CBBC stars on importance of children's entertainment amid online move – Radio Times

CBBC stars on importance of children’s entertainment amid online move – Radio Times

With CBBC moving to online and the children’s TV landscape drastically changing, RadioTimes.com spoke to Anthea Turner, Christopher Eccleston, Rhys Stephenson and other stars about the digitalisation of kids’ entertainment. From Blue Peter and Crackerjack to the Teletubbies and Horrible Histories, so many of us can say that we were raised in part by children’s television. Whether you were seamlessly adding Tracy Beaker’s ‘bog off’ to your playground vernacular or debating which breed of Pokémon would make the best sidekick, after-school shows have played the role of babysitter, teacher, conversation-starter and friend for so many kids over the last few decades. Of course, the landscape of children’s TV has changed dramatically in recent times with the advancement of technology and the relentless output of streaming platforms. With more toddlers wielding iPads and kids turning to the internet for entertainment, the incoming generation’s viewing habits are constantly evolving – resulting in many channels leaving the terrestrial space. BBC Director-General Tim Davie announced this summer that CBBC would be moving online as a “cost-saving measure”, in a move that would “embrace the huge shifts in the market around us” – and it’s not just the free-to-air broadcasters abandoning their spots on the TV guide. Back in 2020, Disney confirmed that it would be scrapping The Disney Channel, Disney Junior and Disney XD in the UK, with all content moving onto Disney Plus instead. With channels making big decisions when it comes to how they air their shows, discussions around the digitalisation and value of children’s TV couldn’t be more important – a sentiment shared by many stars within the kids’ entertainment sphere. “Kids’ TV provides a unique viewpoint,” Christopher Eccleston, who currently plays Fagin in CBBC drama Dodger, tells RadioTimes.com. “What CBBC has achieved down the decades is to be celebrated. Long may it continue.” “When I got into filming [Dodger], I soon realised how this drama set in Dickensian London actually was so very contemporary,” he adds. “Issues around poverty, homelessness – all the things that still sit at the heart of society – are dealt with in a way that allowed us as a family to take a look at and discuss our own lives as well as the lives of others.” Since TV producers first began creating content for children in the 1940s, kids’ shows have been responsible for moulding the minds of youngsters, passing on basic lessons in humanity via the means of entertainment. “Children’s dramas in particular have played a part in shaping the ideals that I now hold as an adult,” CBBC presenter and former Strictly Come Dancing contestant Rhys Stephenson says. “They are paramount in challenging the status quo for young people. “It’s also the fact that in a world where some believe children should be seen and not heard that someone out there takes the time to lovingly create something solely for them to enjoy and escape to. And it’s always these kind of programmes and the lessons they teach that we carry with us forever.” Meanwhile, Simon Crawford-Collins – the executive producer for Mystic whose credits include Hustle, Spooks and Around the World in 80 Days – stresses the need to avoid patronising young audiences. “It was always very important for us not to sound worthy or preachy. Kids are very intuitive and will not stand for anything less than a fully entertaining viewing experience,” he adds. Children’s TV has often been a sign of the times where representation has been concerned, particularly with CBBC leading the way with Byker Grove’s first gay kiss in 1994. With the likes of Mystic, The Next Step and CBeebies’ Hey Duggee showcasing same-sex couples while The Disney Channel shedding light on racism with a moving episode of That’s So Raven, kids’ television is always a good benchmark of how far society has come with important social issues. “For example the first time you see a positively portrayed mixed race couple or gay couple, once you see representation like that in children’s telly, it’s a clear indication that society is accepting and adapting because of how guarded that media is,” Stephenson says. “Representation like this holds such value as that can make all the difference to a child believing that they can achieve or be anything.” Crawford-Collins adds that this particularly applies to the incoming generation, who are more motivated than ever by major causes. “We ultimately see a group of children who, for the first time, see the true flaws in their parents and adults around them. “I vividly remember looking out of our office window in early 2019, at the genesis of [Mystic], and seeing children marching for the Greta Thunberg-inspired Friday for Future climate marches. For someone of my generation, children weren’t allowed to tell parents and adults that they were doing things incorrectly. In Mystic, we are saying, ‘Yes… yes you can’.” With broadcasters gradually moving these shows exclusively online, the way children consume content is changing – and not necessarily for the better, Anthea Turner argues. “I grew up in a unique world of children’s television and one that can never be repeated because unlike our current diluted medium, the next day just about everyone you knew had watched the same programme,” the former Blue Peter presenter says. “Involvement was key and Blue Peter, or should I say Biddy Baxter – the editor – completely understood how to capture our attention and keep us aboard,” she adds. “Blue Peter was an extension of our school and family, we had a badge, a garden, pets, adventures, competitions and friends, all without social media. Other programmes like Crackerjack, Record Breakers and Play School understood their place in our growing lives and how important they were.” Meanwhile, Dick and Dom, real names Richard McCourt and Dominic Wood, dominated the children’s TV space in the late ’90s and throughout the 2000s with Dick & Dom in da Bungalow – before the dawn of the streamers and TikTok. “In 1998, we used to clock 4 million viewers for CBBC breakfast shows,” they tell RadioTimes.com. “This is even good for Saturday night figures now! This was an age before gaming was as big as it is now and also before YouTube.” The move online is not completely unwarranted. An Ofcom report published earlier this year found that using video-sharing platforms such as YouTube or TikTok was the most popular online activity among children aged 3-17, while eight in ten children were watching content on a device other than a TV set. The study also found that while children still watched broadcast television, they were “more likely to watch programmes or films via paid-for on-demand services”, with 78 per cent of kids using Netflix, Prime Video and Disney Plus compared to less than half who said they watched live TV. “Today, children don’t watch TV anymore so I understand the move to online but it’s a shame because those of us that grew up on those programmes did it together as a team,” Turner says. “All these years later we’ve grown up but we’re still on the same team, bonded by TV history and we can reminisce with warmth at the joint memories that forged our childhood.” Digitalisation of the children’s content may make it harder for certain shows to stand-out in a densely populated market, but it isn’t impossible. “The way kids view content now (and the platforms they watch it on) has changed dramatically but everything must evolve, change and it’s better to move with change than to grumble about how ‘it was better in our day’,” Dick and Dom add. “If the content is good, the audience will find it. Having said that, we were really lucky to do what we did, when we did it. Dream job.” Eccleston adds: “Whether it is viewed on a TV set, a phone or a laptop really doesn’t matter. “The only thing that counts is that it is able to continue to tell compelling stories that enable our kids to grow up more aware and better informed about life’s rich tapestry.” By entering your details, you are agreeing to our terms and conditions and privacy policy. You can unsubscribe at any time. Mystic is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer. If you’re looking for something to watch, check out our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight. The latest issue of Radio Times magazine is on sale now – subscribe now and get the next 12 issues for only £1. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to the Radio Times podcast with Jane Garvey. 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