Will CBBC’s Saturday Morning “Innovation” be Live and Dangerous for Kids Commercial TV?

BBC recently announced that they will be bringing back live Saturday breakfast children’s TV. Live and Dangerous will launch this autumn as the BBC look to recapture the success of Saturday morning shows such as Live and Kicking and SMTV, a format that has been off our airwaves for over 15 years. Why would the station bring back a programme to follow the format of old programmes? A programme format that children today have little former knowledge of? Is it designed to appeal to children of today or has the decision been driven by nostalgia on the part of commissioners, who grew up when this programme format was king?

Children of all ages today are spoilt for choice on TV, let alone the multitude of other devices they have to consume media (and the increasingly younger ages they are using these devices). With the growth of digital has come the growth of individual viewing experiences as children today live in an On Demand world. Saturday morning shows were at their peak when kid’s content was not widely available. In the absence of 12-24 hour kids channels available over Freeview, its little wonder that audiences in the past flocked to Saturday morning content. The idea of children today week on week sitting down at the same time to watch the same show together, sounds like parental bliss. The reality is (much to the middle aged BBC commissioner’s surprise) children do not have the same desire for this shared viewing experience as their parents may have once had. ITV have been running this programme format via Scrambled for some time now and it has not generated the same traction as the Saturday morning heroes of the past. Children today are far more independent and happy to select the content they want to view independently.

It can be argued Live and Dangerous is appealing to parent’s nostalgia and desire to be comfortable with what they know and remember as a trusted, safe programme format/content. Given the socio-political context of today, people today are longing to reminisce about the past and recall a time when things were “better”, particularly with the future being so unknown, scary and unpredictable. Nostalgic trends have already been noticeable across many other sectors in recent times. The Nokia 3310 is due for a re-release, Pokemon Go has now achieved over 100m downloads some 20 years after the release of the original game, and over 2.1m vinyl records were sold in 2015 (the highest volume for 21 years!). For further proof, I’m writing this piece whilst wearing a choker necklace!

Nostalgia brings feelings of emotion and happiness, as we know traditional TV is a great emotional medium. Many today believe TV (particularly channels 1-5) is no longer the dominant medium for children and adults alike. However, as the latest figures show us month on month CBBC and CBeebies remain the most engaging children’s channels, with the highest number of average viewing minutes across station sets. Therefore, should the introduction of Live and Dangerous increase viewership further then there is a definite threat to commercial kids TV, particularly ITV’s Scrambled. However, with the station already commanding a strong audience share, the reality is even if the audience size doubled, as it is a limited daypart the show itself would not damage the commercial market too heavily. So in today’s new media landscape, how will the BBC qualify success?

BBC Children’s director Alice Webb said “this is us pushing the boundaries and committing to doing new things for children’s audiences”. For the commercial market the danger lies in the fact that Live and Dangerous offers an opportunity to showcase content that can be found throughout the week across BBC iPlayer. However, unless the show is given prime billing on BBC1/2 it is unlikely to cause a seismic shift for large audiences away from commercial children’s TV.

Live and Dangerous is definitely something we will be monitoring closely in the agency. Despite the protestations of Alice Webb however, I remain to be convinced that this truly is “doing new things for children’s audiences”. There has clearly been a nostalgic influence to the decision, and whilst it may prove successful relative to the current TV viewing market, this is very unlikely to herald a return to the glory days of Live and Kicking et al. Children, of all ages, are growing up in an On Demand, always on, culture. As such, there may no longer be a place for Saturday morning viewing.

Michaella Williams, Senior Account Manager

1st June 2017