The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

CHILDREN’S MEDIA SUMMIT ‘24

Dr Gregory Boardman, CMF Executive Member and producer, has written a detailed note on the discussions at the Children’s Media Summit on the 28th February 2024.

For those involved in conversations behind the scenes, and the pre-summit discussions, it was probably something of a relief to see Nigel Pickard take to the stage at BFI Southbank to launch this ‘unique’ coming together of producers, policymakers, strategists, and childhood experts. The ‘dramatic shift’ of the youth audience into ‘unregulated digital space, the life changing effect of media on young lives and engagement with society were on the agenda for the morning sessions.

Author Paul Lindley, delivering the opening keynote, struck a wonderful tone by insisting on optimism in the face of a ‘fundamental crisis’ and asking us to consider a quote from Nelson Mandela.

Our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth, those who care for and protect our people.[1]  

Whilst our digital world offers some young people access to a myriad of opportunities there are substantial numbers who are not thriving and suffer a lack of diversity of experience. We were left in no doubt that all professionals and parents must take responsibility being brave, curious and forceful as we regulate for good quality, culturally relevant content with the same vigour we regulate for online harms. According to Paul, it is no longer good enough for society to allow tech-based entities to unilaterally declare the end of childhood at the age of thirteen whilst the rest adhere to the notion of adulthood starting at the age of eighteen.

Bringing our attention to the specifics of ‘Children’s Media and the Crisis of Childhood’; Laura Bunt, Rachel Huggins, Anne Longfield CBE, and Maddie Moate were determined to build on Paul Lindley’s optimism as the specifics of mental health and the toxic cultures of the online world were discussed. Laura asked us to consider that it is not the children themselves who are the crisis but the systems around young people that society has allowed to evolve. We were reminded by Rachel that the parents we look to for support are themselves subject to the negative forces present in the online space. For Anne, it was key for the voice of youth to be present and not overlooked in the political processes required to nurture our future generations. Maybe the key point of this session came from Maddie who pointed to the fact that the internet is ‘optimized’ to collect data and clicks and not focused on the audience or the quality of their experience.

This is a poignant remark given the third session focused on data and research with the help of Julian Aquilina, Jon Gisby, Adam Woodgate and David Kleeman. Analysts and media researchers love their slides, and we were bombarded with a series of graphs and diagrams that provided a stark reminder of what we already know. The screen experiences of the youth audience are dominated by new tech, YouTube and social media platforms. However, within the data on show were some keys facts that need to be acknowledged.

  • Spending on PSB children’s content fell by £30m in the ten years to 2022. Go back another ten years and the fall in funding is even greater.
  • As acknowledged by everyone on this panel, the systems of data measurement are broken and not equipped to deal with the fragmentation of the audience, SVOD or the changes in device usage.
  • Reflecting on the slides presented, it is clear we don’t necessarily deal with Paul Lindley’s concerns about a digital divide between the haves and have nots when it comes to access.
  • We can count clicks, swipes and hours of engagement but measurement tells us little about quality or even the variety of experience being encountered on individual channels that could be showing marathon sessions of the same brand or title.
  • The child’s needs are rarely acknowledged in the launch and creation of devices and platforms.
  • There may be no consensus on what culturally relevant content means.

This last point is something that will require detailed attention over time but was something of a theme touched upon throughout the whole day.

A mantra emerged during the research session that the producers and distributors of content need to put their content ‘where the audience is’.  At face value this makes huge sense, but Adam put a different spin on the data when asking us to consider how the basic habits of the child have changed little over the last decade. The simple fact is that the younger generation have not been given linear viewing habits, they have no ‘frame of reference’ in the choices they make when self-curating their digital world. The suggestion that total content consumption amongst French children is less due to ‘stricter parenting’ emphasises the fact that we the adults are not blameless in this crisis.

