In the past week or so, I have attended two great children’s media conferences – the Kidscreen Summit in Miami and the Digital Kids Conference and Toy Fair in New York City. Great insights, conversations, and ample food for thought from both conferences. I will be reflecting upon (and reflecting in my work) many of the themes raised during those sessions but here are just a few top-of-mind take-aways:
Continuous disruption: in Alice Cahn’s eloquent words, what we see in children’s media today is a continuous disruption of what screen time is. Kids expect content on demand and on multiple platforms. Take it a step further and you have further disruption in content ownership: the line between content creation and consumption is increasingly blurred. Kids hunger for a larger role not just in content customization but in story telling, crafting and delivery as well.
Quality of content is as paramount as ever: with the price of entry at historic lows (and with proliferation of user-generated content), the need for high quality, curated content has never been more consequential. Parents are increasingly at sea with how to navigate the plethora of media platforms, content and brands. Parents’ criteria for children’s media (and in many respects, toys) remain fundamentally the same – does it bring joy and excitement to their kids’ lives while also providing beneficial experiences – be it educational objectives (e.g., literacy, math, science, socio-emotional skills), values or healthy and wholesome habits?
Technology is no longer a separate category from toys or media: it has permeated all categories of entertainment. As Paul Berberian of Sphero predicted, in 10-20 years every toy will be connected. This opens up tremendous opportunities for toy and media companies to provide immersive play experiences for kids. At the heart of these experiences is a story. If you have an app-controlled robotic ball, it’s a great novelty and a fun toy for a kid. Use the same technology to create a BB-8, and you bring the magic of Star Wars and endless possibilities for creative and imaginative play. The opportunities for licensed and original story-driven characters and toys powered by technology are immense.
It’s the entertainment, stupid! With technology driving fundamental shifts in how we watch, play, communicate, and shop, the distinction between media, technology, toys, and entertainment industries is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Not all popular media properties may translate into great merchandize but the most successful products are always driven by a story, a narrative (licensed, original, or user-generated). In that environment, many companies regard themselves as entertainment rather than toy, app, technology or media companies. Whether it’s a TV show or a toy, the challenge is, to quote Paul Berberian, “Can we engage kids in a play that fundamentally changes the way they look at the world and that inspires creativity?”
Evidence, evidence, evidence: highlighting the value of research to this audience would be preaching to the choir. Exploring the way kids play, measuring parents’ and children’s reactions to the shows, testing usability and UX of apps and games, and mining consumer insights – all have become a modus operandi for most media companies. Yet, a lot of misguided practices still persist. Many media companies (particularly, app and game developers) rush to label their apps or toys “educational” to pique parental interest, without much evidence to back it up. This may be a clever short-term strategy but it will eventually erode consumers’ trust. Parents are sophisticated in determining what has value for their child. They do not expect every app, game and toy to have an educational objective. They are pretty content with giving their children time to relax, kick back and have pure fun. However, when they see a label “educational” they expect the product to deliver. As David Kleeman of Dubit recommends, tell parents what “went” into your app or game, instead of promising what might result from using it, unless you have hard evidence (and yes, based on robust research) that backs up your claims.
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