A Social Media network for West Midlands Digerati

One of the things to emerge from last Friday’s launch of 4IP here in the West Midlands is that Channel 4 & Screen West Midlands intend to launch a social media network for those interested in applying to the fund. During the announcement of this I put out a tweet asking why we needed one imposed; shouldn’t the existing community build its own? The response was very much why do we need one at all?  

However, we do need something to improve connectivity in the digital sector as many of the companies in the room that day that I knew are simply not part of the existing network of bloggers and tweeters that has been building up over the last 12-18 months.

38 minutes

My guess at the thinking in C4’s head is that they would build something similar to www.38minutes.co.uk, a site for Scottish/Northern Irish digital creatives to come together and discuss 4IP. Go take a look – it already has 300+ individual members and 45 groups/companies. It looks superb to me at first glance and the discussions have high level input from C4. In fact it’s further proof that although the West Mids were announced as the first 4IP region the Scots/Irish seem ahead of the game. That’s due in no small part to the energy and talents of their new 4IP commissioner Ewan McIntosh (go read his thinking behind 38 minutes). We do have more cash to spend apparently in the West Midlands (£10m) so perhaps there’s some consolation there but we really need to get going with connecting and collaborating.

Which brings me back to: should the digital sector just go ahead and build its own digital social media network? Is that a difficult thing to do? Would A DIY solution better demonstrate to C4 that we’re well up for 4IP and raring to go?

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:

INTERACTIVE MEDIA, NOT TV
NETWORKS NOT BROADCASTERS

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.

Why?
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] screenwm.co.uk. 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.