The first afternoon session involved a core of contributors whose presence was not only vital for the summit but who also played a crucial role in the pre-summit debates and discussion that enabled the summit to eventually happen. On stage were Magnus Brooke, Patricia Hidalgo, Lucy Murphy, representing key broadcasters, with Kate O’Connor and John McVay speaking on behalf of creators and producers. This group alongside audience members from other PSB’s and UK production companies have probably most to gain and most to lose from the evolving ecosphere around our young people. Consequently, some of the biggest tensions and conceptual conflicts subtly emerged out of this particular discussion despite the mutual cooperation that was warmly received. That said, I draw on an earlier comment from John Gisby, it is only by understanding the problems that we can hope to work towards solutions.

It was pointed out that we are living through tough times with global financial constraints emerging over the last couple of years. But Kate pointed to the fact that long term falls in funding for children’s genres were contrary to other adult focused genres where increased investment was clearly evident over time.

Magnus suggested innovative partnerships were key to current activity and future production.  This chimed with Patricia's call for recognition of the crisis of childhood being a global problem requiring international cooperation and international or inward investment. However, it was also acknowledged this puts a pressure on the notion of maintaining culturally relevant content. With regard to innovative partnerships at home or overseas, John stressed that children’s independent producers had already been partnering and innovating to greenlight productions and that many avenues had already been explored and utilized over the last decade.

Tax credits generally receive unanimous approval from the production and distribution community. The notion of enhanced tax credits for culturally relevant content, where the UK content makers were delivering more than just a production service, were similarly welcomed though producers in the audience would be worrying about where the initial funding actually comes from.  Based on experiences at ITV, Magnus also stressed that unlocking funding is only useful if we can actually get the public service content in front of the relevant audience once produced. We therefore arrived at the connection between funding and finding.

John McVay echoed a sentiment from Paul Lindley’s earlier address in asking us to consider what success actually looks like. Lucy Murphy was keen to stress that we ought to change the debate about what public service engagement actually looks like and how we need to broaden what is currently a narrow prism of success. The impact of engagement beyond the screen, the impact of how content reverberates or enters into the live space or the classroom is important beyond just measuring the eyes on screen.

And so numerous contradictions emerged which will require us to work together. Thankfully, there is now a feeling of pulling together courtesy of the contributors to this session.

If, as Kate suggested, we put the audience first then is it okay for us to conceive of the children’s media space as a market? When we move to ‘where the audience is’ we might know on what device and what time they might have engaged but we can’t know where the individual child might actually be in terms of their well-being, mental health, their emotional condition or how they are impacted by the quality of the experience they have received or interacted with.

The fifth session discussion with Paul Naha-Biswas, Iain Bundred, Gregory Dray and Sophie Peachey emphasized the supremacy of YouTube who clearly have most to benefit from no evolution in how we fund or find content but who are also in an enviable position to benefit from any changes debated or adopted. Four times as many children engage with YouTube “main” when compared to the number of children engaging with YouTube Kids. Meanwhile, 40% of young people are not engaging with news. The complexities of the digital world we have constructed around our young people is therefore very clear. Gregory left us in no doubt that all content creators have to engage with YouTube whilst Sophie’s work also emphasizes the fact that there is high quality, relevant content to be found in the YouTube space. Iain made it clear they were open to discussions about regulation, that they were keen to share revenues, 'surface' public service content whilst encouraging content creators to deliver on their platforms. However, there was clearly no sign that the likes of YouTube and other platforms, with their extensive profits, will dig into their deep pockets to fund content despite the desire to surface high quality output.  The mutterings throughout the audience at this point clearly converged on the simple question, “Who Funds the Content in the First Place?”

And so, Emma Scott rejoined the stage for the final session of the day on Funding and Finding. Emma, (who skilfully chaired and wrangled all the pre-summit discussions) was joined by Jonathan Simon and Simon Terrington; strategists and policy experts from outside the children’s media community.

