We’ve settled into our new home in The Digital Hub at Townhouse Twenty2 Thomas St despite the jack hammers working outside. We love this old library building with its high ceilings and big windows and it’s blend of history and digital futures. The only downside is the on-going roadworks which dominate Thomas St at present. But beyond that temporary challenge we’re definitely celebrating in Athena Media. This month marks ten years since we set up as a start-up in The Digital Depot, the Hub’s incubation zone, and we’re marking our tenth birthday with not just a return to one of the most beautiful of the old buildings under the restoration keep of the project but we’ve expanded into the UK with our new office and presence in MediaCityUK Manchester. We’ve come full circle, from an owner-director start-up to a flourishing and growing company employing talented people in the heart of two cities. But buildings and jobs are not just what we’re celebrating in May. We’ve just heard a few more magic numbers to add to that perfect ten. Just days ago we got the news that four of our radio programmes are finalists in the international radio awards at The New York Radio Festival.
We’re no stranger to the New York Radio Awards. In 2012 we won Gold for our history series Death of an Empire, on the collapse of the Soviet Union with presenter Seamus Martin and just last year we were finalists with our series Grassroots on positive community profiles. Because of our wins I’ve been invited to be part of the international jury for the last two years (but of course we’re barred from voting on our own programmes!). But it was still a complete surprise to get four finalists in this year’s competition. The four are Herosongs (RTÉ Radio1), Citizens: Lockout 1913 (RTÉ Radio1), and Science is Everywhere (Newstalk) all of which were funded by the The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, and the Barry McGovern narration of Joyce’s “The Dead” was funded by UCD and broadcast by RTÉ lyric fm. We’ve made history as an independent company in that we’re certainly the first Irish independent to have four different programmes voted as finalists and we may even be a rarity globally as the four programmes are four three different broadcasters and represent two different forms of funding. Its been quite a coup so far and the Gold, Silver and Bronze decisions will come on June 23rd. Win or not on that day we’re over the moon to box above our (very small) weight in the international arena. We think it reflects well not just on our creative team, and in particular our audio editor Amy Millar who was the audio designer behind all these projects, but on all indie radio and shows the potential, if supported, for creative talent from Ireland to shine and lead. In these categories we’re up against the best and most funded radio programming in the world from BBC Radio 4, ABC in Australia, CBC in Canada and NPR in the United States. We’re particularly appreciative to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland fund Sound & Vision which has supported the making of three of these projects. Without this fund we’d be doing very little broadcasting. It is the beating heart of independent production and creativity in Ireland.
On the heels of the news of four finalist programmes in the NY Radio Awards came the news that we had got three projects; two radio and 1 television, approved for funding support by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland in its Sound & Vision Round 20. Much like the New York Radio round this was a 100% success rate and gives us a diverse range of projects from sport (EXTREME for Setanta Sports Ireland) to arts/music (Vocal Chords for RTE Lyric fm) and science (Bright Sparks for RTE Radio 1). It was to say the least a major relief and joy for us as tons of hard work went into this round given we had suffered total rejection (four projects…!) in the last funding round in December. Robert Hope who is now based between Berlin and Dublin spear-headed our BAI submissions and he has to take a very big bow for the quality of the submissions that went through this time around. The competition for funding in our sector is extremely tough and each round gets tighter and tighter so while we’ve got 3 submissions funded in this round we actually haven’t had a new funded submission in nearly a year and a half as our previous batch of projects were all approved in 2012. So in our business we know make hay while the sun shines as this burst of heat of award nominations and funding comes after a very dry season! In reality we have not had a new broadcast project since December and all our work so far in 2014 has been outside broadcasting – predominately for the wonderful It’s Your Right children’s project for the Children’s Ombudsman which we won by public tender in late February.
Broadcasting and independent production is a highly precarious business. There’s no guarantees in our gig and we are always pitching and always bidding. Part of our decision-making behind the move to MediaCityUK is not just to expand our UK broadcasting business and work but equally to diversify. We know how fragile it is to depend on funding rounds as a business. It’s not secure and not a good basis for employing people and giving them careers and futures. Our mix has to be broadcasting and digital publishing – like our new business in audiobooks and our first book The Summit read by author Pat Falvey available now on Audible,Amazon and iTunes.
We love broadcasting ; we love documentaries but like any business keen to survive we have to adapt and find new sources of funding for our stories and ideas. We know what we do matters to us. We hope it matters to those who listen and watch and our aim is to make transformational stories, to tell stories that make a difference, about people shaping the world we live in and the ideas and passions that drive them.