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Momentous months

By Nico Franks 06-02-2018

Without a doubt, the period between MipJunior in October last year and Kidscreen Summit in Miami next week has been one of the most eventful and potentially defining for the international children’s media industry in recent memory.

It began with the publication of an article titled ‘Something is wrong on the internet’ by James Bridle on Medium in early November. This was one of numerous unsettling articles about the dark side of YouTube that kick-started an international conversation around how the platform moderates, and profits from, inappropriate content.

At the Children’s Global Media Summit in Manchester, UK, in early December, Malik Ducard, global head of family and learning at YouTube, apologised and pledged the company would strive to do better. However, the negative PR storm surrounding the platform continued into 2018 thanks to the Logan Paul controversy.

By commissioning its own content yet shirking the basic responsibilities that most broadcasters around the world are bound to, the platform is well and truly having its cake and eating it too. But as governments begin to lose patience with the tech giant, the days of YouTube and its owner, Google, being left to self-regulate may be numbered.

Disney will own The Simpsons if the Fox deal goes through

In the meantime, Rupert Murdoch agreed to sell a host of 21st Century Fox assets, including its stakes in European pay TV operator Sky and US streaming service Hulu, to The Walt Disney Company in a US$52.4bn deal. The consensus around the surprise move seems to be that this is Murdoch waving the white flag in front of increasingly popular streaming services and retreating to his first love of newspapers.

Rather than stand by and watch as the digital revolution further dents the value of Fox’s entertainment assets, Murdoch appears to have bitten the bullet and accepted that his media empire has reached capacity.

It’s a marked change in philosophy for the mogul, who only a few years previously attempted, but ultimately failed, to expand his media empire with an audacious bid for Time Warner, which was later swooped on by telecoms giant AT&T.

It clears the way for Disney’s fightback against the growth of Netflix to begin in earnest. If it gets past the inevitable regulatory concerns over competition, the deal will see entertainment properties including X-Men, Avatar and The Simpsons join Disney’s already bulging portfolio of IP.

Craig Erwich

Craig Erwich, senior VP of content at Hulu, has since stated that the company’s aim is to become the “number one streaming destination for premium animated content,” beginning with a reboot of classic cartoon series Animaniacs with Steven Spielberg.

Disney has made no secret of its desire to take on Netflix by going direct to consumer outside the US. A majority stake in Hulu, combined with Disney’s existing ownership of OTT specialists BAMTech – which is already set to roll out its ESPN-branded multi-sport video streaming service this year – could accelerate the launch of the Mouse House’s international streaming service for TV and movies.

Then Tara Sorensen’s departure from Amazon Studios to Apple at the end of 2017 heralded one of the world’s wealthiest companies’ entry into the original children’s content space. With a reported US$1bn to spend on programming, including content for adults, Apple’s long-awaited arrival in TV land is likely to be hugely significant.

Other milestones to occur in the past few months include Facebook announcing its controversial first app aimed at children, Messenger Kids, which it claims has been designed to make social media safer for under-13s, but many feel is a cynical ploy to get kids hooked to Facebook as early as possible.

Malik Ducard

In other news, the UK government confirmed a £60m (US$84.5m) contestable fund to help increase the range of children’s content on UK TV, providing a vital funding boost that the local industry has spent the past decade crying out for.

The fund’s design is still in development but it will be available for content broadcast on commercial public service broadcasters ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. Content creators will be able to receive up to half of the production and distribution costs of original TV shows using the fund, which was initially proposed in a white paper in May 2016 following pressure from groups such as Animation UK.

Finally, in January, US-based LGBTQ advocacy organisation GLAAD announced it had added a new category to its annual Media Awards that would celebrate kids and family programming for the first time.

Nominated in the category are Andi Mack (Disney Channel), Doc McStuffins (Disney Junior), The Loud House (Nickelodeon), Steven Universe (Cartoon Network) and Danger & Eggs (Amazon), which is the first children’s animated series to be co-created by an openly transgender person, Shadi Petosky.

Each show features openly LGBTQ characters, highlighting an overdue cultural shift in North American kids’ media that, although welcome in many quarters, is already causing issues when the pioneering programming airs in countries where attitudes towards homosexuality are hostile.

It’s just one of the many ways the children’s media industry is changing radically, with the knock-on effects reverberating around the world.

today's correspondent

Nico Franks Senior reporter & editor of C21Kids

Nico Franks is a senior reporter at C21Media, covering the global content business for C21Media.net, contributing to C21 International and overseeing C21Kids magazine as editor. Nico joined the company in 2012 having previously freelanced for titles such as Clash and BBC Online.

Follow Nico on Twitter, @NicoFranks

Email Nico Franks here

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