Kids feeding on ‘digital junk food’

Streaming giants are exposing them to unsuitable content, say TV programme makers With YouTube replacing Disney as the most-loved brand among young children in the U.S., and streaming giants encouraging binge viewing, a whole generation risk being brought up on cultural junk food, some of the world’s top kids television programme makers have warned. Profit at a price Public service broadcasters like Britain’s BBC and PBS in the U.S. are some of the last ramparts “looking out for kids and parents” in an industry where Internet giants and toy and games makers increasingly hold sway. Several speakers at the MIPJunior, the world’s top children’s entertainment market, warned that kids’ welfare is being risked by their exposure to unsuitable content and “algorithms run for maximum profit”. The debate comes as U.S. President Donald Trump is threatening to slash the PBS budget and the France 4 children’s channel is being controversially forced online by the French government despite research showing eight out of 10 children still mostly watch TV. Alice Webb, the head of the BBC’s network of children channels and online content, said YouTube’s “incredible popularity with children raised a huge debate which is only just beginning about screen time and how safe or appropriate different platforms are.” YouTube, she declared, “is not a platform for the under 13s.” Last year, Ms. Webb said that with many children effectively being “babysat in front of screens”, the tech and entertainment industries needed to take a hard look at their impact on young minds. Luca Milano, of Italy’s Rai Kids network, said public service broadcasters were key in holding the line to keep children safe and ensure they are not exploited. Tiphaine de Raguenel, of France 4, said public broadcasters were battling a tsunami of commercial junk. “If you want children to love vegetables, it is very difficult to do so if all they are surrounded by is pizza and sweets,” she said. Never has it been more important to have a “safe space for wholesome content” in an environment that “feels like a digital Wild Wild West”, said the BBC’s children’s animation chief Jackie Edwards.

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