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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tokyo Toy Store

I arrived in Tokyo last night, with one day to explore before we begin work tomorrow morning. I am here to chair the audiovisual juries for the JAPAN PRIZE, the premier international competition for educational media, convened by the public broadcaster NHK. I'll be posting from here over the next week, though I have to be circumspect since JAPAN PRIZE is not an "everyone watches, everyone discusses, everyone votes" contest like PRIX JEUNESSE.

I spent a bit of my day at one of Tokyo's biggest toy stores, on the Ginza, to see what's hot here. Mostly, the rule seems to be "if it's cute, make it move."

That said, there's still room for old fashioned "acoustic" (as oppposed to electronic) play. This one, I suspect, is meant for adults rather than kids...a pachinko-style decision-maker.

Then, for those who have trouble waking up, there's this digital clock and comes complete with the gun. "Tell me why I don't like Mondays"?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Quote du jour

Is it possible that media, news and technology literacy could be the new civics class?
- McCrae Parker, VP of Strategic Initiatives, Youth Radio

What's the New What?
- Sex Without Condoms is the New Engagement Ring
Boss of Me

Journal of Media Literacy Education

Thanks to Frank Baker and the Media-L listserv for this release:

The National Association of Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) unveiled the premiere issue of its Journal of Media Literacy Education Sunday night, August 2, at the NAMLE conference in Detroit Michigan.

Volume 1, Issue 1 can be found here:

Each issue of the journal is divided into three sections:
Voices from The Field
Professional Resource (reviews)

To access all of the journal, be sure to register (it's free). Follow the link "register" to set up your username and password.

Contributions are encouraged. The deadline for submissions for the second issue is October 1, 2009

Parents and Media Literacy -- Fear or Facilitation?

The session on parents and media literacy took a somewhat frightening turn, as a number of people in the audience reacted with amazement (and perhaps even a little disdain) to findings that parents prefer to regulate media in their own households over government regulation. At least two audience members suggested we need to educate parents to demand government intervention; but where is the media literacy gain in telling families that they’re not capable and need Big Brother to do it for them?

This discussion followed on an excellent challenge by Faith Rogow about the disconnect between how we train teachers to provide media literacy education – an inquiry-based foundation – and how we most often deal with parents in media training settings, which tends to be to scare them with media effects findings, then tell them what to do.

One effect often posited about media’s influence on audiences is that it leads them to have a more negative or fearful view of the world. Based on reactions from some of the researchers, educators and pediatricians in this session, we may well be creating that fear in what we tell them about the mediated world, even more than what that world contains for many or even most kids. If you lead into media literacy with the dangers, it’s very hard then to change up and promote the positive potential.

OK, editorial finished. Below is a more dispassionate rundown of this session.

Kelly Mendoza of Temple University studied parents and their family Internet use strategies, particularly how they balance protectionism (defined primarily by the media effects research model) and empowerment (more attuned to the cultural studies and new media literacy models). She explored what strategies parents use along this continuum, using four variables: internet mediation strategies, confidence in using strategies, perceived usefulness of strategies, attitudes about children’s use of Internet.

Mendoza found that parents say they are reliant on rules about time and where kids can go (but recognizes that there is often a disconnect between what kids and parents report about what the rules are and how well they are enforced). Fewer parents report asking questions about what their kids are doing on line, and even fewer report encouraging their children to be creators online.

Parents reported little confidence in filtering and monitoring tools, a concern for the researchers given the size of the market in this software. At the same time they also claimed little confidence in their own ability to guide children to productive ways to be online creators.

Parents said they were very concerned about content, especially about inadvertent exposure to inappropriate content. Still, most parents deal with such incidents as they happen, rather than taking preventive measures.

Interviewed about their best hopes for the Internet, the parents focused on the “wealth of information” aspect, the Web as research resource. Few talked about its potential for communication or connection.

Catherine Chiarello, a lecturer on parenting digital kids, noted the gap between the typical advice given to parents and the realities of kids’ and families’ lives today. “Timers are great for cooking, but they stink for trying to regulate a kid who’s in the middle of a game. The advice not to have media in the bedroom is fine, but most kids today have laptops.”

