S4C logo used from 10 April 2014
|Broadcast area||United Kingdom|
|Headquarters||Canolfan S4C Yr Egin, Carmarthen, Wales, United Kingdom|
(English subtitles available on some programmes)
|Launched||1 November 1982|
|Freeview||Channel 4 (Wales only)|
|Virgin Media (UK)||Channel 166 (HD)|
|11426 V 29500 8/9 (HD)|
|11344 V 27500 5/6 (SD)|
|S4C Clic (with adverts)||Watch live (UK and Ireland)|
|TVPlayer (with adverts)||Watch live (UK only)|
|BBC iPlayer (without adverts)||Watch live (UK only)|
S4C (Welsh pronunciation: [ˌɛs ˌpɛdwar ˈɛk], from the Welsh Sianel Pedwar Cymru, meaning Channel Four Wales) is a Welsh-language free-to-air television channel. The first television channel to be aimed specifically at a Welsh-speaking audience, S4C is the fourth-oldest terrestrial television channel in the United Kingdom after BBC One, ITV and BBC Two. As of 2019–2020, S4C had an average of 101 employees.
When first established, the channel—initially broadcast on analogue television—was bilingual (Welsh and English) outside peak hours, with English-language content consisting of the simultaneous or deferred transmission of programmes from Channel 4 (analogue reception of which was unavailable in most of Wales). When digital terrestrial television arrived several years later, S4C added a second, full-time Welsh-language channel called S4C Digidol ("digital") on 1 November 1998. With the completion of the digital switchover in Wales on 31 March 2010 which made English-language Channel 4 available across Wales as S4C's bilingual analogue channel closed, and what had been S4C Digidol became the default S4C channel, available on Freeview and pay television, and broadcasting entirely in Welsh. S4C does not commission programming in English, but when English is used on the channel it is left untranslated. Moreover, the channel includes an English subtitle track available for some programmes, which viewers can access using their television set's remote control.
Before the launch of S4C on Monday 1 November 1982 (one day before Channel 4 in the rest of the UK), Welsh speakers had been served by occasional programmes in Welsh, broadcast as regional opt-outs on BBC Cymru Wales and HTV Cymru Wales (the ITV franchise in Wales), usually at off-peak or inconvenient times. This was unsatisfactory for Welsh speakers, who saw the arrangement as a sop, and at the same time an annoyance for non-Welsh speakers, who found the English-language programmes seen in the rest of the UK often rescheduled or not transmitted at all.
On 14 September 1962, the ITV network had created a licence area for North and West Wales, which was awarded to Wales (West and North) Limited. This traded as Teledu Cymru and provided significant levels of Welsh-language programming. However, problems with transmission infrastructure and poor market research led to financial difficulties within two years and the station was taken over by its neighbour Television Wales and the West.
During the 1970s, Welsh-language activists had campaigned for a TV service in the language, which already had its own radio station, BBC Radio Cymru. Both the Conservative and Labour parties promised a Welsh-language fourth channel, if elected to government in the 1979 general election. Shortly after the Conservatives won a majority in the election, the new Home Secretary William Whitelaw decided against a Welsh fourth channel, and suggested that, except for an occasional opt-out, the service should be the same as that offered in the rest of the UK. This led to acts of civil disobedience, including refusals to pay the television licence fee, thereby running the risk of prosecution or even a prison sentence, and sit-ins in BBC and HTV studios. Some took more extreme measures, including attacking television transmitters in Welsh-speaking areas.
On 17 September 1980, the former president of Plaid Cymru, Gwynfor Evans, threatened to go on hunger strike if the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher did not honour its commitment to provide a Welsh-language TV service. The channel started broadcasting on 1 November 1982, the night before Channel 4's opening.
S4C's remit is to provide a service which features a wide range of programmes in the Welsh language. Like Channel 4, S4C does not produce programmes of its own; instead, it commissions programmes from BBC Cymru Wales and independent producers (although the quantity purchased from ITV Cymru Wales has greatly reduced since the early years of S4C), and it has particularly developed a reputation for commissioning children's animation, such as SuperTed, Rocky Hollow, Fireman Sam (also broadcast by the BBC), Gogs, Shakespeare: The Animated Tales and the 1992-1996 French co-production Natalie.
BBC Wales fulfils its public service requirement by producing programmes in Welsh, including Newyddion, S4C's news bulletin, and a soap opera, Pobol y Cwm, and providing them to S4C free of charge. It has also provided (or licensed) Welsh-language versions of English-language programmes, such as the original Teletubbies. On the analogue service, S4C showed programmes produced for Channel 4 in the rest of the United Kingdom – either simultaneously or time-shifted – outside of peak hours. These programmes were provided to S4C by Channel 4, free of charge.
