Ofcom research identifies changing nature of children's programming

03 October 2007

03 October 2007

Review sets out challenges and debate on the future of children's television

Ofcom today published the UK’s first comprehensive review of the children's television market. The review assesses the current state of children's programming and the prospects for the future delivery of a wide range of high-quality and original content for children.

Ofcom's study reveals significant changes in the children's media market, including:

  • Children have an increasing range of media available to them - nearly two thirds of 12-15 year olds have access to the internet and mobile phone while 'media stacking' is becoming increasingly common – over 80% of this age group regularly watch TV while engaging with other media devices;
  • Between 1998 and 2007 the number of dedicated children’s channels in the UK increased from six to 25;
  • Children still strongly prefer programming made in the UK, the majority of which is commissioned by the Public Service Broadcasters. While UK children's programmes accounted for 17% of total children’s hours, they delivered a 38% share of viewing.
  • Increased competition has brought about a declining share of viewing for public service broadcasters (including the BBC children's channels), falling from 50% of children's viewing to children's programmes in 2002 to 38% in 2006.
  • However, children's viewing to children’s programming has remained relatively stable, and has increased as a proportion of total viewing to all programmes.
  • Children are watching more children’s television and less programming aimed at adults – viewing to children's airtime has increased from 27% to 30% of total viewing since 2002.

There is increasing pressure on the funding models for the traditional commercial public service broadcasters to provide original programming for children. This fragmentation reflects the broader trend which will be considered in Ofcom's Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) review.

Ofcom's review has analysed the children's market and for the first time provides a significant evidence base for an informed debate about the future delivery of PSB for children. Ofcom’s analysis raises issues for children’s television that reflect those facing UK Public Service Broadcasting overall.

Key findings from the review:

  • Parents value highly the role that children's television plays in society, and believe that public service programming is particularly important.
  • However, fewer than half of parents think that the purposes and characteristics of public service programming are currently being delivered satisfactorily, especially in reflecting a range of cultures and opinions from around the UK.
  • While parents are relatively content with provision for pre-school and younger children, they have clearly indicated that they want more drama and factual programming for older children and young teenagers.
  • Against this, the future provision of new UK-originated programming for children, particularly drama and factual, looks increasingly uncertain other than the BBC's output. Investment in first-run original programming by the commercial Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) – ITV1, GMTV, Channel 4 and Five – has halved in real terms since 1998.
  • And while the commercial children's channels (eg Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network) commission some UK programming, this represents 10% of total UK investment in new programmes.
  • BBC spend has increased over the period, but its long term commitments to children’s programming, as set out in its service licences, are not sufficient to guarantee current levels of output and spend.
  • The BBC's programming is highly valued by parents but the decline in commercial programming provision raises questions about whether it is in the audience's long-term interest for the BBC to continue to strengthen its position as the largest commissioner of UK children's programming overall. Parents value programming from a range of different voices.
  • Children's media consumption continues to change rapidly, with older children and especially young teenagers using the internet and mobile phones more than ever before and watching less television.

Other Findings

Provision of children's programmes

  • Children have never had so much children’s programming available to them. From fewer than 1,000 hours per year in the 1950s and 1960s, the total volume of children's programming broadcast across all channels grew to over 20,000 hours in 1998, and since then has increased nearly six fold to 113,000 hours in 2006.
  • However, by 2006, just 17% of programmes broadcast were from the UK, and programming made in the UK and broadcast for the first time on a UK channel only accounted for around 1% of total hours.
  • The proportion of output broadcast by the main PSB terrestrial channels has also fallen over time. By 1998 these channels accounted for 22% of output. By 2006 this had fallen to just 4%.
  • While total hours of original UK children's programmes have remained stable since 1998, this reflects a strong increase in hours broadcast by the BBC. Hours broadcast on ITV1 fell by 60% and on Five by 58%.
  • 61% of children's programmes broadcast in 2006 were cartoons and, while this has remained stable over recent years, the proportion of drama has declined; from 17% of total output in 1998 to 12% in 2006.The proportion of pre-school programming has grown, from 10% of output in 1998 to 19% in 2006. Factual and entertainment programming accounted for 9% of output between them in 2006, down from 13% in 1998.

