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British kids’ programs disappear

Ofcom warns of crisis

U.K. media regulator Ofcom has warned that just 17% of children’s programs on British TV are now homegrown.

In a report that will feed into its review of public-service broadcasting, the regulator said investment in kidvid by terrestrial channels ITV, GMTV, Channel 4 and Five had halved in real terms since 1998.

“The future provision of high-quality programming for children appears to be under threat,” said Ofcom’s Peter Phillips.

The regulator is particularly concerned about children’s drama and factual programs.

ITV, the U.K.’s biggest private terrestrial web, has stopped making tyke fare because it says there is no money in it.

Five, owned by RTL, claims its commitment to preschool shows remains firm, but Ofcom’s research suggests the hours devoted to children’s shows on the web has decreased by 58%.

Only the BBC, which runs dedicated digital nets CBeebies and CBBC, was still investing substantial coin in original U.K. shows as of 2006.

Overall investment in U.K. children’s programs dropped from $254 million in 1998 to $218 million last year.

“The market has been transformed by increased competition and audience fragmentation,” said Ofcom chief exec Ed Richards. “Parents are understandably concerned, and we need a national debate on what measures, if any, can or should be taken.”

Ofcom said that tyke channels such as Nickelodeon drew 82% of children’s viewing in 2006, the public-service channels only 18%.

Pact, the org representing British producers, said that unless action is taken, British children’s fare will die out, “leaving future generations with nothing more than a series of reruns and imports.”

This sentiment was echoed by Jocelyn Hay, chair of viewers group the Voice of the Listener and Viewer. “As the range of high-quality British-made programs has declined, unregulated multinational corporations have expanded their services on cable and satellite and now dominate children’s viewing,” she said.

“They bring entertainment but broadcast mainly American content, much of it soaps or animation.

“Unless swift action is taken to retrieve the situation, future generations will grow up with a Disneyfied view not only of the world but of their own culture and history.”