S4C is unique in that it is the only broadcaster in Wales required to cater its programming to both Welsh and English-speaking audiences. While working with an indigenous language can be limiting when it comes to acquiring programming with international potential, the Cardiff-based pubcaster benefits from its tie to sister distributor, S4C International (S4CI). Huw Walters, S4CI’s head of coproductions, explains: ‘One of the big advantages we have in the market is that the broadcaster brings the distributor along, and the distributor brings the broadcaster along. So, [producers] are tapping into two different sources of funding simultaneously.’
The vast majority of the channel’s factual content – which totals 120 hours per year – is acquired from local, independent production companies at an average of £60,000 (US$85,500) per hour. But, international coproductions are accounting for an increasingly significant portion – currently 20 to 30 hours per year – of S4C’s doc schedule (the bulk of which consists of two 30-minute slots: 9:00pm Saturday and 8:30pm Monday). Says Walters, ‘It’s quite an exciting time for us, because the level of activity in documentary coproductions has increased over the past year and is likely to continue increasing. Coproducing offers us the opportunity to make high production value programs and to build our portfolio of commercially valuable distribution rights.’
On average, S4CI distributes doc copros in 20 to 30 different countries. ‘The coproductions that really work for us cross cultural boundaries easily. They are the universal ideas that belong to all countries, to all nations,’ says Cenwyn Edwards, S4C’s commissioning editor of factual programs. This overarching objective translates into themes like history, science and technology; story-led, rather than personality-led programs; the visual over the testimonial; and convenient-to-sell 30-minute and 60-minute formats.
S4C brought both broadcast funding and a distribution advance to the recently completed US$250,000 Highways in the Sky, an hour-long coproduction with Paris-based La Cinquième that examines the origins of commercial aviation and focuses on the transatlantic route. ‘Highways mixes history, science and technology – universal themes that cross cultures. In practical terms, it’s relatively easy to reversion programs of this kind for different markets,’ says Walters.
S4C is currently in production on War Surgeons, a three-part series that looks at how medical techniques have improved and developed during times of war. Surgeons is a copro involving La Cinq and Toronto-based Alliance Atlantis. The channel is also in development on The Map Makers (w/t) with ZDF. Starting from the earliest drawings sketched on the ground with a stick, and ending with the latest techniques in satellite mapping, the 3×1-hour series combines history and science to tell the stories of the world’s greatest cartographers and the contributions they made to how the world is viewed today. With copros like these on S4C’s slate, Edwards admits, ‘We’ve given off very strong signals that we want to coproduce more.’