The BBC must act to address a long-term decline in audience figures at Newsround, its flagship children’s news programme, the BBC Trust said today.
In a wide-ranging review of the BBC’s services for children, published this morning, the corporation’s governing body said it was concerned that Newsround had lost a sizeable part of its audience since 2003.
According to official data from viewer measurement body Barb, audiences to the daily news magazine programme on BBC1 fell 30.4 per cent between 2003 and 2007 – down from 325,000 to 226,000 on average.
The decline has accelerated by a further 40 per cent between 2007 and 2008, after the BBC revamped its children’s schedule when it lost the rights to Australian soap opera Neighbours to Five.
The programme’s audience among six- to 12-year-olds dipped below 100,000 for several months last summer, according to Barb.
“Newsround [makes] an important contribution to the BBC’s citizenship and global public purposes but audience levels have been falling in recent years and this decline has been exacerbated by recent schedule changes,” the Trust said in its report.
The Trust said about the decline in children viewing such programmes: “We have asked the [BBC] executive to address this decline and report to the Trust by summer 2009.”
Newsround and its sister show Sportsround are now broadcast 36 times a week on the CBBC digital channel. The channel is required to broadcast 85 hours of news each year.
But the BBC Trust said that although the channel was growing in popularity, this was not enough to compensate for the decline on BBC1.
“CBBC is required to keep children in touch with the world through coverage of world events. Newsround [is] of crucial importance… making it even more important to address these programmes’ decline in audience numbers.”
The BBC Trust also said there were “significant risks” associated with the planned move of BBC Children’s to Salford Quays in 2011, particularly in terms of staff retention.
“When we interviewed BBC staff in autumn 2008 some staff from the Children’s department thought that there was a lack of clarity over the arrangements for Salford and believed that more could be done to communicate the benefits of the move,” it said.
“Managing the move to Salford and its risks could put additional pressure on the budget for children’s output.
“Some of these costs would be funded by a central budget set aside for the move but some BBC staff felt there was a lack of clarity as to what this budget will cover.
“Should the costs fall to the Children’s department this would add further pressure on a challenging budget.”
The BBC Trust said that, despite the audience drop at Newsround, the BBC’s children’s services overall were “performing very well”.
“Overall we would like to congratulate staff for the performance they have achieved with the resources available,” it added.
In a joint statement, BBC Vision director Jana Bennett and BBC Children’s controller Richard Deverell said they welcomed the Trust’s findings and would report back within the next six months.