Friday, June 3, 2011

Connecting with Connected Kids

Notes from Singapore Part 1: After a rewarding three days at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) in Singapore from 26 to 28 May, our television producer, Shubhadeep Bhattacharya, talks about his experiences, his learnings and his thoughts on the future of digital content production in India:

The leitmotif for this year’s AFCC was ‘Connecting with Connected Kids.’ And hence a significant part of the discourse and dialogue was dedicated to exploring how technology is changing the way kids are reading, learning and socialising; and the way publishing and the media landscape are responding to these developments. Buzzwords at this year’s conference were apps and transmedia content and collaboration, and the mood was decidedly digital. 

Chris Cheng, a prolific Australian children’s writer, demonstrated how self-publishing tools, social media and new media have empowered tech-savvy and enterprising writers and illustrators to publish, collaborate and experiment. Chris negotiates licensing rights to his work separately for different platforms. He makes his content available in English, Spanish and Chinese, the three most popular languages in the app space.

I attended a session called ‘Developing Your Book as an Animation Property’ conducted by a Singapore based producer, KC Wong. KC is CEO of an animation company called Sparky that has been able to penetrate US, UK and Australian markets, with content that is co-produced in collaboration with local players. Interestingly, the idea of the book forming the seed of a TV series became a recurrent theme through the course of the conference. KC believes that the big screen today necessarily demands 3D. But a young child watching a show on TV will be happy with 2D. And if there is a lot of fast action and detailing, 2D is surely a preferred option. 

The keynote address of the Asian Publishers’ Symposium for the day was given by Julia Posen of Walker Books, UK. The keynote covered the changing face of the publishing industry. She talked about how non-publishers like Google, Amazon and Apple now shape the future, and the opportunities and challenges these changes present. The digital trend was discussed through the following developments:
  1. Amazon declaring that it has sold more ebooks than printed books 
  2. Kindle sales touching 12 mn units
  3. iPad sales crossing 15 mn, with over 350,000 apps listed on iTunes
  4. ePub 3.0 that allows standardised publishing of picture books 
  5. Google e-bookstore’s promise to offer 3000 titles free 
  6. Google's challenge to Amazon’s 9.99 USD pricing policy for ebooks. 
The sessions that followed the keynote also discussed similar issues, such as the popularity of the Print-On-Demand option and the challenges of gaining visibilty in a crowded digital space. The lucrative option available to authors of self-publishing was reiterated. Amazon now offers a writer 70% royalty on her e-books, if she lists and sells her books through their store. 

One interesting case study was how the popular game Angry Birds gained visibility. The strategy adopted by Angry Birds was to first list the app in small markets such as the iTunes stores in Finland and Iceland. This was complemented by intense promotions. The popularity in these small stores caught the attention of Apple who then hot-listed the app across stores in larger markets like the UK and USA.

On more than a few occasions, speakers cited how very young kids nowadays reach out to all electronic screens, such as a TV or a computer monitor, and start swiping their fingers over it, expecting all screens to respond to touch! 

Tim Levell, a producer with CBBC, shared his experience about a TV series he produced, which gained wide popularity in the UK. The audience engagement with the TV series was fueled by a set of cross-platform activities that included online games, activities, videos, extras, interaction, public service engagements etc. Tim laid a lot of emphasis on games as the primary device for engagement, particularly factual games that are not very expensive to develop. 

Other broadcasters represented at the conference were Okto and Nickelodeon. Syahrizan Mansor of Nickelodeon Asia shared how when commissioning any project, they evaluate its shelf life beyond television; such as its potential for live shows, mall activation, school programmes, merchandise etc. 

The festival had very good speakers, and the programme was well structured and topical. I gained from the experiences shared by publishers and producers. It was certainly a useful exposure.