'Critical' period for TV in Wales

1 August 2016

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University debate at Eisteddfod asks ‘is it the end of an era for traditional television?’

A major Cardiff University debate at the National Eisteddfod asks if traditional TV in Wales can survive as old viewing habits are swept away by the digital revolution.

The debate - TV in Trouble: Is it the end of an era for traditional broadcasting? – takes place from 13:00 to 14:00 on Monday 1 August at the Cardiff University tent.

It will be chaired by TV presenter and Tinopolis Cymru Executive Director Angharad Mair and features key industry figures in Wales:

  • Alun Davies AM, Minister for Life Long Learning and Welsh Language, with responsibility for broadcasting
  • Rhys Evans, BBC Cymru Wales Head of Strategy and Digital
  • Ian Jones, S4C Chief Executive
  • Huw Rossiter, ITV Cymru Wales Public Affairs Manager
  • Liz Saville Roberts MP, Welsh Affairs Committee

The discussion takes place at a key time for broadcasting, with the UK Government carrying out an independent review of S4C in 2017 and a major overhaul of how the BBC is run.

In Wales, Alun Davies AM, Minister with responsibility for broadcasting, recently announced a new independent body to advise on the future of media and broadcasting in Wales.

Mr Davies said ahead of the Cardiff University debate: “The question for broadcasters is how to cope with profound change that stretches resources and investment strategies to breaking point and beyond. There is no one clear way forward, but they must retain the loyalty and habits of older viewers whilst keeping pace with younger people and technology, neither of which ever stands still.

“In the coming months and years there are key decisions to be taken related to broadcasting; the discussions we are closely involved with on the new BBC Charter are continuing and of course there is the independent review of S4C which will take place in 2017.”

BBC Cymru Wales Head of Strategy and Digital, Rhys Evans, said broadcasters were facing a “tidal wave” of change.

But he added that traditional TV could still be hugely popular and uniquely bring communities together, as highlighted by record audiences in Wales for the country’s matches during the Euro 2016 football tournament.

“We’re at a critical juncture and one of the fundamental questions now facing all broadcasters is how we serve audiences with differing needs and expectations across linear and digital media,” he said.

Ian Jones, S4C Chief Executive, said the UK Government review of the Welsh language broadcaster would look at the channel's remit, funding arrangements and governance structures “and the hope is that it will set the foundation of the service for the next 10 to 20 years”.

“As part of this it will need to consider the type of service that Welsh speakers will need in the future,” he said.

“It's important we ensure sufficient funding for S4C so that the channel can continue to provide high quality content on a range of popular platforms, along with securing its independence so it can continue to prioritise Welsh language content."

He added that digital developments and changes in viewing patterns presented S4C and the Welsh language with “far more opportunities”, while television remained “a very popular part of the service”.

The Minister also stressed S4C’s importance. “We must all recognise its standing as a vital and democratically significant institution which must adapt to changes in political and economic circumstances. Its disappearance would constitute an indication of a real crisis within democracy,” said Mr Davies.

Liz Saville Roberts MP, who sits on the Welsh Affairs Committee and is a former news reporter, said: “Television viewers in Wales are highly dependent on public broadcasters, but the level of public spend on Wales for Wales has reduced significantly in recent years. Welsh people’s lives, our history, drama and wider interests are at risk of being ignored by the media, and this in turn threatens both identity and political awareness. At the same time, developments in digital media are driving change, while also offering innovative means of reaching audiences with specific interests."

Huw Rossiter, Public Affairs Manager at ITV Cymru Wales, said: "As Wales' only commercially funded public service broadcaster, ITV Cymru Wales is pleased to take part in this timely debate. There is much to be proud of in Welsh broadcasting and ITV plays an important role in delivering plurality in news and programmes for Wales on the main ITV channel as well as through its supply of award-winning programmes to S4C. But there are also significant challenges facing the public service broadcasters in the fast-changing digital age and we look forward to contributing to a constructive and stimulating discussion on the big issues facing our sector."