Friday, November 24, 2006

Save Kids TV - a very modern dilemma

I don't often stray into the political on this blog, but I have recently become aware of the very serious threat to children's tv that is being posed by the loss of advertising revenue now that food ads are likely to be banned.

Here I find myself in the horns of a dilemma, as principles dear to me in both my private and professional life have clashed thanks to the laws of unforseen consequences.

As a mum I have always hated the ads on CITV, and my kids rarely watch it as a result. Mind you, I have always told them advertising is a form of lying, so perhaps I should expose them more. I was also a keen advocate of Jamie Oliver's school dinners campaign, so I am hardly likely to weep at the loss of ads for junk food that will make my kids unhealthy. I also appreciate the points the wonderful Mad Muthas raised on their blog today about the shameless and frankly immoral way advertisers target our children (to see more, go to:


ITV have already cut down on their output for kids because kids tv is so expensive to make, and the loss of revenue that will result from losing food advertising will have catastrophic results well beyond what could have been imagined by the very well intentioned idea not to advertise crap to kids.

If ITV stop making kids' programmes that pretty much leaves the Beeb with a clear run at it. No problem you might say, CBBC is way ahead of its rivals anyway.

Actually, I think it is a problem. And a very big one.

The BBC itself wants the competition, believing it is better for the industry as a whole and our kids as a result.

And the independent companies like Ragdoll and Cosgrove Hall who over the years have provided such a huge number of children's favourites cannot simply rely on one customer - the Beeb.

With my professional hat on I can also the knock on effects it will have on my industry. There has long been a healthy and symbiotic relationship between publishing and kids' tv. Many children's classics: Postman Pat, Rosie and Jim, Tots TV, to name three I have worked on, spawn a whole slew of children's books. And while some licensed product is without doubt rubbish, not all of it is, and it provides much needed revenue for publishers to give them the freedom to take risks on less commercial but more literary projects. The relationship works both ways - a tv adaptation of a book can have huge implications for both publishers and authors, and the resulting sales can boost many a publishers' profit margins.

So a serious loss of children's tv output will have a hugely detrimental effect on my industry. Not only will our children have less choice about what to watch, they may well end up with less choice about what to read too.

Which is why though my initial response from my mum's head was to say, YAY! when I realised tv advertising for kids was being banned, when I understood what the implications were I stopped cheering. With both my heads, as mum and children's editor, I cannot but look at the future of children's tv with alarm.

And why I would urge you to join the campaign to Save Kids TV. To find out more, go to

In the meantime, send the letter below to all your friends. The more we as parents lobby, the more notice they will take...

September 2006
Dear Parent,
Did you know that ITV has decided to stop making children’s television? They have closed down their children’s department and haven’t commissioned a new show since last December, which means pretty soon Citv will only show repeats. You might think there’s far too much kids’ TV anyway, so isn’t that a good thing? Sadly, the answer is ‘No’.
British children’s TV has been strong for decades because the government requires broadcasters to make it so. ITV has a legal obligation to provide 8 hours of kids’ shows a week. In doing so, it has enriched the lives of generations of children with programmes as diverse as My Parents Are Aliens, Art Attack, Magpie, Children’s Ward, How?, Tiswas, Press Gang, Jungle Run, Engie Benjy and Robin of Sherwood.
But ITV has stopped commissioning new kids’ programmes because quality kids’ TV is expensive to make and rarely recoups its costs. With a likely ban on some forms of advertising to kids, the pressure on commercial broadcasters is even greater. What they would like to do is stop showing children’s programmes on ITV1 altogether and replace them with cheaper adult shows that attract more advertising revenue. There is the new digital CITV channel and with 10 hours of programmes a day ITV will try and tell you this fulfils its commitment to kids. But without new shows, what will be shown in those 10 hours? Repeats and cheap foreign imports.
It’s true there are many commercial kids’ channels but they are all owned by foreign multi-nationals, which don’t have the resources or the commitment to make UK shows for UK kids. Relying solely on the BBC is hardly giving children a choice. Besides, without ITV’s competition the BBC could reduce its commitment to kids. The BBC is already discussing moving kids’ television off BBC1.
At its best, British children’s TV nourishes young minds and spirits with culturally relevant drama, news, factual shows, and fun. But without new sources of funding, our children face an unhealthy diet of low quality repeats and imports.
It’s not too late. To help save quality children’s TV in this country, ask OFCOM, at Riverside House, 2a Southwark Bridge Road, London SE1 9HA, to hold the broadcasters to their legal obligation to support quality and diversity in children’s television. Write to your local MP, (to find your MP, go to, urging him or her to support proposals to create the additional funding needed to guarantee quality UK programmes for UK children. Finally, sign up at for more detail, future news and campaign ideas.
Yours faithfully,Save Kids’ TV, a campaign set up to defend children’s
Our children deserve the best television…


mad muthas said...

dja know - that's a very good point and one that had completely passed me by. i'll have to think about this - cos (as usual) i've gone off on one without thinking through the details. we should talk.

Jane Henry said...

To be honest, I was in your camp totally before I read the article about it in last week's Bookseller. I had heard rumblings about ITV not fulfilling its remit, but hadn't appreciated the consequences. There are some fairly big hitters signed up to this campaign too - Tony Robinson and Michael Palin to name two.

I don't know how to contact you, but you can email me from the blog.

love Jx

Mad Twin said...

Ah but can I be controversial here?

Don't you think ITV are blackmailing us? "We can only afford to pay for good children's TV if you put up with your children being bombarded by crap advertising. " Surely they can think of other ways to fund this?They are big company with lots of dosh and they have only been banned from the food advertising haven't they? I would imagine the toy advertising is still lucrative. Plus which, as you point out, there is a ready made consumer base for books and toys from ITV's programmes. This would probably fund a whole raft of good telly.

So I am with you in challenging them but not at the expense of reintroducing advertising food that we really don't want our children eating. We do tell our kids to resist adverts but it is just such hard work, and advertisers know what they are doing. A little help from the TV companies would be appreciated!

Maybe now Michael Grade is back in charge he will change ITV's mind. Definitely worth lobbying him I would think.

Jane Henry said...

Well hallo other half. Why doesn't it surprise me you're being controversial????

I don't think anyone in the campaign is saying they want crap food commercials to come back. The problem is one of cost. For eg, according to the article I read in the Bookseller the Beeb spends £76m on kids programmes out of a budget of £113m, and costs are rarely recouped. CITV has been loss making and they have alread closed Granada Kids and are trying to wriggle out of their statutory requirements to provide 8 hours of kids tv a week. As far as I can tell the campaign wants to bring in a mixed economy of funding into kids tv, from government money/sponsorship etc.

Tony Robinson is quoted at the end of the article saying: "It is my belief that, on our own, we will fail, because anything we say will be categorised as vested interest... If we are to succeed we need the trade unions, The Women's Institue, school governors and head masters, because it's on that snapshot of wider society that governments tremble. At stake is the imagination of our children, and I don't know any prize that is more worth fighting for."

I for one agree with that.

Jane Henry said...

PS Michael Grade??? Michael Grade??? The man who got rid of DR Who??? Don't think I'd trust him with the future of kids' telly!!!

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