Twelve years since launching as a commercial-free digital channel for kids under six, BBC’s dedicated kidnet CBeebies continues to deliver on its commitment to offer a diverse portfolio of the best original and acquired programs for preschoolers and their caretakers.
Led by top-rated recent hits such as Sarah and Duck, Katie Morag, Topsy and Tim and Peter Rabbit, CBeebies now reaches more than 2.2 million children every week. It is also a hit on the BBC iPlayer—in 2013, there was a 60% increase in requests for CBeebies titles on the platform. Additionally, its first app, Playtime, has been downloaded nearly three million times.
More co-production growth and quality content is expected this year, thanks to television regulator Ofcom’s decision in March to increase CBeebies’ quota of acquired programs from 20% to 30%, leaving 70% of the sked designated for original content. The adjustment allows CBeebies to air fewer repeats of older fare and frees up scheduling space for more of its most popular acquired shows—the majority of which are produced in the UK.
CBeebies viewers are also getting more female-led series, including live-action family drama Katie Morag, as well as Minibeast Adventure—With Jess and the upcoming classical music-inspired Melody. “We’ve had a lot of flak over a perceived lack of female role models,” says CBeebies controller Kay Benbow. “But we actually have a lot of strong female leads in our live-action shows and many more coming through in animation. That said, we still need more strong female leads. At pitch and proposal stage, the default position does tend to be male.”
In keeping with its recent strategy to bring more drama to the channel, CBeebies has been riding high from the response to its two new live-action book adaptations Katie Morag and Topsy and Tim. The former was recently re-commissioned, and the latter was the channel’s most successful show of the year. “It was an ambition of mine for a very long time to bring drama to the channel,” says Benbow. “It gives kids at the top end of our audience, the four- to six-year-olds, a different style and genre. It takes them to another world, but still reflects the things that are familiar in a child’s life.”
Another departure for the channel is Time For School. “The first series rolled out early this year and shows real children starting school. It’s our first real observational documentary,” says Benbow. “It demystifies the school experience, not only for the children but for the parents, too.” The program, which resumes this October with season two, focuses on all aspects of school life, including children falling out and not doing what they should be doing.
CBeebies’ recent dinosaur-themed week, executed in partnership with the BBC’s Natural History Unit, featured popular new shows Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures and Dinopaws and was a huge success. “We try to do things other channels wouldn’t do,” says Benbow, pointing to the channel’s first-time involvement with BBC2′s Stargazing Live event this year, which encourages people across the UK to get out under the stars and learn about astronomy. “We did five special programs and it was fantastic because BBC2 would remind people to tune in to CBeebies the next day,” she says. The channel also just aired its first-ever CBeebies Prom featuring the BBC Philharmonic at Albert Hall.
This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Kidscreen.