So, Chiarello focuses on management strategies designed for the particular family – different strategies for a kid who is susceptible to bullying vs one who gets along with a wide variety of others; different needs of a latchkey family vs. one with a parent home most of the time. She also advocates understanding that this is a young person’s world, one that they are born into while we are reacting to it as a new and changing landscape.

Laurel Felt, Annenberg School for Communication, USC, conducted a pilot study on parents’ perspective on media and their children. Her hypothesis was that parents’ SES, their own childhood media experiences, and the age of their children would influence perceptions about children and media.

SES did impact parents’ preference for TV regulation – but regulation by parents, not government, broadcasters or independent organizations; low SES parents are most in favor of parental regulation.

Regarding children’s age and perceptions of TV quality, parents of now-adult children perceive TV quality as highest (perhaps a function of nostalgia?); parents of pre-school children also had reasonably high assessment of quality, while parents of elementary age children had the lowest view.

Finally, the more time the subjects had spent watching TV as a child, the higher opinion they had of current TV quality.

Emily Hunt, Parent and Teacher Media Education Manager at Common Sense Media, demonstrated the organization’s action-oriented materials program, built around positive and practical strategies and information on parents’ central concerns. Media offer Common Sense an opportunity to strengthen the home/school connection.

Media Literacy Exercise: Tree Octopuses

Take a group of students; divide into smaller groups.

Assign the following research topic: Tree Octopuses.

Send one group to the Internet, another to the encyclopedia, another to the library, etc.

See how many groups come back with information on the Tree Octopus.

Science Resources and Media Literacy - Hidden Persuaders

The presentation on media literacy resources and science learning, led by Daniella Quinones from WGBH Educational Productions, diverged into a fascinating back and forth about vetting educational resources for accuracy and bias. To borrow from “Shrek,” doing so is like peeling an onion; sometimes it’s necessary to go several levels deep to find clues.

The “About Us” section of a website may reveal potential sway, as might a list of funders; however, corporate backing or profit motive isn’t the only form of influence. The “Integrity in Science” database, for example, is a project of the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has its own point of view and interests.

Quinones produces Teachers Domain, a WGBH project supported by the National Science Foundation and others, linking to 2200 different resources (video, websites, etc.) in science, social studies, English, math and performing arts.

For reference, other resources noted in the session for educational video and other resources included DLESE – Digital Library for Earth Systems Education, Source Watch (a project of the Center for Media and Democracy, the Adolescent Literacy and Science Collection (part of Teachers Domain), iTunes U, Safari Montage and Net Trekker.

NAMLE: President's Address

Sherri Hope Culver (shown left talking to her video doppelganger), President of the National Association for Media Literacy Education opened the NAMLE conference in Detroit noting that participants came from 34 states and 7 countries.

Culver’s President’s Address posited that 2009 will prove to be the tipping point for media literacy as a “social epidemic” – it is being taught in all sorts of new places, formal and informal, and the meme is central to every emerging platform from YouTube to Facebook to Twitter. We have gone almost instantly, Culver said “from ‘how can I find that out’ to ‘I can find anything – see it, watch it, download it, edit it…’ and media literacy adds the key question, “but should I.” Availability, access and fear – the perfect storm for media literacy.

But, if we stop talking about what media literacy isn’t, or why different organizations have different definitions, the opportunities are stronger than ever to integrate media literacy into the highest levels of education.

The Senate is working on a bill that would provide federal matching fund for states to support 21st century technology skills, including media literacy and critical skills. The Department of Education, as well, is incorporating media and technology education.

Even in popular culture, media literacy has edged its way into the mainstream. NBC’s “30 Rock” deals explicitly (the “Snapple product placement” episode) and implicitly (behind the scenes of a conglomerate company with media as one tentacle) with media literacy issues. Nickelodeon’s “iCarly” has covered topics like ownership, censorship, access and product placement; young people can watch the series, then go online and see the webisodes that were being produced on TV.

(Below, Renee Hobbs uses her Flip video camera to document Sherri Hope Culver's speech up close.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Journalists Weigh In

The first journalists' coverage of the Senate Commerce Committee hearings are starting to come out. Here's Reuters' take.

As noted previously, the hearing ranged afield of the Children's Television Act itself. The Act limited only the minutes of commercials per hour, not the content of commercials, but Reuters cites FCC Chair Genachowski talking about protecting children from "inappropriate marketing."

