Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 147 - 159)

Question Number

TUESDAY 16 JANUARY 2001

PROFESSOR ELAN CLOSS STEPHENS, MR HUW JONES AND MR WYN INNES

Chairman

  147. Good morning. We are going to have to be very speedy, I am afraid. Thank you very much for coming and may I thank you for the informal presentation we had last night about the issues that you wanted to tell us about, which was very useful indeed to further our questioning. Everybody knows what S4C is—in Wales, at any rate—but perhaps you could introduce yourselves for the purposes of the record.

  (Prof Stephens) Since we are a Welsh language channel, I would like to make a very brief initial presentation in the Welsh language, and then answer questions in the language as they occur, if that is all right with you. Thank you for the invitation here today. Very briefly, my name is Elan Closs Stephens. I am the Chair of S4C and, in my other capacity, I am professor in the University of Aberystwyth. On my right is the Chief Executive, Huw Jones, and on my left Wyn Innes, the managing director of S4C. We did give you a presentation last night, but, just for the record, I thought that very briefly I would make a few points about S4C. S4C, from its very beginning in 1982, has always taken positive steps to market its programming internationally. One has only to recall the very first night and the appearance of Superted who was later sold to Hanna-Barbera in America. By 1990 we had a ten year strategy for animation and overseas sales which came to a sort of climax with the Miracle Maker, which took about four years to produce and which was shown on ABC on Easter Sunday of the Millennium. One of the lessons that we have learned, I am sure, is that we need forward planning, and very careful forward planning. By 1996 we had to raise additional funds commercially under the 1996 Broadcasting Act, and this meant advertising money and sponsorship, and it also meant that quite a substantial amount of money comes from co-productions. Very briefly, co-production, I believe, does a lot of things for S4C. It creates product on the screen for our home viewers which is perhaps more costly than we would be able to produce otherwise. It also gives independent producers the experience to work with more extensive budgets. It also enables us to create our own films since we cannot buy from US film libraries without dubbing or subtitling and very often our bilingual audience will have seen such films anyway. But the side effect of this activity is that we also market ourselves and Wales overseas. Therefore, we greatly welcome this inquiry and we look forward to your recommendations. We appreciate the fact that United Kingdom Members of Parliament look after our type of company, which is perhaps between two masters; that is, we serve Wales and yet we are part of the British broadcasting ecology. But certainly we need every support to enhance performance.

Mr Ruane

  148. A number of organisations, including the National Assembly for Wales, have suggested to us that Wales does not enjoy a high profile overseas. Do you agree, and, if so, what is to be done about that?
  (Mr Innes) I think from a media perspective we do enjoy a significant reputation. I think S4C International in the fields in which it specialises, that of animation, factual programming and children's programming, does enjoy a good reputation worldwide. If I take, for example, the United States (being the largest economy), we work in co-production or in international programme sales with a number of the big broadcasters there. Earlier we mentioned Miracle Maker which was sold to ABC in Easter 2000 and again in 2001. That was seen by 15 million viewers in the United States. We have co-produced with ANE, with HBO, with Discovery networks. We entered into a series of Super Ted, the fourth series of Super Ted with Hanna Barbera. The Gogs' programmes that we made were made in co-production with Warner Vision. So we do have an international reputation, just taking that one country as an example. Definitely in the media world, and in the spheres of particular interest and concentration for S4C International, we enjoy a profile which I believe is born from the quality of our product.

  149. We heard last night from the Irish Consulate that Ireland deliberately target people of Irish extraction in the United States and beyond, systematically, to make sure that they are aware of their Irish roots and to see if they can do any benefit for the home economy. Has anything been done in the media world on that? Have you identified key media people, key film people of Welsh extraction in the United Kingdom and in the United States and, indeed, in Wales, to make sure that you fully exploit those for the benefit of Wales?
  (Mr Jones) As you know, we are partners in Sgrin (the Media Agency for Wales). One of the things that Sgrin has done at intervals in the past is to set up events; for example, in Hollywood, coinciding with the Oscar nomination for Solomon and Gaenor last year, where that was a showcase for Welsh presence in film, which drew on as many people of Welsh extraction in Hollywood and in the TV industry in the States as could be tapped. I think the Irish have always had the great advantage of a very large diaspora, whereas the Welsh diaspora is considerably smaller. I think the benefits of tapping into that diaspora are, therefore, consequentially less in Wales, although I think we would recognise that when we can use them we do. Howard Springer, for example, who is now head of Sony US, has been over to Wales over the last year for a conference which was held on how to make the Welsh media industry in general more successful and he made an interesting contribution. But, at the end of the day, the market out there is an international market and I think our view is that the way we can be most successful is by addressing that international market in its entirety, rather than simply that part of it which happens to be made up of the Welsh diaspora.
  (Prof Stephens) I wonder if I could add, Chris, that I think the United Kingdom networks also could do more in showing films and in commissioning work from the independents—and I am sure the BBC and HTV would wish to say the same thing. Because quite often there is a large mechanism at work, whether it is BBC Worldwide or obviously the Channel 4 mechanism which sells on overseas, and it would be very helpful, I think, to be more of a part of those sort of networks as well.

