Top Tips: Starting Out In Kids TV

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Keen to start a career in children’s television? Tom Webb shares top tips from this year’s Children’s Media Conference.

Beginning a career in children’s television can be a daunting prospect. For many, it’s been too many years since they were consumers of children’s TV, for others, the world has moved on too much and too quickly to really understand the desires and needs of our next generation.

In reality, children’s television is very similar to how it used to be. Old cartoon favourites are constantly reappearing looking slicker and warmer, such as Cartoon Network’s Mr Bean and Disney’s Winnie the Pooh. With demand for children’s content getting greater all the time with more outlets for children’s media coupled with an expanding global audience for British productions, working in children’s television has never been so exciting.

However, for those still needing the extra push, here are six ways to get you started in children’s television:

1) Don’t give up the day job

Although this already sounds like a step in the wrong direction, a little daydreaming at work helped change the career of Ben Bocquelet, the BAFTA-winning creator of The Amazing World of Gumball. After years of spending his time drawing and developing characters whilst at work in marketing, Ben was able to submit a body of work both unique and brilliantly funny. Do, however, make time for your campaign; creating images, storylines and pitches all require serious work.

2) Don’t try to be too clever

Bocquelet’s success, as wacky and madcap as it appears on screen, is attributed to his own experiences with his family. Sticking to what you know almost certainly applies to children’s television, even when distorting it with rainbows and wild voices. For those not happy to share their life’s experiences with the nation’s youth, warm, compelling storylines and humour supply the real heart to successful broadcasting. Even shows with a strong action feel, such as Ben Ten, would not have been commissioned without its intelligence, fun and focus on children.

3) Listen to your audience

Because of user testing, what may seem like the next big thing can be revealed as a one-minute wonder almost immediately. This can only be achieved when shared in front of the people that know best, and I don’t mean television executives. User testing is simply putting your ideas to children before finishing a project. Whether they’re your kids or your friends or family, user testing is not only fast, inexpensive and fun, but stories can be built on and improved dramatically. Because there is little subtlety to a child’s reaction to television, it takes only seconds to spot a flop. The opinion of children cannot be ignored; they will always be your audience so if they are not engaged then changes must be made.

4) Provide a Service

Great responsibility comes with making content for children. Pitching an idea in this field is not selling a product, ultimately, it’s about providing a service. Consequently, it’s important to watch a lot of children’s television and learn about what it is that they bring to encourage and inspire well-rounded individuals. To do this, you must see the programming through the eyes of those for whom it’s created. However, you must never try to recreate it yourselves. Be inspired, but don’t let it dictate your thinking as it is likely to lose its meaning through recreation. An idea that may be greatly inspiring and exciting to you might mean something totally different to your audience. 

5) Stimulate your audience

Many children’s shows can work hand in hand with outreach initiatives. It’s important to think about how your ideas can influence and motivate your audience. Recently, Disney XD have offered their viewers training with sports stars, and for their pre-school shows, forums to vote for character names. If you are fortunate enough to have an idea that encourages active participation from your audience, think about the social spaces in which you can engage them. With a more tech-savvy generation, don’t waste any opportunities in which you can bring your audience directly into your world.

6) Build your network

Building a network isn’t just about finding family friends and exchanging business cards, it’s about researching demand, recent acquisitions, what’s working and what’s flopping. Attending children’s media conferences or showcases is a great start. However, for now these are the quick facts about the market for consideration:

  • More and more children are discovering themselves through play. Live action programming, though expensive, is becoming greatly popular, particularly when encouraging performance art such as dancing and singing.
     
  • Disney taking on CITV’s Art Attack is testimony to the strength and demand of this format and the dearth of new ideas to fill it.
     
  • The pre-school market is wide-open, with 44% of all young viewers coming from this age-group. The desire for many children’s television channels still remains to acquire a new and original long-running pre-school show.

Exciting times lie ahead for the creators and directors behind children’s television. As long as children remain the focus, inspiration and audience of all new and original thinking, very little should get in the way of your daydreaming and scribbles. As personal as your ideas may be, the greatest mistake is not sharing them.
 

Tom Webb is a BAFTA Youth Board member and Executive Trainee for Starcom MediaVest Group. He was the official blogger for this year’s Children’s Media Conference, a UK gathering for anyone involved in developing, producing and distributing content to kids, on all platforms.