Friday 16 September 2011

The Revolution Will Not Be Broadcast

Children are different

Moshi Monsters is a game for children. It’s made by a British company called Mind Candy and run by a man called Michael Acton-Smith. It is a mixture of virtual pets, mini-games, education and social network. You may have heard of it. You may not. You should check it out.

It has 50 million users. More than half of all British children between the ages of 6 and 12 play Moshi Monsters. It has one new sign-up every second and users in 150 countries across the world. It already sells a staggering quantity of soft-toys, clothes, music and magazines off the back of its huge and highly engaged user-base. Its next project is Moshi TV, a version of YouTube for kids. YouTube isn’t really the kind of place you’d want to let your kids wander unsupervised, so Moshi Monsters is going to step up and offer their own take on YouTube specifically designed for children. 

I've had a great evening. This wasn't it
Kids already love YouTube, love the way it puts them in charge of their viewing. Pausing, rewinding, choosing what to watch next, sharing what they’ve seen with their friends. this is how children see TV, this is how they understand TV to work. 

Children are idiots

More than that, young children not only don’t understand why they can’t pause the television, they also don’t understand why the television doesn’t respond to them touching it, like the iPhones they get to play with do. They don’t even understand why they can’t move around the characters in their favourite cartoons, why the content itself doesn’t respond to their input. To a child, interactive TV - interactive to a degree beyond any adult’s wildest imagining - isn’t some future dream, it’s what they expect.

Now it’s fair to point out at this juncture that children are idiots and don’t understand anything. But the world they are growing up in is mind-blowingly different to the world even today’s teenagers grew up in. YouTube launched six years ago in 2005. The iPhone launched four years ago in 2007. Farmville launched two years ago in 2009. The iPad launched a year ago in 2010. The media landscape has changed utterly in the time it takes to make a child and send it to school.

This child looks weird.
Back to Moshi Monsters. It’s not a broadcaster or a production house or a company with any previous experience in television whatsoever that’s bringing that brand-new vision of TV to the children of the world. It’s a game company. They have yet to launch this service, let alone make it a success, but this is only one of hundreds of examples of non-traditional entrants into the TV business. And there will more entering tomorrow than entered today.

Children are terrifying

There’s a time in the future, no-one knows when, where broadcasters make these visions a reality. Between now and then, they are open to disruption. Are broadcasters comfortable with that? It’s not just the obvious giants that are trying to steal their cakes, not just Google or Apple or Microsoft or Facebook whoever. It’s not just the media start-ups, Zeebox or Starling or Tunafish. It’s also start-ups in the general entertainment sphere who have a lot of users and absolutely no pre-conceived notions of how the world of television works.

Children see the world differently and aren’t going to be satisfied with you telling them that ‘it just works that way honey’. That applies just as much to the children of the media world as it does literal children. It’s not the direct attacks that broadcasters should worry about. It’s not about Google wanting to steal your content and put their own adverts by it. It’s about companies not only redefining what broadcasters do, but redefining what content is in the same open-minded flick of the wrist. About taking the entire question, the worries, the concept of entertainment itself, and turning it on its head. 

This is not a metaphor and I am not the dog in the metaphor this isn't
The television program itself is as ripe for reinvention as the way it’s delivered. Today, a child will grow up surrounded by devices and products that are desperate to shape themselves to their needs and entertain them on their own terms. And the speed with which these new, user-focused objects are being produced is increasing, faster and faster every day. Today’s idiot is tomorrow’s customer. Prepare yourself for the rise of the idiots.