A Grown-Up Conversation about Kids’ Content
This year at the SPADA Conference in Wellington, NZ On Air presented a forum to get feedback on its draft Children’s Funding Content strategy. This was the final consultation stage in a review of children’s content that started with a survey of Children’s Media Use (2014) by Colmar Brunton, commissioned by NZ On Air and the Broadcasting Standards Authority. Following this survey a draft strategy paper was developed that took into account the changing media use by children. A forum and submission process was then undertaken to develop the final draft discussed last week.
There is no doubt that the children’s media landscape has changed and is changing at a rapidly increasing rate. David Glen, Manager of Children’s TV Online for ABC TV Australia, illustrated the tipping point from desktop to mobile/tablet access of content around December 2012. This was not news, but the ABC’s subsequent response was illustrative of how a trusted brand (ABC Kids) can find its audience wherever they are viewing. The ABC has developed a “collection of interconnected experiences”: an eco-system that starts with the linear ABC channels and now includes apps and i-view VOD which has expanded the “reach and frequency of use”.
As NZ On Air finalises its own children’s strategy, one of the issues is how to deliver our own local kids’ content to a number of age groups with diverse backgrounds, abilities and tastes and across multiple evolving platforms. There is a limited amount of money in the pot, a fact emphasised by NZ On Air’s CEO Jane Wrightson. So, if we only have approximately $14m to spend, how is it best used to future-proof content for our kids?
Content must be prioritised. The draft strategy signals a shift to a range of genres that have a longer shelf life and more diversity. It also recognises the importance of seeing children as citizens and not consumers. That content has to be engaging for kids and entertaining is a given – we want them to love it and come back for more.
Access to that content has to be free. This message was sent loud and clear to the funding body by the audience at SPADA. Not all children in New Zealand have the ability to pay for shoes, let alone screen content. It is our children’s right to have access to media that reflects their world and informs them as citizens. We all know that children are increasingly engaged online, thus the need to serve them the best possible local content there if we want them to be informed citizens and valuable, engaged members of our community.
Television still has a role to play given the digital divide, as for many kids switching on the TV is still the only way to access a world beyond their living room. That content also has to be where the majority of the kids’ audience have moved – onto desktop and, increasingly, to mobile devices. The ABC is preparing for a time beyond broadcast; NZ On Air’s plans likewise should be future-proofed.
So how to deliver funded local content to kids given the proliferation of platforms? As part of the morning’s forum, YouTube showcased their product. In light of the fact that YouTube is now the most popular media platform for children – 35% access it daily, compared to the most popular TV channel, TV2 at 32% – they are a dominant player in the kids’ market in New Zealand and globally.
YouTube has developed a kids’ content app that’s now available in the USA and some other territories, and will be rolled out in NZ (no date was released). The app restricts access to curated kids’ content. If parents choose they can enable a search function so more kids’ content can be accessed on the wider YouTube platform, but this would be less screened for quality.
The idea that this could be a de-facto NZ home for content is appealing on first view. It is the dominant platform, there is no set up cost and the kids are already there. Parents evidently love the timer button that they can set to switch off the content without having to yell with increasing frequency. However, there are some concerns. Would YouTube become the new gatekeeper of local content via what is made accessible on the app? Who controls advertising and to what standard? What happens when a new platform/shift comes along?
The ABC very clearly has public interest in its DNA. The content is free. Whether the content is on the linear TV channel, on the website, or downloaded via the i-view app, it is free. Their content curation is based on a long-standing history as a children’s TV provider. For them the app “is trusted and parents have a relationship with kids over it.” They also have a timer built in.
David Glen highlighted some key strategies. First and foremost it is about quality content and to “build products that have a long shelf life and [that] kids will discover over time”. My own 6 and 9 year old are still discovering and rediscovering Suzy’s World on DVD years after it aired. The advantage of content with longevity is that the pool of content for kids will grow over time and can be accessed in many different ways.
“For kids it is about usability and access;for parents, trust” (Glen). If it isn’t working for the kids then they won’t hang around. Glen highlighted issues with a change of design on the i-viewer that frustrated his test audience (his own 4-year-old).
Other points to note were that for kids, video and games were intertwined and had equal value and attention – one often inspires the other. In looking at how to make a small purse go along way across multiple age bands – offering add-ons like games for older audiences/or younger ones to make a series appeal to a wider audience could be considered. Kids also want music. Luckily NZ On Air is already across music – is this a way to grow the fund and attract the audience?
All the answers are not on the table, but the draft and the discussion certainly showed that there is a commitment to change for kids. It is definitely an exciting time to think that we could “help grow great New Zealanders by providing enriching NZ children’s content that encourages imagination and curiosity.” (NZ On Air Draft Strategic Framework).
We want our kids to be informed and to be curious – to grow their identity and to understand the community they live in via an online landscape that is rich with great accessible NZ content.