S4C's viewing figures rise again

S4C published its Annual Report yesterday, which people can read for themselves here. This is how the news was reported in the media:

     Dod â gwasanaeth Clirlun S4C i ben
     S4C: Welsh broadcaster to axe high definition service
     S4C faces cuts of 36% and will axe its HD service
     S4C yn gwneud colled o £6 miliwn

But perhaps we can't blame them too much for that, because this is exactly what S4C's own press release had focused on.
That's a shame, because for me the more important question is how well the channel has performed in terms of the quality and popularity of its programmes. How many people think S4C's programmes are worth watching?

The good news is that under nearly every measure more people watched the channel in 2011 than in 2010. These figures are from page 46/47 of the report, with the 2010 figures first:

15 minute monthly reach

Across the UK ... 797,000 ... 802,000 ... + 5,000
In Wales ... 607,000 ... 635,000 ... + 28,000
Welsh speakers in Wales ... 241,000 ... 276,000 ... + 35,000

15 minute weekly reach

Across the UK ... 381,000 ... 390,000 ... + 9,000
In Wales ... 309,000 ... 325,000 ... + 16,000
Welsh speakers in Wales ... 149,000 ... 178,000 ... + 29,000

3 minute weekly reach

Across the UK ... 616,000 ... 618,000 ... + 2,000
In Wales ... 467,000 ... 474,000 ... + 7,000
Welsh speakers in Wales ... 197,000 ... 223,000 ... + 26,000

3 minute annual reach

Across the UK ... 5,334,000 ... 5,261,000 ... - 73,000
In Wales ... 2,002,000 ... 2,007,000 ... + 5,000

Online viewing sessions

1,600,000 ... 2,500,000 ... + 900,000

S4C Annual Report, 2011

These increases follow on from similar increases last year, as I noted here.

So whatever criticisms we might have of S4C and the way it's been treated over the past year or so, it is clearly getting some things right.

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Anonymous said...

This is encouraging news, though, is 15 minutes a week, not to say month, a true barometer of anything? I'm sure I watch one of those shopping channels for 15 minutes a month, just by mistake or for a laugh, but I'd hardly class that as viewing.

Do other broadcasters use this methodology?

The online viewing figures are very encouraging.


MH said...

Whether one way of measuring audience reach is better than another is a matter of opinion, but S4C can't re-invent the wheel, M. They can only reasonably be expected to measure their reach by industry standards in the same way as other channels do. All people need to do is read the report, for it's all explained on the very same page as the figures:

"The standard reach indicator for the commercial
television industry is the number of people
who have watched a programme for at least 3
minutes consecutively during a week. This is the
measurement that has been used by S4C in the
past and is still used by broadcasters such as ITV.
Other measurements are also in use by different
broadcasters. The BBC, for example, measures
at least 15 minutes of consecutive viewing on a
weekly basis and Channel 4 measures at least 15
consecutive minutes on a monthly basis.

Following consideration of the various metrics, the
Authority has approved the 15 consecutive minute
monthly measurement as an appropriate target for
the S4C service. We will also report on the 15-minute
and 3 minute weekly measures to provide historical
context and consistency with BBC practice."

Providing any measure is used consistently, it is a valid indication of whether S4C is reaching more people or not. It very clearly is reaching more people in Wales by all the definitions. The figures put lie to the idea that no-one watches the channel, and in particular that not even Welsh speakers watch the channel.

Of course these figure don't mean that everything is OK at S4C, or that the new people in charge are any better or worse than the old ones. I can't say I hold out much hope that they will be, but I'd like to be pleasantly surprised.


And, as a separate observation, I think the decision to ditch Clirlun is absolutely mad. High-definition is the future, and it's short sighted to turn your back on it. I only hope that they have not given up their rights to the bandwidth on a permanent basis. However it might be tolerable to lease it out on a short-term basis for a year or two.

Dafydd Tomos said...

The quality of programming has increased significantly in the last couple of years. Rather than coasting along comfortably they appear to be putting a lot more effort into finding new ideas or formats. It's extremely disappointing that it took massive budget cuts to get them to this point as they are now completely focused on short-term solutions to limit the damage.

