Legendary children’s TV presenter Floella Benjamin has warned that British children’s TV could “disappear from screens” as the sector faces market failure.
he Play School star, now known as Baroness Benjamin, urged the Government to help fund the sector so that programming that reflects the lives of British children can be kept alive.
The Liberal Democrat peer said in the House of Lords: “Since the early closure of the Young Audience Content Fund, which offered up to 50% of programme budgets, the amount of newly-made UK commercial children’s content continues to decrease.
“The children’s television production sector faces market failure and a huge challenge.
“And without funding, television programmes which reflect British children’s lives could disappear from the nation’s screens, this would be a tragedy.”
Baroness Benjamin highlighted a proposal by the Producers’ Alliance for Television and Cinema (Pact) to help the sector with tax relief.
She said: “Pact are proposing new tax breaks of 40% to help keep this vitally important sector thriving.
“So how is the Government living up to its responsibility to ensure that the nation’s children are accessing high quality British children’s programming, and will the tax break proposed by Pact be supported to ensure we have more UK commercial public service broadcasting children’s content?”
Culture minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay responded: “The Young Audiences Content Fund was always designed as a three-year pilot.
“Now it’s over, it’s right that we assess the contestable funding model as a whole to understand how it can be used to help.
“Any further investment of public funding will need to be considered against this and future broadcasting needs, but we are supporting children’s television to make sure that future generations can benefit from it just as much as past ones have.”
He added: “The Government recognises the unique social, educational and economic importance of children’s television.
“That’s why we’ve put in place a range of measures to support it; the ongoing animation and children’s tax relief schemes have supported the production of over 840 programmes.
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“Working with Baroness Benjamin, we introduced powers for Ofcom to monitor and set criteria for the provision of children’s television.
“And, of course, children’s TV was chosen to pilot contestable funding, which has supported more than 280 hours of new content.”
Arts consultant and Labour peer Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall warned that the US market for children’s programming was ready to fill any gap in the British market.
She said: “Lady Benjamin rightly pointed out that the danger at the moment is that there is huge oversupply of perfectly reasonable content from elsewhere, mainly from America, particularly for young people.”
“Can the minister address the question of what that’s doing to the skill base that we have in this country?”
The minister assured her that the Government wants to ensure there is content that is “distinctly British” and that they were helping the creative sector to address skill gaps.
He said: “The Government is clear that we want to see distinctively British content so that young people growing up in this country can see that on television and on their tablets, however they view it.
“On skills, through our creative industry sector vision, the department is working to address skills gaps right across the creative industries to make sure we can continue to make world-leading content.”
Former culture minister and Tory peer Lord Kamall asked what public service broadcasters provide when it comes to children’s television that commercial channels do not.
Lord Parkinson responded: “Commercial broadcasters do indeed provide excellent content, but the public service broadcasters play a unique role in ensuring that underserved groups are catered for.
“There isn’t always the same commercial potential in children’s television programming which is why it is right that we have particular areas of work to focus on that.”