For this event, the lovely folks at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center invited us in for some insight into their report The New Co-Viewing: designing for learning through joint media engagement. Our panelists included producer Heather Tilert, Assistant VP of Platform Innovations at Sesame Workshop Erica Branch-Ridley, Director of the Center of Children and Technology Shelley Pasnick, Director of Education and Research at Sesame Workshop Mindy Brooks and Dr. Lori Takeuchi Director of Research at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. The whole shebang was moderated by madam president herself, Sarah Wallendjack.
Before we get into the new co-viewing, what the heck was the old co-viewing you ask? Well, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. Older research says that kids who watch TV with parents learn more when they watch together than they do on their own. Same with radio and books. The new co-viewing has been expanded to include video games and other joint media engagement, people interacting together with media including both playing and creating media together. Who knew that when my high school friends and I spent our weekends making up and shooting TV shows including “Deena the Chick Who Thinks She’s a Pirate” that we were participating in joint media engagement?
But I digress. My point is (that’s right, I had a point) since my tendency is toward rambling it may be best to check out the report at: www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/reports/ Ta-da! There is so much rich information in the report that we’d be here all day if I tried to sum it all up so go check it out for yourselves. Well, maybe not right now, finish reading my awesome blog entry first but then right after check it out.
After an overview of the report, the panelists were asked to introduce themselves and talk about how co-viewing impacts what they do and how they approach their shows. Sarah admitted that for the shows they make at Out of the Blue, the main focus is the kids. Of course one hopes that parents watch with their kids but since there is no control over whether or not the show is co-viewed, the shows have to stand alone, assuming that parents aren’t in the room. Heather mentioned that she always tries to make sure the shows are funny and have appealing music that parents would enjoy. It’s important to have something in there for the parents without leaving the kids behind, of course. Erica and Mindy spoke about a new intergenerational game they developed for the Electric Company called the electric racer game. The game is designed for two players and helps kids improve their reading skills. http://www.pbs.org/parents/electriccompany/electric-racer.html#
Darn it! I have been trying to play this game with my alter ego Miranda but apparently you really do need two players to play. Stupid imaginary friend and her stupid lack of driving skills (grumble grumble). Anyway, grab a person with a pulse and try it out! One player drives the car into words and the other play unscrambles the words that get unlocked. Unscrambling the words makes the car drive even faster! The game does a great job of making sure that parent and child are both busy so it’s not just a case of the parent telling the child what to do or the parent supervising the child as he/she plays. It truly is cooperative and as soon as I make some friends, I’m totally trying it out.
So what advice did our illustrious panel have for people who want to reach a co-viewing audience?
Research, research, research. Test things out with focus groups. Think about the nature of the platform you’re using and how you can pull in another person on a small screen. The electric racer game works well because one player uses the keyboard and the other uses the mouse. You could even do it on a laptop! Erica mentioned that when she talked to kids, she was surprised to learn how social seemingly antisocial media is. Kids don’t just want to watch a show, they want to play the show, too. Dear friends: When we watch a movie together and halfway through I predict the ending, I’m not being a jerk. I’m trying to engage you in a JME (joint media experience). You’re welcome.
Main takeaway: When designing games or shows to be co-viewed you still have to make sure your property is kid-driven, has multiple planes of engagement (you could talk about and play the show afterward or the app or the game, etc. – uh oh do I hear the Transmedium lurking around again?) and make sure your media is properly scaffolded to be entertaining to everyone who is watching/playing/creating.
Personal takeaway: Engaging in media, even watching TV, is not a passive pastime. It all depends on what you bring to the table and how you engage with the media itself and the people around you. (Dr. Who role playing game, here I come!)
Inappropriate takeaway: Never mind this writing nonsense, what I really need is to play more video games.
Now you are free to go read the report.