Media Guardian has the story: the children’s production arm of ITV, with offices in Leeds, Manchester and London, is to close. This was the largest children’s production unit outside the BBC; 19 people vs. 600, or whatever it is.
The Leeds department is where we made The Big Bang for nine years; I loved the gang there, and sorely miss the atmosphere and support generated by Production Manager Liz and Accountant Lance. They’re a terrific team, making excellent shows, but currently that doesn’t seem to be enough.
It’s widely assumed that ITV wants out of children’s entirely: it’s a public service requirement imposed on them by OFCOM, and the costs to ITV are fairly large. They commission £27m-worth of programmes, but the lost advertising revenue has been estimated at £10m or more. Now, ITV1 spends something like £800m on programmes/year, so this isn’t huge – but bear in mind that the TV industry runs on typical margins of 15%. £40m is suddenly a big chunk of change that could ‘better’ be spent countering Sky, and indeed the BBC.
If OFCOM rolls over and further reduces the current 8 hours/week children’s requirement for ITV1, CITV could disappear entirely.
I’d worry about the impact such a move might have on the BBC. The public service requirement on ITV was partly a hold-over from the days when a broadcast license was ‘a license to print money,’ but it’s also there to give the BBC some competition. CBBC is a considerable asset in the run-up to charter renewal, but it’s still expensive, and it’s uneven – notably, they’ve not been interested in factual programming for some years. Could it find itself squeezed?
Even if CBBC continues in its current form, the loss of CITV would take £27m out of the industry, which would effectively decimate children’s production outside the BBC. It’s already spectacularly hard for independent production companies to make any money out of children’s – there’s not enough commissioning to go around – and offhand I can only think of HIT Entertainment who’d survive a total closure of CITV. Perhaps The Foundation too, and a couple of the larger preschool specialists.
Yikes. Suddenly I’m frustrated that SciCast has been delayed until next year – exploring alternative delivery models is partly what that project is about. I wanted to use it to provide data and background for other, subsequent, projects. It looks like that ‘subsequent’ timescale might have to be sooner than I’d thought.