Junior choice 

3 October 2007 tbs.pm/60

Home-grown children’s television in peril

The message seems to be clear. If there’s a desire to protect UK-originated children’s television from being the sole preserve of the BBC, then Ofcom will have to make provision for such programming in a particular broadcaster’s public service remit (or establish another channel) and enforce such quotas, which would almost be a fundamental shift in regulatory policy.

ITV in particular has had years of increasing freedom, with regional programming cut back to the bare minimum under the (mis)conception that (a) there was no demand for regional programming and (b) allowing ITV to maximise its audience figures would result in a strong, world-beating broadcaster able to compete with the best that America could offer. Ha ha.

However the reality was that ITV just wanted to cut costs and show generic chat/makeover shows nationally that were cheaper to produce than separate programmes for different regions. And now ITV (and others) want to do the same with children’s programmes; in particular those that are home-produced as opposed to cheap imports.

This time there is a problem. With regional programming, ITV was principally only cutting back its own staff and replacing what was lost with equivalent programming that served no regional purpose because ITV successfully convinced the world that there was no demand for such regionality in England (despite later surveys showing regional differences in taste).

With children’s programming, it’s not just a whole independent sector cultivated over a very long time (more than fifty years to be precise) that’s in danger, but the fact that indigenous children’s television is still considered to be very important from a cultural point of view.

When Sesame Street was introduced in specific ITV regions back in 1972, it initially caused a major upset since many thought that it would be too ‘Americanised’ for young children, and that was just one programme. Nowadays there’s no end of foreign-produced children’s programming, and it has become an accepted part of children’s television in general.

Perhpas the real issue is that some imports consist of cheaply produced and dubbed generic cartoons with little or no educational value. Of course you can also have cheaply-made and badly produced British children’s TV, and this is where things could get interesting since Ofcom may have to finally make a judgement on ‘quality’.

Up to now, Ofcom has steered away from defining what represents quality television since it was reluctant to impose quality judgements on broadcasters, but it may have to get off the fence and define some form of quality assurance as part of any measure designed to protect UK-produced children’s television to ensure that what gets produced isn’t worthless garbage.

The MediaGuardian article also has a misconception, as in “Fifty years ago Pinky and Perky was watched by more than 10 million, and by 1976 more than 8 million tuned in for Basil Brush” – originally both shows were peaktime family entertainment as opposed to their modern incarnation(s) shown (and pidgeonholed) as part of CBBC.

But maybe that might just show the way forward for some forms of domestically-produced children’s TV, namely by repackaging children’s characters as family entertainment.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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David Hastings Contact More by me