Saturday, July 9, 2011

My 'Children's Media Conference' Diary

Back from three days at the The Children's Media Conference in Sheffield (#tcmc) which rarely fails to stimulate and always offers a relaxed atmosphere in which to talk to buyers, creatives or colleagues and to make new friends. I recommend it. [disclaimer … Aardman now sponsors the festival so we also go to check that our money is being well spent]

A highlight for me this year was the closing session by Rory Sutherland, Executive Creative Director at OgilvyOne. I had previously watched his TED talk ‘Life Lessons from an Ad Man' which I also recommend and which covered some of the same ground as his CMC talk.

His most interesting discussions are in the arena of Real vs Perceived Value - but he is essentially an advocate for advertising and an effective one. His speech was supposed to be about new funding models for kids television but it was really a defence of brands, advertising and commercialisation (which is where he thinks the funding will have to come from).

He made some great points about perception vs reality - e.g. childhood obesity is always illustrated with picture of a kid eating a burger. There are +/- 900 MacDonalds in the UK and +/-14,000 pizzeria’s, so which contributes more to childhood obesity?

He had a good idea too: Statistics is very badly taught and represented in our schools. How often do you need to calculate the surface area of a cone for example relative to calculating probable outcomes of decisions we make or risks we take? There's an opportunity there to do something really useful for kids through media as education isn’t going there.

In another session, ‘The Connected Living Room’, there was a valiant attempt to look into the future of how families consume media at home. I felt this one got a bit lost but it's interesting to get lost somewhere new, you can discover new ideas.

In my view new consumer technologies succeed when they satisfy one simple need or do one thing very well. People have tried to get the red button to do all manner of clunky, interactive things. The most popular uses came down to simple applications like showing the lyrics for the songs on Top Of The Pops, letting viewers watch the event they are most interested in at an athletics meet, showing stats for stat-heavy sports.

The connected TV might mean that you can do nearly everything on your TV that you can do on your laptop but will you want to? Of course not - the connected TV in the living room will always be about screening moving pictures that people want to watch together - be they from Netflix, Lovefilm, the BBC or YouTube.

Will people want their Twitter feeds or Facebook profiles on their TV’s? No, these are social applications but not communal ones - watching TV with a laptop/mobile/iPad on the lap is now normal. This is where social media will stay because they are, by and large, consumed privately.

Gaming is blurring the boundaries. Kids playing their x-box 360’s online with their friends wherever they are, chatting to them online is a very dynamic use of the connected device in the living room and full of potential.

The iPad, I think, will persist where people have a specific use for it rather than a general desire to have one, although the general desire factor is probably driving sales at the moment. Casual gaming, reading, presenting, social updates; these are the applications that will ensure the longevity of the iPad and other tablets. For me, watching crappy TV programmes with Twitter open on my laptop is a joy.

I also attended a session about ‘Children as Content Creators’ as it featured as one of the case studies an Aardman production,’The Tate Movie Project’. This was very inspiring as kids create the most random, bonkers and wonderful things. The Tate Movie Project used a website, a travelling truck, workshops in schools and in Tate Galleries to get kids to generate and share ideas for the film which was premiered on BBC2 on 2nd July and called ‘The Itch of The Golden Nit’. Catch it on the iPlayer if you can.

The other examples of kids creating content from Blue Zoo, Cartoon Network and Muvizu were equally exciting.

The best thing I heard in the session though was from Sarah Cox, director of the Tate Movie Project who said that holding workshops in the Tate Galleries produced some great results; ‘Kids are like sponges’ she said, ‘they absorb the inputs that you provide them with and use them to stimulate their creativity. That‘s why its so important to provide them with great quality inputs.’

I couldn’t agree more. The Children’s Media Conference id definitely doing its bit.