BBC to increase children's spend by $40 mil

Drama, film investment to increase 50% at BBC2

LONDON -- The BBC will invest "at least" an extra £25 million ($41 million) in children's programs over the next three years, and will increase drama and film investment for its core channel BBC2 by 50%, BBC Vision head Jana Bennett said Tuesday, in a speech warning that kids, fiction and specialist factual programming were genres under pressure in the commercial sector. Insiders suggest this would mean an extra £7.5 million ($12.3 million) for BBC2, upping its budget to £20 million ($32.7 million) a year

"We can invest in tough investigative programming, new kinds of comedy, groundbreaking children's drama, without having to analyze the commercial return at every stage of development, commissioning and production. That is the privilege the license fee gives us," she told an audience of independent producers in London.

The pubcaster will use money clawed back from recent efficiency drives to fund more U.K.-produced children's shows for its CBBC service and will make BBC2 the home for BBC Films, in a move that will "create a core of distinguished fiction on the channel."

Bennett said the moves were in response to a recommendation from the BBC's oversight committee -- the BBC Trust -- to invest more in U.K. production and programming.

The additional drama spend will target "distinctive, authored series" aimed at providing the next generation of television classics," Bennett said, while the investment in children's programming will boost a production sector under pressure because of the collapse in the advertising markets.

"This extra money has been found after a tough re-prioritization of funds within [BBC] Vision because I believe the genre needs support," said Bennett.

"It's our duty to take more risks with new forms and ideas and to commission home-grown content for British audience," she added.

Bennett said that religious programming, current affairs, music and arts programming were already under pressure in a commercial sector decimated by an advertising collapse of between 15% and 25% this year, and that children's, comedy, specialist factual and drama were likely next to be hit.

"All these genres could be endangered in this tougher commercial world. It is, therefore, vital that BBC Vision continues to invest in range and quality content during the current downturn, so that afterwards there is still a healthy production sector to provide audiences with great British content."