Today marks the arrival of three new channels on subscription television: 111 Hits (Triple 1 Hits), BBC Knowledge and CBeebies -the latter two operated by the BBC.
Until now BBC had the UK TV Channel, BBC World News and BBC HD.
TV Tonight spoke to Managing Director Tony Iffland and Brendan Dahill, Director of Television about their newest Australian brands.
The CBeebies Channel (Ch 705) is aimed at kids under 6, but places particular emphasis on interactivity, with three blocks of programming: Get, Set & Go, Discover & Do and Bedtime Hour. As well as having programmes already popular on the ABC, including Teletubbies, Tweenies and Charlie and Lola, 70% of the shows are new.
“The key to a successful kids’ channel is ‘are the parents prepared to watch it with the kids?’ If they are then you know you’ve got a hit,” says Dahill.
“One of the shows we’re really excited about are 3rd and Bird, about a community of birds that live on a branch in a tree. The animation is just to die for. The characters are really perfectly created, really warm and friendly. One of them is called’ Muffin Love Bird’, so it’s got names that kids will really warm .
“At its essence the show is about singing, imagination and word play. They way they resolve a situation is to sing a song about it.”
Get Squiggly is another new title, about an animated teddy bear.
“His world is totally black and white,” says Dahill. “There’s nothing in his world unless he draws it, so his world is his imagination. So to start the show we encourage kids to get a pen and paper so they can join in and create their own stuff. It’s about motor skills.”
From 6pm the channel moves into a wind-down, actually encouraging kids to turn off the TV, brush their teeth and go to bed. It ends with a clip of a purple sky, southern cross and yellow blob characters who push out lots of ‘zzzz’s.’
“We take our responsibility as a broadcaster, just as I take my responsibility as a parent –really seriously,” he says. “So the whole environment on CBeebies from 6pm to 7pm is about encouraging kids to slow down, to sit and listen. It’s much more passive, whereas the rest of the day is far more interactive.”
In the UK the CBeebies channel is run by an Australian, Michael Carrington.
“The thing that he’s brought to CBeebies is probably a slightly more global perspective, to the programmes he’s commissioning. They’re not quite so quintessentially British. That universality of appeal has certainly worked.”
BBC Knowledge (Ch 619) which launches at 5:30pm, is a factual channel built around five key strands. From 7:30pm it has themed evenings across weekdays: The past (Mondays), The World (Tuesdays), People (Wednesdays), Business (Thursdays) and Science and Technology (Fridays). Around 50% is first run in Australia.
Programmes will include Terry Jones’ Barbarians, The Apprentice, Tribal Wives and Top Gear.
Dahill says the channel won’t affect programmes which already screen on other Australian networks, pointing out there are 30,000 hours of programming produced every year by the BBC.
“The ABC will still have access to all the content it’s had access to. Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t buy all the stuff the BBC produces,” he said.
According to Iffland, there is also an intention to look at adding local content to the channel some time in the future. As a drama channel, UK TV already has to spend a proportion of its budget on local production, having recently produced Make or Break. Adding CBeebies and BBC Knowledge to their stable of 3 channels, gives the BBC a strong footing in the Pay TV industry.
“The five channels will sit very nicely together as a portfolio,” says Iffland. “Which is what you have to have in a fragmented media world. You need the ability to operate across a number of different genre, to build and retain audience.”
Despite other children’s channels in Australia, Iffland is pragmatic about the introduction of CBeebies.
“Subscription TV is all about choice,” he said. “Choice for kids, choice for parents, we’ve grown the category, grown the market, given people even more reasons to subscribe. We don’t look at it as competitive thing. The whole thing about subscription TV is watching what you want, when you want, where you want it.
“It’s all about choice and empowering the consumer.”