Removing Children’s Programmes from BBC One: Not as ridiculous as you might think

It was announced a few days ago that as part of their ‘Delivering Quality First’ cost-cutting exercise the BBC would stop broadcasting children’s programmes on the flagship channels BBC One and Two. It was unfortunate that the headline “Blue Peter axed from BBC One” got misinterpreted by the Tweeting Mob as “Blue Peter axed” as that misreading caused a large amount of unnecessary outrage!

Nonetheless, there was also plenty of more considered comment from those on the popular social networking site and other message boards. Is this a downsizing of children’s television? After all, in 2006 CITV disappeared from ITV1 onto the brand-new CITV Channel and this coincided with the closure of ITV’s children’s department, far fewer newly-commissioned shows (you can count on one hand the number of new CITV programmes in the last five years) and a downgrading of quality compared to the energy and excellence that CITV showed just five years earlier. There are similar comparisons to be held with CBBC although to nowhere the same extent. When ‘the channel’ launched over a decade ago, there was live in-vision continuity on both the digital channel and the CBBC slots on terrestrial channels, with plenty of live shows on the digital channels, such as XChange, the cartoon phone-in Nelly Nut and Newsround updates. However, this gradually watered away and 2007 saw a repositioning of the CBBC channel. In-vision continuity returned to the ‘broom cupboard’ style with the launch of the CBBC Office, the puppet behind the desk and the feeling of one man creating his own fun. However, this popular re-launch took place only on the CBBC Channel, thus making it the principal channel over the terrestrial channels. New shows began to debut on the digital channel and the terrestrial slots became more like a ghost town, full of repeats and lifeless continuity. In January, Blue Peter made the switch to debuting on the digital channel and now Newsround is the only programme that premieres on BBC One.

Therefore, it is no doubt that children tune straight into the CBBC Channel rather than BBC One for their fix of programmes – that is where the new programmes are shown, that is where all the fun is, that is where to be, rather than on BBC One. Therefore, ratings have fallen on BBC One, sometimes below 1000, and thus the BBC have confirmed that they are to remove the children’s slots from BBC One and Two.

As Simon Howard correctly points out, BBC One’s remit is to be inclusive and show a diverse range of programming. However, if the programmes are not being appreciated by the target audience then why split the CBBC channel’s audience (and everybody will be able to receive it following the final DSO later this year)? It would have been sensible to simulcast the CBBC channel on BBC One, thereby saving the cost of having two separate children’s schedules, but as somebody pointed out to me on a discussion forum the repeat costs of showing major children’s shows would be far higher on BBC One than on CBBC – and the reasoning behind DQF is to save money. It probably would be cheaper for the Beeb to show Cash in the Attic or other daytime far, hard as it may be to believe.

Therefore, I completely understand the argument behind removing CBBC from BBC One – in reality this died a death long ago, and why have an antiquated service that nobody watches, perhaps denying some new programmes on the digital channel as they don’t bother searching beyond channel ‘1’ on the remote control. However, it is the axing of long BBC Two slots which confuses me. At present this constitutes several hours of BBC Two’s daytime – an area of the BBC which requires saving anyway. There’s only so much simulcasting of the BBC News Channel that can be done! It remains to be seen how the BBC will fill this gap. However, the arguments I made above regarding BBC One stand to the same extent for BBC Two, I am sure.

I grew up with CBBC on BBC One (Studio 9 was my era, with Otis the Aardvark a childhood hero of mine!), but, sad as it is, times change, and just as I was used to pressing ‘1’ on my remote when I got home from school, many children now press channel ’70’ for the CBBC Channel instead (or catch up via iPlayer or other services).

Whilst it is a bold move for the BBC, and surprising that it will occur in such blanket fashion, I don’t think that it is the terrible decision that some are painting it as – after all, if anybody understands multichannel TV, it is children!