Digital Economy Bill - Committee (4th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 8th February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Gordon of Strathblane Lord Gordon of Strathblane Labour 8:30 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, I am in the awkward position of being unable to give this my full support, which I very much regret. I am now a grandparent, with four grandchildren who watch children’s programming avidly. Inevitably, I watch it with them; I greatly value the British content and want it increased. The question is, how do we do that? We cannot in fairness ask ITV to do children’s programming while at the same time this Parliament has legislated that no advertising in children’s programming will be allowed. A service that depends on advertising for its funding has been denied funding to do the sort of programming somebody wants to do—so we have got to find another way round it.

That is why the Government have come up with the idea of the contestable fund. I would agree that this is a higher priority than local television, for example. If I were in the Government, I would allocate all the contestable fund to children’s programming. It would then be possible, through contestable funding, to get some programmes made. The difficulty then would be to find a platform that will air them, given that—as has been rightly recognised—nowadays nobody puts children’s programming on their main channel. The BBC does not do it; it is not on BBC1 or BBC2, but CBeebies. If ITV were to do it, it would have to be on CITV. The question is how one gets people willingly to commission children’s programming that is not going to make them any money, unless it is an absolute winner. If there were “Teletubbies” round every corner, everybody would be making children’s programmes every day. The fact is, though, that it is extremely difficult to get right: “Teletubbies” is 20 years old. “In the Night Garden” is wonderful, but children grow out of that quite quickly. Children are quite demanding. It becomes almost a rite of passage; they are almost proud of growing out of things. “That’s for little people; I’m a big boy now”.

We have got to find some way of helping the sector to get the exposure on British television and then launch it internationally. I think one idea might be to invite ITV and Channel 4 to have a say in the selection of the recipients of the contestable fund. If they had helped to commission the programme they would then be in a less strong position to refuse to accept it once it was completed. That might be a way forward. I find it very difficult to find another way, because ITV faces more competition now than it did in 2003, when Ofcom took the decision that it was reasonable to downgrade children’s programming from tier 2 to tier 3. The position has not improved since then. Netflix, Amazon and so on are all producing programmes in a way that was not even thought of in 2003, so the position is even more difficult. We have got to find a way of getting enlightened self-interest to lead broadcasters to do children’s programming and screen it. I think that the contestable fund is a way forward.