Changing Channels: Commissioner Conversation with the BBC – Report

Posted on: Friday 03 July 2015 11:19pm by Tom Jordan


  • The 2016 charter renewal will have a significant impact on the BBC, and therefore on children’s TV in the UK. The BBC therefore needs the support of the industry in these potentially critical times
  • The long-term future will be even more digital, and producers need to think more about the interactive possibilities – although traditional TV content is still going strong
  • There are commissioning opportunities across the spectrum, including through BBC Learning
  • Digital development still needs to be based around the audience being able to trust the BBC.


BBC strategy meetings may have been subjected to mainstream mockery over the last couple of years (all self-approved, of course), but there was nothing W1A about this talking heads conversation with four key BBC controllers, chaired by Stewart Clarke (TBI).

New director of BBC Children’s, Alice Webb, began the session by talking about how the upcoming charter renewal [in December 2016] means this is a crucial time for the corporation, and how the process naturally focuses her attention on what changes and challenges lie ahead for children’s programming, both in the short term and over the next 10 years. However, she also drew on a Bill Gates quote: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”

One of the key changes will undoubtedly be a fundamental increase in digital activity, a notion that was echoed by all of the speakers, and within this growing environment there will be lots of opportunities for independent commissions. The caveat to this though was that the outcome of the charter renewal will be critical, and may – or may not – result in there being less money available.

Webb also wanted to get the message across to the children’s media industry that even if you don’t love everything about the BBC, now is time to support it because you love the children’s industry.

Cheryl Taylor, CBBC controller, and Kay Benbow, CBeebies controller, both echoed the thoughts about digital development playing a major role in the coming years.

Taylor said that CBBC wants digital to help create content that the audience is at the heart of. Benbow added that CBeebies is looking towards more short-form content, which she thinks opens up possibilities of starting things small then growing them, rather the sometimes scary prospect of huge, untried commissions.

Both controllers also imparted perhaps the most valuable piece of takeaway information for today’s audience: their specific current commissioning needs.

CBBC’s Taylor is keen to hear from producers who have studied the tone of the My Life series and Newsround specials, plus ideas for female entertainment duos, a studio-based sitcom that embraces diversity, and passionate role models, as well as interactive ideas.

CBeebies is seeking ideas for drama, funny women in comedy, experts with a passion (a la Jess from Minibeast Adventures), music and dance, a female lead in an animation, and CBeebies radio.

Another way in for independent producers is through BBC Learning, whose head, Sinead Rocks, said she is open to discussing ideas relating to platforms including iWonder and BBC Bitesize, among others, which work collaboratively across BBC Children’s and the wider organisation. BBC Learning will also be announcing details of the launch of its BBC Micro Bit in the coming weeks, a scheme backed by 28 IT and learning organisations that will place one million pocket-sized codeable computers in schools across the UK.

For speaker details check the Session Guide.

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Tom Jordan

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Tom Jordan

Freelance, Writer

Tom is a freelance writer and editor based in Sheffield. He has over a decade of experience in travel publishing, writing for National Geographic Traveller, Sunday Times Travel Magazine and CNN, among others, and editing for travel guide books. His recent focus has also been as a development editor in… Read more