The Office of Communications, the organization better known as Ofcom empowered by the British government to regulate the public airwaves, has announced that it will demand broadcasters invest in educational children’s programming. The goal is to reignite competition among Britain’s biggest networks, which has significantly decreased children’s television funding over the last decade of Labour Party leadership. The concern driving the new program is that British children’s television programming, a cultural staple for half a century, could succumb to market pressures, driven to extinction by the internet and apathy.
For Americans, the effort throws the potential consequences of the Trump administration‘s effort to defund PBS into sharp relief.
The BBC is currently responsible for 97 percent of original children’s content in the UK, including those clips of Tom Hardy reciting bedtime stories on the CBeebies network. Britain’s other public networks like Channel 4 and ITV have dropped to a few dozen original hours of children’s entertainment. In America, this might be considered a more minor problem, but this is a cultural scandal in Britain.
From the 1960s-70s, British children enjoyed a golden age of television. VERY British shows like Bagpuss, Clangers, and The Magic Roundabout became influential classics, inspiring America staples like Mister Rogers. Clangers, a stop-animation series about a family of mice living on a moon-like planet was rebooted in 2015 for a modern audience. Bagpuss however, ran on reruns for more than a decade despite only being 13 episodes deep. New generations of British children did not get new generations of British TV.
“On this trajectory British-made children’s programmes are set for extinction,” Anne Wood, the creator of The Teletubbies, told The Telegraph. “We really must be offering our children more choice.”
As of now, the second choice is often the internet. YouTube is cheaper than cable fees. The potential issue there is that YouTube is a better source of entertainment than education and children’s television shows are a demonstrably effective way to get kids off on the right foot. They’ve proven to be an effective resource in America and, in Britain, they’ve proven to work — but not without help.