The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Next  steps  for  public  service  broadcasting  and  children’s  media  policy

Nigel PickardA transcript of the speech delivered by CMF Board Member, Nigel Pickard, at the Westminster Media Forum on the 18th May 2012

It’s   been   a   fascinating   morning,   listening   to   the   different   perspectives.  My personal perspective is as a producer, but I also want to talk on behalf of the  children’s  audience  as  a  Board Member of  the  newly  formed  Children’s Media Foundation. Our  perspective,  put  simply,  is  what’s  good  for  children’s  media is going to be good for kids, and  what  we’ve  seen  over  the  last  6 years has been a marked decline in what’s  good  for  the  kid’s media sector.  Commissioning and funding has dramatically decreased and the UK has gone from being one of the world’s premier creators and producers of kid’s content of all types, to a sector that is struggling to stay afloat.

The reasons for this have been talked about already: fragmentation of advertising revenues; the introduction of the HFSS regulations; the weakness of the 2003 Communication Act, allowing ITV to nearly abandon all commissioning; and the powerful international children’s broadcasters understandably and quite correctly focusing on their global brands; leaving the BBC as the biggest game in town.
Where there is commissioning, producers are increasingly under obligation to raise co-production finance, or top-up their budgets.  Both of these, to some extent, lead to internationalisation, as partners from other territories contribute to setting the creative requirements, and investment partners demand international success.  In many cases it also means going abroad for those producers to follow tax incentives and subsidies.

My  children’s  production  team is  based  in  Maidstone,  3 years ago the majority of our productions were based in the studios there -  in the UK.  In the last 2 years  we’ve  made  shows  in  Canada,  Korea,  Abu Dhabi, France and Australia.  This is great for the teams - they love it, but it also means compromise.  This has long been the case in animation, but many of these shows are live action, and their relevance to the British audience is certainly being diluted.

There is the proposal in the last budget for a tax break for animation.  As we know the  details  are  still  being worked  out,  so  it’s  not  a  done  deal  yet.   Currently  there’s  no  incentive  for  any other territory to bring production work to the UK, so the tax break will be hugely advantageous, and the Children’s Media Foundation supports it.  But we have to be clear that it does very little to solve the problem of the lack of UK-produced content on our screens.  Five years ago Ofcom research revealed that of the 113 thousand hours of TV broadcast to kids in this country, only 1% of that content is newly made here in the UK per annum.  The  tax  break  will  help  some  of  us  make  some  international  shows  more  British,  but  that  isn’t  the  same as assuring the future of   the children’s media industry and serving the need for plurality and range for the children’s audience.  In fact, there are some producers who fear that the tax incentive will mean more animation is commissioned at the expense of the budgets for drama and factual. Just look at the French children’s  scene  for  a  prime  example  of  how  this  can  happen.

So how can we achieve more quality content for kids, the broader range?  How can we create healthy competition for the BBC?  And how can we ensure the return of range and choice across all the programmes genres?  Well, the simple answer is that someone has to pay for it, and certainly in the current situation, the market won’t.

Across  the  political  spectrum  the  Children’s Media Foundation has had acknowledgement that there is market failure.  Ben Bradshaw, when he was at the DCMS, Helen Goodman, John Wittingdale and Ed Vaizey, have all agreed there is a problem.  UK kids stand to see less and less of themselves and the result will be that they become more and more detached from their own culture and the society in which they live. But so far no-one has been prepared to come up with a solution.

Until now.

Let’s try something completely different.  It's radical, it’s  demanding and it certainly  isn’t going to be  cheap,  but why should we short change our kids?

The  Children’s  Media  Foundation  proposal  is  that,  post  Olympics,  and  as  part  of  the  Growth Agenda, Lottery funding should be diverted to create an alternative commissioner for kids content.  We should re-examine what the lottery is for.  If it’s to  support  culture, then  in  a  kid's  world  it  is  very  much  screen  based.  For many kids TV and digital content is their culture.

So let’s  go  for  the  gold  standard, 30 million a year would produce drama, factual and entertainment series and a range of associated interactive and social media for UK kids. Delivery would be through a video on demand kids network online, and through TV window deals with the commercial broadcasters on a series by series basis, allowing them to co-invest in TV and digital content, which could help them localise their output, bringing them closer to complying with the European quota regulations they all struggle to meet, and building a stronger connection with UK kids.

We’ve  costed  a  5 year plan for such a proposition, which we think over time could bring revenue returns from successful relationships and successful shows.

At a time like this, this plan might seem rather audacious and ambitious, but the best public policy is anticipatory. We should be setting up the kids' UK media sector for growth through this simply subsidy, we should be providing the plurality and range that kids deserve, and which the market increasingly cannot provide.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)