Television Business International, a London-based publication specializing in the global television business, published an article by Christian Kurz, VP of Research and Insight at Viacom International Media Networks, in its August/September 2014 issue.

Christian’s essay, featured in the ‘Last Word’ column, focuses on the challenges and opportunities in creating ‘edutainment’ content for kids in a fast-changing media landscape.

Here is the text from the article:

S.M.A.R.T ‘Edutainment’

The power of TV to educate has been a subject of debate for years, but the fact remains that kids learn best when they are engaged in activities that they enjoy and care about. They always have. Who doesn’t remember learning with Ernie, Big Bird, Elmo and my personal favourite, the Cookie Monster? Sesame Street has been the leader in utilising a detailed and comprehensive educational curriculum with specific educational goals in its content for the past 25 years.

The fact is, in today’s age of “living media” (an active consumption of content made available anytime, anywhere, on any platform), TV has become S.M.A.R.T – Social, Mobile, Accessible, Relevant and Tailored. Even the youngest viewers inhabit a ‘media-rich’ environment of multichannel television, smartphones, tablets, the web and computer games.

This creates enormous opportunities for content creators to embrace and revolutionise the concept of “edutainment” for an ‘always on’ generation. Today’s challenge is not only about working out what needs to be programmed on these devices, but also establishing the interface; how it should be constructed to appeal to kids preschool-plus and their parents.

The truth is: digital literacy doesn’t start at 10-years-old. Our most recent research in the US shows that 65% of 3-to-5 year olds regularly use smartphones and tablets, which are present in 89% of those households.

The usage numbers increase to 76% for the 6-11s – that’s higher than computers and games consoles for the first time. Internationally, penetration numbers among households with preschoolers are very similar, and kids, as we all know, like to spend time in front of screens, particularly touch-screens.

So here lies the challenge and opportunity for kid’s content creators everywhere: to expand the traditional preschool-plus offering and enable kids to get up close and interactive with the big purple dinosaur, the pink pig and the yellow sponge through learning-based games, appisodes and more.

Although certainly effective, it is no longer sufficient to simply implement ‘edutainment’ into the linear concept with a colourful character shouting questions out from TV land.

When it comes to the post-Millennial generation, it’s all about engagement on every platform. Even the youngest kids demos today, 2+, are super savvy, demand immediate gratification and have an insatiable curiosity.

Regardless of which end of the spectrum you look at, the fact remains: If you can’t engage kids, you can’t entertain or edutain them – and vice versa.

There’s no disputing that technology has been the fundamental game-changer in how kids play and subsequently learn.

With the influx of new technology and tablets and the advent of new distribution platforms, incorporating learning-based games and appisodes like Dora’s Learning Adventure to support early development by creating a place for kids to play, grow, learn and develop is now even more essential.

Since many early experiences come from TV, it’s no coincidence that for most kids their first online destinations are related to TV content. Kids go to the web or apps to forge deeper relationships with content they already know and love, with interaction moving beyond a single screen experience to engagement across multiple platforms.

This provides an infinite number of digital opportunities to play; real world play can be replicated virtually; virtual play can offer new experiences not available in the real world; kids can express creativity via videos, avatars, in games and apps, etc.

More now than ever, kids networks are presented with huge opportunities to be innovative and creative with their content – taking the “what” and turning their attention to the “where” and the “how”.

With shows like Nick Jr.’s Wallykazam and more recently Welcome to The Wayne launching on mobile before linear, there’s greater opportunity for networks to blur the lines between an ever-proliferating number of screens.

Looking closely at the “how”, our research has reaffirmed that parents value security, entertainment and education for their kids’ TV viewing, spanning four distinct styles: the ‘Babysitter’ (the parent has low involvement); ‘tribes’ (the parent co-views with the child), ‘dialogue’ (the parent uses TV content to strengthen communication between themselves and their child) and ‘control’ (over the entire TV viewing experience).

So, the key to edutainment in the era of living media? Simple-ish. Create captivating content with social and educational values at its core – don’t knock the power of a green frog or a pink pig – and combine the way kids
want to watch it with the tools necessary to interact with it, a camera, a microphone and a touch screen.

The result? A plethora of opportunities to create engaging, entertaining content for kids of all ages to learn through play.

To see a PDF of the full August/September 2014 issue of Television International, click this link. Christian Kurz’s article is on page 50.