Support for the creative economy

Written evidence submitted by the Radio Independents Group [SCE 043]

Introduction

The Radio Independents Group (RIG) is the trade body representing the UK independent radio production sector. The sector is made up of approximately 150 creative companies, spread around the whole of the UK. RIG members represent around 95% of industry turnover, which we estimate as a whole to be some £40m.

These creative companies make radio content for commercial networks as well as BBC networks. They also are engaged in producing a variety of other content for corporate clients, as well as overseas networks and companies. Audiobooks, podcast, museum audio-guides, audio games and other multimedia format are all originated and produced by RIG’s members.

It is estimated the sector employs well over 1,000 people, mostly in skilled production roles. The specific skills developed in the sector are to the gain not only of radio but in all forms of media production where expertise in sound production is required, and therefore the sector, along with the BBC’s own training, provides a crucial skills base for the UK creative industries overall.

The Committee Inquiry

RIG welcomes the decision by the Committee to look into the crucial issue of how the creative industries can be encouraged to make the maximum contribution to growth in the UK economy.

RIG hopes the Committee finds its views of interest and would be more than happy to have a representative appear before the Committee to discuss these proposals further.

We are already engaging with the DCMS Communications Review, including contributing to a panel session at the seminar on radio/audio and growth on 13 September this year [1] . RIG notes that the Committee has expressed a desire to focus on "particular sectors as examples of the creative industries, especially the film, music, television, design and games sectors".

We would ask that the Committee also pay attention to those sectors which have similarities but which need the next big step to raise themselves to the level of those aforementioned industries. Film, TV and games have now-powerful voices, the key is not just to continue to help those sectors to grow but to spot those sectors growing around them and ensure the right circumstances are in place for those sectors also to grow.

Indie radio producers are responsible for many award-winning regular programmes on BBC and commercial networks. Just a few examples are: 'The Ronnie Wood Show' (Somethin’ Else for Absolute Radio); ‘Gardeners Question Time' (Somethin’ Else for BBC Radio 4); 'Fighting Talk' (World’s End for Radio 5) as well as specialist ‘event radio’ like TBI Media’s ‘Titanic-Minute by Minute’-a BBC Radio 2 special featuring music, readings, and interviews, all around a live timeline of the events surrounding the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

Our members are also engaged in making ground-breaking multimedia content, for example the highly successful ‘Pape Sangre’ interactive audio game. They also contribute significantly to the education sector, the Open University in particular, and bring their professionalism to less visible activities such as the creation and production of museum audio-guides.

So there is clearly much potential for producers to use their innovation, creativity and expertise. And being spread all around the UK means indie production companies can provide stories, perspectives, and talent for the benefit of the listeners and licence fee payers.

As the UK’s growth strategy moves increasingly to the creative industries, it is important that the UK’s expertise in audio/radio production is part of the story.

Indie producers are working to be innovative not just in their content but also in terms of increasing revenue streams. Producers now offer content complete with sponsors to commercial networks. They are also exploring making their content available via online platforms, so that the consumer can buy an increasing number of spoken word and packaged downloads to keep.

And indies are exploring new markets-as countries such as India and China continue to grow as markets with an appetite for English language products, the opportunities are arising for more radio network provision. The UK can offer its expertise in programming formats and production to good effect, and grow the fledgling international market for audio formats and programmes.

Specific Issues Raised by the Committee

How best to develop the legacy from the Olympics and Paralympics of the display of UK talent in the creative industries in both Opening and Closing ceremonies and more generally in the design of the Games

Much of the talent highlighted in the opening and closing ceremonies was audio-based in the form of some of the UK’s past and present musical talent.

The ceremonies, not least Danny Boyle’s terrific storytelling opening extravaganza, highlighted British invention and public spirit. This spirit was taken up, now famously, by the Gamesmakers.

The UK’s creative industries are similarly driven by the desire to improve people’s lives by making the best content they can, and to make it available to as wide an audience as possible. These twin desires feed the entrepreneurial spirit that characterises the creative industries. Our rich cultural heritage, as highlighted in the ceremonies, is a source of inspiration to indie audio producers, who are already using that rich heritage to create compelling content-from Made in Manchester’s ‘Turing’s Test’, produced in association with Independent News & Media, to TBI Media’s Sony Gold Award-Winning ‘The John Bonham Story’.

