Dandelooo’s Emmanuèle Pétry-Sirvin, Toonz Media Group’s Bruno Zarka and The itsy bitsy Entertainment Company’s Kenn Viselman delivered lessons on successfully incorporating curricula and important social themes in kids’ content at the TV Kids Festival today.
TV Kids’ Kristin Brzoznowski moderated the lively discussion, which you can view here.
“‘Educational’ is very broad now because it’s almost in every show,” said Pétry-Sirvin, partner and producer at Dandelooo. “Even in shows that are ‘commercial,’ so to speak, there is a social-emotional, educational part in it; I think we are over this era when people just wanted to entertain kids. Everybody has realized that the eyeballs are not just there to bring in money or to be a babysitter. We have a mission with children. We have to help them. We have to help the world. What is striking is that it’s woven into the series, and it’s not just on public broadcasters anymore. Almost every day, there are requests for educational programming for all ages. And you don’t need to hide it as much as before.”
Viselman, the founder of The itsy bitsy Entertainment Company, which works on MeteoHeroeswith Mondo TV, noted: “We have to make sure now that we’re all woke to diversity and that we have everything represented. We can’t have a girl who likes pink because if we do that, suddenly, it’s sexist. If we have a girl who is about beauty instead of being a warrior, then the show is not going to get picked up. We have to have a boy interested in pink and a girl wanting to slay dragons. But I do ultimately think it comes down to money. Cause marketing has become such an issue. It’s no longer satisfactory for your kid to just be happy. Now we need your kid to be happy, learn something and be a better person.”
Zarka, the president of distribution, syndication and live action at Toonz Media Group, added that reinforcing a message of “the future is in their hands” is critical.
“It’s empowerment,” Pétry-Sirvin added. “It’s exciting to give kids the tools to change things.”
Brzoznowski asked the panelists how the demand for edutainment has extended beyond the remit of pubcasters.
“It was the mandate of just public television, but it has trickled beyond that because everyone’s trying to differentiate themselves and save the world,” Viselman noted. “We’re quite determined to be on public television because a good housekeeping seal is attached to it. A show like this, which is becoming more of a movement than a series, requires that kind of nursing and courtship that you get on a public television station versus on a streaming service that doesn’t necessarily have the same ability to nurture and help you grow your audience for a series.”
Pétry-Sirvin added: “The public broadcasters are also creating their educational systems, so in a way, it alleviates the pressure they had to put educational programming on their channels. They’re putting the educational side on VOD. The VOD revolution has changed things a lot. Private services are high-end for parents trying to push their kids to be the saviors of the world or the elite of the world, subscribing much money to these monthly fees to get educational programming for all ages. You can learn history, geography or philosophy on these specific educational programs, which I don’t think would have worked years ago.”
Covid was a catalyst, Zarka added, “where suddenly the broadcasters rediscovered an educational mission and realized that this mission was well-accepted by the families and the parents. It allows the network and us as producers to work differently.”
Viselman noted, “We need to encourage kids to use their imaginations and creativity to problem-solve and understand a different way of learning. Yes, you have to be able to do reading, writing and arithmetic. But what’s equally or probably more important in this generation is that we are creating things that allow kids to become innovators in the future, shape their brains to be more creative and imaginative, and see what isn’t there.”
The discussion then moved to how these core lessons can be incorporated without being didactic.
“Comedy is the number one vehicle,” Pétry-Sirvin said. “If you start teaching them and being preachy, they walk away immediately. As soon as you get the fun or jokes…[they] don’t think they’re learning. If you talk about subjects that are core to their lives, they get engaged with talking about themselves.”
“Education is a wide world,” said Zarka. “Children are spending 7 to 10 hours a day at school. When they come home and watch a program, they want to get entertained. We’re not there to point to the education as this is educational. I think our mission is not to be educational—it is to participate in this change for the future.”
Viselman noted, “We’re in the business of engagement, and whatever it takes to engage our audience, that’s our job. Humor tends to be the throughline for any demographic. Also, with an issue like climate change, kids are so desperate for information, they’re being bombarded daily on every screen in their lives of another natural disaster that’s happening. Many adults don’t know how to communicate with their kids about the serious subject matter and think it’s not really affecting their lives. But these kids are desperate for that kind of information. We chose to use humor and interpersonal relationships to engage our audience. But we still give them the information that they’re looking for.”
The conversation later addressed the need for ancillary materials to continue learning engagement outside of the show. “I don’t think you necessarily need to have the whole 360 on digital, etc., but sometimes just having very smart booklets can do the magic,” Pétry-Sirvin said.
“We are starting to explore how metaverses can be a solution to create educational elements—not strongly educational, but let’s say edutainment,” Zarka said.
“I’m one of the few TV producers that want kids to not watch TV,” Viselman said. “I want them to take the experience they saw on the screen, and then I want them to turn the screen off and live that experience.”