KidScreen turns five this month, and what a trip it’s been. To celebrate, we asked industry gurus to ponder the whirlwind of changes we’ve witnessed so far, and predict the state of the kid biz five years from now, when KidScreen turns 10.
The last five years
Ten years ago there was no separate ‘kids’ business in the entertainment/media world, and a magazine like KidScreen probably wouldn’t have survived. A few large U.S. studios and independents like Disney, Warner Bros. and Hanna-Barbera dominated what there was of the commercial TV market for children. The field was mostly populated by public broadcasters with public policy mandates.
The changes in the last five years have been profound. The broadcast universe has fragmented from terrestrial to cable, satellite and digital. Children’s programs have broken out of the Saturday morning ghetto, and the kid audience has become a desirable demographic for broadcasters. There are now whole channels all around the world dedicated to children’s programs-and there is a great need for new programs to fill the available airtime and attract an audience.
The industry responded with energy and inventiveness. As production technology became more sophisticated, the reality of international co-productions became more common. For example, an animated series can now be produced in three separate countries, with shared risks and three separate ‘domestic’ markets. There has been a globalization of interests, which has in turn led to some powerful international franchises.
The new media platforms, the global reach of the large media companies and the marketing might of broadcasters offer the possibility of reaching kids in many different countries across many social levels with the same programs. The notion of a single ‘world culture’ is now a possibility, and the race for a leadership position in this culture has given rise to many corporate upheavals all over the world-mergers, acquisitions, strange alliances and unlikely companions.
The next five years
The challenge for the future is to reassert the creative drive for ‘quality’ to balance the commercial imperative that has driven the growth of the kids business for the last five years. The climate may have changed, the business structure may have changed and the opportunities for profit may have changed, but kids are still the same and they still need programs that speak to their unique sensibilities.
The advantage the television production industry has is that it is a story-driven medium. Television can deliver stories and characters that are engaging, that speak directly to the interests and aspirations of their audience. Stories are still the preferred form of entertainment in the broadest sense of the word. Being told a story-or now, watching a story-is the moment of transport kids seek out. The moments when they are lost inside a story are the moments when they grow the most and, paradoxically, feel most like themselves.
Runaway effects and toy-driven, game-based, high-tech, interactive, high-concept eye candy-far from making television more attractive-will leave young audiences to seek their entertainment elsewhere. The production of screen-based entertainment for children will succeed in enticing and attracting audiences in the future, only to the degree that programs use all of the advances in technology in the service of satisfying children’s desire for exciting narrative.
Peter Moss is president of Cinar Entertainment, a division of Montreal, Canada-based kid
production, distribution and licensing company Cinar Corporation.