The Future of TV and Media

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The Future of TV- What did I learn from the world's media - The Children's Global Media Summit

What does the future of TV hold? The astute among you will know that in December I spent  three days at The Children’s Global Media Summit. I know it seems a strange place for me to be but my job there was to bring the voice of the teenagers into the debate. Those who have been around me for a while will also know that I am addicted to TV, have had my own TV show and am trained in Cinema Therapy, so really this wasn’t so much of a departure. I think about media a lot and I am a huge believer that media often shows us the way that the next generation are going, before we even know, or maybe it shapes it but that is another conversation.

There is something very liberating about sitting in keynotes and listening to panel discussion where you are fresh meat and are often hearing the information for the first time. That new perspective you bring to things and the themes you pick up because you come with no prior knowledge or bias is fascinating.

The conference sold itself on the themes of Innovation, Empowerment, Freedom, Entertainment and Education and had all the big wigs any writer, producer or director could wish for, including the creator of Sesame Street, important people from such likes as Disney and a visit from Prince William and Catherine. It was star studded to say the least.  I was lucky enough to sit on panels with the creator of Skins, Jackie Chang’s former agent, the head of BBC Children’s Channel and the manager of Vineland. I had conversation with some incredible interesting people  and I met Elmo, which will always rank pretty high in cool things I did in my life.

But the messages I heard were different. I felt an uneasy fear among the participants for the future, an over emphasis on safety and an inability to understand the worth of “traditional broadcasting” for the next generation.

If I had the podium for 15 minutes on the main stage at this event where is what I would have wanted the participants to know.

  • When it comes to young people, Netflix certainly has the monopoly and that bond will be hard to break, the industry’s inability to understand this is holding them back. That, coupled with the need to over-protect, which I am sure is stifling creativity, means that when it comes to young people a lot of broadcasters are missing the mark. When you have the head of YouTube Family on stage and he spends 10 minutes apologising rather than sharing his wisdom, I feel we have gone too far in the other direction.

  • Young people turn to Netflix not only for the convenience but also because it isn’t afraid to fail, which means it is braver than most and is producing content which feels relevant to these young people. Not bound by the constraints and regulations of the larger media corporations, it breaks the mould and speaks to these young people. And some would say it doesn’t think about the safety issues at all, as evidenced in the outcry after 13 Reasons Why aired. I would argue that Netflix needed to create back-up support material to help continue the conversations that programmes like that bring up. If we can see beyond the hype of programmes like this, I think broadcasters could all learn something about bravery from Netflix. Even Bryan Elsley , the creator of Skins admitted that Skins would not have been commissioned now and some of the language would not have been allowed. I am all for making sure our younger children are protected but there is a fine line between making programming relevant to the chaotic lives of teenagers and letting safety issues get in the way of creativity and after all, don’t programmes that break boundaries spark conversations? While media has an obligation to protect it also have an obligation to ensure it is creating relevant programming for the consumer and if we start judging whether a programme for young people is a success by the reaction of the adults and not the young people, I think we are in dangerous territory.

  • There was a lot of talk about the future of broadcasting and whether Artificial Intelligence would take over in the future, with one side believing that this technology could eventually create relevant programming and the broadcasting companies arguing that human content was still king on the other. In fact, one of the panels I sat on got into quite a heated Cyborg debate. And this was a theme with a keynote about the Rise of the Machines and how computers and humans would eventually work together. The storytelling in the future workshop focused mainly on Virtual and augmented reality, all leaving me feeling a bit cold and empty. I often wanted to stand up in my seat in a Spartacus type interjection and ask, “What if the future isn’t like this?” After all, everything I know about this generation is telling me that it isn’t. One speaker declared how this generation didn’t even know what a VCR player was and I wanted to run on stage and tell him about the conversation I had with a young adult the other day, who asked me where they could buy one! There seems to be the assumption that because technology has moved so fast and young people have taken it on that it will continue to be the case, until we get to a world where the robots truly have taken over, and why wouldn’t we believe that? Films have shown us this scenario over and over again. However, I think that nature has a way of making sure we don’t go this far and our current generation, Gen Z, shows very few traits that indicate a Cyborg revolution on the way. They are putting down their phones, buying hardback books, Crosley record players and demanding real experiences. This is the generation who would rather spend the night with their parents watching Blue Planet than alone in their room coding a robot invasion. A misunderstanding of this generation means we miss how traditional they are, we miss the artistry they bring to the world, we miss the real life experiences they crave and we miss their small dismissals of technology. While we are worried about AI taking over the world they are wondering when someone will invent a cool, retro-looking VCR. For me that brings hope and I think traditional media should look on this with hope too. We don’t need to up the technology; we just need to produce braver programmes then look at the platforms that they are delivered upon.

Making sure that the young people know your great programme exists is going to be the next big battle.

I also came away feeling how powerful and influential the media industry really is and how it is trying so hard to do the right thing, whatever that is. The creative industry is the third biggest in the UK and growing, yet we don’t train our children to work in it. A lot of our children will grow up to be content creators and influencers, yet we aren’t training them in the business of that, often leaving them open to being taken advantage of.  And the industry takes its job seriously, with the BBC just having launched a new site to support children in answering some of the questions adults may be ill equipped to answer, and starting a new series of school workshops around fake news. Great strides are being made but I would like to see them go one step further, producing brave content that sparks social debates. While the conference talked a lot about educating, it didn’t in what I saw talk about the media’s ability to start debate and discussion, which is why perhaps it has so much of a challenge reaching young people.

And one final note; as I write this I can hear Alice Webb in my ear, unhappy with my use of the word traditional media. She would argue that it is all content and neither traditional nor non-traditional. And I adore her approach to that, but therein perhaps lies the challenge, that the broadcasters might not see it like that the consumers do. Sitting down to watch a programme, scheduled at a certain time does feel very traditional and in some way comforting and in a day and age where technology rules I feel we crave a bit of that. So perhaps what the big media corporations see as their weakness is in fact their biggest strength but they are looking too far into the future in the wrong direction to see it.

So there you are my take on the future of TV.