The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Small Screen: Big Debate? What about Small People: Big Picture?

By Greg Childs, Director the Children's Media Foundation


CMF has responded to the consultation on Small Screen: Big Debate - Ofcom's interim report on how best to reform public service media in the UK. The report is an important view of the future and the consultation is intended to finesse the recommendations Ofcom will send to government later this year.

CMF's consultation response praises Ofcom for considering some radical ideas in Small Screen: Big Debate, but points out that the needs of the younger audience are not sufficiently considered, and the report doesn't look far forward enough.

it's also of concern that the government's own Public Service Broadcasting Advisory Panel only contains one person amongst the "great and good" who had any sort of background in kids' content - and that many years ago.

We believe that technological development, shifting audience attitudes and the rapidly changing commercial market require a long term vision which also recognises kids and teens are in the forefront of change.

We suggest to Ofcom in our consultation response that to achieve a long-term vision they should propose to the government that consideration of public service media reform should be based on research on a continuing basis. Essentially, an "agile" approach. Regular review of the changing landscape, technology, attitudes etc which can promote innovation where needed, but also retain stability when appropriate.

This would have the added benefit of preventing short-term decisions motivated by political thinking - for example about the BBC, the Licence Fee or commercial PSBs.

Equally we suggest that proper understanding of the younger audience - especially teens - is essential if the system delivering public service content is to be future-proofed.  it's only by recognising the relationship of the younger audience to content, and content providers, that we can hope to develop more flexible, broader methods of ensuring young people can still maintain at leats a partial diet of content that connects them to society.

Though there are some radical options in the Ofcom report, Small Screen: Big Debate does not take much account of technological change ahead – certainly not far ahead. The advent of ever more powerful AI and algorithmic recommendation, ubiquity of internet connected devices, the implications of mass data-harvesting, personalisation, the power of social platforms in young people’s media mix and the capacities of pervasive, interactive and responsive media - all these and many more yet to be discovered will impact on the meaning, purpose, delivery and funding of public service media in the future.

We hope that Ofcom will see this as the start of a dialogue - and that includes our plan to publish articles in the Our Children's Future: Does Public Service Media Matter series on a weekly basis between now and July. This CMF public service media campaign will fill some of the gaps in Ofcom's thinking. It will inspire public debate, support what's of value, but challenge the status quo, and not only feed but host the public discourse in our PSM forums where you can have your say.

And it will certainly consider the small people and cover the big picture by focusing on the young and exploring a wide range of future prospects.

CMF's full response to the Ofcom consultation Small Screen: Big Debate.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)