U.K.-casters battle for digital TV eyeballs

As the battle lines are drawn for the launch of digital television in the U.K., broadcasters have begun to outline the role of kids programs on their new channels....
October 1, 1998

As the battle lines are drawn for the launch of digital television in the U.K., broadcasters have begun to outline the role of kids programs on their new channels.

On September 23, the BBC launched general-interest channel BBC Choice, which is available initially on Sky’s new digital satellite platform.

Head of programming Katharine Everett has revealed plans to introduce kids blocks aimed at 2- to 12-year-olds sometime this month. The blocks will air between midday and early evening on Saturdays and Sundays, and a one-hour segment for older kids ages 10 to 14 will air at 5 p.m. on weekdays.

Everett, a mother herself, is keen to offer kids an alternative to American thematic channels such as Nick and Cartoon, which dominate U.K. multichannel viewing. In contrast, the new block won’t depend so heavily on animation and U.S.-based drama series. Her strategy will be to provide programming that complements the kids line-up on BBC 1 and BBC 2, including behind-the-scenes shows and special events.

The U.K.’s leading commercial broadcaster, ITV, has unveiled plans to target 13- to 34-year-olds with its new digital terrestrial service, ITV 2. Specifically aimed at teens is a 60-minute magazine show called Bedrock that will air every weekday for a year. The show, which is ITV 2′s largest commission with a budget of roughly US$16,000 per episode, is being made by Princess Productions.

In a separate development, Carlton Television has also announced its intention to provide a kids channel as part of its programming commitment to the new digital terrestrial service On Digital.

Carlton Kids will be broadcast daily for five hours in the afternoon, and like BBC Choice, is pitching itself as an alternative to the U.S.-owned channels-its content will include fewer cartoons and less violence. Carlton, which is one of the main suppliers of kids shows to ITV, plans to appeal to kids of all ages with its new service.

Meanwhile, former BBC children’s supremo Anna Home has been appointed as chair of a new preschool channel that is being put together by Welsh public service broadcaster S4C, United News & Media and NTL.

The Nursery Channel is expected to launch early next year and is placing strong emphasis on original activity-based programming for preschoolers. Eina McHugh, who directed the Second World Summit on Television for Children last March, is helping Home develop the concept.

Finally, the BBC and Flextech have teamed up for the October launch of a channel for 16- to 24-year-olds called UK Play, which is intended to rival MTV. As part of the 18-hour schedule, children’s animation series that have achieved cult status among older audiences, such as Mr. Benn, Camberwick Green, Trumpton, Chigley and Bod, will be run during the daytime.

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