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CBBC faces uncertain post-cut future

In an effort to rein in budgets, funnel more funding into production and build up the BBC's digital resources for the future, director general Mark Thompson plans to axe more than 13% of the pubcaster's total workforce over the next three years. While the fallout will definitely impact the pubcaster's kids division, just how deeply it will be felt is still up in the air.
May 1, 2005

In an effort to rein in budgets, funnel more funding into production and build up the BBC’s digital resources for the future, director general Mark Thompson plans to axe more than 13% of the pubcaster’s total workforce over the next three years. While the fallout will definitely impact the pubcaster’s kids division, just how deeply it will be felt is still up in the air.

In total, 2,050 positions in both content and output will be axed, which should generate annual savings of US$415 million by 2008 – all of which, says Thompson, will be ploughed back into programming. When added to the 1,730 administrative job cuts announced at the beginning of March, the yearly savings jumps to US$665 million.

The CBBC, which encompasses programming blocks on BBC1 and BBC2, as well as diginets Cbeebies and CBBC, is part of a single department that also includes drama and entertainment. That department is supposed to lose 150 jobs, but it’s still unclear how these cuts will be spread out between the unit’s subdivisions. Although CBBC will receive an extra US$26 million in funding, it didn’t feature on Thompson’s list of investment priorities.

Adding to the uncertainty is the departure of CBBC channel controller Dorothy Prior, who is moving on to a new role as controller of production resources. Her replacement, head of daytime Alison Sharman, is not due to take up her new post until late June. In the interim, CBBC will be under the caretaker management of deputy controller Susan Spindler.

A force to be reckoned with in both free-to-air and digital cable/satellite broadcasting, CBBC is one of the largest commissioners of local and original content in the highly competitive U.K. children’s TV market. Reflecting industry-wide concern about the possible impact the cuts may have, Jocelyn Stevenson, senior VP of global creative production for HIT Entertainment, commented that this could place significant strain on an already under-resourced department. ‘No one objects to cutting fat, but when you slice to the bone, there is the risk of hemorrhaging,’ she quips. ‘And as we all know, bleeding to death is counter-productive.’

It’s not the easiest time to jump into the fray, but Sharman is keeping her eyes fixed on the future, mapping out a vision for CBBC’s digital evolution. ‘Multimedia consumption has a big role to play in the lives of our children,’ she says. ‘They increasingly access content through a variety of platforms, and their relationship with TV is very different to that of a more adult audience.’ To that end, she feels her biggest challenge will be maximizing all the platforms available, and building brand loyalty by keeping up with kids’ appetite for innovation.

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