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Monday, July 7, 2008

Successful End to a Successful Trip

It doesn't take long being around me to ascertain that I have two obsessions -- kids' media and distance running. So, I was pretty thrilled when Showcomotion organizer Greg Childs not only asked me to return and present my annual PRIX JEUNESSE "Suitcase" screening, but also if I would run the British 10k road race on Sunday, July 6, as a charity runner for his cause of choice, The Multiple Sclerosis Trust. What a challenge -- to do something I love in the heart of a city that endlessly fascinates me, for a worthy cause that is important to someone I greatly respect!

So, before returning home today, I ran yesterday. Unless you are Stefano Baldini (2004 Olympic Marathon Champion) or Lornah Kiplagat (one of the world's premier women in the marathon), this is a run not a race. With 25000 people participating (probably about 75% of them for various charities), a very narrow start line near the Wellington Arch, and no seeding by anticipated pace at the start, all but the elites spend much of the race weaving in and out of slower traffic.

Still, it was a spectacular course through Trafalgar Square, along the Embankment to the Tower of London, back to Westminster Bridge, around Parliament Square, and finishing on Whitehall.

Below are a few photos from the run. If any should inspire you to support the MS Trust, the site for giving will be open for a few more weeks here.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Online safety

In Showcomotion's closing session, the question was raised why we never seem to get to discussing the creative foundations, processes and possibilities of the digital world. Showcomotion Producer Greg Childs, principal of Childseye Consulting noted that not just at Showcomotion, but at almost every conference on digital social networks and spaces, the theme veers quickly to problems and threats.

As if to prove the point, almost simultaneously with the closing session came this article from the LA Times about online bullies, thieves and cheaters, and this Huffington Post article on media addiction.

Five guidelines for companies'/brands' best practices in social networks

Maurice Wheeler, Founder and Planning Director of Digital Outlook, laid out five key ground rules for companies or brands seeking to have presence on social networking sites.

1) Help me, don’t sell to me – don’t just put up an ad, but offer something of community value.
2) Keep it real – don't pretend to be something you're not, either by disguising your site as a fan site or by representing yourself as a happy customer. Today's youth have very quick bulls**t detectors (and some technical tricks) and will find you out and embarrass you.
3) Make it unique -- whatever you offer in your social network space should be unavailable anywhere else, even in your other marketing or promotion.
4) Be open and accepting whatever the consequences – if you are attacked or criticized, resist the urge to lash back, respond or delete the offending content. Take a deep breath, and let your community defend you.
5) For us by us. Offer opportunities for the community to contribute; sense of ownership is vital.

What will the gatekeepers keep?

In a session on the difficulty of bringing together the game industry and the TV industry, one panelist pointed out that now that many gaming consoles are Internet connected, it's not just possible, but easy for game manufacturers to continually update in-game advertising. The billboard your avatar walks past today with a McDonald's ad could well be promoting Coke tomorrow.

Suddenly, games are ad-supported, continually updating media...or what used to be called "television."

For a time, ongoing revenue stream was the major argument from TV gatekeepers why the game world needed to collaborate with them. Now...not so much.

The Eclectic Slide, Part II

Also from Seth's presentation, a mapping of the digital world and homage to the London Tube:

The Eclectic Slide, Part I

A Powerpoint slide from the presentation of Chris Seth, Managing Director of Piczo Europe, speaking during the "Social Media: Realising the Opportunity" session:

The Channel of Me – I know best how to create, assemble, organize and consume my experiences.

The Channel of Us – We are self organizing with the power, trust, scale and social currency that only we can provide for ourselves.

Salute Your Shorts

Early on in my children’s TV career, as I looked around the world, I was taken especially with the countries (most often in Europe) that used children’s blocks to escape the tyranny of 30 and 60 minute programs. Blocks could feature a five-minute documentary followed by an 11-minute animation and a two-minute video clip. Not only could content could find its appropriate length, but also while kids would know that the block was made explicitly for them, it wouldn’t be predictable enough to let them click away during something that didn’t appeal – what if their favorite segment came up next?

Now, in the manic, mobile and mash-up age, short content for television has renewed life, and this was the topic of the GET SHORTY session. Short-form has both financial and creative appeal: it enables a telecaster to test out a concept before taking it to a longer-form series, or to take content risks, at a lower level of investment. In some cases, channels are using it as an opportunity for user-generated content. Others – like Nickelodeon UK – are using shorts to drive their social awareness or public service campaigns.

Here are links to some of the programs presented:

Pedro and Frankensheep
Nick UK’s See Something Say Something
The Zimmer Twins
The McLeod Brothers (see especially The Odyssey in 15 seconds)

Whither (or is it "wither"?) Public Service Media?

