According to BBC News just 17% of Childrens Television broadcast in the UK is actually produced in the UK – which is nice.
Ok so I know the PC thing to say right now is that children shouldn’t be watching too much television anyway and so if only 17% of hundreds of hours of programming a week is produced in the UK then that should be enough.
But thats just bollocks.
I have two young children, a six year old and a four year old – both of whom have the same healthy interest in television and being entertained that I did at their age.
They get to watch TV for about two hours after school (nursery for the four year old) and about 30 minutes before bed and after dinner – television serves as another tool in the education of children and is an important part of social development.
As is the internet and I’m pleased to say that both my children have a firm grasp of the computer, mouse skills and in my six year olds case keyboard skills – they can both navigate the Cbeebies website comfortably and my daughter wants to write a blog – which should be interesting!
That aside – when I was in my pre-teen years my post school television consisted of switching between CITV and CBBC and apart from the odd American cartoon was primarily made up of home grown shows.
Although I have to say I spent most of my time switching to the channel showing the cartoon – but that’s beside the point.
Now my children have a choice of dozens of childrens channels showing a wide range of American programming – in fact apart from Horrid Henry and a few others on CITV and the odd re-make of an American show on other networks – British Childrens productions are mainly coming from Aunty.
CBBC and Cbeebies still have their share of American shows or shows made in America but dubbed with British accents but they are still the only channels with a majority of home grown shows.
In fact here are the figures for the most popular childrens shows between 24 September and 01 October (according to BARB).
Newsround (CBBC One) – 1.7m
Sarah Jane Adventures (CBBC One) – 1.3m (pictured)
Blue Peter (CBBC One) – 0.9m
Shaun The Sheep (CBBC One) – 0.8m
So – where shows are home grown and have a reasonably large budget and are on one of the main networks – they can get reasonable ratings – the fifth most popular was Lizzie McGuire but the less said about that the better.
The problem is – with the exception of merchandising and brand licences – there isn’t that much money in Children’s Televison – it’s only the really big stuff (that isn’t really aimed at young children) that gets anything near an audience that can recoup its money in advertising.
So OfCom are calling for a national debate on the future of home grown childrens programming – suggesting other ways are found to encourage the commercial sector to start producing shows for younger audiences.
According to the OfCom report investment in childrens television by the big commercial broadcasters, Channel 4, ITV, and five has more or less halved since 1998 and it was already declining by that point.
So whats the answer? How do you get a commercial sector facing declining revenue from advertising, no trust in premium phone lines and a reducing revenue across the board to spend MONEY on something that isn’t likely to make a great deal back.
One answer might be tax breaks or similar incentives from the government – so any broadcaster producing a recommended qouta of childrens TV a week gets X amount.
But I’m not sure that will be enough of a long term incentive – other ideas put forward have included using some of the proposed Public Service Broadcasting money (non-BBC) being given to indies to make childrens shows or even programmes for podcast.
Something needs to be done though – my children are bright and intelligent but after a couple of hours in front of crap American shows my daughter has started developing a twang to her accent and an attitude not becomming of a clever British girl.
In fact an icon of Playschool – Floella Benhamin agrees.
She told BBC Breakfast “We don’t want our children to grow up with American accents, we want them to learnabout the culture and diversity around them”.
Plus – if we emmerse pre-teens in British made television then they may well grow up to become the next generation of great programme makers – like those in their 20s and 30s making some of the best British television of all time RIGHT NOW.
If we don’t do something about this desire to ‘buy American’ by broadcasters as it’s the cheapest option – the next generation of great programme makers might just be making the same, sanitised television that litters the US networks.