The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Children’s Media Conference, Sheffield 2019


By Diana Hinshelwood,

Producer, CMF Newsletter Editor and CMF Executive Group Member.

CMF sent newsletter editor Diana Hinshelwood to report back from the Children's Media Conference in Sheffield (2- 4 July).

I had the best time in Sheffield.  Booking into the wrong hotel and being called a troublemaker aside (I prefer the term ‘rebel’), it was an informative, thought provoking, entertaining, brilliant whirlwind that has built on past successes to become the most important event for media professionals.

This year, there was a lot to discuss. The launch of the Young Audiences Content Fund is what everyone wanted to know about.  Jackie Edwards and her team were on hand to inform and advise those wanting to apply for the BFI run fund.  It brought home to me the success of CMF working with industry organisations to press the Government to fund content development and creation dedicated to the younger audience. It’s a perfect example of what the Children’s Media Foundation does well.  Long-term lobbying and campaigning for the interests of the young audience has finally resulted in extra funds to allow the UK children's media industry to thrive, and make more quality content with distinction of purpose.

And this was only the beginning of relevant and purposeful conversation at CMC.

There were new discussions to be experienced, for example about trans rights and representation, talk about class and access to the industry, and the moral maze surrounding online harms. New sessions were introduced, like the excitingly titled Writers Assemble! specifically for scriptwriters and their issues.  Conversations also continued on recurring themes such as regulating the internet (how?) and the constantly changing face of the media landscape (what now, what next?)  And producers and content makers had fabulous opportunities to hear from commissioners, pitch ideas and make contacts with frequent speed meetings and the International Exchange market day.

This year, the International Exchange had the more buyers and sellers attending than ever before.  Among the buyers were the BBC, Disney, Nick, Turner, Milkshake and Zodiak Kids, and a number from overseas like Rai, NRK, YLE and ZDF-Enterprises. It was busy, busy, busy – and hot!  Lots of people moving from table to table and lots of talking.  I attended as a seller, and had planned to keep spaces free so as not to become overwhelmed, but the system for booking meetings on line is so easy that I ended up filling every slot but one.  By the end of the afternoon I had lost my voice. The day was a great success and useful contacts were made and vital feedback and advice given.  It’s a brilliant opportunity to get ideas in front of the people who need to see them.

Some dream of a media career.  Others have the media spotlight thrust upon them. The Keynote interview with Nadiya Hussain was a window on how sudden fame can change a life, but in particular when it’s not deliberately sought. Nadiya describes the effect that media attention has had on her and her family, but she has chosen to use that fame to highlight other issues that have affected her.  Many young people are beset with anxiety and mental health issues and modern life seems to have made their fears worse. Nadiya’s bravery in talking about her own anxiety problems is an important step in breaking the silence that surrounds the phenomenon.

The Creative Keynote featuring ‘Horrible Histories The Movie: Rotten Romans’ was very well attended and entertaining.  The panel consisted of the author Terry Deary, and Dominic Brigstocke, Caroline Norris and Giles Pilbrow, writers and producers from Citrus Films and Citrus TV.  Clips were previewed and discussions had about how and why it’s become such a huge success – popular with audiences and actors alike. I’m not sure it was wise for Terry Deary to tell an audience containing children’s scriptwriters that they don’t know how to write comedy, but we’ll forgive him a little hubris. When someone with Derek Jacobi’s gravitas agrees to be made fun of, it’s a sign of universal appeal across all ages, so who are we to complain?  Gravito, Gravitas, Gravitat.  The session also included the young singer/songwriter and Changemaker Sapphire performing the song “In The Shadows”, which was spine tingling.  She spoke movingly about her own anxiety issues and this song is a reflection of that.  She’s a major talent and I found her performance beautiful and incredibly moving.  I did wonder if this might have been more suited to Nadia’s Keynote on anxiety as it seemed a little jarring to have the irreverence of Horrible Histories alongside such a sensitive performance. But it’s a small quibble.

Speaking of change makers, everyone was talking about how impressive and effective this year’s Changemakers were in general.  They had their own session about activism amongst the young, and then stepped up to replace Nikki Lilly in the final session “The Last Word” because she was stuck at home with a sick parent, who is now recovered.  In this last session they talked about the significant and growing lack of diversity in the industry, clearly reflected in the Conference delegates and on stage at the Conference,  despite efforts on the part of session producers. It was one of the big takeaways of CMC this year. So much so that an “action plan” to address this by next year’s conference is being put in place.

CMC is excellent for discussing the important policies and questions facing children’s media, but it’s also brilliant at lightening the mood to entertain as well as to inform.  On the last day of the conference, The Art of Voice and Song did just that.  Songwriters Joss Peach and Ellie Wyatt demonstrated their skills at bringing content to life with a well-written song, and voice artist Marc Silk showed off his talent of mimicry and humour with a range of famous people, all of them instantly recognisable by their voices.  As the conference wound down, it sent us on our way with a song in our hearts and a smile on our faces.

Well done the CMC Sheffield team and the army of volunteers who produce session write the blog reports and look after delegates at the conference - the best yet.  See you again next year – and in the meantime we at CMF will certainly keep the conversations going.

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