A decade of CBeebies and CBBC

CBeebies presenters Pui Fan Lee, Chris Jarvis, Sid Sloane and Sue Monroe at the launch party In the beginning: CBeebies presenters Pui Fan Lee, Chris Jarvis, Sid Sloane and Sue Monroe at the launch party in 2002

CBeebies and CBBC will be saying happy birthday this weekend…to themselves.

The digital channels turn 10 on February 11th and will hold a 'birthday bash' of public events the following weekend, with presenters Cerrie Burnell, Mr Bloom and Helen Skelton (fresh from her recent trek to the South Pole).

The celebration will be at the new BBC hub in Salford's MediaCityUK, where the Children's department is now based following its relocation from London last year.

'We're now running two of the BBC's eight television channels and one of its biggest departments like we've always been here,' says BBC Children's director Joe Godwin.

His vision is for children's broadcasting to have a similar impact on Salford as the BBC's prestigious Natural History Unit (NHU) does in Bristol.

Horrible Histories Horrible Histories has won two British Comedy Awards

'It's about an economy and an ecology. With Bristol, there's a huge specialist genre, which has been there for a long time, and what builds up around it is suppliers, indies, post-production specialists, digital suppliers and specialist partners. I think that will happen here and it will grow - people will inch closer to us.'

New shows

As part of the department's Stepping Out scheme, staff are already visiting schools and inviting children to sessions at MCUK. There's also a Children's contingent at the BBC Scotland headquarters in Glasgow's Pacific Quay, which produces Nina and the Neurons and Big City Park for CBeebies (and previously Raven and Balamory).

In addition, the children's unit at Bristol NHU have made a brand new series with CBeebies presenter Andy Day, which starts on Monday.

While Blue Peter and Newsround will be familiar across the generations, CBBC's current biggest hits are the wildlife show Deadly 60, Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures and Horrible Histories, which, for the second year running, beat more 'grown-up' fare to take the British Comedy Award for best sketch show last December.

Dani Harmer will leave the immensely popular Tracy Beaker Returns at the end of this series - the show trended worldwide on Twitter when it started its current run in January and is an iPlayer hit.

Helen Skelton in Antartica Blue Peter has doubled its average audience this year among 6-12s

Godwin says there are plans for a spin-off to the series, which is adapted from Jacqueline Wilson's books and filmed in northeast England.

Former Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies will also be creating another CBBC series Aliens Vs Wizards, after The Sarah Jane Adventures ended following the death of actress Elisabeth Sladen. And Blue Peter has doubled its average audience among 6-12-year-olds since it started airing in CBBC's peaktime at 5.45pm earlier this year (it had previously gone out at 4.30pm on BBC One).

CBBC and CBeebies are also currently enjoying their biggest audience reach and share, and are among the corporation's five editorial priorities.

But with more than 30 channels aimed at young viewers, Godwin points out that the UK is the world's most competitive market when it comes to the business of children's television.

'CBBC and CBeebies are the leading channels for their target age-groups [under-6s for CBeebies and 6-12 for CBBC], which is fantastic given the amount of choice,' he says.

'It reassures me about how discerning children are - that even with a huge amount of choice, they want stuff that's high-quality, made for UK kids and speaks to them about their lives.'

Godwin says that he 'can't see that it would be a bad thing' if CBBC and CBeebies were allocated a more prominent position on the Sky EPG (electronic programme guide) - the channels are currently on page 3.

BBC Children's content spend 2010/11

Behind the panto scenes
  • CBBC: £78.3m
  • CBeebies: £28.5m

The children's director, who spent five years at Nickelodeon, adds: 'We're not here to damage the legitimate business of our commercial competitors.

'But I know there's been discussion by more important people than me, in the BBC and in Parliament, about whether providers of high-quality public-service broadcasting should get some advantage on the EPG, but it's an argument I leave to other people.'

Technology challenge

As outlined in the DQF plans, BBC One and Two may phase out their children's blocks after the completion of digital switchover. So far there's been little objection from parents but Godwin is keen that viewers without children remain aware of CBBC and CBeebies.

'It's a huge part of why people value the BBC and the credit they give it. I think the challenge for us, people in Vision and other places, is to make sure that - if those blocks come off BBC One and Two - licence fee payers are aware, whether through cross-promotion or marketing, of the fantastic things we do for kids.'

He also reckons that technology is the biggest challenge for the department with the onset of internet-connected TV (IPTV).

Tracy Beaker Returns There are plans for a Tracy Beaker spin-off after Dani Harmer leaves the current series

Given the channels' viewers are 'digital natives' born in the internet age, and early adopters, it's likely they will be among the first to figure how to use any new devices.

Hence Childrens' staff are now working with Future Media colleagues on apps and iPlayer versions for IPTV.

'We will lose the huge and significant influence the BBC has in children's lives if we get it wrong about technology and platforms,' warns Godwin.

'So what my senior management and I are doing is thinking about the next four or five years…because we believe what we do for kids is of huge importance and, at its best, can have a life-changing significance.'

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