Report: Commissioner Conversations – PSBs
- Covid-19 has affected most broadcasters commissioning practices and schedules, but lockdown has produced interesting new content (including by young people).
- Broadcasters are investing more in diversity on- and off-screen, and YACF is enabling them to make better content choices.
- The future points to fewer linear models of programming, moving to more on-demand to reflect young people’s viewing habits.
Most commissioners said that Covid-19 had pushed their schedules forward, replacing what could have been new programming for 2021. However, lockdown had generated a lot of spontaneous new content. All panellists agreed that the Young Audience Content Fund (YACF) was a great success and all had benefited from it. There was awareness from each of the speakers that BAME involvement in production should be increased.
Cheryl Taylor was asked about the £100m diversity budget announced by the BBC. Cheryl confirmed that CBeebies and CBBC will be accessing part of the ring-fenced fund, saying that they had always had on-screen diversity but there was more work to do off screen and that “there’s no denying it: it’s got to change.” Because of Covid, there would only be a mini-round of commissioning and details would shortly be announced. In the meantime, BAME writers could make themselves known at the BBC Writer’s room or get in touch with her or her colleagues at CBBC and CBeebies.
Speaking on behalf of CITV, Paul Mortimer said that the next commissioning round should be before Christmas—about three to six months later than planned. They have increased the budget by 10% in response to the YACF. Paul thought that CITV would be taking advantage of Disney’s decision to move from SKY to the nonlinear Disney+, though he acknowledged that the future of Children’s TV was probably in that direction, since ‘kids get an iPad for their first birthdays, these days.’ Although the channel is primarily a linear channel, CITV’s animated ‘Mr Bean’ has been a lockdown hit on the ITV Hub, with the programme showing in its top ten every day.
S4C’s Sioned Wyn Roberts has had to adapt her programming during the lockdown. This year’s Youth Eisteddfod went digital, with children sending in their performances on video to the broadcaster. 4,000 films were received with 8,000 children taking part. Sioned thought that it was the kind of project that can work well when you have good post-production facilities. As with BBC and ITV, projects are being postponed until later in the year or 2021, but she may be able to fill the gaps with some animation.
Louise Bucknole said that Milkshake! On Channel 5 had a full schedule up to 2022, not just because of Covid-19, but because they always worked two years ahead. They prioritise British-led content and have fifty hours in the pipeline for next year. This includes some live-action series, such as ‘Meet the Experts,’ that should have been produced this year but have been moved into 2021. She described YACF as an amazing initiative that allowed them to take more risks. Louise said that they were looking at ways to address the Black Lives Matter for their young audience.
The final speaker was Navi Lamba. She has been at Channel 4’s Leeds office for just a month, heading up the online content for E4. Four suppliers are making online content for the corporation, but Navi said they had kept back a little money for other ideas, saying: “It’s a year of experimentation to see what works.” The shorts might start out as two-minute TikToks or ten-minute Facebook clips; however, the initiative wasn’t to give social media platforms free content, but to test out new talent which might go on to linear schedules in the future. Their fastest turnaround was three weeks, for ‘Letters in Lockdown’. Other Covid-19 inspired series are ‘Hairplay’ and ‘Grime Therapy’. ‘Life for a teenager has changed so drastically,’ Navi observed.
Freelance Business Journalist
ViacomCBS Networks International
VP, Programming Kids, VCNI UK & Ireland
Digital Commissioning Executive
Head of Digital Channels & Acquisitions
Head of Content
Sioned Wyn Roberts
Content Commissioner, Children's & Learning
Founder & Director