Online kids content – the numbers don’t add up

It could be said that ‘online’ doesn’t quite fit the ‘new’ media tag any longer, such is its established place in development, production and rights management. It’s been a buzz word, an innovation, and now is a top priority for broadcasters, right up there in terms of key content.

In today’s technology-aware times, it’s easy to see that while broadcast is still the jewel in the crown, multi-platform content is central to the entertainment experience expected by kids today. Channels want premium content for the web to drive kids to the channel, and to have online content to support the TV programme.

Sounds simple, right? Yet as Han Christian Anderson’s little boy might shout as the Emperor parades his finest new online content in front of the crowds: “He’s not making any money!” In the drive to create 360-degree content, ‘monetise’ when applied to online had become a dirty word, the elephant in the room no-one wanted to mention, but with tough times ahead, and smaller pools of finance out there, the elephant is clamouring for attention.

The problem is this: producers are struggling to fund good quality online content with revenues generated by traditional media, essentially television. Simultaneously, the online world is getting more sophisticated and hence more expensive to produce for, and only a very limited number of broadcasters are willing to pay for it, and even less to invest in it at an early stage. Yet it’s an essential part of kids programming today. Without having a real-life fairy godmother to magic online content from the end of her wand, or at least, computer’s software package, we need to find a solution and one which complements existing business models.

There are a number of profitable websites offering content online and via VOD. They work extremely well in providing a destination for kids seeking their favourite show and additional content on their computers. But most of them are free, and anyhow, are subscription-based or advertiser-funded platforms going to generate the revenue required to sustain demand for online content and ensure quality? And how can it help the financing issues of the producer who has a brilliant TV series but no funding for the accompanying elements demanded by the commissioner?

The industry needs to look beyond what is already available. We should examine ways of bringing new funding into the production of content, not just sharing existing small revenue streams among ourselves.

The rights window is fragmenting, so in order to fund strong creative content that keeps in step with new advances, to drive audiences and increase traffic, we need to find ways of exploiting each of these opportunities individually. The simplest, fairest and easiest way to do this is to generate revenue for the rights holder each time content is viewed online.

It’s a call which has been heard in the UK recently where there is lobbying for a fund to help TV producers partner with technical companies to explore different ways of commercialising their content on the web.

It’s part of a new batch of measures designed to offset the decline in advertising revenue including introducing a fee on the use of DVDs and PVRs. It’s heartening that several of these are Europe-wide initiatives.

The revenue question is closely tied to the issue of protecting content as technology gallops ahead and copyright guidelines remain behind. There are moves in the right direction here too, such as the recent law passed in France to prevent peer-to-peer downloads, which should help protect content. It will be interesting to see if these measures are adopted in other markets.

Addressing the issue of monetising online content need not be at the expense of creativity and innovation. In fact I believe the reverse to be the case, establishing a framework of revenue streams will stimulate and promote quality in these areas. Yes ‘Content is king’ as Michael Eisner said, and I believe this to be true, but as the nursery rhyme tells us, even the king spent his days in the counting house counting out his money, to make sure the queen had the very best bread and honey.