Ten years ago I worked for Sesame Street International. My job was to help set up co-productions and train teams of writers in South Africa, Shanghai, Israel, Palestine, Finland, Egypt and Poland. I loved this work and it was during this period that I first realized that quality preschool television, regardless of where it is produced, belongs to the whole world. The really good stuff travels as well as good music, good paintings or good chocolate.
Yes, there may be some language and cultural issues to overcome but the essentials of character development, storytelling and educational content are the same for preschoolers everywhere. For this reason, I have tried to support and encourage the creation and production of quality preschool TV everywhere. This is why we offer the Little Airplane Academy. This is why I flew economy to Uruguay last month. And this is why I write this blog.
Some folks have religion. I have preschool TV.
Which brings me to the Showcomotion Children’s Media Conference. Much of the best talent in preschool television resides in the UK. They have a legacy of great puppetry, great animation, great writing and great acting. And there are so many global success stories: “Teletubbies,” “Bob the Builder,” “Thomas and Friends,” “Charlie and Lola,” “Peppa Pig,” and “In the Night Garden.” Simply put, these guys (and girls) know how to make amazing preschool television.
So it’s no surprise that every year I drop whatever I’m doing to find my way to the city of Sheffield to attend Showcomotion. In many ways, Showcomotion is the epicenter of children’s television in the UK and therefore, for me, a must-attend event. The panels are lively and intelligent. There is great passion for British content. There is a willingness to look outside of the UK for new ideas and new approaches. And there are great parties after sundown.
For all these reasons and more, I asked Greg Childs, the Conference Executive Producer, to allow me to interview him about this year’s upcoming conference. For those of you who have not yet met Greg, he is incredibly bright, very funny and probably the most well-connected person in all of kids’ media in the UK. Greg runs his own business, Childseye Consulting (www.childseye.tv) and is on the Executive Committee of Save Kids’ TV (www.savekidstv.org.uk). So, without further ado, here is my interview with Greg Childs.
JOSH: For those who don’t yet know, what exactly is Showcomotion?
GREG: Showco is the UK’s premiere conference for professionals in kids’ media and entertainment. (It’s premiere because it’s the only one!) It’s a two-to-three day gabfest in ex-steel city Sheffield, the shining heart of South Yorkshire! We used to be mainly a gathering of TV people – broadcasters, distributors and producers, with some interactive folks attached – but now we welcome delegates from every sector with an interest in kids – so TV, radio, film, interactive media, games, licensing, toy manufacture and publishing all show up. We believe the time is ripe for all these people and companies to spend at least a couple of days a year in each other’s company, networking around shared learning and looking out for where new synergies and partnerships can be built.
JOSH: I have been to three or four Showcomotions over the years and what I love most is the relaxed atmosphere and the chance to see old friends and meet new ones. I also feel like there is no better place on earth for taking the pulse of the UK children’s television industry. What do you love most about Showcomotion?
GREG: I think I love the fact that we can still – even with 400 delegates – manage to mix it up. It’s great to see the Shadow Minister for Broadcasting chatting to some guys from the games industry over a pizza. (We don’t do a formal dinner, as you know Josh, we just get as many people as possible to the Pizza Express for a sort of grab-a-slice experience – a bit like a children’s party.) At the same time, last year, there were some runners on another table listening to tales of TV when it still had money and meaning from an ex-head of BBC Children’s programmes. Meanwhile the lady from S4C is starving because she’s too polite to steal Gary Pope’s pizza. And Richard Deverell from the BBC had to leave and form a break-away party because he couldn’t get a seat! It’s chaos but it sort of works. I love it.
JOSH: What are you most excited about for this upcoming Showcomotion?
GREG: I’m hoping we’re going to broaden the mix of attendees yet again, with a lot more people from the licensing sector and interactive media. Also we’re running two very practical workshops – one on the basics of international co-production and the other a “Crossover Lab” which is a really clever system of bringing a completely diverse group together and then getting them rapidly working on ideas generation, despite (or maybe because of) their divergent skills and experience. So, for example, you might get games people with a TV old hand and someone who makes stuff for mobiles, all working together on an idea to be pitched to museums for kids to get virtual learning experiences on their Nintendo DS. It’s great fun and really mind stretching! It’s also a fantastic practical representation of what Showcomotion is about – getting the industry sectors to learn from each other and partner in innovative ways.
JOSH: I have noticed a bigger international presence each year I’ve been to Showcomotion. Last year I met broadcasters from Germany to Qatar. Should we expect more international visitors this year?
GREG: Yes – we like to remind everyone that we are UK-focused but we hugely value the expertise and perspective that our international contributors and delegates bring – and of course with times so hard we need to develop more partnerships across borders, too – hence our focus on co-production this year. We’re expecting guests from Germany again, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, France and Ireland – we get a great contingent every year from Eire – and then further afield: the Middle East, Australia, Canada, Brazil and Colombia and a small but growing contingent from the States.
JOSH: I’ve always thought Showcomotion would be great for up-and-coming writers, designers, directors, animators and puppeteers. How might these kinds of talented individuals benefit from three days at Showcomotion?
GREG: A high proportion of our delegates are freelance producers and writers. I think they come because a) we offer something for everyone. We have writers and smaller company producers on our Advisory Committee – not just the big broadcasters – so they make sure we always do something that talks directly to that community. Then b) we make the bigger strategic and business stuff accessible to all. I think everyone who comes benefits from a quick dose of “big picture thinking” and we have some of the best minds in UK kids and beyond on our panels or giving presentations which really stretch and challenge our audience. And there is so much encouragement to join in, that getting clarification or putting out your own perspective is easy. So everyone feels included and everyone comes away with something new.
JOSH: Have you added any new panels this year?
GREG: The two workshops I mentioned previously are a new departure and the number of sessions has increased yet again. In two days and one evening we have 30 separate conference events – and yet still lots of time for networking. We’re going to be debating the commercialisation of childhood with some of the campaigners who are concerned about it but we’ll also be doing new sessions on trend watching for the licensing community. Three separate sessions with all the major UK commissioners, plus some international ones, PLUS of course some of the new entrants commissioning content online. There’ll be three specially commissioned research projects: one on kids’ spending, one on 11-14′s online habits and their relation to TV and one on the future of family gaming. And there’ll be three other research sessions featuring new data on kids online. We’ll run sessions on keeping small media businesses afloat in difficult times, on the ethics of putting kids in reality shows, on what has happened to drama for the over 10′s, on new sources of funding for projects – looking at how online drama is financed and at advertiser funded shows on TV – and there’ll be a range of more creative sessions looking at interactive and cross media case studies, at what makes fantastic short animation…I could go on about this forever. Did you say 500 words? You’lljust have to come!
JOSH: When and where is the next Showcomotion and how do people sign up?
GREG: It’s in Sheffield, South Yorkshire (2 hours from London and 45 minutes from Manchester). It’s from the 1st to the 3rd of July. And you can buy a ridiculously low-priced delegate registration at: www.showcomotionconference.com.
JOSH: Is it true that Sheffield is where the film “The Full Monty” was shot?
GREG: It is true! And every frame of the film is also true. I was the short fat one.
JOSH: What exactly is inside a Cornish pasty?
GREG: Corn – what else? Or something very like it, hence “Corn…ish,” I should have thought that was obvious. Have you ever eaten one cold? Fabulous. I’m an expert. How do you think I got the part of the fat guy? The full Cornish!
Bye, Josh – and by the way – I like you.
JOSH: I am blushing.