The importance of Public Service Media for Kids isn’t up for debate.

On July 8th, I participated in a debate at the Children’s Media Conference to discuss the future role of Public Service Media in the UK. That day, the Children’s Media Foundation published its report on the same subject, with articles by a wide range of people who have helped to shape what our kids watch, how they play and where they learn. You can read my own contribution and the whole report by downloading it here.

To watch a recording of the online session, you need to have registered for the Conference. But here’s a transcript of my opening remarks:

“As I’ve been attending sessions this week at CMC, I’ve been thinking about the phrase, you are what you eat. The original version of this phrase was from a 19th century French lawyer, and he actually said, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” He was making a comment about class – how rich was your diet, what could you afford to eat – and about national characteristics – where could your ingredients grow, the food you eat being connected to the soil it grows in. It was a clever construct. Of course, our lawyer hadn’t heard of Google: “Tell me what you search and I will tell you who you are.”

But what about our media consumption? Does that tell us who we are or is it the other way round?

In every session, I’ve heard commissioners saying they are looking for content that reflects kids’ lives here in Britain and is made by diverse British voices. In the end, public service media is all about national and individual identity. And that matters more than ever.

In my piece for the CMF report, I talk about the Lean In generation we’ve been raising, proactive, activist, game-ified, used to interacting with media and each other in both digital and physical spaces. I propose that we let our audience in on our commissioning choices, making them advocates for their favourite characters, genres and ideas. Our audience trust us, and we need to trust them.

It’s this relationship with our audience, particularly our kids audience, that justifies our future.

I think any debate about the future of public service media also needs to take account not just of the reality we are currently confronting in the market dominance of US streamers but also consider what’s coming next. Real time 3D engines like Unity and Unreal are changing the way we make linear video and virtual spaces, advanced AI that is capable not just of running algorithms but also generating personalised iterations of content, and a new wave of computing, that will move us on from mobile connected devices that allow us to access to content when and where we choose to contextual computing – in which physical spaces, objects and people all have their digital doppelgänger. We’re painting the physical world with data. And that data will drive increasingly personalised content based on where you are and what you are doing as well as who you are with.

We variously call this digital context a Metaverse or a Mirrorworld. The name’s unimportant. What does matter is that we recognise how radically this wave of change will impact content. For decades, we’ve repeated the concept that content is king. This has never been entirely true, as content is a prisoner of context. Context changes content – a can of soup in a kitchen is to be eaten; in a gallery it’s to be admired. Let’s say that if content is king, context is queen. They rule together, in constant dialectic, one affecting the other. But the balance is about to shift. It’s time for Queen Context to rule.

Well, Public Service Media is all about context. I think of Context as the kitchen and content types are the ingredients for feeding and nurturing our digital identities.

There’s always room for the all you can eat buffet of content in our lives, but there’s also a kitchen where we meet, talk and make food together, making choices together. Do we want the algorithm to set the menu? Or do we went public service media in the kitchen?”

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