Ofcom statement on reduction in ITV children's programmes, 2008

Published 18|03|08

This statement sets out Ofcom’s views on ITV1’s proposals on the amount of children’s programmes to be broadcast in 2008. Although ITV’s Statement of Programme Policy, published today, does not refer to specific volumes of output for 2008, information on this has been supplied by ITV to Ofcom.

Regulatory background

Regulation of commercial Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) is arranged in three levels or ‘tiers’. At Tier 1, the Ofcom Broadcasting Code sets standards in matters such as offence, protection of children, and political impartiality; this applies to PSBs and all other broadcasters licensed by Ofcom. Tier 2 requires Ofcom to set quotas for particular types of output. Tier 3 refers to other area of public service output, where Ofcom has no power to set quotas, and broadcasters are primarily responsible for deciding what volume of output to deliver.

Under the Act, Ofcom is required to set minimum requirements (or quotas) for the following ‘Tier 2’ genres: news and current affairs programmes on ITV1, Channel 4 and Five; nations and regions programming on ITV1; and schools output on Channel 4. Whilst Ofcom will consider broadcasters’ proposals for change in these Tier 2 areas, it remains for Ofcom to set the quotas at the level it considers appropriate.

However, outside these Tier 2 programme genres the regulator no longer has the power to ensure that an individual commercial PSB fulfils a set number of hours of a particular programme genre. Effectively this means that children’s programming – along with the other ‘Tier 3’ genres, such as drama and religion – are subject to a form of self-regulation by the commercial PSBs.

Instead, the Act requires Ofcom to look at the provision of children’s programming across all the PSBs and consider whether the PSB services, taken together, include what appears to Ofcom to be a “ suitable quantity and range of high-quality and original programmes for children and young people”.

The Act further requires that where a broadcaster proposes a significant change to its programme policy, that would make its service materially different in character from in previous years, it must consult Ofcom about the change and take account of Ofcom’s opinions in preparing its Statement of Programme Policy. Ofcom's role is to offer opinions and provide guidance in this context; but the Act does not give the regulator the power to allow or disallow proposed changes in Tier 3 genres. This means that, provided the broadcaster takes account of Ofcom’s views and has regard to Ofcom’s guidance, it remains ultimately a matter for the broadcaster to decide.

ITV1’s Proposals for Children’s Programming

ITV has consulted Ofcom about a change to its children’s programming. ITV proposed to reduce the amount of programmes shown on ITV1 from around four hours on average per week (plus an hour per week of children’s films) to two hours per week (plus an hour per week of films) in 2008. Sub-genres of pre-school, factual and drama would continue in the mix; ITV also stated that levels of commissioned programmes would remain “significant”. ITV drew attention to the continued ratings and revenue underperformance of its children’s programmes, problems posed by restrictions on food advertising to children, and ITV’s overall revenue decline, as factors necessitating the change.

Ofcom concluded that this would represent a ‘significant change’, when considered (as required by the Act) in relation to changes over the past three years. ITV’s delivery of children’s programmes ran at 10 hours per week in 2005, 8 hours in 2006 and 4 hours in 2007. (Ofcom gave ITV a negative opinion on its original proposals for 2007 and the broadcaster substantially modified these.)

As was evident from our Report on the Future of Children’s Programming, Ofcom considers that the delivery of PSB content for children is of primary importance. The report found that parents and children value UK originated children’s programmes from more than one provider and that ITV1 has traditionally played an important role in the provision of children’s programmes. The report also acknowledged that there are real pressures on the provision of children’s PSB outside the BBC and that future commercial provision of UK-originated content for children, particularly drama and factual programming reflecting the UK ’s social and cultural values, is in question. Spending on first run originated children’s programmes by commercial PSBs has fallen by nearly two thirds (65%) since 2001, with a 19% reduction in 2007 alone.

Although it is declining, a significant number of children remain dependent on analogue TV, and do not have access to CITV and other multi-channels. In addition, while our Future of Children’s Programming report acknowledged the commercial pressures, it should be noted that these apply across a number of programme genres rather than to children’s programming alone. As a PSB , albeit a commercial one, ITV1 has a duty to contribute to the provision of programming that the market would not otherwise deliver. In this context we believe that ITV1 still has an important role to play in the provision of children’s PSB . Therefore - whilst noting the market-related points made by ITV – Ofcom informed ITV of its opinion that it would be inappropriate to change the level of ITV1’s delivery of children’s programmes from 2007. Ofcom also expressed the opinion that the balance of originally produced and commissioned programmes, first-run originations, pre-school, factual and drama should similarly be maintained.

In reply, ITV stated that it had taken account of Ofcom’s opinions, as required under the Act. It stated that it would increase the proposal for children’s programmes to around 2.5 hours per week (with a small reduction in the proposal for children’s films). ITV also increased its proposals for the volume of pre-school, factual and drama programmes. Ofcom asked ITV if it would increase the number of hours further but ITV declined.

Ofcom’s conclusions

Ofcom concluded that ITV had, in legal terms, ‘taken account’ of its opinions, and therefore met its responsibilities under the Act. Nevertheless, this still involves a reduction of 36 per cent in the children’s output. Ofcom remains of the view that ITV should not further reduce its children’s output at all, pending completion of Ofcom’s PSB review currently underway. Ofcom is, however, unable to take any further action.

Ofcom will be putting forward options for securing delivery of children’s and other public service content in its PSB Review, the first phase of which will be published in April.