Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Insight and foresight unit for R&D in screen and performance

Apply for funding to host an Insight and Foresight Unit (IFU) to drive innovation and creativity in the UK’s screen and performance industries.

Establish an IFU, for collection and analysis of data and communication of insight and foresight relating to Convergent Screen Technologies And performance in Realtime (CoSTAR) and the wider industry and research community engaged in the application of creative technologies to advanced media production and performance.

The award will be £7.5 million, over 6 years.

The IFU constitutes lot 3 of the CoSTAR programme. Lots 1 and 2 are subject to a separate funding opportunity, which has now closed.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding. Standard AHRC eligibility rules apply.

Who can apply

Applications must be led by organisations eligible to receive UKRI funding. This includes:

  • UK small specialist institutions (SSIs)
  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • UKRI-approved independent research organisations (IROs)
  • UKRI-approved research technical organisations (RTOs)
  • public sector research establishments
  • NHS bodies with research capacity

Organisations, such as businesses or third sector organisations, that are not eligible to receive a direct grant may participate and receive funding as collaborators or partners.

Check if you are eligible to lead an application.

Additional eligibility criteria

This includes:

  • must be led by a research organisation eligible for direct UKRI funding, for example ROs, IROs or RTOs
  • applications must demonstrate expertise and experience in the collection, analysis and communication of creative industries data

Individual eligibility

To lead an application for this funding opportunity, you must:

  • be a resident in the UK
  • be employed at, or have a formal affiliation with a UK RO, IRO, SSI, or RO eligible to receive UKRI funding
  • have a doctorate or demonstrate equivalent professional experience or training
  • be engaged in leading-edge research and innovation of professorial or equivalent standing applicable to the creative industries
  • demonstrate a level of skills, knowledge and experience appropriate to the nature of the project
  • have or be able to build and maintain relationships with diverse stakeholders from the creative research community, screen (film, TV, games) and performance sectors, government and the wider creative industries

You should not apply if your organisation has limited knowledge or does not have expertise in research and development and Innovation in the screen and performance industries and in technology related to the creative industries. You should also have either experience of the recruitment and maintenance of large scale user panels or surveys, or a partnership with an industry leader or leaders in this capability.

This funding opportunity is only open to UK-based organisations. International collaborations are not eligible under this scheme.

Please see AHRC’s research funding guide for further information on eligibility.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

AHRC is committed to equality, diversity and inclusion, and we want this funding opportunity to be attractive to all eligible candidates.

Principal investigators (PIs) are entitled to take parental leave in accordance with the terms and conditions of their employment. We will consider requests for a grant to be placed in abeyance during the absence of the PI for parental leave, and the period of the project extended by the period of leave.

We will also consider requests to continue the grant project on a flexible or part-time basis, to allow the PI to meet caring responsibilities or for other justifiable reasons, such as physical or mental health.

Please see our equality impact assessment in the ‘additional information’ section for details.

What we're looking for

The CoSTAR IFU is part of a 6-year capital programme to design, develop and build state-of-the-art facilities, resources and expertise to underpin the long-term competitiveness of the UK screen and performance sector.

CoSTAR will provide a highly capable research and development (R&D) infrastructure that enables researchers, companies and institutions across the UK to access the facilities, capabilities and insight necessary to conduct world class R&D. This R&D will be focused on the application of current and future waves of advanced computing technologies to transform the means of production across the screen, performance and allied sectors of the creative industries.

The CoSTAR infrastructure and facilities will also:

  • lead and coordinate the technological development of the UK screen and performance sectors developing new methods, solutions, processes, products and experiences
  • build, strengthen and deepen the UK creative technology ecosystem including the pipeline for research talent and skills
  • maximise arising economic opportunities, to support the commercialisation of creative technology and creative content intellectual property, products and services, and to support the formation and growth of highly capable creative technology firms
  • make a positive long-term contribution to the development of the UK screen and performance industries across the UK

The CoSTAR labs are subject to a separate funding opportunity which closed on 2 February 2023. These consist of a national lab (lot 1) and up to 3 network labs (lot 2). The IFU constitutes lot 3 of the programme, and director of the IFU will form part of the management structure alongside the directors of the national and network labs.

Competition scope

Lot 3: the CoSTAR IFU will be a grant of £7.5 million over 6 years, to establish an IFU, for collection and analysis of data and communication of insight and foresight relating to CoSTAR and the wider industry and research community engaged in the application of creative technologies to advanced media production and performance.

