USING MACHINE LEARNING KEEPING SCREENS SAFE AI START-UPS FEED:SHOW
GREAT CONTENT FOR KIDS ISN’T CHILD’S PLAY
Children and adolescents under 18 years of age account for an estimated one third of internet users around the world, according to a report by Unicef. In this issue, we look at content for kids and how companies are using streaming to reach a global audience of young internet-wise viewers. The Covid-19 crisis has meant an explosion in
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STAFF WRITER Chelsea Fearnley
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online viewing as families are stuck at home in isolation. YouTube has stepped up to the plate with lots of new, high-quality content – a lot of it produced by quality talent who are themselves stuck at home. In this dialogue about kids and content, safeguarding has to be at the top of the conversation. The tendency to think of children as a revenue source may not be the best model for creating a healthy life for the next generation. We talk to subscription service Hopster, which has tried to make education and child welfare a priority. Also in this issue, we check in on the state of machine learning (ML), which is fast becoming a practical tool for media and entertainment companies. ML is being deployed in the automation of repetitive tasks and in making technologically complex tasks more economical, but the vast data-crunching potential of it is still something we’re only beginning to discover.
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NEWSFEED Dispatches from the world of online video 6 YOUR TAKE have to do more with less 10 GENIUS INTERVIEW PBS and now WarnerMedia 30 on the future of media 38 FEED:SHOW product announcements! 44 BRAINFEED could win a FEED T-shirt! 58
In the future, news will be more decentralised and journalists will
We talk to Renard Jenkins about his long career in TV, from CNN to
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CONTENT FOR KIDS
52 START-UP ALLEY
16 V IDEO IN LOCKDOWN The Covid-19 lockdowns have meant higher quality content for kids. Can we keep it up?
22 KIDS ANDWELLBEING We talk to Hopster, a subscription service, supplying education-based content for children
Featured start-ups include a mobile-based voice assistant to teach English to non-native speaking children
6 NEWSFEED Updates & Upgrades
BREAKING NEWS FROM THE STREAMING SECTOR
BRITS SET FOR BEEB
BBC’s in-house voice assistant, ‘Beeb,’ has recently been released in beta, which means Windows Insiders in the UK will be testing the software on Windows 10. The BBC has claimed that Beeb is “the first public service voice assistant”. The synthesised digital voice for Beeb is based on a UK voice actor with a northern English accent. When a user downloads the beta version of Beeb, they will be asked what accent they have, so their voice can also be used to train the assistant. It has been designed to be representative of the UK’s range of accents, as well as being male-sounding to avoid gender stereotypes that surround female-sounding voice assistants. The BBC first announced plans for Beeb last year, making clear its intentions
were less about creating dedicated hardware similar to Amazon’s Echo, and more about combining voice services into its own products – including its own website and iPlayer. According to an article in The Guardian, Beeb is an attempt from the BBC to regain some control over user experience and user data, rather than allowing large firms like Amazon and Google to monopolise the voice assistant market. The article also said the BBC has a fear of being left behind as viewing and listening habits change over time. In the past, the BBC has been reluctant to provide all its content over third-party platforms, such as Google Podcasts and TuneIn. In terms of privacy, BBC News reports that Beeb won’t retain any voice
recordings, only anonymous transcripts. Initially, Beeb will be able to play specific radio stations, podcasts and programmes from the BBC, including news and weather updates. There’s also comedy content included – you can ask Beeb for jokes or facts read by QI presenter, Sandi Toksvig. However, there’s no support for other common voice assistant features, such as timers. "Ultimately, we envision that Beeb will be available across a wide range of devices, including smart speakers, mobiles, televisions and many others," a representative said. "This is still a very early version, which means that not everything will be working perfectly from day one, and the future Beeb assistant will be able to do a lot more."
