Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by William Poel (arts 202)

William Poel is Chairman and Managing Director USP Networks, a company with 18 years of "hands-on" experience of the online revolution and evolution, and at the leading edge of developments such ad servers, content management systems and targeted media with response schemes.

Once upon a time, the Arts were funded from the "3 Ps":

· Performance

· Patronage

· Punters

There were no middlemen (other than perhaps venue owners) to speak of. Those that gave the paying customers what they wanted, managed to eat; otherwise the rest starved for their art, or pursued their art as fulfilled amateurs, willing to wait for a cruel world to come around to their way of thinking.

Then in the 18th/19th century, the spread of printing made books and sheet music much more widely available - and at marginal cost to produce - and then the world of Agents and Lawyers got involved. So it's been downhill ever since.

In this document, I propose an innovative way to address the subject of funding creative arts, that takes full advantage of the digital revolution and revert to the original - and sustainable - principles - OF Arts funding.

The present realignment of funding brought about the necessities we face is an opportunity to revisit old values and apply new technologies.

All forms of art may now be delivered and enjoyed "on line" these days, and this provides a perfect response mechanism for audiences to pay in a variety of ways.

Television can also participate in this new form of funding. The present system generally starts when a (scheduled) TV company commissions a series (generally from one of the usual companies) that leads to a pilot, and possibly a series.

The costs of this process are largely unchanged in recent times, despite the media revolutions going on all around, yet a system where many more creative companies were able to put together short pilots - extended trailers if you like - and have the audience vote by "pre-subscribing" to the potential series is perfectly do-able.

The system I have in mind can operate at a very local basis as well - even to the extent of a local amateur dramatic society producing a series of 5 minute trailers for their plays, to ensure they are steered towards the one their audience actually wants (and is willing to pay for!)

Moreover, there should be scope for the UK to lead from the front in this idea, and create a much-needed employment in areas where the UK has traditions of creative excellence, along the way.

There will obviously be concern expressed that minority interests will not be supported by a system that is plainly designed around harnessing a popular opinion, but experimenting with public funds is one of many luxuries of less accountable times, before that the financial realignment "changed everything".

I have a lot more I should add, but commercial confidence is a major issue under your terms of engagement; I fear you will only hear from the disgruntled whose gravy trains are grinding to a halt, and those with no financial opportunies to put at risk. SO I suspect the result will be very bland.

September 2010