From Television to YouTube: BUSTER & NoJSe Targets Youth Media Consumption
INDUSTRY DAY. What are kids really doing, when they’re on to their phones and tablets? And how can public service institutions compete with booming international streaming moguls, such as Netflix, Disney and YouTube? On October 4th BUSTER Film Festival hosted an industry seminar, inviting media experts, content creators and youth representatives on stage for a tour de force in children’s media consumption.
Author: Sara Prahl Larsen / The Danish Film Institute
Translation: Rosa Kærsgaard Lembcke
First published October 9th, 2019 via DFI.dk
"Most of you work professionally with youth audiences, so it’s hardly breaking news when I tell you that children and teens’ media habits have changed drastically in recent years."
These were the preliminary words of BUSTER Director, Tine Fischer, as BUSTER’s industry day kicked off at the Danish Film Institute. The cinema was packed with content creators and other media professionals, all eager to hear more on the young audience and the challenges posed by their new media habits.
According to Tine Fischer, it is important to consult the target audience directly if one is to truly understand their habits and needs. Therefore, the first row of VIP-seats are reserved for children representing different age groups. Throughout the day, they will get invited on stage in small youth panels and talk about on their media consumption.
The Parents are Clueless
We open with a panel of kids between 8 and 10 years of age, taking centre stage to explain their online lives to the many adults in the audience. As could only be expected, it’s clear from the get-go that the majority of their daily screen time isn’t exactly comprised of flow tv.
8 year old Emil plays Fortnite and watches videos on YouTube, while 10 years old Matine spends all of her allowance - and many of her waking hours - on the online game ‘Horse Riding Tales’. The same holds true for her classmate Laura, who also likes to keep in touch with friends on Snapchat.
Despite paywalls and ads, the kids seem to think that their online lives generally hold many positive aspects. They act as sites of creativity and channels of socializing with friends in their different communities based on shared tastes and interests.
But their parents don’t get it, Laura says. She has tried to explain to them several times why she loves playing and meeting people online so much.
"They just don’t understand," she says. "They just think it’s junk. My dad always says: Come on, girls. You can’t play anymore. Time to go outside and get some fresh air.”
Securing Safe Online Communities for Kids
But if it is challenging to wrestle kids away from their screens now, it’s only going to get worse in the future. This is the prediction by media consultant Keld Reinicke, who is attending the event to shed light on the challenges posed by new media and gaming services, such as Disney+ and Apple Arcade.
One of the main challenges, according to Reinecke, is posed by moguls like Google and Netflix keeping their statistics private. This makes it increasingly difficult to estimate how much time children and youth are actually using on Netflix and YouTube.
"We have never known this much and we have never been this clueless,” says the media consultant, requesting a united, independent collection of data on children’s media habits. Simultaneously, he highlights the fact that not everyone is in a position to pay for subscriptions of services without ads and commercials. "This creates a divide between rich and poor, and leads to only the poor kids being exposed to ads”. Thus, Reinecke establishes the importance of high-quality, commercial-free communities for all children online.
Go Where The Kids Are
If we can’t lure children away from their screens, we need to protect them on the platforms, where they are already present. This is the final advice from Reinicke, who urges all media producers and patrons in the audience to “go where the kids are already present, with public service”.
This is already a priority for Denmark’s Radio, Channel Director for DR Ultra and Ramasjang, Morten Skov Hansen, explains in a panel discussion with Director of The Danish Film Institute Claus Ladegaard and Chairwoman for The Media Council for Children and Youth, Stine Liv Johansen.
In essence, DR owns a YouTube channel where they upload short video clips. The channel works on its own, but is also a gateway to more of DR’s streaming content.
"We utilize the channel, still maintaining autonomy and the prospect of leading the young audiences into a safe, commercial-free universe”, Morten Skov Hansen explains.
DR's strategy is applauded by Claus Ladegaard who believes there is more to YouTube than “junk and cat videos”. He advocates for drawing inspiration from the short format and the relevant content on the popular platform, and hopes that The Film Institute will start working cross-media like DR.
“We encourage the development of universes that are easily accessible to children from different platforms. This means that a feature film might also feature associated web series, tv series or games. We believe this might be a viable option to ensure a varied, high-quality supply for young audiences."
Bridging the Generation Divide
But it’s not enough for public service producers to be ‘down with the youth’, Claus Ladegaard stresses. To him, an important aspect of public service is creating high-quality alternatives to the popular channel. Content, that is able to bridge the divide between children and grown-ups and is enjoyable for the whole family.
Luckily, these alternatives already exist. The audience is reminded of this later in the afternoon, as a number of Danish creatives and media producers recount their experiences making children’s movies and characters that still remain popular with Danish audiences, despite the competition from Netflix. One of these popular is named Vitello - a character who has stood the test of time and remains popular in books, tv series and movies. Vitello is created by author and screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson, who is not necessarily in favor of consulting the youth during his creative process.
“Children don’t occupy my working space. I care more about what I like myself,” the author says, explaining that he would rather read Ole Lund Kirkegaard and watch a good Pixar film with his daughter, than he wants to learn about the computer games, she plays.
“It’s important to also include the perspective of the grown-up. I mean, we’ve all tried to read a story aloud, thinking: ‘Let’s just get this over with’. But if you manage to create something that is interesting and relatable for the parents as well, you are able to bridge the age divide, bringing the generations closer together.”
The BUSTER Industry Day is part of the Nordic Collaboration ‘NoJSe – Nordic Junior Sessions’ and funded by Nordic Culture Fund, Nordic Culture Point and PRD.