The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Westminster Media Forum 21st May 2015 – Statement of CMF Policy

Anna Home, Chair of CMF, spoke at the Westminster Media Forum on the 21st May 2015.  She outlined some new CMF thinking around the future regulation and funding of commercial public service broadcasting in the UK, based on the recent Ofcom PSB report.

This is the full text of the speech:

The Future of UK Original Children's Content

The future is uncertain to say the least.

On one hand is the fast growing digital and online world, which brings new opportunities and new challenges, and on the other is the steady decline of 'traditional' children's content.

The Ofcom 2014 annual PSB review and the recent Pact/ Ragdoll report both set out the current depressing position very clearly.

There has been a steady decline in original UK kids’ content since the 2003 Communications Act, in which children's content was deregulated. The situation was exacerbated by the ban on HSSF foods in 2006, which resulted in ITV more or less completely pulling out of commissioning original content.

Despite the huge growth in children's channels over the same period the BBC is now, and has been for some time, the only real commissioner of this kind of content in any volume

In the next two years the BBC faces real threats around the level of the Licence fee, and the terms of the new Charter. Threats maybe made even greater by the outcome of the recent election. Its children's output is as vulnerable as everything else.

We have all seen this crisis coming, and despite the best efforts of a number of organisations and campaigns, and a few victories like the very welcome tax credits for animation and children's live action, we have managed to do little to stem the tide.

Is it now too late? Is this a lost cause?

Are we dinosaurs destined for extinction?

Well as definitely one of the so far surviving dinosaurs I personally am not prepared to accept defeat just yet and nor is The Children's Media Foundation. Nor I'm sure are the other concerned organisations, nor the content creators, nor I hope the public.

So what can we do?

To begin with CMF will support the licence fee and its maintenance at at least its current level for the moment.

The BBC's provision for children is a core part of its public service remit and we would agree merits increased rather than decreased investment – which is the likely outcome of a reduced Licence Fee.

Children are roughly 17℅ of the population but this is nowhere near reflected in the percentage of funding they currently receive.

Previous cuts have already had an impact on original content as is made clear in the Ofcom statistics, which say that since 2003 the BBC has reduced it's first-run children's hours by 59%. There has also been a reduction in programme tariffs, resulting in cheaper content and more international co-productions.

There is a dearth of provision for the over-10s and there is apparently no additional funding available for the proposed extension of CBBC hours, if BBC 3 moves online.

So CMF will continue to support the Licence fee and argue for the social and cultural importance of the BBC's wide-ranging output for children. However the BBC cannot and should not be the sole provider of original UK children's content.

I wonder how often that has been said over the years?

Since 2007 Ofcom has regularly pointed out market failure in this genre.

The 2014 annual PSB report is the most outspoken yet. It stresses that the current situation is bad and likely to get worse and that it is time to look again at the role of the commercial PSB's i.e. ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

In 2003 these companies together spent £58 million on kids’ content. In 2013 it was £3 million. The figures speak for themselves!

The report suggests a number of possibilities, recognising that none of them would be easy to implement.

It suggests that the re-introduction of regulation should be seriously considered, re- positioning children's into the tighter regulatory regime of Tier 2.

CMF supports that, but accepts that it would be hard to achieve. We also believe there would need to be some quid pro quo for the broadcasters. There are a number of suggestions as to how this might be achieved, including the transfer of the PSB responsibilities to institutions rather than specific channels, so that the Portfolio Channels could be utilised, which we believe to be a viable solution.

One of the other ideas mentioned by Ofcom is the concept of contestable funding. CMF while accepting the fact that this would require completely new finance does not think this is necessarily impossible.

The concept of top-slicing the Licence Fee has been mentioned in the past in connection with this.

We do not think this is a practical solution as it would only result in recycling existing funds rather than introducing new money.

In 2007 and in 2009 SKTV, the precursor of CMF, put forward a proposal for a VOD 'destination' - an alternative complementary PSB service for children.

The idea was to fund this partly from government and partly from other sources. For example Educational Foundations and Charities, Corporate Social Responsibility Budgets, ethical sponsorship etc.

Then, the idea was ahead of its time. Now the concept of a destination or service is irrelevant, given the advent of many V.O.D. offers.

However, we believe that there is potential I the idea of a contestable fund to support kids’ content creation using cross-departmental government funding from departments having a children's agenda, plus the ideas I've already mentioned, and maybe lottery money, or something from cultural institutions.

How about a closer relationship between children's film and long form TV drama?

Levies have proved successful in the past for supporting content creation, and the potential for levies on platform owners or on channel providers should not be ruled out. Equally a scheme to allow Commercial PSB

Channels to opt out of the kids' content regulatory regime, in return for paying into the content fund, could provide a viable revenue stream.

A fund of this kind might also encourage the non-PSB commercial companies to get involved.

I realise that this probably sounds far fetched and impractical given past history and current economic constraints, but I believe we have to find and test some radical new ideas before it is too late. We know that the public value this kind of content for their children, but I fear they don't realise that it is gradually being eroded. Equally surely a government which has, by the introduction of the tax breaks, shown it cares about this sector and this audience, will understand that the tax breaks alone are not enough.

In conclusion, CMF will support the Licence fee and encourage further investigation by Ofcom of the various ideas it has put forward. Meanwhile we ourselves will continue to explore the possibilities of contestable funding along the lines I have suggested – starting by commissioning a feasibility study.

All of us who are involved in and care about these issues need to raise them loudly, and if there are potential solutions which might work, get behind them. We really don't have much time.

It is the audience of the future who will lose out if something is not done.

The CMF is sponsoring a session at the Children’s Media Conference on 2nd July which will be looking at all this and will update our progress. In the meantime, if you have ideas you think should be discussed in that session – please contact us.

We can do more by acting together

 

 

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)