S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru, which is Welsh for Channel Four Wales) is a television channel in Wales. Two versions of the channel exist: on analogue television, the channel is bilingual (Welsh and English), with most English language programming being rebroadcast from Channel 4 (analogue reception of which is unavailable to the vast majority of Wales); on digital television (via which Welsh viewers can also receive Channel 4), S4C provides an entirely Welsh language service known as S4C Digidol (S4C Digital).
S4C's remit is to provide a service which is in the Welsh language in peak viewing hours. S4C does not produce programmes of its own; instead, it commissions programmes in Welsh from the BBC and independent producers (although the quantity purchased from ITV Wales has greatly reduced since the early years of S4C), and it has particularly developed a reputation for commissioning cartoons, such as SuperTed, Sam Tân and Shakespeare: The Animated Tales. BBC Wales fulfills its public service requirement by producing programmes in Welsh, including Newyddion, S4C's news bulletin, and a soap opera, Pobol y Cwm, and providing them to S4C free of charge. In non-peak hours on analogue, S4C shows programmes produced for Channel 4 in the rest of the UK (usually a few days later).
To make Welsh language programmes accessible to English speakers they all carry English subtitles which are viewed as a Teletext page (888, promoted as transl888); Welsh subtitles are also available on page 889.
For speakers of English who are learning Welsh, certain programmes, particularly those during the Dysgu am 12 slot, Planed Plant Bach and Planed Plant carry subtitles on page 889 of teletext, designed in such a way that you see subtitles in Welsh, but words which the learner may not know bracketed off in a different colour in English straight after the Welsh word.
TV movies produced for S4C have received some good foreign reviews — Hedd Wyn being nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 1993 and Solomon & Gaenor being nominated in 1999.
Those who have no interest in Welsh-language TV have been known to point their aerials at the nearest English transmitters to avoid S4C, as well as BBC Wales and HTV Wales. However it is true that this practice dates back before the start of S4C in 1982, when Welsh-language programming was included on BBC1 and HTV Wales. S4C sports programme Sgorio has been known to reverse this practice, with English football fans watching S4C as the only British terrestrial broadcaster of Spanish, Italian, and German league football.
The S4C signal also spills over into southeast Ireland, where it is retransmitted on UHF terrestrial signals by so-called 'deflectors', although those who watch it largely do so because Channel 4 is not available via cable or MMDS in rural areas.
On analogue and digital satellite, S4C runs its own teletext service, Sbectel ("Sbec" being both Welsh for "a peek" or "a glimpse", and a pun on the pronunciation of "S4C", which is pronounced "ess pedwar ek" in Welsh).
On digital, the S4C Digidol (S4C Digital) variant of S4C is broadcast. It is an exclusively Welsh language service broadcast within Wales on digital terrestrial television and throughout the UK and Ireland on Sky Digital (from the same satellite around Europe). S4C's Welsh programming generally airs simultaneously on S4C Digidol.
In addition, S4C also operates a sister channel, S4C2. It broadcasts coverage of the National Assembly for Wales when it is in session. The programme content is provided by the BBC. The channel is available on Freeview in Wales and throughout the UK and Ireland on Sky and cable. It has two audio feeds, allowing viewers to select between an untranslated version and an English-only version where all Welsh spoken is translated into English.
In addition to the analogue TV signal transmitted throughout Wales, S4C, along with United News and Media, owned the company S4C Digital Networks (SDN). SDN was awarded the UK-wide contract to provide half a digital multiplex worth of programming. The other half belonged, and still does belong to the broadcaster Five.
On 27 April 2005 S4C sold its share of SDN to ITV plc for approximately £34 million, though it still has the half-multiplex as of right in Wales. ITV already owned some of SDN due to the consolidation of the ITV industry: Granada bought UNM's stake in SDN, and this was then incorporated into the united ITV.
One benefit of DTT in Wales is that Channel 4 can now be broadcast alongside S4C, thereby placating disgruntled English speakers who have often had to put up with Channel 4 programmes aired hours or days later (if at all) on S4C. It remains to be seen what impact the availability of Channel 4 will have on S4C, as both channels share a significant proportion of their English output. However, by launching its all-Welsh digital service, S4C has essentially conceded that its future will be in serving that language only, and not as a mixed-language service.
In January 2007, S4C announced plans to launch a Welsh-language children's channel.
Before the launch of S4C, Welsh speakers had been served by occasional programmes in Welsh broadcast as regional opt-outs on BBC Wales and HTV Cymru Wales (the ITV franchise in Wales), often at obscure times. This was not only unsatisfactory for Welsh speakers, who saw them as a sop, but also an annoyance of the non-Welsh-speaking community which found the English programmes seen in the rest of the UK often rescheduled or not transmitted at all.
During the 1970s, Welsh language activists had campaigned for a TV service in the language, which already had its own radio station, BBC Radio Cymru. This led to acts of civil disobedience, including refusals to pay the television licence, thereby running the risk of prosecution or even a prison sentence, and sit-ins in BBC and HTV studios. Some took more extreme measures, including attacking television transmitters in Welsh-speaking areas. In 1980, the former president of Plaid Cymru, Gwynfor Evans, threatened to go on hunger strike if the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher did not honour its commitment to provide a Welsh language TV service. The channel started broadcasting on 1 November 1982, the night before Channel 4's opening.
In January 2007, S4C announced that their digital channels would be refreshed under a new corporate logo and brand.. On 17 January, s4c.co.uk was updated with the new look, with S4C channels adopting the new look from 18 January. The S4C logo used since 1995, often stylised as "S4C~" because of the "dragon" design element which accompanied it, was replaced. The new design emphasises the channel's Welsh connection with the "C" for Cymru (Wales) separated from the "S4" (Channel 4) by a forward stroke. S4C2 is now seen on screen as S4C Dau (Two), but still listed as S4C2 on the broadcaster's website and on Sky.
Funding and regulation
S4C is financed from its advertising revenue and a fixed annual grant from the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). According to a report by the Scottish Executive's Cultural Commission on the possibility of mirroring the Welsh experience with a Gaelic channel, S4C is funded by the government to the tune of £85m per annum (as at June 2005).
S4C is controlled by the Welsh Fourth Channel Authority (in Welsh, Awdurod Sianel Pedwar Cymru or Awdurdod S4C), an independent body unconnected to the bodies which regulate the other UK television channels such as the BBC, ITV or Channel 4.