The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

BBC @ the APPG

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.

BBC Director of Children's and Education Patricia Hidalgo spoke to an All Party Parliamentary Group meeting in the House of Lords on 27th February, hosted by Baroness Floella Benjamin DBE OM. The meeting also welcomed representatives from Ofcom and the DCMS, Animation UK, the Children's Media Foundation, academics, media strategists and children's and youth TV producers.

Patricia outlined a new three point plan intended to help the kids’ industry in the UK stimulate inward investment, overcome the market failure which the now closed Young Audiences Content Fund had been addressing, and ensure that public service content can be found by children (particularly the huge number of CBBC-aged children who have deserted broadcasting for on-demand services such as Netflix, YouTube and TikTok):

  1. An increase in the animation and children's television tax incentives to replace lost funding.
  2. Tax incentives could potentially be higher if projects passed a UK cultural relevance test.
  3. Prominence for public service providers on new platforms - the sort of advantage granted to PSBs on the cable or satellite Electronic Programme Guide.

Patricia said this plan was structured around achievable aims. Tax incentives are already in place and proven to be effective, as were the standards applied previously by the Young Audiences Content Fund which could be applied to a new cultural relevance test. The question of prominence will form part of the Media Bill which would soon be presented to Parliament.

With the children's media industry still suffering from the fall-out of the closure of the Young Audiences Content Fund (which enhanced the provision of public service content for kids to the tune of £44m over the last three years), producers at the meeting had some reservations about relying solely on tax incentives to stimulate the public service broadcasters to support kids' content, when they are unwilling to invest significantly in programmes that don’t generate enough advertising revenue. Producers and their industry representatives also felt that without the support of a Fund to get projects off the ground in the first place, tax incentives alone wouldn’t be enough to ensure a range of public service content for kids outside the BBC.

Since the APPG Meeting there has been an increase in the tax incentive for animation and children's television (to 39%). This was announced in the recent Budget, when the Chancellor also brought the creative industries tax incentives into line with the R&D tax break. However, the concept of additional incentives for cultural relevance was not included in the Chancellor’s statement.

The question of prominence for public service providers - or indeed public service content - on new platforms has not yet been debated but is included in the recently published Media Bill.

CMF welcomes the new tax incentive. But, like colleagues in the industry, we feel this will stimulate investment in international coproductions and only encourage marginally more content to be made that is directly relevant to UK kids with public service as its core purpose.

The Foundation is now examining the Media Bill to ensure that new regulation should carry obligations on public service providers to offer (and fund) content for the children’s audience.  While the Media Bill does not have within its scope the creation of a new Fund, that still remains a long-term goal for the kids' industry and for CMF.

In terms of prominence for public service content, we support Patricia Hidalgo’s view that for children to find and continue to appreciate what public service content is, new regulations need to be established which ensure that the streaming platforms are obliged to highlight public service content on their platforms. We’d go further - and ask how could this also be achieved on social media platforms, especially when they are used by young people. How could prominence on YouTube work?  And how could that be regulated?

Patrica’s speech was a wake-up call to a society “sleepwalking” into a future in which kids know little about what public service content means and have little encouragement to find it.  It also expressed the support of the BBC for an industry hard-pressed to provide the best UK-orginated and UK-focused content for children and young people, and is an invaluable contribution to the debate on solving “market failure”.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)