Report – Question Time

Posted on: Wednesday 07 July 2021 1:05am by Cate Zerega

Takeaways

  • There is still long-term value in investment in original content.
  • The path forward in regulating cyberspace might be to protect the positive features of children creating content for themselves while designing protections and transparent processes for the young audience.
  • If we want younger people to engage with the PSBs, we have to give them relevant content (which is an economic challenge).


Host, Leah Boleto began by getting the panel’s take on the recent press stories about possible reduction of UK content in the EU. John McVay clarified that because the agreements around content wee Euopean rather than EU affairs there was no immediate threat to UK exports, as there was little the EU could do in the short term.  However, if by their influence in the long term they managed to change the UK’s content status form ‘European’ to ‘‘foreign acquired’, this would affect the ability to pre-sell, which feeds investment in content.  So producers more likely to be affected would be in animation with its long lead times, but nothing has changed as yet.

The UK is the second largest exporter of content and IP and has been developing global markets for fifteen years, which puts makers in a strong position. Sir Phil Redmond believes it would be more valuable to look less at territories and more at streaming and the supply to multi-national organisations. The design of regulation for the streaming market. Should be a priority. 

For Mitchell Simmons, ViacomCBS Vice President of Government Relations, the priority was to maintain support for creativity and collaboration between makers to ensure quality content.

Kate Biggs, Ofcom, fielded criticism of Channel 4’s failure to serve its teenage audience during the pandemic. Kate highlighted Channel 4’s successes, including its nimble response in growing its social media presence, reaching out to the teen audience in more innovative ways and conveying accurate, impartial news. The problem fundamentally is that all PSBs are being asked to ‘do more with less’. That isn’t unique to Channel 4. 

Phil Redmond suggested that the best way forward for Channel 4 would be to amalgamet with the BBC, slim down the “back-office” costs and use the advertising revenue generating power of Channel 4 to feed into the overall public service pot.  John McVay disagreed – citing the unique nature of Channel 4’s relationships with the independent production community as one reason it should maintain its independence.  One of the reasons for potential privatisation of Channel 4 cited by the government is its inability to borrow money to expand its ambitions – as it’s essentially a not-for-profit. Going in with the BBC would certainly not solve that problem as BBC borrowing contributes ot the public debt and is very much disapproved of by government.

Kate pointed out that the regulatory framework dates from c.2003 – i.e. before smartphones, YouTube, and streaming. So the regulatory approach needs to evolve to understand and respond to what the audience wants. Anne Longfield framed her response as a broader reflection of digital use. Anne’s research indicates that teens curate their world around what their peers are viewing, making their content needs organic and fast moving, and the pandemic increased the speed of this process.

Panelists were asked how they see the Online Safety Bill impacting children’s media. 

Anne Longfield stressed she would like to see the bill lead to greater reflection by streamers on the impact of their content on their child audience. Will this bill make it possible for TikTok, Twitch & YouTube to become more child-friendly? 

Phil Redmond did not foresee success in regulating the real estate in cyberspace. He envisaged more success in investing in protecting the public willingness to contribute to the licence fee and the content it allows to be created. 

Kate Biggs saw Ofcom’s role evolving as the online safety bill progresses, with Ofcom balancing promoting and protecting the positives of the online space – such as children creating their own content – while keeping children safe. 

Regarding the impact of the recent cuts to the Young Audiences Content Fund, John McVay was certain that the additional funding had helped make projects that would otherwise not have been produced. Mitchell Simmons said that in his organisation – Milkshake on Channel 5 –  the funding helped make content that reflected the audience back to themselves. However, this programming doesn’t travel to secondary markets, so the local funding boost helps make these projects happen and creates clear cultural value. 

Phil Redmond saw cuts happening media-wide.  He felt that the industry needed to restructure to suit the digital age.

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Cate Zerega

About the author

Cate Zerega

Freelance Production Coordinator

Cate has worked as a nanny, a talent agent, in casting & production. Cate’s resume means she no longer fears anything and has sunblock & headshots always about. She completed an MA in the screen industries in 2018 & works passionately to promoting female filmmakers. Read more