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27 November 2014
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Nigel Pickard

Controller of CBBC

CBBC's Digital Future

19 November 2001
Printable version

CBBC is in pole position. With the go ahead for its two dedicated digital channels, we are set to be in the lead as the digital age of children’s television unfolds in the UK.

First for quality and diversity.

First for large scale investment in UK and European production.

First for all children however or wherever they watch television, log onto the web and join the global community of which they are part.

I have been Controller of CBBC for just over a year now, and the scale of what we do, and the impact we have on children’s lives still inspires awe in me. Never has there been a more exciting, more challenging or more daunting time to be part of this incredibly successful team. Not only do we provide an almost incomparable service to children throughout the UK, but we have been successful in our bid to reach a multi-channel audience that is not necessarily completely well-served at the moment.

CBBC is the world’s largest dedicated children’s production department, with over three hundred people working in areas from entertainment and drama to news and pre-school.

Our commitment and dedication to making the best programming is well known and acknowledged not only by our supporters but also by our competitors.

In an average month, CBBC produces over thirty hours of children’s programming - five hours of drama, sixteen hours of entertainment, ten hours of factual and news, over an hour of animation and over three hours of pre-school programming. In terms of overall transmission hours not as much as our multi-channel competitors, but significantly outweighing their own expenditure on original programming in the UK and far broader in terms of genre.

Soon, with the two new channels as well as the existing analogue service we will broadcast about eight hundred and sixty hours of programming in an average month.

This rich mix of programming is made up of every genre found in any prime time schedule - drama, entertainment, factual, and news - but made with the child audience in mind.

Drama should raise questions and stimulate the viewer. Not only realise the fantasy and the magic - as in Philip Pullman’s I Was A Rat and Clive King’s Stig Of The Dump - but also portray the real and the contemporary, tackling difficult and often controversial subjects head on.

Grange Hill - celebrating its twenty-fifth series in 2002 - tackled controversial yet relevant subjects last season including rape, testicular cancer and Asperger’s Syndrome. The new series will handle topics such as parental bereavement and childhood alcoholism. But Grange Hill is not all about "gloom and doom". It resonates with every day school life. Not all children are confronted with the harsher realities of life. But they all experience the "Monday To Friday" routine of school, and this is the foundation of Grange Hill - their real life.

Grange Hill must always remain relevant to the audience. The twenty-fifth series affords us a unique opportunity. To take a step back and look at what Grange Hill has achieved and where it must go in the future. It must have the same impact today as it had over twenty years ago when Anna Home first commissioned it. It must remain as relevant today as when it launched.

Out Of The Ashes - based on the children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo - recounted the devastating effect that foot and mouth had on one small farm. When Nicci Crowther from Pagoda Family approached Elaine Sperber and I with the idea of translating this for the screen, we seized this opportunity. To make a drama that spoke to children in their own language and from their own point of view on what was still a topical and incredibly fresh subject.

The team turned this project round in a matter of weeks. Not only did this underline our public service role, but demonstrated that because of our resources and flexibility, we could make this project a reality in such a short space of time. It is a credit to those involved that BBC ONE repeated this drama in a primetime Sunday afternoon slot.

Making children’s entertainment is difficult. The audience’s expectations in this genre - more than anywhere else - are high, and we are constantly developing new ideas and formats.

Take The Saturday Show. It was commissioned for fifty two weeks - the first time that CBBC has had an all-year-round Saturday series. Winning Saturday morning is not going to be easy and I have never said it would be. But I have a great team in place - passionate about what they are doing and building on their experiences week on week. The proof is that the show’s performance is improving and The Saturday Show is here to stay.

Some other broadcasters will find it tough to match CBBC when it comes to factual programming. It is at the heart of our schedule. Short Change protects the rights of the child as a consumer, and has exposed the scams that take advantage of them. Take text messaging. We all do it, but children are the leaders in this new way of communicating. But it is expensive because some operators charge for messages that do not get through. Short Change revealed this exclusively and the matter is now being looked into by OFTEL.

The provision of a dedicated news service for children is unique to CBBC. I am not talking about a series of thirty minute shows that is broadcast once a year, but about Newsround - reporting news as it happens every week day. I cannot begin to describe the scale of Newsround but it will be thirty years old next year and has provided a daily bulletin almost every week day since John Craven launched it. And in its new 5.25pm slot it is growing a bigger audience, including a fair few adults. It has a team of twenty-five journalists and send teams out across the globe. Recently Newsround travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan for a series of compelling reports from Matthew Price as well as to the US.

Bolstered by a new online site and you can begin to get an idea of how only CBBC could make daily news provision for children a reality. Newsround has no peers and no competitors.

Our provision for the pre-school audience is unsurpassed. We work with pre-school leaders to make programming that is essential for this audiences’ development. And I will be commissioning a third landmark preschool series by the end of the year.

And the Animation Unit at BBC Bristol now joins CBBC.

Animation is at a disadvantage in the UK, not least of all because there is a lack of adequate funding. In France and Canada, animators receive numerous incentives to ensure their success. Here, animators are lobbying for similar advantages. We will support this and by making the Animation Unit an integral part of CBBC we hope to extend their remit, working with the team not only to develop new ideas but also to manage all animation across the BBC. I want to see the Animation Unit become a centre of excellence.

Providing programming for the child audience is only one part of the equation. The other is engaging the audience themselves and making their televisual experience more active and participatory. Television should not always be a passive experience. It should entertain, engage and stimulate - encourage participation and empower the viewer.

This will set CBBC apart from other children’s providers in the UK. There will be an immediacy to CBBC that will be unrivalled.

All children’s channels provide some form of presentation that binds the schedule together. The recent appointment of Paul Smith as Head of CBBC On-Air - the man who discovered Zoe Ball, Jamie Theakston and even Andi Peters - signals that presentation is integral to CBBC’s future and vital to our success. Across analogue and digital, presentation will create an environment in which the programmes will ‘live’.

For the pre-school viewers presenters will perform songs, recite rhymes and tell stories, involving and encouraging parents to continue these ideas when the television is turned off.

For older children we will adopt a more ‘magazine’ style. The presenters will not just tell the audience what is coming up next, but will have their own editorial focus. These faces will be integrated into the programming to create a seamless flow from presentation to programmes and back again.

And some of our programmes go further as well - to meet the child halfway and create a community where they can interact, have a voice and make a tangible difference.

The greatest and most enduring example is Blue Peter. This series has been a cornerstone of CBBC for over forty years - yet it is not an institution. It has remained relevant to the audience by growing, developing and embracing change with them and at their pace. It is an organic part of what we do. I realised this when I visited the studio for the first time. On my first day at the BBC, the show was broadcasting live and stepping onto the set was a "hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck" moment. For me that was the moment that I realised the huge power and responsibility that comes from joining the CBBC team.

Up to three times a week, fifty two weeks a year, over seven hundred thousand children - and a few adults too - watch the four presenters and share in their experiences and exploits, their travels and their discoveries. And Blue Peter takes them even further with other projects such as the Blue Peter Book Awards - a celebration of the written word - the Summer Roadshow that fifty thousand people attended and the annual Appeal. Celebrating forty years of child action this year, The Blue Peter Appeal has raised millions of pounds and this year is working with Help The Aged to strengthen the ties that bind young and old.

It would be easy just say that Blue Peter fosters a sense of good citizenship - it does - but more importantly it gives children a focal point in the world that surrounds them and the unique opportunity to effect change.

I have already mentioned Newsround because it gives an unparalleled window on the world. News affects us all and we often forget how aware children are of the world around them on both a local and global level.

This was so clearly demonstrated by recent events in the United States on September 11th. Everyone was touched by those tragic events, but only Newsround was there on the "newsroom front line" for children. It reported the actual events, explained the background and reached out to children to hear from them. In a very special - and uniquely peak time - report, Terror In America: Children Speak, Newsround listened to from children from around the world.

But news is not one sided. It is not just about a team of journalists sitting in a CBBC newsroom and deciding what the stories are. Newsround has a two way dialogue with the audience. The Newsround Press Packers are unique. There are already forty thousand children who write and file stories for the daily show and the website - another innovation from CBBC. Together with BBC News Online, we have created a rolling, 365 day-a-year online news service. This does not only deliver the headlines every minute of the day but also the in-depth stories behind the headlines as well as the latest from the worlds of entertainment, sports, science and technology.

Since it launched on 22nd October, the new site has received over three million hits.

If I had been giving this speech about ten years ago, it would have been a very different one. And I do not mean it terms of commitment, or quality of vision. CBBC has always championed these values.

But rather in terms of the marketplace. Then there was no "competitive arena". No dedicated children’s channels. And no talk of a level playing field.

But the landscape has changed. CBBC is not one of two television choices. We are one of many and in some homes we are not the first choice either.

At any point in the day, the audience can turn to other channels over and above CBBC. The audience has choice which on the whole is a good thing.

But our competitors’ entry into the UK market - offering choice though not always quality, offering all day programming, though not necessarily breadth - has made a radical and industry-changing difference.

