MEDIA: TV variety is the spice of life for children the world over

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 entranced.

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

entranced.



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

groups.



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

Commission.



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

afternoons.



But more airtime has meant more acquired programmes and repeats. A

further problem is that budgets have stood still among providers such as

ITV.



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

programming.



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.



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