BBC to cut Newsround bulletins after Ofcom says it can move focus online

The BBC will cut two out of three of its daily Newsround TV bulletins for children after Ofcom gave the go-ahead for it to prioritise online coverage.

From September, when children start to return to school, the after-school bulletin of Newsround will be cut after almost 50 years.

There will also be only one bulletin in the morning rather than two, but this will be extended from five to eight minutes.

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Newsround editor Paul Plunkett said in a blog: “Whilst this feels like a big change, we know that the Newsround website already reaches many more children than the teatime bulletin.”

The BBC had told Ofcom it wanted to expand the range of content on the Newsround website but that it could not do so while maintaining its current TV bulletins as it did not have the budget.

Plunkett revealed that Newsround is now planning to hire its first full-time environment journalist, that it will launch a new Youtube channel in September, and that the team wants to deliver more “big journalistic moments” that can be used across BBC News.

Ofcom’s approval means the BBC can reduce the minimum amount of news it broadcasts on children’s channel CBBC from 85 hours to 35 hours per year, and air bulletins once a day rather than at intervals throughout.

The regulator said it makes sense for the BBC to provide more of its children’s content online and that this could help it better engage with young audiences “given shifts in the way children are consuming media”.

But Ofcom has added a new condition to the BBC’s operating licence meaning it must provide daily children’s news online with content across a range of different formats, covering a broad range of topics and some in-depth news and analysis.

“This will ensure that the BBC enhances the breadth and depth of its online news offering for children,” Ofcom said.

The Newsround website saw “incredible” growth last year that has continued into 2020, with a new weekly record of 1.7m users in the first week of May, the BBC has said.

It said Newsround’s average online audience was up by about 25% over the first three months of lockdown.

But Newsround’s average TV audience size among children aged six to 12 was 24,000 in April and May, compared to 37,000 in the same months last year, according to BARB figures published by Ofcom.

Newsround’s weekly reach declined from 4.1% in April and May 2019 to 3.3% this year.

A BBC spokesperson said today: “We’re delighted that Ofcom has approved these changes to our operating licence. This will allow us the flexibility to make more news for more children across more platforms ensuring the much-loved brand continues to thrive in the modern day.”

The broadcast regulator said it had considered the implications of the Covid-19 crisis in making its decision, but that “the fundamental reasons for making these changes remain” as existing trends have continued over the past few months.

Ofcom’s own research showed that children’s linear TV viewing “saw a resurgence” in April and May, but that this is already falling again.

The BBC had already hoped to have the changes in place by April this year, but it made a commitment to retain its current children’s news schedule throughout the beginning of lockdown. Ofcom also paused all non-essential decision-making when the crisis hit.

Opponents of the changes had argued that academic research shows children prefer linear news, that Newsround’s TV bulletins were a “safe haven” from online fake news, that parents who don’t let their children go online unsupervised do let them watch CBBC, and that it would be harder for children to find news online.

Ofcom said it recognised these concerns but that “on balance, we continue to believe that it is important for the BBC to be able to have the flexibility to experiment with where it delivers content in order to remain relevant to younger audiences, who are increasingly consuming less BBC content, particularly via linear TV”.

“We support the aspiration behind the BBC’s proposals to shift its focus towards where its audience is moving,” it said.

Ofcom told the corporation last year it must do more to engage young audiences online or face a “significant risk to the future sustainability of the BBC”.

Picture: BBC/screenshot

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