This ad will be closed automatically in X seconds.

Viewpoint: YouTube or bust

Gary Pope, ceo at Kids Industries, gets ready for a debate at this week’s Children’s Media Conference on the creation of quality content for children being at a precipice.

I told Sam that I would write something nice and summe-ry for this column. But we had summer a couple of weeks ago so I had to think of something else. So here goes…

This Thursday (11 July), I will be moderating the Children’s Media Conference Debate in Sheffield. This annual event debates a pressing issue for the wider children’s entertainment industry. This year, the topic is YouTube or Bust.

We’re going to explore the fact that the creation of quality content for children is at a precipice, there is an existential crisis in funding created by (like so many other things right now) a ‘perfect storm’, at the eye of our storm is YouTube and no one can quite work out if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

The dominance of a single platform and its panacea of content is no longer disrupting, it is debilitating the world of children’s content creation. Plurality and public service are being kicked to the curbside in favour of whatever gets the most eyeballs. Nothing wrong with that in theory, assuming the best stuff rises. But there’s not a lot of room for discoverability once a child enters the dopamine-driven feedback loops of the algorithm. And that means good stuff doesn’t get seen, good people don’t get paid and good deals are not signed.

We’ve got a stellar line-up for the debate, including the newly appointed Children’s Laureate, Frank Cottrell-Boyce. I have to admit to being a bit of a Frankie Fanboy.
He’s written some of the greatest children’s novels – Millions, Framed and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Rides Again, a good few episodes of Corrie and Dr Who, and he is also the writer of the most incredible piece of writing/theatre/experience/film/telly/entertainment/history-lesson/inspiration I have ever known: the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games.

My admiration for those four hours in July 2012 might be because I am intrigued by our nation’s story, it might be because I have always loved the contemporising of Shakespeare, it might be because Underworld is one of my favourite bands or might be that I am an optimist. It doesn’t really matter because somehow Frank managed to conceive and weave all of these things (and a whole load more) together into what is officially called Isles of Wonder, and it has stayed with me ever since.

The moment I recall most clearly is the moment the cauldron was lit, accompanied by a song called Caliban’s Dream – Caliban, an antagonist in The Tempest, embodies the notion of nature versus nurture and the yearning for freedom; much like a child, in many ways. The song is melodic and haunting and uses a choir of children throughout. It is so inspiring that you feel like anything is possible. I remember vividly thinking, I wonder what the world is going to be like for the kids that are born now and being excited for them.

Things were a bit different then, weren’t they?

Depending on who you listen to a generation can be 12, 15 or 20 years. I’ve always thought 12 is most accurate – not least because it is the point at which young people reach what psychologists call The Formal Operational Stage of Cognitive Development – essentially all the faculties are there to be an adult… ergo, a generation. So, when I accepted the invitation to moderate the debate, I couldn’t help but be reminded of that moment 12 years ago when I stopped and wondered. I had to ask myself: “What has happened to children’s media in this last generation?”

Shed loads is the short answer, but there were a bunch of things that happened in 2012 itself that have proven driving factors for children’s relationship with media and the commerciality that comes with it:

  • There was Facebook going public. The IPO valued Mr Z’s universe at $104 billion, making it the largest valuation to date for a newly public company and made all that is Instagram possible.
  • The first The Avengers movie ushered in the MCU and a new era of content/product integration that has remained the super-hero of licensing until very recently.
  • Netflix released its first original series, Lilyhammer, and marked the start of the ‘Streamer Wars’ and the race for all the players in our industry to try to understand how on earth to do this on-demand thing.
  • Disney acquired LucasFilm and welcomed a galaxy far, far away and in the phizz of a light-sabre redefined the relationship between product and content. Again.
  • Oh yeah, and Google Glass arrived (and maybe went) but that’s another conversation.


But it was Gangnam Style going viral that perhaps defined media in 2012 and so much more beyond. Those four minutes, 12 seconds and 5.2 billion views are the point at which everything changed. I’m not even joking.

Becoming the first video on YouTube to reach one billion views massively influenced the macros of popular culture; highlighting the surging power of social media to spread content. This seminal showcase demonstrated the potential of UGC to achieve mainstream success and importantly made YouTube do two things. First, it improved metrics to handle high traffic volumes, providing better analytics for creators. Second, it made them enhance their recommendation algorithms, user interface and monetisation options.

BOOM. Or, ‘Oppa Gangnam Style’, as Psy would say.

The starter’s gun was fired and the race to the mess we’re in now was begun.

That was 2012.

And here we are a generation later, where a single unregulated platform dominates the media diet of global children (yes we could debate the relevance of TikTok, but that’s a bit up in the air for the next 12 months). It appears that for many, if not all, of those content creators who make for children and young people, it is absolutely YouTube or bust.

What is decided in the very near future about how children’s media is funded, created and distributed is the terrifying responsibility of a disparate collection of entities. They are all different shapes, sizes, ambitions and abilities. Quite how they will be marshalled is almost impossible to consider. If a society can be judged by how they treat their children, then the world of kids content and licensing has an absolute duty to do the right thing.

All content for children is public service content. We, you and me, have a responsibility to make the best stuff we can. Yes, some of it has to be toyetic – of course it does – but it can also be good. The problem is that our algorithm-driven content platforms are not necessarily serving the audience in the way that is best for them. And they’ll only change if the audience makes them – and as Children’s Laureate, Frank’s got a pretty big stick.

I’m looking forward to speaking with Frank 12 years on from that moment of aspiration because maybe we can make Caliban’s Dream a reality after all.

And just in case you fancy it, bathe your lugholes in some of this…

City Football Group has unveiled a new collaboration with Sony Pictures Television which will see the creation of new original scripted, non-fiction and kids' TV projects for worldwide audiences - as the group looks to be 'part of the next evolution of the game'....
For the collaboration, Roma will develop a collection of baby products and toys using the RHS logo on both the products and packaging, as well as RHS-supplied designs for the colour fabric elements of the products....
Ahead of the kick off of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Team GB has secured a new deal with UK-based sports memorabilia specialist, Memento Exclusives....
Posh Paws International and its parent company Whitehouse Leisure International will be producing Mr Bean plush for both the retail and amusement/leisure sectors, as well as designing and producing a range of Mr Bean novelty key chains and mugs....
The Unicorn Academy magazine will go on sale in October, hot on the heels of the second drop of the animated series on Netflix and Spin Master's own toy launch for August....
Focus Brands - the brand licensing division of Hela Apparel Holdings - has secured an exclusive long-term licensing partnership with Reebok to design, source and distribute branded outerwear for adults and children in the UK and Europe....
Get the latest news sent to your inbox
Subscribe to our daily newsletter

The list doesn't exist! Make sure you have imported the list on the 'Manage List Forms' page.