Written evidence submitted by S4C


Culture, Media and Sport Committee –

Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Media Bill





S4C is the Welsh-language public service media (PSM) provider. Reaching over 500,000 viewers a week, S4C’s audiovisual content can be viewed on linear television, through its player S4C Clic, the BBC iPlayer, and on social media. Since it first broadcast in November 1982, S4C has grown from a single, part-time linear television channel to a multiplatform media service that offers over 115 hours of content a week – over 6,500 hours a year – across a diverse range of genres including news and current affairs, drama, sport, children’s programmes, entertainment, music, and factual documentaries.


The Welsh language is at the heart of S4C’s unique public purpose and is a focal point for all its provision. In a rapidly evolving media landscape, there remains a vital role for S4C in reflecting Wales in all its diversity, and allowing the Welsh language and our culture to be seen and heard in Wales, the UK, and around the world. For this reason, S4C must be accessible and easily discoverable in the digital world in order for us to share our Welsh-language content with as wide an audience as possible.


S4C welcomes the recent publication of the Draft Media Bill and we hope to see it progress through Parliament as a matter of urgency. The passing of the Media Act will play a critical role in ensuring S4C can deliver on its remit in a digital age and will help guarantee the long-term success of public service media in Wales and beyond.


We particularly welcome provisions to secure prominence and availability for S4C on connected TV platforms. As a driving force in promoting the Welsh language, prominence is especially key for a minority language broadcaster like S4C to reach its target audiences and serve its unique public purpose. Moreover, new ‘must carry’ obligations for connected TV platforms will guarantee that S4C’s services are available to audiences across the UK, thus helping to protect the vibrancy of the Welsh language for future generations, wherever they may live.


This long-awaited Media Bill also provides updates to S4C’s remit, governance structure and commercial arrangements, in line with recommendations from the independent review of S4C published in 2018[1]. Updating S4C’s public service remit to include online services and removing the geographical broadcasting restrictions, simplifying its approval processes for commercial activity, and reforming S4C’s governance structure will ensure that S4C can harness new opportunities in the digital age.


Given that the provision of free-to-air sports plays a vital role in introducing the Welsh language to new audiences, we welcome proposals to make the Listed Events regime a PSB-specific benefit, redressing an historical anomaly from the analogue age which had excluded S4C. We are also pleased to see provisions in the Bill that acknowledge the importance of the UK’s regional and minority languages within the public service remit for television for the first time.



Public Service Broadcasting


Should the Media Bill provide a clear definition of what prominence in online services looks like?


For some time, S4C and other public service broadcasters (PSBs) have called for updated legislation to guarantee availability and prominence on digital platforms. A new and enforceable regime is particularly critical for S4C given that English-language content, and those with far greater brand ubiquity and promotion budgets, dominate most platforms.


The Draft Media Bill proposes a new framework that will guarantee an appropriate degree of prominence[2] for S4C’s designated internet programme service(s) (IPS) on regulated television selection services (RTSS). The Bill does not require that a designated IPS be given prominence, or the same degree of prominence, in relation to every area of the United Kingdom[3]. We assume Ofcom’s new online prominence code will clarify what level of prominence S4C’s IPS will have. However, we would as a minimum expect the same principles as under the current prominence code for linear television to apply, guaranteeing S4C a high degree of prominence in Wales, where S4C appears after BBC1, BBC2 and ITV.


The Draft Bill requires PSBs’ designated IPS to be given an “appropriate degree” of prominence on RTSS. We would support the amendment of this wording to ensure that these designated IPS are given a ‘significant’ degree of prominence to better reflect expectations and to ensure that PSBs are able to meet our public service obligations. The language of ‘appropriate’ prominence matches the pre-existing EPG Code. While this has for the most part led to S4C being on channel number four in Wales, S4C remained, for instance, channel 166 on Virgin Media in Wales up until 2021, as the meaning of ‘appropriate’ allowed for a wide interpretation under Ofcom’s prominence code.


For this reason, the new legislation ought to provide a clear principle to guide Ofcom in drawing up the new prominence code in line with the public service remit for television; that is, that PSBs’ designated IPS would appear prominently and be easily discoverable on screens. The new code, to be drawn up by Ofcom in due course, should come following consultation with key stakeholders. While there is clearly a balance to be struck to allow sufficient flexibility to adapt to market changes and to recognise the importance of consumer choice, the new code’s principles should be as clear as possible to allow for effective regulation of prominence and enforcement of the code.



Are proposals allowing a Public Service Broadcaster to meet its remit by online programming as well as linear appropriate?


