The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

A Christmas bonus for kids’ TV

This article was first published in Broadcast magazine on 10 January 2018

"Focusing contestable fund on the genre is a step in the right direction", says Greg Childs

That the government is focusing its contestable fund proposal on children’s content, rather than spreading it across several underserved genres, is more than a Christmas bonus for the UK children’s media industry.

Handled well, it should improve the media choices offered to British kids, particularly underserved audiences like the 10+ age group, by providing content that is uniquely relevant to them.

For a decade, the Children’s Media Foundation (CMF) has lobbied for recognition of the ‘market failure’ that resulted in a £55m drop in commissioning spend over that period.

Tax incentives for children’s TV and animation, and the recent amendment to the Digital Economy Act proposed by Baroness Benjamin, which gives Ofcom the power to require ITVChannel 4 and Channel 5 to increase their commitment to children, have been consequences of this long campaign.

If, after its Children’s Content Review, Ofcom recognises its duty to the children’s audience and sets quotas using its new powers, the fund could be the financial carrot that accompanies the regulatory stick – a rare case of joined-up thinking.

The CMF believes the fund should substantially be used to stimulate production of UK-specific content, so that kids of all ages can hear their own voices, experience their own stories and engage with UK culture in all its variety. Content from across the pond is some of the best in the world, but we also need to support our own.

Achieving that with a 50% funding limit needs serious thought, as the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and the BFI, which has no significant track record of addressing the children’s audience, work out how the fund will operate.

They already envisage that the funded content will be broadcast not just on the commercial PSBs but also on “other free and widely available channels and on-demand platforms, and potentially also online”.

This was one of the CMF’s more radical proposals and we’re pleased to see the fund being ‘future-proofed’ in this way, though ensuring access for all will need careful thinking. And does this new content play into another government agenda – a safer internet for kids?

Social media platforms – their responsibilities in general and towards the kids’ audience in particular – are hot topics.

The people in power have picked up on parental concerns about services that fail to take account of children and young teens and present them with content that is disturbing or distasteful; that refuse to co-operate with parliamentary and government requests for information; that carry content that dilutes the notion of journalistic truth or even distorts the democratic process; and that operate platforms on which bullying is amplifi ed and intensifi ed – to name just a few of the issues.

That creates a quandary: can the government advocate using the fund for content on these platforms without matching it with regulation?

The CMF has long advocated that the big social media services should self-regulate – that it would be good for business to be family friendly and kid-safe.

They say they already do, but if they fail to tackle the issues and refuse to accept their role as publishers of content, not simply platforms, they risk becoming toxic for brands and content owners – and having regulation imposed upon them.

Way back in 2007, the CMF proposed a kids’ VoD service, with government or Lottery funding to commission content. The plan was considered crazy, but in the intervening years, we have seen the perfect storm of consequences: vast expansion of the outlets, but less UK-focused content on offer.

So the time has come for the contestable fund and its small additional contribution, for joined-up thinking about relevant content for UK kids – and, just maybe, for the social media giants to put their houses in order.

A new dawn for UK kids’ content? We’ll see. But at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Greg Childs is Director of the Children’s Media Foundation

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)