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Save Kids' Content UK: Time to Act Report

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A report released in September 2016 outlining the decline of UK-made children's television and the rationale behind the Save Kids' Content UK campaign

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Save Kids' Content UK: Time to Act Report

  1. 1. Save Kids’ Content UK Campaign Time to act: reversing the decline in UK-made children’s programming September 2016
  2. 2. About Save Kids’ Content The Save Kids’ Content UK campaign has been set up to raise awareness of, and try to reverse, the decline of British produced children’s programming and stand up for the value of home-grown content. They may not know it yet, but our nation’s children have become one of the most underserved demographic groups; particularly with many parents not having the disposable income to invest in subscriptions based competitors on Sky, Virgin Media, Netflix and other providers. Children are now subjected ad nauseam to repeats or cheaply produced programming from abroad. This programming neither relates to them nor provides stimulating viewing. Whilst children have the luxury of choice on new digital platforms, this is redundant if there is not a diverse and healthy mix of UK content for them to choose from. Save Kids’ Content UK is now building a coalition of likeminded campaigners, industry experts, parents and politicians to stop, and reverse, this decline and ensure our nation’s children have the diverse choice of programming that can educate, inform and inspire them in years to come. Introduction Unlike many predicted, the digital revolution has not killed off television but rather extended its franchise to a much wider audience. The diversity of content available to audiences has soared as channels and portals to consume media have multiplied. Has the proliferation of media changed our attitudes to its purpose? With the increase of subscription services that tailor our media experience to our preferences, do we make different demands of the content that is produced? Are on-demand services actually narrowing the breadth of our consumption? The media commentator Michael Wolff concluded in his 2015 book that “people will not stop watching TV, even if they stop watching the TV.” 1 In that context we must ask questions of what we expect from our Public Service Broadcasters (BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) in terms of their output to underserved parts of society. What moral expectations do we place on private producers and broadcasters to show content that still challenges and educates as well as entertains? Time to Act Against the rapidly changing media landscape, it is easy to lose sight of our most important demographic – children. They are the viewers of tomorrow and they are the viewers who are most underserved today. They are easily influenced, quick to learn from, and emulate, the world around them. It is childhood experience that casts the adults we become. That is why it is important we consider what it means for our country when today’s children spend more time in front of a screen (whether it be in their hand, at a desk or from their family sofa) than any generation before them. Thus it begs the essential question, are the UK’s children being provided with content that they find entertaining, educational, and can they relate to it? The answer is, frustratingly, yes and no. At pre-school age children are well catered for with animation and other programming delivered through early morning TV, other bespoke channels and content on the BBC’s CBeebies, ITV’s CITV and Channel 5’s Milk Shake. However, Britain’s school age children have surprisingly little tailored programming, particularly live-action content i.e. programmes depicting British children in UK towns, cities and villages. Between the ages of 4 and 15, they are probably more used to watching clips on YouTube or shows on life in American suburbia than their own neighbourhoods. The consequences of this are hard to measure, but important to how the nation’s children see their place in society and in the world as they grow up. 1 Michael Wolff, Television is the New Television: The Unexpected Triumph of Old Media in the Digital Age, New York: Penguin, 2015, p. 28
  3. 3. The Problem Historically, children’s TV was provided by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. The Broadcasting Act 1990 required public service broadcasters (PSBs) to devote specific amounts of time to children’s broadcasting and there was a healthy level of children’s content across the channels (this was known as a Tier 2 obligation). However, the Communications Act 2003 downgraded children’s content from Tier 2 to Tier 3 programming, thus relieving commercial PSBs (ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) of their obligation to meet quantitative targets of children’s programming. Given good quality children’s programming is expensive to produce, and not always profitable, combined with the increasing competition from commercial broadcasters, no-one stood in the way of the Act. Essentially the government and industry sleep walked into creating a recipe for the dramatic decline in British produced children’s programming. This decline was further compounded in 2006, when Ofcom issued an advertising ban on high fat, salt and sugar foods (HFSS) during children’s programmes. Though an important ruling for children’s health, the ban further reduced revenues that broadcasters could make