CBBC Brings Back Crackerjack – who cares?

I had a call from 5 Live to chat on their Drive show about the news that the BBC are re-booting Crackerjack and the Demon Headmaster. They were after me as we run a children’s media brand called Fun Kids – it’s a national radio station, YouTube channels, podcasts, a website etc – mainly targeted at 6 to 11 year olds.

Of course, as is often the way, I was bumped for someone better, as they chatted to Stu Francis, Radzi off of Blue Peter, a CBBC commissioner and a media analyst.

I’d done a quick bit of research and had a think about what I was going to say, so I thought spluttering onto a quick blog post might mean that my 15 mins of mad browsing and thinking wasn’t entirely wasted.

First of all, I LOVED Crackerjack as a child. I even had the vinyl single of Stu Francis’ Ooh I Could Crush A Grape. It must have had a huge impact on me, as looking at the dates I would have only been 5 years old when it was on. But then again, not much else was.

Today that’s just not the case. As well as the BBC’s children’s channels there’s content from Nick, Disney and the Cartoon Network as well as Netflix, YouTube and mobile apps like TikTok.

In the 5 Live chat there was quite a bit of talk about the BBC public values providing elements of nutrition as well the bubblegum pedalled elsewhere. All very true, but the BBC’s focus on its linear digital kids channels and iPlayer catchup is probably disastrous for its valuable mission to educate and inform as well as entertain.

Consumption of linear television by children is dropping fast, minutes consumed has halved over the past ten years, and it continues to drop faster all the time.

Try and explain the concept of linear television to a 7 year old and they’ll look at you like you’re mad. What, I have to watch something that someone else has chosen?

It’s interesting to compare the top tens of the linear CBBC channel vs CBBC on iPlayer. On the telly its Odd Squad (US drama), Operation Ouch (UK fact-ent), Newsround (UK news), Dragons (US cartoon), Scream Street (UK cartoon). These top shows are generally getting a 20% share of 6-11s watching TV at the moment, which I guess sounds okay – but the draw of other kids and regular channels is clearly pretty strong. I also find it interesting that the stuff that does quite well – imports and cartoons – is what kids like watching on Nick and Disney. It’s almost like telly has trained them for what content works in that place.

On the CBBC iPlayer, the top three shows Dumping Ground, Worst Witch and Almost Never are all UK dramas. The fact-ent stuff is the bottom of the top ten, but it all starts to be a bit long-tail. The kids drama is what does well, with double or triple the number of requests.

I don’t think its that much of a surprise that high quality, appointment to view box sets are what’s doing well in kids iPlayer, same as it does for the grown up one, as well as services like Netflix.

In a world of infinite TV you’re going to seek out the good stuff. My hunch is for kids, when consuming living-room style television is its more the long-form, narrative stuff that they’re happy to watch.

The disposable has almost entirely moved to the internet and mobile and this is where shows like Crackerjack are going to fall between the cracks like a cabbage tumbling off a child.

The reboot will be presented by the excellent Sam and Mark and with a big studio audience and live interaction it looks like the BBC is spending a decent amount of cash on it. But using a brand with parental heritage and shoving it on a kids channel is the wrong place to put it. If you’re trading off parent affection and encouragement to watch – it should be on Saturdays at 5.30pm (or 4.55pm) on BBC One not on the CBBC channel.

I’m also not sure that a variety show is something that kids want to watch. The elements of it are things that they love – music, sketches, pranks etc – but they’re given much more regular (and naughtier) versions online.

The CBBC YouTube channel does just under 5million views a month. Morgz – a 17 year old Sheffield lad – with content attractive to 9 to 13s is doing 100million views a month.

CBBCs YouTube channel mainly does plugs for its shows and some best-of clips. The highest number of views they’ve generated in the past week is around 5k for a Horrible Histories song, most do less than a 1,000.

They are not particularly doing the things on YouTube that help grow an audience. Talking to people there, they know this, but there are internal worries about putting kids content on YouTube. The end result is that it’s a mess and generates no appreciable audience.

The main issue around kids content is that TV people believe that what was put out on television in the 80s and 90s was what kids wanted to watch then. This, like all media, is not the case. Kids liked it because its all there was to watch and the nature of monopolies meant no other content could be tried.

YouTube can be accessed by pretty much all children and it gives them the ability to seek out anything they want. Yes, of course, some of it is crap and some of it is dangerous. Though the vast majority of families work out ways to integrate it safely into their lives.

What its meant is an explosion in hugely popular new content types that were never put on TV. Unboxing videos (playing with things you don’t have), cartoon-based music television, watching people play computer games and vlogging – where individuals like you talk and communicate one to one. It’s also somewhere that disposable trends can be explored, exploited and discarded. The soaraway success of Fortnite comes from it being a format that you can easily play and easily watch other people play.

TV chose not to do new things. There’s nothing wrong with cartoons, comedy, drama, fact-ent and music-entertainment shows. But they’ve been running for years. Yes, of course there’s been innovation, but nothing on the scale of what we’ve seen outside of telly.

For teens, their acceleration of online consumption has been hastened by a near abandonment of them from broadcast television. Bye bye T4, ta-ra a linear home for BBC Three, see you later anything on BBC One or ITV. Indeed those channels have doubled down on programmes for older audiences and seen their average age grow to the late 50s. Even shows that young people like on the old terrestrial channels need to have ‘broad family appeal’ so Strictly can have youngsters tuning in, but only if Granny likes it too.

Indeed we have the odd situation where the panic of TV’s greying means that all of BBC Radio has had to pick up the slack to cater for under 45 licence fee payers.

Heritage TV operators like the BBC can’t have it both ways – you can’t ghettoise kids content to the digital channels where they compete in the EPG with 20 more and at the same time provide pretty much no digitally native content.

I’m sorry Sam and Mark, but the budget for Crackerjack should be spent on young producers making truly digital native content.

Oh, and Hacker should definitely be a vlogger (with his own channel).

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