By their arrival in the UK - most of them from the US - these channels have put children’s television on the agenda.

The industry has moved on and so has CBBC to ensure that we are part of the future. Since the BBC announced its intention to launch two dedicated children’s channels, some of our colleagues have attempted to unsettle not only the industry but parents as well. They seem to have forgotten that the interests of the child audience are paramount. Not just the commercial, "bottom dollar", concerns.

They have prophesised the doom of children’s television. The end of choice. The end of their status quo.

They refuse to admit and accept that CBBC’s entry into this otherwise closed, commercial landscape is in the best interests of the key audience - children.

CBBC will provide the digital audience with originally produced programmes across all the genres - taking our analogue heritage and using it to develop new, more daring and increasingly innovative programming combined with the latest technology to stretch the boundaries even further.

This is programming that our colleagues either do not make or have no plans to make themselves despite being part of - in almost all cases - multi-million dollar global entertainment giants. Giants that state that they put the interests of the child first but command massive revenues not only from advertising but by merchandising their own branded products directly to the audience. Such revenues are not available to CBBC.

Our colleagues have repeatedly quoted a report stating that they will lose up to four hundred million pounds in revenue. How? CBBC is advertising and sponsorship free. No advertisers or third-party-partners can advertised on our channels. And as television remains one of the most efficient and cost effective ways to reach children, I cannot see that advertisers pulling significant levels of advertising from these channels. And even if advertising rates decline - although all long term predictions are for an upturn - no other medium affords companies such a captive audience of children and young housewives.

I think I should briefly talk about the current situation at CITV as I have a unique perspective and genuine concerns. We are all aware of the difficulties facing CITV at the moment. According to recent reports, Janie Grace and her team stand to lose up to twenty-five per cent of their funding. This is bleak news. Such a significant drop in funding can only mean a decrease in the level of new original productions, and more repeats. Although this does not necessarily mean that Janie and her team cannot continue to be daring and innovative with whatever original programmes they make, it does inevitably mean fewer will be made.

CBBC is already committed to a significant spend on original programming and a decrease in original programmes and spend by CITV cannot be met by our other colleagues in children’s television. The end result is clear. Less choice for children.

I urge the ITV companies to reconsider the proposed funding cuts or at least give an undertaking to reinstate the loss in funding when advertising revenues increase again. We need a strong CITV. Not only to ensure that the audience has choice but that the competition remains balanced and healthy. But I also counsel Janie and her team to look creatively at the problem and find solutions. CITV’s budget is still quite a healthy one and they have many good shows. Perhaps rethinking CITV’s stripped schedule and working in partnership with rights holders and producers might offer some respite.

So what does CBBC offer for the digital audience. Two channels coupled with interactive platforms that will fully exploit the latest technologies. Free of advertising and sponsorship, this is public service broadcasting in its purest form.

The two channels mean that CBBC will increase its output by an extra one thousand hours a year and annually spend an additional forty million pounds on programming, bringing our total expenditure to around one hundred million pounds.

The channels will offer the highest proportion of indigenous European-made programming - ninety percent on the pre-school channel and seventy-five per cent on the older channel. This might seem almost too proscriptive but these targets were not set by the DCMS, but by the BBC. They were part of our initial proposal.

All the shows commissioned for the new channels will invest significantly in the interactive platforms. For pre-school children, the new shows will help them embark on their first televisual journey and exploit the interactive opportunities to assist parents in the important task of developing their core pre-school skills.

For older children, there will be everything from message boards to interactive games - a continuous two-way dialogue between the audience and CBBC. A platform for their own self-expression.

CBBC will reinvent itself for launch. As both channels will be entering highly competitive environments, completely new branding is being developed for both the analogue and digital channels which will be revealed at launch. And we will also rename the channels, giving them their own distinct brand personalities to make them easily identifiable not only from each other but from other children’s services. Furthermore, this will also book mark the channels for parents, signposting services that are not only safe and advertising free, but that offer the best originally-produced programming in the UK.

The pre-school channel will be called CBEEBIES. This was well received by parents with small children and evokes the ideas of play, fun and comfort. The older channel will be called The CBBC Channel. This name is already established amongst six to thirteen year olds but now we will give the audience the chance to own the name completely, knowing that all the programmes on the channel are made for them and not for their younger brothers and sisters.

Cbeebies will be a companion for younger children and a safe haven for parents. While the channel will draw on our already extensive portfolio of shows, I will also commission new series from both in-house and independent programme makers. CBBC will continue to be the undisputed leaders in the pre-school arena.

