Should writers and illustrators lead tv programme development? Or researchers and marketers who know what sells best in the crazily competitive world of children’s media? According to Simon Cowell, “Research just kills creativity because people lie or they say things they think the person wants to hear, or they over think it”. But is he right? Here’s a summary of the debate at The Children’s Media Conference (1). Moderated by Guy Tomlinson, Managing Director, The Marketing Directors, the session involved John Rice, CEO at Jam Media, Esra Cafer, Vice President Brand Management and Marketing at Chorion Ltd and researcher, Shari Donnenfeld.
Different views on TV programme development
It’s all about serendipity – John Rice, Jam Media
According to John, the ideas behind Jam Media’s successful children’s programmes emerged in different ways. By serendipity – happy accidents!
PICME started out as a multimedia invitation for John’s daughter Rebecca’s two year birthday party. One friend was so enthusiastic about it that he even offered to pay for it.
Roy, the Badly Drawn Boy was created in the opposite way to PICME. The film originated by John’s partner as a parody of his life; as a bitter 28-year-old who couldn’t find work in animation because he was so badly drawn. A CBBC development executive spotted the idea and thought that the fish out of water theme appealing to the CBBC audience. In the tv series the bitter 28-year-old is turned into fun loving everyday boy.
Tilly and Friends evolved from a series of stories by Polly Dunbar. By bringing in a child psychologist the story world expanded from 16 pages to 26 episodes!
Use research to create and support – Shari Donnenfeld, Researcher
Shari argued that research should support the creative process, as the process is complex. There are also lots of fingers in the creative pie, and it is easy for creatives to be removed from a child’s world.
Many creatives think they know kids, yet they are adults, who use razors and drink alcohol. Some are also parents who care for kids. There are however also some creatives who act like kids, but even if they do, they still don’t necessarily know what kids are about.
Children inhabit a different world, a more digital world than their parents. They are exposed to multi-million pound movies, games, e-books and ipads. It is hard to know what’s in their heads at a point in time. The sons and daughters of creatives inhabit an even more different world to ordinary kids. A world where words like 3D and CGI are regularly passed over the dinner table. As a result these children are neither normal nor representative.
Further, unlike live entertainers, tv programme makers are unable to adapt to live audience responses. A clown, for example, can easily change his or her act if he dies on his feet. However, programme makers can’t. So programme makers need to think like the clown and go and talk to children first.
Doing research with kids is like inviting them to the board-room table. They can help create a programme, while not heading the table. However, even though children are a worthy audience, research should facilitate creativity rather than act as a barrier to creativity or simply to ‘green-light’ programme development. Kids are naturally created and enthusiastic – so involve them as partners in the creative process.
Think about building brands – Esra Cafer, Chorion
Esra argued that there is a value in using brand management in the making of tv programmes. Brand marketing is a process to define the target, the programme and product offer. Also to communicate that offer to audiences and forge an enduring relationship. In other words to create brand love!
Chorion starts with characters, settings, worlds and stories already in place. It aims to understand, create, update, and extend brand properties to make sure that audiences love them. Rather than just translate the written word to the screen, research understands and defines the brand, the brand DNA, i.e. what makes it unique and appealing. Rather than dampen creativity, brand thinking reveals new opportunities and maximises relevance.
Make Way for Noddy has a traditional preschool audience of 3 to 5 year olds. So when developing Noddy in Toyland, research verified the audience, who they are and what they want. Findings revealed an audience that was growing-up and moving on to competitive products, such as Moshi Monsters, sooner than thought. This insight focused programme development on 3-4 year olds.
Research also spotted opportunities to extend the brand. It revealed that Noddy is a safe brand, to use in home, and not to show off to friends. This provided the confidence to focus on developing home products such as bedding and pyjamas, rather than lunchboxes or coats.
TV Programme Development Inspiration
Each programme development project is different. Some require more creativity and others more research. What’s right depends on the stage of development and whether more or less is known about the intended audience. Thus use creativity, research and marketing together – they are fine bedfellows!
1. Development is the most important part of the creative process
Get this right to establish a foundation for success. Further, for every show in production, have several in development. As innovation is a numbers game, this allows some to fall by the wayside.
Also create the right conditions for creativity to flourish. While great ideas occur over a pint of Guinness or through sheer hard work, creativity is not limited to writers nor bottled and poured on. So prefer a more inclusive approach involving different disciplines.
2. Apply simple marketing principles
In other words, enable your audience to fuel creativity and be the main arbiter of choice. You’ll find this liberating!
3. Tailor research to circumstances
First, adapt the research process to reflect property origins, differences, challenges, risks and rewards.
Start by involving marketers and researchers at an early stage (via a short low-cost meeting). This will better represent target audiences’ needs, eliminate biases and also generate more saleable ideas.
Next, conduct informal research with family members and friends by showing programme materials before more substantial laboratory-esque research. And then talk to the trade and licensing people, for example, to understand cultural issues and what works in certain territories.
Finally, design audience research to fuel the creative process rather than evaluate or dampen it! Avoid closed questions such as “don’t you love this green dress?” as this invalidates the results.
4. Create a compelling pitch
Also use research to shape the brand strategy or ‘brand book’ and guide writers, illustrators and animators. Help all know the audience, and their needs. This empowers creatives to make the pilot and develop the series while retaining management control.
Create two scripts, a ‘brand book’ and a pilot to justify brand stand-out and appeal and also woo co-funders. While every tv programme development differs, the end game is the same – to secure funds.
(1) The Childrens Media Conference takes place annually in early July in Sheffield.