The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Bridge

In September, Kuala Lumpur hosted the 7th World Summit on Media for Children. 

David Kleeman, Senior Vice President of Insights Programs and Playvangelist at PlatCollective reports...

P1010730Greetings from the World Summit on Media for Children. Having attended this meeting and the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union Children’s Item Exchange for a week in September, I wanted to share some observations.

Many years ago, I wrote an article entitled “Summits and Markets and Fests, Oh My.” The premise was that there are three types of children’s media gathering, each unique and necessary and all interdependent.

Festivals and markets deal with the “trees” – specific content – of children’s media, from perspectives of creative excellence and innovation, or business and commerce. Summits, by contrast, examine the health of the children’s media “forest” – the extent to which policy, practice, technology and research are supporting media in the best interests of the child.

In the last 20 years, however, these three types of event have drifted further apart. The World Summits have lost connection with the mainstream children and media world, while markets and festivals have become increasingly the province of wealthier countries and companies.

Can we build new bridges among summits and markets and festivals? Do we even want to? Clearly, each has a specific niche, with widely different goals and measures of success.

My desire to connect them, though, speaks to what I believe we all want from media for the world’s children:

  • Content that respects kids’ rights and developmental needs;
  • A blend of media designed uniquely for their culture and media that engages them as global citizens;
  • The same mix of “kick-back” entertainment and educative options that we, as adults, expect;
  • Space for innovation and evolution of “best practices”;
  • Content designed with best knowledge of how kids grow and learn;
  • Opportunities for young people to make media, as well as consume it;
  • Options on every platform, but only as makes sense for the unique potential and features of each;
  • Profitable – not just sustainable – business models;
  • Policy and regulatory frameworks that favor and support (including financially) high-quality work, while providing options for reining in excesses or bad actors; and
  • Media and information literacy education for all children as a core 21st century skill.

PRIX JEUNESSE – the premier children’s TV competition, and a venue for professionals to evolve working definitions of high quality – still struggles to attract outstanding programming from Africa and South Asia. They’ve had better success in South America, largely due to substantial investment in professional development and networking building. Latin creative content has exploded and achieved critical acclaim at the festival and some market success.

The US, Canada, UK, France, China, Korea, Japan, and a few others dominate the major media markets. Again, there are exceptions: the Indian animation industry has made a rapid, remarkable transformation from work-for-hire to high-quality independent IP. Are there opportunities in markets’ structures to spotlight and support selling of promising content from developing countries?

This meeting in Malaysia was a “World Summit” much as the Major League Baseball championship is a “World Series”: there was almost no North American or European participation. It would have been very conspicuous for a major producer or distributor to bypass the first Summit in Melbourne, in 1995. “Big media” dropped out after the 2001 Thessaloniki gathering, and subsequent events have focused primarily on regional challenges, audiences and interests. Still, I’m surprised the global companies don’t attend if only to better understand the cultures and countries into which they sell and broadcast.

The atomization of the children’s media industry further disrupts the Summit movement (and, to a lesser extent, markets and festivals). At the first Summit, broadcast and cable channels (public service and commercial) were the “600 pound gorilla” alongside a relatively compact game and software business. It was easy to know who needed to be in the room and on the stage, whose commitment could truly make a difference and who could be held to account.

In 2014, everyone – global conglomerates, tiny companies, kids themselves – makes media: the diaspora is quicksilver, impossible to grasp, much less gather.

You no longer have to be big to be influential: YouTube icon PewDiePie has 30 million subscribers and gains new ones at roughly 1,000 per hour. Corporate social responsibility has a different face when you’re a guy in his apartment, with a webcam.

Even in 1995′s relatively simple media environment, it was a struggle to make the World Summit both relevant and respectful for all involved. Today, even more so, the needs and concerns of multinational conglomerates are quite unlike those of state broadcasters or emerging over-the-top services. Concerns about service to kids in media saturated, omni-platform areas are unique from those in places where radio and TV still dominate. SMS raises different issues from What’sApp. Let me be very clear – all are equally important; they’re just different.

I don’t want to minimise the Summits’ vital role. They lift and empower otherwise-invisible voices of people and initiatives. But their potential impact is muted by the loss of Northern and Western perspectives; we’ll see if this changes when the European Broadcasting Union hosts the next Summit in Davos in 2017.

Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that the World Summits are, in practicality, regional. Then, each could focus more fully on specific needs and opportunities, while still welcoming outside experts and voices. Results could be shared, compared and debated in a dynamic “virtual World Summit” online, and relevant findings fed into festival and market agendas.

Everything on my “dream list” above is embodied in the roles of summits and markets and festivals; however, they can only come to pass if we connect the three “pillars” and share information, ideas and expertise. Let’s start building bridges.

This article first appeared in Kidscreen 11 Sept. 2014.

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