In the face of heavy competition from American streaming services like Netflix and Amazon and web/mobile-based video platforms like Youtube, the BBC has decided to make its biggest investment in children’s content in a generation. The broadcaster announced on Tuesday that it will invest an additional £34 million (US$44 million) over the next three tv seasons.
The money will be used on content and services that will enhance the BBC’s online offerings for children, both on CBeebies, which is the BBC’s preschool channel, and CBBC, with offerings for 6-12 year olds. The investment raises the overall annual children’s budget to £124.4 million (US$161 million) for the 2019-20 season, up from £110 million today.
By 2020, nearly a quarter of that annual budget – £31.4 million – will be spent on online programming and services. The increased spend on digital viewing is a reflection of the squeeze that the BBC feels from the evolving viewing habits of children. Viewership on CBBC has declined, as children shift from linear television to digital alternatives.
An Ofcom report published last November found that for the first time online viewing has overtaken tv viewing for children ages 5-15, who now spend around 15 hours per week online. Preschoolers aged 3-4 spent around 8.25 hours per week online in 2016, up from 6.75 hours per week in 2015. Youtube is among the most popular viewing destinations, with 73% of children 5-15 using the site, and 37% of preschoolers.
“Our audience is rapidly changing and now more than ever we need to keep up,” said Alice Webb, BBC director of children’s programming. “[A]s our audience increasingly move[s] online it’s our job to stay relevant, inspiring and engaging them on whichever platform they choose.”
Pledging to create a more personal online service, the public broadcaster aims to make its children’s content more readily available through its BBC iPlayer Kids app, while also developing more interactive digital content and experiences. It will also focus on more “brand extensions across all platforms” and will aim to support its key titles with year-round multimedia content including video, live online program extensions and clips, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, quizzes, guides, games, and apps.
The BBC is not alone in the challenges it faces from online services. In the U.S., Disney Channel and Freeform (formerly ABC Family) have lost 4 million subscribers apiece over the last three years, according to a story published this week in the Wall Street Journal. Cable ratings are down this year for most of Disney’s family channels, including Disney Channel, Freeform, Disney Jr., and Disney XD.
(pictured at top: “Twirlywoos,” a series on CBeebies)