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The Scooby-Doo challenge Kids' TV at the BBC

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BBC Children's controller, Richard Deverell, may be one of the few media executives in the current climate with expansion on his mind. The former head of BBC News Interactive, who has been in his job since February 2006, is currently waiting for the BBC Trust to decide whether to extend the hours of the CBBC channel; allowing it to finish at 9pm, rather than the present 7pm cut-off time. He expects a decision (which depends on "all sorts of complicated things") by next year.

The combined budget for CBBC and the preschool channel CBeebies - an estimated £125m a year - won't be increased, with existing content used to fill the airtime. But Deverell hopes the expansion would still allow the channel to gain a "huge advantage". Nickelodeon and Disney currently run until 11pm and through the night respectively.

Deverell admits that American fare "always keeps us on our toes", but says it will never succeed in reflecting "life in the UK". He concedes, though, that British programming has always faced what he calls the Scooby-Doo challenge. "When a popular programme like that is one click away from the zapper, how do you make them stick with what you are offering?" he says.

Deverell cites shows such as MI High, CBBC's glossy high-concept kids' spy series, and Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures as examples that pass the test of competition against US imports "with flying colours".

The channel commands a share of around 35% of 6- to 12-year-olds in a marketplace of 25 dedicated children's channels - and CBeebies does even better, maintaining a 50% reach of under-6-year-olds in the UK in the face of competition from channels such as Playhouse Disney, Nick Jr and Five's Milkshake. From just eight original programmes in 2005/6, CBeebies has upped its output to 18 new series in 2008/9, with additions including a new Aardman animation called Timmy Time, a spin-off from the popular Shaun the Sheep.

But all this has come at a cost. In 2005 the on-screen spend for CBeebies was £6m - it is now £12m, an increase Deverell insists is down to "internal efficiencies". It represents "outstanding value for money", he says, which will be put to the test tomorrow, when both channels unveil their winter/spring line-ups.

CBBC's schedule is led by Richard Hammond's first show for children, a 12-part science-based game show called Blast Lab, and Deverell says his output is unafraid to tackle the "difficult" stuff, whether it is ethnicity, disability or, in the case of Paul Wilmshurst's new three-part drama Runaway, the lives of young British homeless (there will also be accompanying documentaries).

Deverell will not be drawn on claims that, while pre-school programming seems to be doing well, older children are under-serviced in an overall TV schedule free of staple big-hitters such as Grange Hill, Byker Grove (which he axed in 2006), Children's Ward and The Demon Headmaster, which have all ended now.

"You'd probably best ask the people who run BBC Switch," he says, insisting that these programmes are the preserve of the BBC's new youth service for 12- to 18-year-olds. But doesn't he have a view? They are graduates from his channels, surely? Not one he seems prepared to state publicly - although he does assert that "as children get older ... they have access to far more choice" in other areas of media consumption, including the internet.

Deverell is also reluctant to discuss reports that 25% of staff may be reluctant to relocate as part of what he calls the "fantastically liberating" move of his channels to Salford, Greater Manchester by 2011 - and sidesteps questions of how commercial children's television in the UK could be guaranteed. He insists that the BBC is an "observer" in the debate, but admits that something must be done to maintain "quality and supply".

"For 30 to 40 years, ITV was a major competitor. But now we are in a situation where S4C is the second-largest supplier of original content for children," he says. "We are in a position not of our own choosing and it is not a position we would like to be in, where we are the only main provider of content. But it means we take our obligations very seriously."

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  • APA 6th ed.: Dowell, Ben (2008-11-24). The Scooby-Doo challenge Kids' TV at the BBC. The Guardian p. 7.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Dowell, Ben. "The Scooby-Doo challenge Kids' TV at the BBC." The Guardian [add city] 2008-11-24, 7. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Dowell, Ben. "The Scooby-Doo challenge Kids' TV at the BBC." The Guardian, edition, sec., 2008-11-24
  • Turabian: Dowell, Ben. "The Scooby-Doo challenge Kids' TV at the BBC." The Guardian, 2008-11-24, section, 7 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=The Scooby-Doo challenge Kids' TV at the BBC | url= | work=The Guardian | pages=7 | date=2008-11-24 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=17 April 2024 }}</ref>
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