A lively debate kicked off proceedings at this year’s Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield.
The panel was made up up BBC Children’s Alice Webb; Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture Media and the Digital Economy, Anna Home, chair of the Children’s Media Foundation; and Claudio Pollack, group director of Ofcom’s content, consumer and external affairs group.
The underlying theme was the future of children’s, particularly in a digital age and how the quality of children’s broadcasting could be ensured with platforms like YouTube gaining increasing traction.
Pollack said that “the democratisation of production is a benefit but also there is a threat to high quality production.”
This gave rise to concerns about online security and creating safe areas for children to go.
Webb explained that while she felt passionately about this, she wasn’t sure what the answer was:
“There are currently unofficial CBBC YouTube platforms, we need to be in those spaces. If we’re not, other people are going to be there doing it in our name.”
Vaizey, meanwhile, believed that moves to introduce children’s versions of YouTube were a good move forward, but didn’t feel there was a need to have increased regulation.
Despite online viewing rising, Webb revealed that the BBC was reaching 44% of UK children every week through both traditional and digital channels. As a public service broadcaster (PSB), the BBC has a remit to deliver children’s content, but it stands out as the main investor in production in this sector.
When challenged as to why Ofcom didn’t require more output from the other PSB’s Pollack argued that Channel 4 had made a “serious commitment” to providing family viewing for 10-14 year olds at peak times.
Home countered that this wasn’t exactly “compelling” firstly because they probably wouldn’t want to watch with their parents and secondly because they should have content specifically aimed at them.
When asked about quotas, Pollack said that it wasn’t workable, while Ed Vaizey felt that it should be more about deregulation. He pointed to the tax breaks that had been introduced in the previous budget, but Home said they were “a drop in a very big ocean.”
She believes that instead that a fund should be set up, separate from the licence fee, to pay for the production of UK children’s content.
“We’ve been on a journey, we’re not just on the TV in the corner of the room anymore. There’s more we need to do. We need to compete, and that costs money,” added Webb.
From the audience, Blue Zoo’s Oli Hyatt asked Webb if this was the case, why didn’t the BBC invest more in original children’s content. After all, he argued, if children are 19% of the audience, why do they only have 5% of the content budget?
“We have the two leading channels,” responded Webb. “We don’t just measure it by the spend on children’s, but we spend £93 million, however the audience gets much more than just the content commissioned by BBC Children’s: for example Learning content and prime time family viewing like Bake Off and The Voice are all made by other parts of the BBC.”
For the latest on the Children’s Media Conference, you can read the blogs on its website.