The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Our Children’s Future: Does Public Service Media Matter?


John Dale takes you into an imagined future-world, where public service media has helped a group of young people to build a sustainable new way of working that creates an empowering media experience for children across the globe.

This chapter was almost fully ‘imagined’ in a small hotel in Belgrade, Serbia, by six young people and a youth worker in late September 2007. Ana and Katia, two 13-year-old girls from the favelas in Rio de Jamaica were sat with Luka and Milos, 14-year-old boys from Borča, just outside Belgrade; and Jiera and Yash, Indian brother and sister born near Brick Lane, in East London. Marco, the 30-year-old youth worker and I had been leading a workshop all day, so we settled in the hotel’s old velvet sofas, grateful for the rest, only to be gripped by an outpouring of random consciousness from these young people. Their imaginings had been triggered by a simple question in the workshop that day: What would kids’ TV look like it 2035? This chapter tries to record that tumbling, disruptive concept as it poured out of them…with just a few contemporary updates from me.


It is 1st July 2035 and a special day, because exactly ten years ago a group of passionate kids TV activists officially launched LIKE (Life Influencing Kids Entertainment & Empowerment Ecosystem) that was to revolutionise global kids’ storytelling. So, here was the Director General of UNESCO, no less, standing on the sunny steps of Children’s Museum of Caracas in Venezuela, congratulating them on their success.

She reminded everyone of how LIKE had started in 2023, with kidfluencers Vlad and Niki, the Russian American brothers (152 million + followers averaging five billion monthly views on 16 channels and translated into 13 languages) joined forces with Diana, the then 9-year-old YouTuber broadcaster with 77 million followers and Ryan Kaji, the 9-year-old toys influencer with over 60 billion views. Like many of these technically illegally young publishers on the world’s social media platforms, this group had become aware that their daily ‘scream’ at the camera was slowly losing the interest of their loyal followers. They were realising that they needed to ‘bulk up’ their content, but that required storytelling skills. The irony was not lost of them, as these talented social networkers had a reach of billions that traditional broadcasters could only dream of, but their content was thin and in danger of plunging them back into the obscurity of being ‘normal’ kids. Their slight panic at this dreadful thought was mediated by a Nigerian vlogger, called Oma Ikande. Like Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani fighter for free education and Greta Thunberg, the climate change activist before her, Oma was a naturally gifted 14-year-old communicator, but unlike those before, she was still searching for her mission. This young pioneer-in-waiting grabbed the moment and called together ten of these extraordinary young millionaire publishers on Telegram and LIKE was born. After their meeting, Oma’s opening message to the world began:

“I come from Africa, where the UN says 37% of all children on this planet will live by 2050; yes, you heard that right, that’s 37% of ALL kids on this planet. In Nigeria, only 3% of our entire TV output has any original kids’ programmes, and instead we’re being fed with tired, old US cartoons presented to us as our national cultural diet. This makes me very angry. Today, I represent ten young global publishers under the age of 15. Currently, every single day, our group reaches 1.3 billion kids…and every day we are more determined to use this power to do something to change this. Today we say to all parents, politicians and broadcasters, now is the time to stop looking the other way.”

The speech went viral with 137 billion views and amongst those that made contact with Oma were some powerful and informed representatives of kids’ media, finance, education and tech companies from all over the world. Quiet messages of support….private sympathies and offers of help. A second meeting was convened and the young publishers, now known on the buzzing networks as ‘The Ten’ made a compact with twelve of these supporters, who immediately became known as ‘The Elders’. They needed a name. Branding came naturally. These kids already had a common trust system with their audience, based on a simple:


In early 2024, the group published its intentions: ‘ LIKE (Life Influencing Kids Entertainment & Empowerment Ecosystem) will STIMULATE, working with the best independent kids’ programme makers across the world; ACTIVATE all kids to feel empowered, so that they can tell their own stories; FACILITATE a highly collaborative ecosystem to support all members of LIKE to enjoy and learn from each other; and ENTRUST all our work to the care and open management of independent and experienced co-workers who will guide us.”

This SAFE Mission needed money. Clearly, The Ten had already amassed small fortunes themselves, but they needed ‘grown up’ patronage to make the bigger international institutions wake up. The first strike was a Middle East sovereign wealth fund, who were becoming terrified about the drain of their young people to Europe and the US, never to return. The fund managers had come to the conclusion that a decade of ignoring generations of kids had broken any bond their governments had with their own, younger generations and now the talent was departing, it was beginning to hit the bottom line as they moved from an oil-based economy to one more aligned with digital futures. A few hundred million was nothing to them to try and reopen that discourse with their kids. The Elder’s initial concerns about content interference were quickly dispelled, as the financiers’ motives were about regaining trust, not promoting traditional mantras. They were having to change too.

