S4C considers English voiceovers to widen audience

The chief executive of S4C is considering adding English language voiceovers to some programmes to encourage a wider audience.

Ian Jones's comments come on the 30th anniversary of the launch of the Welsh language channel, which began broadcasting on 1 November, 1982.

Mr Jones said the English service would be available through the red button.

He said it would pay for itself through extra advertising revenue that higher audience figures would attract.

"If we're producing content, why not put an English language track on the red button so that everybody can enjoy the programming?

"We would only do it if we feel there is a commercial case for doing so," he said.

Mr Jones also wants to address the loss of viewers to other platforms, such as online and mobile phones.

"What we should be doing is breaking out of that box, the television, and making sure that we provide content for the widest possible audience, any time, any place, anywhere," he said.

His ambition has been backed by media commentator Maggie Brown, who writes in the Guardian and the Observer.

She said: "One of S4C's duties is to actually promote and spread the Welsh language. And, of course, you have to recruit the rising generation, and they're increasingly turning to other devices [to watch television] such as mobiles and tablets, so there really does have to be a multi-media strategy."

Low ratings

But she said S4C's options for making money from advertising were limited.

"It doesn't really have the chance to make much of its commercial opportunities.

"Channel 4 is a very different animal, it's able to command and control its income because it raises over £800m a year in advertising. S4C is a much more niche, public service channel," she said.

S4C was launched after a long campaign by language activists for a Welsh television channel.

Its audiences and commercial revenue have declined in recent years as more channels have become available to viewers in Wales.

From 2013 most of S4C's budget will come from the BBC licence fee, following the UK government's decision to stop direct funding.

The BBC Trust's national trustee for Wales, Elan Closs Stephens, now sits on the board of the S4C Authority.

On the issue of low ratings for some S4C programmes, Mr Jones said the value of these programmes should be measured by more than just the size of the audience.

He said: "I'm not convinced that S4C should be judged on cost per viewer hour, or the average number of viewers who watch S4C in peak times at any one point. It's wider than that.

"If S4C's core audience is 600,000, then 10% of that audience is actually a good rating, if you just focus on ratings.

"But what I'm saying is we shouldn't just be focussing just on ratings. It's a wider collection of measures that we should focus on."

The tough economic climate means there will be no champagne receptions to mark S4C's 30th birthday. But a number of new and archive programmes are being broadcast to celebrate the occasion.

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