BBC spins children’s cuts to look like bonanza (not the TV program)

You may have come across some news snippets this week which talk about the BBC taking on the big online portals such as YouTube and Netflix, with a rise in spending for children’s entertainment, a shift to online, and a personalized focus on education. A closer reading of the 2017/18 BBC budget makes a mockery of this.

UK news sources have been thumping the BBC on the back for finding an extra £34 million ($44 million) to spend on children’s programming over 3 years. But actually the budget on CBBC (Children 6 to 12), and the CBeebies (children under 6), is the same as in previous years, about £97 million. And with some 30% of that shifting to a personalized online experience, what it amounts to is a cut of around £30 million in program making. Effectively the BBC is giving up on original content for children, because it cannot compete.

The people who do the budgets at the BCC should take one of their personalized educations they talk about and do a module on numeracy and then take another look at their own budget and try to reconcile it with the ridiculous press statements the organization has put out.

The BBC Director-General Tony Hall described it as its biggest investment in children’s services in a generation. Part of the money will go to fund an enhanced online offer, with new forms of content and interactivity. Hall certainly needs a course in basic arithmetic.

Almost all US media took the press release at its word and simply reported this as a drop in the ocean when up against the YouTube and Netflix – and given that the BBC is funded by a government license fee, which it collects directly from the public, only from people who own TV sets, it makes little sense for it to embark on a course for online interactivity.

The BBC said its Children’s budget will reach £124.4 million by 2019/20, up from £110 million today but that’s not in the budget issued this week. By 2019/20, a quarter or £31.4 million will be spent online. By our calculations, there is no figure in the budget that adds up to £110 million – we have cited the cost of making programs at £97 million, but if you factor in all costs in 2016 it was closer to £139 million on those two segments. It’s like a government department trying to spin a budget increase for the National Health service, which was actually delivered in the previous government’s budget. The kids budget is now smaller than it was two years ago and it has been falling for a while.

The BBC talks about an ambitious 30-part drama series called Apple Tree House, set around an inner-city estate bursting with life, and also Pablo, an animated series about a five-year-old boy who creates an entire world from his imagination – its central character and cast, who have been involved in scripting the series, are all on the autistic spectrum. We’re not sure how to take that? Is this the BBC trying to support a minority group or garner sympathy from children for one? Either way it is suspect practice.

And the BBC made it clear that it knows it is losing out to YouTube, admitting that the numbers the watching traditional linear children’s channels have fallen significantly. YouTube regularly reaches 70% of 6-12s and for many children it is their favorite media brand, the report says. Which is justification for its programming cuts, which it still insists are increases in its budgets.

Its’ solution is a strategic shift in children’s content from its traditional offer built on two linear children’s channels and discrete digital propositions for a pre-teen audience to a connected, multiplatform offer. But it says it will sustain its linear channels, which means that in order to do that by spending less, it will show more repeats. That will help its numbers against YouTube.

The BBC Annual Plan said, “We will focus on a smaller number of stand-out titles and deliver all-year-round multimedia content, including video, live online program extensions and clips, pics, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, quizzes, guides, games and apps,” and plans to deliver much of it on the iPlayer.

The most ambitious project is to transform its program Bitesize by adding online personalization, to provide every child in the UK with a tailored,
structured learning experience making the BBC the biggest classroom in the country, with programming all tagged and mapped to the school curriculum across the UK.

For this we read, “We will take content we already have and adapt it for the school syllabus and put it online.” Nice and cheap.