The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

More Money for BBC Children’s – The Digital Perspective

John Kent discusses the potential impact of the BBC's latest announcement and the possibility that smaller brands, and children, may suffer as a result. 

One of the tenets of the BBC announcement of £34 million a year additional investment for BBC Children’s is the belief that the Corporation has to reinvent itself for the digital age.

Almost every piece of audience research shows how children are moving away from broadcast channels at an ever alarming rate. This feels like a good news story - the largest injection of cash into BBC Children’s for a generation, a commitment to UK originated content for UK children and while the channels would remain the priority, a move towards making digital experiences that are more appropriate for the media habits of today's kids... Brilliant!

But the discussion that followed suggested that the digital producers feel that all may not be as rosy as it seems. While the expansion of digital suggests a welcome boost in terms of new content and experiences, the detail suggests that a large proportion of that money will be spent on technology and platforms rather than content.

However, it was a comment from James Purnell that caused most alarm - the BBC does not see the need for terms of trade with digital producers.

If the BBC is increasing its investment to such an extent, is it just sour grapes that some of the children’s media industry are unhappy? Each of these issues could have important implications for the audience. The digital sector of the children’s media is a fragile ecosystem. In this area, perhaps even more than TV, the BBC is the only commissioner on the block. Their investment is vital to support a struggling sector to innovate new content and experiences. The fear is that by concentrating on fewer brands and more technology, only a few of the larger producers are likely to benefit.

In children’s media, budgets and margins are extremely tight, and even a big beast like the BBC can rarely fully fund a commission. In TV the terms of trade are routinely credited with fueling the success of the British TV industry by allowing independent producers to work with the BBC and supplement budgets with commercial sales and international investment - because they own the IP of the TV programmes they produce. We have already heard of producers being unable to exploit their own intellectual property in the digital space because of the lack of a rights framework with the BBC. My fear is that the BBC’s desire to ignore terms could suppress the industry, and that would be to the detriment of the children's audience - off talent, enterprise and risk taking go under as a result.

One further aspect that is worth considering is the new BBC objective to target 13-16 year olds in addition to the more usual children’s audience. This is an age group that is largely ignored by mainstream media, and deserves to be represented in the public service sphere. However it is also a notoriously difficult audience to attract - with such diversity of emotional needs and maturity and preferences for content. This is a worthwhile goal - but it will not be easy. Or cheap.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)