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Edutainment for all

By Paul Robinson 07-11-2012

It occurred to me as I scanned my Mipcom meeting schedule back in October that at each successive market I am conducting more meetings than ever, and turning people away in increasing numbers because there is only so much you can squeeze into five days. Unless someone can sneak me Hermione Granger’s ‘timeturner’ I can’t see a solution.



Of course, this is a delightful problem to have and isn’t merely a symptom of the fact that technology ensures we are always connected to someone. In the kids and family business there appears to be another factor at work. Despite the scarcity of time and a plethora of distractions, the propensity for people to create new children’s characters, stories and content shows no sign of reducing.

I don’t mean just the successful established players, but also individuals with a burning desire to bring their vision to reality as a TV show, game or licensed product. Global brands continue to excel at producing great characters that grow from TV shows to movies to toys and other consumer products. Every parent knows Hannah Montana, SpongeBob SquarePants, Ben 10 and In the Night Garden.

This isn’t the whole story. The biggest seismic shift in the past year has been the potency of platforms other than TV to build kids’ consumer franchises. In the UK, Moshi Monsters is among the largest licensed brands but built up its equity with kids as a game and was never conceived for TV. Only now that it’s successful is audiovisual entertainment being added.

Then there are indies. Across the globe there is a growing supply of big and small indies, some of which are funded, others that find coproduction partners, and many that just have a great idea and come door knocking to find someone who shares their creative vision. Most of the latter are characterised by a supreme belief in their creative vision, a deep and heartfelt affection for their characters and tenacity to find a partner. Many of these shows will eventually get made, but some will never make it beyond a presentation and bible.

The other dimension in this is the explosion in technology. The latest research from NPD Group confirms portable and console video game systems have their highest usage among four- to 14-year-olds. A new study from Ericsson indicates viewing on consoles and tablets is starting to erode second TV set viewing, because the devices are already web-connected. More than 50% of viewers in the study, which involved 40,000 respondents across 40 countries, used social media while watching TV. There is also a shift in linear and on-demand viewing. RTL recently reported 33% annual growth in online video viewing across Europe, with catch-up approaching 10% of all viewing.

When there were a handful of free-TV channels parents could be sure their kids would be exposed to a range of audiovisual content. In today’s multi-platform, multi-channel world, what is there to stop kids just watching ‘wallpaper TV’? Television has a very powerful influence on kids. Children have more choice of TV than any preceding generation, and there has been an associated increase in obesity and behaviour-, debt- and finance-related problems.

I’m not arguing that television is bad for kids. Far from it. Children have watched TV since it was invented and derive huge pleasure from it in almost every country. However, in today’s world, with extensive choice and content, how can parents help their kids watch shows that will not only entertain but also help them in their lives?

One way is to encourage content with a purpose – shows that are more than just entertainment. There is little point in forcing a child to watch didactic or scholastic programming because they just won’t. Most kids regard TV as a treat to enjoy after school, so more school-like content is anathema to them. However, entertainment, with positive imagery or life lessons woven in with the characters and adventure is completely acceptable.

Teletubbies, Sesame Street and The Wiggles are great examples of content with a purpose. These are shows that are ingrained in most adults’ minds; who didn’t mind learning with Elmo or singing Potato with The Wiggles? Another is Turner Broadcasting’s LazyTown. The show’s uniqueness derives from its ability to encourage kids to be active. It’s not about keeping fit but raising awareness that sitting around watching TV continually is not a healthy lifestyle.

Another great example is A Squared Elxsi Entertainment’s Secret Millionaire’s Club, in which Warren Buffet helps kids learn important lessons about money and business. Content with a purpose doesn’t need to be dull, but in a market of profusion it’s a smart choice for kids – however and wherever they access their entertainment.

today's correspondent

Paul Robinson Consultant

Paul Robinson is a London-based children's entertainment consultant. He was previously international president of A Squared Elxsi Entertainment and prior to that was the co-founder and CEO of global children's channel KidsCo, which went on air in September 2007. Robinson led the development of the channel to broadcast in 95 countries in 18 languages, 24/7 with family-friendly edutainment for children. Before KidsCo, he established PR Media Consulting, which advises on animation and other programme production and creation, strategy and marketing/PR. Robinson was previously head of strategy at the BBC, managing editor of BBC Radio 1, CEO of Talk Radio and group programme director at Chiltern Radio Network.