The future of “broadcast” in Wales, particularly from a Welsh language perspective, has received considerable attention of late, we have had the independent review of S4C by the DCMS, Cymdeithas yr Iaith have been campaigning for the devolution of broadcasting from Westminster to Cardiff Bay and the recently published Welsh language technology action plan touches on the need for the creation of relevant content in Welsh.
These deal in the here and now with a look towards the future, we’d like to start a discussion around the kind of Welsh media and content distribution landscape that will be required in 2030. What steps do we need to take to ensure that Welsh language provision feels a natural part of everyday life within a confident bilingual media landscape that serves the whole of Wales?
Content distribution over broadcast – Broadcast as a term feels a tad old fashioned today, the days of audiences receiving content based on a broadcaster’s schedule are receding fast. Those of us who grew up before the eighties remember having to sit down at a specific time in order to view our favourite shows, we were grateful for repeats in those days. Along came the VCR and with it the ability to record and view our favourite content. Today the internet and the on-demand nature of content delivery mean the consumer chooses what and when they watch on an increasing number of platforms and devices. This is second nature to today’s younger generation, natural and frictionless access to content. It’s the content that’s important not the provider, indeed more and more of the content they enjoy is coming from less familiar sources than those that serviced us in our youth. This appears to be a fact overlooked by a number involved in the provision of Welsh language content as evidenced in the Welsh language technology action plan.
So what does this mean for Welsh language content and what kind of infrastructure will be needed to support the creation and distribution of Welsh language content in future?
The current Welsh language content landscape is dominated by S4C and the BBC, content is also commissioned to a lesser extent by Welsh Government via the education and Welsh language departments and bodies such as the Welsh books council. S4C’s current model requires it to fill a fixed schedule with content, tens of hours of new content every week, the majority of this content sees the light of day a handful of times before languishing in a digital archive. Compare this with Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and Now TV, content portals where all the family can browse and choose the sort of content that takes their fancy to view whenever they want on whatever device, internet connection allowing.
Is this the future for Welsh language content? Commissioning and creating content by genre and placing it in the cloud for audiences to enjoy when the desire and time allows?
And what about the content our children are enjoying in their millions? Content that YouTubers create commercially in the “main” languages thanks to the size of the potential audience and ease of discoverability. This is the elephant in the room as far as the Welsh language goes, YouTubers are our children’s broadcasters, YouTube is where their channels reside. It simply isn’t possible to sustain an industry of this type by “supporting volunteers” as suggested in the Welsh Governments action plan. Yes we need to encourage and nurture the skills required to create the content creators and YouTubers of the future, and in fairness to Welsh Government, this features as part of the new curriculum and Digital Competence Framework. Our aim for the future should be to create bilingual YouTubers and content creators that can reach international audiences whilst still creating Welsh language content
There is a clear need for strategic investment. Do we need to re consider the role of the current Welsh books council? Develop it as a Welsh content council? A council that has the expertise to oversee an evolving Welsh language content landscape, a council that can create and implement a long term strategy that will service the tens of thousands of new Welsh speakers as we reach a million Welsh speakers, and more importantly a million who use the welsh language on a daily basis.
What will the BBC look like at a UK and Welsh level in a decade? What will be the fate of the Western Mail, Daily Post and WalesOnline? Will we need a Welsh Content Corporation? One that provides news services, audio and visual content in the mediums of Welsh and English much in the way EITB the Basque state broadcaster does?
There are numerous questions but there are clearly plenty of opportunities for us in Wales to shape the kind of media our children will rely on to be entertained and informed in 2030. On which platforms? By which suppliers? These are big questions, let the debate begin.