Last month, BBC director-general Tim Davies announced a several cuts to television programming, including moving BBC Four and CBBC to be online only. This came following an announcement from Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries (possibly the least cultured culture secretary we’ve ever had) that the licence fee would be frozen for two years.
I can’t help but feel a little concerned by the CBBC move in particular. Growing up in the UK, CBBC (the children’s BBC) was one of the few children’s television channels that was available for free (once you’d paid your licence fee).
CBBC programmes have often offered a lot of educational value as well as entertainment. Beloved classics like Newsround are brilliant at introducing children to watching and engaging with the news and the wider world. Then there’s Deadly 60, a personal favourite, and everybody remembers Horrible Histories, without which I think we’d all struggle to name every one of Henry VIII’s wives (and much more besides).
You might say, why does it matter whether it’s online or not? Most kids are online these days and frequently accessing Youtube and streaming services. And you’re probably right. The pandemic, though, recently brought into focus our increasing reliance on digital services - and highlighted the number of families who struggle to access them. A 2019 report from the Office for National Statistics on the UK’s ‘digital divide’ showed that only 51% of families with a household income between £6000 and £10,000 had access to internet. Clearly, such families might also struggle to pay the TV licence fee of £159, although at £13.25 a month it still comes in below the average monthly broadband cost of £30.30 (according to Glide.co.uk). There’s also the consideration that kids might be safer watching a controlled television channel rather than subjected to the various content risks on the internet.
But in the end, maybe I’m just falling victim to a weird cathode-ray nostalgia, and it really doesn’t matter. I suppose only time will tell.