Posted by Vicky Spengler on , last updated

Post written by Tim Jokl, children's content producer.

Earlier this year CBeebies asked BBC R&D to consider how children might be experiencing TV and Web in five years’ time. What new technologies would have emerged in their world and how would their habits have changed?

R&D kindly obliged and helped CBeebies build a picture that covered technologies like Tablets, Smartphones, IPTV, Games, HTML5, Storytelling innovations, Apps and Superfast Broadband.

Much of this was then worked into a research presentation for The Children’s Media Conference - an annual event for children’s content makers, held in Sheffield.

You can see our deck of slides here.

We thought we would startle conference goers with the big news that IPTV is here, and that big changes to TV are happening. At the opening keynote, however, we learned that a whole decade ago this conference had opened with a discussion called: ‘A Future without Schedules’.

We presented our ideas about ‘TV without Schedules’ anyway, and it seemed important point out that traditional broadcasting won’t just curl up and die. So many things that people predicted would not last into the 21st century (theatre, vinyl LPs, Sheffield) are still with us and doing fine.

But ‘TV down your aerial’ will inevitably be diminished, and not necessarily by the quality of stuff broadcast through IPTV, but by the sheer convenience and the vastness of choice.

Those who think the slow and steady sales of SmartTVs means this change isn’t happening in any meaningful way are perhaps missing the reality that lots of people own connected PVRs and games consoles or some sort of box that can bring them Netflix, LoveFilm and other on-demand.

Just as you can no longer visit the high street and buy a CRT TV, we’re arriving at a time where those shops won’t stick anything but Smart TVs. As it becomes ‘everyday’, the next challenge for IPTV services might be something akin to the browser wars of the 2000s. Anyone who has tried the range of current portals - iPlayer, 4OD, ITV Player, Lovefilm, Netflix, Sky Go etc., knows some are destined to be the Googles and Safaris and others are clearly the Alta Vistas.  

With all that in mind, the majority of the presentation was devoted to how traditional broadcasters [picture a nice little corner shop] might compete against Netflix, Sky and the like [picture a larger than usual Walmart].

These new arrivals may offer mountainous piles of kids’ favourite shows and some useful if basic parental controls, but we have that long standing connection with our audience. If we create more sophisticated, more innovative controls that reflected cultural values and e.g. a grasp of key stage learning areas, we might stay prominent by winning the battle for parental trust.

We suggested that if competitors develop a secure walled garden for kids TV, we should develop an innovative assortment of handy personalisation settings. If they offer time-restricted game-playing, we bring out the Key Stage-based number/word puzzle that must be completed to unlock other content.

It does seem like a golden time for kids content is coming. Netflix and DreamWorks Animation have teamed up to create 300 hours of new cartoons, Kindle Freetime offer an Aladdin’s Cave of books games and shows, in an ad-free environment. These companies know that when a family decide on a subscription deal, the kid’s vote generally swings it.


A (small) sample of interesting things we took away from CMC:

  • 360 degree commissioning is usually only 360 degree from the point of view of the commissioner (Discovery Research). It usually just means a TV Show with website. A 360 degree commission from the point of view of an 11-year-old (who owns a basic smart phone, never sits at a PC except at school, and only watches X-Factor and Come Dine with Me on TV) might look very different.
  • Digital Natives aren’t that hard to understand. Maybe it’s disingenuous to say [as many did] that kids don’t text anymore, or don’t see the point of email. Many currently use WhatsApp. It’s just an instant messenger that happens to have more animated emoticons than its rivals.
  • Reading is suffering in the new mix.
  • What App builders don’t understand about younger kids is how they get lost. When they want to restart a level, they close the app down and re-launch it. Navigation often fails them.
  • 86% of 7-11s are using online communication tools.
  • 36% of 7-11’s have used moderator functions because they feel they’ve come in to contact with something they shouldn’t have.
  • 40% know someone who has been cyber-bullied.
  • A small minority of young children may become obsessed with screens but this receives disproportionate news coverage.
  • So many Apps look like they’re aimed at kids but aren’t. The industry makes an important step to getting its house in order as a “Kids” category appears on the Apple App Store later this year, enabling parents to find vetted kids apps much more easily.
  • Best business opportunity right now? Kids want a bank that turns their real pocket money into virtual money – at the moment they can only do this through a willing parent with a credit card. What a drag!