The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

APPG 2015-16

The 8th June 2016 meeting of the APPG gave parliamentarians the opportunity to hear in some detail the information in the Report by Professor Jeanette Steemers from the University of Westminster: Policy Solutions and International Perspectives on the Funding of Public Service Media.

Jeanette SteemersProf. Steemers said that her research arose as a response to the proposals for contestable funding, where the agenda seems to be pushed by Industry rather than the needs of the children. Her research investigates the public service funds available to producers in Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark and Australia. She stated that the national contexts were crucial in each case in how the systems evolved. All systems were under strain, with Free to Air content being scaled back and the trans-nationals (Disney, Nickelodeon etc) investing a little but not much money and any regulation coming under strain.

Having reviewed the different systems (Licence fee, levies and quotas, tax breaks and film funds), Professor Steemers concluded the models she had looked at didn’t deliver plurality and were more about aiding production than culture. For example the Australian Drama quotas include animation. So production companies can wriggle and do things like Heidi or Vikki The Viking. Even then she felt that commercial broadcasters are not interested in using a fund as Children’s is deemed unprofitable. They would only make kids’ content if they were forced to.

The discussion that followed raised a number of questions:

  • How will providing extra funding ensure quality content that children actually want to watch?
  • How will the issues of discovery and distribution be addressed? It was noted that children are watching significant amounts of content online; YouTube is the biggest commercial player. Prof. Steemers’ report showed that New Zealand On Air was the only fund making content for online but without an identifiable brand/platform, it all got lost.
  • Should any funding gap-fund overseas productions made in the UK? Despite previously stating that it is not convinced there is a case for contestable funding, a recent COBA press release suggests the cable and satellite companies may want to make use of any funds as they do in Canada and Ireland for example. The June 2nd COBA press release states that the ‘cabsats’ have made enormous investments in UK content in the past year. This was met with some scepticism in the meeting. And on closer inspection the figures proved to not be just for kids’ content. Furthermore the children’s content mentioned (‘Morph’ for Sky, a Nickelodeon drama and a Disney show) look to be made for an international audience (the Nickelodeon show being sufficiently Canadian to access Canadian subsidies, for example)
  • What does the White Paper mean by ‘Appropriate Reach’? Shouldn’t publicly funded content reach everybody?
  • Who will oversee the fund? In Ireland it is the regulator, in Denmark “three people in their Film Council”.

It was agreed that with so many unknowns, individuals and organisations such as The Children’s Media Foundation should raise these questions with Government, ensuring that answers are found before half-considered proposals that could do irreparable damage become policy.

In Any Other Business it was mentioned that Ofcom will soon be publishing their Digital Day report into children’s viewing habits. Which raised the question of parental media literacy. With children’s online media use increasing, it was felt that more should be done to encourage parents’ own media skills – equipping them to guide and protect their children as they do in other areas of life.

Jayne Kirkham
Clerk: APPG Children’s Media and the Arts
On behalf of The Children’s Media Foundation