The ad-funded PSB is required by the terms of its licence to provide content for different demos, but has largely moved out of kids-specific programming, claiming its reality series and other shows already attract younger viewers and fulfil its remit.
Ofcom, however, said Channel 4’s provision of programming for older kids was its “main concern” in the wake of the broadcaster publishing its 2015 annual report and record revenues.
“Although C4 undoubtedly appeals to younger audiences, more so than the other PSBs, the extent to which it is meeting the specific needs of older children is less clear,” Ofcom said. “This aspect of the remit is important given the rest of the market provides little such content to this age group, and it remains the main concern of stakeholders.”
The regulator went on to demand Channel 4 explain how its content strategy will affect older children. It wants the broadcaster to show the results of its efforts in this area as part, ideally, of a three-year plan.
“We are also asking you to consider how C4 could play a greater role in providing older children with an alternative voice, distinct from the output provided by the BBC,” Ofcom said.
The regulator also said that while investment in all programming was up in 2015, it has fallen since the peak years of 2005-2007. Amid speculation about the future of the PSB, Ofcom concluded: “C4 appears commercially sustainable well beyond 2016.”
Industry group The Children’s Media Foundation welcomed Ofcom’s stance on kids programming on C4, noting its provision of content for older kids is “obviously inadequate”.
“It remains to be seen what C4 will come up with as a solution to the clear questions asked by Ofcom, in this critical element of their review of C4’s content plans,” the CMF said in a statement issued to press outlets.
It added that Ofcom highlighting the C4 commitment to kids was a positive development. “The CMF considers this a major step forward and is pleased to have been part of the lobbying process which brought this to the attention of the regulator and highlighted the importance of this under-served audience to them,” the organisation said.