This article from EasyBourse notes the one area where Chairman Genachowski seemed ready to regulate immediately -- making firm the FCC's tentative conclusion that interactive advertising to children should be banned without explicit opt-in permission from parents.

In conclusion...

Senator Rockefeller closed the hearing by talking again about how he was "shot down" by the Committee (his "own side of the Committee," he added) when he tried even to talk about First Amendment issues in a hearing on violence and obesity last year.

Writer's note: When it comes to extending the Children's Television Act, I wonder if the primary issue isn't the content of the programming, but the platform on which it is delivered. Would the FCC have the authority to mandate educational content or other restrictions on platforms that don't use public airwaves? That will be the most interesting conversation to watch as these issues move forward under a new Chairman.

Ultimately, this hearing was only tangentially about the Children's Television Act -- the scope of which was limited to educational and informational content mandates, commercial time restrictions and the establishment of the late and lamented "National Endowment for Children's Educational Television" (unless I missed it, Sandy Calvert didn't cite this precedent in introducing her idea for a think tank/production center).

Certainly, there was attention to adding more programming for the 6-12 year old audience, and to limiting commercialism; however, the tone was much more about how to support parents in an increasingly complex media environment, and how to surround kids with quality content(including entertainment!).

Here are the most encouraging things I heard in that light:
  • we've evolved from talking only about tools that block what we don't want, to developing means for helping families navigate to what they do want;
  • we are talking thoughtfully about the home-school connection -- not trying to replicate school learning via home media, but using the power of technology so that formal and informal learning tools can work in concert;
  • the panelists from industry we talking about their role in ways that suggest they are coming to see "360 commissioning" as not about themselves (we need to be everywhere!), but about the child and ensuring that they can find content for their needs, abilities and interests in the places they feel most comfortable.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN) asked for evaluations of current blocking technologies.

Sandy Calvert noted Amy Jordan's research at the University of Pennsylvania finding that most parents had a difficult time programming their V-chip.

Jim Steyer thinks we're very close to simpler technologies for navigation -- finding and blocking. The V-Chip technology, he said, was meaningful, but the rating system was meaningless; 3rd party, independent ratings are the answer.

In the fall, Common Sense ratings will appear via the Interactive Program Guide for all DirecTV families. The "little read button" is crucial because it's at the "point of decision."

Klobuchar also serves on the Agriculture Committee, and wanted to ask about food advertising and character promotion guidelines.

John Lawson reiterated that Qubo's guidelines were called the "gold standard," but said Qubo found it very hard to get recognition since they are digital channels. This hearing was a valuable opportunity to bring them to light.

Cyma Zarghami talked about Nickelodeon's decisions on not using characters tie-ins with certain foods, about meeting regularly with its food advertisers, and about trying to support parents in their efforts to manage their families' food and media lives.

Senator Nelson (FL) asked Sandy Calvert to expand on her proposal for a center to study, develop and produce media.

Calvert cited the Sesame Workshop model, where research, education and production work toghether. She reiterated that there is not a financial model that has worked sustainably for older children.

Nelson followed up by asking why we limit commercial minutes, but don't regulate commercial content.

John Lawson replied that self-regulation can be effective, again citing Qubo's content and marketing guidelines.

Gary Knell talked about the United Kingdom model, where the BBC has multiples more money than US public TV and where food marketing restrictions were imposed and "the sky did not fall in."

Jim Steyer supported FCC Chair Genachowski's statement that he intended for the FCC to make firm the ban on interactive advertising to children. He also noted that Common Sense Media had recommended to the FCC and Congress a plan for ad content restrictions during family-oriented programming like sports, citing the difficulty of explaining erectile dysfunction to a five-year-old.

Senator Rockefeller began the question period talking about children as consumers of media; Jim Steyer stepped in to remind the Committee that children are media creators, not just consumers, and that heightens the need for digital literacy, and knowing the "rules of the road."

Senator Mark Begich (AK) is asking questions first: he is concerned about the 6-11 age group gap in educational programming. Without mandatory requirements, he asked, how do we get good content for that age group? And how do we get kids to watch it -- his 6-year-old has already migrated to older kids' programming.

Gary Knell responded that kids are natural media learners; by the time they enter school, they are digital learners. Sesame Workshop is talking with the Department of Education about media uses that bridge the home-school connection.

