Over the last 6 weeks, I have probably shared more of ‘the real me’ with my colleagues and clients than I had over the previous 6 years. Through numerous Zoom calls, they have met my children, seen the inside of my often-untidy home office, they know the books I read, the board games I play and have critiqued my wall art. Some have even been on an impromptu guided tour as I wonder my house trying to find a strong Wi-Fi signal. In return, I have seen into their homes and met their kids, I’ve literally and figurative seen their dirty washing, and it’s all fine, as trite as it is “we are all in this together”. Our inherent need to be spruce things up and apply a veneer to ourselves has diminished, the lockdown has allowed people to step out from behind their facades and be rawer in how we present themselves.
This change, this reduction in the need to rely on affectations is something that I see permeating all areas of our lives, and none more so that the children’s media industry. Up until now “High-quality production” has been important, high-resolution video, high-quality audio, well shot in a controlled environment and perfectly edited, scored and graded. We know from research we conducted in January that parent’s valued high-quality production in the shows their children watch. They turned their noses up at their child watching unboxing compilations, streamers playing Fortnite, and toy play videos. It’s not just parents who wanted high-quality production, broadcasters and distributors would rarely buy or produce a show that could ever be considered ‘low quality’.
However, the kids never really cared, in the same research, across both the US and UK, the content that parents often gave the lowest quality scores to would get some of the highest scores for children’s enjoyment and affinity. “High Quality” was never something the children would seek, it was the parents and broadcasters who were driving the demand. This is no longer the case. In a webinar we hosted last month about the kid’s entertainment space, Yago Fandino, Head of Kids Content for Spanish public broadcaster RTVE talked about how broadcasters and producers have gone through a massive shock with the lockdown. They can no longer produce the shows they want to in the same way that they always have, and so they have been forced to rethink what is actually important, asking themselves “what is the quality that the audience actually needs”.
TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, Twitch are all thriving at the moment and they show us that you can make highly creative and engaging content without all the ‘bells and whistles’ that come with big-budget TV productions. At their core, the content on these platforms are not trying to be anything more than they are, they don’t try and cover things up with loads of polish they are just a truthful representation of an idea, sometimes badly executed, but they are riddled with integrity.
It could be that the lockdown has enabled us to look beyond the Emperor’s clothes and see the man underneath. Content is being stripped back to the basics and what we are left with is more honest and authentic and therefore more accessible and relatable, the holy grail of kid’s content. What quality means today is fundamentally different from what it meant 3 months ago.
Ironically, it’s taken a quarantine to enable us to be much happier about removing our masks.
First Published in Kidscreen May 2020