A “question time” session on the state and future of public service broadcasting began by questioning the use and definition of the term itself. BBC Children’s Controller Richard Deverell noted that the regulator Ofcom’s definition from five years ago – quality, creativity, serving all and measurable outcomes – remains valid; what’s changed is the range of companies, channels, platforms and venues where public service content is being provided, that weren’t necessarily considered or included originally.

Janey Walker, Head of Education and Managing Editor of Commissioning for Channel 4, added that the audience demand must also be part of the equation in defining public service content, though, and that is is dangerous to define it solely in terms of commercial market failures (i.e., public service is to fill gaps that the market can’t or won’t); Channel 4 wants to reach as many people as possible, and it shouldn’t diminish public service value if they use a popular format and put it on at 8 in the evening.

Blogger’s Note: A few years back, especially when I was working on the “One Mission Many Screens” report for PBS and the Markle Foundation, we used the term ‘public service media’ to replace ‘broadcasting’ in recognition of the public’s migration to multiple screens. In evolving now to ‘public service content,’ defined in large part by its “purposes and characteristics” (a term used by regulator Ofcom’s Head of Market Research James Thickett), how will this affect the concept of publicly funded or at least publicly sanctioned media outlets…under that definition, do bloggers and YouTube become part of public service media?

Another major debate during the “Future of Kids’ PSB” session was whether the advocates for British-made children’s media – principally PACT (the producers’ alliance) and Save Kids’ TV – have been “too nice,” and whether it’s time to harden their campaign.

Everyone seemed to agree that the strength of the activists’ argument is that it’s a “nice” one – everyone with children wants the best for them. Janey Walker suggested using that as a starting point on the high ground, but said ultimately the battle would be won by using the hardest-headed accountants who can come up with sustainable funding plans.

Adam Minns, speaking for PACT, noted that the advocates may not have achieved all their goals, but said they’ve made undeniable progress since Showcomotion 2006, when the movement was born: there has been press coverage, Channel 4 has proposed investing 10 million UKP in teen programming, and Ofcom’s CEO was quoted that “children’s is the ‘bleeding edge’ of public service issues.”

Anne Brogan agreed, but said while the topic is on people’s lips, it’s not yet achieved action. She paraphrased MP Ed Vaizey from the night before as saying, “I’m with you but I won’t put money or time in.” This led the BBC’s Deverell to suggest that it’s time to make politicians uncomfortable if they do nothing.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

It's a Lego world...

Also from the "Welcome to my World" session, this factoid:

There are 52 Lego bricks in existence for every person on earth.

What did you build with your 52 bricks today?

Eight Personalities in Virtual Worlds

In the "Welcome to my World" session on virtual worlds for children, researcher Lizzie Jackson from the School of Media, Arts and Design at the University of Westminster, cited eight different personality types her team had identified while studying users of the CBBC's "Adventure Rock":

Explorer-Investigators consider their time on the site to be “outdoor” play inside; they tend to be confident and curious;
Self-stampers are working at presenting themselves to the world, and rehearsing for the next stage in their lives: being teens;
Social climbers are competitive and concerned with their "ranking," in online space, especially compared to others;
Fighters are interested in death and destruction, violence and superpowers, though often beneath this surface is a study of rules and structures;
Collector-consumers seek to accumulate anything offered up that has perceived value; and
Power users share the benefit of their knowledge and experience with others, often helping newcomers or those who are struggling with pathways and strategies;
Life System Builders create new lands or elements, then populate their environment;
Nurturers love to look after avatars or pets and teach others.

Session participants were asked to rate themselves on the scale above, with regard to views about kids and virtual worlds.

Things that make you go hmmmm....

Ten -- or even two -- years ago, had you heard the following line at a children's media conference, would you have wondered what planet you had landed on:

I need to buy a disco floor for my igloo.

Whose Space is it Anyway?

Below are some key quotes from the opening Showcomotion Session, "Whose Space is it Anyway," which played out as a game show between two teams made up of kids' media experts and teens.

On the impact of the funding shortages for children's media and attention from government, referring back to Ed Vaizey's address:

Adrian Mills (Myriad Learning) -- People won’t know what happened until its too late. At the moment, there is a plethora of channels and programs, but five years down the road the reservoir will dry up. However, as a political issue, trying to fight for attention from Members of Parliament, it will never compare to knife crime, the economy or health care.

Nigel Pickard (RDF Television), also referring back to Vaizey – A tax break is too easy, it won’t solve the problems if there aren’t enough broadcast platforms, no end user. On the other hand, it’ll be fantastic for animation and should have been there 15 years ago.