The problem is that there is not a lot of advertising money for this age group, except for entertainment. We have to figure out a way to get the best of Hollywood and the best of Silicon Valley working together to captivate and educate this age group.

Begich followed up this same question with Cyma Zarghami.

Nickelodeon research with kids, since the early days, found that they could best help kids by guiding them in navigating the world. They get formal education at school, but want support in relevant social learning from TV. As kids watch kids on Nick that look like them and have the same problems (or exaggerated versions of the same problems), they gain self-esteem.
Jim Steyer, Common Sense Media:

Senator Rockefeller said this was a transformational moment in media, and we need to look at this issue not just regarding the CTA, but regarding the domestic and international security of our country, given the educational needs of the next generation.

1) Educate; 2) Empower; 3) Protect -- these are the three core values regardless of platform.

On education, there needs to be more quality educational content across all platforms. The second part of education is to provide digital literacy and citizenship learning for kids and parents. Kids who are not digitally literate will not compete.

On empowerment, that's the "little red button" that Senator Rockefeller asked about. Common Sense Media rates and describes content across multiple platforms to give parents the ability to make good choices.

Regarding protection, it has to come not only from industry, but from Congress and the FCC. We can balance First Amendment Freedoms with protective regulations. This primarily comes from adult content, not from the children's channels like Nickelodeon.

This is a truly bipartisan concern. Think big and think dramatic.
Cyma Zarghami, Nickelodeon:

Nickelodeon was made for older kids who were mostly watching adult programming. It was meant to be a place where kids could have fun and be themselves, as it can be tough to grow up today.

Nickelodeon follows the guidelines of the CTA, even though as a cable channel is was not required, and feels the commercial limits have been helpful. Still, Nickelodeon does not believe further or extended regulation is needed. Across the day, Nick serves all audiences - preschool in the morning, older kids in the afternoon, families at night (coviewing is increasing).

Between Nickelodeon and Noggin, the channels air several hundred hours weekly of educational programming. Further, it has offered news (Nick News), public affairs (Kids Pick the President), and social welfare campaigns. Nick has also extended into new platforms in order to serve children where they are and with the technologies they prefer; but it always includes safety tools for families.

John Lawson, ION Media:

Lawson is testifying in his role as a member of the National Association of Broadcasters' Board, as well as his role with ION, which operates the Qubo children's service among other channels. ION is also pioneering mobile DTV, and held up his phone which was live-streaming the ION service (but too small for Senator Rockefeller to see from the dais).

Lawson presented Qubo's diverse and multi-lingual programming services, for the age group Gary Knell noted was least well served. He also noted Qubo's food marketing guidelines, which he said had been called the "gold standard."

He also pointed out that broadcasters work closely with their communities, beyond their direct programming service to kids.

The challenge, Lawson noted, was in restrictions on distribution -- getting multiple digital channels into cable and satellite homes.
Sandy Calvert, Children's Digital Media Center and Georgetown University:

The 1990 Act was a recognition of television potential for benefit. The requirements were minimal -- 3 hours per week -- still the 2008 Children Now study called the results "Educationally Insufficient." At the same time, we are falling behind the world in many aspects of learning.

New technology permits HD, multi-casting and interactivity. Public TV is experimenting with these tools for individualized learning. Commercial broadcasters have been less active in pursuing this.

1) requre commercial broadcasters to expand their E/I offerings on TV and online;
2) expand the players involved, especially to include interactive media creators;
3) allocate funds for studying, testing, creating and distributing high-quality media, particularly interactive.
Gary Knell, Sesame Workshop:

This is Sesame Street's 40th Anniversary, and it's amazing to think about the changes in the media landscape since that time. What has remained constant is the need to harness the educational power of television, and the need to limit the potentially harmful influences.

In the 2010 context, however, aspects that informed the Children's Television Act have become obsolete; today's children will never know a world without cell phones.

Today, there are 47 pre-school educational TV series; in 1969, there were two. The big need is for the next age group -- 6-12; there is almost nothing for them.

We are pleased that the new Broadband Act emphasizes education; as we see the merger of formal and informal learning via technology this will be crucial.

We should also be attending to public health issues regarding children and media. We have made progress on healthy foods and marketing guidelines among media, marketing and food companies; however, we need more than ever to focus on media as a health solution.

