Should tv programme development be led by writers and illustrators? Or by researchers and marketers who have discovered what will sell 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
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 which was sent to friends and family. One 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 was 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. His film was spotted by a CBBC development executive who thought that the fish out of water theme would appeal 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!
Shari Donnenfeld, Researcher
Shari argued that research should be used to 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 also 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. A world where words like 3D and CGI are passed over the dinner table. As a result these children are neither normal nor representative.
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. But 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. Even though children are a worthy audience, research should be used as a creative facilitator. Rather than a barrier to creativity or to ‘green-light’ programme development. Kids are naturally created and enthusiastic – so involve them as partners in the creative process.
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 help communicate that offer to audiences and forge an enduring audience relationship. In other words 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, this reveals new opportunities and maximises relevance.
For example, Make Way for Noddy has a traditional preschool audience of 3 to 5 year olds. However when developing Noddy in Toyland research verified the audience, who they are and what they want. The audience was found to be growing-up and moving on to competitive products, such as Moshi Monsters at the age of 4. This insight helped focus 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 – creativity, research and marketing make fine bedfellows!
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.
Development is the most important part of the creative process
Get this right and what follows will be a breeze. As innovation is a numbers game, for every show in production, have several in development, to allow some to fall by the wayside.
Create the right conditions for creativity to flourish – a more inclusive approach involving different disciplines. Great ideas can occur over a pint of Guinness or through sheer hard work, though creativity is not limited to writers nor bottled and poured on.
Apply simple marketing principles
In other words, enable the audience to be the main arbiter of choice. You’ll find this liberating!
Tailor research to circumstances
As each property is different, faces different challenges, risks and rewards, and starts life in different places, the research process must be adapted.
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 generate more ideas on what sells.
Then conduct informal research with family members and friends by showing programme materials before more substantial laboratory-esque research. Talk to the trade too. Licensing people, for example, understand cultural issues and what works in certain territories.
Design research to fuel the creative process rather than evaluate or dampen it! Avoid closed questions such as “don’t you love this green dress?” which invalidates the results.
Create a compelling pitch
Use research to shape the ‘brand book’ and guide writers, illustrators and animators. All must know who they are designing for and what they are designing. 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 woo co-funders. While every tv programme development differs, the end game is the same – to get finance.
(1) Childrens Media Conference 2011