The Children’s Media Conference: Some Thoughts on 2017’s Event

Held in Sheffield each July, The Children’s Media Conference is calendar highlight for anyone working in the sector.

As a first timer at this year’s event, CMC delivered exactly what I was expecting: an action-packed three days of talks, workshops and key note speeches, with a little bit of light networking (and chatting to the odd TV presenter) on the side.

Organised around the theme ‘Are We Open?’, this year’s event pondered the big questions – Brexit, diversity, the ethics of VR, for example – and delivered more light-hearted asides; Dick and Dom, keynote speakers on Day 2 of the Conference, helped to reinvigorate weary delegates with a fun-filled look back at their 21-year career (the word ‘bogies’ was mentioned a few times) and a reminder that there’s still a need for the spontaneous, silly and slapstick in children’s programming.

Unsurprisingly, there was a palpable buzz around the BBC’s announcement that it is to make its biggest investment in children’s services for a generation in the next three years (an additional £34 million until 2020.) The keynote speech by the corporation’s James Purnell and Alice Webb didn’t perhaps answer everyone’s questions, but it was good to hear that its plans involve more funding for digital projects, live events and more programming for older children.

The research sessions were a highlight for me; with a job that involves nurturing and growing Aardman’s online communities, I found these talks truly enlightening and would recommend that anyone visiting CMC make time to attend at least one of these sessions. This year, there were useful insights into the perceived dangers of online media (in actual fact, as Dr Jessica Taylor Piotrowski of the University of Amsterdam explained, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer when considering how media affects young people), the anatomy of children’s fandom, and how – in today’s fast-paced, on demand landscape – the fundamental needs of children are evolving (in short, everything is the same, only different, and content creators must regularly ask themselves: “are we creating and commissioning content that truly meets the needs of children?”)

CMC also offers an opportunity to be inspired by a wealth of diverse projects; I saw some stunning immersive games and imaginative animations, as well as hearing about Project Hope, an initiative that aims to address the fears and worries children are experiencing in today’s politically and socially tumultuous world. CMC isn’t just about focusing on the commercial side of creating content for children; a talk on ‘Kindfulness’ explored ways in which broadcasters can ensure kids learn about values and tolerance, as well as helping them to make sense of a confusing and often frightening world.

The question of more diverse representation – both on screen and within the creative sector’s talent pool – was also included in lots of conversations; if you haven’t seen it already, the ‘Everyone’s Welcome’ campaign for CBeebies demonstrates how the channel has been approaching this area (and the theme of last year’s conference.)

There was also the chance to look beyond the UK market, with broadcasters from territories across the globe sharing their insights – I was particularly interested to see how NRK, the Norwegian public broadcaster, has attracted a whole new audience with its gritty teen drama, Skam.

I was excited to represent Aardman at the Get Social workshop and to chat with brand owners looking to launch or develop their social media presence. My own thoughts on how brands should be using social media were echoed by my fellow panellists – it’s about having an authentic, relatable voice, listening and engaging with your audience and offering content that is relevant, creative and high quality. Heading out onto the streets of Sheffield to create a twitter campaign for a well-known children’s brand, I was reminded of the power of collaborative thinking when it comes to brand strategising – it was fantastic to see my team of delegates bouncing ideas around and thinking of imaginative ways to get their message out in 140 characters.

I returned from CMC excited by what the future holds for brands working in children’s media; there might be challenges on the horizon and no one can predict what a post-Brexit landscape might look like. But with so much creativity and forward-thinking on display at this year’s event, it will be interesting to see how children’s brands and broadcasters rise to the occasion.

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