In December 2017 I had the great pleasure of chairing the Children’s Global Media Summit, and as a final thank you to all who contributed I wanted to share some videos and images of the event with you, along with some of the thoughts I took away.
Dr Patricia Edgar, the World Summit on Media for Children Foundation Chair, reminded us in her opening address that “Every Summit has been driven by the belief that digital has an enormous power to inspire and innovate.”
That power is now under scrutiny as never before, due to the huge influence that the global technology platforms have on young audiences. I’m sure that every Summit has begun by acknowledging the unprecedented period of change at that time.
It’s a natural thing to overestimate the immediate short-term impacts of change while missing the longer term patterns – but what I really appreciated at our Summit was getting beyond the generalities and understanding what is actually happening in children’s media around the world today. It’s certainly helped me to clarify some of the actions and decisions we face in the BBC.
I came across many refreshing and exciting thoughts over our three days. All of our speakers and sessions were brilliant – what follows are some of my personal highlights that emerged around the five themes of freedom, entertainment, education, empowerment and innovation
See the highlights from the Summit in the video below.
We can't believe it's been a week since HRH Prince William graced our stage at The Summit!! If you want to relive his speech and so much more then check out our amazing highlights video! #CGMS17 #Manchester #Highlights #FutureKidsMedia pic.twitter.com/ynNE52jXxf— CGMS2017 (@CGMS2017) December 13, 2017
Giving children the Freedom to explore the digital world in an appropriate and beneficial way was undoubtedly a key theme across the whole Summit, in addition to having a section by itself. His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge asked the Summit to help solve the problems that our youngest audiences face online every day.
Jim Steyer (CEO and Founder, Common Sense Media a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving media lives for children) emphasised this point when he said that global media companies are engaged in "an arms race for your attention", and "devices and phones are becoming like slot machines... they're intentionally designed to get you coming back over and over and over again."
Baroness Beeban Kidron (Founder of the 5Rights initiative for youth digital rights in the UK) had this to add:
"Mark Zuckerberg famously said "Move fast and break things..." - but I don't think they sufficiently considered that one of the things they might break are our children." - Baroness Beeban Kidron
YouTube are one of the most popular global technology platforms with children, and Malik Ducard (Global Head of Family & Learning, YouTube) admitted that that they had been failing to protect young audiences from videos that masquerade as family content, and from inappropriate comments posted on videos for kids.
Malik apologised for the areas in which YouTube had been falling short, and announced that the number of moderators they employ around the world would rise to 10,000. Hearing that was a key illustration for me of how much things have changed in children’s media – I can’t imagine any traditional broadcaster announcing it would employ 10,000 moderators; and it’s frightening to consider that this number may not even be enough.
YouTube’s admission that it needed to tackle this problem, in an arena such as the Summit, was a first. And something else I hadn’t seen before from our industry was the near-unanimous response in our Forum when we asked delegates if they believed that platform providers should be responsible for the content that users upload to their sites. The show of hands was a firm yes.
Here in the BBC, we are helping British children to navigate the digital world with a new initiative called Own It. Tristia Harrison (CEO, TalkTalk, one of the major UK telecoms and internet service providers) called for media and technology sectors to collaborate and to think creatively about what regulation is required.
From the many discussions we had on this subject at the Summit, and of course from the concern we are seeing now in many other places around the world, I have no doubt that this year we will see a wholesale shift in the mindset of the global technology giants, and in how they are regulated.
It’s clear that digital platforms have unleashed a torrent of content, but if you think these Entertainment floodwaters are going to recede any time soon, look at this quote from Xiaoqiu Zhong (President/CEO, UYoung Media Group).
If Xiaoqui is right, imagine what might be coming next?
Also consider this thought from Lisa Filipelli (Founder of the digital talent management firm Flip Management) “There will probably be a replacement for YouTube any day now”. The rate of change we’ve seen in the last ten years suggests that Lisa is probably correct.
In our Is That Entertainment panel Tracey Keenan (Vice President & General Manager UK & Ireland, WWE) talked about the success that World Wrestling Entertainment has achieved by launching their own digital network, now the world’s second-biggest sporting platform.
What I also found interesting in hearing about WWE was the importance placed on storytelling. In this respect I would argue that some things definitely haven’t changed since the first Summit – the need for good narrative never goes away. How stories are best conveyed by the different platforms available is another fascinating question, and certainly one that we’re grappling with in our business.
Wherever I go in the world, I find that practitioners of children’s media always have a shared goal to combine education with entertainment, to make learning both compelling and enjoyable. The Summit reinforced this.
Alex Okosi (EVP & MD, Viacom International Media Networks Africa - pictured above) talked about launching MTV in Africa and how it created an opportunity to “show the world the Africa they’d never seen before.” He also talked about the launch of their drama Shuga, and how the number of young people getting HIV tested doubled in the 6 months following the show’s release.
Jeff Dunn (President and CEO Sesame Workshop) spoke about Sesame’s work in this area, and their desire to go further by using a $100 million grant to educate Syrian refugees and children in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq through a new regional version of Sesame Street. As he put it “Content can only reach young people if we understand the challenges they face, the platforms they access and the language they speak”.
