. We have some quality current affairs and news programming, despite reductions in the amount of Welsh current affairs covered by the main broadcasters. It’s probably for the same reasons as the print press too – too little interest from the public to make it worth their while, budget cuts and an Anglo-centric focus on political issues by the media in general.

A lack of home-grown English language programming – I’m not talking about: documentaries where people stand in a field somewhere, doom-laden current affairs programmes and UK network shows made in Wales. This is about general programming that reflects modern Welsh life, most of which ends up on S4C. Ireland has a track record of making Irish versions of English language programming (like The Apprentice). Do we need an English-language soap opera set in Wales as a counterpart to Pobol y Cwm? Would an English language political drama or satirical show increase political engagement?

A Welsh Channel 3 Licence holder – I don’t mean the separate Ofcom licence region. I’m talking about a Welsh commercial broadcaster holding that licence – a “Welsh ITV” affiliate – in the same vein as STV in Scotland or UTV in Northern Ireland. It’s unclear if anyone would take that on, and it’s unclear if such a service would generate the commercial/advertising revenues needed. It could cause complications with ITVplc, as STV and ITV have been in regular dispute over programmes and scheduling. However, as demonstrated earlier, STV is in decent financial health and produces far more Scottish programming than ITV Wales does Welsh programming.

An explosion of choice – In terms of choice, we’ve never had it so good. The obvious example here would be the hundreds of channels offered by subscription services, joined by on-demand and streaming services like BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon Prime etc. (Part VIII). There are plenty of legitimate means to watch TV shows and films without even needing a TV. That poses serious challenges for commercial broadcasters (who are reliant on advertising income) and public service broadcasters (who need to maintain an audience and adapt to changing viewing habits to justify public expenditure).

Demographic changes amongst “live” audiences – Advertisers usually target the 18-34-year-old demographic, as they’re usually the easiest people to sell things to. According to Ofcom (pdf – p13), Wales has seen one of the sharpest declines in average total daily TV viewing (223 mins in 2017, down from 270 in 2010); amongst the under -16s it’s fallen to 91 minutes and for 16-34 years olds, just 117 minutes. The over-55s, however, watch 358 minutes a day. When you include non-live methods of TV viewing, like on-demand and timeshifted/+1 services (pdf – p14), time in front of a screen hasn’t changed that much, with the biggest increase in viewing minutes for “unmatched viewing” (which includes gaming, on-demand, DVDs etc.).

Shaky advertising revenues – Advertisers might increasingly be less likely to see television as the main way to target consumers, reducing advertising revenues for broadcasters, including ITV Wales and S4C. ITV advertising revenues have consistently fallen for several years as a proportion of overall profits despite overall advertising spending increasing on the whole. There are also many ways to avoid adverts with the advent of digital video recorders and on-demand players. Much like digital advertising and the online press (Part IV), advertising from on-demand services was said to make up only 10% of total advertising spending in 2019 – though it’s expected to grow rapidly over the coming years.

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