On the Byron review of safety and digital media –

Pickard - It was an eminently sensible piece of work that took 250 pages to state the obvious.

Mills – Whenever the government immediately says it will implement all recommendations in a report, you know there’s nothing very challenging. What it lacked that would have been useful was a rebuttal to the extreme views of people like Aric Sigman, who believe consuming media will result in an entire generation of children who are depressed and retarded.

Tanya Byron (psychologist and author of the Byron Review) – Industries have to take responsibility, but they also have to be supported to find the way forward. What should come next is a time of collaboration among government, industry, experts, kids.

On perceptions of most media as divorced from education --

Mills – Education and media have drifted apart because the concept of schools TV was never re-invented; we need to re-engage in the idea of media’s role in children’s learning, not based on a 1950’s model, and not disregarding the ongoing important role of TV.

At the end of the session, asked what kinds of TV they liked, the two teen girls on the panel mentioned Grange Hill and Byker Grove as shows they best related to; sadly, both have been discontinued.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Vaizey: Kids' TV Caught in the "Perfect Storm"

Showcomotion Chair Anna Home (former Head of Children’s Programmes for the BBC) introduced Shadow Minister Ed Vaizey by talking about the “special and particular scrutiny” received recently on children and the media in the UK. She cited multiple governmental reports from various sectors (Vaizey estimated that number at 14!). Home said it was great that the children’s media industry and culture are being taken so seriously, but wondered if it all was happening too late to take the values of PSB forward into the future.

Vaizey spotlighted the conundrum of children’s media policy today. In the UK government’s broad “Children’s Plan” on the difficulties in bringing up youth today, the second point of the executive summary referred to the “danger of television,” whereas it wasn’t until page 45 that the report mentioned the medium’s positive potential. The environment is “somewhat hostile and somewhat suspicious and I don’t think it should be that way,” Vaizey (father of a two year old) said.

He also noted that children’s TV is caught in “the perfect storm” – more regulation makes it less advantageous for broadcasters to produce new content, while the fast-changing technology environment is making innovation ever more necessary.

Vaizey demurred from taking a stand on any of Ofcom’s four proposals for ways forward, or from a fifth proposal to create a central commissioner of domestic children’s PSB content for use across channels. He did say, however, that the industry’s lobbying efforts for tax incentives (particularly by the producers’ lobby PACT) has been very effective – they haven’t asked for the world and they have been clear and responsive to issues raised, he noted, citing in particular PACT’s argument that if tax incentives prove useless, no one will use them, but they represent a small investment with big benefits if they are effective.

Tax incentives, Vaizey proposed, make sense for industries that are in the business of risk, because they give companies incentive to keep money at home, keep regulation to a minimum and act in a very targeted way.

When it came time for questions, the largest concern from the audience was whether government concern can be turned to action in time to save the industry. Vaizey admitted that it’s unlikely anything would happen before 2010, when the next election is likely to take place, and that he’s not convinced the case for more urgent intervention has yet been made.

Disclaimer: As an American visitor, this report is filtered through my own understanding both of the British political system and of what Mr. Vaizey said; others at Showcomotion or simply those who know the environment are very much invited to clarify or comment!

Showcomotion 2008: Theirspace

Greetings from Sheffield, England, and the Showcomotion conference. This is the fifth gathering, and it’s become one of my – and the British children’s media industry’s – favorite meetings. For me, at least, this is because it’s perpetually forward looking. Even last year, when UK children’s TV seemed to be at a nadir in finances and morale, there was no hand-wringing or “woe are we” attitude, but instead a figurative rolling up of sleeves and commitment to getting closer to the audience to do more with less.

One sign of the value UK professionals assign to Showcomotion: there are 119 contributors (speakers, moderators, producers) this year, and virtually all are volunteers. They’ll be speaking to roughly 400 people in the audience.

The 2008 Showcomotion theme is “Theirspace,” an assessment of new ideas, best practices and how well we as adults are providing content for all the old and new places young people access media. (I am here, as always, to present screenings and discussion of children’s TV from around the world, drawn from the recent PRIX JEUNESSE, perhaps, the most “traditional media” session of the conference.)

More than any year before, the speakers come from gaming, social networks and other digital development, though of course there’s still strong representation from the TV channels and independent producers. Among the most interesting sessions, as well, should be those dealing with policy – tonight the shadow (opposition) minister for culture and broadcasting will open the conference, and tomorrow there will be opportunities to question regulators and activists, plus a chance to feed into the BBC Trust’s review of service to children.