Channel 4 – 4ip

Yesterday saw the pre-launch of Channel 4’s 4ip fund in Birmingham. I’m telling you this as although I managed to bring a notepad I completely failed to bring a pen and therefore need to write this down before it empties out of my head. Before we begin, two key things you need to bear in mind and written large on the 4ip homepage:


With that in mind, here’s a FAQ:

What’s 4ip?
Channel four investment fund to create interactive media projects with a public service benefit. The background for it is in the Next on 4 strategy stuff. £50million in total.

Ofcom are consulting about Public Service Broadcasting at the moment (phase one just closed actually). Part of that is about thinking about how broadcasters can fulfill their public service remit in ways other than showing TV programmes. It’s pretty clear 4ip is Channel 4’s attempt to develop a solution before one gets imposed. If it works then they’ll no doubt be asking for a slice of the licence fee in future.

So they are investing in ideas? Companies?
Both. Unlike the TV commissioning model where the IP remains with the producer there is potential here for Channel 4 to take an equity stake in the company itself. Andrew Dubber thought the issue around IP ownership was vague but I read it as simply too complex to go into at an event like this – real answer is that it will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

How much will they invest?
£20k upwards to £1.5m. They hinted that there will be a small number of £1m+ projects, a decent amount of £200k-£600k projects and plenty at the £20k mark. You’ll need to find 50% of the funds for your project from elsewhere – this isn’t a free ride. See note from Jason at Screen WM below.

Interactive Media? Public Service benefit? Seems a bit vague.
I know, it’s great isn’t it – the door’s open to a whole range of ideas given that the criteria is so broad. However, don’t misinterpret ‘public service’ as non-commercial. This is investment funding and the investors are looking for a return. As wide open as this is there should be an emphasis on where the market has failed. An example given around a project for female computer gamers made this clear. Plus, market failure is a criteria used for public sector funding support and that’s what this is – public sector funding. Specifically cited were social media, web, computer gaming. ‘E-drama’ or brand extensions of existing TV programmes (they fund the latter seperately) is the last thing they want.

The reason for a Birmingham pre-launch?
Birmingham, because the regional development agency has put £5million into a West Midlands pot, matched by Channel 4’s £5million. ‘Pre’-launch, because the formal application procedure isn’t set up yet and won’t be till autumn. They’re recruiting a Birmingham-based commissioning editor as we speak. Screen West Midlands are managing all of this so make sure you become best friends with them. There’s a regional test to ensure there’s a benefit to the West Midlands (spending 70% of the budget there or 50% of the talent is based there).

What about other regions?
I’m a Brummie, what do I care about other regions? Oh okay, apparently Yorkshire and Scotland are also in on the act. The West Midlands got there first though – remember that. Stuart Cosgrove was the Channel 4 rep at the pre-launch and let’s not forget that he’s the Nations and Regions guy at channel 4. He specifically said that there’s a balance to be redressed in developing regional media economies in this way. He cited the North West and of course, London, as already having had their fair share. I’m actually unsure if that means that this is not a national fund. I suspect that the other partners mentioned (Arts Council England, Media Trust, others I’ve forgotten) may allow non-West Mids/Yorkshire/Scottish projects to be funded.

So I should spend the summer musing on new ideas?
Yes and no. If you’ve got an idea even half-formed get it known about now. There’s £10million to be invested in a little over two years, that will take some spending. As I said, for the West Midlands, you need to be talking to Screen West Midlands right now about your idea so that come day one, you’re at the front of the aplication queue. Talk to Jason Hall: jason.hall [at] Try not to be put off by what looks like a tortuous application process – this is a lot of public money we’re talking about.

Where can I learn more?
The 4ip blog gives really strong hints about what they’re after. Go subscribe now. If you look at some of the videos they’ve posted you’ll learn what’s in the heads of the people who will decide if your idea is green-lighted.

July Harvest and Jamie Oliver’s runner bean stew thingy


Just a quick post to show you that the plot is now giving up some of its goodies. The overgrown back of the plot has plenty of lovely sweet red currants and raspberries whilst the last of the new potatoes are out of the ground. The longer they stayed in there the larger they swelled compared to the first lot we dug up six weeks ago but they are also more prone to little maggots drilling holes in them. We had to chuck a few of these but will have enough for a few meals. The runner beans are coming on in their droves, not my favourite veg in the past but picked young they are delicious. 

The pic below is a quick camera phone grab (not the best tool for food photography – colours are yuck) of tonight’s runner bean based dinner. It’s from the last Jamie Oliver book. He does it with fish but we made do with chicken. Tasted great though – the sauce has anchovies in it. Note the parsley which never grew very well for us in a pot out the back but is doing very well down the plot.