Malik Ducard noted that there are 800 million views of educational content viewed every day on YouTube and said “A teacher from Dehli can access lectures from Harvard, or Oxford and upload their own lessons too, creating an ecosystem of teachers and learners.” YouTube’s ambition is to be world’s digital classroom.
An inspiring vision of the future came from Sugata Mitra (Professor of Educational Technology, Newcastle University), who spoke about Learning at the Edge of Chaos and how self-organised learning environments can set children challenges. These enable pupils to research their own answers to Big Questions via the internet and gain knowledge in a more advanced way, with the teacher joining them as a friend on this journey. Sugata further illustrated his approach by saying “When a kid has wrong information don’t tell him facts. Say ‘somebody told me that it doesn’t work like that’ to encourage research. Use those exact words; they work”
Similarly Gonzalo Frasca (Chief Design Officer at gaming studio Dragonbox) had this reminder: “Adults misunderstand what fun and learning means. We have to understand the opposite of boring isn’t fun, it’s challenging. Kids learn by experimenting.”
And as a note to many of us who are becoming ever-more dependent on our digital devices, the amazing Michael Wamaya was present at the Summit. He is a nominee for the Global Teacher Prize for his work in teaching ballet to children in Kenya and his experience is that “Technology limits us because we don’t have access to it. We teach happiness, to be content with what you have and how to smile.”
The immense scale and reach of technology platforms, and the undeniable changes in people’s behaviour that they have caused, means that we have no choice but to explore issues of safety and protection in the online world. Our Education sessions were a great reminder that there remain so many positive aspects to the internet, and outcomes for children that we’re only just beginning to consider.
I’ve deliberately followed Education with Empowerment, because for me the two things are closely linked – in many ways education is empowerment for children, and we also want to always be mindful of the cultural messages that our content sends or reinforces.
Unboxing Boys and Girls was a fascinating panel discussion about gender influences. What I took away from the overall session that both girls and boys should be allowed to be vulnerable in different ways. Male characters should show that it is okay to be emotionally vulnerable, and female characters should be flawed and human.
The potential harms of social media are rarely out of the headlines at present, so it was helpful to be reminded of its positive potential too. While In Conversation writer and satirist Siyanda Mohutsiwa remarked that social media gives young people a platform to air political views and be rewarded for them, rather than feeling pushed aside by a hierarchical society in which they are viewed as not as wise as their elders.
You Can’t Be What You Can’t See emphasised the need for all organisations to embrace diversity, as it inevitably makes both creative and economic sense – and there was a great suggestion in the session that we all take an immediate next step: make a connection with or mentor someone who is completely different to you
Finally, I was struck by this remark captured by our wonderful artist Myro in her window drawings, during the Rise of the Machines session: “What are the cultural biases that are going into AI today that will only be amplified over the coming years i.e. are the machines going to be straight white men?”
I believe that children’s media has always set a high standard onscreen for reflecting diversity. Internationally we have recently seen increasing political and social tensions around race, while perversely many countries are becoming increasingly diverse – heading in many cases towards a situation where no single ethnic group has a majority. It’s essential that children’s media carries on being a positive example of how to reflect the real make-up of societies, and that our good example informs the debate on AI technology as it becomes more prevalent and powerful.
In his keynote the BBC’s Director-General Tony Hall has proposed that we form a coalition across the industry and across borders to find ways to reach out and empower children whose voices are seldom heard. We will be following up on this soon, and you may find me getting in touch with you in the coming months.
In the past broadcasters created safe zones for children’s content and then innovated by taking creative and editorial risks within that framework. But in my debate with Steve Bartlett (CEO of social media marketing agency Social Chain), he rightly questioned our assumptions of what the ‘rules’ are.
Mikkel Rasmussen (Founder of Human sciences strategy consulting firm ReD Associates) also provided a good reminder to those of us who’s starting assumption is that children need to be ‘protected’ from the digital world "There is no digital world and a physical world - it's the same, it's the world"
It was also useful to be hear from Jan Pinkava (Creative Director, Google Spotlight Stories) that the wide-open digital spaces still have certain boundaries “When you are experimenting, the biggest danger you can have is clients putting in hard KPIs”
Ash Perrin on stage during The Future of Play
A common critique of the global technology platforms is that they have innovated first and considered the consequences later, echoed in a comment from Ash Perrin (Founder of The Flying Seagull Project) in relation to gaming "There is an urgency, we have a generation of kids that are in the middle of our active experiment and the results could be disastrous... Is it going to affect their brain patterns as adults?
I think our brilliant first keynote of the Summit brings us full-circle, as it spoke to issues around both Innovation and Freedom. Technologist Dave Coplin (CEO, The Envisioners) talked about AI being the future, but he sees a world where the machines don’t replace humans because of three key skills that technology cannot replicate - creativity, empathy and accountability.
I agree with Dave’s statement above, but I would love to see what the technology giants can bring to making the online world a more suitable place for children. The most humble creatures on our planet are programmed to nurture and protect their young – surely with AI we can teach our smartphones and social media to do the same?
Thanks for being a part of CGMS 2017.
On behalf of the whole CGMS17 team, thank you for being part of the conversation. We hope to see you again in three years' time!
You can view more of the keynotes, panel sessions and discussions on the BBC website here.