Media Cymru: building a new type of creative economy for future proofed success

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Media Cymru is a world-first: a £50m strategic investment programme focused on making the creative industries of CCR a world leader in innovation. But what does that mean, and what will it look like?

We spoke with Justin Lewis, Professor of Communication & Creative Industries at Cardiff School of Journalism, Media & Culture , and Director of Clwstwr, about this remarkable enterprise and his role as the Director of Media Cymru …

“There are many different dimensions and potential outcomes to Media Cymru, but for me, it’s ultimately the chance to build a very different type of creative economy to anywhere else in the world.

On a global level, the creative economy is dominated by very large conglomerates who control huge amounts of data and intellectual property (IP) – and that allows them to plan and innovate the ‘what’s next?’

We’re different here in Wales. Like other European creative clusters, our creative economy is made up of small companies and freelancers. That brings a certain type of strength, because small enterprises are nimble, agile and adaptable, connected to their communities – and pay taxes that stay in the local economy. So, it’s perhaps no surprise that our industry has enjoyed such success over the last 10 years.

But we’re in a world of digital disruption where we simply can’t stand still. To survive and prosper, we need to innovate. So, for me, this is all about creating an ecosystem that allows small to be beautiful on a sustainable level – giving our enterprises the gift of time to research, develop and innovate, rather than scrabbling from one commission to the next. That’s a key role of Media Cymru: helping our creative businesses by supporting their ideas and helping develop them for the market.

An ecosystem that empowers small to be beautiful

As an example of the potential, Goggleminds came to Clwstwr with an idea last year – and they are now enjoying market success, employing 10 people. Multiply that process by a factor of 10 or 15 and you can see how we can add millions of pounds of GVA and many hundreds of new jobs to our region. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning – the excitement of helping all our small companies grow and succeed through innovation.

People ask me what I want to achieve with Media Cymru and my answer is simple: I want us to achieve our ambitions of revolutionising the CCR media landscape and securing a status of global excellence over the next five years. We go to Hollywood in March on a fact-find, and I want us to return there in 2027 as an established leader in innovation – known for who we are and what we do.

On a personal level, it also means a lot to me to have a happy team – and keeping that harmony will be another measure of success. We have worked incredibly hard over the past few years, and I’d like to think the team can enjoy a work-life balance as we go forward, as it’s been quite a remarkable achievement to get Media Cymru to this stage. Making the most of its potential will mean building-in sustainability for ourselves as well as the industry. 

A journey to become a global leader in innovation

What am I most proud of? Three things stand out. Firstly, when we ran our first exploratory workshop on ‘what is R&D’, we were rather taken aback that 95% of the people who turned up were men. This is a very gender-balanced industry, so we realised we had to fundamentally change the narrative to connect with everyone and really convey what R&D is in a creative setting. I’m delighted to say that a majority of Clwstwr projects are now being led by women, so we have overcome that barrier.

Secondly, I’m proud of what we have achieved on the funding journey itself. It took four arduous months, working non-stop with Sara Pepper, to pull together 23 Consortium partners and raise £20m for match funding – over Zoom.

It’s safe to say that there were a few bumps in the road, but we got there – and exceeded our own expectations. We started out aiming for £10m funding from the UK Research & Innovation flagship Strength In Places fund, so to achieve £20m+ as the first ever investment of its kind in a creative industry, means that we successfully argued the hard economic case for a  type of investment that is normally awarded to the tech sector.

Finally, I’m so proud of the whole team and all that they have achieved. Management is easy when you have a great team around you – and we have that. We put a great deal of thought into recruiting the right people and growing as a group; and that’s at the heart of winning the Media Cymru award.

Now there’s a lot of work to do. We have traditionally been a ’show and go’ industry in Wales – where the big productions come and then go. We want to change that to be a ‘grow and own’ economy. We want more and more of the IP to be created here – and stay here. It’s a key focus for the next few years and like the rest of the Media Cymru community, I’m looking forward to delivering that.”       

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The launch of Media Cymru gave birth to a five year programme focused on making CCR a global hub of innovation. But what is the vision - and who are the team - behind it?

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