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TV or Not TV: That's Not the Question

05/19/2010 11:30 AM Bartos theater
Alice Cahn, Vice President for Social Responsibility, Cartoon Network; Terry Fitzpatrick, EVP Content Distribution, Sesame Workshop; Nick Gnat, Next"Generation Broadcast Journalist, MOUSE; Justin Johnson, Founder, Online Video Contests, Creative Services Lead, Next New Networks; Brigid Sullivan, SVP Interactive and Children's Media, WGBH Boston

Description: While Alice Cahn cites evidence that traditional TV viewing is alive and well, her panelists line up to describe a TV industry under siege by digital competitors, and in the throes of major change. In the course of this session, which focuses on how television engages a young(er) audience, a generational divide springs up that highlights the dramatic shift in cultural and consumer expectations as we move from broadcast to digital media.

WGBH has long produced television shows for children, says Brigid Sullivan but is less known as "an interactive media pioneer for 25 years." What began as 'talk back' opportunities for young Zoom viewers has now grown into a full"bore exploration of interactive audience engagement, especially involving education. Technology "allows us to reach and interact with kids wherever they are," says Sullivan. Clips from kids programs show up on interactive games formatted for PCs, Wiis, whiteboards and handheld devices. WGBH is producing multimedia resources for teachers as well. The goal is to "exploit opportunities of rapidly changing technology while continuing to deliver content and educational experience of enduring value."

Another stalwart in children's TV production, Sesame Workshop, is also attempting to exploit digital media, but finds the financial equation "challenging," according to Terry Fitzpatrick. The Workshop recognizes that much of its demographic -- preschoolers' parents -- is going online to find TV content. Yet it is not a simple matter "to monetize and deliver" its programs across the new platforms, says Fitzpatrick. The Workshop envisions delivering content designed for a typical toddler's day: from morning TV viewing to preschool educational activities; mobile devices for the car, and interactive online games and books at home. Through a combination of subscriptions, license fees, microtransactions, e"commerce and philanthropy, the Workshop hopes to find a successful business model for its programs.

Representing a new generation of user"producers, Justin Johnson describes his work helping media makers package their work for YouTube and other video"centered sites on the Internet. While it appears easy to post videos, says Johnson, the real trick is figuring out how to exploit websites that are simultaneously video and social platforms. He is impatient with old media, which "tells you lots of things." New media is about "asking people who they are, and what they think."

Nick Gnat strikes a defiant tone against a TV industry Goliath: "When my generation becomes the one with money in its pockets, the current business model for TV will fail unless it makes critical adjustments and concessions." He has very little use for broadcast video, getting his news from blogs, RSS feeds, streams, podcasts, and entertainment from online sources, some more legitimate than others. Gnat says his "generation is different," seeking not just multiple, alternative avenues for information and entertainment, but conversation among viewers as well. He won't abide broadcasters setting his entertainment schedule, nor will he accept "being nickeled and dimed" to enjoy programs in different formats. Gnat wants free content distribution, and claims that digital rights management will simply drive him and his peers to take what they can't afford, ultimately starving mainstream TV of profits: "Almost all teenagers including myself get movies and TV shows from file sharing, and we won't stop anytime soon."

About the Speaker(s): At the Cartoon Network, Alice Cahn is responsible for directing content and implementing outreach and pro"social initiatives across. Prior to joining Cartoon Network, she served as Managing Director of the Markle Foundation's Interactive Media for Children Program. Cahn came to Markle from Sesame Workshop where she served as President of the Television, Film and Video group. From 1993"1998 she was head of children's programming for PBS.

Kahn did her mMaster's work in Educational Technology at San Francisco State University and holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from New York University.

Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, The MIT Education Arcade

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