Children’s television is failing.
The UK government has recognised a market failure in production of kids’ TV content – an inevitable side effect of a 40% drop in funding over the last decade*.
This has led to new initiatives from both Ofcom (the media regulator) and DCMS (the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) to find urgent solutions to the inadequacies of children’s television content.
With kids’ programming now consisting of up to 98% repeats* of old content and much less new, high quality content in production, there has never been a better time to get up to speed on the issues (and solutions) within kids’ television.
In the first of this series of blogs exploring the challenge of kids’ TV and how it can be better used to inform children about the world around them, we summarise the 5 key things you need to know about kids’ television.
1. TV is one of the main sources of information about the wider world for children in the UK
Despite the fast-changing nature of media consumption, for many children in the UK, television is still one of their main sources of information about the wider world*. Though this presents a potentially invaluable opportunity to use the platform to help our children better understand the world around them, it is important that its content can compete with the growing pull of online platforms like YouTube and Instagram. Unlike our public service broadcasters (BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Channel 5), these online platforms are neither regulated for accuracy, nor under any obligation to produce content which doesn’t cause harm or encourage the spread of ‘fake news’.
2. Children want to know more about the world
Our own research shows that 86% of children think it is important that they know what is happening in other countries, but only 9% feel that they know a lot about what is happening outside the UK*.
This illustrates a real appetite for global stories, and an important gap in the market that broadcasters and producers should work to fill as part of the new efforts to improve children’s media.
3. Children’s TV needs to do a better job of preparing kids for the world
Though programmes such as CBBC’s Newsround and Sky’s FYI are doing an admirable job of featuring a wide range of international stories, children are still hugely limited in their exposure to stories and cultures from outside the UK. This is especially troubling given the increasing demands of the globalised world and workplace that our children are growing up into.
Are we laying the foundations for a generation unengaged and unaware of the world outside the UK’s borders?
Most experts agree that ensuring children understand the world outside their immediate environment is crucial – and television has a significant role to play in this.
“Children are affected by global politics and events everyday – whether they realise it or not – and the more they engage with this the better they’ll be able to advocate for change, speak out for their own rights and those of other children, and realise their potential.” – Kevin Watkins, Chief Executive of Save the Children UK.
4. There isn’t enough international kids’ TV content
53% of children we polled wanted to see more TV and video about what happens in other countries*. This is unsurprising given that in 2018, there were only 77 hours of
new international content on CBBC, CITV, CBeebies and Channel 5*.
Reduced funding and growing online competition is making it increasingly difficult to get quality television made for younger audiences – particularly the bigger budget international stories. However, Sky’s successful launch of its new kids’ news show, FYI, demonstrates that there is a demand for a broader range of stories, and broadcasters should be incentivised to produce more of this international content.
5. We have an opportunity to change kids’ TV for the better
“We need to do everything we can, right now, to create a media future for children that we can be proud of, so we can all look back in 10 years’ time and be sure that we didn’t let a generation down.” Tony Hall, Director General of the BBC.
We can all agree that we want our children to grow up as engaged and informed citizens, able to live and work in an increasingly globalised world. However, the current media landscape is failing to provide our children with the necessary content to help them understand their world, and its multitude of different people, politics and cultures.
As part of the government’s plans to save children’s TV, DCMS will be launching the Young Audiences Content Fund in April 2019. With £57 million set aside, this fund hopes to encourage more production of quality content for children by the commercial public service broadcasters like ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.
Though this is a good start, it doesn’t address the growing deficit of international kids’ content. We are therefore calling for DCMS to ensure that some of this fund is reserved for producing content that informs kids about the wider world.
Children’s TV is failing to teach our kids about the world. This must change if we want to raise a generation open to #diversity + tolerant of other cultures.
In the Spring, IBT will be publishing a new research report that looks at how children see the world, where they get their information from and how new media content can be more effectively targeted at children to engage them with what is happening in the wider world.
*Facts and figures based on research carried out for our upcoming ‘The Challenge of Children’s TV‘ report. These findings will be published in April.