Columbia TriStar acquisition exec Paul J. Newman ponders the mature media picks of a posse of pint-sized Siskel & Eberts.
Like many of my colleagues, I spend numerous hours each week reading the trades and watching endless amounts of kids programming, striving to keep up on the latest projects and developments in the kids arena. From my position as an acquisition executive, I have always felt that trade shows like MIP and MIPCOM Jr. are among the best venues to keep informed of the latest trends in kids programming and get a bird’s-eye view of the entire industry.
By virtue of this value, we observe the migration of ‘the MIPCOM Vets’ (the group of kids execs who make their bi-annual pilgrimage to Cannes), battling jet lag, fighting the hot ‘screening cubicles’ at the Martinez Hotel, not to mention the infamous flu-inducing ‘MIPGRIP’ (the passing of germs through handshakes). . .all in order to stay on top of the world of kids programming.
Just weeks after my return from MIPCOM, I was invited to a ‘Baby Naming’ ceremony (which can best be described as a Jewish ceremony blessing a baby girl). Outside in the backyard, I was surrounded by family, friends and packs of children. Almost immediately, I fell in with a tough crowd. You see, while waiting for the ceremony to begin, my industry knowledge was put to the test by a challenging adversary: a group of six-year-old girls.
They innocently approached and began sizing me up, as only kids can do. Not bothering with small talk, they cut to the chase with the vital questions key to figuring out if I was ‘cool’ or just another ordinary adult. In rapid succession, they fired off: ‘How old are you?’ ‘Are you married?’ ‘Is our youngest friend a boy or a girl?’ (Fortunately, I guessed that one right. Whew!)
After correctly fielding the first round of questions, I was given access (by the means of their attention) to mingle with this elite bunch. Armed with my insider knowledge of new kids entertainment, I confidently asked them what their favorite music, movies and TV shows were, certain that I already knew the answers (usually my awareness of ‘what’s cool’ earns points with the under-12 crowd-a perk of the job). They began to rattle off their favorite films, shows and music. While some of their choices were predictable, others were less obvious.
My chat with the girls reminded me of the challenges of second-guessing an audience whose interests are forever changing. For example, on this particular day, this group expressed that traditional animated movies and TV shows were ‘so young’ and passé. On their minds were the Spice Girls. What intrigued me with this choice was their focus on the attitude, empowerment, and independence associated with the Girl Power movement-surprisingly sophisticated and adult-oriented themes for this young group.
They continued to tell me about their favorite movie, and I was surprised that each one of them cited Titanic as the undisputed champ. While this may be understandable by the fact the film starred Leonardo DiCaprio, the girls went beyond that with a lot of sophisticated detail in describing why they enjoyed the film. They genuinely liked Titanic for many of the same reasons adults did; the romance, fantasy and drama of the story. To me, this was another indication of the increasing sophistication of today’s younger kids.
The ceremony started and the girls’ parents came over and took them away. My encounter with them left me with this simple thought: no matter how experienced or savvy we are in the area of kids entertainment, none of us have the brain of a six-year-old. It’s a potent reminder to not rest too heavily on the laurels of what has worked in the past.
If fortunate, I will view a handful of new shows at trade shows like MIPCOM that point to the trends of the future. The challenge for all of us is to keep our pulse on what kids are really thinking versus what we assume they are thinking. Gathering information from ‘traditional’ sources like trade shows will always be an essential part of understanding children. But it’s equally, if not more, important to listen to kids, ask them lots of questions, and observe them in their natural environment-at play. Aren’t we all very lucky to have jobs that allow us to ‘study’ fun in the name of serious business.
Paul J. Newman, Director, Family Entertainment, Acquisitions & Production
Columbia TriStar Home Video