Tuesday April 19, 2005
ITV is considering plans to use its new digital television slot to launch a children's television channel to rival CBeebies, the BBC's popular pre-school channel.
A dedicated channel would mark a strategic change for ITV, which has repeatedly said it had no plans to launch a channel in the highly competitive children's arena.
The plans are at a preliminary stage, but centre on the use of the Freeview slot bought from Crown Castle last month. Most analysts expect ITV to launch a channel for male viewers, who are underserved by its current programming.
However, channel bosses have commissioned research into using the earlier part of the slot - from 7am to 7pm - for children's programmes. In doing so, they are following the example set by the BBC, which shows CBeebies and BBC3 on the same slot but at different times of day.
Any new ITV channel is expected to target the pre-schoolers watching CBeebies and slightly older children watching CBBC.
ITV expects its existing programming, such as Engie Benjy, My Parents are Aliens and The Worst Witch, to fill most of the new channel's 12 hours a day of broadcasting. The broadcaster is also soon to launch Pokoyo for pre-schoolers.
Nigel Pickard, who became ITV's network director in 2002 after launching the BBC's children's channels, is understood to have started re-evaluating the decision not to launch a rival to the BBC because of the success of ITV2 and 3. ITV3, one of the most immediately successful channels in British television history, essentially repackages ITV's output for a specific audience - in this case the over-35s.
ITV bosses believe they can repackage the children's programmes shown for one and a half hours on ITV1 on a dedicated channel. Such plans would lower the cost of the broadcaster's public-service requirement to make children's television programmes.
Although competitive, children's television is highly lucrative because of its potential to bring in merchandising and licensing revenues. Research into a new channel is not expected to stop ITV holding talks with the US company Nickelodeon about a possible tie-up. The two entered exclusive negotiations last autumn but have yet to agree a deal.
The new ITV channel, which could be launched this year, is unlikely to be given the go-ahead if there is a deal agreed with Nickelodeon.
ITV is said to be "some way off" choosing a name for its new children's channel, although cITV is one possibility. One employee said KITV was considered several years ago but rejected as it "sounded too much like a lubricant". Although ITV took over the Freeview slot on April 1, channel bosses are in no hurry to launch the channel. One said: "We'd rather do it later and get it right."
A new children's channel is likely to come as a welcome surprise to city analysts.
Paul Reynolds, analyst at Deutsche Bank, said such a channel could be "win-win" for ITV as it would repackage programming and potentially earn licensing and merchandising fees. "Having a whole generation of people with no knowledge of ITV until they get to the age of 18 is not strategically very clever."
The broadcaster is the second biggest producer of children's television in Britain, spending £35m a year. ITV executives have repeatedly said that since the company was formed 14 months ago that they would not launch a dedicated channel in such a competitive market. Some now believe a new channel would be able to compete against Disney and Nickelodeon because of its local nature. "The key thing will be the British material," said one, who declined to be named.
This year, the regulator Ofcom gave the channel permission to cut 15 minutes from its weekday children's coverage after the broadcaster's advertising revenue fell during teatime programming.
SOURCE: http://media.guardian.co.uk/broadcast/story/0,7493,1463110,00.html (free subscription necessary)
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