Beloved characters being sold off. Value of children’s television being set at zero. All is not rosy in children’s television, especially in the UK. We’re very fortunate here in Ireland to have some excellent support (some not so excellent support but that’s for a whole other post). But support seems thin on the ground in the UK, birthplace of Bagpuss, the Clangers, Peppa Pig, Charlie & Lola, Paddington Bear, Roobarb and countless other children’s classics.
Animation UK released a report earlier in the week on the state of their industry and what they need in order to continue making quality shows. To continue making shows at all. The children’s television business is, at the very least, on shaky ground. Companies folding, people out of work. That’s the industry. The big shocker for me in there was how short they were in financing the fantastic Peppa Pig – they had to turn to friends and family to raise ¬£350,000. Peppa almost never happened. And, right now, other shows aren’t happening.
I don’t expect parents to care about that beyond maybe the odd sympathy nod (you know one of those ‘I understand’ kind of nods ‘ they’re nice). Ultimately, it’s not the job of parents to keep us employed. And yet, what happens to those of us in children’s television does affect parents.
Where it affects parents is in the quality of the shows their children have access to.
Where it affects parents is in the cultural relevance of the shows their children have access to.
Where it affects parents is in the educational content versus glorified toy ad content in the shows their children have access to.*
Where it affects parents is where it affects their children.
And that’s one place I very much expect parents to care.
I would argue that television aimed at younger children is the most important television of all. It is around those years that children are learning the most, forming their world view. That’s why this area of television will always need special attention, safe-guarding, constant re-evaluation and an acceptance of nothing less than excellence.
And it’s not just about what your children are watching right now. Humf may be a big deal in your house today but in a few years time, he could mean nothing to your child ‘ it will be High School Musical 74 or the like. And you might be the one parent in your town who doesn’t even own a television. Here’s the bad news ‘ every other parent does, and their children are in your school teaching your children what they picked up from television. Children of all age groups are teaching other children.
If you’re a parent, as I am, you are not isolated. Your children need good television.
So what can you do? Well, talk about it for one thing. Discuss (whether in person or online) good television or bad television. Make it known to people who matter (broadcasters, government officials, even programme makers) if you appreciate what’s being shown, what’s not being shown and what YOU want to see on television for your children.
Demand better television.
Demand local television.
The children’s television model has to change. For it to change for the better, or simply not for the worse, parents need to take control and drive home the value of good television. To my peers, friends and lovers of great children’s television in the UK – I wish you luck and I wish you success. You have set an example for all of us in shows for younger children, from Roobarb all the way to today. One of my proudest moments was being able to be part of the animated Children In Need video, not just because it was for a great cause but because I was honoured to be among such good company and great timeless characters. The UK children’s television industry has made history many times over and should continue doing so. You deserve the support you need.
*There is a industry-wide conflict here that is apparent in the Animation UK document, which discusses huge markets and high licensing figures while also saying they need government support to remain viable ‘ and yet often the reason other countries have support is because they mostly aren’t viable. Perhaps an acceptance that children’s television isn’t all big business might change perceptions and lead towards a model that isn’t quite as fragile as the current one? After all, when companies like Mattel are willing to buy Hit’s properties for $680 million, it calls the whole lack of viability thing into question. Depends on whether you’re making a great show, or a licensing brand. One is not always compatible with the other, nor should they be… just a personal thought.
If you have it and want it, but you are being let down by others who can’t do what you want, or you’ve done all you can and, really, you just don’t have any choices, or those below you are moaning because they’re moaners and they don’t understand the realities, or nobody gets you or knows what you have to deal with, then you haven’t really taken it and probably don’t really want it.
Give it away.
Responsibility: if you want it and don’t have it… take it.
On Tuesday, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their policy and made a statement which, once again, discouraged television for children under age 2. As someone who creates and delivers content for children, it’s always important for me to know where I stand when new research emerges or statements like this are made.
So what did I make of the AAP statement?
What I found was that impressions I got from how it was reported (and how it flew around Twitter) weren’t always the same as what I got from the words of the AAP themselves. For example, much of the reporting talked about ‘screens’ like all media and all content is equal. I’ve tackled this here before ‘ all screen time is not equal. Playing an interactive Sesame Street app is not going to have the same effect as sitting them in front of The Exorcist, for example.
But, in this conference, the AAP aren’t lumping all screen time together.
I did find the text of the early press release a little more vague and guilty of lumping ‘screen time’ together, possibly the reason for the rather basic reporting on it. But the actual content of the conference?
It’s about television.
Their statement is mainly about television. They even go as far as to say that there may be some benefit to interactive media. Bear in mind that ‘may be’ is a long, long way from ‘is’ and much product is pushed as being educational ‘ they might well be but are the results really there? In this statement, the AAP are refreshingly honest about what they don’t yet know.
