U.K. Government Shuts Down Major Children’s Programming Fund After Three Years

The pioneering BFI Young Audiences Content Fund, funded by the U.K. government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), will conclude its three-year pilot program on Feb. 25.

The fund offered up to 50% of the budget of programs aimed at children and young people from U.K. public service broadcasters such as ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. It supported 144 development projects and 55 productions, including “Teen First Dates” (Channel 4’s E4), “Makeaway Takeaway” (ITV’s CITV) and “The World According The Grandpa” (Channel 5’s Milkshake!), as well as new projects in indigenous languages including “Sol,” created for the Celtic languages Irish (TG4), Scottish Gaelic (BBC ALBA) and Welsh (S4C). There are 24 projects in production still to air over the next two years.

The decision to shut down the fund has been met with resistance from an influential U.K. organization. The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF), a non-profit organization concerned with securing the best media choices for young people on all platforms, has called the decision “a short-sighted failure on the part of the policy makers at the DCMS” and has asked Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries to reverse the decision.

CMF chair Anna Home said: “Now we face a definite decrease in the number and range of programs being made for young people in the U.K. — we could very quickly be back where we started three years ago — with the BBC as the only body commissioning content for children — and in fact it’s worse as the BBC is facing government-imposed budget cuts of its own over the next few years, too.”

According to U.K. media regulator Ofcom, U.K.-originated hours and spend by public service broadcasters on children’s programming has been on a steady decline for the last decade. Broadcasters commissioned just 640 hours in 2019, compared to 1,584 in 2006. Spend dipped from around £99 million ($133 million) to £79 million ($106 million) between 2013 and 2019.

The Young Audiences Content Fund underspent some of its budget a year ago due to COVID-19 and that amount was taken back by the DCMS. CMF director Greg Childs said: “The amount the government needlessly clawed back was around 25% of the overall budget for the fund. This could easily keep the fund alive for a further couple of years as the effects of BBC budget cuts are better understood, and as discussions on the future of the television licence fee are concluded.”

The CMF suggests that a combination of a levy on streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, Disney Plus and YouTube combined with enhanced lottery funding could finance the fund in the future.

Meanwhile, the British Film Institute (BFI), which administers the Young Audiences Content Fund, said in a statement: “We are incredibly proud of what the BFI Young Audiences Content Fund has achieved in three years. It has given young people all over the U.K. the opportunity to watch and engage with original U.K. programming on free-to-access, regulated platforms, reflecting their lives, hopes and fears, and educating, entertaining and inspiring them.

“Research and re-commissions demonstrate that these programs have a high level of appreciation from young audiences and we hope the fund’s legacy will be to encourage U.K. broadcasters to continue to focus on programs that nurture and nourish and reflect the lives of young people in the U.K.,” the statement added.