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Children’s Media Foundation hits out at UK government’s closure of content fund

The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF) has attacked the UK government’s decision to close the Young Audiences Content Fund (YACF) three years after it was first introduced.

Anna Home

The CMF said it considers the closure a short-sighted failure on the part of the policy makers at the Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and has called on the secretary of state, Nadine Dorries, to reverse the decision.

The YACF, set up to boost the creation of free-to-access children’s content that reflects the lives of young people in the UK, has supported well over 100 projects with funding since 2019.

It was initially given an overall budget of £60m (US$81m) to be distributed over a three-year pilot stage, but this was reduced to £44.2m last year.

The DCMS-backed fund, overseen by the British Film Institute and former BBC exec Jackie Edwards, is now set to close for applications on February 25. The CMF’s director, Greg Childs, described the move as “tragic,” given the positive impact the YACF has had on the industry.

CMF chair Anna Home pointed to the 144 development projects and 55 new programmes the fund has supported, helping to enhance the public service offering of CITV, Channel 5’s Milkshake!, Channel 4, S4C and other UK broadcasters.

Productions include Teen First Dates (E4), Makeaway Takeaway (CITV), The World According to Grandpa (Milkshake!) and Sol, a film about grief created for TG4, BBC Alba and S4C. More awards are still to be made in the closing weeks of the fund.

“Now we face a definite decrease in the number and range of programmes being made for young people in the UK. We could very quickly be back where we started three years ago, with the BBC as the only body commissioning content for children. In fact, it’s worse as the BBC is facing government-imposed budget cuts of its own over the next few years too,” said Home.

Childs expressed sympathy for the fund’s team, which he said has worked hard to improve the children’s media landscape in the UK, as well as for all the producers who have benefitted from funding.

Nadine Dorries

“It’s tragic. Ofcom have for years reported ‘market failure’ in the kids’ sector. The collapse of advertising revenue has meant that the commercial public service broadcasters have been commissioning very little to complement and compete with the BBC.

“The fund turned that around – for a relatively small amount of money. It had a profound impact not just on the number of people working on content for kids but on the kids themselves as the range of programmes on offer was expanded,” said Childs.

The CMF has suggested that the budget underspent by the fund – mainly due to the inevitable slow-down in production caused by Covid – that was taken back by the DCMS just under a year ago, could be reinstated to grant a two-year stay of execution.

Childs added: “The amount the government needlessly clawed back was around 25% of the overall budget for the fund. 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 licence fee are concluded.”

The CMF has also proposed that a combination of a levy on streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and YouTube, combined with enhanced National Lottery funding, could finance the fund in the future.

Home added: “There needs to be public service media for children beyond the BBC, and the pilot proves this is possible. Children need media which is domestic as well as international – media which reflects their own lives and culture, and where they hear their own voices. A generation of young people denied their own stories will grow up to be a generation with little loyalty for the institutions and values of the society in which they live.”

The YACF said in a statement: “We are incredibly proud of what the BFI Young Audiences Content Fund has achieved in three years. It has given young people all over the UK the opportunity to watch and engage with original UK programming on free-to-access, regulated platforms, reflecting their lives, hopes and fears, and educating, entertaining and inspiring them.

“YACF backed projects have already drawn critical acclaim, won a string of awards and secured sales to countries around the word, and there are 24 projects in production still to air over the next two years.

“Research and re-commissions demonstrate that these programmes have a high level of appreciation from young audiences and we hope the fund’s legacy will be to encourage UK broadcasters to continue to focus on programmes that nurture and nourish and reflect the lives of young people in the UK.

“Other highlights from the fund include supporting young people during lockdown, with the hugely successful See Yourself on Screen Challenge, taken up by young people around the country, from all backgrounds and of all ages. The challenge gave them a national platform to submit stories that expressed their own voices, interests and experiences, in line with the fund’s objectives to increase representation across children’s content.”


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