LONDON: British communications regulator Ofcom regards the future of children's television in the UK with "concern", describing the interim research data it has amassed as "stark".
Its view is based on TV companies' sharp decline in investment in children's programming - despite a marked rise in broadcast hours between 1998-2006. In 2002 alone, child-directed programme hours tripled with the BBC's launch of digital channels CBBC and CBeebies.
But, says Ofcom, programming spend by public service broadcasters' on children's content fell from £110 million ($178.76m; €131.41m) to £90m over the same period.
Speaking on the role of the media in contemporary childhood at this week's Voice of the Listener and Viewers conference (held, not inappropriately, at the London Zoo), Ofcom head of market intelligence James Thickett admitted there is little Ofcom can do to halt the decline.
"Ofcom has powers to make recommendations but our power is only to look at the market as a whole. We have no powers to prevent [broadcasters] doing what they feel they need to do."
Less than two months ago, Britain's largest commercial broadcaster ITV did "what it needs to do" by obtaining the regulator's approval to reduce children's output on flagship channel ITV1 by 35% to just five hours per week [WARC News: 26-Mar-07].
The brunt of the cuts is most felt among independent producers of children's TV programming, so perhaps altruistic concern for the nurturing of young minds was not at the forefront of Anne Wood's agenda when she told MediaGuardian that "parliament needs to intervene" and compel broadcasters to address the "crisis" in children's television.
Protested Wood, creative director at kids' programme-maker Ragdoll Productions: "Children are clearly the future of our country, and it is dangerous to have broadcasters deciding these things for themselves.
"The state of children's minds is of national importance and we need to call on Parliament to take steps and to introduce a children's fund at the very least to safeguard the future of children's TV."
In addition to caring for "the state of children's minds", Ragdoll's website reveals a presumably lucrative mail-order sideline, cashing-in on its legion of kids' TV characters.
Ofcom is expected to publish the full findings of its children's TV review this summer. After which it will evaluate its policy options and decide what form of intervention - if any - is required.
Data sourced from MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff