Ofcom should have let ITV reduce kids' programming
Ofcom's rejection of ITV's attempt to cut kids programming on its flagship channel may come as no surprise to many in the industry, but I feel that ITV has been let down and should be allowed to reduce its programming, writes Jeff Taylor, managing director of specialist children's media agency BLM Azure.
If I were being cynical I would say that this is a problem of ITV's own making, and that the reduction in ad revenue that ITV is experiencing is a case of chickens coming home to roost.
After all, it was not so long ago that the main players within ITV seemed so desperate to get the go-ahead to merge to create one ITV that they would have agreed to pretty much anything.
As far as advertisers were concerned, ITV's major concession was agreeing to the Contract Rights Renewal mechanism. But with audience levels in decline, CRR has become a millstone around ITV's neck and it is now determined to rid itself of it, and if necessary, move the goalposts in an attempt to increase revenue.
So how would reducing the amounts of children's programming help ITV bring in more cash?
It's no secret that it is more attractive for ITV to sell the airtime in kids' programmes to adult-targeting advertisers, because the market dictates that they will pay more for the airtime than kids' advertisers.
And by replacing children's shows with programming targeted at their mothers it should increase audiences during the afternoons, thereby making the segment more attractive to ITV's core advertisers.
So should ITV and the advertisers who use it reignite a campaign to reduce its contracted level of children's programming?
The fact is that the TV world has changed considerably since ITV's programming remit was set. There are now an ever-growing plethora of channels (and websites) dedicated to children, and today's kids are certainly not shy about channel surfing to find the programmes they want to watch. Currently 87% of children have access to multi-channels.
However, the increase in choice has not led to an increase in viewing among children, and it can be argued that children and advertisers alike do not need more kids' channels; they just need better ones.
The conventional logic is that more money from advertisers targeting children means more money available to be invested in kids' programming. And the concern is that with kids' advertising revenue being spread ever more thinly between the growing number of channels, that it is inevitable that the quality of programming will come under pressure.
Advertisers need strong channels that can deliver good audience levels, and if ITV's competitors can retain the revenue from children's advertisers in the marketplace then we could see a scenario where the main commercial kids channels have a bigger pot to invest in buying and producing the best in children's programming.
Of course, the very real downside to this is that it could hand the traditional "children's hour" viewing over to the BBC channels, but the only way that the commercial channels will compete better with the BBC is by investing in better programming.
So as much as I am reluctant to allow a broadcaster to walk away from its contractual programming obligations, in this instance allowing ITV to reduce its children's programming output would have been the best solution for all parties.
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