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Smart thinking from the people running the content business.

Time to face up to the YouTube threat, CMC attendees told

By Karolina Kaminska 16-07-2024

At the Children’s Media Conference (CMC) in Sheffield last week, execs and experts debated the impact of YouTube on kids’ content and what the UK’s new Labour government should do to support the struggling sector.

Producers are having to put free content up on YouTube in order to grab viewers’ attention

Execs from the kids’ content industry returned to Sheffield last week for the 2024 edition of the Children’s Media Conference (CMC), where topics included the implications of YouTube on public service programming and what the new UK government should do to address the increasingly-challenged sector.

Opening the first full day of the conference on the Wednesday was the usual Question Time panel, where execs called on the new Labour government to address the ‘crisis’ in children’s media that has arisen from the migration of children from public service channels to social media platforms, as well as a lack of funding for public service content.

Lucy Murphy, director of kids’ content at Sky in the UK and Ireland, urged the newly-elected government to reverse cuts in arts education, benchmark tax incentives so they remain competitive and relaunch a contestable fund following the closure of the Young Audiences Content Fund in 2022.

Michael Rose, joint MD of animation prodco Magic Light Pictures, argued the government should “immediately” match tax credits for animation and television, which currently stand at around 22.5%, to the 40% tax credit for independent films. He also prompted the government to get media regulator Ofcom to “immediately investigate the current state of children’s media.”

He said: “There is a crisis of childhood in this country and I really hope this government takes it on and addresses it. As relates to children’s media, we have a crisis in children’s media and there is a tremendous strain on the established platforms from YouTube, TikTok and other new online places. That has serious implications for how high-quality public service children’s content is going to be funded, where it’s going to be found and how children today are going to view it.”

Understanding what a new Labour government could do for the industry was another hot topic

YouTube was also the subject of the closing debate on the Thursday, where a panel of execs and industry experts discussed its impact on public service media. Participating in that session was screenwriter and author Frank Cottrell-Boyce, who claimed the kids industry is “driving towards the machine” by allowing YouTube to get content for free.

Cottrell-Boyce was speaking specifically about content from children’s producers and broadcasters that feel forced to put content on YouTube in order to gain awareness of their shows, but for which they are not receiving any revenue.

“By YouTube getting all this content free, we are driving towards the machine. By not charging, by not pushing back, we are fitting in with the machine,” he said.

Speaking alongside Cottrell-Boyce was Laura Taylor-Williams, head of digital and strategic development at Wallace & Gromit producer Aardman Animations, who called for regulations to be imposed on YouTube Kids that would enforce a minimum requirement for the amount of British content that is surfaced on the platform in the UK.

This would ensure children in the UK find public service content that is relevant to them, amid the vast amount of US content available.

“In order to enforce and give a lift to British content, saying 30% of all content [surfaced] on YouTube Kids has to be from UK producers would be an easy fix to make,” Taylor-Williams said.

“We can look at the European film and TV quota. All the global streamers in Europe have to have 30% of content from Europe. If the market is not delivering what we want it to deliver for public service remit, we have to make market conditions work for it.”

The search for something new was never far from delegates’ minds

In an earlier session, Ai Shibata, senior producer at the youth and educational programming division of NHK, said she was at the conference looking for new ideas for the Japanese pubcaster to coproduce with the UK and international markets.

Shibata said competition from the likes of YouTube and Netflix has prompted NHK to “go over the borders to find new ideas,” having previously mostly produced and commissioned kids’ content domestically.

“We feel like we have to find something new. I’m not specifically looking for animation or something that is complete; I’m trying to find some new ideas that we can co-develop and coproduce. I’m here to see if there are any potentials NHK can work with,” Shibata said.

“I’m trying to look for a new way to do an international coproduction, not just acquiring something and making it into Japanese. We want something our kids haven’t seen before.”

Elsewhere at the conference, BBC Children’s senior head of commissioning for the seven-plus audience, Sarah Muller, said the pubcaster is seeing a huge increase in the number of ideas being pitched to it as some other companies have “stepped back momentarily” from commissioning.

“We’ve got double to triple the ideas coming in now because there are so few outlets for them,” she said, in reference to the industry-wide commissioning slowdown.

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