A small but important change for the BBC's smallest and most important audience

Director, BBC Academy and BBC Birmingham

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Ofcom today announced a change to an important quota for CBeebies, the BBC's hugely popular pre-school channel. At the moment no more than 20% of CBeebies airtime can be "acquired" programmes, and the other 80% must be "originated" programmes.  This will now change to 30% and 70%. Before you rush off to watch some paint drying, I'd like to explain why this is good for children, good for Licence Fee payers and good for the UK animation industry.

If you looked up the words "acquire" and "originate"  in a dictionary, you might think this sounded like a bad move: more off-the-shelf animation? More foreign programming? Less new, British, BBC content made by us for our audience? In fact it means quite the opposite, and that's why the BBC Trust and Ofcom have agreed with us and changed the quota.

There are over 30 dedicated Children's  TV channels in the UK, making it one of the most complex and competitive Children's TV markets in the world. It's really important, given all that commercial choice, that the BBC provides something different and distinctive.

And we do: CBeebies is loved by children and their parents for the high quality of its programmes, and the amount of UK content featuring British children and families. This is what makes us different, and you can tell how much audiences value this by the fact that CBeebies is far and away the most popular pre-school channel in the UK. (Not having ads, another privilege of the Licence Fee, undoubtedly adds to the appeal for many parents). On Tuesday, BBC Children's programmes won both children's awards at the Royal Television Society Programme Awards.   

A lot of our content is officially defined as being "acquisitions" - whilst this might make you think it must be ready-made stuff we buy from other producers, in reality it simply means we don't fully fund it. We "pre-buy" it - which means we commit to  invest and get involved in storylines and scripts from the outset, before a single frame is created. So we get the highest quality programmes, tailored for our audience, at a fraction of the full cost. And because CBeebies is one of the world's leading preschool channels, and producers want our involvement, we get the same level of editorial input and script approval that we would if it was a fully-funded BBC production. On CBeebies all this “acquired” programming is animation, which is so expensive to produce, few broadcasters have ever fully funded it, and it has always required international co-productions and broadcaster co-operation. Animation is by its nature easier to “localise” by re-dubbing, which is why UK animation made to CBeebies exacting requirements can also be easily sold to other broadcasters.

Many of CBeebies most popular, channel-defining animated programmes are technically "acquisitions"; Octonauts (pictured), Mike the Knight, Postman Pat, Sarah and Duck. In reality they are no different in content and style than if we'd made them ourselves. Just better value. Our audience love animation because it is colourful, vibrant and often funny, but the majority of them have a serious public service message at their heart. CBeebies has animated series focussing on things like early years language development, marine biology, philosophy and critical thinking amongst many others.

The current quota limits how much we can show these programmes - and given how popular they are, and good value for money, allowing us to show them more is good news for children and for Licence Fee payers.

It's also a much needed boost to the UK animation industry, as the vast majority of these CBeebies "acquisitions" are produced and animated here in the UK. As part of this change, the BBC Trust has amended the CBeebies Service Licence to ensure that the majority of CBeebies animation is specifically created for UK audiences.

And what of the "originations" that will be shown less thanks to this change? The word suggests these are new programmes. What it really means is programmes that were fully funded by the BBC at some point in history - but it doesn't necessarily mean new. Seventeen-year-old episodes of Teletubbies count as "originations" because they were once fully funded by us.  This change does not mean we'll make fewer new original programmes, but does mean we will repeat fewer of the elderly shows in the schedule, which is great for the audience.

And in case you were wondering, this is not about spending less. Our budgets for CBeebies will not change as a result of this. It's just about making better use of new programmes and being less reliant on some older ones.

CBeebies is the only pre-school channel offering such a wide range of British programmes. No other channel reflects what life is like for children growing up in the UK, and no other pre-school channel spends so much on British production.The BBC is committed to the provision of high quality Children's content, and has a duty to encourage UK production. Today's decision by Ofcom will help us do that even more. 

Joe Godwin is Director, BBC Children's

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