Do you believe the three-hour rule is working? The FCC has the power to unilaterally require more than three hours; would you consider that? The FCC has shown little interest in enforcing the Act thus far; what can the FCC do?

(Rockefeller then expressed concern that kids are doing their homework later in the evening, and so watching prime time programming, which is not covered by the CTA...)


The rules for reporting E/I programming -- public files, FCC filings -- worked for the technology at the time. Now, that kind of information should be online and easily accessible to parents. We will revamp the FCC website to provide more information about what is being offered as E/I.

The next step for the FCC is to evaluate what is being offered across the marketplace -- cable, satellite, etc. There's good news in what's being offered via cable, but many families don't have access. Our inquiry will look at quantity and quality, tools and parental enforcement.

Given all that children have access to now, does the standard of 20 years ago stand up, as to what is appropriate for children to learn from?


Every generation of kids finds different entertainment compelling. I'm not a programmer and don't pretend to know what kind of programming will attract and educate viewers. I do believe that our creative talent can continue to generate educational and informational programming in keeping with the times and with what remains constant in children's needs.

We have creative talent and we have demand on the part of parents. I hope technology can bridge that in a way that is supported by a strong business model.

Senator Pryor (AR):

I am concerned that children now have access to video streaming and more via their cell phones. This mushrooms the challenges we have, because even the most attentive parents have difficulty monitoring mobile content. Does the FCC have any plans to look into this?


As part of the Child Safe Viewing Act, the FCC will catalog all the tools available to parents.

As to the mobile, we want our kids to be on computers, to have access to information, to have open vistas to education; at the same time, we have to respond to parents' concerns about the other content their kids may be accessing.

The key is to give parents tools to let them exercise their choices. They prefer to do it themselves and not have the government do it for them, so what can we do to prompt innovation of what parent want.


What is the status of research into the educational effectiveness and quality of programming listed as Educational/Informational"?


We don't have a deadline for when this will be completed.

1) How would you feel about a simple, little red button on the TV set that you push and find out instantly how the next program is rated for family values, etc.? Many parents cannot manage the current V-chip ratings technology.

2) The bulk of the CTA applies only to broadcasters; it is narrow and broadcast-centric. Does this limitation make sense today? Should we only be concerned about children's interaction with media over the public airwaves?

3) How should the CTA be updated?


Broadcast is the only form of distribution in 15 million homes approximately. With respect to cable, parents just want to make sure there are appropriate channels and programs across the array. They want tools to find the right programs for their children, and to exercise control over what they don't want.

We should think big and expect big things from entrepreneurs and inventors, to create for parents the tools they want -- specific content for their child. This will involve the web, but also the converging technologies in TV sets. The FCC will explore the state of the marketplace in tools like this.

1) Important to prepare kids educationally for the future.
2) Video content should not treat children as "little consumers."
3) It is crucial to empower parents with tools.
4) Important to recognize the varied roles of parents, government and the private sector -- support parents while sustaining the First Amendment.

The private sector must ask if it is doing all it can.

The FCC can and will conduct an inquiry on how best to protect children in a digital world, and will also look at the opportunities of the digital world to support the goals of the Children's Television Act.

Tempted to say that the FCC should firm up its stance that interactive advertising is off limits to children, except with explicit opt in from parents.

Genachowski has ordered a revamp of the FCC website on children and television to make it more useful.
FCC Chair Julius Genachowski is making his opening statement.

1) Children remain our most precious national resource. It is as essential as ever to educate and protect them.
2) TV continues to have a powerful effect and broadcast TV remains unique -- the exclusive source of visual media for many families.
3) Much has changed since 1990; broadcasting has gone digital offering new opportunities and new challenges; multichannel broadcasting has expanded greatly; the Internet has grown; gaming has exploded; children have access to mobile media.

Today, parents worry not only about the TV, but about the computer, the game console and the mobile phone. Parents have to play "zone defense."

Senator Rockefeller is expressing his skeptcism about digital mobile media; he notes that his kids read the NYT on their iPhones, but he insists on the paper version because he's afraid the digital version leaves out context.

The paper version doesn't?
Senate Commerce Committee Hearing on the Future of the Children's Television Act:

Senator Rockefeller opened the hearing (with no other Senators in their seats) saying he intended not be too aggressive in the hearing because he tried that before and discovered that the others on the Committee felt there were First Amendment issues at stake. Rockefeller said he was very concerned about violence and other challenging content (not sure how this jibes with the focus on educational programming mandates).

