Opening Session: Game Change – Report
The Children’s Media Conference has a reputation as one of the friendliest conferences in children’s media – but it’s not backward in coming forward and the opening session certainly set the tone for this year’s conference.
This year’s conference theme is ‘All Change?’ and chair Steve Hewlett reckons “We’re right on the sharp end of the fastest changing market”.
With Ofcom’s Public Service Broadcast review published today we can see clearly that there is a change in the pattern of viewing, and it’s moved in a dramatic way. “YouTube is now the go to destination”. Alice Webb says that the BBC is reaching 44% of UK Children every week through their various platforms.
Claudio Pollack (Ofcom) says that “the democratisation of production is a benefit but also there is a threat to high quality production” this could account for the shift in parents perception of PSB content.
Anna Home (Children’s Media Foundation) says “Everything is cyclical – kids are the early adopters of media – they have always been the vanguard of change, the lack of variety the lack of competition is an issue we need to look at very seriously. How do we protect the old and protect the new?”
In the UK it’s only the public service broadcasters who are expected to deliver culturally distinct, challenging content – it’s not profitable for the commercial (and often non-UK owned) channels. In the UK at the moment that means that the BBC is really the only commissioner who invests in it.
The first few questions were variations on a theme – basically why isn’t Ofcom requiring more children’s output from the other PSBs?
Claudio says Channel 4 have made a serious commitment to putting family viewing in at peak times and that this will have more impactful viewing for 10year olds and over – but that there still needs to be some kind of measurement in place. Anna doesn’t think this sounds very compelling: why would 10-14 year olds want to watch stuff with their parents? It’s a very particular audience. We need more specific content for that age group
Claudio said they tried using quotas but it wasn’t workable. It’s not about commercial viability it’s about the content and looking to the future, ands it’s about funding beyond the BBC. We need UK distinctive content but that content needs funding as often it’s not saleable in international markets.
For Ed Vaizey MP it’s more about deregulation than quotas – for him the question is how you support UK-made children’s content. Which is why they’ve introduce the Live Action Children’s Programme Tax Break. Anna said “the Tax Break is great but it’s a drop in a very big ocean” She said that The Children’s Media Foundation warned to see a fund separate from the licence fee to pay for the production of UK kids’ content.
The BBC very much feels the lack of competition in the market but Alice Webb was keen to underline that they need to safeguard BBC Children’s “we’ve been on a journey, we’re not just on the TV in the corner of the room anymore. There’s more we need to do. We need to compete, and that costs money”
When asked about the security and safety of digital spaces for children Alice said she feels passionately about this, that the BBC works hard to provide a safe online space for children but beyond that? “I don’t know what the answer is, I think we need to debate it more… there are currently unofficial CBBC YouTube platforms, we need to be in those spaces. If we’re not, other people are going to be there doing it in our name”
Claudio thinks this is one of the the biggest questions for society in the modern world – how do we protect children online? The advances we’re making in the UK are ahead of the curve: the UK Council for Child Internet Safety in partnership with Ofcom are looking at ways forward. Providing family friendly wifi in public, parental guidelines (parental controls can do so much but not enough) and the BBFC is working on an interesting model for user generated controls over age restriction of content in films.
In answering a question from the CMF’s Marc Goodchild on the responsibility of the digital platforms to protect children in this space, Ed Vaizey felt that the move to launch kids’ versions of platforms like You Tube was a positive move, and was disinclined to favour further regulation. Interestingly, he also revealed he was unaware of the controversy around the You Tube Kids app in the US. The CMF has work to do!
Oli Hyatt of Blue Zoo animation asked, if children are 19% of the audience why don’t the BBC spend 19% of their budget on them?
Alice said that when she started to work with the BBC she realised very quickly that children are at the heart of everything the BBC does. “We have the two leading channels – we don’t just measure it by the spend on children’s, but we spend £93 million (5% of the BBC content budget), however the audience gets much more than just the content commissioned by BBC Children’s: for example learning content and prime time family viewing like ‘Bake Off’ and ‘The Voice’ are all made by other parts of the BBC.”
Anna thinks BBC Children’s has done amazingly well to absorb the financial cuts imposed on them – almost too well. BBC Children’s is being spread more thinly, and while it’s unfair to ask to increase the spend on children’s but it’s important that there aren’t any more cuts.
Camilla Arnold asked a question about diversity on screen “Growing up watching TV I saw few if any representations of deaf children. Given that 1 in 20 UK children has a disability how do we represent them without falling in to tokenism trap?
Alice said this was core to the work the BBC does and that they measure everything. ‘The Dumping Ground’ is a great example of this approach – it’s embedded in to everything they do. Steve Hewlett suggested regularly publishing this measurement would help to keep them on track and open up the discussion to a wider audience.
We’re driven by an audience that will always seek the new and the challenging. As an industry we need to have serious conversations about how we can safeguard children in the changing landscape of children’s media while not stifling the opportunities for them to develop their own creativity and communication. Public Services Broadcasters (PSBs) have a responsibility to their audience to create high quality, representative, diverse UK specific, content, to show children themselves on screens and in safe spaces. However the new online “broadcasters” don’t have to stick to the same rules. The current government would rather deregulate than increase regulation and feel that they’re in no position to impose quotas on the market.
In conclusion, Anna nailed the whole session with one line: “If you ignore the kids audience you’re ignoring the audience of the future”
For full details of the panel, check the Session Guide.
Journalist and Broadcaster
The Children's Media Foundation
Group Director, Content, Consumer and External Affairs
Ed Vaizey MP
Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy
Writer and Script Consultant
Disney Channels UK & Ireland
Director of Programming