To make content more accessible to English speakers, all Welsh-language programming carries English subtitles. Originally these were on Sbectel teletext page 888, with Welsh subtitles on page 889, with both subtitle languages now also available on digital television platforms. For speakers of English who are learning Welsh, certain programmes, particularly children's programmes Planed Plant Bach (now Cyw) and Planed Plant (now Stwnsh), carry subtitles featuring Welsh subtitles with additional English translations in brackets next to more difficult Welsh-language words. TV films produced for S4C have received some good foreign reviews; Hedd Wyn was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 1994 and Solomon & Gaenor was nominated in 2000.
The S4C analogue signal also spilled over on to the east coast of the Republic of Ireland. In the past it was rebroadcast in a number of areas there on UHF terrestrial signals by so-called 'deflectors'. Up until the 1990s, S4C was also carried by some Irish cable and MMDS providers before being replaced by Channel 4. The S4C channels continue to be available in the Republic of Ireland via the Freesat satellite service.
Up until 2009, S4C ran its own teletext service, Sbectel ("Sbec", Welsh for "a peek" or "a glimpse", and a reference to an S4C schedule insert formerly included in the TVTimes issues for the HTV Wales region).
11.5 million people throughout the UK watched S4C on television at some time during 2019–2020. On average, 702,000 people throughout the UK watched the channel on TV every week.
The BARB rolling four week viewing figures for November 2020 were just 0.07% across the UK. If scaled up for Wales alone, this would be just a 1.46% audience share. https://www.barb.co.uk/viewing-data/weekly-viewing-summary-new/
On an average week in 2019-2020, approximately 306,000 viewers in Wales watched the channel on television for at least three consecutive minutes. 142,000 Welsh speakers in Wales watched S4C each week during this period.
The programme that enjoyed the channel's highest viewing figures in 2019-2020 was Sgorio's coverage of Wales' Euro 2020 qualifier match against Hungary in November 2019, which drew 366,000 viewers.
Following the switch-off of analogue terrestrial signals on 31 March 2010, Wales became the first fully digital region in the UK, with both S4C and Channel 4 becoming available to all homes. As a result, S4C now broadcasts solely in the Welsh language and, as well as on Freeview in Wales, is available throughout Britain, Ireland and the rest of western Europe on Freesat and Sky. A review commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in 2004 suggested that "S4C should operate a single core service after digital switchover".
In addition, S4C also operated a sister channel, S4C2 until 2010. It formerly broadcast coverage of the National Assembly for Wales when in session. The programme content was provided by the BBC who, from January 2010, now make it available online and via BBC Parliament. Like the main channel, S4C2 was available within Wales on Freeview and throughout the UK and Ireland on Freesat and Sky. S4C2 had two audio feeds, allowing viewers to select between an untranslated version and an English-only version where all Welsh spoken is translated into English. Delayed coverage of Assembly proceedings is now broadcast overnight on S4C's main channel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. In addition to the analogue TV signal transmitted throughout Wales, S4C, along with United News & Media, owned the company S4C Digital Networks (SDN). SDN was awarded the UK-wide contract to provide half a digital multiplex worth of programming. The other half continues to belong to the broadcaster Channel 5.
On 27 April 2005, S4C sold its share of SDN to ITV plc for approximately £34 million, though it still has the half-multiplex as of right in Wales. ITV already owned some of SDN due to the consolidation of the ITV industry: Granada bought UNM's stake in SDN, and this was then incorporated into the united ITV plc. In January 2007, S4C announced plans to launch a Welsh-language children's service. The new service, in the form of a programming block, launched on 23 June 2008. Under the name Cyw (chick), it brings together a wide range of programmes for nursery-age children, and S4C plans eventually to extend the service to include the Stwnsh strand for older children and a third service for teenagers and young people. The service currently airs on weekdays from 7 am to 1.30 pm on S4C.
S4C launched a high-definition simulcast of S4C called 'Clirlun' on 19 July 2010 to coincide with terrestrial digital switchover in Wales. Clirlun was broadcast on Freeview channel 53 only, and not via other platforms. However, following funding cuts and a review of core services it was announced on 11 July 2012 that Clirlun would close before the end of the year. Clirlun closed at midnight on the evening of 1 December 2012, with Channel 4 HD taking over its transmission capacity with effect from the next day, 2 December 2012. It was announced on 20 May 2016 that S4C would relaunch a high-definition service S4C HD on Freesat and Sky in Wales and across the UK from 7 June onwards.
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S4C launched on 1 November 1982 (the day before Channel 4 started in the UK), its on-air appearance has always been a representation of the Welsh society and people, but this representation has changed several times. Initial idents featured clips from the natural landscapes of Wales with a basic logo animation and fanfare, with the logo forming as WALES4CYMRU.
