How Children's get audience insights

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Not many BBC managers get hugged as soon as they enter a room.

But some boys spontaneously embrace Dan Flint when he walks into their class.

As manager for outreach project Stepping Out (SO), he is sometimes called "the man from CBeebies", admittedly by pupils too young to remember his name.

The scheme helps BBC staff visit schools, where they test ideas for CBBC and CBeebies with their young audiences.

Funded by the Children's department with support from BBC Learning, its remit is to improve the connection with viewers, and so enhance tv and online content for CBBC and CBeebies - currently enjoying their biggest audience reach and share.

"We're independent from producers," explains Flint, who previously worked as a teacher.

"We ask open questions - rather than leading ones that make kids answer in a way they [producers] want. No one wants biased feedback but sometimes it can happen if you're closely involved and the programme is your baby."

'Funny weekend'
Dan Flint and children Dan Flint says gaming is just as important as tv for children

Feedback from children has already helped various shows and websites pre-transmission. And, in return, some schools are invited to the annual CBeebies panto or the department's new offices at MediaCityUK.

Recent insights from a session with eight to nine-year-olds revealed children "want funny at the weekend", when 9-11am slots are the most popular.

The majority also watched 10 shows at the weekends, but children still saw those two days as a chance to spend time with family and friends.

Feedback even showed boys were more likely to be bored on Sundays, but happy on Saturdays, whereas girls viewed both days with positive feelings.

"Games are equally as important as tv, that's where life is heading for those kids," Flint points out.

Fingers and thumbs
worker and children with smartphone CBeebies is currently testing some smartphone games

At Primrose Hill primary school - in a neither affluent nor deprived part of Salford - half the Year 1 students (aged five and six) raise their hands when asked if their parents have tablets like the iPad.

The children are then filmed playing a soon-to-be-released CBeebies game for smartphones. This is so that footage can be analysed by staff, who examine how sound and visual effects help or hinder the gamers.

They even scrutinise how children hold phones and if this affects their gaming experience - are the children more comfortable playing with their relatively small thumbs, or do they prefer placing the device on a flat surface and using their index fingers?

Hard-to-reach

Stepping Out originated in London before relocating to Salford last year.

Consequently some schools in Greater Manchester are getting used to watching "world-first" previews, including the animation Tree Fu Tom.

Netbooks Children are sometimes described as "digital natives" born in the internet age

But SO's new north-centric focus goes beyond England with visits lined up for north Wales and Northern Ireland, which are now closer.

There are also plans to attend schools in Glasgow, where shows including Nina and the Neurons are made.

Flint says the project's remit is to target hard-to-reach communities that have traditionally not engaged much with the BBC, such as in Newcastle, Leeds and Lancashire.

"We target specific schools in specific postcodes, not just any school."

He says parents have been surprised but appreciative that the BBC are interested in their opinions and the children, predictably, welcome the attention.

"The little ones around five or six-years-old get very excited," adds Flint. "10-11s get very excited as well but they're just a bit cooler."

More feedback can be read at the internal Stepping Out website.

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