Children’s television makers have said that distinctly British programmes for young viewers could vanish from screens and be replaced with imported shows, after ministers quietly closed a £44m fund designed to support the sector.
The Young Audiences Content Fund had been intended to help British broadcasters compete with the globalised children’s output available on YouTube and cartoons on US streaming services such as Netflix.
Anna Home, chair of the Children’s Media Foundation campaign group, called on the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, to reverse the decision: “Now we face a definite decrease in the number and range of programmes being made for young people in the UK … and in fact it’s worse as the BBC is facing government-imposed budget cuts of its own over the next few years too.”
The pilot scheme had operated for the last three years with a remit to help revive British children’s programming on channels such as ITV and Channel 5. The UK’s commercial broadcasters have massively cut spending on original children’s content after the 2006 ban on advertising junk food to children, essentially handing control of the British children’s TV sector to the BBC.
The decision to close the fund comes shortly after Dorries announced plans to freeze the BBC licence fee, forcing the broadcaster to review its own spending plans.
Home argued that children should be able to watch distinctly British programmes that reflect their own lives and culture, rather than international content that could have been produced anywhere in the world: “A generation of young people denied their own stories will grow up to be a generation with little loyalty for the institutions and values of the society in which they live.”
The fund – along with a much smaller pot for radio programming – helped cover up to 50% of the costs of making a children’s series, with money coming from an unspent levy allocated in the 2010 BBC licence fee settlement. Continuing the fund would have required the government to find another source of funding.
The Children’s Media Foundation has suggested the government could reinstate £16m of cash it took away from the fund during the Covid pandemic – or charge US streaming companies such as Netflix and Disney+ a levy to fund British content.
The former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq previously spoke out in support of the fund and said society should care more about the media that children were watching. Ella dijo: “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.”
A government spokesperson said the scheme would end in March and would then be evaluated: “We are undertaking a wider review of public service broadcasting to ensure it remains relevant and can continue to meet the needs of UK audiences.”