Whilst public service content is clearly still valued by viewers, technology and, as a result, audience habits and expectations have changed. It is important that public service remits for PSBs reflect these changes. S4C welcomes proposals allowing public service content made available online to be regarded as contributing to the fulfilment of its remit. Greater flexibility in how S4C meets its remit will mean that S4C is able to serve as wide and diverse an audience as possible.


Given the significance of the legislative changes, there are various questions arising from the drafting of the Bill and we welcome the ongoing engagement we have with DCMS officials on these points. For example, the effect of the current drafting is to exclude from the definition of public service content the news programmes which S4C makes available on its players. This is because there is a 30 day availability requirement which S4C cannot, contractually, meet.


We also welcome the proposals which enable PSBs to deliver their PSB quotas across linear and on-demand services. Further work will be required by DCMS and Ofcom to define how quotas will be set and measured on non-linear platforms and we are seeking clarification on some of the quota provisions with DCMS officials.


Do the proposals for S4C meet the legislative changes required by the independent S4C review in 2018, and are these changes still relevant and appropriate today?


In response to an independent review of S4C published in 2018, Building an S4C for the Future, the UK Government committed to implementing a number of the recommendations. These recommendations included:

-         Updating S4C’s public service remit to include digital and online services and removing the geographical broadcasting restrictions;

-         Amending current approval requirements to give S4C’s commercial arm greater freedom to invest and generate revenue;

-         Replacing the S4C Authority with a new Unitary Board made up of executive and non-executive members.


Whilst awaiting legislation, in practice, S4C has already (by agreement with DCMS) adopted many of the changes outlined in the Bill. For instance, S4C’s Board has operated as a Shadow Unitary Board since autumn 2018. S4C already offers online and digital services, and the 2022 Licence Fee Settlement – with £7.5m p.a. to be spent on improving S4C’s digital offering – has also helped to confirm that S4C ought to prioritise digital innovation alongside linear broadcasting as a strategic priority. Modernising S4C’s remit to include online services, and removing the geographical restriction, gives S4C the footing it requires to adapt to a changing media environment and broaden its appeal to Welsh speakers and learners, wherever they may live. With the exception of DTT, all platforms which carry S4C’s content are available across the UK, and we attract a significant audience outside of Wales. We therefore welcome the widening of S4C’s remit to reflect the reality of how our services are delivered and accessed.


S4C’s commercial activities are carried out through a small commercial arm, S4C Masnachol, which is wholly owned by S4C. Under the current, relatively cumbersome process involving Secretary of State approval by Statutory Instrument, S4C had avoided relying on its power to carry out certain commercial activities ‘appropriate or connected’ to its public service functions. The Draft Bill proposes to simplify the approval framework for S4C’s commercial activities more in line with the business model of a modern broadcaster. There is a broader commercial scope, which will only require the Secretary of State’s approval ‘in writing’. We hope to be able to agree with the Secretary of State an arrangement for general approval of a range of commercial activities[4], which would allow S4C sufficient flexibility in making full use of future commercial opportunities.



Is the draft bill sufficiently flexible to legislate for any future extension of the Listed Events regime to include digital content?


The Listed Events regime is intended to ensure that certain events of national interest, or of national interest within a particular nation of the UK, are available to view live, and for free, by the widest possible audience. Under the current regime, only free-to-air broadcast channels received by 95% of the UK population qualify. This in practice means that S4C is the only PSB excluded, despite being received by over 95% of the population in Wales. We are therefore pleased provisions will redress this by specifying that qualifying services are provided by PSBs, including S4C. For the Welsh language to survive and grow, it needs to be seen and heard. Major sporting events are a crucial means of introducing S4C’s services and the Welsh language to much wider audiences.


In 2022, DCMS launched a review of the broadcast rules around major sporting events and considered whether PSBs should be guaranteed the opportunity to buy digital rights for major sporting events. We understand that this review is still ongoing.


The Media Bill updates the range of services that fall within scope of the listed events regime to include both television programme services and internet programme services. Our understanding is that this of itself would not bring digital rights within scope of the listed events regime and that this will depend on the outcome of the DCMS review.





Are the requirements for the Tier 1 standards code proportionate?


The Draft Bill introduces the concept of ‘Tier 1 services’ which will be subject to enhanced regulation. PSBs’ on-demand programme service(s) (ODPS) will be classed as Tier 1 services. The Bill confers powers upon the Secretary of State to specify and amend which other video on-demand services, including non-UK headquartered ODPS, beyond those of the PSBs fall under Tier 1 regulations. We understand these will include imposing audience protection standards similar to the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.


