The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

The UK’s Children’s Content Market: Looking Back and Thinking Forward

By Martin Franks, CMF Executive Group, Industry Liaison

In this reflection, Martin Franks offers a pragmatic view - from a producer perspective - on the history of change in the kids' commissioning market in the UK over the last 15 years. It tells us something about how we have reached a point of inflexion for children's media, especially the public service delivery model.

We’ve all been watching massive change over the past few years in the children’s media landscape in the UK, and this looks set to continue apace. So from a small indie production perspective what does the recent past and the near future look like?

Going right back, we saw 15 years ago the massive reduction in Children’s ITV production, closing in-house, halting almost all commissioning and nearly pulling out of kids completely. CITV emerged and survived as the small but gradually growing channel we now know. The traditional US Cabsat companies – Nickelodeon, CN and Disney – had entered the market in the late 90s and started with quite a lot of a UK commissioning. But by the late 2000s this had reduced to the fairly small level it maintains today. So the BBC has been the main player and obviously still has a pivotal role. What that role will be in the future is now very much open to debate. But there’s no evidence that anyone else is yet ready to pick up the UK commissioning baton at the same level.

Sly Kids AppSky obviously created their Sky Kids offering and whilst they’ve been acquiring content, the levels of commissioning are small, though they’re obviously keen to grow. And then for the pre-schoolers we’ve had Channel 5 Milkshake which with encouragement from the BFI Young Audience Content Fund is expanding commissioning, as is ITV with a larger internal kids’ budget in addition to the YACF money. Channel 4, with the help of YACF, are finally dipping their toe in suitable content for the 13-16s.

And the industry is of course seeing the growth of the streamers (Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney + in the UK) though again, UK commissions are few and a lot of the UK content is heritage acquisitions. Will some of the other US streamers such as Hulu and Peacock launch here? No indication yet. But also, we are seeing the emergence of a whole raft of UK and Global Apps and online sites offering heritage broadcast and a certain amount of original ‘digital budget’ content. Barely a week goes by without some interest being shown in our digital and broadcast heritage catalogue here at Adastra/Magic 2 Media.

Amazon Kids+As with the streamers, where everybody is expecting consolidation in the next decade, how many of these apps and websites will survive in the long run and how many of them will end up commissioning outside their own organisation is difficult to predict. The economics of this is currently pretty small beer for indie suppliers, and after the changes to children’s channels on YouTube, new agglomerators such as Amazon Kids+ and Roku are beginning to have a role in the UK market. Maybe more of the North American app and online channels such as Pluto and Ameba will launch here.

Exciting times, but not yet rich pickings. Except for a few established players or those who happen to back the Golden Goose. But looking into the crystal ball, the UK market seems very much open for new models and new operators to emerge. For the sake of the UK child audience and the UK production industry we just need to make sure there’s enough access for UK cultural content, and the CMF Public Service Media campaign is a good starting point to open up that debate.

Industry Policy

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)