Report – The CMC Debate
- Regulation is coming! CMC delegates should play a part in the debate and be open to all ideas at this stage, however controversial.
- The definition of PSM must evolve to be fit for purpose in the new algorithmic viewing environment.
- Kids must be included in the conversation about the future of PSM and be involved in commissioning.
- PSM must figure out its place in the ‘metaverse’ and consider ‘context’ alongside ‘content’.
Moderator Pat Younge began by promoting the launch today of the Children’s Media Foundation report ‘Our Children’s Future: Does Public Service Media Matter?’ (also available to download in the CMC Delegate Bag). He then introduced one of the contributors to the report, Lord Vaizey.
Ed Vaizey offered a number of thoughts on the subject of public service media (PSM) in the UK, including:
- It is important to interrogate the role and future of PSM, but a clear definition is needed for the 21st century. Central to that definition are kids’ content, news and UK cultural identity, but it needs to be updated for a new viewing landscape/marketplace.
- Regulations with children in mind are coming down the pipe for screen content, including the ‘Age-appropriate Design Code’ and the ‘Online Safety Act’ (championed by Beeban Kidron). He called for regulation to be joined up and clear.
- An original opponent of the YACF, Vaizey accepted it had been a positive contribution to PSM for kids. He hoped that, going forward, kids’ content can be provided this way rather than via imposed regulations on broadcasters/platforms. He didn’t think that involving the BBC in a future iteration of YACF would be popular, since BBC already receives the bulk of available funding and are able to recoup their investment in PSM in other ways (e.g., international sales).
- Currently, there are two kinds of cultural ‘taxes’: the licence fee and the National Lottery. Another option for future funding for content might be a ‘cultural levy’ on the sale of devices, although Vaizey is careful of proposing new taxes. But he believes that all options should be on the table for discussion, however controversial they may be.
- On the matter of the consultation about the privatisation of Channel 4, Vaizey believes it is time to reflect on whether the model for the channel is right. He advised delegates not to fear the debate but to come forward with robust arguments. Two clear arguments are the protection and growth of the indie production sector and the threat of acquisition by a company without respect for British cultural identity. Stakeholders should stand up and make their case.
Next to speak was David Kleeman, who presented research that asked ‘Is Social Media Gen Alpha’s Public Media?’ The findings come from the Dubit Trends tracking survey (UK, US and 18 other countries) and Clickroom, a research initiative with UK teens. Some key points from the slides:
- Young people mostly abandoned linear TV at the start of lockdown, when they had more time to search for content themselves. Linear viewing decreased with the launch of Disney+ and BBC’s Lockdown Learning on-demand service.
- Families tended to watch more BBC together during the course of the pandemic. There was an 86% rise in the consumption of Bitesize, although a number of respondents were ambivalent about it.
- Kids had no clear idea about what constitutes PSM, excluding from their answers online content. They also struggled to identify public service broadcaster’s sub brands as PSM. Many assumed government ownership and few knew how PSM is paid for.
- Editorial oversight and platform moderation was not well understood by many young people, who trust paid-for content more as a reliable source of information. Many didn’t understand that YouTube content is not vetted. TikTok was seen as a particularly reliable voice of youth.
- Respondents showed some traditionalism regarding the future of PSM, with many seeing BBC, Google and Alexa as resources that will always be around and trusted.
The full set of slides can be requested from David.
Emma Scott presented her views next.
- Emma believes that PSM is vital to national identity, culture and democracy, but she recognises that kids want more. PSM has to adapt to its consumers and the regulatory framework needs to change with the new technology.
- A gap in PSM for 6+ has emerged and radical new approaches to collaboration are needed to fill the gap. Providers must ask ‘Are we producing the right content? And is it relevant?’
- The old assumption that ‘kids don’t know what they want till they see it’ is outdated. The YACF has a role to play in helping the sector truly understand what kids want and explore new ways of telling stories in the new digital landscape.
- Some solutions to the PSM gap for kids are: regulation that levels the playing field among channels, the option of a single platform for kids’ PSM, syndication that brings players like Sky into the mix, and working with search engines to support PSM objectives.