The successful bidder for this unit will set out a programme to:

  • generate insight and foresight to understand and inform the development of convergent screen technologies and their markets from primary data collection and secondary data interpretation
  • ensure that data and learning from CoSTAR activities is captured and disseminated to all relevant parties
  • inform policy and strategy for CoSTAR and for public investment in the sector more broadly
  • become a leading authority on the development of convergent screen technologies and their markets

The IFU will be a cohesive, focused unit which is integral to the wider CoSTAR infrastructure, while also looking outwards and actively engaging with industry, policy and academia.

The IFU will collect and manage data from the CoSTAR national and network labs. It will also create new datasets through the establishment of a longitudinal survey, including an omnibus element, which will track the development of the sector, as well as the delivery of ad hoc qualitative and quantitative projects that support the unit’s research objectives.

Bringing this data together with secondary data from partners, international sources, and industry datasets and reports, the IFU will proactively disseminate insights to relevant parties across industry, policy and academia. Alongside this, as outlined, it will take a key role in the management of CoSTAR, working closely with the labs to ensure high quality data is collected, and that strategic direction is informed by the insight and foresight it provides. The IFU will not be evaluating the CoSTAR labs, but will provide raw data to support evaluation where relevant.

Focusing on industry and academia applying creative technologies to advanced media production and performance, the IFU will research the development of, for example:

  • technology
  • new ways of working
  • facilities
  • businesses
  • regional economies
  • audiences
  • demonstrator projects

The core research themes, which we expect will evolve and grow through the grant period, will be:

  • creative R&D
  • transformation of production through new technology
  • market development, including supply chains, audiences and businesses
  • decarbonisation of production
  • equality diversity and inclusion within transformation of production

Insight around the decarbonisation theme will be a key output for the IFU. Too little is presently known about the overall current, or the expected future, carbon impact of the screen and performance sectors and how this might be reduce through the adoption of technology. Although work is being done to fill this evidence gap, aggregated, sector-wide analyses do not presently exist, nor do assessments of the potential environmental implications of new production techniques like virtual production. The IFU will therefore make a significant contribution to this evidence-base.

In addition to addressing equality, diversity and inclusion and net zero as research themes, all applications to this opportunity must also set out how they will embed the following into their processes and ways of working:

  • environmental sustainability principles
  • equality, diversity and inclusion

Given the importance of external engagement, where there is more than one research organisation in a partnership, applications should clearly set out which organisation will be the primary host. Please note that applications from a single research organisation are welcome, a partnership is not mandatory and will not be scored in the assessment. However, it is likely that research organisations will need an industry partner in order to fulfill the requirements around the panel and tracker survey.

Funding available

AHRC will fund up to £7.5 million, over 6 years.

Costs are reimbursed at 100% of the full economic cost (the Joint Electronic Submissions (Je-S) system form will indicate funding at 80% but this will be amended before grants commence).

Indexation (inflation adjustment) will not be added to these grants.

How to apply

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

Please ensure that the host organisation and investigators are registered on Je-S well in advance of the submission date, as the verification process can take several weeks.

You can find advice on completing your application in:

We recommend you start your application early.

Your host organisation will also be able to provide advice and guidance.

Submitting your application

Before starting an application, you will need to log in or create an account in Je-S.

All investigators involved in the project need to be registered on Je-S.

Any investigators who do not have a Je-S account must register for one at least 7 working days before the opportunity deadline.

When applying:

  • select ‘documents’, then ‘new document’
  • select ‘call search’
  • to find the opportunity, search for: CoSTAR Insight and Foresight Unit 30 Mar 2023

This will populate:

  • council: AHRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: large grants
  • call/type/mode: CoSTAR Insight and Foresight Unit 30 Mar 2023

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’.

You can save completed details in Je-S at any time and return to continue your application later.


AHRC must receive your application by 28 March 2023 at 4:00pm UK time.

You will not be able to apply after this time. Please leave enough time for your proposal to pass through your organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date.

You should ensure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.


Your application must also include the following attachments.

In addition to completing the relevant sections of the Je-S form, your application must also include the following attachments.

Case for support

6 pages to include your proposal for the provision of an IFU. Upload as ‘case for support’ in Je-S.

