Recap: as a condition of their broadcast license, UK channel ITV is required to show children’s programmes. The original thinking was to provide commercial competition for the BBC, and this has been the situation for more than 30 years. This year, however, ITV have cancelled or failed to renew children’s production for 2007 transmission, and dropped the hours they show to the bare minimum, comprised principally of repeats, animation, and US imports. Simultaneously, they’ve been arguing with regulator OFCOM about reducing the required hours.
The pretext for this is that advertising revenues are down across the board (unless you’re Google), and there’s a voluntary ban in the offing concerning advertising ‘junk’ food to children which, it is said, would render the situation commercially hopeless. Not that it’s been running at a profit for the last decade, but hey.
From my perspective, whatever happens in the regulatory world is somewhat irrelevant, since children’s production outwith the BBC is essentially dead anyway. Oh, there are odd little pockets – things like Me Too! in Glasgow – but in general there’s precious little going on. The days of being even vaguely a children’s specialist have gone. We were nearly all freelance anyway, and we’ve all had to move into other areas to keep paying the bills. Several have left TV altogether, or are trying to.
Oddly, not much of this shows to the public yet, in part because unless you happen to have children of the right sort of age, children’s TV is something you remember fondly and assume is still there. I spent a day last week trying to convince people at an exhibition that How2 was (a.) an ITV production, not BBC, (b.) one of mine, and (c.) cancelled. Their initial response is denial, and the public debate is still at that stage.
It’s somewhat shocking, then, to hear what the discussion really was between ITV and OFCOM, as reported in Media Guardian in an unusually BBC Onlinesque single-sentence paragraph style, and quoted here for those who can’t be arsed to sign in:
It is well known that ITV asked Ofcom if it could reduce its commitment to children’s television from eight hours a week to just two.
What is not so well known is that ITV’s original scheme was to ask if it could air around 80 hours in total throughout the year.
It wanted to pack these hours around the run-up to Christmas and Easter.
The radical move was proposed because the two periods are the most lucrative for the broadcaster.
However, the move would have left ITV1 with no children’s shows for the majority of the year.
It is understood that sources at regulator Ofcom indicated it would turn down such a request. So instead ITV asked if it could to air just two hours a week.
ITV will reveal how much children’s programming, what kind of shows, and how many will be repeated in its statement of programme policy to Ofcom at the end of the year.
There is speculation that it might air half an hour of pre-school shows each weekday morning, with the afternoon block dropped or greatly reduced and the rest of its commitment airing at weekends.
If that speculation plays out, ITV’s long and proud tradition of children’s drama and factual programmes will be at an end. Don’t think that equivalent shows can be found elsewhere, either – the satellite channels have never produced much within the UK. I say this with some conviction, mostly because it’s already happened.
Children’s viewing habits are changing. But they’re not choosing to watch less home-grown, high-quality programming. It’s simply not there any more.
Link: Save Kids’ TV.org.uk.