Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Deverell concerned for BBC1 kids programmes

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

For Broadcast November 8th, 2007

The controller of BBC children's programmes has raised concerns that some options being considered to replace Neighbours will cut into the amount of children's programming available on BBC1.

Blue Peter

Speaking at a Voice of the Listener & Viewer event on the Crisis in Children's TV, Richard Deverell said that the loss of Neighbours has put a question mark over how much airtime BBC1 can devote to children's TV.

"I am concerned because the 5 o'clock slot is very important to us," said Deverell on the sidelines of the VLV conference in central London yesterday.

"There are a number of options under consideration (to replace Neighbours), but some of them could have a very negative impact on children's programmes on BBC1."

He added: "There are alternatives (being discussed) that would eat into Blue Peter and Newsround and all the rest of it and I don't think that is good."

BBC1 runs children's programmes including its flagship Blue Peter programme in a daily afternoon slot that stretches from 3:35 pm to 5:35 pm. Blue Peter has recently suffered a blow to its credibility over a call-in vote to name a cat, adding to the damage caused to its reputation in an earlier phone-in competition in which a child studio guest posed as the winner.

The BBC lost Neighbours to Five earlier this year ending a 22-year history of the family-friendly soap on the biggest public service broadcaster.

The alternatives being considered by the BBC's Head of Vision Jana Bennett are firmly under wraps. Even the timetable for when Neighbours will actually cease airing on BBC1 is a closely-guarded secret for commercial reasons.

Deverell says the lack of a clear decision on the replacement for Neighbours doesn't effect commissioning immediately as all BBC children's programming have to run on the digital BBC channels as well.

"At the moment we try very hard to get programmes in the 5 o'clock slot that serve as a transition," says Deverell. "You want shows that lead into Neighbours and Neighbours leads into the news, so it is a very important ramp to the evening schedule."

Deverell also said that although the budget for BBC children's TV budget will fall due to a lower than expected license fee settlement, he believes that half of the effective 10% cut in budget over the next five years can be made without redundancies. Savings will come instead from using smaller studios and cutting presentation budgets.

He told the audience that Blue Peter uses a much smaller studio now after he decided that spending 35% of the show's budget on studio space did not make economic sense.

But Deverell confirmed that 88 posts will go, meaning that one in five people will lose their jobs. This will take BBC's children's staff levels to 338, down from 595 in 2005.

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