Viewing of children’s programmes

  • Over 70% of children claim to have a TV in their bedroom. They spend on average just under 16 hours per week watching TV. Over 90% of households with children have access to digital television.
  • Children watch more TV as they get older, but they also use the internet more, which grows to two thirds of the time they spend watching TV by the time they reach the age of 12. Among 5-7 year olds, 66% of children claim that television is the media activity they would miss the most. This falls to 27% among 12 to 15 year olds, with using the internet and mobile phones being missed just as much.
  • Viewing has fragmented. In 2006, 82% of children's viewing was to dedicated children's channels (like CBBC, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon), with only 18% going to the main terrestrial PSB channels.
  • And as a result, audiences to individual programmes have fallen. Fifty years ago, Pinky & Perky attracted an audience of over ten million. By 1976, Basil Brush, that year’s top-rated children’s TV show, had over 8 million viewers. By 2006, the highest rating children’s programme, Newsround, attracted just over 2 million viewers, one fifth of the 1956 heyday.

Views of parents and children

  • Children's programmes are important to parents, with 81% agreeing children's TV has an important social role to play, and 96% saying that the main channels should provide a variety of children's programmes.
  • Parents overwhelmingly believe that children's programming should deliver the purposes and characteristics of public service broadcasting; 85% believe that children's programmes should help children to learn and develop, 80% that they should increase a child's awareness of different types of people and alternative viewpoints, and 78% that they should represent different cultures and opinions from around the UK.
  • Satisfaction with the delivery of these purposes, however, is much lower, with fewer than half of parents believing the PSB purposes are being fulfilled by UK public service broadcasters.

The children’s television industry

  • The UK children's television market is undergoing a market transformation similar to that occurring in countries like France, Germany, Canada and Australia, with growth in the number of dedicated children's channels contributing to declining share by the main incumbent channels.
  • Overall revenues to commercial children's broadcasters in the UK has fallen from £178m in 2001 to £141m in 2006, a decline of 21%, with advertising revenues down by 36% during the same period.
  • At the same time, spend on first-run original children's programming across all broadcasters fell from an estimated £127m in real terms in 1998 to £109m in 2006 (14%). It peaked in 2002 at £163m but declined by one-third since then.

Responding to this review

The overall findings from this review demonstrate that the public purposes for children's programming are not fully being met in some areas. In order to consider this further, Ofcom welcomes views on main questions arising from its review which is available online - see Related Items. The closing date for responses is 20 December 2007.

In September 2007, Ofcom published the terms of reference for its second statutory review of the whole of public service broadcasting. The second PSB review was brought forward as a result of the rapidly changing nature of UK broadcasting, which the evidence in this report reinforces. We intend to publish stakeholders' responses to this report alongside the publication of the first phase of the PSB review, along with our proposed approach to children's television in the wider context of PSB.

In setting out these findings, Ofcom also recognises that many issues raised within this review will ultimately be for Government to consider and, where appropriate, the BBC Trust. Ofcom will be working with them to assess the options.

Next steps

The timings for the next phase in the future of children's television programming and the links with the PSB review are as follows:

20 December 2007: Closing date for responses;

Spring 2008: Phase 1 PSB Review published, including outline proposals for planned approach to children's programming in the context of the PSB review;

Autumn 2008: Phase 2 PSB review published (policy options);

Early 2009: Final PSB review statement.

Ofcom Chief Executive Ed Richards said: "This comprehensive study highlights the decline in homegrown commercial children’s TV production and the revolution in young people’s media consumption. The market has been transformed by increased competition and audience fragmentation. Parents are understandably concerned, and we now need a national debate on what measures, if any, can or should be taken."



1. Section 264 of the Communications Act requires Ofcom to report on the extent to which the existing television public service broadcasters - BBC, ITV, Channel 4, S4C, five and Teletext - have together fulfilled the purposes of public service broadcasting (PSB); with a view to maintaining and strengthening the quality of PSB for the future. This includes an assessment of the availability within those services of a suitable quantity and range of high quality and original programmes for children and young people.

2. The PSB Purposes and Characteristics were developed during Ofcom's 2004 PSB Review. The PSB Purposes are as follows:

Informing our understanding of the world - To inform ourselves and others and to increase our understanding of the world through news, information and analysis of current events and ideas.
Stimulating knowledge and learning - To stimulate our interest in and knowledge of arts, science, history and other topics through content that is accessible and can encourage informal learning
Reflecting UK cultural identity - To reflect and strengthen our cultural identity through original programming at UK, national and regional level, on occasion bringing audiences together for shared experiences
Representing diversity and alternative viewpoints - To make us aware of different cultures and alternative viewpoints, through programmes that reflect the lives of other people and other communities, both within the UK and elsewhere

3. Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services.