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Posted on Wed 16th Sep, 2015 in: Industry Comment, Influence by Jenny Wilkinson

There's been a host of headlines following the speech by BBC Director General Tony Hall about the future of the BBC. His plans for the broadcaster, ahead of the renewal of the Royal charter, are all about making it an "open BBC for the internet age". Plans include a focus on shared content and a push to online, which translated into headlines that beloved channels, including CBeebies, CBBC and BBC 4, could be axed. [caption id="attachment_2518" align="aligncenter" width="207"]CBeebies and CBBC BBC Children's much-loved TV channels[/caption] Naturally, as a mother of two young children I was horrified at the thought of losing children's TV (a staple of my parenting armour) and I immediately started looking into the truth surrounding these rumours. As well as realising there are no immediate plans to axe children's TV, what I discovered next was much more interesting. The Beeb has come up with a really clever idea which seems to have passed everyone by. Its proposition is iPlay, a children's-only iPlayer-style platform that will bring all the BBC's children's media offering into one space, including television programmes, blogs, podcasts, games and educational tools. I'm really intrigued by this. The BBC has a well-earned reputation for creating engaging and educational children's content that meets the needs of its two key audiences - parents and children. It was when Phillip Schofield & Gordon the Gopher and Andy Peter & Ed the Duck took over The Broom Cupboard and began broadcasting live links in-between CBBC children's programmes that Children's BBC became more than just great individual shows and developed a solid identity and 'brand'. The BBC has been playing an important role in developing and shaping British children for decades and it's always maintained a format that shows it understands what its audience wants. Over the last 30 years the children's offering has changed dramatically, going from daily short slots on BBC One and Two to offering kids access to content on two dedicated channels (CBBC and CBeebies) across TV and online platforms, whenever they want. But while their current offering is great, they can't afford to stand still. Today's toddlers and school children (Gen Z) have a very different idea again of interaction and engagement. These are children who are growing up in a fully connected world, where choice, connectivity, personalisation and instant on-demand access is a given. What I've learnt, as a parent of a 3 and 7-year-old and an aunt of a 16-year-old, is that children want, and expect, it all. If it's of interest to them, they are just as happy with long content as they are with short content, be it TV shows, blogs, news articles, games, stories, vodcasts, podcasts or more creative tools to make their own content. They are already well-informed about what they want. What's more important to them is to be able to easily find things, when they want it, wherever they are, on any device and also be able to pick up where they left off when they get back from school. And, for me, iPlay is a really interesting way of creating a one-stop-shop that brings the content and functionality from the BBC's existing children's TV channels, iPlayer and websites into a single, interactive space. The idea is that iPlay will act as a hub for children's content, enabling kids to watch more tailored content and learn how to "explore and develop their innate creativity"? by developing apps or creating vlogs linked to their tastes and interests. It will also allow each child or parent to create a personal menu of their favourite content, made up of shows, podcasts, blogs, games and educational tools based on the developmental stages of their audience, rather than defining their audience into the two distinct categories they have currently: pre-school (CBeebies) and school children (CBBC). It's a great example of delivering the right content to kids in a way they want to access it, and in the right places safely. My kids don't want to just sit and watch a single show any more. They use the TV programme as a springboard to go on and actively discover and engage with the ideas and concepts they've just seen - be it through a game (both imaginative play and online), another programme/vlog, reading, creating, designing or drawing. The concept of iPlay captures that and will encourage children to be more than just passive consumers and help them to actively create and engage with the content. I'm surprised at how low-key the BBC is being about it. I know it's largely an anti-BBC media environment but they've sneaked this out without much fanfare. From a comms perspective, ideas like this are a great opportunity to demonstrate the value and uniqueness that viewers get from the TV licence fee and the BBC should be using concepts like this to push this message home. The unique thing about iPlay is that no other broadcaster can offer this. Currently there are more than 30 UK kids TV channels and countless digital platforms designed for kids, meaning the media consumption habits of children make them one of the most complex of any group out there. I love the idea of iPlay. For me it demonstrates why the BBC do so well with their offering for children. As Alice Webb, Director of BBC Children's, says: "For us it's audience first, rather than digital first." I can't wait to see what my children make of iPlay. Having watched the way they currently consume and engage with brands and entertainment, I think iPlay will be a hit.

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