Below, how it’s supposed to look when made with beans that look like they were picked very young and a more expensive photographer not using a camera phone:

Birmingham Creatives – I can’t hear you

Cross-posted from my blog at the Birmingham Post.

Actually I can hear some of you, particularly those of you that are on the same social networks as me or that I happen upon as result of my work. I can hear you loud and clear and you’ve got lots to say about this city and how it values or doesn’t value the arts and why what you do matters. What I can’t hear is the voice of the organisation that’s been set up to represent you collectively. Or to put it another way: what’s the point of Creative Republic? If they’re the voice of the creative sector aiming to make it “stronger, louder and more effective” then why does it all seem a bit quiet out there.

Actually they have had a few events, one as recently as June during which creatives got to mingle and have a nice drink. In fact the Facebook invite for the last event emphasised: “No Pack Drill… No Speeches… And No Charge”. That struck me as pretty depressing for an organisation that’s trying to represent us at the highest level in the city. So that’s an event that won’t be asking creatives how they want to be represented? No chance for attendees to have their say? No ‘we’ll fight them on the beaches’ rallying call for creatives to raise up their pens/brushes/mice/cameras and get themselves known and heard? No chance for the next generation of creative leaders to push themselves to the front of the room and tell their colleagues why they can make change happen?

There’s an economic downturn under way. Maybe it won’t be too bad but research tells us that growth in the Creative Industries are cyclical, that is, when the economy grows they grow more but when it slides they slide more. So we might be entering a downturn that puts the jobs of regional creatives on the line. Not just in service sector jobs such as design and interactive media but in cuts to the arts and support organisations. We should be ideally placed in having an organisation like Creative Republic to point out to city fathers that even if times get bad we’re worth sticking with. If Brum wants to be a must-live place then it should continue to support the arts no matter how sticky those council meetings get.

I have no doubt that there’s plenty of politicking going on by Creative Republic board members behind the scenes but why is it so quiet? Do they have a view on the impending closure of Culture West Midlands, the organisation from which it takes it statistics? How does it feel about Advantage West Midlands’ strategy for the Digital Media and Music sector?

As I understand it Created in Birmingham is part of the Creative Republic set up but that serves a different function – that’s about saying “come and look at all this great stuff happening in Birmingham’s creative scene”. What’s needed instead is a voice (a blog would be a start) that reflects what Creative Republic is trying to be – a political organisation that has an opinion and is fighting the good fight for the city’s creatives.

Politics and policy are dominated by the voice of business at the moment and here we are with an organisation that has a real chance to be the voice of the worker – for that we need pack drills and speeches rather than a free drink and cosy chat.

Running to stand still

I spend too much time on this blog telling you about my gardening exploits. You’d have thought I’d given up running completely so this is a brief post to update you on where I am with that aspect of my life at the moment:

Training – in case you didn’t know I ran the London Marathon in 3hrs 1 minute in April and since then I’ve eased off training (compunded by a light ankle niggle in the weeks just after the race). I’ve been a bit half-hearted about it actually but I plan to step it up with the aim of getting a personal best half-marathon time at the year’s Birmingham half-marathon. Colleagues in my running club are even getting me to think about my spring 2009 marathon (maybe London, maybe somewhere else) and how I should be training for it now – yikes!

I’ve started running home from work a couple of times a week which is good for the soul, and on the pocket given the price of fuel. It’s only about 4 miles or more if I take the scenic route via Cannon Hill park (more again via the canals) but overall I doubt I’m running more than 25 miles a week at the moment, often less.

Racing – My last race was the Malvern half-marathon on June 22nd in which I came in the top 30 and recorded a good time in windy conditions of under 1hr 29mins. I was however a little dissapointed as it felt harder than any race I’d done for a while and I tailed off very badly in the second half. I should have paced myself for a more sensible run. I’ve much to do ahead of Birmingham in October if I’m to hit 1hr 26mins.

In mid-August, for fun more than competition, I race against a train across fields in Wales. Beating the train there and back along the route is quite difficult apparently but it should be fun. I’d like to squeeze in a 10k race at some point over the summer or early Autumn but I should wait until I’m at least a little fitter.

So overall this post is to let you know that I’m running less (I was doing 5-6 days a week during marathon training and up to 50 miles) but still enjoying it. In fact I’m probably enjoying it precisely because I’m running less.

