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Double whammy – precarious fate of CiTV adds to U.K. prodco worries

AS the international market watches the U.K. kids entertainment industry gird itself for Ofcom's fall ruling on junkfood advertising, news that terrestrial broadcaster ITV is set to reduce its kids slate comes as another big blow to prodcos working in the region. The word on the street is children's programming on ITV1 will be slashed from eight hours a week to just two.
September 1, 2006

AS the international market watches the U.K. kids entertainment industry gird itself for Ofcom’s fall ruling on junkfood advertising, news that terrestrial broadcaster ITV is set to reduce its kids slate comes as another big blow to prodcos working in the region. The word on the street is children’s programming on ITV1 will be slashed from eight hours a week to just two.

Throughout the summer ITV has been undergoing a top-to-bottom assessment of all areas of its programming, says Estelle Hughes, the outgoing controller of kids diginet CiTV, which was launched by the commercial public service broadcaster (PSB) last March. ‘It includes religion, current affairs, news, and kids…there continues to be a detailed look at the hours that children’s TV takes on ITV1,’ Hughes explains.

Although she was careful to avoid saying the company plans to cut its children’s obligations on ITV1, Kate Lee, a spokeswoman for Ofcom, acknowledges the news. ‘ITV is currently requesting a reduction in its children’s programming obligations,’ she says.

The reason for the assessment is a desire for ITV1 ‘to be able to compete more during weekdays for adult impact,’ Hughes says. As such, the future of ITV has been discussed and reported on in U.K. business news almost daily for months, with the beleaguered PSB contorting its way through a ratings-fueled identity crisis.

Anxiety over ITV’s kids programming reached a fevered pitch in late August when Hughes announced her departure from the company. While she downplays her exit as a harbinger of the demise of kids shows at ITV, she did say her position would not be immediately filled. To her knowledge her duties are being assumed by Alison Sharman and Steve Andrew. Sharman, a former controller of CBBC, is ITV’s director of factual and daytime programming; Andrew is the controller of children’s and youth programming.

Hughes three years with ITV included turning CiTV from a 20-year-old branded daily slot on ITV1 into a dedicated digi-channel. Industry rumors of the end of kids programming on the PSB are overblown, Hughes says, adding CiTV has new programming rolling out in the autumn and throughout 2007.

However, Hughes admits the top-down programming review has halted commissioning for the time being and that ITV production arm, Granada Kids, was being closed in the coming months. But regardless of the assessment’s outcome, ITV’s commissioning of children’s programs will be affected. While CiTV will eventually have more of a commissions budget, that increase won’t be seen any time soon, Hughes says.

The immediate future is bleak, says Oliver Ellis, the director of children’s and family programming at Target Entertainment. There will be ‘a tremendous hiatus’ before the dedicated kids digi-channels are able to commission more than the occasional original program, he believes.

The dropping away of ITV1′s kids commitments could also push down acquisition fees overall. With only Five and BBC as the remaining major terrestrial channels taking children’s programming, Ellis notes, there could emerge a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude on the part of buyers when it comes to fee negotiation time. MS

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