Your case for support should set out:

  • your overall approach and vision
  • response to delivering on the capabilities and objectives
  • your expertise and capabilities
  • contribution of your proposal to the CoSTAR infrastructure
  • additionality of your proposal to existing capabilities
  • future sustainability of your proposal beyond, initial infrastructure funding

Delivery plan

4 pages plus a 1 page max 2 A4 sides Gantt chart. Upload as ‘workplan’ in Je-S.

Set out:

  • your approach to project management and project management methodology
  • the milestones, critical path and delivery schedules from project initiation through to bringing the insight and foresight unit online
  • your timelines for build-up of team members and associated resources and your plans for mitigating any critical delays

Management plan

2 pages plus organisation chart, upload as ‘other attachment’ in Je-S.

How you plan to deliver and manage the IFU.

Your delivery structure should identify the roles and responsibilities of the lead bidder and any core partners.

Your management structure should identify leadership and management roles, full organisational structure, any named individuals, and key senior roles to be recruited for.

Partner statements

2 pages per partner, upload as ‘other attachment’ in Je-S.

If applications include delivery partners, set out the profile, role in your proposal, time and personnel commitment, and resource contribution of each research partner organisation.

We anticipate that you will also need 1 or more industry partners to fulfill the requirements. Each of these should provide a separate partner statement, including costed in-kind contributions and any co-investment. There is no requirement to complete a partner statement for the lead organisation, as the case for support should present all the required information for the lead bidder.

Partner statements must be on headed paper, signed at a senior management level within 6 months of submission.

Data management plan

2 pages, including any diagrams, upload as “Data Management plan” in Je-S

The data management plan should outline the project’s approach to managing data, including:

  • how data will be stored, including security and backup
  • how data will be shared and accessed outside of the IFU
  • any foreseeable legal, ethical or GDPR issues with the holding and sharing of data and proposed mitigations

Risk register

2 pages, upload as ‘other attachment’ in Je-S.

Set out key risks and proposed mitigations.

Equality, diversity and inclusion and sustainability targets

2 pages, upload as ‘other attachment’ in Je-S


  • your approach (and any targets you propose) with respect to equality, diversity and inclusion
  • your approach to monitoring (and any targets you propose) for the environmental sustainability of your submission

Additional compulsory attachments

All applications must also include the following:

  • justification of resources or financial narrative (maximum 2 A4 sides)
  • business case for any equipment costing more than £115,000 (maximum 2 A4 sides)
  • CVs of investigators, co-investigators, any named technical specialists or senior staff (maximum 2 A4 sides)
  • a letter of support from the head of the lead institution, confirming that the institution will host an IFU, on the institution’s letterhead and dated within 6 months of the funding opportunity deadline (maximum 2 A4 sides)
  • a maximum of 5 letters of support from prospective users and customers, setting out the benefits and advantages an IFU would provide, over and above what is currently available. These should also be supplied on letter-headed paper and dated within 6 months of the funding opportunity deadline (maximum 2 A4 sides each)

How we will assess your application

Applications will be assessed by an independent panel of experts comprised of:

  • senior members of the research community with relevant experience
  • screen and performance industry leaders
  • innovators and experts in the creative economy

Assessment criteria

Strategic fit, capability and vision (35% weighting)

This includes:

  • your current capability or the collective current capability of your organisation(s)
  • research and technical expertise
  • the extent to which your proposed programme and vision meets the stated objectives of the CoSTAR IFU
  • strength of your proposal in delivering the required outputs
  • evidence of industry support and demand for services
  • plan for diversification and sustainability

Deliverability and value for money (25% weighting)

This includes:

  • achievability of proposed timescales and workstreams achievable within the proposed budget. Will they deliver on stated objectives?
  • quality of delivery plan and management structure across the partners
  • quality and robustness of plan for monitoring, measuring and evaluating progress
  • quality and robustness of plan for management and accessibility of data
  • credibility, affordability and value for money

Contribution to UK creative innovation (20% weighting)

This includes:

  • quality of plan for engagement, communication and dissemination of findings, both within and beyond the CoSTAR infrastructure
  • what benefits will your proposal provide to industry, policy and academia?
  • will it build on or enable the development of the evidence base around convergent screen technologies and performance?
  • will it significantly advance the accessible knowledge base available to industry (including research and best practice) around the decarbonisation of screen production
  • what will be the long-term impact of funding your proposal nationally?