Barriers to growth in the creative industries-such as difficulties in accessing private finance-and the ways in which Government policy should address them. Whether lack of co-ordination between government departments inhibits this sector

In general there is no doubt that many traditional sources of investment are nervous of the creative industries. The widely-welcomed report Risky Business [2] highlighted this issue, and demonstrated that in fact the creative industries are a safer investment than other industries such as restaurants and hotels [check]. ‘Risky Business’ incidentally cited independent radio production as another potential growth area, another reason for the Committee to include the sector within its core focus.

The impact on the creative industries of the independent Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property and Growth, and the Government’s Response to it. The impact of the failure, as yet, to implement the Digital Economy Act, which was intended to strengthen copyright enforcement. The impact of proposals to change copyright law without recourse to primary legislation (under the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill currently before Parliament)

Indie radio/audio producers are increasingly looking to make multi-versioned content and formats which can be exploited beyond their original use, in order to maximise the potential of any given idea and to grow their businesses and by extension the UK economy.

RIG therefore fully supports measures to strengthen and enforce copyright law, whilst also supporting the continued and increased education of consumers of the value of creative content and the damage caused by not paying for it.

We would urge the Committee to stress to Government the need to act clearly and firmly in enforcing the Digital Economy Act, and ensure that alongside the legal approach it supports educational programmes to make consumers aware of the issues and the need for enforcement in cases of copyright infringement.

It should also be noted that producers attempting to exploit programming originated for BBC Radio face greater restrictions than those applying in television, and these restrictions need to be addressed if the full potential for growth is to be released.

The extent to which taxation supports the growth of the creative economy, including whether it would be desirable to extend the tax reliefs targeted at certain sectors in the 2012 Budget

RIG supports the Government’s decision to introduce tax credits for animation high-end TV and video games.

These have been introduced in response to the clear case make that the cost to the Treasury of the tax breaks is compensated for many times over by the increased receipts from the growth in those creative sectors.

Whilst there is potential for the UK indie radio/audio sector to grow, the ‘good news’ for the Treasury is that RIG is not pushing for a similar tax break for radio. Our proposals instead involve a more flexible and fair way of using existing public funds, in the form of the TV Licence fee, to act as investment capital for the sector, via the BBC introducing a fair and competitive commissioning system for its radio content.

In Television indies can currently pitch for 50% of ‘eligible’ BBC productions. In radio indies can pitch only for a maximum of 20% of eligible productions. ‘Eligible’ excludes such large areas as news and current affairs.

Clearly it is a brake on any creative sector to only have access to 20% of the biggest supplier of radio services in the UK. The success of the UK’s indie TV sector emphasises how creative entrepreneurs, given the access to compete fairly for commissions, come up with innovative program formats and talent that are highly successful in the UK and abroad.

The BBC is a huge national asset, but in order that it maintains its relevance and efficiency going forward it must re-focus on being fleet of foot and able to adapt quickly to new trends-greater use of independent producers, rather than large unwieldy in-house production houses, is an obvious way for the Corporation to be in the best position to do this.

In a report on BBC radio production supply in 2010, the BBC Trust required the BBC to "demonstrate a clear focus on delivering high quality and distinctive programming to licence fee payers, in particular through ensuring the best ideas are commissioned regardless of source" [3] .

Although the BBC have opened up some additional radio programming to competition, the total available is only 20%, which still falls far short of the Trust’s stipulation, and RIG asks that the Committee explore this issue as part of its inquiry. Moreover this additional programming is comprised of the lowest value strands on those networks, so that it is bringing almost no new income to the sector.

Referring back to ‘Risky Business’ one of the report’s key recommendations was that:

‘The Government should consider ways that the BBC can encourage creative competition, building on the success of and extending the window of creative competition, not just in TV production, but across all other creative content production (radio, online, gaming) in the next BBC charter renewal. In the meantime, the Government should ask the BBC to do this voluntarily, to stimulate growth in the creative industries.’ [4]

RIG has argued to the Government that there is no need to wait until Charter Renewal to alter the BBC Agreement to introduce such measures now. There are many examples of the Agreement being altered between Renewals, for example the 2003 Communications Act contained a requirement for Codes of Practice to be dr own up for indie TV producers- this was mirrored in an alteration to the BBC Agreement made at the time the Act was passed, in order that the requirement to draw up Codes were in place for all PSBs simultaneously. Subsequently to the 2006 Charter there have been several further alterations to the Agreement [5] .

