RTÉ launches dedicated channel for the toughest crowd of all: kids
The expanded RTÉjr will bring stories, song and dance to the under-7s
Sheila De Courcy, cross-divisional head of children’s content at RTÉ, which launches standalone channel RTÉjr today.
Children are notoriously a tough crowd. But for Sheila De Courcy, head of children’s content at RTÉ, it’s a crowd that can be cracked with a combination of good storytelling, remembering to see the world from a child’s point of view and education by stealth.
“All good children’s programming is, at its core, education by stealth,” says De Courcy. This morning, RTÉ officially launches RTÉjr, the broadcaster’s new dedicated, commercial-free children’s channel aimed at children up to seven, as part of its three-year strategy to develop young people’s programming.
Since the advent of Saorview in 2011, RTÉjr has shown a tight loop of children’s shows, but the broadcaster is now substantially expanding the service into a fully-fledged, standalone channel featuring 14 new programme strands – without increasing its budget for children’s programming.
The new offerings include bilingual show Spraoi , “set in the tree of knowledge with Olli the wise owl and a host of woodland friends”, Saturday-morning dancing show Move It! hosted by Hubble ’s Emma O’Driscoll, and Tell me a Story , a series of 70 original four-minute stories read by RTÉ presenters including Ryan Tubridy and Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh.
Making children’s television is a competitive business. “There is something like 245 kids’ channels in Europe. It is the most saturated television market,” says De Courcy.
RTÉjr will be “distinctively Irish”, however. De Courcy promises to fulfil children’s need to “see their own culture reflected back to them” and “hear their own voices”.
Indeed, during this week’s “Tots, Tweens and Teens” week on RTÉ, children’s voices will be popping up in unexpected places on continuity announcements across RTÉ One and Two.
De Courcy is also launching RTÉjr Radio from 7am to 7pm, with TRTÉ Radio, aimed at the seven to 11 age bracket, taking over from 7pm to 9pm, while a new bubble-themed RTÉjr app has been designed by RTÉ and Marino Software, an internationally renowned Irish designer of children’s apps. “There is no such thing as new technology to children,” she says. “They are the earliest adopters.”
RTÉjr is “a strong statement of intent as a public service broadcaster”, according to Glen Killane, managing director of RTÉ Television.
But given RTÉ’s “constrained” financial position, the new programming strands and multimedia platforms all have to be hatched from RTÉ’s existing resources.
The broadcaster’s budget for young people’s programming in 2011 arrived at €12 million, with €10.9 million of this spent on the main programming blocks on RTÉ Two.
The kitty for kids’ shows has shrunk since then, says Killane. “Young people’s programming unfortunately has been subject to the same cutbacks as anywhere else.”
The future of children’s programming on RTÉ Two has yet to be finalised, but it is likely that the mid-morning shows aimed at the younger RTÉjr audience will lose their place.
“We haven’t fully worked through our schedules yet,” says Killane, but it wouldn’t be “value for money” for the mid-morning schedule on RTÉ Two to overlap with that of RTÉjr, he notes.
“The way the market has gone is for more age-specific channels. Children’s programmes on RTÉ Two are a difficult sell, because children gravitate towards the higher end of the EPG [electronic programme guide].”
Parents uneasy at the hard sell that takes place on certain children’s channels on their EPGs will be comforted by the fact that RTÉjr, unlike competitors such as Nick Jnr and Disney, is free of advertising and product placement, and De Courcy keeps a sharp eye out for clothing logos that might inadvertently creep on screen.
RTÉjr is on Saorview channel 7, UPC channel 600 and Sky channel 624 in the Republic and 635 in Northern Ireland from 7am to 7pm, when each day’s programming will wrap up with the channel song, What’s Your Thing? by Octonauts composer Darren Hendley.
The next phase of RTÉ’s plan for younger audiences will concentrate on teenagers. Killane describes the teenage audience as “one of the trickiest”, while De Courcy says broadcasters are often “very exploitative” of this age group.