Warnings distinctly British children’s TV could vanish if subsidy ends
Government weighing whether to continue fund that covers costs of kids’ shows for public service broadcasters
British children could miss out on the next Peppa Pig or Bob the Builder if the government decides to stop subsidising television shows for young audiences, according to kids’ TV presenters.
They are warning that many distinctly British programmes for children could vanish from screens if ministers choose to cut funding for UK-made kids’ programmes later this month.
Ministers are currently weighing up whether to continue with the Young Audiences Content Fund, which was set up in 2018 and helps cover the cost of making children’s shows for public service broadcasters. It has been allocated £44m over a three-year trial to support the production of shows on channels ranging from E4 to Channel 5 and Welsh-language S4C.
However, the project’s future is now in doubt, with campaigners including former Play School presenter Floella Benjamin – now a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords – urging ministers to renew its funding.
Konnie Huq, who was the longest-serving female presenter in Blue Peter’s history, warned of the impact on children from relying on advertising-driven internet content. “The flipside of being able to choose whatever you want to watch on YouTube is there’s no one particularly policing this content,” she said. “As a society, we’re dumbing down on all fronts.”
She added: “We make sure kids are eating their broccoli and pay for all this good stuff to be put into their bodies and make them really healthy. But then it’s easy to shove them in front of a tablet as free babysitting.”
Huq said high-quality children’s television helps shape attitudes and teach children about the values we want as a society – as opposed to leaving kids to watch consumerist videos of toys being unwrapped on YouTube.
A government spokesperson said “no decision has been made” and discussions on the fund are ongoing.
There has been a massive reduction in the amount of children’s television produced over the last 15 years by the UK’s main public service broadcasters due to budget cuts, bans on the advertising of junk food to children and competition from YouTube and other streaming services.
Jackie Edwards, who runs the fund at the BFI, said it was “50/50” whether ministers will decide to renew their financial commitment. She said a relatively small amount of funding can make a huge difference in the cash-strapped British children’s television sector. “People point to some of the bigger more successful historic shows – Teletubbies, Bob the Builder, Peppa Pig,” she said. “None of those shows would get made if they were setting out today.”
One issue the BFI has encountered is that British children find they identify with the more diverse range of individuals making videos on YouTube, as opposed to the more narrow range of individuals featured in children’s shows on the UK’s television channels.
She said reduced budgets mean television channels increasingly share the costs of making children’s television with overseas broadcasters, meaning the final programme is less distinctly British: “When you go and co-produce with other countries, editorially and culturally it becomes diluted. We want to make content that’s relevant to UK audiences.”
Some British shows such as Peppa Pig have been so successful overseas that US parents have complained their children are speaking with English accents – but the equivalent show nowadays may be created with more obviously international appeal.
Edward urged ministers to consider the impact of children’s television: “Public service broadcasting should be about expanding a child’s understanding of the world. Algorithms drive kids down a rabbit hole of more of the same. You want them to have a varied and nourishing diet, as opposed to fast food.”