On television, the focus of this statement, the AAP discourages TV before the age of 2. Discourages ‘ they recognise the world we live in and how that’s not always easy (if you have older children, for example).They have found no benefit in children too young to understand what they are seeing, while finding benefit in other activities that simply don’t take place when they’re watching TV. This seems to be just common sense. If they sit watching a box of what is essentially (to them) flashing colours for an hour rather than figuring out how to dismantle a dog toy or how to get dad’s attention or how to force a large figure into a tiny car from a whole other playset, well, they’re missing out.
That’s not about guilt. I’m a parent. We’re all about the guilt and TV Guilt is something we parents do just fine on our own. Guilt isn’t their job – that’s what our mothers are for!
The AAP discourage background TV. TV is distracting and its content should be an active choice. Forget about under twos ‘ we could all do with keeping this in mind!
They encourage talking about media use and limitations ‘ again, making an active choice.
They value free play and talk time. Fantastic. We all should. Watching children discover cause and effect as they use objects, there can be no doubt as to the value of that. And, by the way, I include some media devices in there too ‘ it’s amazing how quickly children can figure out how a phone works, or a computer. And of course talk time is important. Not always easy, but important. Otherwise, your daughter may get most of her language from TV like one little girl I know who greeted me the other day with, “Do you see the Daddy? When you see Daddy, shout ‘Daddy!’” Oh, there’s that TV Guilt kicking in…
Lastly, the AAP encourage more research into all of this and the long-term effects. As would I.
So, as someone who makes children’s television, where am I on the AAP statement? I’m all for it. Everything in it makes sense. Let’s embrace it, keep parents informed and encourage active choices in content for children.
So it would seem, in order to really create something worthwhile, a show should deliver something new. Offer something different, that isn’t already sitting there on the shelves of every broadcaster’s archives.
To stand out, a show should fill a need.
Now there are two kinds of needs – those we know we need, and those we don’t yet know we need. The bad news about those needs we know about? They’re filled. Most of them anyway. People tend to try to fill needs the moment they are recognised.
But there are so many needs we don’t yet know about. For example, few people ever thought, you know what? I need a message service that will only let me use 140 characters! And yet now there are people who would be lost without access to Twitter (whether that’s a good thing or not is a whole other discussion). It has become a need, and people will upgrade their tech to get access to it on the go. And Twitter is just one example.
The difficulty here is obvious – often those needs we don’t know about are a tough sell because… until they are out there, the real truth is we don’t need them. The age-old example is this: there was no market for cola until Coca-Cola launched. And look where we are now. Often those things that will hit biggest, will have the most impact in the lives of everyone, will be those things that appear to have no market whatsoever.
So where does that leave us?
Well, when applied to children’s television, I think what it says is this: if you are told that people won’t want your show because there are already shows doing the exact same thing or it offers nothing new, that’s reason to worry. You could be aiming to fill a need so obvious that everyone else has already filled it. Broadcasters already have it.
If you are told people won’t want your show because they won’t know what to do with it, or it’s too different or there has never been a market for this ever, hang in there. You just might be on to something.
The ideal? That elusive Holy Grail? That you can fill a need people don’t know about until just the moment you mention it. And their reaction is - wow, why isn’t that on television already?!
COSMO features all eight of the main planets and each one gets a song. So, as well as Mercury, we have Venus, Earth and Mars. The Inner Planets:
And the Outer Planets. The gas giants – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune!
The planets are all pretty amazing. Each one is different and each one fantastic. But the rest of the songs will have to wait until the show gets the green light and makes its way to your screens. I hope you enjoy the Mercury song and, who knows, maybe you learned something too! If you like it, as with the last video, please feel free to spread it around and let people know. And if you make it to my little site and you’re a broadcaster and you’re thinking, ‘you know what? I need a show like this!’ then please track down Monster Animation’s Gerard O’Rourke and hound him until he lets you have the show.
Fancy seeing what COSMO looks like in motion? What she sounds like? Click play on the video above and enjoy!
If you like it, spread it around! Tell parents, those you know interested in space, astronomy, science or just simply those who love fun children’s television. Maybe even show it to your children and see if they like it. And, as always, feel free to leave a comment below.
This website turned one year old last week. So I thought I’d do a little stock take, see what’s working and so on. Find out what I can do more of, or better.
For that, I need your input.
So if you’d like to be involved, I’d love to hear a little about who you are and what brings you here. What are you interested in? What do you like or dislike? Does a specific topic bring you back? Did any particular post resonate with you?
And what am I missing? Is there anything you’d like me to cover or would like views on that I haven’t yet touched on?