7 NEWSFEED Updates & Upgrades
ETFLIX GIVES BACK BAD ROBOT Microsoft recently came under criticism after its artificial
intelligence software depicted a news story about racism with a photo of the wrong mixed-race member of music band Little Mix. This comes a week after Microsoft revealed intentions to fire the human editors who run MSN.com and replace them with Microsoft’s AI code. An early roll-out of this code resulted in a story about singer Jade Thirlwall’s comments on racism being depicted alongside images of her fellow band member, Leigh- Anne Pinnock. Thirlwall tweeted: “@MSN If you’re going to copy and paste articles from other accurate media outlets, you might want to make sure you’re using an image of the correct mixed race member of the group.” She then tweeted: “This s*** happens to @leighannepinnock and I ALL THE TIME that it’s become a running joke. It offends me that you couldn’t differentiate the two women of colour out of four members of a group… DO BETTER!” Before this incident occurred, Microsoft had made announcements about firing hundreds of journalists and replacing them with the AI software, despite the difficult economy for journalists at the moment due to the pandemic. A Microsoft spokesperson stated: “As soon as we became aware of this issue, we immediately took action to resolve it and have replaced the incorrect image.” As remaining staff at MSN are unable to prevent the robot editor from selecting stories from external news sites, they have been told to stay alert and delete any inaccuracies. However, even if they were to delete any incorrect articles, the software may overrule it and attempt to publish it again.
Netflix has announced that customers who haven’t use their accounts in over a year will be asked if they want to continue their subscription. If they don’t respond, Netflix will cancel it. Announced on the Netflix corporate blog by Eddy Wu, who oversees product innovation at the company, the move further underlines the differences between the platform and pay TV – with the latter being infamous for locking customers into ongoing fees. “You know that sinking feeling when you realise you signed up for something but haven’t used it in ages? At Netflix, the last thing we want is people paying for something they’re not using,” stated Wu in the blog. According to Netflix, this decision will only apply to 0.5% of its users and if you decide to return within ten months,
you can return with all your settings and viewing history intact. “Members will start seeing these emails or in-app notifications this week. If they don’t confirm that they want to keep subscribing, we’ll automatically cancel their subscription. If anyone changes their mind later, it’s really easy to restart Netflix,” continued Wu. The change comes at a time where the platform classes itself as a business that has thrived during the coronavirus outbreak. According to reports from the BBC, 16 million people create accounts with the platform in the first three months of the year. This is almost double the new sign-ups it saw in the last few months of 2019. The firm also reportedly hired an additional 2000 customer support staff to deal with the increased interest and popularity on the platform.
VIRTUALISING CONNECTECH ASIA
Informa Markets has announced that ConnecTechAsia – Asia’s leading infocomm media and technology event, organised in partnership with Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) – will be held on a virtual platform from 29 September to 1 October. This comes as a result of the Covid-19 global pandemic, which has seen the cancellation or virtualisation of many of the industry’s key events, such as the NAB Show and IBC. Once the three-day online event is over, ConnecTechAsia will go fully online and become a 24/7, 365- day interactive marketplace. Event director for tech, media and entertainment events at Informa Markets, Ivan Ferrari, stated: “We must adapt swiftly to serve our community in all possible circumstances, all year round. The permanent addition of a 365-day virtual platform to ConnectTechAsia’s offering will enable a seamless, powerful, continuous engagement within our industry and unlock additional, measurable value for audiences in the
community we serve. I am convinced that this significant investment in virtual will bring about a fresh experience that they will appreciate and gain from.” Conference delegates can expect to engage at live keynote, Q&A and breakout sessions, while the virtual exhibition floor will enable companies to showcase their vertical-specific products to registered attendees. Howie Lau, who is assistant chief executive at IMDA and co-chair of the ConnectTechAsia Advisory Committee, praised the decision to organise a virtual trade show. “In these extraordinary times, ConnecTechAsia as a virtual platform can bring the industry together, allowing companies to seek new opportunities and explore ways to navigate this new normal. We are heartened that Informa continues to invest in Singapore’s tech ecosystem. IMDA looks forward to even stronger partnerships in future.” ConnecTechAsia will resume its live event next year, from 9 to 11 June 2021 at the Singapore EXPO and MAX Atria.
