BBC Takes On Netflix, Amazon And Sky For Kids' Attention

At long last, the BBC has realised it has a fight on its hands for the digital future of our children. This might sound melodramatic, but anyone with children will know that much of their tv consumption takes place on a laptop or iPod and they're not tuning into live television. 

So the BBC has pledged its biggest ever investment into children's television with a rise in budget from GBP110m to GBP124m staged over the next three years with a quarter ring-fenced for online programming. 

It's important because only British parents would know the general feeling out there that our children are losing just a little bit of their own culture by watching a heavy mix of US shows. There's absolutely nothing wrong with American shows, of course, and to say so would be hypocrisy for any adult like me who is addicted to Netflix dramas.

The point is that other than a splash of Cbeebies on the BBC, backed up with a couple of repetitive games on an app, children are seeing the world through American children's eyes. Again, not so bad -- but there's a general feeling among parents, obviously shared at the BBC, that the attention needle has moved a little too much toward the other side of the pond.

it's not just a feeling parents have -- it's borne out by the facts. According to The Guardian, Ofcom figures show a near halving in budgets on homegrown children's shows, from GBP140m in 2005 to GBP77m in 2015. That meant far fewer UK shows. Take ITV -- its UK original broadcast time fell from 424 hours in 1998 to just 42 hours. Channel 5 produced just 30 hours of UK shows for children in 2015 and Channel 4 recorded a big fat zero. It leaves the BBC producing 97% of original UK content for children.

That's what makes today's announcement so important. The cynic in me might suggest there are two things at play here. To begin with, there is a whole heap of American content that is both very entertaining (who doesn't love Phineas and Ferb or FairlyOdd Parents?) and one would assume, far cheaper to buy in than produce oneself. The same applies to the older age group where, from what I can glean, there's a formula for a savvy girl to have a scatty best friend whom she keeps in check alongside a nerdy guy who thinks he is cool and an overweight boy who gets given the punchlines. That's the formula, right?

So there's a lot of content out there and there's a lot of airtime to fill now with cable and satellite tv. At the same time, regulation is making those audiences less valuable. There's no junk food advertising to children any more, and so that takes out a whole genre of brand.

It becomes a question of economics, more channels, and more airtime to fill but without the participation of a huge chunk of advertisers.

That's why the BBC is so important here, because it obviously has no advertiser considerations and just two children's specialist channels to fill throughout the day before the kids get home from school and get the main station, BBC One, to themselves for a couple of hours -- as long as Wimbledon isn't on.

As a statement of intent, a budget increase of just over 10% is a good sign. A commitment to keeping a quarter of all children's budget for online programming is, again, very much in turn with how our little ones are consuming their media these days. It will make a difference, but when you look at the budgets of Netflix and Amazon you could be forgiven, to quote a famous line, it doesn't really amount to a hill of beans in the greater scheme of things. 

Commercial television in the UK has pretty much walked away from original programming because it's expensive and the cynic in me keeps reminding, regulation is making its audience less attractive. That's why we can't expect a miracle turnaround or really desire one. I think most parents don't mind the American dominance of children's shows too much -- they just want the needle to shift back a little to the UK and original British shows both on tv and through the BBC's apps.

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