For example, there are lots of one-off programmers or 2/3 episode series being produced. There are very few long-term commissions or programme strands outside 'soap'. This doesn't help with viewer loyalty. It's quite easy to miss good programmes since they may be shown once never to be seen again.

As you say, another short-term decision is to close the Freeview HD channel. Once they abandon it, it will never be considered viable again and they will lose the space. Viewers may become used to receiving Channel 4 HD in Wales, if they apply for the space. S4C may lose their prime EPG slot and it's a step closer to losing their claim to be a national broadcaster, being relegated to just one of many minority channels.

It will be many years before any more HD slots are available on Freeview. It will also take many years before live HD broadcasting on the web will be truly viable, robust or even usable for most people in Wales on slower non-fibre connections.
I've blogged more about this in Cymraeg here.

Efrogwr said...

A gripe of mine is that the programmes are taken down from the Clic player within a few weeks of broadcast, for copyright reasons. It is a pity that the channel and the small number of Welsh production companies cannot find a way to keep the programmes available on a permanent basis. It would be a great resource, much as the Channel 4 "On Demand" player is (programmes from as far back as the 90s are available). More and more BBC archived material is also becoming available on iPlayer.

Anonymous said...

Agree with most of the above. I think the viewing figures (particularly the online ones) are good. However I am shocked that the industry standard is a mere 15mins!.

I have to agree that closing clirlun was the right thing to do. It takes such a large amount of the budget and it is not utilised that much. Apart from one football match I don't think I have ever watched clirlun - and I've always found that HD on Freeview isn't that great compared to SKY. I mean what programmes are actually recorded in clirlun on S4C?

Clirlun I am afraid was a luxury we cannot afford. And by the time HD becomes the norm (which I'm sure it will) slots will be available on Freeview. But personally I don't like HD that much, again I only see it useful on sports / nature programmes.

Agree with Dafydd Tomos: some great programmes have been put on in the past year. I didn't need to see this report to see things are improving- I know myself that I am watching more of S4C than I have for almost 10yrs. E.g the cwffio cawell was really good.

I also agree that having too short a series is frustrating. Once you 'get into it' it's gone. This has always been a problem with S4C. I'm assuming they want to test it out before commissioning a large piece about it?.

Totally agree with Efrogwr- this should be put in contracts in the future. I know it might be hard for some of the 'classics' like C'mon Midfield to be put on. But if it could it would be great. I'll be honest- I wouldn't mind paying a small fee to watch these online, and I'm certain that would be the case for any expats abroad. This could be a great money winner + advertising revenue for the site.

One thing I have been annoyed with is scheduling. E.g Jacbot was put on again. I have no idea when it is on because my freeview box says "Pen8nos x til x pm". They need to sort it out by maybe saying Pen8nos: Jacbot.

Another example is Dim Byd. There was quite a lot of comedies on e.g with those people from C'fon and the look a likes. However I had no idea it was on because it was under the banner "Dim Byd" i.e the programme where there is channel flicking (a lot like it, but I don't). Again had they put on the schedules Dim Byd: look a likes I would have caught it.

It was the same with S4CAur at the beginning- you had no idea what was coming on.

But overall I am rather happy with S4C, what we want is good programmes and that has improved. I would like to see a comedy series like C'mon Mid back on or 9tan10 - this is something S4C do really well.

MH said...

Interesting points. Yes, I think it's fair to say that S4C have had a wake-up call, and that they are trying to improve. It would be interesting to conjecture about how much better and more popular their programming would now be if they hadn't had to take such a large cut in their budget. TV does cost money, and although they might well now have the best will in the world, they are going to be hampered by limited resources.

I am very pessimistic about their future under forced partnership with the BBC, and I think no good will come of it. The only real hope is devolution of broadcasting, and that might only come with independence.


Nice post, Dafydd. I didn't realize that S4C SD was being broadcast at a lower resolution. But I did know S4C had committed themselves to the programmes they commission being in HD format. I trust that answers your comment, Anon 16:56. To me, though, saying you "don't like HD that much" is a little like hearing someone say they prefer to see snooker in black and white or listen to opera in mono. I have to say that programmes like C'mon Midffîld are enhanced by having a certain antique charm. Those were the days ... but the future of broadcasting is definitely forwards, not back.

