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The changing face of kids TV.

When I was little, I used to marvel at my mum and dad's stories of having grown up without television. The thought of a childhood without TV not only seemed alien but also somehow cruel. Children without TV would have been denied playground touchstones like the previous night's Muppet Show re-run, or a shared and somehow memorised-long-into-adulthood knowledge of the Sesame Street theme song. Children's television still works off the same initial idea to inform and entertain. And, as I'm realising while racking up time as babysitter for friends and family, it is also a fantastic distraction for adults.

Too much television is something that has been a fear for parents (and a battle for kids) since the medium was developed. Threats of acquiring 'square eyes' and 'couch potato' status have been passed down like stories of the tooth fairy and the bogeyman, but, over the last few decades, children's television has developed into a huge industry. These days, children's television isn't just scheduled at standard pre- and post-school times, but can be accessed anywhere on demand and via interactive media. Like 'grown-up' television, young audiences aren't content to just wait anymore. And the panic surrounding 'how much is too much' and 'what can and can't be shown and how' has followed us to tablets, smartphones and other post-television spaces.

Locally, the production of much of this sort of television is supported by the Australian Children's Television Foundation (ACTF). Founded in the early 1980s, it receives some financial support from federal and state governments, and is a producer, investor and international distributor of children's television. A major strength of the organisation is that it campaigns for the unique needs of child audiences--audiences who may require more careful delivery of content than the rest of the community. The website keeps a record of submissions the ACTF has made to industry, government and regulatory organisations, including Screen Australia and the Australian Law Reform Commission, that put children's media into perspective. Issues covered include local production, concerns about copyright protection, environmental representation and cross-media convergence. The organisation also brings together new and existing content on platforms like YouTube, with the ACTF's channel designed to 'help [its] audiences re-connect with [its] content, and to find where they can buy or download [its] series'.

Beyond the work of the ACTF, an interesting new development is the suite of on-demand and on-mobile television and interactive shows offered by the ABC. The ABC KIDS website brings together previously separate sites like ABC KIDS iview and various Play School apps like Play Time and Art Maker, while also featuring free access to content tied to international shows like Peppa Pig, Fireman Sam and Pocoyo. The collaboration encourages offline engagement, too, offering games and printable colouring-in pages (children's completed artworks can even be uploaded when they're done). There's also a 'Grown Ups' section that provides information regarding download requirements and further tips for re-creating some of the ideas for play offered on the screen.

Colouring-in pages and instructions on how to make toys out of household items aren't new. Play School has been exploring that stuff on Australian television for nearly fifty years. What is exciting is how the national broadcaster is continuing to explore ways of delivering content in engaging ways, while also using its traditional format. When Play School's classic 'talk to camera and sing songs with a piano' format was taken over by cabaret writer, performer, comedian, actor and national treasure Eddie Perfect earlier this year, there were more than a few parents and babysitters making a beeline for the television. Perfect embodies an interesting crossover: there's something wonderful about seeing the loveable musical naughty boy from 'grown-up' TV show Offspring singing 'Teddy Bear Twist' with a basic piano accompaniment and a simple Big Ted toy.

These organisations and developments remind us that children's television is not just for children--it's also for the adults who look after them, as well as the adults these children grow up to become. In interviews leading up to his debut on Play School, Perfect talked warmly about how impressed he was that the show still uses the same format he was exposed to during his own childhood, and such nostalgic feelings no doubt have ensured the continued success of this and other shows of its type.

Given that children's television, unlike other forms, actually expects that audiences will move on (unlike, say, dramas or comedies, which might hope that audiences continue to be loyal as they age), there is a delicate balancing act involved. Innovation with forms of address keeps technology-literate little ones switched on, while basic principles of engagement keep them remembering what they've seen.

Tara Judah was the programming and content manager at The Astor Theatre from February 2011 to April 2015.

Daniel Golding is the director of the Freeplay Independent Games Festival, and a lecturer in Media and Communications at Swinburne University of Technology. He is also a freelance arts and video games journalist.

Lauren Carroll Harris is a writer and artist, a PhD candidate at UNSW, and the author of Not at a Cinema Near You: Australia's Film Distribution Problem (Platform Papers, Currency House, 2013).

Dr Liz Giuffre is a lecturer in communication at the University of Technology, Sydney, as well as a freelance arts commentator and journalist.
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Title Annotation:Scope: SCREEN INDUSTRY VIEWS
Author:Giuffre, Liz
Publication:Metro Magazine
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 22, 2015
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