Report – Are Your Ears Burning?

Posted on: Wednesday 06 July 2022 9:52pm by Lorna Partington Walsh

Takeaways

  • Interest in audio is booming, boosted by the pandemic and parents’ concern about kids’ screen time.
  • Audio is highly inclusive of all kids and offers great creative opportunities for writers and creators.
  • Think about audio in terms of a mixed economy: from audio to TV or TV to audio.
  • Though money may be tight at this time, the opportunities to monetise audio content will grow over time.

Moderator Carla Herbertson began the session by outlining the growth in audio content recently. Downloads of audio in the UK has grown 14% in total and by 20% since 2019 for kids and family listeners. In the US, 61% of parents say their kids listen to audio books.

Carla invited the panel to say three words about the audio sector right now:

  • Jessica Tarrant: Noisy (in every sense of the word), innovative, inclusive.
  • Aiden O’Donovan: Potential, opportunities, freedom.
  • Esra Cafer: Wonderful for kids.
  • Sanna Kanis: Undermonetised, challenging, creative.

Carla pointed to the proliferation of new audio platforms, including something forthcoming (but as yet unannounced) from BBC Sounds and BBC Children’s. Yoto is one such platform. Jessica explained it was begun by two men who had recently had children and wanted to keep them away from smartphone and tablet use at an early age by offering a special device (manufactured near Sheffield!) that is a bespoke platform, which keeps kids and parents in control of consumption. The platform includes licensed material, but there is shift towards more original programming of an ‘audio first’ nature. It is responsive to audience needs, and it plans to expand content in terms of range, languages and territories.

Aiden talked about cross-platform development opportunities. A TV opportunity has arisen from an audio show that was developed for visually impaired children and began as a foray into audio description. As a writer-driven studio, used to working with dialogue and music, Turnip & Duck found the switch to thinking about sound first was easy. Aiden believes audio is more freeing than visual media because there are fewer budget considerations. Stuff can get made more quickly in audio, too. They will continue with audio-led projects in future with a view to expanding to other media so as to be fully inclusive for all children.

Esra talked about audio projects that arose from TV, in this case ‘Peppa Pig’ audio shows (not audio books). They used the TV show’s sound archive to build a standalone audio show because they knew kids wanted more Peppa. They brought in expertise to produce the audio show, using creatives who knew how to do audio shows well and boost discoverability. It was important to honour the brand, which kids love so much. Esra admitted, however, that the shows don’t make much money; rather, it’s about giving kids what they want.

Sanna explained she is on a mission to create ‘character-driven, binge-worthy’ audio shows that help reduce kids’ screen time, fires up their imagination, and encourages kids’ empathy and understanding of others. She does it because it’s a fun creative challenge and because it fits with the trend in smart speakers and podcasting. Kids are exposed to short-form content that helps build their attention span and meet a need not met by hours’ long audio book content. Her focuses are global accessibility, uplifting content, inclusive content and scalable, efficient production. She takes a ‘think global, act local’ approach that honours where kids live, and she believes that audio is a great opportunity for getting creatives to think outside the box.

In terms of what value audio adds, the panellist agreed that audio is an intimate form that brings kids close; it’s a listening experience that brings families together; it is inclusive to kids with visual impairment; it sparks kids’ imagination; and supports cognitive and creative skills development. The panel felt that the audio landscape was most hospitable to 3-8 year olds. The 8-12 group is harder because there are too many demands on their attention by that age.

Despite the opportunities, funding remains difficult to secure, but panellists insisted it is possible to make money with audio. However, often the pay-off is not immediate; it takes time to build. The advice was to create audio because it’s right for the audience, and the money will follow success.

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Lorna Partington Walsh

About the author

Lorna Partington Walsh

Editor and Writer

Lorna Partington is an editor, writer and creative writing tutor based in Sheffield. Her professional association with The Children's Media Conference goes back several years, and she is pleased to return in 2022 to coordinate the Conference blog. Read more