The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Responding to the Crisis of Childhood – Campaign Document

The Foundation invites all those who care about the well-being of children to support our campaign.

Please read the campaign document below and sign the petition to provide your support.

Children’s Media and the Crisis of Childhood

We believe that the current media lives of children and young people are contributing to the ‘crisis of childhood’ which is reflected in young people’s mental well-being, engagement with society and culture, and formation of values.

As Ofcom has reported, the children’s audience has significantly shifted its viewing to online platforms which has reduced the number of young people watching linear public service channels. By 8 years-old, the majority of UK children have their own mobile phone, providing unlimited access to a wide range of media content on largely unregulated platforms including YouTube, TikTok and Roblox.

While children have more choice than ever before - and there are many examples of good children's content online – this shift has also led to a dramatic increase in the consumption of age-inappropriate content and generic or US-focused content, rather than content focused on the needs of a UK audience.

In parallel, Ofcom has identified that, as a result of the economic pressures on PSBs, the wider free-to-air market, and increased competition for viewing and income, there has been a reduction in the volume of regulated, UK-originated content made for children and young people that reflects their lives and our shared values.

Children are forced to navigate the pressures and complexities of an adult-focused media life and content which is not tailored to their needs, with little support from age-appropriate and culturally relevant content specifically designed for young people in the UK.

We believe the decline in the availability and discoverability of culturally relevant content for young people impacts on their individual and shared UK identity and contributes to a sense of isolation with increasing levels of anxiety and mental health challenges.

There is a vital role for positive, age-appropriate and culturally-relevant content to support children and young people. We can help them cope with the unique challenges they are facing allowing them to thrive in the changed media landscape. Under the prevailing market conditions, production and distribution of such content needs additional support.

We believe today’s children’s audience should be given access to the same range of culturally relevant, trusted and life-affirming content that was made available to previous generations, in a form and on platforms that reflect the way children and young people live today.

Finding Solutions

As a society, we have reduced the amount of time and money we invest in the creation and distribution of media content for children designed to help them develop a positive, balanced view of the world from a UK perspective.

Past mechanisms for intervention have relied solely on traditional broadcasters. This will not solve the problems we face in today’s digital landscape, where established broadcasters are still providing most of the UK content, but the audience has moved in large numbers to non-UK and non-regulated platforms. The BBC is still providing culturally-relevant children’s content at scale, under the same audience migration pressure. This commitment notwithstanding, new thinking is required if the UK overall is to have plurality of supply and re-engage young people with public service content on the new platforms.

Following consultation with broadcasters, industry bodies, audience advocates, producers and academics involved in the Children’s Media Summit in February 2024,  the Children’s Media Foundation now calls on Government, Ofcom, and the wider media industry - including the on-demand and social media platforms - to explore new ways to ensure there is greater access to and production of new British content for children that reflects their lives and diverse UK cultural values.

The CMF has developed the following list of possible interventions, which can be regarded singly or taken as linked together. We believe all are worthy of deeper investigation by DCMS and Ofcom – through a rapid, detailed review. Time is not on our side given the known impact on UK children.

 Proposals:

  • Government needs to address the reality of the children’s media market as it is now, characterised by the loss of audience from UK broadcasters to online streaming and video sharing services. While there is UK-originated and international content of value on these platforms, the audience migration has nevertheless led to a reduction in culturally relevant and UK public service media reaching British children.
  • Consider how to measure and incentivise or regulate online platforms that benefit from UK viewing – especially online video sharing services and social media – to carry UK-relevant and age-appropriate content for children and young people.
  • Consider a new regulatory regime for “prominence” that recognises the need to surface or amplify UK public service content carried by those online platforms, to ensure that children find the content tailored to their needs.
  • Investigate and consider the role of public service regulation in algorithmic and generative AI outputs for children, whether in personalisation, creation or curation of content.
  • Address the “market failure” in UK children’s media, which currently hinders the production and commercially sustainable distribution of culturally-relevant content.
  • Identify meaningful fiscal intervention to encourage production of original UK children’s content including, in the short-term, enhanced tax incentives.
  • Consider all possible options to find new funding mechanisms which support production and distribution of British content for young people on a commercially sustainable basis. This should not take revenue from the BBC, but rather investigate new ways of creating a content fund, including Levies and Lottery funding.
  • Consider direct government support through educational budgets as part of a holistic approach to delivering positive public service media experiences - particularly the delivery of impartial news - in school settings, where the impact of those interventions can be measured.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)