The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Like Buses

You wait a year for a public consultation, then three come along at once...

Greg Childs, Director CMF describes three consultations on the future of broadcasting in the UK and CMF's response to ensure the best interests of UK kids.

The children's Media Foundation contributes to all the major consultations on media policy decisions that might affect children. The consultation documents and our responses are listed on our action page.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 14.15.522014 was a light year for public consultations. The only group who wanted to listen were the Parliamentary Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport.

CMF gave evidence to their investigation into the future of the BBC in June ’14 and though the committee finally came up with some fairly radical thoughts about collection of the licence fee and governance, their Report, issued in early February 2015, clearly supported all our key points about the BBC’s dominant role in provision for children in the UK and the need to maintain funding for children’s content.

Their conclusion:

“Without the BBC’s supply of UK-originated content and programmes for children, many younger people would have to rely largely on a diet of acquired US television programmes, as the BBC is pretty much by itself in the provision of UK-originated children’s output. This content plays a vital part of children’s early learning experience and understanding of their cultural identity. Children’s content must remain a core and priority PSB genre for the BBC beyond 2016. The BBC will need to be able to continue to innovate and develop new media and distribution strategies for children as the audience for traditional linear television programmes continues to decline over the next few years. We commend the BBC for the quality and provision of its content for children over the current Charter period.”

Our sentiments entirely…

February was also the month when three policy consultations stacked up all at once, and although each was of a general nature – they all had implications for the children's audience.

_73389855_bbcthreeidentThe first was a BBC Trust Consultation into the plan to change BBC THREE into an online-only service.  The impact on kids came from a linked proposal to extend CBBC Channel airtime by two hours every evening.  At first glance this seemed a smart idea – the first hour would be dedicated to the younger end of the CBBC audience, and the second hour (just after all the soaps finish on the main channels) would be designed to attract older children with programmes aimed at them.  But the devil, as ever, was hidden away in the budget lines… or lack of them.  There was no extra money to pay for new programming, particularly content for the already underserved 10+ audience.  Our comments focused on this omission.

OfcomThe second was Ofcom’s annual assessment of the content performance of Channel 4 Corporation.  Channel 4 previously made a formal commitment to provide content for the 10-14 year old audience.  They saw it as a natural fit with their provision for 14-19s.  But the reality has been one series per year aimed at 10+ and decreasing spend amongst teens.  Our submission commented: ”The 19% reduction in spend on both age-groups since 2010 is regrettable…. Four hours of content for 10-14s is certainly not a ‘service’.”  And we asked Ofcom at what point they would they intervene

The third was a major consultation on Public Service Content in a Connected Society. Ofcom’s third review of public service broadcasting was based in part on their 2014 Public Service Annual Report which has a comprehensive Children’s Analysis Annexe with statistics on the decline in funding generally for children's content, and particularly the decrease in spending and hours of new originations made in the UK by public service broadcasters. The stats also show few contributions coming from outside public service broadcasting to fill the gap.

In this case “public service” means not just the BBC and Channel 4, but also ITV1, Channel Five and S4C as they all have broadcast licences which give them certain privileges in return for public service obligations. Because of the way the BBC is funded, all the BBC Channels are considered public service. But Ofcom does not treat CITV as a public service channel.

Once again our response made the point that there was market failure in children's commissioning, with the BBC as practically the sole customer. With more cuts on the way, we counselled against any decrease in the BBC licence fee and called for “a new public service vision for children and young people which is appropriate in the evolving media landscape”.

We also commented on Ofcom’s assessment of the future for PSB in general. They are interested to hear views on whether the next ten years will see “evolution or revolution”.  Children and young people are at the forefront of rapid change - in the UK and worldwide. We pointed to a dramatic drop in viewing to US kids’ networks in the last quarter – with the viewers going to Netflix. Thinking of kids and young people as the consumers of the future has implications for what is defined as public service content and how it is delivered.

BBC-Charter-2007-page-1As the Charter Review “season” gets under way  - and with the election coming – CMF will continue to follow these lines:

  • Market failure due to lack of regulation.
  • No decrease to the Licence fee as the BBC is the “only player in town”.
  • Embrace innovative delivery ideas for public service if they reach the audience which has moved online.
  • Maintain a wide range of children’s public service content in the UK, reflecting kids’ lives, hearing their voices and seeing their stories – at all ages.

We are determined to be forward thinking but rooted in the values that are so easily lost without regulation and public funding.

Currently we’re meeting representatives of the main political parties in the run up to the General Election to remind them of the issues and how their support can help. We have had discussions with the LibDem Culture Media and Sport Group, and this week the Broadcast Minister, Ed Vaizey for the Conservatives.

Beyond that, the CMF will fully engage with the BBC Charter Review process, with initial meetings planned with the new Director of BBC Children’s, Alice Webb, and Director General, Tony Hall.

If you want to contribute to our responses on policy issues, let us know.

Greg Childs

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)