Last week, it emerged that ITV is in discussions with Ofcom as it bids to drop children's shows from the daytime schedule of ITV1. The network's children's programming attracts only about 8 per cent of the available audience and the broadcaster is champing at the bit to take on Channel 4's popular daytime schedule, which is giving ITV a pasting with hits such as Noel Edmonds' Deal Or No Deal.
Edmonds' negative impact on the future of children's TV is ironic, given his contribution to the genre over the years, responsible as he was for the 70s phenomenon Swap Shop. However, some might say Edmonds isn't entirely to blame for ITV's push to replace the likes of Potatoes and Dragons with more general entertainment.
ITV is also facing a tough regime of regulation on food advertising. The UK children's TV market is worth up to £100 million in ad revenue. Ofcom estimates that a ban on junk-food ads before the watershed could cost ITV 4.2 per cent and five 3.1 per cent of total revenues. Overall, a ban could lead to a loss of 2.5 per cent of the total revenue of all commercial channels, with that figure increasing to 3.7 per cent across children's TV. Also consider that ITV launched its children's channel, CITV, on Freeview in March, and it's not difficult to see why the network wants change.
The UK children's TV market is one of the most competitive in the world, with more than 28 separate channels. Under such intense pressure, Chris Locke, the UK buying director at Starcom, believes that ITV's desire to drop its afternoon schedule is a no-brainer. "Children's TV is an overcrowded, specialist market. It's much more effective for advertisers to step out of terrestrial," he says.
Locke believes the "Edmonds factor" has been overstated. He argues that ITV's scheduling of programmes aimed at children who now have different viewing habits has been its real undoing. He explains: "The younger the audience, the faster it is moving away from terrestrial channels. Most young people have some form of digital TV. The world of kids coming home from school, having their tea and playing in the street is gone."
Nick Bampton, the managing director of Viacom Brand Solutions, which sells airtime for Nickelodeon, agrees: "In the past ten years, kids have adopted multichannel more than any other group. ITV has lost an enormous amount of audience in that time."
Bampton adds that the quality of programming and popularity of multichannel TV in homes has given advertisers a good reason to take their money elsewhere. Yet media buyers estimate that ITV's afternoon schedule is up to six times more expensive than multichannel. Bampton says: "It's no longer essential that advertisers targeting this demographic use ITV1 - take into account pricing and it's a choice my three-year-old could make."
1. ITV1 transmits eight hours of children's TV a week and is required to show one hour every weekday between 3pm and 4.30pm. Any cut in ITV's obligation has to be agreed with Ofcom and any new policy would apply from the start of 2007. ITV wants to commit to showing children's programming at the weekends on ITV1. It is estimated that ITV1 has around 15 per cent of the children's TV ad market.
2. Children's programming during the GMTV breakfast slot is a core part of ITV's offering, for which its dedicated GMTV sales house sells airtime. It also took on selling airtime on CITV earlier this year. It is estimated that GMTV has around 12 per cent of the children's ad revenue market, while five has around 18 per cent.
3. The BBC, with its two dedicated digital channels, is the largest provider of children's output. BBC2 shows more children's programming than any of the other four terrestrial channels, because it repeats CBeebies and CBBC programming in the mornings. There is speculation that the BBC may also be assessing plans to reschedule output for children.
4. The digital children's market is one of the most competitive for multichannel providers, with services broadcasting in the UK including the Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, Boomerang and Nickelodeon, in addition to the BBC's dedicated digital services for children. In the past 12 months, ITV launched CITV and five announced it will expand its Milkshake strand to its new digital channel, Five Life, in the autumn. It is estimated that these channels - including CITV - share around 55 per cent of the ad revenue market.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- As content aimed at children disappears from terrestrial channels, advertisers will value the broadcasters who are able to reach children across a range of different media, such as the internet and video-on-demand.
- Broadcasters such as Turner Broadcasting, which owns the Cartoon Network and Boomerang, and the children's TV network Jetix Europe, already offer advertisers pan-regional airtime and sponsorship deals.
- If ITV succeeds in dropping children's programming from its afternoon schedule on ITV1, expect a fierce battle for ratings with Channel 4, as ITV uses the airtime to schedule more chatshows and gameshows.
- TV channels in the multichannel market will rub their hands with glee at the prospect of advertisers spending more with them.
- There are now more channels looking for content than ever before, giving opportunities to producers with the right properties. But competition for audiences is at an all-time high, meaning that producers will have to work to smaller digital channel budgets. Add to this the threat of a ban on certain types of advertising and, suddenly, the future looks uncertain.
- However, Bampton has some words of reassurance for producers nervous about the potential fallout from ITV axing its afternoon schedule. He says: "Nickelodeon is investing heavily in home-produced programming and this will reassure independent producers that we will fill the hole left by ITV, especially if the advertising investment follows."