In 2 May 1987, the ident changed to a computer-generated ident featuring an animation of the streamlined S4C logo and the colours of the logo were blue, green and red. The font used for this logo was Bodoni Bold. On 7 September 1990, the new ident was introduced, depicting a piece of Welsh slate with colours blue, green and red washing over the letters S4C Until 31 May 1993.
On 1 June 1993, S4C introduced a new series of idents, which depicted inanimate objects as having characteristics of dragons (such as flight or breathing fire), as a reference to the red dragon on the flag of Wales. On 10 February 1995, the channel introduced a new logo, featuring a tilde representing a dragon.
On 18 January 2007, S4C announced that their digital channels would be refreshed with a new corporate logo and brand. The new branding was implemented online on 17 January, with S4C's television channels adopting it the next day. The new branding, developed by the London-based firm Proud Creative, was intended to portray S4C as a more "contemporary" multi-platform broadcaster, and downplayed "traditional" Welsh imagery such as dragons. Its idents were filmed around various parts of the country, and themed around magnetism—representing the "uncontrollable attraction" of Welsh people and their "emotional affinity to the homeland, whether near or far". The magnetism-themed idents were later accompanied by a new set developed in collaboration with the agency Minivegas, consisting of live-action scenes with dynamic, animated elements that can react to the voice of the continuity announcer.
A new S4C logo and brand developed by Sugar Creative Studio was introduced on 10 April 2014; the new design was developed around a concept of providing "context" to S4C's target audience and programming. The design revolves heavily around a trapezium shape used within the channel's new logo, which is prominently used within aspects of the channel's overall marketing and branding.
S4C has faced criticism for poor viewing figures since its launch. Leaked internal reports in March 2010 showed that "over the 20-day period from February 15 to last Saturday, March 6, as many as 196 of the 890 programmes put out by S4C were rated as having zero viewers". The story was widely reported across the UK and referenced in parliament by the then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. In response, an S4C spokesperson stated that 90% of those programmes were aimed at pre-school children, and that BARB (the organisation that compiles television ratings in the UK) only takes into account viewers aged four years and over. The remaining 10% consisted of repeats and daytime news bulletins which did not attract the minimum 1,000 viewers necessary to register on a UK-wide analysis.
On 28 July 2010, S4C's chief executive Iona Jones left her post without explanation. Assembly members and Members of Parliament requested an independent investigation into the circumstances leading up to her departure. The S4C Authority refused to comment further and commissioned a review into how the broadcaster was governed in August 2010. On 3 February 2011, it was announced that issues between Iona Jones and S4C had been settled. On 11 February 2011, the Shortridge Report on corporate governance was made public.
S4C appointed its first female CEO, Iona Jones, in 2005.
Funding and regulation
From its inception, S4C was in part publicly financed: funding came both from its advertising revenue and a fixed annual grant from the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), receiving £90m of funding in 2011. Additionally, some Welsh-language programming (including Newyddion and Pobol y Cwm) was produced by BBC Wales as part of the BBC's public service remit, and provided to S4C free of charge. There is an agreement in place until 2022 for 10 hours a week of programming to be provided to S4C, which is valued at £19.4m annually.
From 2013, responsibility for funding S4C began to transfer to the BBC, with the DCMS reducing its funding by 94% by 2015. The BBC will provide around £76m of funding to S4C by this date, resulting in a cut of around 25% to S4C's annual budget. In 2016, it was agreed that the BBC would provide £74.5m a year funding to S4C from the licence fee until 2022. The UK Government announced in 2018 that it would continue providing £6.72m until 2020, with the aim of S4C being funded wholly from the licence fee from 2022. This would see S4C's funding being decided as part of the licence fee settlement, for 10-year periods.
S4C maintains its own catch-up service called Clic. Clic is a free online video on demand service which offers live-streaming, signed programming, a 35-day catch-up service, and archive programming. Clic is available across the UK but also contains a limited selection of worldwide programming. Clic's catch-up service is split into seven categories: Drama, Entertainment, Factual and Arts, Music, Sport, and two Children's categories, Cyw (ages 3–6) and Stwnsh (ages 7–13). A Clic app was released for Apple's iOS devices on 18 August 2011.
There were 8.2 million viewing sessions to S4C content on Clic and BBC iPlayer in 2017–2018. This was an increase of 600,000 from the 7.6 million viewing sessions on those platforms in 2016–2017.
- Fourth UK television service
- Timeline of television in Wales
- List of Welsh-language programmes
- List of Welsh-language media
- Celtic Media Festival
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