The BBC has been given the green light to axe Newsround’s afternoon TV slot as audiences for its bulletins on the small screen continued to fall in lockdown.
The broadcaster wants to move more of its children’s content online in an attempt to halt declining TV viewing numbers among young people.
TV watchdog Ofcom has now approved the plans.
It warned that if “younger audiences don’t engage with the BBC, then public support for the licence fee could be eroded”, which poses “a significant risk to the future sustainability of the BBC”.
Despite lockdown, viewing of Newsround bulletins on CBBC continued to fall in 2020, from 37,000 children aged six to 12 in 2019 to 24,000 in April and May this year.
In contrast, Newsround’s online audience is growing and its website enjoyed two of its highest weeks ever during the lockdown period.
Viewers to the CBBC linear channel also declined, but CBBC and CBeebies’ content on BBC iPlayer increased during lockdown.
Ofcom said the pandemic “seems to have accelerated” trends in viewing.
The BBC will now be able to axe Newsround’s afternoon slot from CBBC but will still air a morning slot.
It will provide daily children’s news online and the BBC wants to commission more children’s content for BBC iPlayer.
An Ofcom spokeswoman said: “We agree that it makes sense for the BBC to provide more children’s content online.
“Given significant shifts in children’s media habits, which have continued during the pandemic, this should help the BBC to engage better with its youngest audiences, who are critical to its future success.
“But we’re also imposing important safeguards to ensure that the quality of content on the CBBC and CBeebies channels is maintained, and that the impact of the BBC’s changes are carefully monitored.”
Ofcom has approved the BBC’s request to reduce the minimum amount of news it is required to broadcast on CBBC from 85 hours to 35 hours a year.
It said the “BBC needs to think about how it makes its online content easily discoverable” online.
It has also accepted the BBC’s request to reduce the first-run UK originations quota for children’s content on CBBC from 400 to 350 hours – to take account of the agreed 50-hour reduction in the number of hours of children’s linear news broadcast on CBBC.