The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Contestable Funds

By Professor Jeanette Steemers,Westminster University and CMF Academic Advisory Board

For those who couldn't make the Westminster event Professor Jeanette Streemers shares her research on how contestable funds work around the world

Our new report ‘Policy Solutions and International Perspectives on the Funding of Public Service Media Content for Children’ highlights the challenges of funding home-grown children’s content without more substantial state interventions such as investment quotas and levies which stimulate demand.

The report follows publication of the Government’s White Paper A BBC for the Future: A Broadcaster of Distinction, which proposes a new Public Service Content Fund of £20m a year over three years. This could be used to fund programming genres in decline including children’s content, but also arts and religious programming and content for BAME audiences and audiences in the Nations and Regions.

The publication of our report comes at a time when production of UK children’s TV content is declining, leaving the BBC as virtually the sole commissioner of UK originated children’s TV content.

Written after consultation with the Children’s Media Foundation, producers organisation PACT, and the Voice of the Listener and the Viewer, the report evaluates different types of funding and support for children’s screen content available inAustralia, Canada, Denmark, France, Ireland and New Zealand, where there are separate funds available to producers of children’s content .  The conclusions we draw from overseas experience are: 

  • The need for policy makers to think aboutdemand for children’s content from a range of providers, not just broadcasters.
  • The need to be more forward looking and consider content other than televisionprogramming such as participatory, interactive and digital content.
  • The sustainability of funding beyond the government’s proposed three-year pilot. 

UK children’s programming has been starved of funding for over ten years, because of the virtual withdrawal of commercial players such as ITV from commissioning.  So a fund that stimulates production is welcome.  But it’s much more complicated than just providing a small pot of extramoney.  The government also needs to think about the long-term sustainability of children’s content that is culturally relevant and capable of reaching significant numbers of children on a wide range of platforms. Beyond television, policy makers need to do much more thinking about what a public service commitment to children is likely to mean in future, across a variety of platforms and services.

As our report shows, while there are several content funds that support children’s content in other countries, most of them are still primarily focused on broadcast-based linear content. They don’t deal satisfactorily with new forms of non-linear content and they often conflate the desire to support the children’s production industry with the desire to support diverse and innovative content for children, when these are not the same. A more forward looking approach should consider how curated, high quality age-appropriate public service content for children can be distributed and discovered on new emerging platforms.

The full report and an executive summary are available to download

Here's a blog written for the LSE on 31st May to accompany the report.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)