on children’s content, thereby reducing the demand for new home-grown productions (it became simpler and cheaper to buy from abroad). In 2002 Public Service Broadcasters spent £192m on children’s content, and £75m of that was from the commercial PSBs (ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5). By 2013 overall PSBs spend had dropped to £98m with only £5m of that coming from commercial PSBs. Overall spend has dropped by nearly half, with commercial PSB participation falling by 93%.2 The decline has become almost terminal. It has created a situation where the BBC has an unintended monopoly on producing children’s programming by default; their programming is hugely valuable but we cannot let their significant contribution allow others to be complacent. The Market The market was serving children’s TV well, as long as there were certain obligations. The removal of those obligations has had obvious consequences; the solutions however are less obvious. Heavy handed regulation or quotas will not turn the clock back. Tax breaks to the children’s programming production sector have been welcomed by industry, but ultimately, without the market demand, they don’t make the pot bigger or ensure levels of investment are sustainable. The fact is that PSB programmes continue to make up the majority of the nation’s viewing habits. Recent Ofcom statistics show that PSBs share of viewing stood at 71.9% in 2014 (down from 78.3% in 2004); the PSBs also continue to account for some 85% of investment in original programming.3 That said, there has been a 51% fall in consumption of children’s TV on the public service channels in contrast to only a 5% fall across the whole of television since 2003.4 In terms of the commercial children’s TV channels, in 2013 Disney, Nickelodeon and (ITV’s) CITV broadcast 136,311 hours of content. 111 of these hours were UK originations, a decrease from 281 hours in 2010.5 Therefore, Britain’s PSBs, and their commercial channels (i.e. ITV 2, ITV 3, E4 and so on), remain the biggest market, the biggest commissioners, and biggest producers of programming content. But if the biggest commissioners of programming are a declining market for children’s content, and the commercial networks are shrinking too, then who will commission it? If the BBC are the only game in town, then surely that stifles the diversity of content as everyone competes for the same commissioners? The new contestable fund proposed in the recent BBC White paper is for a total £20m per year over three years; which might help if it wasn’t being split across the BBC’s other programming obligations such as religious, classical and cultural programming. To put that figure in context, a 14 week run of BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing or ITV’s X Factor costs in excess of £20 million,6 whilst In The Night Garden cost £15 million. In short, without a vibrant market the industry will die out; and without that industry the nation’s children won’t grow up with the programmes the adult population took for granted as children. 2 A future for public service television – content and platforms in a digital world – Submission from the Children’s Media Foundation, January 14 201628. 3 Data taken from Ofcom, ‘Public Service Broadcasting the internet age’, presentation to the Inquiry, September 29, 2015. 4 Thinkbox, TV viewing in the UK. Source BARB 2003-2015. 5 A Future For Public Service Television: Content And Platforms In A Digital World, p. 137. 6 Oliver & Olhbaum and Oxera, BBC television, radio and online services: An assessment of market impact and distinctiveness, February 2016, p. 56.
  4. 4. The Solution Educating, informing and entertaining children is one of the fundamental purposes of public service broadcasting. As Lord Puttnam stated in his 2016 report A Future For Public Service Television: Content And Platforms In A Digital World, “In this day and age, this should be a relatively easy task, considering that children today spend more hours in front of screens than they do at school.” We cannot turn the clock back, there was no ‘golden age’ of children’s TV that needs to be replicated, we can only ensure that we are doing our utmost to make sure the nation’s children have quality programmes to inform, educate and inspire now and in future. To do that we need to revive the market for production. We agree with Lord Puttnam that in order to maintain a true diversity of genres commercial PSBs should be required to produce ‘at risk’ content as a condition of their public service status – in particular children’s programming. Tax incentives are a road well-travelled, and have shown some success. Funding pots for production are an option, but only worth pursuing if the money behind them is materially significant. Quotas have worked in the past, and have been shown to work abroad, but cannot come back in their original form. The simple fact remains that the levers available for change apply mostly to the country’s PSBs. This government, with its new emphasis on social inclusion, must revisit this area urgently and objectively consider what this nation wants for its children. Legislative change may not be easy, it will have advocates and enemies, but unless something is done soon the media world will have moved on too fast to intervene. Our campaign is calling on this government to heed Lord Puttnam’s warnings, and work with industry to act while it has the chance. Save Kids’ Content UK www.SaveKidsContent.org.uk @SaveKidsContent 0203 267 0074

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