  150. Do you think there is a role specifically for us on that, perhaps, as a committee, interviewing the BBC, or, as individuals, having meetings with the BBC, to see what they can do?

  151. (Prof Stephens) I think, as the communications White Paper is going through -and subsequently there will be legislation (in the Autumn, perhaps, or the new year)—the whole issue of regionality and how that is portrayed, not just as opt-outs but actually on the screen for the whole of the United Kingdom, is quite an issue which perhaps you would be able to take an interest in.

  152. Another potential contact for you is Paul Higginson, who is Vice-President of 20th Century Fox finance in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. He is a personal friend of mine and I know he would be willing to meet with you. He actually brought the Premier to North Wales just before Christmas.
  (Prof Stephens) Yes, that is right.

  153. Also, you say that S4C benefits from the wider efforts to promote Wales abroad. Can you explain how and give us some specific examples?
  (Mr Jones) I think Wyn could pick up there on some of the things that we have done on the back of some of the WDA's initiatives, for example.
  (Mr Innes) Yes. We went on a trade mission to Japan recently with the First Minister of the Assembly and we found that very useful indeed. It was the first time that we had participated in such a mission and we found that having that subsidy allowed us to participate in a sales trip that we may not have participated in otherwise. We did use it for our own benefit: we did spin-off from the trade mission, to go to Osaka and to South Korea, where we have a particular strength at the moment in selling our product internationally. So we did find that very useful. In terms of other help given to the United Kingdom industry, we are going to NATPE in Las Vegas on Thursday. We will be part of the British Pavilion there. There is some subsidy given to the participation from United Kingdom broadcasters at the Pavilion, the biggest of whom is the BBC, who will be represented by BBC Worldwide. So we do enjoy some benefits from existing work that is done by either central government or by the Assembly.
  (Mr Jones) Could I also mention the importance of bringing international events to Wales. We were listening to the WRU just now and the same thing happens in the cultural and media arena. We are very hopeful that a major international conference on animation or cartoons will come to Wales in 2002, and this would entail bringing some 800 delegates, major players in the international animation industry. A location in North Wales has been identified and support, we hope, will be forthcoming from a number of Welsh agencies. If that would happen, that would be a very important part of confirming the place of Wales at the very centre of the international animation industry. I would commend that sort of initiative to your attention.

  154. Have you had the support of those agencies? We have heard previously that the support was not there or was not sufficient.
  (Mr Jones) I believe that the work is close to completion but the likelihood is that there are some gaps left to be filled. We cannot, at this point in time, sign off on it.
  (Mr Innes) There is a meeting on 6 February that ought to move that forward significantly.
  (Prof Stephens) After that, it will be easier, of course, to bring all the agencies in Wales together. I think one of the points I would make is that, in the submission to you from the Welsh Assembly, they obviously cover those bodies which fall under their jurisdiction, and there is always a danger that other areas which are not devolved do not fall within the box, as it were. So I would hope that we can be—in fact we are—as pro-active as possible in making certain that we have meetings with the Minister for Economic Development, for example, with the Minister for Culture in the Assembly, to make certain pro-actively that we are included in trade missions and all sorts of activities. I would say that perhaps one of the lessons we also learned is that you can never just sit back and assume that people will look after you. I think all bodies in Wales—we are a very small country—have to be as pro-active as possible on all fronts.

Chairman

  155. Do you think there is any role for the United Kingdom Government or increased role for the United Kingdom Government in promotion of Wales?
  (Prof Stephens) I have always thought personally on a more philosophical argument, that the United Kingdom Government should be more proud and perhaps more willing to speak up about its pride in the way that it has looked after a minority indigenous language in Wales. When one compares this with the treatment, say, of Breton on screen in France, it is something to take pride in. Sometimes I think there is a slight fear of treading on the toes of a devolved government. I am sure that your role as members of Parliament, flagging up these sort of issues and making sure that all trade missions, all DTI activity, all Foreign Office and ambassadorial activity always contains Wales, would be a major factor.

  Chairman: That is the kind of thing we are looking at.

Mr Edwards

  156. We do attract some world class events to Wales; for example, Cardiff Singer of the World. But do you think the same point could be made that was made earlier about the attraction of Welsh sporting events, that perhaps the agencies, the Tourist Board, the Welsh Development Agency, yourselves and the Assembly, could be more coordinated in attracting major cultural events to Wales than they have been up until now?
  (Prof Stephens) One must remember that it is early days as well, is it not?—you know, we have a devolved government for the first time. One hopes that from now on it will be easier to coordinate all these activities. I think the Post-16 Committee report which came out recently in the Assembly, the idea of Cymru'n Creu in the Dwylliant Cytun (A Culture in Common) report, went down the path of showing the benefits of cooperation between arts councils and various cultural bodies. So, yes, we would be happy to participate in such a cooperative venture.

