Special Report: Second World Summit on Television for Children: A unique event that’s difficult to define

Gauging the general mood surrounding the Second World Summit on Television for Children, taking place March 9 to 13 in London, is a global task, as the event brings together more than 800 kids entertainment executives from all over the world....
March 1, 1998

Gauging the general mood surrounding the Second World Summit on Television for Children, taking place March 9 to 13 in London, is a global task, as the event brings together more than 800 kids entertainment executives from all over the world. Finding a consensus on attendees’ goals and expectations for this growing event is also complicated by the fact that the event is somewhat difficult to define.

Reflections on the First Summit

‘The first one was very important and I think the second will be even better,’ says Hélène Fatou of Paris-based Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel. ‘At the first summit, a lot of people discovered the way children receive TV programs-that TV is very important in a child’s life. . . . [Attendees] learned a lot.’

John Mills, producer for Telemagination in London, says small independents were in the minority during the first summit in Melbourne, Australia, three years ago. ‘[Most] people who went were professionals who could afford to be seen in that venue,’ says Mills. ‘In Melbourne, I was one of the only independent producers to spend the time and the money to go.

‘It was very much the first event of its kind and I wasn’t quite sure what it was going to achieve,’ says Mills. The initial summit-the second will be similar-addressed international aspirations and concerns through keynote speeches given by top decision-makers, panel debates, seminars, workshops and screenings of children’s programming.

‘The crowning achievement of the last summit was the adoption of a children’s charter,’ says Marva Smalls, executive vice president of public affairs and chief of staff at Nickelodeon, the principal sponsor of this year’s event. The Children’s Television Charter states that children should be offered programming of quality that fosters an awareness and appreciation of other cultures. The creation of the charter sparked ‘aggressive discussion’ among prominent attendees at the summit, according to Smalls. This year, Nickelodeon’s goal is to revisit the charter, surveying former participants to ‘see if it works and [to] expand it going forward,’ says Smalls.

Shut Up and Listen

Without the pressures attendant to a market, program suppliers look forward to the chance to kick back and listen. Loredana Cunti, vice president of sales of children’s programming at London-based PolyGram Television International, describes the summit as a ‘high concept’ event. ‘It’s certainly not a sales opportunity, but a chance to listen to buyers from within the context of panel discussions,’ she says.

‘It helps the learning curve of how we do business around the world,’ says Nickelodeon’s Smalls. ‘Nick is a global player, and we export programming around the world. We need to know what the issues are.’

The meet-and-greet aspect inherent to any gathering of television executives was in full force in 1995, and is anticipated by many this year. The summit facilitates ‘quite a lot of networking,’ says Mills. ‘It’s no substitute for a market in any shape or form, but it does offer an opportunity for professionals to meet there,’ he notes.

The social aspect of the summit has a very practical application for National Geographic Television. ‘Our goal is to meet the players who are going to influence what kids are going to be watching over the next generation,’ says Cynthia Van Cleef, executive producer of children’s programming. ‘For us, it’s a think tank-almost like a mini-university-as well as a real mood elevator. The message is you have to have partners,’ she adds. ‘You can’t go it alone. This is also an opportunity to meet those international partners.’

PolyGram’s Cunti hopes for an opportunity to discuss the programs her company is making with international attendees to make sure they’re on target. ‘At the markets, you’d love to be able to have those conversations, but there’s no time,’ she notes.

For companies calling London home, the chance to set up meetings is a big advantage. ‘This year, I have program meetings during that week because I’m in touch with a lot of people coming to the summit from [other] countries,’ says Mills. ‘There’s so much competition,’ says PolyGram’s Cunti. ‘So, in a way, we are going to use the opportunity to discuss issues with buyers. But that’s really not the focus.’

Despite the fact that the summit is not a market, Nickelodeon’s Smalls adds, ‘I’m sure there is business being done there on the side.’

A Global Perspective

According to Telemagination’s Mills, the summit is a valuable opportunity for Western programmers and producers to gain a global perspective on entertainment. ‘The notions we express and the standards of living portrayed are totally foreign to the majority of kids outside our affluent society,’ he notes. ‘The summit makes you aware of that difference-gets you back to the fundamentals of kids programming.’ Still, adds Nickelodeon’s Smalls, ‘even with the language barrier, kids everywhere want good stories and quality characters. That’s universal.’

Asked whether it’s true that a fair amount of ‘U.S. bashing’ occurs at the summit, Smalls has a different perspective. ‘A few years ago, a lively debate developed around U.S. programming as it started making its way around the world. The U.S. is an easy target, but there’s not a disproportionate amount of energy [at the summit] spent attacking the U.S.,’ she notes.

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