Currently, Welsh channel S4C broadcasts both Welsh and English language programming. But all of that will change this year when the analog signal is switched off in Wales. Since the majority of S4C’s English programming comes from Channel 4, and the UK channel will be freely available in Wales after the switch-off, S4C will cease to carry that chunk of programming and will go all Welsh.
‘There is a particular demand for programs that record and celebrate Wales, its landscape, natural history, culture and heritage as well as rural programming,’ says S4C’s Content Editor Factual and Coproductions, Lowri Gwilym. ‘Because S4C appeals to bilingual families and Welsh speakers and learners at all levels, we’re responding to a demand for simpler and clearer language.’
Gwilym thinks the switch-off will make the year ahead interesting, since much of S4C’s current audience still watches the channel in analog. S4C recently published its content strategy for the switchover period which can be found on S4C’s website. The gist of the plan is to help ease the viewers into S4C Digital while paying attention to which areas are switching over and when, in order to cater to each area of Wales individually. It also lays out the plans for each time of day with a focus on children’s programming in the morning, a combination of original programs and repeats in the afternoon, high priority paid to the quality of programs during the peak period and a focus on more variety in adult programs for the late evening.
For factual programming, Gwilym says the channel’s strengths lie in the areas of rural programs, history and natural history. ‘This year we chose to highlight environmental programming, with five series across the schedule and over nine months of the year,’ she says. ‘Particularly successful was The Natural History of Wales, a beautifully crafted, fully-funded HD series that drew audiences and critical approval.’ Two of S4C’s strands with a focus on documentary programming include ‘O’r Galon’ (From the Heart) which focuses on emotional stories and ‘Wynebau Newydd’ (New Faces) which targets the younger audience. Gwilym doesn’t buy many programs, but she coproduces five or six major factual projects every year, including The River with Green Bay Media which interweaves environmental issues with personal stories, and China Rises which is coproduced with CBC, France 5 and ZDF.
Though all of S4C’s programming will soon be in the Welsh language, and Gwilym feels it’s important to maintain the documentary talent pool in Wales, she also calls upon producers outside of the country to submit ideas to the channel. ‘Pet projects, when bounced around a bit, often disguise a big idea in the making,’ she says. ‘But too many turn up on our website still as a private obsession or a one-off that would get lost in the schedules. Producers outside Wales should watch our output, and work out how their idea will work in the Welsh language.’ Producers can submit their ideas through the S4C website’s production portal.