As I said, I really hope S4C do not give up their HD slot. Leasing it for a few years might be OK, but if it's lost it will be very hard to win back. It would mean they have to rely on either the BBC broadcasting it for them on its HD slots or on satellite. Rather than be tied to either, S4C needs the freedom of having the rights to its own Freeview slot.


I'm very pleased with the increasing popularity of Clic and would love to see an online archive. I find myself watching more on demand services on all channels than live programming. But Clic, which used to be state of the art, is now showing its age. The bit rate is 512 kbps; but the BBC's iPlayer is streaming at multiple bitrates from 400 to 1500 kbps, with HD sometimes on offer at 3200 kbps as Dafydd mentioned.

Wales just doesn't have the enough cabled infrastructure for that, but it's desperately needed. In fact more needed for business than entertainment.

Anonymous said...

I'd agree that Clic is starting to show it's age (in terms of picture quality). But the relative simplicity of the website should be welcomed.

Although part of the reason why I watch clic is to avoid adverts - I've never understood why S4C won't place adverts on their videos (like Ch4) and even on the website as a whole - surely there is money for them to place adverts at the top of the page. It does annoy me that S4C don't seem to GENERATE their OWN revenue like they used to. I can't remember the last 'Welsh programme' being taken up by the Beeb or anyone else. They also don't seem to acquire anything like they used to in the past.

And it's not that I don't like HD - I just don't see the point of it in the medium future. Unlike with digital tv where there was a clear difference. The difference between HD and SD is fairly minor. It's just like the difference between a DVD and Blueray - sales of DVDs still outstrip Blueray (even on movies that are launched on Blueray)... people just aren't hugely interested in seeing programmes that are of "excellent quality".

So if the choice is £1.5m less on programmes / sacking staff or £1.5m on clirlun - I say that clirlun should go. It does feel like a luxury.

I was just wondering what happened S4C2 - is that what clirlun replaced? or has someone taking that slot? Wasn't there rumours years ago that this would be an entire channel for children?.

The figures for website visits to Cyw are ASTONISHING- very, very, very good!

Dafydd Tomos said...

Anon, if you can't see the difference between SD and HD then I suggest an eye test. Even my 65-old father spots the difference and chooses the HD version of a channel when it's available. In the past, maybe only technical geeks really cared about the highest picture quality, but the YouTube generation have much higher expectations.

I had written, but lost, many more comments about how HD is today's default format, not some exotic future development, but I'll leave it at that.

My main concern with closing Clirlun is not technical but that it will inevitably lower the status of S4C as a public broadcaster. No other UK public broadcaster would be willing to abandon their HD channels.

S4C2 was broadcast using the gifted capacity, and it's now used by another channel. I'm not sure how much income that generates or if that can be used to supplement S4C's programme budget. The channel's remit has always restricted its ability to use commercial ventures to fund the public service element. If it had the same freedom Channel 4 had then it might have not arrived at its current predicament.

Clic does show adverts, by the way. If you're using an adblocker, that's not going to help anyone.

As for the Clic service itself, S4C should close it and work in partnership with the BBC to use iPlayer for its live stream and on-demand content. Only the BBC have had the resources and expertise to develop this kind of platform.

Anonymous said...

Dafydd - very rarely does S4C Clic have adverts. At the moment they have a chewing gum one. And before that it was something about reading - but it was weeks between them. The current ad only last 10secs.

Compare that to 4OD where you have to watch close to 2mins of adverts at the start, and another minute in the middle. I know it's annoying, but it generates cash!.

There are NO adverts on the website itself. In fact there are no adverts at all on S4Cs entire website.
I log on to channel 4 and opposite their logo they have an advert about a mobile phone. Again, this may 'cheapen' the site, but it generates money.

Efrogwr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Efrogwr said...

Saw my first ad on Clic last night, after clicking "play" CF99. Haven't had one before. Am a regular user, though I have not tuned in for about a week. Maybe this is a new development. Makes sense financially, much as I'd prefer not to have the ads.

Anonymous said...

I agree, they only have them once in a while on the videos - never on the site.
Obviously as a viewer I don't like ads, but if it gives a couple of £ extra to S4C then I don't mind.... after all everyone else (bar BBC) have these!.

