Proposals must have buy-in from all PSBs for a chance of success
It’s easy to succumb to waves of nostalgia when thinking about children’s programming, wistfully looking back to the golden age of your youth.
For me, that means occasionally humming the Jossy’s Giants theme tune or sighing longingly at the memory of Julia Sawalha delivering a dressing down to one of her Press Gang.
I have similar fond memories (albeit as an adult) of the fantastic live-action kids’ programming that was around when I joined Broadcast, such as CITV’s My Parents Are Aliens and My Life As A Popat.
The latter won a Children’s Bafta and was promptly cancelled, a victim of the funding crisis in kids’ TV that has shown no sign of abating ever since.
The £60m BFI-administered fund has the potential to provide a considerable shot in the arm for live-action children’s programming, but there are still many unanswered questions about how it will work and, crucially, the appetite for its take-up.
“Each PSB could form a powerful FAANG-busting relationship with older children by offering high-quality British stories that resonate, inspire and entertain”
As BFI director Ben Roberts told the Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield, engagement from ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 is crucial if it is to succeed. Let’s hope they go for it.
Each of the commercial PSBs could form a powerful FAANG-busting relationship with older children by offering them high-quality British stories that resonate, inspire and entertain – but they are still going to need to stump up 50% of the cash for programming supported by the fund.
It feels like a significant strategic rubicon for kids’ programming, because so much of the burden of origination now falls on the BBC, with some support from specialists such as Nickelodeon and Disney. If this initiative fails, it’s hard to see too many more chances for the other PSBs.
Of course, the long-term future of the fund is far from secure. It was created from leftover licence fee cash originally allocated to fund broadband rollout and has the potential to be a headache for the BBC when it is fully spent.
Just as the corporation faces a dilemma over whether to continue to pay for licences for the over 75s (eating into its revenue) or demand that the elderly pay up (probable PR disaster), so it may have to choose between continuing to support its commercial rivals’ kids’ programming at its own expense, or pull the plug on a mini renaissance.
Alternatively, it could retain the fund but cut back its own spending on children’s programming – creating a zero sum game.
Perhaps it’s too early to be worrying about that. In the meantime, there is the chance to build momentum ahead of next April’s launch and encourage a sector that for too long has felt under pressure, under-resourced and underappreciated.
Chris Curtis is the editor of Broadcast