The BBC wants to cut Newsround’s after-school bulletin after almost 50 years, saying it needs to focus on creating children’s news content online.
Children’s channel CBBC currently airs three daily Newsround bulletins of about five to ten minutes each – two in the morning and one at 4pm – to meet the Ofcom requirement of 85 hours per year.
The BBC has asked Ofcom for changes to its operating licence which would mean it is only required to air 35 hours per year with a minimum of one scheduled daily bulletin.
The corporation said this would enable it to increase the number of Newsround stories it publishes online from an average of four every day, which has recently been increased to ten, to an average of 20.
A BBC spokesperson said: “We welcome the Ofcom consultation and if our proposals are approved we’ll still have at least one daily TV bulletin of Newsround at the same time as doubling our online offer, which is where more and more children are getting their news.”
Newsround has been watched by children after school since it launched with presenter John Craven in 1972, moving from BBC One to CBBC when the children’s channel launched in 2002.
But its average weekly reach has more than halved since 2012, falling from 676,000 viewers aged six to 12 to 291,000.
By comparison, the number of weekly unique browsers looking at Newsround content has risen from 152,000 in 2014 to 903,000.
The BBC says this means it needs to make Newsround into a “digital-first proposition meeting audience needs unrestricted by the linear schedule”.
Due to what it called budgetary constraints, the BBC told Ofcom it would be unable to expand its online presence with more original journalism while maintaining its current level of TV programming.
In its submission to Ofcom, the BBC said: “Under our proposal, we would be able to create not just a greater volume of news content available to children, but also a deeper and richer experience.
“Due to the time constraints of short bulletins, only a limited number of subjects can be covered and only to a certain level of detail.
“With interactive online content, we have the opportunity to go much further, and cover a broader range of subject in greater depth.”
Press Gazette understands the afternoon slot is watched by fewer people than its two morning slots, although they are broadly similar.
Ofcom said on Friday it plans to accept the proposal, acknowledging the BBC “must innovate and adapt” in response to changing children’s viewing habits.
“We agree that it makes sense for the BBC to provide more children’s content online,” the regulator said.
“We consider that, given shifts in children’s media habits, this may help the BBC to engage better with its youngest audiences, who are critical to its future success.”
However Ofcom said the BBC is currently the only free provider of daily news for children, raising concerns for less privileged audiences.
It added that most Newsround viewers only watch one bulletin each day, meaning they each serve a largely different audience, and that the afternoon slot has a higher proportion of less well-off households watching.
Ofcom said this could “disproportionately disadvantage” some children “as it is not guaranteed” they would switch to the morning bulletin or be able to go online instead.
A consultation on the plans is now open until 13 December.
The BBC wants the changes to take effect in January 2020 if they are approved.