Thursday, July 9, 2009

For anyone dropping in who enjoyed my postings from Showcomotion, I've launched a Children and Media Professionals' social network, where you can join in the discussions on an ongoing basis.

Please come join us at

Friday, July 3, 2009

We are not what we are but what we make of ourselves (Anthony Giddens, 1991)

Family and youth marketing consulting Barbie Clarke delivered a compelling presenting on her longitudinal research into kids and social networks (OK, as longitudinal as you can get with a class of online site that's only been popular since 2005 but feels like it's been there forever). Clarke, a child therapist by training, is a principal in Family Kids and Youth.

When Clarke began her research she was derided for saying she wanted to focus on children as young as 10; everyone said that was way too young. Now, a few years in, she wishes she'd looked from the start at children as young as 7! Even so, Clarke's ethnographies are among the very few looking at early adolescents.

Clarke posits that in the developed world, we've eliminated many adolescent "rites of passage" around puberty. To some extent, she says, digital technology has become a substitute rite – at age 8, 40% of kids have mobiles; by age 12, over 90% do. Purchasing data also shows a "summer rush" to buy mobile phones (akin to "back to school" clothes shopping) for children about to begin secondary school, as they will be more independent outside school hours.

Clarke believes there are two myths about time on social networks:
  1. children spend lots of time "alone" on computers -- most of the time they are surrounded by a virtual community of friends via IM or social networks, "talking" about day-to-day stuff like setting plans – it's ultimately the kids who aren't online who lose social currency and are outside the group; and

  2. children are likely to meet predators online -- most kids she's interviewed are well aware of stranger dangers, and counsel each other to take precautions; the kids she found to be most vulnerable to predators are those who are vulnerable in the real world, as well.
Clarke, like others, has noted that kids jump from social network to social network over time (see Paul Tyler's comment here). She posits that this migration has to do with kids' growing sophistication of knowledge about sites -- many start with Piczo which is very easy and intuitive; they may move on to MySpace which offers more protective possibilities but is still relatively transparent. The current favorite, Facebook, is far more open and requires more care; it’s easier not to set your privacy options than to set them. Migration is also technology driven, especially as convergence makes handheld devices more complex and omni-functional.

Clarke suggests that for clues to where kid will go next, we keep an eye on the Japanese market, where technology and trends tend to precede Europe and North America.

More details from Clarke's own keyboard are available on her blog.

Due Out Any Day

David Buckingham of the University of London's Institute of Education, is just days away from releasing his long-awaited report on the impact of commercialization on children and childhood. The report was due out in advance of Showcomotion, and Buckingham was booked to speak about it, but the release was delayed.

The report was commissioned by Ed Balls, the British Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

Four heads are better than one

The trouble with blogging from Showcomotion, as a sidelight to being a conference delegate and speaker, is that I can only attend one session at time. Moreover, there's not really time to write up one session before the next one starts (hence my game of "catch-up" here and now).

Fortunately, Showcomotion has four dedicated bloggers -- all students or recent graduates -- who have been covering most conference sessions. You can read their perspectives here.

"Broadcast" on Digital Britain Panel: Don't Hang the Bunting

The session on the deeper meaning of the Digital Britain report -- the UK Government's plan forward for broadband and media content -- coincided with my PRIX JEUNESSE "Treasure Chest" session, so I was not able to attend. Broadcast Magazine, however, has a very good summary.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Three studies tracking digital video trends

Catching up on one session from earlier today:

A Showcomotion session featuring three complimentary reports on digital kids introduced not-so-surprising statistics (that is, familiar numbers in their similarity to American figures), but some useful and unique perspectives.

Randal Thomas of QMedia presented an online survey of 850 children 11 – 14, commissioned for Showcomotion, covering online video consumption and its implications for television.

Two-thirds of the kids have TV in their room; this is more common among the middle class than among the very wealthy and very poor. A similar number have their own computer, with 60% having Internet access in their rooms (mostly via home wifi).

A stunning 96% have their own mobile phones; 73% have hand-held game consoles and about 80% have a portable MP3 or MP4 player.