Taking the argument one step further, RIG was a supporter of Channel 4’s previous ‘4Radio’ initiative. Whilst that did not come to fruition due to the challenging advertising market at the time, it represented a promising new way of commissioning public service radio content and RIG would be keen to explore with others how a similar exercise might be planned for the future, on a more secure financial base. This might perhaps involve a combination of funding à la ‘The Space’ project [6] , which is joint-funded by the Lottery, Arts Council and BBC .

Ways to establish a strong skills base to support the creative economy, including the role of further and higher education in this

RIG contributed views on this area to the Creative Industries Council’s Skills survey last year. In summary RIG stated that:

· Creative subjects need to be taught as part of a full curriculum-eg Music, Art, Drama etc. and their relevant to life-skill and the creative industries need to be stressed. On this basis RIG has concerns that the proposed Full English Baccalaureate (EBacc) does not emphasise creative subjects, and is a supporter of the ‘Bacc for the Future’ campaign [7] whose aim is to ensure a 6th grouping of creative and cultural subjects is included in the EBacc as proposed by Darren Henley in his recent Review of Cultural Education in England [8]

· Radio production should be highlighted as one which can offer a rewarding and exciting career-this must be done as part of a co-ordinated All-Age Careers Service programme which highlights the potential of the creative industries to offer rewarding long-term careers

· Funding should be available for student placements and expenses for production companies to visit institutions at locations throughout the country, particularly as education institutions are cutting back on funding to support these ventures themselves

· Highlighting and promoting those FE and HE providers that offer advanced skills and tuition in radio, audio and multi-platform, and that specialise in the Radio Sector and use a strong professional practice and theoretic basis for their studies

· There needs to be greater awareness of the opportunities within the Independent Radio Production sector-raising the profile of the industry by inviting representation from independent radio producers within the planning of any new initiatives

The importance of "clusters" and "hubs" in facilitating innovation and growth in the creative sector. Whether there is too much focus on hubs at the expense of encouraging a greater geographical spread of companies through effective universal communication

Due to advances in technology, it is more possible than ever to produce high-quality audio recordings and content with a relatively lower level of investment. This is already apparent in the geographical spread of our members, which provides much more comprehensive coverage of all the UK's communities than the BBC's concentrated centres of production (see map). However some of our more remotely located members cite lack of access to high-speed as a severe constraint, so the Government’s planned spread of high-speed broadband will enable creative companies to remain in their chosen location and to continue to give their unique perspectives and stories.

Equally, creativity is fuelled by cross-fertilisation of ideas and skills, and having a group of creative companies based in a geographical location has that benefit as well as the obvious one of potentially funding some shared facilities.

So whilst ‘hubs’ should be encouraged, this must not be to the exclusion of pursuing strategies that allow independent production companies to flourish regardless of location.

The work of the Creative Industries Council and other public bodies responsible for supporting the sector

The Radio Independents Group sought to engage with the creative Industries Council at an early stage. Our experience, echoed by that of others, was the original proposals for working groups were altered at some stage during the process and that not all those originally invited to take part were kept informed.

Some work streams were clearly successful, eg that which examined skills, perhaps significantly because an existing external organisation, Creative Skillset, was tasked with carrying out the research and make recommendations.

RIG commends the work of Creative Skillset in conducting the Skills Survey, but would again point to the need to not only involve in future Government creative skills initiatives those industries which are already strong, but also those that are the next success stories waiting to happen.

November 2012


[1] http://dcmscommsreview.readandcomment.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Transcript-radio-seminar-amend.pdf , Presentation by Phil Critchlow, Chair, RIG pp30-32.

[2] Burrows H, Ussher K. Risky Business. Demos, 2011

[3] Radio Independent Supply. BBC Trust Review. August 2010, p10

[4] Burrows H, Ussher K. Risky Business. Demos, 2011. p20, Recommendation 8

[5] www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/governance/regulatory_framework/charter_agreement.html . Accessed 27 September 2012

[6] www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding/apply-for-funding/strategic-funding/thespace/

[7] www.baccforthefuture.com/

[8] Henley, D. Independent Review of Cultural Education in England. Department for Education / Department f or Culture, Media & Sport, 2012

Prepared 17th November 2012