The early moments of the session dwelt on producing in volume and the need to compete with the user-generated no budget/low budget model of social media production, but the discussion didn’t dwell here and soon evolved into a fast-paced conversation about actual funding. A short summary of what was suggested is included here:

  • Quotas and obligations were mentioned but it was suggested these were a thing of the past.
  • The idea of levies on those profiting from the media sector were proposed but it was suggested the logic of levies is difficult, un-British and would likely have unintended consequences (though these were not defined).
  • Top slicing of the BBC licence fee was immediately rejected though Simon was keen to suggest that a £10 sum on top of the licence fee, specifically for children’s content, would be a very transparent means to raise £250m.
  • Tax credits, as expected, received a resounding yes though it was acknowledged this doesn’t solve the problem if there are no other production funds available and does not support low-cost productions.
  • Government departmental funding e.g. from education & health. Whilst the value to wider society might be acknowledged it is noted that the production of public service content benefits from being distinct and distanced from government itself.

Ultimately, we are dealing with a political problem and one that needs the attention of our government, and the treasury, now and in the future. As part of this final session, two key headlines emerged which, due to pressures of time, were not discussed in any great detail. If we allow ourselves to stick with the model of a marketplace for public service content then, given that we are experiencing market failure, a publicly funded solution should be sought.

Most notable was the suggestion that we move away from the idea of a market altogether. If content has a value to the public and to wider society, beyond a pure monetary value, then there is clearly a justification for public funding from taxation.

Finally, Nigel Pickard returned to the stage to acknowledge the fact that those in children’s media are answering the call of Baroness Benjamin by bringing ourselves together to speak with one voice.

Nigel announced the launch of a Children’s Media Foundation campaign to press politicians and policy makers to recognise the rapidly changing landscape in the children’s and youth media sector, and to investigate more fully the ideas discussed during the Summit with a view to policy change.

If you came hoping for an instant solution to finding or funding then this probably was not the event for you. However, for those keen to enter the short-term and long-term debates about how we the producers and distributors of content for kids serve the audiences of the future then welcome to what promises to be a fascinating journey of discovery.

Our young audiences, wherever they are watching, need your support!

List of Speakers:

Paul Lindley, Author “Raising the Nation”

Emma Scott, World Book Day

Laura Bunt, CEO, Young Minds

Rachel Huggins, Co-CEO, Internet Matters

Anne Longfield, CBE Executive Chair, The Centre for Young Lives

Maddie Moate, Presenter, YouTuber, Podcaster, Producer

Raj Pathmanathan, Creative Director, Kids Industries

Julian Aquilina, Senior Analyst, Research & Intelligence team, Ofcom

Jon Gisby, Managing Director, McIntosh Partners

Adam Woodgate, Senior Vice-President, Media Insights, Dubit

David Kleeman, Senior Vice-President, Global Trends, Dubit

Magnus Brooke, Group Director of Strategy, Policy and Regulation, ITV

Patricia Hidalgo, Director of Children’s and Education, BBC

John McVay, CEO, Pact

Lucy Murphy, Director of Kids Content, Sky UK and ROI

Kate O’Connor, Executive Chair, Animation UK

Paul Naha-Biswas, Managing Director, Mediator & Co-founder, Boclips

Iain Bundred, Head of Public Policy, UK & Ireland, YouTube

Gregory Dray, Co-Founder, Animaj

Sophie Peachey, Assistant News Editor and Correspondent, The News Movement

Jonathan Simon, Director, Inflection Point UK

Simon Terrington, CEO, DotVector

A detailed list of biographies is available here:

Childrens Media Summit 2024 Programme (thechildrensmediafoundation.org)

Dr Gregory Boardman

3/3/2024

[1] Address by President Nelson Mandela at the dedication of Qunu and Nkalane Schools

3 June 1995 retrieved from http://www.mandela.gov.za/mandela_speeches/1995/950603_qunu.htm

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