Beloved characters being sold off. Value of children’s television being set at zero. All is not rosy in children’s television, especially in the UK. We’re very fortunate here in Ireland to have some excellent support (some not so excellent support but that’s for a whole other post). But support seems thin on the ground in the UK, birthplace of Bagpuss, the Clangers, Peppa Pig, Charlie & Lola, Paddington Bear, Roobarb and countless other children’s classics.
Animation UK released a report earlier in the week on the state of their industry and what they need in order to continue making quality shows. To continue making shows at all. The children’s television business is, at the very least, on shaky ground. Companies folding, people out of work. That’s the industry. The big shocker for me in there was how short they were in financing the fantastic Peppa Pig – they had to turn to friends and family to raise £350,000. Peppa almost never happened. And, right now, other shows aren’t happening.
I don’t expect parents to care about that beyond maybe the odd sympathy nod (you know one of those ‘I understand’ kind of nods – they’re nice). Ultimately, it’s not the job of parents to keep us employed. And yet, what happens to those of us in children’s television does affect parents.
Where it affects parents is in the quality of the shows their children have access to.
Where it affects parents is in the cultural relevance of the shows their children have access to.
Where it affects parents is in the educational content versus glorified toy ad content in the shows their children have access to.*
Where it affects parents is where it affects their children.
And that’s one place I very much expect parents to care.
I would argue that television aimed at younger children is the most important television of all. It is around those years that children are learning the most, forming their world view. That’s why this area of television will always need special attention, safe-guarding, constant re-evaluation and an acceptance of nothing less than excellence.
And it’s not just about what your children are watching right now. Humf may be a big deal in your house today but in a few years time, he could mean nothing to your child – it will be High School Musical 74 or the like. And you might be the one parent in your town who doesn’t even own a television. Here’s the bad news – every other parent does, and their children are in your school teaching your children what they picked up from television. Children of all age groups are teaching other children.
If you’re a parent, as I am, you are not isolated. Your children need good television.
So what can you do? Well, talk about it for one thing. Discuss (whether in person or online) good television or bad television. Make it known to people who matter (broadcasters, government officials, even programme makers) if you appreciate what’s being shown, what’s not being shown and what YOU want to see on television for your children.
Demand better television.
Demand local television.
The children’s television model has to change. For it to change for the better, or simply not for the worse, parents need to take control and drive home the value of good television. To my peers, friends and lovers of great children’s television in the UK – I wish you luck and I wish you success. You have set an example for all of us in shows for younger children, from Roobarb all the way to today. One of my proudest moments was being able to be part of the animated Children In Need video, not just because it was for a great cause but because I was honoured to be among such good company and great timeless characters. The UK children’s television industry has made history many times over and should continue doing so. You deserve the support you need.
*There is a industry-wide conflict here that is apparent in the Animation UK document, which discusses huge markets and high licensing figures while also saying they need government support to remain viable – and yet often the reason other countries have support is because they mostly aren’t viable. Perhaps an acceptance that children’s television isn’t all big business might change perceptions and lead towards a model that isn’t quite as fragile as the current one? After all, when companies like Mattel are willing to buy Hit’s properties for $680 million, it calls the whole lack of viability thing into question. Depends on whether you’re making a great show, or a licensing brand. One is not always compatible with the other, nor should they be… just a personal thought.