Mrs Williams

  157. Can I move on to say that you talk a lot about the importance of programme sales internationally as a way of raising the profile of Wales overseas and your memorandum mentions Biblical and Shakespearean animation series. How many programmes do you sell abroad which a foreign viewer would recognise as characteristically Welsh?
  (Mr Jones) I think it varies. There are some productions which are very Welsh in nature. In the early days I remember Joni Jones, a drama series, being sold to a number of Scandinavian countries. Recently we have seen Solomon and Gaenor which tells the history of Wales. It was nominated for an Oscar and was seen in cinemas across the world. A series like the historical one about the Celts tells a lot of our history. It puts our own perspective on our history to other countries and throws new light on what the Celts are, and that Wales is part of the Celtic world, not just Scotland and Ireland. Hedd Wyn is another example. And the animation, as you have said, varies. It contains some Welsh characters such as Sam Tan at Ponty Pandy and Sali Mali—very important figures. Then you have the animated features Tales of the World, which is something we have commissioned in presenting their own stories, and a Story from Wales is one of them. Whilst our ability to make large products such as The Bible leads then to our ability to make the next big project which is Mabinogian, a totally Welsh film, and that will take a part of our culture across the world. But a true part of our culture, I believe, is that we must try to set a high national standard as our main aim in our product for the international market, knowing that, if we do succeed, we will inevitably bring Welsh topics on to the table. Put generally, it will always be a mix, but we must have an industry in Wales, a cultural industry which can compete on an equitable level, so that we have the right to take our stories to the rest of the world.
  (Prof Stephens) I would also add that, although the story perhaps is not Welsh always, the S4C brand is Welsh. Therefore, very often, whatever the topic, we sell this name. Wyn mentioned last night that the Welsh flag is part of each stall where we are internationally, therefore we do sell ourselves as a channel from Wales, whatever the topic is.
  (Ms Jones) It is important to us, perhaps, that that is the part of the process, and, also, even on programmes, for example the Miracle Maker, at the end of the film the first credit is "Made and produced in Wales and Moscow" and that is important to repeat. The message then reaches the viewer.

Mr Caton

  158. The Welsh Language Board says that the Welsh language is one of the strongest and one of the most emotive links between people of Welsh origin and Wales, even if they do not speak the language themselves. How easy is it to find a market for Welsh language films and programmes outside of Wales?
  (Mr Jones) Our prime task, of course, is to create a Welsh language television service: programmes are in Welsh for the benefit of the audience at home. What we sell on the international market is primarily English language versions of those programmes. It is the culture which is contained in the programme which, if you like, is the selling point; not inherently the language in which the original version is made. And this is part of the process of addressing an international market in an extensive medium. We have had some success in selling Welsh programmes with subtitles. I think it is very interesting to see in very recent times the growing willingness to accept foreign language films within the mainstream American and British markets. The new film by Ang Lee, a Chinese film, has had wonderful reviews. It is entirely in Chinese, and this, I think, will make it easier for all programme makers and film makers who want to produce films and programmes in their own language to address an international market, but the quality has to be good. So we come back all the time to this point about the quality. I think what is interesting is that we are also inherently contributing to cultural diversity, in the United Kingdom, in Europe, in the world. The world, I think, is looking not just for mainstream American product; it is looking for new things, for interesting things. We are part of that process of bringing a different cultural perspective, part of which is about the language, part of which is about the general culture that we are in.

  159. A lot of what you do with the animation and things obviously lends itself to exactly what you are talking about. If I think about a film like Hedd Wyn—critically acclaimed and an excellent film—have you any idea how many people actually across the world got to see that?
  (Mr Jones) Hedd Wyn I do not have a number for, but we could have a crack at it. The Miracle Maker, we believe, has been seen by some 300 million people—that is television and film. A lot of it is the American television influence. Is that figure right, Wyn?
  (Mr Innes) Certainly in terms of ABC first showing, it was 15 million that watched the first showing. You could suggest that the same number of people roughly are going to watch it again. It sold around the world. I think, in terms of potential viewers, probably 300 million is about right, because, clearly, if you are selling to the ABC network your potential viewers might be 100 million although only 15 million choose to watch it that particular evening. Certainly, in terms of selling to the major networks, then, clearly, a sale into a satellite minority broadcaster with a possible reach of a few million people is going to give you less exposure than to a national broadcaster like ABC, like NHK in Japan, like ZDF in Germany, and also like La Cinquieme in France (where we have a co-production development agreement with that particular channel). So the potential audience is rather easier at times to measure than actual audience because of different audience measurement techniques around the world, etc. But I think it is fair to say that we do have a network, a strong network, of links to public service and mainstream broadcasters around the world and, therefore, when a sale is made to those countries, the potential viewers are in several millions of people. I think that that is important. We have, as was mentioned earlier, very strong links in Scandinavia, whose traditions and the sorts of programmes that they produce for their home market are very well suited and actually quite similar to that which we produce. Virtually any programme that we co-produce and make has distribution in Scandinavia, for example. Broadly speaking, our programmes are seen worldwide and, potentially, as Huw said, by tens/hundreds of millions of people.


 
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