The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

House of Lords Select Committee Hearing on PSBs and SVod

 

Jeanette Steemers,

Professor of Culture, Media and Creative Industries, King’s College, London

 


 

The House of Lords Select Committee on Communications is currently looking at the future of public service broadcasting in the context of the rising popularity of video on demand services.  As part of this inquiry it is calling on organisations and individuals to submit  both oral and written evidence.

 

Along with two academic colleagues, Professor Paddy Barwise, from the London Business School and Professor Petros Iosifidis from City University, I gave oral evidence to the committee on 2nd April.  This gave me an opportunity to remind the committee of the factors around video on demand that have special significance for children’s screen content, which are often different than those for adults.  It’s always important to highlight these factors so that children’s needs don’t remain invisible in the face of arguments that often prioritise industry over children’s interests.

Public service broadcasting continues to have huge value for children as a trusted source of age-appropriate original curated content which speaks to and engages with children living across the UK.  However, the weaknesses in the children’s market are longstanding .  In 2017 PSBs only invested £70m into children’s originations, just 2.8% of the £2,459m spent by PSBs on all first-run originations.  Low levels of funding make it difficult to tackle the shift to online viewing and compete with well-resourced transnational SVoDs and the delights of YouTube.  If PSBs are serious about children, they need to find new ways of reaching out to them online, and this requires innovative approaches to content as well are resources. Children are still watching a lot, but we know surprisingly little about children’s viewing of SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand) - which involves proprietary data, and especially what type of  PSB content children are viewing online and on other devices, and why they choose this content. In order to make better informed policy choices, then we need better data about how children find and access PSB content on platforms other than TV.

In the grown up world there is more industry concern about SVoDs driving up production costs for UK drama, but these inflationary trends are not visible in the children’s sector.  The Young Audiences Content Fund will provide some relief with £57m of funding for innovative public service content over the next three years.  The Committee asked whether this could be a solution for other PSB genres. It offers a solution for children’s content in the interim, but it would damage PSB if it was extended to other genres, and the licence fee was top-sliced permanently to fund it. Could a levy on SVoDs be the answer?  Only time will tell and there will be many arguing against it.  For now, the real long-term challenge for those who produce children’s content will be discovery – particularly for those children and young people who are not watching linear TV and who are becoming used to other ways of finding what they want to watch. Without interventions to secure prominence on new platforms and devices other than TV, children and young people may not  encounter much PSB content in future.

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