Perhaps the most radical innovation was that the whole viewing experience was set within a 3D synthetic gaming environment. When kids became members of LIKE, they adopted avatars. Members could not only watch in LIKE…they could explore, play and learn in LIKE. This is where the ACTIVATE part of the Mission became at least as important as the television viewing experience. LIKE assumes that you will do stuff, not just watch it. So, you can make, and upload videos using the Story Tool and then see them reviewed in the 3D village Cinema; you can test your fitness it in the virtual fitness centre; you can learn life skills, like developing emotional intelligence, through the games available in the LIKE School of Short Games. That’s why the enterprise was not called a channel, or even a platform. LIKE was a 360° ecosystem living and breathing inside an awesome gaming world.

The first LIKE 1.0 version was launched on 1st July 2025. It had 37 million followers and 5 million members, who paid the equivalent of $1 per month to access all the functionality. In other words, it was massively subsidised, as its initial programme budget was $90 million and The Ten and The Elders had appointed 32 people in 13 countries to manage the business and 39 youth workers to facilitate the LIKE Activate Hubs that ran skills workshops across their regions. Several more broadcasters had begun to support, with old archive that was modified; and the gaming industry did cross-promotion deals. The Ten had decided that there was no such thing as ‘ethical advertising’, as it was all annoying, so they had set an ambitious task of making the ecosystem inclusive, with no subscription charges. At the time of launch, many Governments were struggling to pay for health and social care and ironically didn’t see kids’ television as relevant to that or a priority. In the UK, the BBC, pioneer of kids TV, was battling to prevent its own breakup and it had become evident that their government’s mantra of market forces coming to the rescue was in reality, laughable. However, certain wily politicians in the UK did recognise a far bigger issue coming down the line. The COVID pandemic back in 2020/22 had brought into sharp focus the increasing gap between the digital literate and the digitally impoverished, left isolated in lockdown. This situation, left to the beloved market, would quickly and negatively hit the bottom line of UK Plc and LIKE offered the Government an opportunity to innovate. On 1st July 2026, exactly a year on from LIKE’s launch, the UK Government announced their ‘Digital Life Scheme’, along with yet another small extension to the Young Audiences Content Fund. On the registration of birth, all children will receive a voucher that they can exchange, on their third birthday, for a digital device called SEED (Secure Entertainment & Educational Device). On each birthday, every year thereafter, the device would automatically upgrade its system, to keep in step with application development. The step-change for the LIKE group was that in the UK this would be sold with the BBC and LIKE software already loaded at no cost.

During 2027, several governments followed suit and the SEED manufacturer became part of The LIKEGroup organisation. All profits were channelled back into the three parts of the mission – Stimulate, Activate and Facilitate. Communities of interest grew strong within the ecosystem, and The Ten and The Elders made sure that these editorial communities were reflected in the commissioning of  programming. Perhaps what was the most fertile aspect of this early stage was the influence the kids had on the programme makers. In the early digital era, even the most visionary producers of kids’ programming viewed content created by kids as an innovative add on. But as broadcast compliant technology was incorporated into quite ordinary mobile phones and 3-year-olds mastered interactive menu systems on editing software quite easily, the notion of User Generated Programming began to feel patronising and out of step with what was really going on in the kids’ preferred universe of the internet. From the outset, LIKE reversed this idea, bringing back control to the kids, who were turning from ‘viewers’ to ‘doers’. The Ten commissioned some of the world’s top software developers to create tools that enabled kids’ ideas to become fully immersive video experiences on the SEED screen all over the world. They developed automatic language translation and audio dubbing that allowed players to understand and review other members work from anywhere in the world; templates for documentary production; guidance tools for collaborative drama production; and amazingly powerful animation tools that could transfer 5-year-old imaginings into stunning cartoon experiences.

This had a profound effect on the programme makers. The Ten assured them that their traditional storytelling skills were never going to be replaced by kids’ generated content, but that their role as STIMULATORS was to make their programming become a more 360° experience. These producers began to flourish in this more gamified and interactive holistic environment. Over time, this 360° approach created a highly immersive ecosystem of content that members could navigate around, following their own instincts and curiosity.

Technically the delivery of LIKE became a challenge. Despite generous donations from many software and data storage businesses all over the world, the membership still wanted a mix of delivery platforms to ensure inclusivity, and the storage need was becoming vast. By 2028, the sheer number of OTT streamed channels had lived up to its name and had become an Over-the-Top chaotic jungle of brands that were difficult to navigate. Meanwhile, the regularly predicted demise of linear channels was still not happening and in fact, many adults were preferring the serendipity of an old-fashioned scheduled set of programmes, linked to the time of day. The giants like Disney+ and Netflix continued to dominate, but their initial ‘gross’ investment meant that continued growth into world domination was an economic necessity, and kids’ services were not always that relevant to the bemouths’ core financial needs. Meanwhile, the YouTubers kids’ content continued to be under funded and poorly mediated. LIKE was poised for its next growth spurt.

In January 2029, LIKE 2.0 launched its linear channel in 23 countries, alongside a massive rebuild of its web portal, gaming platform and online retail store. It’s library now had over 9,700 hours of kids programming and it had developed 157 learning games, many of which were being delivered as download donations to some of the lower income regions’ schools. Three more wealth funds in the US, Hong Kong and Norway had joined with a UK philanthropist to boost the fund that, combined with 5 government’s kids content funds, had grown to be a $1.3 billion future investment fund.

