12 Jun 2016

Shrinking options for kids on TV

From Mediawatch, 9:09 am on 12 June 2016

TVNZ's just launched a channel for blokes. MediaWorks has one in the pipeline for women. There's even one coming to Freeview for fans of foreign house renovations. But the TV options for kids are shrinking.  

A close-up of a child watching television

Photo: 123RF

Back in March, TVNZ copped a bit of flak when they launched Duke - a channel for men. TVNZ boss Kevin Kenrick said more programmes in prime time appealed to women than to men, and no one would be checking viewers’ gender at the door. 

But a month later his controversial counterpart at MediaWorks, Mark Weldon (who has since famously resigned) said the glaring gap in the market was for women. MediaWorks is launching Bravo - a joint venture with United States-based NBC Universal that is stacked with foreign format reality shows - in July. 

One audience hardly under-served these days is those who like home renovation shows. But next month there will be a entire channel devoted to them when US channel HGTV appears on Freeview. 

But the arrival of Bravo means the youth focused free-to-air channel FOUR will disappear.

"That was focused on younger demographics which are flocking to the internet and Snapchat," said Mark Weldon. "That's not the place to be on TV any more."

And that's bad news for young kids and their parents.

FOUR currently screens Sesame Street for early-rising kids at 6am. The publicly-funded and locally-made Sticky TV follows at 7am and there's plenty of other kids' shows right through the morning and afternoon.

MediaWorks said Sticky TV, the locally-made Moe Show and "a selection of the popular kids content currently on FOUR" would still be screened, but on TV3 instead in a new schedule yet to be finalised.  

But will Paul Henry give way to Sesame Street and Sticky TV at breakfast-time? It's not likely.

That leaves TV2 as the only free-to-air network dedicated to children's TV shows during the day. And even though $250 million of public money is spent on broadcasting each year, there is no advertising-free programming for kids on free-to-air TV these days.

TVNZ6 had hours of ad-free kids shows in its Kidzone slot, but the channel closed in 2012. Kidzone went to Sky TV after that until earlier this year, and now it is available only on TVNZ On Demand. It's free to access and free of adverts, but not a good option for parents with broadband limits or no broadband at all.

The outfit with statutory responsibility to ensure children are catered for is broadcasting funding agency New Zealand On Air. It spends about $15m of public money on children's programmes but cannot force to broadcasters to air them. 

MOE is based on the legend of the Moehau Monster who roams Mount Moehau on the Coromandel Peninsula

Should programmes for kids be on TV or online?

Currently NZOA is rethinking how to fund children’s content in the future. 

NZOA's most recent annual report says TV2 and FOUR (and Māori Television, focusing on Te Reo) have created children’s schedules but "this support cannot be taken for granted”.

FOUR's upcoming shift to Bravo makes that clear. 

Cover of New Zealand On Air's study of 700 children.

New Zealand On Air's study of 700 children. Photo: screenshot

NZOA commissioned a Colmar Brunton survey of 700 children to assess media use by children. It said that survey found 66 percent of children used the internet daily, and 72 percent had access to a tablet or mobile phone. YouTube also now rivalled TV2 as the main source of entertainment for children.

The survey found nine out of ten children watch TV every day, but a TV channel for children doesn't feature as an option in the discussion paper NZOA put out last year.

"TV is still the dominant screen in New Zealand children's lives, said Colmar Brunton's report, while "on-demand sites are rarely used by 6-14 year-olds on a daily basis". NZOA's review noted that money was spent on an iPad app for kids' science show Let's Get Inventin', but it was downloaded less than 1800 times before the show was scrapped by TVNZ.

But NZ On Air sought expressions of interest for an online platform to host content for kids and is expected to announce a plan and funding for one next month.

Janette Howe is the chair of the New Zealand Children's Screen Trust, a group formed to press for a home for good children’s television when TVNZ’s last non-commercial channel closed in 2012.

"We're seeing market failure, and what can happen when there's no commitment to a policy for children's content. There's a small amount of funded content through New Zealand On Air but essentially no place to put it. Parents are noticing it disappear." 

Janette Howe

Janette Howe Photo: supplied

"Some parents with Sky would disagree, but it's better than being behind a paywall, and there is potential for it to grow. The digital divide may be closing but it still exists.  Kids have a right to media that informs them and educates them about their world. We're failing our kids."

What's the answer?

Ms Howe points to Australia's public broadcaster the ABC. It operates two children's channels, both of which have interactive websites and on-demand platforms for the content.

"When you have an anchor channel you can develop that and parents and kids know where to find it. We don't have that public space any more. We've lost it," she said. "That's why NZOA has put the call out to commercial companies to build something online."

In its submission to NZOA's review of children's content funding, the Children's Screen Trust acknowledged that a stand-alone channel for kids was unlikely. But if between $14m and $18m is being spent on content, why not? 

"We haven't given up on that, but you have to work with what you've got," Ms Howe said.