Looking at video consumption online, 95% have watched TV on their computer via Internet, 59% via an MP4 player or ipod, 57% through a games console, and 34% via hand held games console.

As other studies have found, girls are primarily communicators online; boys are gamers and “window shoppers” (researching products they want to buy or receive); however, across all kids, IM and social networks are the most frequently used applications.

Here's is a (slightly fuzzy...dark room) photo of a chart showing most frequently used sites and applications, charted with popularity by gender on the X axis and popularity by age on the Y axis:

And here are two charts reflecting what kinds of online experiences kids choose based on their mood, and then what kinds of games, specifically, they choose based on mood:

Those who watch digital video tend to watch music videos and user-generated-content; fewer watch complete movies or TV shows, but the researchers speculate that will increase as broadband gets better. Asked which device they’d choose as best for watching different genres, most choose TV for almost all genres, except music videos where screening online allows them to watch what they want when they want it.

Will Wiley of Sparkler conducted a similar study among younger children – ages 6-12. This younger group sees the web as a place to have fun – through games, activities, video clips and sites related to favorite TV shows.

Sites to tend to sex segregate, but it’s the “skin” of most sites that determines whether it draws primarily boys or girls. The functionality beneath the surface is often the same – gaming, art projects and activities, stories and clips, etc.

Younger children tend to stick with purpose-made children’s content, where older kids surf kids’ and adult sites. Younger kids are more individual in their choices while older children are more social; 6-9 spend less time online revisiting familiar sites while 9-12 take longer and more varied journeys. Younger kids use “semi-literate” navigation – for example, not typing in full URLs but instead relying on search functions with predictive text or search memory to find favorite sites with just a few letters.

Not surprisingly, the more engagement a site demands, the fewer kids do it. So, the fewest young people make and post videos which demand a lot of investment, and the greatest number play casual games.

6-12s look for the games everywhere; to some extent they see the web as another games platform like their Xbox or Wii. Given this orientation, under 12s aren’t attracted to social networks, saying “there’s not enough to do; where’s the game.”

Hamish McPharlin of research firm decipher set out to test how families would use the ultimate digital home entertainment system. Decipher installed the most up to date equipment – TVs, PVRs, portable video players and such in 15 homes across England.

At first, decipher didn’t tell people what all the equipment did, instead letting them figure it out for themselves. In some cases, it was the children who navigated their way through features, like the boy who claimed the family portable video player as his own. After some time, decipher started a social network for the families in the study, where they could share discoveries and tips, and where the research team could ask questions of all.

Over time, the television remained the center of families’ viewing experiences – they found it sociable and timely. Families added time for VOD and mobile options (total viewing went up 30%), without taking away from previous TV time, though live TV viewing did decline.

Given all these viewing options, the families didn’t become less tolerant of advertiser supported programming and didn’t even mind embedded advertisements; however, as they gained more control over their viewing, they did raise their expectation for “targeting congruency,” ads that reflected digital technologies potential to target commercial messages based on accrued information.

Looking Back to Look Forward

Today's closing plenary session was about finding creative inspiration, in tribute to the late Oliver Postgate, and his partner Peter Firmin, creators of Smallfilms. In a barn, the two of them produced some of the best-loved British animation of all time...done simply.

Series like "Bagpuss," "The Clangers," "Noggin the Nog" and "Ivor the Engine" are stars in the British TV firmament, and some have found a new home for parents and kids to watch together on Nick Jr. UK -- 8-10 pm, 7 nights a week.

Nick Jr UK MD Howard Litton showed a delightful promo for this block, with a tip of the rabbit ears to "Teletubbies." A boy playing in his backyard is dressed in a homemade spacesuit for a time machine trip to the 60's. He opens a door in the front of the spacesuit to reveal a screen showing "The Clangers." At the end of the promo, the boy reappears in perfect 60s granny glasses and wig!

A final word for the day from Richard Goleszowski, Creative Director of Broadcast and Development for Aardman: "Kids don't get bored because programs move too slowly; they get bored when they can't understand what's going on. At the animatic stage, we know what every character in every second of 'Shaun the Sheep' is thinking, and if we don't we fix it before we go on."


Doesn't the Magnet Interfere with the Built-in Computer?