My new heap

Finally got round to sorting out the other half of the front of my plot. Took me ages to tidy all the crap I’d thrown in there and of course underneath was tons of great compost. I now have two heaps and plenty of compost. Wandering down to view my handy-work next day I was greeted by a visitor christening my work. I reckon it was the same cat I’d photographed previously.

New Heap


A comment by Annette reminds me that I was going to do a post extolling the virtues of Rhubarb having previously not seen the point of it. The picking season for rhubarb is more or less at an end so I won’t do so in detail other than to say that my mind was changed by a couple of great recipes for it:

A great rhubarb and apple crumble by Tom Parker-Bowles.

An amazing rhubarb cake I found on a blog

Both recipes use fresh ginger which give them a distinctive taste – don’t be tempted to skimp on this. The cake is really the killer recipe. I used half light brown sugar + half molasses rather than muscovado sugar as specified but only because I didn’t have any of the latter in the house. There’s lovely moistness to the cake – really rather good.

The Daily Good Life

Led by Lucy at the Smallest Smallholding a group of allotment/small-holding bloggers have got together to create a Youtube channel about our attempts to live off the land to various degrees (in my case living off the land amounts to eating lots of rhubarb and new potatoes). I’m one of them despite or maybe because of my newcomer status. The channel will take a while to get populated but I’ve done my ‘intro’ video which is on my own channel and then play-listed on the Daily Good Life.

BTW – this is my first attempt at home-movie making. The camera was a present for my 40th birthday at the weekend. It’s a Canon MD235 – I’m sticking with DV tape for the meantime, great quality for under £200 vs paying £500+ for same quality as a hard disk cam. 

My long lost family

Here’s some audio from my archive. I studied radio at university and for my final year piece we were required to do a classic 27 minute Radio 4 style documentary. That’s quite an intimidating length for an undergraduate who’s longest radio package to date had been about 5 mins. I recorded the bulk of mine over a few days in Ireland in Easter 1996. I’ll outline what my idea was briefly and then let you listen to the results for yourself. 

My long lost family
My Dad was born out of wedlock in 1930s Ireland. He was brought up in the country by a foster family and never knew who his mother or father was. My Dad died in 1979 and we often wondered if we would ever find out for ourselves about his origins. So this documentary involves me going to Ireland to see what I can find. My intention was to make some kind of soul-searching ‘finding myself’ piece. A road movie on the radio is what I had in mind and in fact the finished piece isn’t far from that. However I did find out far more than I anticipated – take a listen. 

Feel free to download and repost as you like. 

Kevin Spacey has nothing to say about Birmingham

Kevin Spacey
Pic by rivier50

Just going through some of the unread feed items on my google reader today and I came across this one from Film Birmingham about a new competition for short films (old competition now as it’s closed for entries). It quotes Kevin Spacey as getting excited about Birmingham’s emerging film talent:

“I am delighted to be joining the judging panel for Virgin Media Shorts. This competition will provide a terrific opportunity for emerging talent in Birmingham to find a shop window for their work and it’s great that Virgin Media is supporting British film in this way…..I’m sure that we’re going to see some great short films from Birmingham and I’m excited for the judging process to begin”

Wow – Kevin Spacey has taken the time to say something exciting about Birmingham! Why didn’t I hear about this before? If I was a Birmingham Evening Mail reader I would have actually as they picked up on the press release and did a short article on it. So in doing a bit of research on the competition (it’s a national rather than a regional one) to find out why Kevin had gotten so excited about Birmingham I then came across the original press release from Virgin Media complete with quote from Mr Spacey: 

“I am delighted to be joining the judging panel for Virgin Media Shorts. This competition will provide a terrific opportunity for emerging talent to find a shop window for their work and it’s great that Virgin Media is supporting British film in this way…..I’m sure that we’re going to see some great short films and I’m excited for the judging process to begin”

That’s right, there’s no mention of Birmingham at all. In order to localise this story someone has simply put words in Spacey’s mouth. I googled around and couldn’t find the same sentence used for Manchester, Bristol, Newcastle etc. So was it only the offices of Film Birmingham who changed this press release? I know Birmingham wants to big itself up but surely we don’t have to make stuff up?

So unless I’m told otherwise (and please do tell me otherwise) I’m going on the basis that Kevin Spacey has nothing to say about Birmingham’s emerging film talent. Maybe we should invite him up here, show him some films and ask him in person.

(Just to note that my annoyance at this comes from my increasing grouchiness about stuff as I hit 40 on Sunday. It’s all I can do to stop myself writing another blog post about how you can’t buy a Guardian in the Custard Factory newsagents after 11am as they only ever order about five copies – doing so would sound just a bit too middle-aged though.)