The Cbeebies schedule will be built around a four hour block of programming. This is how the young audience consumes television, reflecting their need for familiarity. Every hour, on the hour there will be a landmark title such as Teletubbies or Tweenies, and the day will end with a special ‘bed time’ story hour. Although the blocks will repeat, the presentation surrounding the shows will not, reflecting the time of day - morning, lunchtime and afternoon.

From BBC Scotland I have commissioned the first pre-school drama - Applecross. At one hundred and twenty six episodes this is a significant pre-school commission for the new channel. It is a ‘living story book’ set in a fictional Scottish village with a cast of adult and child actors.

Applecross joins seven other pre-school commissions that will premiere on Cbeebies. Offering a mixture of presenter-led live action, puppets and animation, Cbeebies will launch with a strong schedule of new and popular, established series.

The CBBC Channel for 6-13 year old digital viewers will offer a real alternative. Using the interactive and online platforms, it will serve as a launch pad into a children’s community of viewers from around the UK.

Xchange will have a broader and more extensive remit. One thousand and forty episodes have been commissioned over two years - the largest single commission in CBBC history. It will bookend the channel every week day, setting the agenda in the morning and resolving it at the close of play. It will encourage the audience to actively participate - sending in their ideas, their points of view and determining the show’s direction.

In the long term The CBBC Channel will offer up to fifty hours of originally produced drama. and a dedicated drama hour every week day will be a major part of the channel’s schedule.

The first drama commission is Cave Girl - A twenty six part drama from Two Hats Production. This is 'Clueless meets the Stone Age’. We are also currently developing a long form comedy drama and other dramas will soon be announced.

The channel’s entertainment offering is also well underway and there will be an appointment to view comedy block as well. Stitch Up comes from CBBC Entertainment. Three fifteen year olds and one ten year old with a hidden camera playing tricks on unsuspecting members of the public and celebrities.

Call the Shots will give viewers an in depth, behind-the-scenes look at the world of showbiz, with children getting involved in everything from directing to stunts.

CBBC Scotland is making two entertainment shows for the channel. First Rule The School. In a specially created CBBC Academy where breakdancing might replace PE and text messaging might be part of the timetable, children will teach the teachers.

The second series is The Raven. A twenty-part reality game show shot entirely on location, the only aim is to be the last one standing.

There are also imminent plans for a Sunday morning show that will make full use of the channels interactive potential. This will be a three hours show and commissioned for a whole year.

The world of observational documentary leads the factual slate with Making It. Working with BBC Talent, CBBC will be search for a new presenter. Extreme Challenge sends eight volunteers to Borneo on a special conservation mission. Following training, the volunteers will be taken into the rainforest to live in a camp to help reintroduce young orang-utans into the wild. The volunteers will report back live to the UK using the latest videophone technology.

To celebrate the Commonwealth Games next year, we have embarked on the ambitious project. The Commonwealth Project will feature children from all the Commonwealth nations, celebrating their diversity as well as the common bonds they share.

Newsround will form an integral part of the new service with a dedicated team of presenters and up to three bulletins every week day. And Blue Peter has developed two twenty-six part series - Blue Peter Unleashed and Blue Peter Flies the World.

When children are at school - thirty two weeks a year - the CBBC channel will offer a schools schedule drawn from our extensive and award-winning library. So for the first time ever there will be a single children’s broadcaster in the UK reaching children in schools as well as at home.

Across Cbeebies and The CBBC Channel we have commissioned over seven hundred hours of new programming so far. Add to this the analogue Winter schedule on BBC ONE and BBC TWO and we are making over eight hundred and fifty hours of programming for the first half of 2002.

In view of recent news from CITV, the impact this will have on the UK production base cannot be underestimated. The new channels will herald a ‘golden age’ in children’s programming. They will become the new powerhouses for production, offering more opportunities as well as more funding available for the best creative and innovative ideas.

And it is also good news for talent - in front of and behind the camera. For actors, production and new and established writers, CBBC’s new channels will provide one of the best environments to foster new faces and skills.

When the Secretary of State gave her approval for the two channels, she recognised that public service broadcasting for children was a fundamental necessity in the digital age. She looked to CBBC to create services that would be a legacy from us to future generations of children and that is what we are going to do.

The digital future is now. We collectively stand at the threshold of an exciting new era. There is room for everyone but what CBBC offers is unique. The audience is hungry. Hungry for new ideas, greater choice and new ways to interact. Above all they want be treated as equals in a two way relationship. CBBC will deliver all of this. Innovative programming that marries production with interactivity to give them a complete experience that will challenge and stimulate as well as entertain, satisfying their hunger for the new and the extraordinary.


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