S4C supports the proposals to extend the regulation of content on on-demand services, to ensure that UK audiences receive consistent levels of protection and to create a level playing field between PSBs and major streaming services. It also removes the anomaly that audiences viewing content on linear television have far higher levels of protection than those viewing content on on-demand platforms.


The Bill also moves the regulation of S4C’s ODPS from the S4C Authority to Ofcom. We welcome this move to ensure that both S4C’s linear channel and its ODPS are now brought within Ofcom regulation.


Are accessibility requirements for Video-on-Demand set at an appropriate level?


Provisions to implement a new accessibility code for Tier 1 services align with existing statutory requirements for access services placed upon linear broadcasting[5]. We again support these proposals to ensure that on-demand services are accessible to people with disabilities and to level the playing field for PSBs and streaming services.


The Bill provides that Ofcom may create exemptions to these requirements[6]. We would in due course welcome consultation with Ofcom as it draws up a code for access services on ODPS.



General issues


Is the draft bill flexible enough to address future developments in audience habits and new technology?

We recognise the need to ensure a balance between regulation and a rapidly changing media environment.


The Media Bill still assumes TV as the primary device to consume audiovisual content e.g. in terms of prominence and availability. We understand that mobiles, laptops, tablets and other similar devices are not part of this, as they are used for a range of purposes, not primarily to consume audiovisual content. We understand that video-sharing platforms are also out of scope, although they have a large market share amongst young audiences.


If habits continue to change, there is a risk the framework may become less relevant. Within this, however, there are powers given to the Secretary of State to introduce certain changes and Ofcom also has an important role to play in introducing codes which set out specific details of how some of the principles of the Bill will be applied. There is scope for the Secretary of State and Ofcom to update relevant requirements in light of evolving consumer behaviour and technological advances.



Does the draft bill provide sufficient protection for those without internet access or who prefer to use broadcast services?

Whilst the media landscape is clearly evolving, linear public service broadcasting remains a strong and valued media for many audiences across the UK. The Draft Bill does not propose any changes to the current linear regulatory regimes in terms of EPG prominence, codes on content standards, and regulation of access services. This ensures protection for those who are unable, or choose not to, use internet-delivered services.

Whilst the Bill offers flexibility to deliver most quotas across linear and on-demand services, some elements will be preserved for linear TV services:

-         High quality and impartial news and current affairs programme are a cornerstone of the PSB provision and these quotas will continue to be set for linear PSB services[7].

-         The quota for original productions will include a new ‘additional peak viewing time objective’ to ensure that linear audiences can still enjoy a sufficient level of original productions during peak linear hours[8].


The Government outlined its intentions for the future of digital terrestrial television (DTT) in its White Paper Up Next: The Government’s vision for the broadcasting sector: Our expectation, based on the high level of DTT used by households across all parts of the UK, is that it will continue to be an important content distribution channel for at least the remainder of the 2020s and likely into the early 2030s.[9] The five national DTT multiplex licences have been extended until 2034, with a power of revocation which cannot take effect earlier than the end of 2030. The Government may ask Ofcom to conduct a review of the future of DTT, to be completed by the end 2025. An objective review of DTT trends will help to indicate market changes and inform future decisions on the long-term use of the DTT platform.

Do you have any recommendations for additional or amended drafting to the draft Bill?

There are some areas where we are seeking further clarification from DCMS officials and we welcome the engagement with them following publication of the Bill.


Further to those areas already outlined above in our response, we are also seeking clarity on the scope of the new public service remit for television. The proposed new remit[10] lists a range of public service audiovisual content, including news and current affairs, content in or mainly in Welsh (and other recognised minority languages), a range of audiovisual content for children and young people, original and independent productions, and those produced outside the M25. We believe the new remit in s.264(4) is sufficiently broad to enable PSBs to provide, as part of their public service remit delivery, the same range of genres as was previously prescribed, notwithstanding that the prescribed PSB genres are now fewer than previously. We have sought confirmation that our interpretation is correct.







17 May 2023



[1] Building an S4C for the Future []

[2] See s.362AL of the Draft Media Bill.

[3] S.362AL subsection (2) of the draft bill allows for regional variation.

[4] S.204B(3) contains the power for the Secretary of State to give general approval in writing.

[5] S.368HL Accessibility Code for Tier 1 Services

[6] S.368HL(8)

[7] Schedule 12, para 9 [of the Communications Act 2003] contains S4C’s obligations to meet news and current affairs quotas and remains substantively unchanged.

[8] Schedule 12, para 8 sets out the new obligations on S4C to meet original production quotas.

[9]Up Next: the government’s vision for the broadcasting sector

[10] S.264(4-5)