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BBC Children’s set for funding boost

CMC: The BBC has pledged to increase the annual budget of its children’s department by £34m (US$44m) over the next three years.

Alice Webb

The budget boost is set to be announced today at the Children’s Media Conference (CMC) here in Sheffield as part of the UK public broadcaster’s plans to reinvent itself “for a new generation.”

The £34m investment will see the budget for children’s programming for CBeebies and CBBC reach £124.4m by 2019-20, up from the current figure of £110m.

In those three years, a greater proportion of the budget will be allocated to online, with £31.4m set to be spent on content that will include video, live online programme extensions, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, quizzes, guides, games and apps, according to BBC News.

The news is the latest boost for the UK children’s industry this year, which has seen investment in UK-originated children’s programmes decline over the past decade.

Figures released by media regulator Ofcom last year highlighted that the amount of original programming for kids on UK channels was at its lowest level since 1998, with kids’ content made by commercial public service broadcasters (PSBs) falling by 93% since legislative changes in the early 2000s.

However, Ofcom is set to be given the power to force the commercial PSBs, which include ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, to commission more children’s content, a move that was welcomed by producers.

Tony Hall

Meanwhile, the BBC’s investment in children’s content comes as it faces increased competition from the rise of social media giants, while US players such as Netflix have steadily been stepping up their investment in children’s content in recent years.

“The way children and young people are watching and consuming programmes and other content is changing fast, and the BBC needs to respond. This investment will mean we can reinvent how we serve our youngest audience in the years ahead, while continuing to produce outstanding programmes on CBeebies and CBBC,” said a BBC source.

“Investment in British content – particularly for the young – is vital, unless we want more of our culture shaped and defined by the rise of West Coast American companies.”

The plans have already received the backing of the Children’s Media Foundation (CMF), whose chair and founding patron Anna Home said the investment “recognises the importance of this audience and the way children’s viewing habits are rapidly changing in the new digital world. It also recognises the need for the BBC as the national public broadcaster to invest in British content and culture for children, something CMF has been championing for many years.”

BBC director general Tony Hall and chairman Sir David Clementi are expected to publish the pubcaster’s first Annual Plan, which will set out its ambition for the coming year, later today.

Alice Webb, director of BBC Children’s, and James Purnell, director of BBC Radio & Education, will deliver the opening keynote at the CMC this evening.

The event kicks off today with the International Exchange, which will see broadcasters, producers, funders and investors from across the world meet up to discuss projects.

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