Patricia Hidalgo, the director of children’s & education at the BBC, outlined the pubcaster’s approach to serving British kids across its portfolio as day two of the TV Kids Summer Festival continued today.
Hidalgo participated in a keynote conversation with TV Kids’ Kristin Brzoznowski that you can view here. The session began with Hidalgo outlining the new commissioning and acquisitions structure she put in place focused on age rather than brand.
“The 0-to-12 [age range] is really broad,” Hidalgo noted. “The streamers have been much better at providing content that is focused on children in the different age groups rather than being so broad. Having a focus on age groups rather than channels allows us not only to give kids what they want now, but also allows us to move into the streaming world. As we are building not just our channels but also iPlayer, we now have a much more focused type of content that we’re looking for.”
Brzoznowski asked Hidalgo about the threefold increase in investment at the BBC for U.K. animation for the 7-to-12 set. “We have been very focused on producing live action for the older demographics, but we know that animation is something that they also love. We wanted to increase the amount of animation produced for children of older demos here in the U.K. The U.K. is one of the most successful producers of preschool animation in the world. It’s not the same thing with 7-plus.”
Hidalgo then discussed the BBC Ignite initiative to discover new animation ideas. “We wanted to increase or ‘ignite’ the animation industry in the U.K., especially with the older target demos, but not only. We believe that animation is such an important medium for telling stories for children that we wanted to find new voices, ideas, characters and talent that could bring these stories to life for children. We launched it last summer, and we received over 1,000 entries.” The BBC whittled that down to 18 to begin developing, with the aim of having at least three to turn into full-fledged pilots, with at least one produced in 2023, Hidalgo said.
On responding to the increasingly competitive landscape of options for kids, Hidalgo pointed to the growing prominence of the iPlayer. “We had 1.2 billion hours of our content watched on our streaming platform.” She also pointed to the pubcaster’s prolific output, with 450 hours of commissioned originals every year across all genres and formats, including news, factual, comedy, entertainment and drama. “We have a real richness of types of content. We are almost like a general-entertainment channel but for children, and that makes us quite different.”
BBC Children’s is focusing on fewer titles, Hidalgo noted, “but that doesn’t mean we’re producing less. What we mean is that we will recommission more episodes of those titles that the audience loves most. We make sure that we’re not just recommissioning things that haven’t got that value for them.” Successes for the portfolio have included Malory Towers, Bluey and Dodger.
“The point of difference is that we offer great content for children that is representative of their lives, but also of British culture and the great heritage of storytellers that this country has. We also have another USP, which is that our audiences always see themselves reflected in our content. It is very local, and our school dramas are ever so popular with them.” Tracy Beaker has been a long-running hit for CBBC, and a new drama, Phoenix Rise, is in the works. “I think this could become a must-see for our U.K. audience, but I also believe that the themes that we’re going to be treating in the series will be relevant to kids all over the world. I am hoping that this will become a global success as well.”
While reliant on original commissions, there is room for acquired content on the BBC’s children’s services. “We look for global brands that have resonance,” with pickups that have included The Next Step, DreamWorks Dragons: The Nine Realms and Pokémon. “It’s not about having a lot of titles; it’s about having the right content and the right mix that our audience wants and that has relevance for them.”
On digital extensions, Hidalgo noted: “We need to continue to produce games and content and interactions that they enjoy. Our BBC games and websites are delivering really good numbers in terms of usage and engagement. We’re reaching over 300,000 children in the U.K. every week. We do know that games are becoming more popular also with education. We tried last year a couple of experiments where we brought our education execs and our digital execs together to create some educational games, one of which was with Horrible Histories. This year we’re doing one about learning math. We have an amazing, fun series called Numberblocks. We will be using that brand to create this game.”
The conversation then segued to the BBC’s investment in educational fare for kids. The pandemic, Hidalgo said, “gave us the opportunity to develop more educational content to be more fun as well.” Highlights include Bitesize Daily, which “is dedicated to different lessons: math, English, science, geography and music. We did this all in a virtual studio. We have a little robot called CLOGS that accompanies the hosts and asks the questions that the child might be asking. We have produced 150 hours of this content, split by age group. You have content for all different ages between 5 and 14. It can be watched on the linear channels, but also, of course, it’s available online and through iPlayer.”
Hidalgo continued, “We’re also collaborating with other big BBC brands to deliver Live Lessons. We will have eight Live Lessons throughout the year. We have a wealth of brands and possibilities, and we are doing a lot more in terms of collaborating across the BBC to bring education in so many different ways.”
On what types of content she and her teams are on the lookout for, Hidalgo noted: “We want both animation and live-action comedy. We are keen to get more comedy into our slates for all ages, actually. We also want to have more family content. Families are looking for content to share. We want our audience to continue to identify with the characters and the settings, and the stories that we create. And we are still looking for unique British heritage and cultural values to be in those stories. We also want to develop unique content that has the potential to travel outside the U.K. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that we all work together across our commissions, productions and acquisitions to bring that richness of content across all the platforms.”
Brzoznowski then asked Hidalgo about BBC Children’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, which include a £300,000 ($376,000) fund to develop diverse behind-the-camera talent. “We have been able to support about 30 placements across a lot of our programs,” Hidalgo said. “We are also in our second year of investing in finding diverse new voices in our writers’ room. We have a collaboration with our in-house BBC Studios Children’s unit. We are bringing together people from different backgrounds that might not have necessarily been writing before for children but have a passion for it, bring them in and help them develop their skills. We have so far supported about 197 new writers from diverse backgrounds, and 40 of these last year we placed to work on our commissions. Of course, we continue to represent children on-screen in an effective way. For years we have been making sure that children see themselves represented in all the different types of diversity, whether it is a disability or whether it is a color or provenance, we would make sure that all that diversity of characters is on-screen.”
On the importance of pubcasting for kids, Hidalgo stated: “Our role is to entertain, educate and inform. It’s really important that we do this well because we need to make sure that children can make sense of the world around them and grow into healthy and rounded individuals. This is why we’re not just delivering one type of content and why we have so many genres and formats. We aim to represent their world and talk about what matters to them. So our dramas and our fiction will continue to include important themes that they can relate to, while our factual and entertainment or news content would be a window to that world around them so they can learn about their world and make sense of it.”
Hidalgo then discussed the benefits of the creation of the BBC Studios Kids & Family unit: “We have had for many, many years at BBC Children’s a wealth of experience and incredible talent in making children’s content. Moving these themes under our commercial arm will enable both BBC Studios and us to invest in bigger and more ambitious kids and family projects. That’s something I’m looking forward to. As well as the prospect of delivering our content and brands, not just to the U.K. audience, but also to the global audience.”
Looking ahead to the next 12 to 18 months, Hidalgo noted, “I believe we will still be leaders in the U.K. children’s market. We will see again more investment in our successful high-impact brands and content to be delivering even bigger numbers to iPlayer. I believe we will have our first animation pilots from Ignite in production. Our BBC kids and education content and brands will be more widely known internationally thanks to our new BBC Studios Kids & Family unit.”