The BBC has banished children’s television to a "ghetto" by axing the dedicated slots for programmes on BBC1 and BBC2, the creator of the hit series Teletubbies has claimed.
Regular weekday teatime children's programming disappeared from BBC1 before Christmas, to be replaced by ratings-boosting soaps and game-shows, ending a 60-year broadcasting tradition.
Favourites including Newsround and Blue Peter now air exclusively on the digital Children’s BBC channel, with CBeebies the sole home for pre-school programming.
The move was criticised by Anne Wood, the creator of the globally-successful shows Teletubbies and In The Night Garden. “It ghettoises children’s programmes. It is a completely different attitude to the one that scheduled Magic Roundabout before the 5.40pm news,” Ms Wood told Radio Times.
With digital switchover now complete and audiences falling to less than 1,000 for some BBC1-screened children’s shows, the BBC argues that the move to dedicated children’s channels, backed by £100 million of funding, makes sense.
“Well, on the one hand it is inevitable. But it is dismissive of children,” said Ms Wood, creative director of independent producer Ragdoll. “There is a certain amount of overlooking of the fact that children’s programmes do get a wider audience than people are aware of. Just as children’s literature does.
“In my long career, I have frequently had letters from older people who have enjoyed my programmes as much as children do. A lot of the reason older people like to watch children’s programming is because it is life-enhancing.”
Ms Wood also questioned why CBeebies received only £28.5m in funding, compared to the £78.3m which CBBC gets to entertain older children. “I don’t think there will be another Night Garden, or Teletubbies, because of the cost of live animation,” she warned.
However, the move to digital was welcomed by creator of the cult children’s books Horrible Histories, which have been adapted into an award-winning BBC series. “It’s progress,” said Terry Deary. “The fact that children’s shows have been on BBC1 since the war doesn’t mean they should continue, and to hang on to them would be a very backward step.”
Horrible Histories will be shown in a 5.45pm tea-time CBBC slot. “Ghetto is a very emotive word, and implies the children’s channels are inferior. Not at all,” the author argued.
“If you’re interested in sport, you go to a sport ‘ghetto’. If I want to watch history, I’ll watch the History channel. Putting children’s shows on the children’s channels is perfectly logical. Once television streaming goes properly online, and becomes the way everyone watches TV, people will stop looking at channels in the old, conservative way.”
Jacqueline Wilson, author of the Tracy Beaker novels, which are the source of a new CBBC spin-off, The Dumping Ground, regretted the loss of a shared family viewing experience.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m King Canute and the waters of modern technology are drowning me completely,” she told the magazine.
“When children’s programming was on the ordinary BBC, one might catch a little of it by chance. And I’d think, ‘Oh, that’s very sweet, and perfect family viewing.’ Whereas when children tune into CBBC or CBeebies, it’s a sort of dividing mechanism.
“If a children’s show works really well, it does have an adult audience as well as a child audience. Whenever I’m on Blue Peter, for example, the amount of adults who stop me on the street and say they saw me on the show is amazing.”
The BBC said it would broadcast on-air promotional trails on BBC1 and BBC2 to alert children that their favourite programmes had moved. CBBC today launches a new art show for younger viewers, Totally Rubbish, in which useless items are transformed into something useful.
Joe Godwin, director of BBC Children’s, said: "Our young viewers are our priority and the vast majority of children in the UK already tune into CBeebies and CBBC to find their favourite BBC children's programmes. It’s simply not true that we're 'ghettoising' children's programmes - CBBC and CBeebies are the nation's most popular children's television channels and we also know that lots of 'former children' enjoy sitting down with their own kids to watch our programmes."
Kids TV favourites - Where are they now?
Newsround - 4.20pm-4.30pm CBBC
Horrible Histories - 5.15pm-5.45pm CBBC
Blue Peter - 5.45-6.15pm CBBC Thursday & 1.25pm-1.55pm Saturday
In The Night Garden - 6.20pm – 6.50pm CBeebies
Sooty - 10.25am-10.35am CITV
My Parents Are Aliens - 5.25pm-5.55pm CITV