The recent announcement of the de commissioning of the live elements of GMTV’s children’s output is yet another cut back in the provision of UK-made live action content for kids.
The steady erosion of UK-produced content for kids across all genres is shocking. As far back as 2007 Ofcom raised concerns, pointing out that of all children’s programmes transmitted annually only one per cent were new programmes made in the UK.
Ofcom has continued to voice these concerns; indeed the current chair of Ofcom, Collette Bowe, has spoken of the UK ‘sleepwalking’ into a situation where there is no original high quality UK children’s programming, but despite that and the efforts and arguments of organisations like SKTV, Pact and VLV, the Digital Economy bill contains only one reference to children’s content.
Recently the House of Lords Communications committee voiced their concerns on the subject, but it is hard to see any real chance of progress in the current political and economic situation.
At a time when there is more content available for kids to view than ever before why does this matter?
The problem is that although there is more it is more of the same, both in terms of genre and the level of repeats. There is much less in terms of new programming and variety of genres, and there is much less which is made in the UK. Children are growing up in a media world which does not reflect their own lives and culture. This is particularly true in terms of drama and factual programmes. Drama is expensive and local drama tends to sell less well and be less attractive to co producers and so it is made less often.
In the past ITV had a fine tradition of making this kind of drama for kids as part of its PSB remit, but that has gone and the BBC is the only commissioner of the PSB genres. While recent announcements of increased funding for kids output is welcome it is not yet clear how much money there will actually be and how it will be spent.
Equally is it healthy for the BBC to be a monopoly commissioner however well intentioned?
Another concern is the lack of provision for children and young people over ten years old. The vague statement in the Digital Economy Bill about Channel 4’s new remit including provision for ‘older children’ is not convincing; there is no mention of the scale of provision or levels of funding.
So what can be done? Firstly it seems imperative to convince politicians and opinion formers that media has a social, cultural educative and indeed economic value and at a time when there are concerns about ‘broken Britain’ that media has a positive role to play, and that it is worth investing in that media.
The digital age is bringing new opportunities for the creation and distribution of content, what matters for kids is that some of that content is indigenous, of high quality entertaining, educative and relevant to their lives.
At various stages of the debate, SKTV has proposed the setting up of an alternative public service provider for children alongside the BBC financed by a combination of government money, possible across various departments, and other sources eg lottery ethical advertising, etc.
As part of DCMS discussion on regional news pilots, SKTV proposed piloting such a children’s VOD service.
Most people seem to agree that quality media for children is ‘a good thing’ and that in this country we have a fine tradition and great programme makers, but it seems harder to convince them that in order to sustain this for the future, action, support and investment is required. Losing one element of GMTV’s kid’s programming may appear a minor issue but it is symptomatic of a much bigger problem.