The government has announced a new Audio Content Fund of up to £3m for public service radio programmes.
The scheme, which will initially be a pilot lasting up to three years, aims to increase plurality and reach of public service audio content through commercial radio, which faces barriers in terms of raising advertising revenue around such content.
In order to apply for the funding, audio production companies with new ideas for content will need a guarantee of broadcast from a commercial radio station, as well as featuring on catch-up services.
The fund will be open to bids to make one-off programmes, series and strands across a range of genres such as drama, documentary and comedy. Bids will be assessed against eight criteria including quality, innovation, additionality, nations and regions, diversity, new voices, plurality, and audience reach.
AudioUK, which represents audio production companies, and Radiocentre, hope this may provide around 120 additional hours of PSB content – or more than two hours per week – and in a much wider range of genres than is currently often heard on commercial networks.
For audio production companies the extra hours will represent a large increase in the public service content made for commercial radio, possibly as much as an additional 50%.
The Fund has arisen after the Government announced in 2016 plans for a new £60m content fund for children’s television. AudioUK, along with Radiocentre, subsequently convinced the government that some of the fund could be used to fund a greater plurality of public service audio, in the same way that such schemes do in places such as the Republic of Ireland and New Zealand.
Will Jackson, Managing Director of AudioUK told RadioToday: “We are delighted that the government accepted our case for an audio element to this fund. This will create many exciting new partnerships between commercial radio and audio producers, and increase the number of diverse new voices both on and off-air. The many production companies based around the UK will be keen to take this new opportunity to make high quality public service radio content for a range of stations. The criteria on diversity and the nations and regions will ensure that a wide range of voices is heard in this content.”
In response, Made in Manchester Creative Director Ashley Byrne adds: “This announcement is tremendously welcome both for the industry and for listeners. It essentially means there will be more public service programming in addition to what the BBC provides. That has to be a good thing – increasing choice and diversity.
“It’s particularly pleasing to read the criteria around Nations and Regions set out in the DCMS policy paper. Our industry has become increasingly and depressingly London-centric and I commend the Government in trying to redress the balance in this way.
“Quite simply for the audio production sector this news is a game changer which will create much more of a level playing field with independent production companies able to pitch ideas across the sector rather than just the BBC.”
The Audio Content Fund is now advertising for a senior executive and panel members – more details can be found at audiocontentfund.org.uk. The Fund will announce more detail on the bidding process early in 2019 and be open for bids from April 2019.