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U.K. channels cut production spend

Top five stations reduce spending by 15%

LONDON — The U.K.’s five main terrestrial TV webs have cut their spend on original British shows by almost 15% in the last four years, according to a report by local media regulator Ofcom.

The figure is down from £3 billion ($5 billion) in 2004 to $4.3 billion in 2008, Ofcom’s annual Public Service Broadcasting Report found.

It also shows that the total hours of U.K. original content broadcast on the five main PSBs — BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4 and Five — fell by 3% between 2004 and 2008 to 33,177 hours a year.

Children’s TV was hit particularly hard. The amount spent by the commercial PSBs on tyke shows fell by an eye-watering 70%, down from $69 million to $18 million.

This underlines the problems experienced by British producers of children’s shows.

Even the BBC’s spend on kids’ TV dropped by a fifth — from $160 million to $127 million.

Overall spend on U.K. network news and current affairs fell from $476 million to $412 million.

These figures will add fuel to those concerned about the long-term future of investment in British TV production, especially as they were compiled before recent cuts imposed by private webs responding to the economic crisis.

The one scrap of good news for those who are convinced that investment needs to be made in public service shows beyond the BBC is that Ofcom said that viewers’ overall appreciation of the PSB channels has increased during the past two years.

This is against the backdrop of a rapidly changing U.K. TV market, including the continuing growth of multichannel and pay TV, and non-linear viewing such as digital video recorders, the BBC iPlayer and other video on demand services.

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