March 15, 2011
Louise Gikow and the Brave New World of Children’s Media
The saloon was filled with the usual menagerie; the player piano hammered away as decent folk blew off a day’s steam and roughnecks looked for a night of trouble. Nobody paid any mind when a stranger sauntered through the swinging doors, her hand hovering casually over her holstered smartphone.
“I’ll have a whiskey, and a platform for my ideas,” she muttered as grabbed a stool. The barkeep scanned the visitor’s face. It was Gikow the Kid, one of the most feared raconteurs in the territory.
“I reckon you got guts, Gikow,” he growled. “Moseyin’ on in here with all them sympathetic characters and archetypal plots. Why, if I didn’t know any better, I’d suspect ye’r lookin’ fer a wireless signal.”
The bartender’s words ended the chatter as all eyes turned toward the visitor.
Looks like trouble found The Kid.
This is the New West, folks, and WiCM’s latest event asked us to cast our attention toward the media frontier. Our expert scout was none other than Louise Gikow—writer/producer/ show creator extraordinaire. With an incredible career on the frontier of kids’ media, Louise led our expedition through the changing landscape.
Louise told us that much of the new territory looks the same. Television is still the main medium, and the networks are still limited in number. In other words, a few very powerful gatekeepers are still largely in charge of what content makes it to the public.
The web is the new element. The possibilities for change are vast, but the web is not yet a major platform for original kids’ content. Currently, online kids’ offerings are primarily limited to the following:
- Network-related sites based on existing television content (e.g., Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon)
- Toy-related sites based on existing toy lines (e.g., Barbi, Bratz)
- Kids’ games and virtual worlds (e.g., Club Penguin)
These sites have the benefits of big brand recognition and/or deep pockets. But what of the content developed for the web? We are starting to see sites for original web content (check out PBS KIDS GO!), but it’s still a rare thing and these shows have yet to earn major profits.
And what of the independent content developer with modest means? The bottom line is that a web content developer needs money. To get money, she needs viewers. And it’s difficult to find viewers when it’s difficult for viewers to find the content. There aren’t many online forums for the kids’ stuff, and many of the major aggregators of web programming do not have sections devoted specifically to kids’ material (see Online Video Guide, for example).
With any luck, this will change. A few new resources promise to help content developers find and prove viewership. As an example, ComScore—like a Nielsen rating for web content—may boost recognition over time and thereby promote ad revenue.
There are also routes content developers can take to promote their material. Kickstarter is one option, app development is another. An app developer only needs about $20,000 to build a very good app and draw attention to his or her new content. A solid understanding of search engine optimization (SEO) can also help an online content developer find target eyes.
Louise predicted that in the distant future we will figure out how to aggregate kids’ content in a forum similar to iTunes. But the immediate future is pretty uncertain.
Conceptually we’ve all been here before. Whenever there’s a new platform, there’s an attempt to apply old models to the new system. Sometimes they work; sometimes we need to adapt or even find something new. Louise’s presentation left me thinking that the race is on, and the field is wide open. The person who figures out the new model will set the standard for success.
And there’s more good news. I firmly believe there are core fundamental parts of all of these stages of media development that don’t change. Louise gave us a sneak preview of Noah Comprende, her web series on PBS KIDS GO! Great plots, compelling characters, and beautiful design have brought Noah to the web. And time will further refine and reveal which elements—these and others—are so essential.
This was a fantastic event with a fantastic speaker. Louise really knew her stuff and generously shared a wealth of information and insight. The event left us with a challenge, but also with a sense of anticipation. With every transition we have opportunity. So let’s figure out how to entertain and educate in the brave new world.