Jackie Edwards, who spent a decade at the BBC, including as head of children’s acquisitions and independent animation and content manager at CBeebies, tells TV Kids about her remit with the Young Audiences Content Fund (YACF), which began accepting applications in April.
The U.K. remains one of the world’s most prolific producers of children’s content, but those working in that sector face a wealth of challenges, from changes in consumption habits to funding concerns to the onslaught of big-budgeted FAANGs. To help boost the industry, the U.K. government, via the BFI, has launched a new Young Audiences Content Fund (YACF). Led by ex-BBC Children’s executive Edwards, the £57 million, three-year pilot fund will support the production and development of high-quality public-service content for viewers up to the age of 18.
TV KIDS: Tell us about why this new fund was created.
EDWARDS: It’s an initiative brought about by the U.K. government, via the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), to try and revivify the production sector and broadcast provision for children and young people in the U.K. The last ten years have seen a real decline in public-service content for young audiences, so it’s really an attempt to redress the balance. The BBC has been dominant in children’s content provision and a market leader because of the license fee. It’s become increasingly difficult for commercial public-service broadcasters (PSBs) to fund and maintain a decent provision in this sector.
TV KIDS: What attracted you to this position after your long career at the BBC and as an executive producer?
EDWARDS: It genuinely broke my heart to leave BBC Children’s—it’s a creative powerhouse and there are such brilliant people who are totally committed to young audiences. I had ten wonderful years there and was involved in amazing productions and worked with such brilliant producers, directors and writing talent. It’s been a fabulous experience. However, this opportunity was absolutely irresistible in terms of the intention of the project. It’s a really big ask to try to change the tide in the way that we are. But it’s an opportunity to work with producers to get some big, impactful content out there that will attract audiences and do something different and brilliant across a whole slew of different genres. It was an opportunity to help make a positive change to the industry and help extend the range of public-service content on offer for young audiences.
TV KIDS: What kinds of shows will you be looking to fund?
EDWARDS: We will support all genres and techniques for all ages up to 18. One of the big intentions of the fund is to broaden the plurality of broadcaster tone of voice in the U.K. and the different content they offer. So we’re going to be led by broadcasters, and the fund will be supportive of and responsive to their commissioning wants and needs. The fund is competitive and needs to make an impact, so we are particularly keeping a keen eye out for bold new content that will thrill audiences!
TV KIDS: And I understand you’ll also be working on projects still in development that don’t have a broadcaster attached. What are your goals there?
EDWARDS: We have a very big priority in terms of getting new voices through. There’s been a narrow bandwidth in the production and broadcast sector for children in the U.K. There are really talented, inspiring people who have barely been able to get their foot in the door, never mind a seat at the table with the broadcasters. So it’s an opportunity to really get some brand-new voices through and support them in their career in television. That’s a big priority for the fund. Similarly, if there are great, experienced producers that need a bit of extra support to get something over the commissioning line, we can be helpful there. We’ll be supporting the development and production of content in indigenous languages as well.
TV KIDS: What qualifies as public-service content? How would you define it?
EDWARDS: Those shows that really broaden knowledge and understanding of the world and stimulate learning in some way, whether it’s hard learning or a softer educational approach. Most importantly, programs that reflect U.K. cultural identity and the lives of audiences; shows that represent the diversity of the country and show alternative viewpoints. Programming that embraces everybody in the country. Those are the big hallmarks of public-service broadcast.
TV KIDS: What are the main challenges for producers in the U.K. as they work to deliver content that will deliver at home and have the ability to travel?
EDWARDS: Local content with global appeal is the dream of everybody. The U.K. has such a heritage in children’s programs and producers have a really good understanding of what resonates with children, so there’s a fantastic bedrock that we’re building on. However, over the last ten years or so, with restrictions around advertising for children and the decline in advertising revenues, funding has been the biggest issue.
There are also new, better-resourced and less-regulated players in town that are attracting audiences and producers. It’s hard for PSBs to compete in this uneven playing field. Hopefully the fund will help fight back by supporting fantastic content. Funding and opportunity are the perennial challenges facing producers, which is why this investment from the government is so important; but there’s one thing we don’t lack in the U.K., and that’s talent.
TV KIDS: Will the content funded be entirely intended for linear broadcast or could you envision financing digital-only properties as well?
EDWARDS: The starting point is for content that has a public-service remit and that can be freely and safely available to all audiences—on free-to-access Ofcom-regulated public-service platforms with significant U.K. audience reach. We need to make an impact. Having a focus is going to be really important as we assess how useful we’re being. However, it is a pilot; so we can be flexible. If we think we’re not addressing market failure in a good enough way, we can adapt as we go along.
Personally, I think [the fund] is a brilliant and much needed thing in the U.K. We shouldn’t doubt the cultural importance of having a robust public-service offer, particularly for children. That programming has the opportunity to inspire and nurture and nourish children, and give them memories that will last a lifetime and inspire their careers and lives. There’s no denying the potential to create a big cultural shift in the U.K. and do something that unifies audiences as well. That’s the power of public-service broadcasting, particularly on linear—something that everybody watches and knows about and has access to is powerful in these very difficult times.