We welcomed more than 1,300 attendees to the 10th-annual KidScreen Summit, held in New York City in mid-February. And along with the fact that we escaped the annual snowstorm, the third-largest gathering in the event’s history saw the delegate lounge space doubled to accommodate the hopping business. Delegates also remarked on the infusion of new voices to the conference program and none resonated quite so loudly as digital keynote speaker Douglas Rushkoff. He kicked off the last day of the Summit with ‘The Power of Screenagers – Innovating for and with the Digital Generation.’
Rushkoff hails from the academic world, and the noted documentary filmmaker, author and correspondent for PBS’s news series Frontline offered a prescient outsider’s perspective on the current challenges facing the kids business that sparked a lot of talk among entertainment types in attendance. He’s been studying and writing for the past 10 years on how kids are growing up in the digital media universe. He had salient observations and theories on how kids currently take ownership of entertainment properties and posits that the industry has an opportunity to flourish by embracing the phenomenon rather than resisting it.
‘What has happened is that our kids have interactive devices in this internet era that have changed their relationship to content,’ said Rushkoff, and he held up the way kids consume video games as an example. So a child will buy a video game and play it. That same kid then often goes online to find shortcuts and tricks to ‘win’ the game. Next, he’ll download a modification kit to reprogram the game and make it his own, and then share his customized content with a community of likeminded gamers online. As Rushkoff explained, the gamer moves from a mere player to a cheater to an author of the game.
The problem, Rushkoff warned, is that the kids industry understands its audience only as consumers, rather than people who use its properties to create or generate value for themselves. As a result, entertainment and consumer products companies are threatened by their core consumers, who they perceive as creating value outside of their sphere of profit making. But there is opportunity in creating something of value for people, he argued.
Rushkoff’s thesis is that companies need to co-create with kids. ‘My daughter is as responsible for who Barbie is as the people who make Barbie,’ he said. ‘It’s a call and response,’ he added, putting forward the incredible amount of work J.K. Rowling did to create the intricate world of Harry Potter as the model that can jumpstart a deep interaction with an audience. ‘Letting them participate more means getting you to participate more,’ he said. The challenges, he explained, are creating a longer timeline for content germination and getting shareholders to think about making media as an investment in the future that will create long relationships with people, rather than pursuing the churn, burn and profit model. KC