S4C viewing figures grew despite losing £8m of programming during pandemic
S4C’s viewing figures have grown across all platforms during the pandemic – despite losing £8m of programming.
The Welsh language broadcaster revealed the news in its Annual Report for the year 2020/21, when much of its timetable was lost because sporting and cultural events were cancelled and production on dramas coming to a halt.
The number of viewing hours on the channel’s digital Clic’ platform increased by 45%, while on BBC iPlayer they increased 25%. Clic also attracted 200,000 subscribers.
In addition the average peak time viewing figures in Wales went from 17,500 to 18,500 (6%).
S4C’s weekly reach increased from 306k to 321k (5%), while the weekly reach outside of Wales from 396k to 502k (27%). This means S4C viewing hours throughout the UK have risen to their highest level in seven years.
Viewing hours on S4C’s main Facebook page has risen 72% year on year, with viewing hours on the main Twitter account rising by 87%.
There were 28.5 million viewing sessions across S4C’s Facebook pages during the year. S4C content was viewed 458,000 times a day on average during the year across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Hansh, the comedy platform for young people, had more than 1.4 million viewing sessions in March 2020, which is a record. Viewing hours across S4C’s YouTube channels were up 48% during the year.
S4C Chair Rhodri Williams told Nation.Cymru: “I believe it’s been an unexpectedly successful year to be honest. When that first lockdown began, literally as I was just appointed as Chair of S4C, I don’t think anybody knew what challenges would arise, or how S4C, it’s staff, and the creative community that provides programmes to S4C would react to it.
“It was a step into the unknown, and looking back I think we can take some comfort from the way everyone reacted. If we look at some of the problems, we lost a lot of content that was an important element of S4C’s provision, live sporting events, events like the Royal Welsh, the National Eisteddfod, Eisteddfod yr Urdd.
“Then we saw that other productions that were able to carry on at the beginning, had to cut back, Pobl y Cwm is an example. By the highest point wasn’t producing programmes at all. When you look at how important a soap opera in any timetable – that created an enormous challenge.”
He said the pandemic forced the channel to do things differently: “If you look at the Sgwrs Dan y Lloer (A Chat Under the Stars) series, a programme that came to being because of the Covid circumstances.
“That is, a programme that was created in order to be able to produce it in the fresh air, which was easier to make during the pandemic, that by now has won its place in the timetable as a commission we’ll carry on with even in normal circumstances.
“S4C and the creative sector has reacted quickly to the circumstances. The key thing maybe is that we can move quickly that the people wo create content for S4C can react quickly, and not let circumstances, the fact that more time will be available as we return to normality, doesn’t mean we have to use it.
“Maybe we should be just as quick, able to react to good ideas, as our producers able come up with good ideas and provide them quickly. Therefore I hope that’s one of the lessons.”
“Certainly that has contributed to the increase we have seen, and that’s not unique to S4C. Our dependence as a society on services, public service broadcasting mainly, has been key I think in this period where in the first place people have relied on public service broadcasting for reliable and factual news about what was happening.
“The fact that S4C has been broadcasting the Welsh Government’s daily press conferences has been very important. Also being able to entertain audiences as they found they were unable to the things they used to do, and were sitting at home in front of a tablet, in front of traditional television screen, or whatever else they chose.”
He did acknowledge that the loosening of Covid-19 restrictions could impact on viewing figures in the future: “Certainly people’s reliance on being entertained in front of a screen is going to be less when they are able to do other things.
“Thinking about the weather now when you are able to spend so much time in the fresh air. But what we would wish to see in the future is that there’s a further increase in our content being used on digital platforms because they don’t rely on people watching at a specific time during the day.
In a statement he said: “We commissioned £8.7m of new programmes during the pandemic, pumping much-needed money into Wales’s economy, money that was distributed all over the country. We owe a great debt to everybody in the creative industry who carried on working under difficult circumstances in order to maintain S4C’s services.”
So there was an urgent need to commission new content. This gave S4C the chance to experiment. Cyswllt Mewn Covid (Contact in Covid) was the first drama to be commissioned and produced during the UK lockdown, with popular new series Sgwrs Dan y Lloer (A Chat Under the Stars) among a number of other successful new formats. Eisteddfod T was also an innovative way to show the creativity of the sector at its best.