Anonymous said...

Just seen from this Golwg360 piece (though probably in the annual report too) that although last year's figures are an improvement on 2010, they're still almost half 2003!


Y nifer yn gwylio o leia’ tair munud o S4C yr wythnos:

2003 – 1,141,000

2004 – 1,040,000

2005 – 919,000

2006 – 864,000

2007 – 731,000

2008 – 664,000

2009 – 549,000

2010 – 616,000

2011 – 618,000

Why's this?


Owen said...

Coming back to the Clirlun issue, couldn't S4C and BBC Wales launch a joint "HD Cymru" service? You could have all of the Pro12 rugby and major events like the Eisteddfod in once place, as well as repeat shows like "The Story of Wales" which would warrant HD.

Dafydd Tomos said...

"M" - the yearly figures shown in Golwg are not comparable because they mix viewers on the old analogue S4C service (boosted by people viewing Channel 4 programmes broadcast on S4C). As more people in Wales bought digital receivers, they could watch Channel4 directly. S4C analogue closed down in 2010.

A more appropriate comparison would be the viewing figures for Welsh-language S4C programmes only which have been around 500-600k in the last decade. Viewing figures for all broadcasters have decreased since the 90s, with the introduction of digital television, satellite channels, web content and less people watching TV in general.

MH said...

I didn't mean to imply that S4C's viewing figures weren't much higher in the past, M. Only that they are better than they were last year ... and that last year was better than 2009, as I said a year ago. Things are now moving in the right direction.

There are several factors at play. These are two that spring to mind:

In the past S4C analogue used to show a mixture of Welsh language programmes and Channel 4 programming in English, and the English language programmes had a much larger potential (and therefore actual) audience. That's why peak hours viewing (the programmes in Welsh) used to be the key S4C statistic, but isn't any more. So I'm not sure we have a way of making a direct comparison.

Because of the rapid expansion in the number of digital channels in the last few years, people have had more choice, and therefore the general viewing figures for all the previous mainstream channels would have gone down. The question to ask is whether S4C's fall was greater than that of the other four main channels. I don't know.

I see that Dafydd and Tu Hwnt made the same points on the Golwg thread*. The situation has now stabilized because the digital switchover is complete, and hopefully we'll be able to do some better analysis because of it.

* And I can now see that Dafydd has made the same point here as well. But I'd already drafted this, so I'll post it anyway.

MH said...

As well as the fall in viewing figures, probably the main (and of course related) reason for S4C's troubles in the past few years has been the difficulty in filling the schedule as a result of no longer carrying Ch4 programmes.

A point I've made before (for example here) is that the BBC's obligation to provide 10 hours a week of Welsh language programming to S4C was made at a time when the BBC itself was only broadcasting on two channels, and not broadcasting at night.

Since digital began to be phased in, the BBC is now broadcasting on seven channels and therefore producing maybe three times (allowing for repeats and duplication) as much TV output in English from the TV licence fee as it was when the 10 hours' requirement was set. The BBC did increase their output to about 12 hours, but to my mind it should have been required to increase the number of hours it produced in Welsh in line with the increase in its English language programming to something like 30 hours a week. Had it done so, the picture for Welsh language broadcasting would be completely different.

So for me, the main culprit in the S4C debacle has been the BBC itself. It has been allowed to dodge its fundamental obligation to treat Welsh and English on an equal basis. That's why I am so non-plussed by S4C being forced into partnership with the organization that got it into the mess in the first place. That's not to question the dedication of people in BBC Cymru Wales, but directed at the BBC's most senior management and the politicians they are answerable to.

Rant over ;-)

Anonymous said...

I've been very frustrated in the past by what I consider to be the mismanagement of S4C. However, I think alot of the criticism has been apocalyptic and way over the top. Presumably (and hopefully) those problems have now been cleared up. Sometimes I get the feeling we in Wales are too pessimistic and enjoy a crisis too much.

I hope the channel can survive the budget cuts it has faced/is facing. What I would like to see is the devolution of broadcasting (all broadcasting not just S4C) then the possibility of S4C perhaps bidding for extra money from the Welsh Government to develop a particular service. Although the channel also needs freedom obviously.

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