This week I sat in a packed conference room and watched Teletubbies
divide children’s TV experts from around the globe. Some had not watched
the programme before and were shocked at its vacuousness, others were
London has been hosting the Second World Summit on Television for
Children - the first in Melbourne in 1995 caused a sensation by drafting
a charter calling for programmes specifically made for children
enshrined as a basic right. Within minutes of opening in Melbourne, the
debate focused resentfully on the dominance of US cartoons and
programming, at the expense of indigenous product. This week it is clear
that the UK’s own Teletubbies, with its easily exportable, non-verbal
charm has to some extent taken over as a focus of that indignation.
I suspect the average media watcher is pretty confused by current
skirmishes over children’s TV. It is assumed to be a good thing, it
commands attention ... is it really endangered? In fact, the issue of
children (who comprise distinct markets anyway) and their relationship
with TV is much more complicated.
First, there is a real skirmish going on between powerful interest
Money, careers, control of chunks of airtime are all at stake. In
Britain, for example, this latent row burst into the open last autumn
with the publication of a massive enquiry - The Provision of Children’s
Television in Britain 1992/96 published by the Broadcasting Standards
It apparently confirmed that ’animation’ has become the dominant form on
all UK channels.
But there have been fierce blasts back. The ITC, the regulator policing
the statutory provision of children’s programmes has pointed out that
children appreciate a varied diet. The BBC, hopping mad, says that the
1990s have seen a big increase in its children’s TV airtime - new zones,
weekday mornings, weekends while Channel 5 has opened up weekend
But more airtime has meant more acquired programmes and repeats. A
further problem is that budgets have stood still among providers such as
And there is a huge overhang of acquired programmes to be used up. But
it isn’t that simple. The BBC signed its first drama production deal
with Disney this week: a distinct sign that Disney wants non-US
As LWT has found, ’family bonding programmes’ on Saturday evenings have
more impact than conventional children’s TV. Fourteen of the programmes
attracting the largest share of children on ITV are on Saturday evenings
and range from An Evening with the Spice Girls to Gladiators. The summit
confirmed it is the same the world over - kids’ viewing is eclectic.
The real challenge for children’s TV is to win back the over-eights to a
screen childhood. But you never usually see that reported.