- Everything is worth considering, but the time for talk is ending: the time for action is now.
Japhet Asher spoke next:
- The adage ‘You are what you eat’ could be framed as ‘You are what you search’, but does our media consumption tell us what/who we are?
- He promoted the idea of the ‘Lean-In Generation’ who are interactive by nature and already communicating across media platforms. They need to be invited into the commissioning process by the broadcasters purporting to be looking for authentic kids’ voices. The audience trusts the kids’ content industry; in return, it must trust and collaborate with the audience.
- Personalisation of media viewing is key, but how can this be achieved? It’s important for the industry to recognise that we are moving into a ‘metaverse’ situation where all media platforms will be integrated and respond to the user.
- It used to be said that ‘Content is King’; however, Japhet believes that Context is taking power. In his analogy, context is the kitchen, where ideas take shape and are presented, but content is the meals. What the industry must ask itself is ‘Do we want algorithms to set the menu?’
Jenny Buckland was last to speak and she outlined the situation in Australia with PSM for kids/youth as a cautionary tale for the UK at this critical juncture. She told the story of her epiphany moment at CMC back in 2007 when the debate circled around the loss of PSM requirements on commercial broadcasters (in the 2003 Broadcasting Act). This debate inspired an ultimately successful campaign from the Australian Children’s Television Foundation to increase resources for children’s content at ABC (Australia’s government-funded PSB). For a time, making content for kids became attractive and generated competition and high-quality content for ABC. However, since then, the situation has deteriorated and ABC’s monopoly in this sector has been bad for producers and for audiences. Australia is currently looking into how PSM moves forward, but as with similar conversations elsewhere, including the UK, children and youth are being left out of that conversation. The questions going forward are:
- Should PSM be imposed as requirements on channels and platforms?
- How do we get the streamers to invest in local content? (Young audiences are very international and programming no longer needs to be adapted for different territories).
- How do we fund PSM? What tax incentives can countries offer?
- How can we get governments to appreciate local kids’ content and the contribution it makes to society?
- How do we make the case for kids’ PSM to governments more effectively?
JA: Use emotional arguments that speak to the Government’s levelling-up agenda and the value of PSM to parents.
ES: The sector needs to talk about the Government’s hot-button issues of national identity, community cohesion, children’s mental health.
JB: Industry can be seen as self-serving, so it’s important that PSM advocates come from other stakeholders.
- How can we work with the Tech Giants to make them more accountable for PSM?
JB: Australia has tried challenging Facebook with regard to news content and there is a public appetite for regulation of the big players. There may be opportunities to require local content on platforms.
ES: Levies may be an option. These will make the streamers part of the solution. Much more work should be done with the search engines so that PSM is more visible and findable.
JA: Artificial intelligence (and algorithms) need to have a PSM dimension.
- Should there be one platform for kids’ PSM?
ES: There is an appetite for this. Pooling content would help make PSM for kids more visible in a crowded, fragmented environment.
JA: Previous attempts have failed and that ‘ship has sailed.’ A one-stop shop is good for parents, but probably not what young people would want.
- Where is the balance between privacy and personalisation?
ES: GDPR rules will affect kids’ consumption. Personalisation is essential, but how that is permitted is a challenge.
JA: Parents and kids should have more control over personalisation, but the method must respect PSM values.
JB: There must be a privacy/personalisation balance that allows audiences to be introduced to new material but also find what they want.
A vote was held towards the end of the debate on three key statements reflecting the future of public service content for young people. These are the results:
“Kids are living through a golden age of children’s media and the commercial non-PSBs have shown that the market can provide for all their needs.”
“A cultural tax on the larger media platforms is the best way to bring additional funding into the production of UK-originated children’s media.”
“Public service media has to be available in the places children go to when they want to access media content, which means it has to be available on non-PSB platforms and pay services as well as the BBC.”
Polarity Reversal Ltd
Australian Children’s Television Foundation
SVP, Global Trends
House of Lords Communications Committee
the Rt Hon. the Lord Vaizey of Didcot
Dubit and the Children's Media Foundation
Senior Game Designer
The Children's Media Foundation