By Oli Hyatt 27-07-2015
The media landscape is changing rapidly, and the BBC will have to change with it if it is to thrive as a modern, dynamic media organisation. As a consequence, the cost, design and thinking behind a compulsory television licence fee is being challenged as never before.
The BBC Charter Review public consultation asks some hard questions but equally proposes interesting and innovative alternatives to the status quo. In this context, it is perfectly valid to question the rationale for the BBC, the shape and funding of its services and the way in which those services are best delivered.
The green paper has been portrayed as the beginning of the end for the licence fee, but Animation UK believes it should be viewed in the context of a government that has consistently supported and promoted the growth of our screen industries and, in broader terms, the creative economy.
We hope the result of the green paper will not be a smash and grab of the Corporation’s budget, but a distilling of the BBC’s work into its core public service broadcasting (PSB) remit that will allow the organisation to thrive in a rapidly evolving broadcast environment over the next charter period.
In this regard, we hope that for the children’s television and animation industry – which has had to deal with a sharp decline in the commissioning of original content since 2002 – the green paper presents a golden opportunity.
The UK children’s TV ecosystem has been struggling over the past decade or so. This is primarily down to the rapid rise in standalone channels, the junk food advertising ban and the growth of on-demand and catch-up services.
This has led commercially driven broadcasters to reduce their commissioning budgets for children’s programming and fulfil any public service remit with repeats and foreign content.
The BBC has become the only game in town for the production of first-run originals but it now produces less original content than it did before it had two dedicated children’s channels in CBeebies and CBBC. Indeed, we have seen a 64% drop in original children’s content in a decade.
This has drastically shrunk the pool of funds that animators and children’s programme makers can access to produce new shows, and means that British children are exposed to content that fails to culturally reflect them and their life experiences.
The creative sector has also lost significant opportunities to produce original content of broader commercial value in terms of merchandise, exports and spin-offs.
Animation UK, therefore, welcomes the green paper as the perfect chance to put children’s programming right back at the heart of public service broadcasting.
In particular, we are excited to see proposals brought forward for a pot of contestable funding for children’s television to address the current monopoly the BBC has on this content.
We note the paper’s emphasis on plurality in the context of balancing the overall children’s PSB system, but strongly suggest plurality be applied equally to the BBC’s internal funding model.
Currently, the BBC allocates a mere 5% of its programming budget towards children despite their 18% audience share.
Animation UK also cautions against any contestable pot being funded through the ‘top slicing’ of the corporation’s budget. Instead, it should be funded by paring down those BBC programmes that cannot truly be considered part of its core remit, not from the existing children’s budget.
While competition is needed for the BBC in children’s commissioning, any further decline in programming budgets for CBBC or CBeebies would further diminish this vital PSB genre.
In its recent PSB review, UK media regulator Ofcom recognised that the decline in children’s programming was a serious concern. We therefore strongly welcome the government putting forward bold proposals to help this long-neglected audience.
We believe greater investment in this area would further stimulate exports of British cultural children’s content by supporting the chancellor’s animation tax credit and the recently introduced children’s tax credit.
We have seen a 95% decline in spend on children’s programming over the course of about 10 years on the commercial PSBs.
Contestable funding is a proposition Animation UK has been promoting for some time to bring competition to the BBC, giving children the quality and range of programming they deserve. However, it would be unpalatable for this to come at the cost of the current children’s funding at the BBC.