Euro pubcasters discuss online and vidgame competish

In Europe, as in the rest of the world, kids are abandoning TV for vidgames and the Internet.

European pubcasters gathered to discuss ways to woo them back at the Cinekid Festival in Amsterdam on Oct. 21.

It turns out broadcasters are willing to follow their audiences into other media — but often aren’t able to do so. Most need external partners to develop cross-media projects, but can’t always accept the business models proposed because of laws limiting commercial activity.

“Lots of people don’t realize the commercial constraints that public service broadcasters have,” says Marc Goodchild, head of interactive and on-demand children’s projects at the BBC. “I always ask: what is your commercial model? Do you want it to be a commission or do you want to be on a revenue split? If it’s a revenue split, go and see someone else, because we don’t have revenue.”

An alternative might be for developers to partner with the BBC, use the U.K. as a testing ground, then commercialize in other territories, he says.

Laws restricting commercial activity also exclude some partners who want to share costs in return for product placement.

Even looser associations may be a problem, with several pubcasters saying they couldn’t link to commercial social networking or video-sharing sites, even though this is where their audience is most active.

Some of the severest constraints are in Germany, where pubcasters can’t put content online before it appears on TV and must take some elements down after a set time.

“Our target audience is used to getting everything, everywhere, and we receive around 1,000 emails a week from children asking why they can’t get things like recipes online,” says Hilla Stadtbaeumer, an editor in WDR’s family and children department. “I can’t give my audience what it wants, and that’s hard.”

While enthusiastic about other platforms, TV is still king, and most pubcasters need to see a benefit for their main business.

Some are looking for cross-media brands with a TV payoff, while others want help doing so.

“We have great brands in Denmark, and what we need is new tools to lift them,” says Frederik Hansen, producer of children’s web projects with Danish broadcaster DR.

Patience is growing thin, particularly when budgets are pitched high. Several speakers were tired of being offered “360-degree” projects that didn’t measure up. “True 360-degree properties are where the platforms are symbiotic,” Goodchild says. “These are really rare.”

Migration of content to other sites is seen as inevitable.

“We have to be brave and be present where the kids are,” says Hansen, who last year saw visits to his site on the Junior Eurovision Song Contest plummet as the most popular clips crossed to YouTube.

Providing safe online environments for kids is seen as one of the best opportunities for pubcasters.

“Moderation is so expensive, and that’s where public service broadcasters can step in. Other broadcasters don’t want to see their profits frittered away,” Goodchild says.

RTVE in Spain and NPO in the Netherlands are both moving into this area with social networking sites aimed at young viewers.

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