Ofcom: UK broadcasters failing to deliver for older children

Older children are being let down by UK broadcasters, according to Ofcom research showing that major channels aren’t broadcasting programmes specifically made for 13-15 year-olds.

In particular, Ofcom noted that ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 must “revitalise” their approach to children’s programming. The BBC was not included in the report because its responsibilities are laid out in its royal charter agreement.

In a direct letter to the mentioned public service broadcasters (PSBs), Ofcom identified three main areas for concern, including: a lack of original, high-quality programmes specifically made for older children across all programme genres; a limited range of children’s programmes that help children to understand the world around them; and a limited range of original, high-quality children’s programmes available that allow children to see their lives, reflective of the UK today, played out on screen.

The BBC and Channel 4 have both already set in place plans to cater to an older age group. Both broadcasters addressed the age group and their plans to serve them during the Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield this July.

All the PSBs were encouraged to create more original UK-focused programming, however, and to increase factual and news programming for children in general.

The issue is particularly poignant as broadcasters are falling behind in viewership when compared to digital services such as Netflix and YouTube, especially among older children.

“Time spent viewing traditional TV by children sits below that of Netflix and YouTube. And 90% of older children are now watching YouTube. And these online platforms – which face lighter regulation – should be doing more to ensure that the material that children are watching is safe and appropriate for them,” said the letter.

As a result, Ofcom suggests that the most effective way for PSBs to serve young audiences is by “exploiting the internet through innovative ways”.

“We are asking each commercial PSB to develop by end of March 2019 a robust plan for improving their offering to children, with a particular focus on UK-originated content, delivered across the full range of services and platforms (live TV, online or both),” said the statement.

The resilience of these plans will be reported at Ofcom’s next Media Nations report in summer 2019.

Ofcom steered away from setting fixed content quotas, although it now has the power to do so under the Digital Economy Act 2017.  “Due to the changing viewing habits of young audiences, we consider that setting quotas for children’s programmes on the main commercial PSB television channels would not be an effective approach,” the Ofcom report states.

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