The MTM team had a fantastic time attending and contributing to this year’s Children’s Media Conference, which proved to be one of the most interesting and varied yet. Three MTMers produced and moderated panels at CMC on a diverse range of topics including: the role of new technologies in kids entertainment, disruption in the kids TV market, with an emphasis on OTT, and the challenges and opportunities of capturing children’s cross-platform video consumption.
When we weren’t busy facilitating sessions, we were soaking up the varied conference programme. Here are 5 of the interesting things we learnt from this year’s CMC:
1. In order to be relevant content made for kids has to be representative: perhaps the most inspiring session at CMC, Out and Proud? Or Still Under Wraps?, looked at the growth in content reflecting ‘non-traditional’ family dynamics and including LGBTQ+ characters. The consensus from the panel was that it is just odd to have content which isn’t reflective of the rich array of family set-ups in existence today. As Josh Bradlow of Stonewall put it, “all parents mix at the school gate”. It would be odd to ask LGBTQ+ parents to collect their children from the back of the school, so why should they be barred from appearing in programming?
Shabnam Rezaei, of Big Bad Boo, said that her desire to include a character with two dads in her cartoons was driven by wanting to see her nephew, who also has two dads, growing up with programmes which reflect their reality. She stressed the difficulties her brother encounters in finding learning materials which reflect their family makeup.Olly Pike, creator of the YouTube channel ‘Pop’n’Olly’ spoke of YouTube being a tremendous platform to educate kids about being LGBTQ+, but stressed there was work to be done to address the issue of sexualisation of LGBTQ+ content. Kez Margrie of BBC Children’s, highlighted a broadcaster’s duty to reduce homophobia amongst a broader audience who may not be on YouTube, by sewing diversity into the fabric of programming, whilst Disney’s David Levine, emphasised the primarily positive reception of the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters in their content.
2. Much is being done to educate kids about sex but the subject remains a divisive one: the session entitled, Let’s Talk About Sex, emphasised the growing role of YouTube in educating kids about sex and sexuality. YouTubers Calum McSwiggan and Chella Quint talked about their important work using the platform to bring the subject to a wider audience and having open, frank and humour filled discussions about the topics they cover. The session highlighted that content creators can face considerable backlash for raising the subject of sex education and the continued lack of clarity around the age at which kids should be introduced to it.
3. The YouTube Kids app is getting traction and inspiring take up of real world activities: the session Behind the Screens at YouTube Kids, revealed that the ‘walled garden’ app, which differs from YouTube in the parental controls it offers and the restricted and reduced advertising on the platform, has had over 70 billion views, is in 37 countries and has over 11 million active weekly users. Francesco Miceli, Manager at YouTube Partnerships, was keen to emphasise the relationship between watching videos and engaging in real-world activities, with three quarters of users being inspired to take up activities like singing, dancing as well as arts and crafts after viewing on the app.
4. VR and AR is creating immersive learning experiences but technology in the classroom is lagging behind what’s available in the home: the session, Learning – What’s Next?, opened with the panellists wowing the audience with the tremendous potential of VR and AR to create engaging learning experiences. We were particularly struck by Japhet Asher from Carton Books, who showcased his range of books featuring animals (including dinosaurs!) leaping off the page, which can be manipulated and resized by readers.
The panellists discussed the great potential for VR and AR to deliver personalised learning experiences but expressed concerns schools aren’t adapting quickly enough to this technological revolution. Nicola Anderson from BBC Bitesize stressed the public broadcaster’s desire to push ahead with incorporating technology into their resources but raised the important issue of the ‘have and have nots’; the danger of technology creating further division amongst learners with some having access and others being priced out.
5. Kids love podcasts too: Podcasts – The New Big Thing? looked at how podcasts are on the rise amongst kids, offering entertainment, escapism and opportunities for learning in a format which can be consumed on the go. Behavioural psychologist, Andrea Chatten stressed the many benefits of kids consuming podcasts, saying “listening is good for the brain; it activates imagination”. Clare Chadburn from Wisebuddah discussed how escapism, self-improvement and learning are all linked with podcasts, whilst Anne McNaught from BBC Scotland referenced the educational podcasts she is creating for a school aged audience.