UK commercial PSBs attacked over kids investment

TeletubbiesUK indies trade body Pact and Teletubbies creator Anne Wood have come together to slam the level of investment in UK kids TV programming from commercial public broadcasters, claiming a “crisis” has developed.

Pact and Wood’s Ragdoll Foundation have launched a campaign to address their concerns in a report titled ‘Children’s television – a crisis of choice
: the case for greater commercial PSB investment in Children’s TV’.

Using figures from Ofcom’s 2014 Annual Report, the pair said PSB spend on children’s TV content had fallen 45% since the Communications Act of 2003 was introduced. They also claimed the introduction of tax breaks had not had the desired effect of spearheading a commissioning drive.

“Pact believes that children are the TV audience of the future and they are currently being underserved by the commercial PSBs,” said Pact CEO John McVay. He pointed to a “lethal combination” of removing children’s programming quotas and restrictions of on food and drink advertising.

“In the current TV landscape, the stark reality is that the BBC is left as the remaining sole buyer of children’s PSB, with shrinking budgets and no guarantee that it will secure the licence fee deal it needs to invest in children’s content in the future.”

Currently, the BBC is by far the biggest investor in children’s TV content, as it is required by law to finance a significant number of hours despite pressure on budgets to reduce costs.

Commercial PSBs are not duty-bound to create original children’s shows, and the high costs of production, small audience numbers and restricted advertising opportunities make them unattractive as financial propositions.

“There is a long tradition of excellent British creative programme-making for children which is now endangered,” said Wood. “We need a realistic solution to create a new infrastructure that provides for new opportunities for programme-makers of the future.

“Legislative changes, financial incentives and especially improved market opportunities for all PSB broadcasters, not just the BBC, to commission UK children’s productions, are needed if children’s programming is to survive.”

ITV has commissioned shows such as Horrid Henry in recent years, and is currently giving a huge push to the rebooted Thunderbirds, which is soon to launch. The broadcaster runs children’s shows between 6am and 9.30am on weekends and more kids shows on thematic channel CITV, but the report claimed “there is an overall emphasis on acquired content”.

ITV has previously defended itself against criticism from Wood, who created kids hit Teletubbies (pictured) before selling the commercial arm of her company, Ragdoll Worldwide, to DHX Media.

Channel 4, meanwhile, showed no kids TV on its main channel in 2013, the report’ noted, with just £8 million (US$11.8 million) set aside for ‘education and older children’.

Meanwhile, Channel 5’s Milkshake programming block “contains relatively little new programming” – airing less than 40 minutes per week in 2013, according to the report.

The report also noted non-PSB commercial channel investment had fallen approximately 40% in real terms since 2004. “While these channels do provide greater choice and are important to children’s viewing, they certainly have not ‘picked up the slack’ in children’s programming spend – quite the reverse,” the authors suggested.

Pact and Ragdoll said UK regulator Ofcom should redraw its guidelines to ensure ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 committed to a certain level of spend on kids TV, and to apply PSB status to institutions rather than channels.

This would incentivise the broadcasters’ kids channels to invest, as they “could then be granted PSB benefits in return for commitments to specific production or scheduling obligation”.

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