The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Contestable Fund Comes to Kids

On December 30th 2017 the government announced its decisions on the Contestable Content Fund.  Following intense lobbying by the Children's Media Foundation and other campaign organisations, it was decided not to split the £20m a year Fund across several different genres as originally suggested, but to dedicate it to children's content.  This is the culmination of ten years of campaigning by CMF and while there's still a great deal to be worked out as to how the Fund will be organised and distributed, it's a major success story for the children's media sector in the UK - and for the audience.

The CMF press release on the news can be seen here.

The Fund was originally announced in December 2016 as a £60m pilot programme to enhance public service content commissioning. A number of genres were under consideration.  The CMF made strong representations that the fund should not be split, but that to be effective and to provide a good pilot model it should be dedicated to the sector which has experienced considerable "market failure" as identified by Ofcom in the huge decrease in commissioning of original children's content over the last ten years.  Basically we argued that the fund should not dilute it's potential £20m a year impact and that it would be easier to study its effectiveness if it was dedicated to one genre.  We also pointed out that if the Fund were dedicated to children's and youth content there could still be criteria set for inclusivity, regional content and so on - much of which has found its way into the new proposal.

The current proposal also goes beyond the original in suggesting that the Fund could be used to generate content not only on the commercial PSB channels but on other channels and platforms including online delivery.  The CMF was the only organisation to propose this in our response to the original consultation.  It's pleasing to see that officials at the DDCMS are "future proofing" the Fund in this way.

Now discussions begin on the detail.  The government has taken on the BFI as the interim managers of the next phase and the likely managers of the Fund.  This has concerns for us at CMF, as the BFI has no track record of commissioning content for TV and has shown little enthusiasm for the children's audience in the past.  We have asked to be included in conversations over the coming months about how the Fund should work. Roll-out is planned for 2019.

Our priorities are: under-served audiences (such the 10+ age-range) and substantially British content. The DDCMS statement on December 30th did not specifically mentione UK content for UK kids.  However it did mention that content could be funded up to 50% of its budget.  It's a good figure as it allows for substantial investment, but it begs the question as the where the other 50% comes from. In the world of animation, project funding arises from a complex mix of territorial broadcasters, investment and distributions partnerships - which is why animation is almost always international in its make-up. One of the big questions now will be: can the Fund in its present form generate content for a range of platforms - for example even Netflix or Amazon - which is substantially British in its settings, characters and storylines - or at the very least in its tone, if 50% of the funding has to come from other sources?

We're on the case for the sake of the UK kids' audience.

Ten years ago CMF's predecessor the Save Kids' TV Campaign proposed a Video-on-Demand service dedicated to UK kids, with around £30m a year in funding to come from a mix of government and Lottery sources.  What was considered an impossibility then is much closer to reality now. But the question of where the finance comes from is still an issue. The £60m Fund has been created from money previously allocated to the BBC for the roll-out of broadband. It's an underspend, that was not reallocated to the BBC in the next Licence Fee settlement.   The new Fund is deigned to be "up for renewal" at the same time as the next Licence Fee review. CMF remains adamant that the Fund's successor should not be paid for out of "top-slicing" the Licence fee.  Other sources of finance must and can be found.

But that's for the future - in the medium term we have to ensure we get the best and most efficient form of Fund with the best benefits for UK kids.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)