Contribution to environmental sustainability (10% weighting)

This includes:

  • how does your proposal embed principles of environmental sustainability, both within the operation of the IFU, and the insight and foresight it produces?
  • how does your proposed programme contribute to understanding the decarbonisation of the screen and performance sectors or the wider creative industries?
  • will it contribute to UKRI’s commitment to carbon-neutrality across all research undertakings by 2040?

Contribution to equality, diversity and inclusion in the sector (10% weighting)

This includes:

  • how will your proposed programme improve diversity within the screen and performance sectors, the wider creative industries or the creative technology sector?
  • how will you drive equality, diversity and inclusion within the facilities you host and amongst the user group of researchers and companies?

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

CoSTAR delivery team


Include ‘CoSTAR Lot 3’ in the subject line.

We aim to respond within 2 working days.

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Additional info


The UK’s creative industries are world leading. From our film and television companies to our museums and galleries, they are, as government has said, ‘at the heart of the nation’s competitive advantage’. However, their current success and global leadership is at risk through a wave of technological disruption transforming the way creative products and experiences are made and ultimately the way they are consumed.

The CoSTAR programme is part of a £481 million portfolio of research and innovation infrastructure investments announced in June 2022.

The CoSTAR programme proposes a national response to the risks and challenges facing our screen and performance industries. It seeks to reinforce our strategic leadership position in the global creative industries by investing in world-leading research, development and innovation (RD&I) facilities and programmes that will unlock the immediate and long term economic and creative value set of a set of rapidly evolving creative technologies.

The challenge

The last decade has seen a new convergence of technology and media, with global giants such as Amazon, Netflix and Disney consolidating the technologies, production, and distribution of content together and achieving unprecedented market power.

One side effect of this changing environment has been a significant and ongoing new wave of investment into studio facilities in the UK. From multi-billion-dollar inward investments by the world’s largest media companies to smaller regional facilities.

However, within this period of global structural change, the last 5 years has seen another opportunity in RD&I emerge.

A suite of advanced computing technologies, some developed from within the creative industries, some from the wider digital technology sector have converged to create new opportunities, methods and workflows with the potential to transform the production process across the whole sector.

In film and high-end TV, where adoption has been rapid this new creative technology stack has become known as ‘virtual production’ built on real-time software engines from the game industry; but also including in-camera visual FX, performance capture; LED volumes, future networks, machine learning and more.

This set of emerging tools and processes hold the promise to make content production cheaper, greener and better able to meet global market demand.

Virtual production technologies have already had a significant impact in the screen industries, from initial ground-breaking productions such as Disney’s Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian to recent applications on HBO’s Game of Thrones at Warners UK Leavesden studios.

The potential for these same technologies to transform the performance sector has also been shown by projects such as The Royal Shakespeare Company’s In the screen sector, applications of these technologies will impact:

  • production companies
  • studio operators
  • performance companies
  • production technology groups
  • VFX providers
  • technology suppliers

The opportunity

As these technologies become more accessible and develop further through the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, this transformation will extend across the creative industries through advertising, marketing and communication sectors, culture and heritage and far beyond linear experiences into the connected virtual environments that make up the metaverse. The metaverse is the next major phase in the development of the digital and creative economies.

As the initial phase of what is intended to be a sustained RD&I investment, CoSTAR starting point is today’s virtual production environment, but its future is in allowing the UK’s creative industries a research infrastructure to explore the technologies and commercial opportunities of the metaverse.

Over the last 5 years, a series of public investments made by UKRI have shown evidence of the impact that can be delivered through applied creative research and development (R&D) programmes including the Audience of the Future Challenge the Digital Catapult and Arts Council England programme Creative XR, but these programmes have been project-based and time-limited.

The extended timeframe and devolved decision making of the Creative Industries Clusters Programme has demonstrated how longer-term higher education institutions and industry partnerships supported by local, regional (and in the UK nations) and national economic partners can massively amplify the impact of UKRI funding raising more than £3 in co-investment for every £1 invested by UKRI through AHRC.

It is because of this evidence that we are calling for similar partnerships to deliver the CoSTAR infrastructure with research organisations, independent research organisations, and research technical organisations leading consortia delivering the infrastructure.

The facilities delivered through CoSTAR will offer the UK’s screen and performance sector a long-term infrastructure to build a new capability for the UK in creative technology R&D.

Supporting documents

Funding opportunity invitation (PDF, 591KB)


  • 14 September 2023
    Removed the related link to the 'CoSTAR Insight and Foresight Unit funding: briefing webinar' as the event as been archived.

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