The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

APPG Meets the PSBs

This is not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. It has not been approved by either House or its committees. All-Party Parliamentary Groups are informal groups of Members of both Houses with a common interest in particular issues. The views expressed in this report are those of the group.

CMF acts as the "clerk" to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Children's Media and the Arts, which we co-founded with Action for Children's Arts over ten years ago. An APPG is a cross-party grouping of MPs and peers interested in a particular issue or set of issues - who want to hear the latest info and gain some detailed understanding.

'The Future Landscape of Children's Public Service Broadcasting'

Venue:     House of Lords, Committee Room G
Chair:    Baroness Benjamin
Speakers:Magnus Brooke, Group Director of Strategy, Policy & Regulation, ITV
Paul Mortimer, Content Director, On Demand & Acquisitions, ITV
Mitchell Simmons, VP Government Relations, C5 & Paramount UK
Louise Bucknole, General Manager Kids and Family, Paramount UK
Emily Davidson, Head of Policy and Public Affairs Channel 4
Karl Warner, Head of Youth and Digital, Channel 4
Kate Biggs, Director Content Policy, Ofcom
Richard Orpin, Public Policy Principal - Broadcasting & Media, Ofcom

Baroness Benjamin, the co-chair of the APPG, asked CMF to invite each of the commercial public service broadcasters and regulator Ofcom to outline their plans following the closure of the Young Audiences Content Fund.  ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 all sent content and policy people to discuss their next steps and Ofcom was represented by their Director of Content Policy and their Broadcasting and Media Principal, to consider how they might regulate for children's content going forward.

Baroness Benjamin opened the meeting by setting the context. Ofcom research had long identified "market failure" in the children's sector. Not enough commissioning of orginal content - not enough ad revenue to pay for more.  Baroness Benjamin herself had introduced an amendment to the Digital Economy Act in 2017, which brought in new powers for Ofcom to regulate the three commercial public service broadcasters to carry more kids' and youth content. At around the same time the Young Audiences Content Fund was formed by DCMS, distributing £57m of public money over a three year pilot to fund new programmes, most of which would be commissioned by ITV, Channel 4 or Channel 5 (Milkshake!) It was the perfect carrot and stick approach.

But now the carrot has been removed, as the Fund closed this year, much to the disappointment of the industry organisations represented at the APPG event, and the many producers who had benefitted from the Fund who also attended the meeting.

Unsurprisingly all three broadcasters were equally disappointed at the removal of support, which offered up to 50% of programme budgets and they admitted significantly enhanced their content slates.

They also admitted they would inevitably be commissioning less without the Fund's support. Though there were commitments to second series of successful shows and Channel 4 described a new digital approach to content for teens, which had initially been well supported by content funded by the YACF, and which they will continue to back in years to come.  ITV admitted they would be down to approximately one third of their Fund-supported level of commissioning. Though they also hailed the success of programming for young teens that had been held back to feature in the launch of their new ITVX free streaming service. Channel 5 (Milkshake!) said they still aspired to make more live-action content (which doesn't travel well internationally so has to be UK-funded). But they were clear this would have to be non-scripted content like factual entertainment, as scripted cost too much.

Ofcom were not clear on how regulation would work to mitigate market failure. When the Fund provided the lubrication to stimulate new content, Ofcom used a light-touch, negotiated approach with the commercial PSBs, rather than setting quotas which would, they suspected (and the broadcasters of course agreed), be treated as the maximum requirement - i.e. a ceiling, rather than an aspiration they could exceed - i.e. a floor. They hoped to continue this light-touch approach as they are highly conscious of the financial pressures on the industry at the moment and the loss of audience to on-demand services..

Channel 4 were quick to point out that they were spending considerably more on young people's content than their original commitment. Some £5m is planned this year, against a £1m original proposal. But ITV sounded a harsh note of realism as they pointed out that their children's channel had lost money in four of the last five years and that while they of course wanted to capture the interest and loyalty of the younger audience, the harsh realities of ad-revenue and commissioning cost made that increasingly difficult to achieve. They needed to be able to place content on the platforms their audience had deserted to - YouTube, TikTok - but the revenue to be gained there was negligible under current arrangements, so placing whole programmes on social media platforms was simply a recipe to destroy the advertising capacity of their programmes on linear channels.

On a positive note a senior civil servant at DCMS reported to the meeting that the Minster for Broadcasting and the Creative Industries, Julia Lopez, very much cares about children's media and that puts it firmly on the Department's radar. The evaluation report on the Fund which will be full of data-sets outlining the industrial, regional and social benefits will be available very soon and this will feed into Departmental thinking about the future of public service media and in turn into the Media Bill soon to be brought before Parliament.

The meeting - including attendees from industry bodies such as Pact, and Animation UK and producers who had benefitted from the Fund - welcomed these positive thoughts and these groups also revealed some developing ideas for change.

John McVay for Pact said they were giving serious consideration to pitching for a 40% tax incentive for animation and children's content and Kate O'Connor from Animation UK supported this. A group including CMF, Animation UK, independent media consultants and children's producers revealed they were working on a proposal for a long term strategy - including new finance ideas - for the future of children's media in the UK.  They were seeking partner organisations to support the plan and the PSB representatives expressed an interest in taking part.

Baroness Benjamin summed up by making a plea for industry figures and organisations to galvanise as many people as possible who had benefited from the fund or supported it, and encourage them to make their voices heard by government as it prepares the Media Bill.

All of the broadcasters and Ofcom felt that the Bill should be brought before Parliament as soon as possible so that MPs can make progress on turning some of the ideas heard at the meeting into legislation.

Events Industry Policy

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