Alternative funding for great audio

How the Audio Content Fund and tax credits could help grow the sector (4min reading time).

The business of audio in the UK has always had public and private elements. Radio of the 90s and 00s combined the licence-fee funded BBC (with guaranteed spend for independent production companies) alongside commercially-funded stations.

The public element existed because governments (and citizens), felt that there was value in creating media that wasn’t just the “commercially viable” stuff. A similar thing happens in other countries, in a variety of different ways. European countries tend to have publicly funded content through taxation or a licence fee. In America, PBS and NPR have some government funding, but much is from pledge drives with listeners and individuals/foundations who write big cheques.

Today, radio’s dominance of ear-time has receded as new audio opportunities, like streaming and podcasts have grown. So it’s interesting to think about whether public funding, providing public value, should still exist, and if so, how it should evolve.

If handled correctly, public funding, as well as just underwriting some good stuff, can also help to super-charge businesses so they can grow scale to go on to make more things, for more people, under their own steam as well.

In a world where countries battle it out for investment from different global companies, being competitive is increasingly important. Indeed, only yesterday, Facebook announced it would be employing 10,000 European citizens to work on the ‘metaverse’. It’s combination of bribery to European governments and a recognition that the talent is available to hire.

In the UK we’ve had huge success from the government’s High-end Television Tax Relief for Corporation Tax, which has made it very efficient for Netflix and co to use British companies to make big TV shows here.

The tax credit, and earlier schemes, positioned the UK in the right place as TV production exploded. I’d argue that we’re in a similar place for a growth in audio. Audio production has never seen as much investment in content. Not just original podcasts, but translations and re-versioning, audiobooks, cross-platform IP and more. But a lot of that is US-based. Can we get some of the money over here?

Audio UK have put together an excellent report on the potential benefit of audio production tax relief and how any spending by the government will actually generate more revenue for HM Treasury in the long term. With a growing number of audio companies outside of London, and particularly in the North West, it would definitely be an opportunity for the area, and the sector, to coin a phrase - level up.

A more recent public intervention has been the Audio Content Fund. £1m a year for audio producers to make programming for decent sized audiences on commercial and community radio. We’re just coming to the end of the three-year trial, so we’ll see whether the new team at DCMS will want to renew something that their predecessors had set up.

I think it would be a massive lost opportunity if they decided not to renew it.

My radio station, Fun Kids, has had a decent number of successes with the scheme with everything from kids drama to a brilliant series produced by children giving advice on changing schools at 11. We ended up working with lots of companies that we’d never worked with before including many small operations. It grew their skill, built relationships and helped their businesses develop (all the money goes to them, we just get the show for free). At the same time we broadcast material that hundreds of thousands of children heard that we would never have been able to fund ourselves.

Many of those companies are working on developing a broader, commercially-funded slate of kids ideas.

Both the ACF and the tax credit are brilliant ways to help grow an audio sector and keep the UK competitive whilst delivering uniquely British content. We’ll see if the new management at DCMS support it.

AOB

I’ve been up to a few things that you can consume…

  • With my Australian Podcast Awards hat on, I’ve written a piece for AdNews - Tips for Creating an Award-Winning Podcast. If you already have a show, and are planning on entering an Award or not, there’s some good advice on reviewing your progress.

  • And finally, there’s the latest episodes of the Media Podcast, which I’m hosting for a bit. I catch up with media journalist Maggie Brown, Newsweek’s International editor Alex Hudson and Edelman's Karin Robinson to talk lots of things, including BBC Studios personnel changes, Audioboom originals, confidence in the audio sector and even missing subtitles. Get it from Apple, Spotify or listen on the web.