Not everything went smoothly. The talent pipeline required by the growing  LIKE Group became an issue three years after launch. The Elders worked with the Open University and MIT to create an unusual two-year fast track remote degree, as well as a set of 25 short courses all delivered, and capability-measured through an immersive gaming format. Meanwhile, localisation also became important. Kids in Mumbai naturally wanted different cultural reference points to those who lived in Leeds and Jakarta. LIKE redeveloped the Activate Hubs, adding additional teams of trained young media facilitators and care workers, which became known as LIKE LABS, that supported both the creativity and the health of their young producers. They also had small budgets to commission local professional producers and quickly the international schedule became populated by 20% of regional outputs, making the content STIMULATION even richer.

So, where were we? Oh yes, on a steps outside the Children’s Museum of Caracas with UNESCO and the LIKE Group, facing the world’s press. The Director General has come to Venezuela to announce a new joint investment into The LIKE Group by UNESCO and the WORLD BANK, as part of its ‘Global Balance for Children’ initiative, to sustain LIKE’s educational outreach programme and fund the new SEED device roll out across the world. She reminds her audience that LIKE has grown from a success story to a phenomenon and can now be classified as significant part of human history. Membership is at 470 million kids, aged between 3 and 16 years old. Over 120,000 independent professional companies from 37 countries now service the ecosystem, with the average employee number being 7 people with an average age of 25. Content from members on the linear channel remains at 45% of output, everyday. 57 universities host the LIKE degree courses around the world. The Ten still remain the same pioneers whose average age is now 24 years old. There are 132 co-opted Elders, from 25 countries managing the editorial commissions and localised outputs from the 12 LIKE LABS. The virtual management of LIKE is now coordinated from Leeds, The Hague, Dubai, Nairobi, Jakarta, and Mumbai.

“This is a truly remarkable story of our ability, when things hit rock bottom and our children were manifestly being forgotten, to turn things around.”

The applause for the Director General dies as Oma, still the spokesperson for The Ten, walks to the microphone. As always, she is the one parents and kids around the world want to hear.

“Forgive me Director General, but that’s not quite true. The Ten started this, but it was those initial five million of our members worldwide that ‘turned it around’, not politicians, or broadcasters. In many ways, we were the forgotten ones, consigned to bottom of the ‘change agenda’ by regional wars that killed kids, rather than ending the greed or religious intolerance; the pandemics that made child poverty and isolation unbearably worse; and the collapse of economies, where governments worried more about investors than families. And yet, new forces were surfacing that came from within the people themselves…they just needed signs of believable hope to gather around, as happened in climate change and racial intolerance. So, like those movements before us, The Ten called out and kids answered.

‘We don’t just want TV, we want a space…a digital place where we can learn, laugh and play safely. That means we want storytelling that makes us think; entertainment that makes us smile; challenges that enables us to cross borders and play together; knowledge that satisfies and then increases our curiosity. We need something that is designed to be an adventure; that uses all of our senses and reaches everyone, not just those who can afford smart devices who live in rich countries.’

Oma had the crowd spellbound now. “People say that before, our increasingly small number of brilliant kids’ broadcasters were held back though lack of money. We have shown that was not really the case. There are vast amounts of money in the world; but they are just not being channelled into things that are necessarily needed or run by people who can’t be trusted. With the help of our amazing Elders, we used our collective voice to raise just enough from investors and broadcasters to get going and then it was a matter of making sure that the ecosystem delivered what was actually needed in a modern digital ecosystem, allowing the numbers to naturally grow, making LIKE sustainable. Thank you everyone for your support and belief in those early years. I promise you, we will continue to listen more than talk, stimulate more than self-satisfy; facilitate as much as manufacture; and care for all, not just those who have choices. We have only just begun!”

The statistics related to the reach of the young social media publishers are all verifiable for their current audiences in 2021. Oma Ikande is however fictional. This vision emerged from six young people who were attending a storytelling workshop organised by Eurokidnet, a charity set up in the Netherlands by a passionate advocate of kid’s media, Sannette Naeyé. She had enlisted the support of Anna Home OBE on her board, and they had asked me to help them grow the organisation. The mission was to recruit kids living in areas that suffered from acute poverty and where children’s voices were not being heard. We created a storytelling media tool kit for kids and established youth workers in Rio de Janeiro, Belgrade, Budapest, and in the East End of London’s Pakistani community. Early software developers of automated language translation donated their prototypes so that kids could review online each other’s short films and over two years, 37 of these were watched by thousands of kids all over the world. This small experiment ended with a final Story Lab in Belgrade and that’s where, on that amazing night, six kids told me about their dream of kid’s TV. I hope it is a useful contribution to this very important debate.

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By John Dale

John worked as an actor and then became a Director at the Royal Court Theatre, London responsible for young writing. He joined the BBC as a kids’ writer/director and then ITV, developing successful television formats, including ‘No 73’ Saturday morning show, before going on to write and produce mainstream award-winning adult drama.

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