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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Vaizey: Kids' TV Caught in the "Perfect Storm"

Showcomotion Chair Anna Home (former Head of Children’s Programmes for the BBC) introduced Shadow Minister Ed Vaizey by talking about the “special and particular scrutiny” received recently on children and the media in the UK. She cited multiple governmental reports from various sectors (Vaizey estimated that number at 14!). Home said it was great that the children’s media industry and culture are being taken so seriously, but wondered if it all was happening too late to take the values of PSB forward into the future.

Vaizey spotlighted the conundrum of children’s media policy today. In the UK government’s broad “Children’s Plan” on the difficulties in bringing up youth today, the second point of the executive summary referred to the “danger of television,” whereas it wasn’t until page 45 that the report mentioned the medium’s positive potential. The environment is “somewhat hostile and somewhat suspicious and I don’t think it should be that way,” Vaizey (father of a two year old) said.

He also noted that children’s TV is caught in “the perfect storm” – more regulation makes it less advantageous for broadcasters to produce new content, while the fast-changing technology environment is making innovation ever more necessary.

Vaizey demurred from taking a stand on any of Ofcom’s four proposals for ways forward, or from a fifth proposal to create a central commissioner of domestic children’s PSB content for use across channels. He did say, however, that the industry’s lobbying efforts for tax incentives (particularly by the producers’ lobby PACT) has been very effective – they haven’t asked for the world and they have been clear and responsive to issues raised, he noted, citing in particular PACT’s argument that if tax incentives prove useless, no one will use them, but they represent a small investment with big benefits if they are effective.

Tax incentives, Vaizey proposed, make sense for industries that are in the business of risk, because they give companies incentive to keep money at home, keep regulation to a minimum and act in a very targeted way.

When it came time for questions, the largest concern from the audience was whether government concern can be turned to action in time to save the industry. Vaizey admitted that it’s unlikely anything would happen before 2010, when the next election is likely to take place, and that he’s not convinced the case for more urgent intervention has yet been made.

Disclaimer: As an American visitor, this report is filtered through my own understanding both of the British political system and of what Mr. Vaizey said; others at Showcomotion or simply those who know the environment are very much invited to clarify or comment!

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