The UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is closing the British Film Institute’s Young Audiences Content Fund (YACF).
This US$62-million fund—which is overseen by the BFI and former BBC exec Jackie Edwards—will end its three-year pilot phase in March after applications close on February 25, according to a statement.
“This three-year pilot scheme to test a new way of financing public service TV content will finish in March as intended and we will conduct a full evaluation,” said a spokesperson for DCMS in a statement. The evaluation is being done to determine the pilot’s impact on the provision and plurality of public service content for young audiences in the UK.
Since launching in 2018, YACF has supported the development of 144 projects, with 55 receiving broadcast commissions. These include mixed-media preschool series The World According The Grandpa (Milkshake!, pictured), arts & crafts show Makeaway Takeaway (CITV) and Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared (Channel 4) for teens. Other public service broadcasters such as E4, S4C in Wales and Celtic-language channels TG4 and BBC Alba have also benefited from the fund.
YACF’s initial budget for 2019-2021 was US$80 million (£57 million), but this was reduced to US$62 million (£44 million) last year following a review by DCMS. Twenty-four children’s projects are currently in production and still expected to air over the next two years.
The closure of the fund is “tragic,” said Children’s Media Foundation (CMF) director Greg Childs in a statement. YACF helped offset a reduction in the number of commissions coming from commercial public service broadcasters, due to declining ad revenue. Now that the fund is no more, producers “have nowhere to go to top-up the part-funding on offer from broadcasters in the UK,” said Childs.
The UK kids industry could potentially revert back to where it was three years ago, with the BBC as the region’s sole content commissioner, said CMF chair Anna Home. “In fact, it’s worse, as the BBC is facing government-imposed budget cuts of its own over the next few years,” Home added.
As a solution, the CMF suggests that the budget underspent by the fund (mostly due to a slow-down in production caused by the pandemic), which was taken back by the DCMS last year, could be restored to grant a two-year stay of execution.
“The amount the government needlessly clawed back was around 25% of the overall budget for the fund,” said Childs. “This could easily keep the fund alive for a further couple of years as the effects of BBC budget cuts are better understood, and as discussions on the future of the television license fee are concluded.”
The CMF is also proposing that a levy on streaming services including Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and YouTube could be combined with enhanced lottery funding to help finance the fund in the future.
Although the pilot performed well, according to DCMS, any further investment of public funding will need to be assessed against future public service broadcasting needs. The department claims it is committed to ensuring that viewers benefit from a modern system of public service broadcasting that remains relevant and can continue to meet the needs of UK audiences in the future.