Wait a minute, the children aren't in bed... (they’re watching TV on their tablet)

The BBC is mulling drastic action to drag children away from their computers

Media Editor

Children's television in Britain is under unprecedented threat as the under-12s turn to tablet devices and mobile phones for their entertainment.

The BBC, it was revealed today, is urgently looking at ways of developing new Apps, more complex computer games and easier access to YouTube in order to retain audiences on its children's services. A review of those services by the BBC Trust found that "BBC Children's feels it is at risk of falling behind children's fast-changing media consumption habits."

Although the Trust was generally complimentary about the quality of BBC children's programming, it noted that audiences for CBBC (which serves 6-12 year-olds) and CBeebies (which serves under-6s) fell last year. Some children appear to regard the children's channels as too babyish. The report found that 2.1m children aged 4-12 watch BBC1 and BBC2 every week but do not watch the children's channels.

The Trust called on the BBC executive to consider showing some of CBBC's "older-skewing content" after 7pm on mainstream channels in order to reach some of the 4.5m children aged 4-12 who watch television in the evenings.

"Some children responding to our consultation expressed frustration at the lack of games on mobile devices and stakeholders commented that the [BBC Children's] websites are relatively basic compared with some other commercial provision. There are indications that the limitations of the current offer - at present only a minority of content is available on smartphones or tablet - may be starting to impact on online reach figures."

The review spelt out the pace of technological change. In 2012, one in seven children aged 5-15 were using tablet devices - three times the number in 2011. In the same 12 months, the number of 5-15 year olds with smart phones grew from 20 per cent to 28 per cent.

In response, the BBC is seeking ways of incorporating more social media, especially Google's YouTube, into children's services. "The BBC's own research shows that children would value greater opportunities to engage with their friends," said the review.

"You Tube is just a phenomenon with children and they use it in ways that adults don't," the Director of BBC Children's Joe Goodwin, told The Independent. "If we were a private broadcaster we could make quicker moves in that area but because - rightly - the huge responsibility I have got with regards protecting children online, we have to tread very carefully."

He said that by persuading children to sign in to the BBC online, he was confident ways could be found to enable them to play games with friends "within our framework around child protection". But he said: "We can't compete with the depth and cost of console games and neither should we. Whatever we do is not going to replace Playstations and Xboxes."

To retain the interest of older children, CBBC is looking to develop more programming on the subjects of computing and coding.

The BBC recently launched the CBeebies Playtime! app featuring the popular Octonauts animation characters. A CBBC app is in the offing.

The BBC Children's department is planning to develop comedy shows that "can attract a family audience as well as children" to CBBC. It is also hoping that some successful BBC1 dramas "that work well with teenagers" can be edited or remade as "reworked, age appropriate, versions" for a children's audience.

Richard Bradley, managing director of Lion TV and executive producer of Horrible Histories, said: "These days you are competing with Hollywood and computer games with millions of dollars of investment and social media. You need to find a way to compete."

It's not that British children are short of television choice. In homes with satellite TV, 32 children's channels are available. Godwin described it as "the most competitive children's TV market in the world".

The problem is that, although ITV's CITV screens Horrid Henry and Channel 5 has the Peppa Pig brand in its Milkshake! children's output, the commissioning of new original British children's shows by any British broadcaster other than the BBC has virtually ended because it is not commercially attractive.

"You have a monopoly buyer which is not healthy for competition or creativity. Everyone has to go to the BBC, which only has so much many and so many slots," said John McVay, of the independent production sector's PACT.

And the Trust review noted that the BBC Children's department will have increasingly less money to spend as it tries to address the challenges of reacting to fast-changing audience behaviour. Its budget will decrease from £101.7m in 2011-2012 to £91m in 2016-2017. "The BBC's the only game in town but it's under huge pressure," said McVay, who complained of a dearth of British children's drama shows. "The diet [of children's audiences] should not be exclusively teen soaps based in Los Angeles."

The Trust reported that only 20 per cent of original children's programmes are made in Britain. In homes with satellite and cable television, Disney outperforms CBBC (although CBeebies is the most popular pre-school channel).The television publicist James Herring said big American producers such as Disney were the global powerhouses in children's production. "The American model is to make 50 to 60 episodes and build a brand with merchandising, tours and theme park rides."

It is 32 years since the invention of Postman Pat - and Bob the Builder first went on air in 1998. Tim Dams, editor of Televisual, said new tax breaks for animation productions were helpful but he described the current low proportion of home-grown children's content as "incredible". He said: "I can't think of any other genre where that's the case."

Godwin is especially proud of the long-running Newsround. "Broadcasters around the world marvel at the BBC's commitment to four news bulletins a day for kids."

He cited Deadly 60, the Tracy Beaker spin-off The Dumping Ground and the animation Tree Fu Tom, as some of the department's biggest recent successes. "I don't think they're ever going to be of the order of a Disney princess in terms of global domination but that's not what we are here for."

GREAT BRITISH CHILDREN'S TV BRANDS

Postman Pat

Created in 1981 by children's author John Cunliffe and TV producer Ivor Wood. The Royal Mail's greatest ambassador went round the world and had his own theme village at Longleat. TV run lasted until 2008.

Bob the Builder

Began in 1998 and developed into an international brand that made a fortune for production company HIT Entertainment.

Peppa Pig

Starring a five-year-old pig nimated in London by production company Astley Baker Davies, launched in 2004 and broadcast by Channel 5 and Nick Jr. Has a theme park in Hampshire.

Tracy Beaker

Adapated from a book character created by author Jacqueline Wilson in 2002, evolved into spion offs Tracy Beaker Returns and now CBBC's The Dumping Ground.

Horrible Histories

Made by Lion TV, it uses comedy actors to re-enact moments in history. Began in 2009 and is working on its sixth series. The CBBC show is admired by Ofsted for making history popular in the classroom.

Deadly 60

Children's BBC's newest hit, the CBBC show features presenter Steve Backshall tracking down the world's deadliest animals.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£350 p/d (Contract): Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Web Developer (PHP /...

Guru Careers: Entry-Level Account Executive

£18 - 22k (DOE): Guru Careers: Entry-Level Account Executive to join a full se...

Guru Careers: Account Director

£38 - 45k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Account Director to join a full ser...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Communications Executive - eCRM / digital comms

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Communications Executive -...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks