The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Game-Changing Speech Reflects Realities of Kids’ Media

CMF’s concerns about the shortcomings of the Media Bill currently being debated in Parliament were brought into the public eye on 21st November 2023 during a speech on the Second Reading of the Bill by the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, Thangam Debbonnaire MP.

The Labour spokesperson was broadly supportive of the Bill which (since the government backed down on privatising Channel 4) is generally seen as a non-partisan attempt to modernise the concept of public service broadcasting by recognising and counting online delivery methods by the PSBs, and to legislate for “prominence” for public service content services (like The BBC iPlayer or ITVX) on streaming services or on smart TV menu systems.

However a CMF briefing shared with the Labour front bench revealed some of the problems in the children's and youth market which indicate much deeper issues that the Bill completely fails to address. This is mainly characterised by the massive switch of viewing by young people over 7 to streamers such as Netflix or Disney+, and to video-sharing services such as YouTube, TikTok and Insta.

Thangam Debbonnaire specifically listed the particular issues amongst the children's audience as a shortcoming in the Bill: "Sadly, I fear that the importance of children’s TV has been lost in the Bill. There has been a dramatic shift in the viewing habits of young people, particularly children over the age of 7, as increasingly parents no longer control viewing. Coupled with the long-term reduction in commissioning of original UK content for children, I am concerned that the Bill does not go far enough…..

"The Government must ensure that the next generation does not miss out on the high-quality, culturally relevant storytelling… These programmes have a powerful influence on a child’s development. They provide role models… inspire ambition and encourage social inclusion. They engage participation in national conversations and develop a child’s understanding, valuing and ownership of what it means to be British.

"Children’s TV also makes a significant contribution to the economy and provides quality jobs. It is a key part of our soft power too, promoting tolerance, logic and fair play to children all over the world. The Government must consider the wider consequences for public service broadcasters if children are not consuming as much content as they used to. It is unhelpful for the long-term interests of our public service broadcasters if a generation has little experience of their content. Will the Secretary of State think carefully about how she can work with public service broadcasters to get more quality UK-made children’s content and, crucially, make sure it is as accessible as possible to them?

"The Bill is designed to allow current public service broadcasters to fulfil their obligations by taking into account their online delivery platforms, but children also spend a massive proportion of their time on Disney+ or on video-sharing platforms such as YouTube. I urge the Secretary of State to speak with those platforms about how they can provide more quality public service content produced here in the UK.”

The Shadow Secretary of State also mentioned the Children’s Media Foundation in her speech.

You can watch here:

Clearly the ideas we have developed around the “lost audience” issue are beginning to gain traction. It’s unlikely that the Media Bill will be significantly changed to address the issues that our briefing draws attention to. But as we go into what is likely to be an election year it’s important that a “marker” is put down in political circles that further change is needed. Support and regulation in favour of public service media needs to reflect the actual viewing habits of the young.

As we work towards the Children’s Media Summit next spring, this political support is invaluable - and a justification of the huge amount of work put in by those organisations that contributed to the Summit consultative process, which in the end informed the briefings CMF has been able to deliver to politicians - and will go on to inform the Summit itself.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)