4iP: ‘Innovation for the Public’
4iP is now well into its second year, but still manages to fly under the radar, only there for those who seek it out; so here is Struan Robertson to explain exactly what 4iP is and, more importantly, what it can do for you.
4iP is a relatively new branch of Channel 4, but in the two years it has been around, it has invested in almost thirty media projects. The fact that Wikipedia doesn’t seem to have heard of it then, is a little surprising. Even Channel 4’s own wiki entry has no mention of it, and yet this mysterious entity has been given £20-million to invest in new digital media projects over its first three years. With this much funding, it would be worthwhile finding out what it’s all about.
In its own words, 4iP is ‘an innovation fund to stimulate public service digital media across the UK’. Essentially, 4iP niftily combines a search for emerging talent and ideas with an effort to push Channel 4 beyond the boundaries of television broadcast and more fully into the cross-platform realm of digital media. So everybody wins. Of course, more importantly, it presents funding opportunities for new digital media projects, along with the company’s support and business expertise. Although the £20-million budget is supposedly chickenfeed for a TV commissioner like Channel 4, it has already provided an invaluable first step up for numerous projects.
4iP is not just your average source of media funding, however. Channel 4 was originally set up with a specific remit to commission ‘troublemaking’ programming and to cater to a wide cross-section of Britain’s culturally diverse society. These programming criteria are carried through to 4iP as well, with projects so far including ‘Talk About Local’ – a project set up to enable communities to develop their own online presence and generate a community voice – and ‘Help Me Investigate’ – a site which allows people to collaborate with others to investigate issues which concern them.
The fund’s initials, ‘iP’, stand for Innovation for the Public, and the public-service element focuses on the personal as well as the political, with the current call for proposals requesting projects concerned with positive body image. In fact, the fund has already invested in a Dundee-based iPhone app called ‘You Booze You Lose’, which will track users’ alcohol consumption and show the resulting effects. Likewise, a Facebook app called ‘MirrorMe’, which generates an image of the effect current bad habits might have on users, has received funding from 4iP
So what are the benefits of 4iP, compared to other sources of funding? Well, Channel 4 promotes their UK basis as an advantage, citing the creative, social and economic effects of keeping to our own borders. For the Edinburgh creative, though, this may actually provide a wider, further-reaching base than the usual local funding avenues such as Scottish Screen. In addition, 4iP’s funding is supplemented by various regional co-investment partners, so a successful application to 4iP may gain support or funding from Scottish Screen as well.
Channel 4’s history and national presence also allows the fund to bring with it a level of business expertise and experience which other funds would be hard-pushed to match. The channel’s history of working with independent production companies speaks in its favour and is perhaps reassuring for those who are wary of fraternizing with big businesses. Perhaps equally reassuring is Tom Loosemore (head of 4iP)’s claim that project’s will be allowed to make mistakes. Rather than the usual pressure to succeed, 4iP projects will focus on getting up and running quickly and cheaply, then adapting to users needs.
On the other hand, the fund is not necessarily intended to provide ongoing support. This is primarily a start-up fund, to get good ideas realised. Once up and running, the projects are intended to become financially self-sufficient. This doesn’t necessarily mean every project has to turn a profit, though. Depending on the project, breaking even may be an entirely satisfactory result.
The only other major negative seems to be the focus on new digital media. While it looks like a great source of funding and support for web designers and application developers, it seems the fund is perched out of the reach of traditional filmmakers. In this case, ‘innovation’ refers not only to the development of public services, but also to the medium in which they are developed. A screen simply isn’t enough to pique 4iP’s interest, unless it’s a touch-screen or has a mouse coming out of it. Interactivity seems to be one of 4iP’s prime directives, still best served by the internet.
If you have an idea for a website, an iPhone application or a mobile game though, you could do worse than have a look at their website: www.4iP.org.uk.