1.1 Ofcom plans to commence a new project on the future of children's programming. This forms part of our overall work programme on the future of PSB in the digital age which includes our work on the future of Channel 4, the future of news, the potential role of the Public Service Publisher, non-news programming for the Nations and Regions of the UK and the Public Service Broadcasting Annual Report.
1.2 The project will look at the state of children’s media in the UK, examine the role of television within this, explore prospects for future delivery of a wide range of high quality and original content for children and propose potential policy options, if appropriate.
1.3 Under section 264 of the Communications Act, Ofcom has a statutory obligation regularly to review and report on the extent to which the purposes of PSB on television have been fulfilled, with a view to maintaining and strengthening the quality of public service television broadcasting in the UK (s264(3)(b)). One of the purposes of PSB is that [PSB] services, taken together, include what appears to Ofcom to be a suitable quantity and range of high quality and original programmes for children and young people (s264(6)(h)).
1.4 Substantive research work is beginning in February, with a research report expected to be published in summer 2007.
1.5 Ofcom referred to its intention to undertake this work in its draft Annual Plan 2007/2008.
1.6 We are experiencing a period of great change in the children’s media landscape. There are now many media competing for children’s attention. In addition to content available online and on mobile devices, children now have access to 18 dedicated children’s channels available on multi-channel platforms. These dedicated channels are available to over 63% of households with children. A further 20% of households with children have access to CBBC, CBeebies and CITV via Freeview. We are seeing viewing of children’s programming migrate to these specialist channels.
1.7 This transition presents a number of challenges. While Ofcom plans to begin a full PSB Review early in 2008, there are a number of factors which indicate that we should consider children’s programming as a special category in advance of this. These include:
1.8 All these factors indicate that it is timely to review children’s programming in advance of our next scheduled PSB Review. These terms of reference outline how Ofcom will undertake this work.
1.9 In carrying out our principal duty to further the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters and consumers in relevant markets, where appropriate by promoting competition, Ofcom has duties under the Communications Act 2003 to secure the availability throughout the UK of a wide range of television and radio services which (taken as a whole) are both of high quality and calculated to appeal to a wide variety of tastes and interests (s3(2)(c)).
1.10 In performing our duties, we must have regard to the desirability of promoting the fulfilment of the purposes of public service television broadcasting in the UK.
1.11 We must also have regard to the principles under which regulatory activities should be transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted only at cases in which action is needed.
1.12 Ofcom has a statutory obligation regularly to review and report on the extent to which PSB broadcasters have, during the relevant period, provided television services which taken together, fulfil the PSB purposes outlined in the Communications Act (s264). These purposes include in relation to children’s programming, that “those services (taken together) include what appears to Ofcom to be a suitable quantity and range of high quality and original programmes for children and young people.” (s264 (6)(h)). Ofcom’s reporting obligations are required to be carried out “with a view to maintaining and strengthening the quality of public service television broadcasting in the UK” (264 (3)(b)).
1.13 In addition, the PSBs are required to consult Ofcom on proposals for significant changes in their statements of programme policy and take account of any opinions expressed by Ofcom. A change is a significant change if it would make the service “…materially different in character from in previous years” (s267).
1.14 This project will assess the state of children’s media in the UK, examine the role of television within this, explore prospects for future delivery of a wide range of high quality and original content for children and propose potential policy options, if appropriate.
1.15 It is proposed that the final focus of the project be on children’s television programming across PSB and non PSB channels; we ultimately aim to assess the desirability and scope of any public service interventions in this market. However, in order to do this we will need to consider the impact on the television market resulting from trends occurring in other media including the internet and the extent to which the model of traditional linear television will be usurped by new technologies.
1.16 Our first task will be to undertake research and establish an evidence base which will enable us to assess the situation in the most informed and objective way possible. We will first gather information considering the following questions:
1.17 Following this research phase, we will then consider what policy options, if any, might be available to address issues raised by the research.
1.18 For the purposes of the review, Ofcom proposes to consider issues as they relate to children under the age of 16. Where possible depending on availability of research, we will consider the trends and needs of sub-groups of children.
1.19 We propose to publish in three phases:
1.20 Ofcom understands that there is widespread interest in this project and is therefore proposing a number of opportunities for stakeholder engagement.
1.21 Through the course of the project, we will also seek to understand some of the geographical issues relating to children’s programming. For example, the role of the children’s production sector outside London, and the role of PSB children’s programming in reflecting the cultural diversity of the different nations and regions of the UK.
1.22 In doing this, we will be seeking advice from Ofcom’s National Advisory Committees and from our colleagues in the nations and regions. We also intend to engage with key stakeholders outside London to seek views and guidance on our work.
1.23 The review will begin with a data gathering phase which is now underway.
1.24 Ofcom will be holding a series of initial discussions with a range of stakeholders to gather further information.
1.25 We note that this project runs alongside the Culture, Media and Sport select committee into public service broadcasting which is specifically considering the future of key areas of public service media content such as news provision and children's programming.
1.26 For points of clarification and further information about this work, please email James Thickett, Project Director (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Louise Banyard, Project Manager (email@example.com).