The children's TV market is worth no more than £100 million, so it may seem a little surprising that ITV is launching a channel into a crowded market that already boasts 28 other kids' TV feeds.
But then it is not strictly a children's channel - ITV is planning to run programming for young viewers on the soon-to-launch ITV4 during the daytime only. And advertising is only one source of revenue - product licensing is a large part of ITV's plans for the project.
ITV has been considering launching a children's channel for some time.
Its director of programmes, Nigel Pickard, is a former head of children's TV at the BBC and at ITV, where he commissioned SMTV.
He mooted the idea of a joint venture with Viacom shortly after he arrived at ITV in 2003. However, the plans came to nothing and instead ITV has stuck to its strategy of bolstering its digital presence by running only wholly owned digital channels.
The strand has not yet been given a name but is expected to appear on all platforms before Christmas, which is the peak time for advertisers wanting to reach children. ITV4, which is aimed at young men, will launch on 1 November.
ITV has handed the sales contract to GMTV, which specialises in selling airtime to advertisers targeting children and housewives. GMTV has previous experience of selling children's airtime, having handled sales for the Pop and Mini Pop channels, but this contract has now moved to Dolphin TV.
1. ITV is obliged to carry children's programming on ITV1 as part of its public-service broadcasting obligations. Its most popular kids' TV show on ITV1's CiTV strand is My Parents Are Aliens, which averages 551,000 child viewers. According to Mick Desmond, the chief executive of ITV Broadcasting, the ITV4 children's strand does not mean the broadcaster is planning to cut back its kids' output on the terrestrial channel. Rather it will be used to show repeats of ITV children's shows as well as new commissions.
2. ITV intends the children's channel to be available on all platforms, making it the only commercial kids' channel available on Freeview (although Top Up TV subscribers can watch Cartoon Network and Boomerang).
3. The children's TV market has numerous players. These include Disney, which derives its revenue from subscription and carries no advertising; Discovery; Jetix; Turner Broadcasting, which runs Cartoon Network, Toonami and Boomerang; and Viacom, which runs Nickelodeon, Nick Junior and Nick Toons. Five has a morning children's strand called Milkshake, while GMTV runs kids' programming at the weekends and on GMTV2.
4. The average audience for a children's TV show is 25,000, so ITV is hoping the strand will bring new viewers to ITV4.
5. CBBC and CBeebies are the biggest players and they have had a dramatic effect on viewing habits. CBeebies is the biggest children's channel and both have been criticised for cannibalising an audience already well-served by commercial broadcasters.
6. Toy, game and food advertisers dominate the market. Revenues have remained relatively stable, although all of the broadcasters could be hit if food companies adopt a ban on advertising to children.
7. Mattel, with an annual spend of nearly £29 million, is the biggest advertiser to children. The crucial period is October to December, when toy companies spend the bulk of their money.
8. Although the advertising market for children is relatively small, one of the major ways that broadcasters generate revenue is from licensing deals with toy manufacturers.
9. Children are more likely than adults to seek out the programmes they want to watch, so audience levels vary enormously. Children's airtime is traded on a fixed cost-per-thousand basis.
10. Because there is not a heavy demand for daytime TV, most channels fill their schedules with direct-response and per-inquiry advertisers. ITV's move is a smart one because it will bring new money to the network so it does not have to rely upon existing advertisers.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- More choice is obviously beneficial and a new channel could force rivals to cut their prices.
- However, a more prominent children's channel could once more re-focus the regulatory spotlight on advertising to children and speed up any government intervention.
- Another player in the market, this time with the power of ITV branding and the potential of ITV cross-promotion, is quite a compelling proposition, so other broadcasters face pressure on their audiences.
- But rival children's channels point out that 81 per cent of children live in multichannel homes - and most of these have Sky - so they claim not to feel too threatened by ITV's plans.
- Paul Jackson, the chief executive of Jetix, says the dedicated children's networks can forge deeper relationships with their viewers than ITV can.
They are also at the forefront of developing ways, such as using DVD and mobile media, to get their content in front of viewers.
- Children's TV viewing habits are notoriously difficult to predict. They actively seek out the programmes they want to watch, so ITV will need to ensure it screens them.
- Fortunately, ITV has a massive back catalogue of children's programmes, mostly from the Scottish TV library.
- The decision to run children's shows on ITV4 means that at least there will be some additional programming choice during the daytime, rather than more of the predictable fare supported by advertising from finance companies offering loans.