In an "interactive showcase" session, Mal Ogg of History & Heraldry, a manufacturer and marketer of "impulse buy" items such as "Zipper Pals" and refrigerator magnets, said he'd recently spotted one of their magnets on Bill Gates' fridge, in a TV piece on appliances of the future.

He also showed a publicity shot of the Black Eyed Peas in which was wearing a "William" Zipper Pal. Publicity you can't buy.


The Family that Plays Together

"It's so hot here in Sheffield...

How hot is it?

It's so hot here in Sheffield that I think the wireless service in the Showroom took a brief nap.

In any case, here are two brief bits from the session on family gaming -- "The Family that Plays Together":

In response to an audience question on parents' being uneager to play games with their kids because the children are so much more accomplished (or simply skilled), one panelist noted a change in game design strategy: "The fundamental change in gaming in the last 10 years is that we used to focus on frustrating the player if necessary; now we want to make the player feel smart. Even if you don’t do well, the idea is that you're not humiliated and something happens."

Session producer and moderator of Atomfire Productions responded that his company is designing a “Play Together” game for the Wii, in which the screen is splits, and two players of differing ability can each contribute to progress by completing tasks of different difficulty.


"8 out of 10 Kids"

A few gems from this morning's "8 out of 10 kids" session at Showcomotion - a clever game built around children's entertainment developments of the past year plus media profiles of ten Sheffield students.

Paul Tyler (digital media "gun for hire"; creator of CBBC's "Bamzooki" – Social networks are like localized storms – people come in en masse and harvest what they want from the current hot site and then when it's used up they move to the next. So Facebook was the flavor of last year; Twitter is current; and who knows what will be next.

Helen McAleer (Walker Books, former head of children's for BBC Worldwide) - People who work in the publishing industry tend to love books, and so it’s especially hard for them to make the shift to other forms of distribution. But that’s where the kids are, so we need to deliver graphic novels to mobile phones and find new ways to present preschool content.

Estelle Hughes (3Line Media) and Jocelyn Stevenson TT Animation) – The BBC needs competition, but top-slicing the license fee to support Channel 4 serving children won’t add new money, just move around what’s already there. 30 million UKP was lost when CITV left children’s; that has to be made up from somewhere to get back to level.

Interestingly, the top three toys in the UK last year were all boy-oriented: Hot Wheels (3), Pixar "Cars" (2), and "Ben10" Action figures (1).


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Swimming Upstream?

Peter Salmon, Director of BBC North -- and therefore in charge of the relocation of CBBC to Salford Quays -- submitted to Q&A from radio host Richard Bacon and the audience, as the opening keynote to Showcomotion 2009.

The interviewer and audience were in a challenging mood, particularly after Salmon said "the values and insights, the collective experience of the storytelling and talent" in British-made children's content was one of the "three or four most important things the BBC does."

Bacon questioned whether that assertion was belied by changes in scheduling, cutting back or shifting children's content on the primary broadcast channels, that have damaged audiences for long-running CBBC programs (or, in honor of my hosts, programmes).

Salmon replied that "no one is happy with those losses, but the importance of children’s programing is revealed in the proportion of the license fee it receives, and in the central nature of CBBC" in plans for the Manchester (Salford) relocation. Starting with children’s television, Salmon hopes to place the BBC at the center of a community in the North that includes independents from all kinds of media, and that gives audiences a place to come to connect with their favorite content.

Still, Showcomotion producer and Save Kids' TV Board Member pointed out that the BBC had rejected SKTV's requests as part of the BBC charter review, that children’s programming be named the “Third Leg” of public service – identified as a priority along with news and regional content -- and that a fixed proportion of funding be ring-fenced for children. "We don’t want to create a situation where some genres 'travel in first class'," Salmon answered, while others are left behind.


Come on baby, do the Showcomotion...

For the next few days, I'll be blogging from Sheffield, England, and the Showcomotion Children's Media Conference. This is one of my favorite annual meetings, as it's always forward looking and positive. Even in the deepest times of difficulty for the UK children's media industry (and that's not to say things aren't still pretty challenging...), the attitude at Showcomotion has always been "so, where do we go from here," instead of hand-wringing or "whinging."

Much of that "where do we go" has focused on expansion beyond traditional television, and Showcomotion is truly and deeply a multi-platform discussion.

More soon from the pre-Conference co-production workshop, a combination of expert panels, a pitching simulation, and speed networking.