Last month dozens of UK delegates in animation, as well as other creative and media industries, flew out to Miami to join thousands more at Kidscreen - a conference for all things children’s media. Everyone from massive broadcasters like Nickelodeon and Netflix to tiny startups is there to develop ideas, seek investment and sign production deals.
Want to know what you could be doing to get ahead in animation, who are the biggest cheeses in children’s media, or even find out what the British are best at? You’re in luck - Greg Childs, Editorial Director of The Children’s Media Conference and UK Delegation Organiser for Kidscreen 2017 offers his take on all this and more. Greg has over 25 years of experience at the BBC under his belt, during which time he launched CBBC & CBeebies.
Dan had the pleasure of escaping the cold and the rain of Blighty to join the UK delegation in sweltering Florida… to then spend all week in freezing cold, air conditioned conference rooms. It was a jetlag-fuelled whirlwind of meetings and sessions crammed in one after the other, but he still just about managed to grab some time for this interview. Here’s the few questions that tumbled out of his head and landed in the lap of Greg on the very last day of this endurance run of a conference.
Dan: So to start with, when did the UK delegation begin coming to Kidscreen?
Greg: Ah, I need to work this out. We’ve been coming to Miami for 3 years and we’ve been to New York for 3, so this is the 6th time. The delegation started around 8 years ago with a very small group that was put together directly by what was then the consulate UKTI team in New York. PACT then came on board and sent 1 delegation to Kidscreen, and then we (The CMC) were taken on board to expand it as much as we could. We got it up from 13 to about 70, and it's grown every year.
Dan: And how has Kidscreen changed since the first mission?
Greg: Kidscreen is essentially the same and has been the same for about 8 years. It’s just that the market element in Kidscreen grows each year. I think there are the same levels of people going into conference sessions but the growth in numbers for Kidscreen is more pointed towards the meetings than it is to the conference itself.
Dan: So the meetings are the main chunk of what happens here?
Greg: When people talk about Kidscreen they're not really talking about a conference, they’re talking about a market which has a conference element. Whereas 8 years ago it was a conference that had market meetings.
Dan: How has this market changed for the better since you've started doing these missions?
Greg: Clearly one of the things that's happening is that the broadcasters are now a much wider group because now you've got Netflix, Amazon and YouTube Kids increasingly all here looking for content over the last 3 years or so. Netflix Kids is really the biggest driver of that so that structurally that changes the way these conferences operate. There are more sessions with YouTube, there are more sessions about VoD, and as a result, there are more opportunities to meet in those situations and hear what it is that they’re looking for as the key broadcasters.
In terms of what then actually goes on here - this year has been very vibrant, people have been very open and a lot of meetings have taken place, more than any previous year. Certainly the first 3 days were very very busy, and Kidscreen themselves are saying they've had about a 15% increase in numbers. They are estimating around 1900 people here: numbers equal opportunities to meet.
Dan: What do you recommend as a strategy for getting those important meetings?
Greg: The trick in these market situations is that you need to research how to get in touch with the people you want to meet with and you need to send them or their assistant messages directly. The important people do not use the conference messaging system, they just don’t, they don’t need to! You need to get your meeting requests in very early and you need to be very clear about why specifically you want to target them and what they will get out of it from you.
Dan: That’s very good advice. So what's your best bit of advice for a newbie at Kidscreen aside from that?
Greg: I think for total newbies: enjoy it and use the conference for intel - a chance to hear what important people have got to say about what they're looking for. If you can get someone to take your business card and better still, you can get them to give you their business card - that's massive progress, that's moving forward.
When you get down to it, the people here are really helpful. If you can get a meeting with Jackie Edwards (BBC) for example, yes she will tell it to you like it is but she will also take a real interest in what you’re doing. There are plenty of important people in this building who are perfectly happy to give you an honest appraisal.
The problem is that the pressure on their time is gigantic, so you might be better off mixing in meetings with people that have got less of an axe to grind who will also give you some quite good advice. If you can get a meeting with some of the larger production companies or distributors you can get a sense from them if you're on track as a newbie with whatever it is that you're bringing.
Come here with some very specific goals. Make them manageable, make them achievable and you’ll come away with a portfolio of information and contacts which you can build on from there.
Dan: So what sort of businesses would you like to see more of in the UK delegation?
Greg: I'd like to see some of the bigger companies join us now. Companies like Aardman and Coolabi and Lime who are here but they tend not to join the delegation.
Dan: Why is that?
Greg: I think in many cases it's because some of their key personnel are speakers so they get their ticket paid for. So they don't need to get a discount from us.
It would change the dynamic to have a few more of those big companies with us. But that said I think I’ve not got great ambitions to increase the group. I think the group is about the right size and the right mix of experienced, medium sized companies: we have Factory, we have Studio Liddell, Cloth Cat, these are great companies who are doing great work, they've got solid business plans. Then we've companies like yourselves who are just starting out - though you've got a very good service record.
For starting out an IP, coming here in a supported way is the way to do it. We also have individual producers, individual writers, individual composers, service companies, consultants, a broadcaster, a funder, live action producers, animation producers, agencies that deal in rights - they all come with us.
Dan: Can you share some particular success stories that have come from the UK delegation / Kidscreen missions?
Greg: Most of the projects that become big are very long in coming from multiple conferences and meetings but you could talk about what Stu and Ange (Stuart Harrison and Angela Salt of Fun Crew) have been up to with Bear, Bud & Boo. They came to Kidscreen probably 7 years ago for the first time. They are a small IP generation company who came on a total fact finding mission, they didn’t have any meetings, they couldn’t get any meetings, they just came and got a sense of how it worked.
The following year they came with us and they had meetings and they talked to us. Between Kidscreen, The CMC and MIPCOM, they built up a relationship with Technicolor, who liked the look of one of their projects and eventually invested in it, and that show: Bear, Bud & Boo, is now being made. Others include Tee and Mo!, Horrible Science, Cloudbabies, Clangers - most of the British successes of recent years have come through Kidscreen!
Dan: Through your experience with The CMC and with coming along to Kidscreen, what you feel the British do particularly well?
Greg: Preschool: always. Humour: always. Embedding educational messages without them being overt, which the Americans are only just really starting to think about and catch up, we’re always good at that. Live action: great because we've got a well-funded structure. At home people think it's not terribly well funded but compared to most of the rest of the world, UK live-action is very well supported.
We have excellent practitioners and across the more worthy programme types. From documentaries like My Life which is a wide range of indies making individual episodes, to stuff like Horrible Histories which has become a bit of a model for the way you take any particular educational topic and turn it on its head and into an entertainment brand.
The other thing we’re really really good at is this ability to go across platforms. I would say this wouldn't I? The CMC has been around for 14 years talking about taking your brand into and onto new and different platforms, talking about the fact that kids are technically savvy - they adopt new tech and they are adept at doing so. As a result, we always embrace taking things into the digital space. Thanks very much Greg! If you’d like a bit more info, check out the following links about: