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Audio Content Fund to wind down after UK government’s licence fee decision

By | Published on Wednesday 26 January 2022

Audio Content Fund

Alongside the headline grabbing announcement from the UK government last week that BBC funding will be cut in real terms over the next two years, there was also quieter confirmation that other initiatives that have provided funds to producers of public service programming are being axed completely.

The effected initiatives are the Young Audiences Content Fund and the Audio Content Fund. The former helped to finance children programmes on commercial TV networks like ITV and Channel 4, while the latter funded innovative radio programmes that aired on commercial or community stations. The idea was to help get programmes that were not in themselves commercially viable onto commercial networks, providing some extra public service programming outside of the BBC.

Referred to by the government as ‘contestable funding’, it had previously been suggested that these funds could be financed by diverting a small slice of the monies generated by the TV licence fee. That’s not how the pilots of each initiative were actually financed, but it was still an option for the future.

However, when announcing last week that the BBC’s licence fee would be frozen over the next two years, meaning the Beeb’s income will decline in real terms because of inflation, Culture Minister Nadine Dorries also stated: “I have decided not to top-slice the licence fee for the purpose of contestable funding. Over the course of the settlement period, this will return close to £100 million back to general licence fee income”.

Both the Young Audiences Content Fund and the Audio Content Fund then subsequently confirmed that this meant there was no new funding available, so both will soon have to start winding down their operations, unless alternative sources of money can be found.

Among many other things, the Audio Content Fund helped finance programmes like Shaun Keaveny’s ‘Rockanory’ on Absolute Radio, Marcus Brigstocke’s ‘The Cabinet Of Jazz’ on Jazz FM, and the recently launched tie-up between Scala Radio and Jazz FM, ‘Jazz Meets Classical’.

Organisers of the Fund announced earlier this week that, following discussions with the government’s Department For Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, and “following the resolution of their negotiations with the BBC over the licence fee settlement, it has been confirmed that TV licence fee funding will not be used to extend the Audio Content Fund beyond the initial pilot project. As such, round nine of the ACF – which closes on 31 Jan – will be the final funding round of that original pilot grant. The ACF will not currently introduce any further funding rounds”.

The Fund’s MD Sam Bailey added: “We are incredibly proud of our achievements during this three-year pilot period, which will have seen £3.3 million distributed to more than 80 indie production companies, for more than 150 projects broadcast on more than 340 different radio stations. We are grateful to DCMS for the grant that enabled us to deliver this extraordinary portfolio of content for tens of millions of listeners. We will now move to an evaluation stage and explore alternative sources of funding”.

Both AudioUK, which represents independent audio production companies, and Radiocentre, the trade body for commercial radio, said that they were disappointed at the decision to no longer provide money for the Fund.

They said in a joint statement: “We are disappointed that further funding is not currently available for the Audio Content Fund. While the Fund will be able to see through its current commissioning rounds, beyond this it is regrettable that audiences seem likely to miss out on the ACF’s diverse range of distinctive high-quality public service programmes on their commercial and community station of choice. The Fund provides enormous value-for-money and we will now work with DCMS on an evaluation and to explore other means of supporting the Fund in the future”.