Capital of Culture: Fund Puts Focus on Midlands TV Talent; Terry Grimley Reports on Plans to Develop the West Midlands as a Centre for Independent Television Production
Byline: Terry Grimley
The West Midlands could enjoy a much higher profile on our television screens over the next few years, thanks to an innovative pounds 1.5 million fund.
The cash, provided by regional development agency Advantage West Midlands and administered by Screen West Midlands, will be spent over the next three years to support the region's independent programme-makers.
In October Niki Hinman, a highly experienced television professional who most recently worked for TWI - makers of the recently-shown documentary about disabled actor Christopher Reeve - was appointed to run the scheme.
'There are something like 45 production companies in this region all operating on a small to medium enterprise level,' she explains. 'While there was funding available for people to get started, there was nothing to help people already there.
'Our aims are to guarantee jobs, increase the number of hours of programmes produced from this region, encourage diversity and create a sustainable industry. It tends to go on a 'feast and famine' cycle in the independent sector, where companies are either really, really busy or waiting for the next production to happen.
'That makes it very difficult for them to grow, difficult to invest, to sustain themselves.
'That's what we're here for - to help them grow but in the first instance stabilise them. To ensure that those people already in business stay in business.'
An obvious way of doing that would be to give companies seed money to help them to develop projects that they could then offer to broadcasters. Some money will be used like that but Niki Hinman's preferred strategy is to approach it from the other direction, offering money to broadcasters as an incentive to commission from the region.
'I prefer to use the money to guarantee the region some output in terms of broadcast hours,' she says. 'We are going to the broadcasters and saying that, if they can give us some sort of commitment to commissioning from this region, we will help fund it. It will basically reduce the odds against a company getting commissioned. To me, that's a better use of money. A lot of criticism has been aimed at funds like this one for not achieving anything.'
Of course this strategy might not be particularly effective if there were a network of regional agencies taking part in a bidding auction to get broadcasters pushing work their way. But at the moment the West Midlands has the field to itself, having been the first region to invest in its media industries in this way.
'I'm the only person doing this in this country, so it provides a competitive advantage to companies in the West Midlands,' says Hinman.
The novelty of the role was one of the main things that attracted her to the job. …