I’ve been looking into the Audio Content fund over the last few days, as it looks like a fantastic initiative that could do some great stuff for British-made content.

If you’ve yet to come across the project, it’s a scheme set up by the UK government’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the idea is to have a pot of money that independent producers can apply for, to make interesting and engaging public service content and programmes.

It goes without saying that the BBC do public service better than anyone else in the world, but pitching new ideas to the Beeb can sometimes be a frustrating process that takes a lot of resources and time, and for many indies it’s a big undertaking to cut through the bureaucracy. Sam Bailey who heads up the A.C.F and Helen Boaden are both ex-BBC, and I believe both are brilliant people with great vision. I imagine their inside knowledge of the complexities and occasional shortcomings in the BBC pitching process will give them the unique skills to make the Audio Content Fund work well for everyone. The other people on the funding panel (John Myers, Kate Cocker and Mukti Jain Campion) are all hugely respected experts in the field.

The idea of opening up public service broadcasting to a wider audience, as well as having a panel of radio experts to dish out the money fairly sounds like a fantastic plan. However after looking through the bidding guidelines for submissions yesterday, I can’t help feeling the DCMS might have missed a huge trick with their main criteria:

"The Fund will accept applications from production companies, for audio content that is guaranteed to be broadcast on an Ofcom-licensed radio station (i.e. UK commercial or community radio stations)”

The concept just seems a bit misleading.. its an “audio” content fund, but the criteria restricts it to traditional radio only.

On the one hand it seems like a great opportunity - like most indies, here at Distorted we’ve got stacks of amazing ideas for programmes, series, documentaries and one-off shows here - all written up and filed away ready to be made, but as a company we can only do so many passion projects at a time, so a lot of them are just waiting for the right funding or sponsorship opportunity to come along. The problem is, in reality almost none of them would fit onto a commercial UK radio station. We know there’s huge and passionate audiences for them, but through either tight formatting, music policy or editorial, any idea that’s a bit left of centre would struggle to fit.

Any piece of content is going to have to sit perfectly in their style and format, and cover topics relevant to their audience. That’s not a dig at commercial radio at all, it’s just an obvious fact, and of course there are already some INCREDIBLE programmes on commercial radio.

(Just to go off on a quick tangent, this week’s Radio Times article about the “30 Greatest Radio Shows Of All Time” (in which all 30 were from the BBC!) got a deserved backlash. It shouldn’t really come as a shock that a poll of older BBC people in a magazine set up by the BBC, chose BBC shows, and should be taken with a smile and a pinch of salt. However it will hopefully stoke the fire in a few commercial radio people to try and get something really special commissioned and then paid for by the Audio Content Fund).

So let’s agree that the BBC is great, commercial radio is great, but both already have the money to spend on content made by indies if they want it. Where the A.C.F really could do some amazing stuff and make a real difference, is by funding UK indies to make shows that don’t have to fit the constricts that come from the terrestrial radio industry. It could be used to create incredible ground-breaking new podcasts and on-demand series to show the world the UK is as good as the USA. They could help make the next homegrown Serial, This Amercian Life or Freakonomics. Something that hasn’t been picked up or wouldn’t fit on the BBC, that independents would struggle to fund themselves.

Hopefully the Audio Content Fund will get some fantastic results in it’s first year, which will then allow it to broaden out it’s remit in the future and provide funding for podcast, non-linear and on-demand type programmes.

It’s not perfect by a long way, and it’s not a chance to get any far-out or risky, radical ideas funded. (I don’t think any money in the world will convince Magic to broadcast my 2 hour documentary about 90s trance super clubs, drugs and cyber kids), but it does actually present a very real opportunity to get commissioned and paid for our work as an independent production house.

In the long term I hope it starts to build much stronger relationships between commercial radio and indies, which in turn could lead to many more commissions and ultimately more risk-taking and daring programmes. If we want that to happen though, it’s all of our jobs to start getting really creative, pitching and producing awesome content, finding those niche’s in the tight formats, and make sure the whole project is a huge success.


(..Incidentally, we’re always open for pitches from presenters, journalists, writers and anyone with a good idea.. if you want to hear something made, give us a shout and lets work on it together..)

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