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BSS 2013: where are our kids?

Ruth Zanker moderated a session on kids’ content with an interesting mix of panellists, the ABC’s soon-departing head of kids’ content, Tim Brooke-Hunt; writer Briar Grace-Smith; former children’s commissioner Ian Hassall; and producer Yvonne Mackay.

Zanker, Hassall and Mackay are all trustees of the New Zealand’s Childrens Screen Trust, which “seeks to enrich the lives of Zealand children by promoting diverse and accessible local content on all screens”.

“Other countries do it, we might not,” Zanker said, referring to the local production of children’s content for local kids.

Hassall came at the issue from a broader perspective, noting, “Children’s wellbeing is political.”

Referencing NZ’s depressing statistics on issues of child welfare and youth suicide, he suggested that NZ needed to place children at the centre of society, “where they need to be, and where we need them to be.”

From the floor, NZ On Air’s Jane Wrightson suggested the local situation needed “a game changer”. It was reasonable to assume that government is unlikely to change what it does, either in the amount of money made available through agencies such as NZOA or the NZFC, or the limited amount of regulation around TV.

In the 2012 financial year, NZOA spent $13.8 million of its $82.5 million national TV expenditure on kids’ programming.

Labour MP Jacinda Ahern, attending as Spokesperson for Social Development and Children, rather hoped the game changer might be a change of government.

Brooke-Hunt presented research by Screen Australia and the Australian Children’s TV Foundation (ACTF), commissioned due to concern about a dip in the amount of local drama production.

The differences between the Australian and NZ markets, in terms of the amount of money spent, quotas and terms of commercial licenses were all noted, but the main points – particularly those relating to the opinions of children – could reasonably be assumed to be as valid in NZ as across the ditch.

Broadly, the research offered some facts and figures plus survey responses, the latter broken down into the perspectives of children, broadcasters and producers.

In general terms, kids want to watch kids’ content first, family content second, and anything else third. Scheduling was obviously important, and Australia benefits from dedicated free-to-air children’s channels (a function TVNZ 6 used to fulfil).

Brooke-Hunt noted the growing diversity of places to consume content. The research clearly showed ABC as the majority destination for kids to access content – by a very large margin – but noted that for eight year olds and above, YouTube was the second most popular destination. What TV had in favour above other content providers was a built-in mechanism for promoting its own product.

Brooke-Hunt noted that the ABC’s popular Dance Academy series recorded 25% of its season 2 viewers watching on mobile devices and that the figure rose to 33% for season 3. However, the show had originated on TV. Mobile, he suggested, “really needs a strategy to drive discovery”.

When kids had two screens available to them, drama programming was more successful than other genres at getting them to watch one screen. However, Brooke-Hunt also noted the high cost of producing drama against other genres. In Australia, drama costs about four times as much as natural history programming, but the number of kids watching locally-produced drama and natural history programming were quite similar.

Roughly, in the year the survey was undertaken, Australia spent $67 million in adult drama, $34 million on kids shows, and $29 million on co-produced content for kids.

Getting Animated
The majority of the co-production spend went on animation, both because money is harder to raise and animation is most easily co-producible, lending itself to dubbing into other languages rather than being subtitled.

Increasingly, Australia’s animation co-producers are in Asia (although there’s a long history of work with other countries, especially Canada). In part that’s been financially driven – labour rates in Asia are lower than in many other places; a number of governments in the region (especially Malaysia and Singapore) have created very friendly incentive schemes.

The producers of Buzzy Bee and the half NZ-owned SLR Productions (Guess How Much I Love You) both have the legwork of the animation done in Singapore – the latter at the award-winning Scrawl Studios.

The ABC, working with Kidscreen, has established the Asian Animation Summit, which has its next outing in Phuket, Thailand this December.

Although open to attendees from anywhere, the Summit’s project market is only open to projects from the three countries with government money in the organisation: Australia (via the ABC and Screen Australia), Malaysia (MDeC) and Korea (KOCCA).

For now, Brooke-Hunt noted, Australia (and other Western countries) were usually in the driving seat for originating co-produced animation projects, but, “In 10 years Asia will be the dominant partners. All Asia is lacking now is the understanding of how to shape projects for international sale.”

In NZ, Flux has engaged with both Australian and Asian partners for many years, and Pukeko has a co-production in development with Australia.

What our kids watch
Briar Grace-Smith suggested US influence on our kids was quite dominant, just from the volume of material available, but both she and Hassall didn’t object to that, so long as it was balanced by local stories.

Hassall said, “It’s important to have range of stories that are credible to NZ children that they can be the heroes of … Scripts for ways of being, giving our kids their identity and how to be, how to grow up, how to overcome problems.”

Yvonne Mackay was more direct. “I want ring-fenced funding across genres.”

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