Alice Webb Headshot June 2016Alice Webb, Director of BBC Children’s and BBC North, explores some of the challenges facing the BBC as it considers how to deliver exciting and diverse content for children whilst adapting to technological advances. This blog coincides with the publication of a new Media Policy Project policy brief about families and ‘screen time’, authored by LSE’s Alicia Blum-Ross and Sonia Livingstone.

Anyone who works in children’s media can tell you what makes our audience so special. They are cheeky, bright, imaginative, inherently creative, open, inquisitive and are the only part of the audience who haven’t made their mind up about things yet.

They are a discerning audience that loves choice and control, so our offer has to be varied and sophisticated, just like them.

We all know that digital is changing everything, from the sheer quantity of content available to the way that it has utterly transformed how programmes are viewed – and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Changes to viewing habits are fundamental… far reaching… happening very quickly… and if you’re a child it’s very, very exciting – a golden age of media, even.

But digital isn’t just a bowl of cherries. There are challenges too – for the BBC, for the children’s television industry, and for society at large.

For example:

  • We want to reach kids wherever they are, but how should the BBC interact with children in digital spaces they shouldn’t be in – like the growing number of under 13s who use social media despite the fact that most social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter don’t allow children under 13 to join? At the last count, 50% of 10-12 year olds in the UK are on some sort of social media site. Other people are in this space in the BBC’s name, but what is the right approach for us?
  • The BBC’s CBeebies and CBBC are the only providers of public service TV content for children on dedicated platforms in a sea of non-public service content. We want to have an offer that combines both digital and traditional linear services, so that we are covering both bases. But this requires us to do more at a time when budgets are tighter than ever. What’s the right balance, and where should our focus lie?
  • We want to stay connected and relevant to kids by providing them with ever more personalised and specific experiences. But personalisation requires data about viewing habits and so on, so what level of data should be collected by the BBC for the provision of services to children? What about permissions, bearing in mind that when we talk about children we mean under 18s? And what should we do with the data we are able to collect?
  • We want to make sure that, however digital we are, we provide enough content – and crucially, access – for kids who are disadvantaged or vulnerable. We want our digital services to be for everyone in a way that’s democratic and inclusive. How can we avoid (accidentally) putting up digital walls that exclude the kids who may need us the most?

These are just some of the questions being debated inside the BBC right now. I know everybody has their own set of questions and concerns depending on their point of view – producer, broadcaster, parent, carer, teacher and more.

And when looking at how to navigate through the digital world for children, it is clear we can’t and shouldn’t do this on our own, and that neither should anyone else working in the children’s media sector.

To young people, the boundaries and distinctions that have traditionally been established between genres, platforms and devices mean nothing; ditto the reasoning behind the watershed system with its roots in decisions about suitability of content. What does this mean? It means that we have to adapt and start thinking more like they do.

We need to take their lead and have a more open conversation than perhaps we’ve had in the past, because the responsibilities we have – as content producers, technology providers and policy makers – are perhaps greater than ever before.

Children’s media is not just TV but also now gaming, short form video clips, user generated content (UGC) and so much more. It’s content that can no longer be managed by a remote control.

Recently I set out in a speech at the Banff World Media Festival the start of a journey that we intend to take over the next 18 months, and asked for all the areas of our newly-configured children’s media sector to come together at a 2017 summit and to make the big decisions which will help define us over the next decade.

The summit – the Children’s Global Media Summit 2017 – is a chance to create a global gathering of some of the key decision makers and thought leaders from the BBC’s international broadcast partners, government agencies, content producers, technology and platform specialists – and to work together in shaping a new approach to children’s media in a digital world. The ambition is to ensure we remain as relevant as possible to the global audience of young people that we are serving.

The BBC is lending its name and backing to this event, as we see what a crucial milestone this could be in helping to shape our business over the coming years, and to build on the work of the previous eight summits of the World Summit on Media for Children Foundation.

I look forward to having a conversation about working together differently, creating content differently, legislating differently and ensuring freedom and safety for young audiences in ways we have never thought of before.

Kids are changing. And we have to as well.

This blog gives the views of the author and does not represent the position of the LSE Media Policy Project blog, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

This post was published following a workshop held in May 2016 by the Media Policy Project, ‘Families and ‘screen time’: challenges of media self-regulation’. This was the fourth of a series of workshops organised throughout 2015 and 2016 by the Media Policy Project as part of a grant from the LSE’s Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF5). To read a summary of the workshop, please click here.