Last week, the Guardian reported about the sale of many beloved children’s TV characters, with some of the larger rights owners seemingly in ongoing financial difficulties. Well, times are tough for everyone, right?
Yes. But it’s more than that.
As the Guardian says, “increasingly broadcasters expect to pay nothing for children’s television shows”. Which puts the value of the producing, writing, directing, animating, and everything else involved in making a show roughly at around zero in real terms.
That would seem to say that a show, in itself, is worthless.
That deserves a sad face:
It wouldn’t be right to blame the broadcasters here. Traditionally, television has been an ad-supported medium. But with ever-expanding media outlets, ad revenue has been split. More importantly, many places are putting restrictions on advertising to children and I can tell you that many parents are hoping for more restrictions. If a broadcaster isn’t funded by license fees, that can leave some with little direct revenue from children’s shows.
The real value of television changed when show producers and distributors began to see secondary revenue streams in licensing and merchandising. Sure, the show itself may not bring in money but the lunchboxes? Pyjamas? Playsets? Oh, that’s a goldmine! The show becomes a loss leader. And let’s not forget that this isn’t new – some fondly remembered cartoons from the ’80s were shameless toy ads. But, hey, that’s where the money is.
Or is it?
Sure, there’s Dora. But go down the line a little and the model just doesn’t quite seem to be working like Dora does. Many of these loss leaders are just plain losses. And even though these properties have buyers, which suggests some faith in this model (the brands are not worthless), it all seems rather fragile. Possibly now broken.
Maybe it has always been broken?
When you think about it, that idea should not be hugely surprising. When secondary revenue streams become primary revenue streams, priorities change and a conflict arises, because the needs of what is still the core element (the show) no longer match the needs of where the money is coming from (licensing and merchandising). And with some bigger companies, because they have more to lose, they want to make sure that a property works across all areas, something that weeds out the oddities, the anomalies – or, in other words, what could make a show really interesting and different. So there is a conflict and a compromise built into the model.
If toys were toys and shows were shows, this would never be a issue. But then the initial problem would still remain – that a show, in itself, is worthless.
It’s a depressing thought, isn’t it?
Well, it would be if it were true. You see, whether ‘worthless’ from a commercial point of view, and I don’t even think that is quite true, I think it is very important to acknowledge that children’s television is not worthless. Far from it.
Television makes children smile and laugh. Even, at times, get up and dance. We all love to be entertained. Children also learn from television. Television can be an invaluable teaching tool, going hand in hand with entertainment and working with parents in delivering good messages, new experiences, positivity and educational material to children.
Who among us having grown up on Sesame Street could ever call television worthless?
No, children’s television is not worthless. We may just need to see the value in a different way. Perhaps accept that not every area in life needs to become a billion-dollar business, or is even better for it. Look to what would be our ‘end users’ – children and parents – and ask what we can give them. It’s why children’s television needs strong local government support. Working with broadcasters to deliver something really good for children, the new generation. Relevant content for each country, each community, each child and each parent. Shows that have value well beyond those once-secondary revenue streams.
And perhaps, as things change and this current model evolves or even completely breaks down (which maybe it will, maybe it won’t), we’ll find a new way of looking at content. A whole new model that allows that real value to shine through. Who knows, maybe that will open up a whole new revenue stream, one not secondary, not conflicting or compromising, and we’ll all do rather well out of it.
Children will always want to be entertained. More and more, parents are looking for good content. Old ways changing or breaking down may not spell doom – it could actually be the start of something rather exciting.