Thursday 7 July 2005
Check against delivery
I'd like to thank Showcomotion for giving me the opportunity to speak
As I've only recently moved into children's output, this is the first
time that I've attended the conference. It has been both a pleasure
and an education meeting others in the field. I've been warmly welcomed
into the community and greatly impressed with the enthusiasm and commitment
expressed by everyone I've met.
[Tape of CBBC output]
I'll tell you a story of Jack-a-nory and now my story's begun. I'll
tell you another of Jack and his brother
And now my story's done...
Well... not quite yet!
As you may have read, I have decided to bring back Jackanory to CBBC.
I loved the show as a child and I know how much story-telling means
to children. And today I would like to share with you a story: it's
about the journey which I believe is facing broadcasters, distributors
and content makers of all kinds working across the area of children's
And my creative vision for CBBC is forged by the need to address what
I think are the two key challenges.
First: that of evolving as content makers who harness and exploit the
gathering technological changes of the digital era.
And second: tackling the challenges of addressing the diverse world
of tomorrow, a tomorrow that - in the face of a fragmenting society
- looks, at one and the same time, increasingly exciting and increasingly
As the new controller of CBBC, I have the great privilege to be able
to address these challenges from the perspective of a public service
For me, that means an opportunity to act upon my most passionate belief,
that - given that the licence fee is universal - we at the BBC have
a duty to significantly reach out and connect with all sections of society.
We also have - I believe - an obligation to aim for creative excellence
in everything we do. And we are lucky that our funding model - the licence
fee - supports this ambition.
By focussing on these goals, I feel CBBC is well placed to take on
both of those key challenges.
So, first - technology, and the digital age that is rushing upon us
In this age, the role of CBBC is increasingly vital to the BBC. It
should rightly be in the vanguard of the new and emerging media platforms.
The children's audience is unique - young and hungry for the new and
exciting - and this is why it is probably also the most exciting and
challenging audience for which to create content. Children instinctively
get - and embrace - the technological changes that are happening. We
have to understand and rise creatively to the opportunities that come
with these changes.
With the advent of Freeview, cable, satellite, EPGs, hard disk recorders
like Sky Plus, and the rapid take-up of broadband connections to the
web, children are skipping easily across the growing multiplatform environment
searching for distinctive, relevant and related content.
The phenomenal success of the iPod demonstrates to me some important
general themes about the way media consumption is evolving. It is going
personal, mobile and, most important, on-demand. How long before we
see the video equivalent of iPods as the must-have gadget for teenagers?
And this genuinely revolutionary change in the consumption of content
means that we must take a long hard look at how we currently go about
providing that content; how we schedule; and how we distribute it.
It is not enough just to upgrade what we currently do; we need a whole
new operating system, a new way of thinking about and executing content
creation and delivery. We need - in many ways - to redefine what we
mean by broadcasting.
Since their inception some years ago, the CBBC and CBeebies channels
and the CBBC website have become for many parents a valued and highly
trusted part of their children's lives.
Great entertainment, and yet also often acting as a trusted televisual
or online nanny. This is a glowing testament to the hard work and talent
of the CBBC staff - and the independents that provide for us.
As an example, I would point to the recent success of the Serious strand:
a unique platform for children to make a difference, understand the
environment, learn about themselves and have an adventure of a lifetime.
This very weekend eight children - selected from almost 30,000 applicants
- will set off to explore the Amazon. Good luck to them - and the programme-makers
- and I know they will bring back some 'much watch' television.
Yet, as we look to the future, we can see the digital revolution becoming
yet further integrated into our children's lives. The convergence of
platforms - mobile and fixed; increasingly sophisticated interactivity;
and the on-demand content world.
All these mean we will have to work harder to engage the widest possible
audience. But not just work harder… we have to listen harder.
We are moving into a world where, for the first time, our audience
is way ahead of us in the ways they consume our content. We must not
let ourselves be left behind.
To answer this challenge we have to embrace the new and multimedia
world with an enthusiasm that matches that of our audience. That means
not seeing the online presence as a 'bolt-on' to the underbelly of the
television service, just serving an audience interest created first
by programmes. Instead it means creating programmes and other digital
content together and finding a new shared ground between them, and then
going on to evolve a new form of unique cross- platform entertainment.
Blue Peter is one of the greatest brands on British television. Our
challenge is to build that brand across all platforms, fully interactive,
and with a new and exciting relationship with its audience - where Blue
Peter is at the heart of the digital world.
CBBC's BAMZOOKI and Newsround's Press Packers have shown that engaging
children's own creativity in a truly interactive fashion may indeed
play a large - if not decisive - role in shaping these new forms of
engagement with CBBC services.
There is so much more we need to do here.
However, in the rush to keep up with the demand for such content, it's
vital that we keep a couple of key things in mind.
Excellence, innovation and the highest quality must be at the heart
of all of our content. The BBC has a greatly respected heritage of programme
making and that has garnered a great trust within the public. We must
strive never to let them down on the unspoken promises of quality or
care when we are delivering content aimed at the young and impressionable.
I have high hopes that our new pre school animation series - Charlie
and Lola - will deliver these standards when it hits our screens in
And we must take risks, and also ban mediocre ballast from our schedules,
or - as I suspect they will inevitably become - our digital distribution
points. Yes, we will get some things wrong and some will fail - but,
in my view, this is absolutely a price worth paying.
iTunes' success in delivering music as and when it is wanted, across
borders formerly imposed by geography, points to the future. The world
audience will eventually take what it wants and when it wants it. Scheduled
transmissions may remain - to feed a need for an informed selection
- but we have the potential to move into a worldwide on-demand arena.