Please feel free to leave a comment below or get in touch directly via the little ‘contact’ section above. I’d love to hear from you and get your views, so that my little site becomes, well, still a little site but a better little site.
Thanks so much to all who have visited over the last year and especially those who have left comments (thanks Andy!) or who got in contact through other means. Questions, views etc. are always welcome, any time of year.
It was a quick year but, wow, a lot has happened. At Monster Animation, we made Punky, a little show about a girl with Down Syndrome. I put my all into developing Cosmo and, with the help of some amazing talent, put together a presentation for the Cartoon Forum. I gave a talk for Pegbar on Creative Disobedience, the one common trait in all my career jumps. My father passed away, which kind of sucked and still sucks. I wrote some articles for the excellent parenting website, Dad.ie and one about princesses and the messages we send to girls really took hold. It’s clear that is an issue a lot of people care about, mothers and fathers alike.
And, through it all, I spent time with my two amazing little girls ‘ Daisy and Alice. They can wind me up something rotten and then make me double over with laughter. They inform what I do and always remind me how big a responsibility we have when we make anything for children. As I said in one of my earliest articles on this site, EVERYTHING is educational. I see that every single day with my girls.
Yes, a packed year in uncertain times. I enjoyed sharing some of my thoughts with all of you here on the site and I hope you enjoyed some of them too. Here are a few posts I particularly enjoyed getting out of my system and onto a (virtual) page:
Being a parent of two little girls means not just doing what I can to prepare them for the world, but also looking at the world and asking ‘ is the world right for them? And, if not, what can I do to make it better?
And yet, all things considered, my girls are very lucky to have been born where they were.
Girls living in poverty around the world face far, far greater challenges. And yet they can make a huge difference to their families and communities. For example, in studies, it has been seen in developing countries that women who are educated earn considerably more and reinvest 90% of what they earn back into their own families. Fantastic, right?
Well it would be. But around one quarter of girls are not in school at all. Out of the 170 million young people not in school worldwide, 70% are girls. And the challenges aren’t just in education. 14 million girls aged 15-19 give birth in developing countries each year, with almost 40% married before they are 18 and many before they are even 15. Pregnancy-related complications are a leading cause of death for girls in developing countries.
And 75% of young people aged 15-24 with HIV in Africa are female.
Doesn’t quite seem right, does it? Well, let’s do something about it. Here’s how you can help -
Here at this link, you can give money to help make things better for girls and balance the equation a little (apparently right now, girls get less than 2 cents out of every aid dollar). You can even donate to specific programmes around the world.
TALK ABOUT IT
Tell people, write about it, blog about it and send people to the Girl Effect to learn more at this link. When you’ve posted about it, link to this page here to let more people see your post and read what others are saying about it too.
Let’s help make this world better not just for our girls (and boys!), but every girl.
Creative people are everywhere. In today’s world, it’s often an essential quality, no matter what business you’re in. And creative people are rarely, if ever, creative in one field only. You’ll find painters are also musicians, writers are performers, animators are sculptors and so on. Often those who seem to have most creative potential have, and need, the most outlets for their creativity.
This is a problem.
It’s a problem because, to be great what you do, you have to work at it, learn, improve, refine. You need focus. The vision and drive to just keep doing one thing until you’ve cracked it.
That focus isn’t easy. For a start, it assumes you know exactly where you’re going (many of us don’t and, for a long time, I certainly had no clue). And it requires you resist some of those urges pulling you in different creative directions. The good news is that focus breeds more focus but I find it a good idea to ask some questions on a pretty regular basis.
If I could only achieve one aim, and no more, what would it be?
And then, every time I’m working on something:
Is this working towards my goal? Or pulling me away from it?
If it’s the latter, STOP! Recognise it for what it is ‘ an indulgence. A sign you’re not focusing. Something that won’t bring you to where you want to go. Would that time be better spent doing something that will contribute directly to your aim?
BUT! But, but, but, but…
At times, there’s nothing wrong with those indulgences, to keep ourselves open and fulfilled. Those creative outlets allow us to let ourselves go, just have fun. Do things just for ourselves. And it does happen that one of those indulgences leads to a happy accident, something that points us in a new direction or brings something we can pull back towards our real aim. It happens. But, until it does, be honest about what they are ‘ indulgences. And prioritise them as such. Recognise them for what they are and, if you still choose to pursue them, make that an active choice. This is my playtime.
Most people who happen upon this little site will know what my aim is. But below, you’ll find just a few of my indulgences. Those things I do just for fun. Mostly, just for me.
There you have it. Just a few of my indulgences. Add video games, gadgets and a serious amount of music-listening and that about completes the list. So what are your indulgences? And if you had to choose just one aim, letting go of everything else, what would it be?