Children are a discriminating and potentially highly engaged audience, but influences on their viewing patterns are complex, a comprehensive study conducted by Screen Australia and the Australian Children’s Television Foundation has found.
Child’s Play was produced with the aim of increasing understanding of how children engage with screen content, and the unique challenges involved in financing, producing and scheduling children’s programs in today’s rapidly evolving media landscape.
The project draws together previously available data and insights from new research, building on issues raised in the Screen Australia publications Beyond the Box Office, What to Watch? and Convergence 2011: Australian Content State of Play.
Among the findings, it was revealed children are naturally savvy media users who can distinguish content made for them and prefer it. Children also engage with drama differently from other types of content and are more highly engaged with drama on a number of levels.
The Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA) said the findings clearly show that boys and girls aged 2-14 years have an overwhelming preference for children’s ‘narrative’ screen content, be it live action or animation. They like it the best, it is more engaging and a significant proportion of them are seeking out related content on second screens.
“This is a more sophisticated picture of what children want to watch. It shows that when compared to family viewing times, television ratings alone often understate the importance of children’s programs to children. What we can now see is the extent to which they are discerning viewers, seeking out content made specifically for them when they have control of the remote,” said Matthew Deaner, SPAA’s executive director.
Not only did 91 per cent of boys and girls say that they ‘liked’ programs ‘for them’, but 54 per cent said that they 'liked them the best'. In comparison, just 11 per cent said they liked family programs and 4 per cent said they liked adult programs the best.
Boys and girls tend to prefer programs with ‘characters’ and when watching them they are significantly more engaged. For example, when looking at multitasking rates, 80 per cent of children watching narrative content are often just watching the show and not doing any other activities at the same time. This rate falls, particularly among older children, when watching other types of ‘presenter’-based programs. But, importantly, multitasking does not always suggest that the child is less engaged, with 31 per cent of children often doing activities that are related to the television program they are watching.
“Children are increasingly connected to a growing array of media and communications devices and there is no home-ground advantage. With this in mind, producers, broadcasters, distributors and policy makers of Australian children’s content need to adapt to the changing paradigm of more choice via the internet, digital free-to-air multi-channels and other screen activities, such as interactive games,” said Deaner.
“Following the alarming decline of investment by broadcaster platforms, coupled with the now relaxed quota requirements, the vital and valued role of Australian children’s content runs the risk of being undermined by market forces. This research punctuates the industry’s ongoing calls for an increase in the Producer Offset for television production and the need to nurture new commissioning opportunities for multiplatform content across emerging distribution models,” added Deaner.