I want CBBC content to be recognised and respected the world over.
And there is one further huge benefit that the digital world offers.
The interactivity and two-way relationship that it brings allows us
- I believe - to develop through children a new, stronger and more productive
relationship with parents up and down the land: a way to build bridges
between children and adults, where problems and issues of parenting
can be shared and tackled, and where bonds between parent and child
are cherished and protected.
I am looking to build on the success of Something Special - winner
of the RTS Education award for two years running - which through an
imaginative fusion of TV and web offerings has made a real difference
to children with learning difficulties - and their parents.
And this brings me onto the second challenge I mentioned earlier,
the challenge to deliver the content that has children's best interests
at heart, and that impacts meaningfully and usefully on their lives
in a world that is changing rapidly.
As a child, I shared with my friends a connection to children's television
that always seemed to include a strong element of largely unspoken mutual
respect. One sensed - even if one couldn't or wouldn't articulate it
- that essentially the programme makers were engaged for the most part
in an activity that was 'on my side' and that was 'for me'.
When settling down in front of my favourite show of the moment, then
whatever the world had dealt out that day or that week could - in some
magical fashion - be either put to one side or alternatively worked
through in a dramatised world populated by figures like me - that I
gratefully recognised were dealing with the same issues as myself.
My experience as a parent has shown me that this pressing need for
both escape from - and yet a window on - the world of childhood experiences
remains as strong - if not stronger - than ever.
A child's environment today brings with it much greater degrees of
excitement - but also greater degrees of stress and anxiety - than it
did in my youth. It has been suggested that children - faced with today's
changing or fragmenting society - are utilising the interactive digital
world as a 'substitute for community'.
File sharing, web logs, chatrooms, message posting, email etc all
play their part. Much of this takes place without our direct input either
as broadcasters or parents, but is nevertheless often concerned with
the content we create. It therefore becomes even more important that
we take a long hard look at the material we are asking children to culturally
consume. And we need to provide the environment - whether on computer
or television screens - that is safe and stimulating.
So what are the core values that our content must have for our children
in a world that is cluttered and full of distractions?
The licence fee's universality means all paying homes in the country
have a right to a service that provides content that beyond being 'informative,
educative and entertaining' is also both relevant and nourishing.
Whether through our drama, our factual output, our entertainment or
our web presence, we must be ever mindful that children are in the process
of becoming the world citizens of tomorrow. As broadcasters, we have
our share in the responsibility to ensure that those citizens are informed
both intellectually and emotionally.
We must engage and feed their intellect and stimulate our children's
imagination. We should aim to open children's minds to new worlds. We
must, though, be aware that we are not engaged in making children into
idealised versions of ourselves. We are, however, engaged with making
the way open for them - and giving them the tools - to achieve their
own goals in their own good time.
We must treat with respect children's culture and understand its
distinctive exuberant character, its needs, its limitations, what it
can offer us and its value to children. We must understand the difference
between shaping this culture and reflecting it. As caretakers of society's
future citizens we must be prepared to do both.
We must endorse and facilitate understanding of - and compassion
for - their own and other's emotional well being.
We must understand and respect that, at times, the adult world can
be a very challenging or even frightening place for children. We need
to tread carefully in helping them to understand this world.
And of course we must create child appropriate, non-exploitative
content - delivered in a safe environment.
Above all, we must always keep a respectful focus upon two of the
core needs of children: first, the need to understand and express something
of their deep inner world. And secondly, the need to understand their
place in - and relationship to - the outer world, from their immediate
family to the wider society.
The choices we make as broadcasters to children must always be informed
and driven by a clear understanding of these two core needs - as well
as a deep understanding of the changing society.
Two films that in recent years have transfixed with their magic my
two children are Toy Story and Finding Nemo.
We can all draw valuable lessons from what is transpiring between
the screen and the audience of these films. The colourful vivid imagery
is ultimately less important than the dynamics between the characters
and their inner selves. Buzz Lightyear's insight into his toy status
was as emotionally devastating as anything I've ever seen on the best
of our soaps.
Nemo's father's coming to terms with how much he'd repressed his own
child was heart-rending and a lesson to any parent watching.
It seems to me that if we are also looking to create powerful family
drama - that binds those watching with one spell and delivers something
of social value - then we must be looking for stories that draw upon
the powerful emotional forces at work within the family, however it
is made up.
So the key pillars that I am looking for in our output are:
Entertaining content that is never preachy or 'worthy'. Children
are increasingly pressurised at school and in the marketplace and -
much like the rest of us - use television as a means of escape and therefore
We must protect that whilst:
Engaging the intellect and stimulating the imagination.
It must maintain clarity of expression and storytelling. Children
can understand the ambivalent but have little patience for the confusing.
It must be insightful and informative about the inner self and the
outer world, offering varying perspectives on both.
It must explore territory meaningful to children, such as what it
is like to possess and to be deprived of power.
It should endorse and facilitate understanding of - and compassion
for - their own and other's emotions.
It should take our audience on journeys into other children's lives
The range of content contains a good mix of genres.
Our output must be respectful of children's culture and limitations.
They deserve our sincerity, not our cynicism.
Finally - all our output must be infused with a tangible ambition
for creative excellence.
These are invaluable gifts to offer to children. Our committed move
into the dazzling digital age must not blind us to this notion.
These are the core values that must endure in the very different media
world we are moving into.
It is why I believe CBBC is uniquely placed to be a beacon of content
excellence in the years ahead.