Anyone who works in kids television – or indeed who has young children themselves – would do well to take a look at the BBC Trust’s review of the corporation’s children’s services.

The report, published today, rightly flags up the strengths of the BBC’s children’s department, saying that CBBC and CBeebies are performing well and are much-loved by children and parents alike.

But it also outlines many of the challenges facing the department as it seeks to keep up with children’s changing media consumption habits – while operating on a much-reduced budget.

Here are some of the stand out facts to come out of the report:

– The UK now has 32 digital TV channels dedicated to children’s content. But only 20% of original programmes are currently made in the UK (many of which are made by the BBC).

– CBeebies and CBBC are the most watched kids channels in the UK for their respective target audiences. In 2012-13, CBeebies had a weekly reach of 48% of its target audience, more than twice as high as its nearest competitor, Disney Junior. CBBC currently reaches 36% of children 6-12, considerably higher than the Disney Channel (22%) and CITV (21%).

– But BBC Children’s does not perform as strongly in homes where children have more choice over what they watch. For example, CBBC has been overtaken by Disney as the most watched children’s channel in satellite and cable homes.

– The BBC Children’s budget has faced a 10.5% cut under the BBC’s Delivering Quality First (DQF) savings proposals, down from £101.7m in 2011-12 to £91m in 2016-17. The department is expected to meet the savings through increases in productivity and by earning additional commercial revenue. Savings also are expected to come from a cut in repeat fees as a result of stopping broadcasts on BBC1 and BBC2. BBC Children’s is reducing the commissioning budgets of CBBC and CBeebies by around 8% and 5% respectively to achieve a £6.1m saving in 2013/14. As a result, both services will commission slightly fewer original programmes over the next two years.

– BBC Children’s feels it is at risk of falling behind kids’ media consumption habits. The report says the interactive offer for both CBeebies and CBBC is relatively basic compared with some commercial rivals. It notes that only a minority of content works well on smart phones or tablets – and this may be impacting on reach. The report cites Ofcom stats that say around one in seven children aged 5-15 used a tablet device such as an iPad at home in 2012, a threefold increase since 2011.
– Older children are less inclined to watch CBBC or CBeebies, and CBBC struggles to inherit younger viewers moving on from CBeebies.

– The performance of CBeebies and CBBC is not uniform across the UK. Both continue to underperform in Northern Ireland in particular. Across the English regions, in 2012-13 CBBC’s weekly reach was nine points greater in the South (excluding London) compared with the North, where reach has declined year on year since 2010-11.

– The cost per user hour of CBeebies is very low in comparison with other BBC services. But the cost of CBBC is relatively highly, partly because of the type of shows it commissions, particularly drama.

– The BBC should do more to cater for young audiences after they move from CBBC to mainstream TV, radio and online services. Some 2.1m children watch BBC1 or BBC2 each week, but do not watch either CBeebies or CBBC.  In fact, reach of BBC TV and BBC Radio is lower among older children and teenagers compared with adults (except 16-24 year olds).

Tim Dams

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