Thursday, 26 July 2007

What's next for Kids TV?

There has been a lot of talk about the state of Kids TV in the UK. It’s the most competitive market in the world, with over 20 stations operating in this mid-sized country, so it’s always tough to operate in. Recently the sector has been hit as ITV, still the biggest commercial broadcaster winds down its kids programming. More significantly, the ban on ‘junk food’ advertising has hit the bottom line of all the stations (with the exception of the dominant BBC).

There is money to be made, hence the number of stations. The best place to be right now is a producer in the likes of Chorion and Ragdoll who own large chunks of the value chain via well known and loved characters – and associated merchandising.

But what about the broadcasters future, and perhaps more importantly what about the kids and our society; we need to ensure that they receive culturally and educationally rich programming that reflects the world and diverse society around them, that helps build the kind of values we find important within the context of the local world they inhabit and relate to.

The BBC will be there, and people like Nickelodeon are providing ‘quality’ shows mainly international, but also some local. My worry is about the mix we have for our kids. Being able to name-check one or two shows won’t cut it if there are 20 out of 23 channels pumping out merchandising led brain candy.

So, here are some ideas and thoughts:

- ITV! WTF?? Prove to us that you’re not just about grabbing our money through dodgy phone-ins. You’re a big organisation, you still make lots of money, have some corporate responsibility and community spirit. From a commercial viewpoint, think about investing in building some channel loyalty in your younger viewers, who’ll then consider you one of ‘their’ channel brands they tune into to see what’s on, as opposed to Channel 4 or even the Beeb. The BBC via Doctor Who have shown how you can leverage strong primetime brands for a younger audience, so why not look there too. At the moment ITV, you look like you just get interested in youth when they are old enough to vote on the X Factor.

- The Government: Ok, so you don’t want to give tax breaks to the next Transformer style franchise, but you have a responsibility to make sure our kids grow up with the right kind of values. You can ‘hit them’ at school with your concerns, but its obvious surely to all that you need to take a more holistic approach. We all know kids bring their values from home, and it can be hard for school to have an effect.

Give culturally and educationally valuable programming tax breaks, top slice the licence fee if needed. Hey, why not even get the Arts Council to invest more in youth, and perhaps wider sways of the public will feel connected to their work in later life. Consider the non-commercial aspects as part of the solution of issues like social inclusion, citizenship and avoiding ASBOs.

- Broadcasters: Well, whatever help you get, you know it’s up to you – morally and of course commercially. Take a little but more of those expansive marketing and on-air budgets and invest more in ‘brownie point’ programming, even if its cheaply made. Some shows are fun, but also ensure that you have a balanced schedule, and use your commissioning power to make sure that our kids really do get a ‘balanced diet’.

Ok, but broadcasters also need to make a buck. I’d stay speed down the route to being almost platform agnostic brands on TV, web, phones, publishing, even the high street and sports centres. From Alternative Reality Games, Second Life style worlds, through live events, tie up with schools and embrace full social networking.

Now social networking: If you’re of a certain age in the UK, you would have been a Blue Peter kid or a Magpie kid –you had your tribe. Now you might be Jetix, Nickelodeon, or even CBBC kid. Build on that and keep them within your (branded) virtuous circle. Hey, kill 2 birds with one stone and have parents/carers sign up with linked accounts say for the under 11s. This way they can keep an eye on their kids, network with other parents and then you also have the opportunity to advertise direct to the ones with the real cash in their wallets.

I’m off to baby-sit now.


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