Broadcasters to be forced to invest more in British-made children's TV programmes

Laura Hughes
Bagpuss, the Magic Roundabout and the Clangers were all part of a golden era of children's television - warren allott

ITV and other public service broadcasters will be forced to invest more money on British-made children's programmes amid fears they are on the brink of "extinction".

Ofcom, the regulator, will be given the power to impose children's television "quotas" on broadcasters amid concerns a generation of children are growing up watching repeats and foreign imports.

The last Labour Government downgraded the importance of children's TV for public service broadcasters, leading to a 93 per cent fall in spending by commercial channels since 2003.

It represents a significant shift from what is seen as a golden era of children's television in the 1960s and 1970s, with shows such as Bagpuss, the Magic Roundabout and the Clangers.

Baroness Benjamin, the former children's television presenter and Lib Dem peer who secured the new powers for Ofcom, said: "Children’s programming is in serious decline. It is our responsibility to make sure that this does not continue. Our children and our grandchildren are entitled to the provision of quality programming that was there for us.

Bagpuss was one of the most popular children's TV programmes in the 1970s Credit: PA Photos/PA

"I feel so optimistic about the future of our children’s programming industry, which I am so passionate about, and I look forward to seeing this industry deliver even more of the world-renowned programming it is capable of."

Between 1998 and 2015, ITV's original children's programming fell from 424 hours a year to just 42, while Channel 5's fell from 353 hours to 30.

Channel 4's spending on children's television has fallen from 49 hours to zero.

The BBC is now responsible for 97 per cent of original children's programming in the UK on its two children's channels, CBeebies and CBBC.

Baroness Benjamin secured the new powers through an amendment to the Government's digital economy bill in the House of Lords last month, which was backed by the Government.

She highlighted the fact that spending on children's programming by broadcasters in the UK has fallen from £196million in 2004 to £89million in 2015.

Although children are watching more programmes online, almost nine in 10 of those aged between four and 16 still watch live television.

Baroness Buscombe, a Conservative whip, said: "The provision of a range of high-quality children’s programming must be a priority for the UK’s public service broadcasting system.

"The commercial public service broadcasters —ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5—have collectively been doing less and less since the Labour Government’s removal of children’s quotas in the Communications Act 2003.

"By 2014 the BBC accounted for 97 per cent of total spending by PSB channels on children’s programmes. Clearly, this does not suggest a healthy market."

Anne Wood, the founder of Teletubbies Credit: Tom Vickers/PA

Anne Wood CBE, who created Rosie and Jim and the Teletubbies, told the Telegraph:  “I am very lucky to have had some success in children’s television.

"But we need to be asking ourselves what is happening to our cultural heritage and our long tradition of children's programmes.

"Unfortunately, it is far less common now for new exciting children’s programmes to get through to British screens and children are being offered less choice.

"On this trajectory British-made children’s programmes are set for extinction. We really must be offering our children more choice.”

Baroness Benjamin warned Ofcom that it must use the powers to "deliver real change".

She said: "I am thrilled that we have reached a consensus that it is vital for Ofcom to urgently use the powers that the amendment will give it to deliver real change and to focus on the production of imaginative and creative new British programming for our children and grandchildren. I and others will be keeping a very close eye on the use of these powers to make sure that real change is achieved."

A Channel 4 spokesperson insisted the broadcaster "takes seriously its remit to cater to the interests of older children and young adults" and announced plans in 2016 to increase spending on programming appealing to that section of the audience. 

They said: "Channel 4 has engaged with Baroness Benjamin and the Government on these proposals throughout the passage of the Digital Economy Bill, and we welcome the flexible and multi-platform approach of this amendment”.

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