The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

TikTok, FOMO and New Routes to Connect with Young People

David Kleeman is a strategist, analyst, author and speaker, and has led the children’s media industry in developing sustainable, child-friendly practices for 35+ years.  David is SVP of Global Trends for strategy/research consultancy and digital studio Dubit, He recently attended Cinekid for Professionals in Amsterdam. This article was inspired by some of the children's content makers he met there.

While in Amsterdam for the annual Cinekid for Professionals conference, I took the opportunity to speak with two youth media leaders who are using short-form content – TikTok in particular – to connect with audiences in new ways.

Dubit has been tracking the rise of TikTok for the past year, in particular how it represents the ideal “Venn Diagram” sweet spot for the “iCan Generation”:

  • it’s purpose-made for the smartphone, their device of choice
  • it offers the chance to both consume and create
  • the content that rises to the top is seen as authentic and understanding of its audience
  • it’s both sharable and – most important – snackable

In a crowded media environment, it’s easy to develop FOMO (fear of missing out). Jon Landgraf, CEO of FX Networks, says “…whenever you choose something you are unchoosing something else, so you get this big sense of malaise” because you’re not certain you chose the best option.

Turning to short-form content is a response to that anxiety. Do I commit to a 24-minute TV show, a feature-length film, or a game that will require time to level up, if I’m not confident that it’s what I need right now?

A casual game on a phone can be put down at any time without penalty. TikTok or YouTube offer quick gratification or quick rejection. Certainly, you wouldn’t want all of a young person’s media interactions to be twitch-speed, but when there’s not a lot of time available, or the smartphone is the only device to hand, short-form can be the best option.

The trick for the makers of that content is to be discovered and watched.

Dutch producer Jan-Willem Bult, who uses TikTok for global youth news dissemination, says “you have one second to stop the swiping finger. The rest depends on what that second causes in the brain or the heart of the user.”

Can public service media afford to ignore TikTok?

The TikTok platform hits the age that public broadcasters customarily lose – tweens and teens. For Robert Fortuijn, Genre Manager of Kids at public broadcaster NPO/Netherlands, “it’s there where the kids are. It’s their playing ground.” Today’s young people aren't just “digital first,” they’re social first,” expecting to discover, watch and share content all in one place.

For Jan-Willem Bult, the platform ticks the critical boxes for public service: “independent, creative and sometimes educational, age appropriate content… public service media has an obligation to search for its audience everywhere, and if TikTok has passed the legal tests and is available in a country, a kids' audience will always find it and already did, before the law-makers.”

TikTok doesn’t have to deliver core public service content or build a major kids' media brand. Robert Fortuijn says NPO uses it to “interact… in a playful way and lure them to our other content. It’s also a place to present yourself as humorous and relevant.”

But J-W Bult uses TikTok to make news less remote for the younger audience, by telling stories in ways that are personal and direct in content and style: “…news reporters now can get as close to a user as their friends do.” 

NPO is more focused on using TikTok to deliver audiences back to its major programme brands, offering up promos for Jeugdjournaal (youth news) and fun clips from their sketch show Vlogmania. TikTok will be more integrated into an upcoming drama series where spin-off short content will add an extra layer to the linear story. 

Keeping in mind that the platform is not intended for very young children, NPO is nevertheless “on the brink of launching a TikTok channel for parents/young mothers to promote our pre-school content on Zappelin.”

TikTok won’t be right for every kids' media maker/distrbutor, in particular every public service broadcaster. Some will be concerned about the Chinese ownership and data security. Others may feel that the investment would fall between content and marketing and doesn’t necessarily fulfil either mission adequately. The platform might simply not fit the overall image and branding of the organisation. How it’s used is important, as well: is the goal to embrace other platforms to broaden reach, or to use third-party platforms to drive audience back ‘home’?

It’s also not something to do casually just because it’s a current trend. Jan-Willem Bult offers valuable advice on authenticity, advising storytellers to “understand the TikTok language and be free from self-censorship caused by the thinking of the parents instead of the kids.”

But if we don’t want to lose kids from public service content at age six and not get them back until they’re adults, or not at all,  finding TikTok natives, who can evaluate and shape your content and uncover the real opportunities on the platform, can pay handsome dividends for stronger audience engagement.

Industry Research

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