8 NEWSFEED Updates & Upgrades
In the fact of ongoing criticism and its troubled history in handling news, Facebook has launched its newest feature: Facebook News. Introduced in October 2019 as a limited test in the US, the news section of the platform has now been launched officially, and Facebook has also added local news. Facebook has gained a reputation for spreading fake news. To combat this, the company has been doing trial and error with its algorithms. This new attempt at adding news functionality uses journalists to program it, as well as algorithms to personalise story selection. Users will be able to react and share articles but, significantly, will be unable to comment. On top of this, users will be able to hide articles, topics and publishers that they don’t want to see. Only top news publishers and outlets will be qualified to feature in Facebook News, and ones that officially follow integrity standards. Although there has been no exact detail given behind its determination methods, it is said it looks for signals of misinformation identified by third-party fact checkers. Facebook is now also testing news video, and it has introduced a local news section. The latter brings thousands more local and regional publications into the news experience across more than 6000 towns and cities. The mobile news feature is now live, but the desktop tab has yet to launch. FACEBOOK NEWS
STINGY ABOUT STREAMING
While the Covid-19 pandemic has meant a boom in the number of people turning to streaming, a new report by advertising tech firm The Trade Desk found many are keeping an eye on how much they spend. According to the report, 70% of UK viewers don’t want to spend more than £20 a month on their streaming video services – a drop of £5 since September 2019. One third of Brits said £10 per month is their maximum spend. The Trade Desk suggested this could mean a drop in revenue for streaming services
of up to almost £100m. The report added that audiences are happier to watch advertising if it means being able to watch their favourite shows for less, and if the ads are more relevant to their needs. This follows a Trade Desk report published in January, which said more than half of Americans reported that they wouldn’t want to spend more than $20 a month for streaming TV service. Furthermore, 53% of US TV watchers would be open to watching ads if it meant lowering the cost of subscription services.
COPYRIGHT CHAOS AT TWITCH
Twitch streamers have come under attack, with copyright takedown notices popping up in their inboxes. The claimant listed is the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and the infringing content is mainly clips from past live broadcasts. Many of these clips are years old, and streamers who have been on the platform long enough have accumulated a lot of them, and now have a backlog rights holders can mine to file takedowns. Twitch doesn’t have the toolset to allow creators to mass-delete clips, let alone go through the hundreds that could contain copyright infringement. Twitch has to abide by these takedowns under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act
(DMCA) which is the law that controls copyright online. Well-known streamers such as Fuslie and Jakenbake are some of those affected by DMCA notices – with some of the infringing videos being well over a year old. Fuslie said on Twitter: “Have talked with multiple Twitch staff all telling me my best option is to delete all of my clips ever. I feel so helpless right now. I’ve built this channel up for five years and to potentially lose it all so fast to something like this would be devastating.” Twitch’s director of creator development broadcasted an educational stream detailing what the DMCA means for streamers. His expert guest attorney, Noah Downs,
suggested that some content creators could start getting DMCA claims during live broadcasts. Downs also suggested there’s a company with investment interests from Universal Music Group and Warner that’s monitoring Twitch streams, and the company has the ability to hand out DMCA claims mid-stream. He also warned streamers about responding to a DMCA claim. “If you counter-notify, and this is important to understand under the DMCA, Twitch has to put that content back up as long as it’s a validly submitted counter-notification. At that point, that rights holder has no other option but to sue you. If that content goes back up, you’re risking a lawsuit.”
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10 YOUR TAKE News
The future of news will be decentralised and ‘story-centric’, with journalists continuing to have to do more with less
ne of the most important ways to understand where the newsroom is headed in the future is to look at its past. The changes have been rapid and disruptive, and the newsroom of 2020 is a very different beast from that of 2010. This is not too surprising. While the transition to non-linear working was well underway and newsrooms were already transitioning to file-based ways of working, the world of 2010 was a very different time. Social media was still in its relative infancy, with Facebook at only 600 million active users as opposed to the current 2.5 billion, and Instagram didn’t launch until later in the year. Newsrooms were TV-first environments, and glossy, high- profile news shows were the big beasts of the newsroom set-up, commanding staff and resources, with most of the enterprise largely subordinate to their needs. A STORY-CENTRIC APPROACH In 2020, the dynamic has changed vastly. Being first with the news has always been important, but today that means far more than hitting 24/7 news channels with a story. Citizen journalism is now a key part, with the public taking it upon themselves to break news on Twitter. Video is pumped out to YouTube and social media, and television is seen as a distant cousin in a
story-centric approach that has had no choice but to become output agnostic. As a system vendor, we have had to adapt our own approach, ensuring that products remain relevant to the way that newsrooms operate in 2020 and beyond. This has meant establishing professional tools for delivering platform-agnostic content and establishing these within our current – and future – feature sets. This is a trend we also see developing far more over the coming years, as the story- centric approach is implemented across newsrooms everywhere. 2020 has come with a unique set of challenges for newsrooms and broadcasters, with many people confined to their homes and entire businesses working remotely. Focusing on telling the story is key, and the growing abundance of information available around the clock can make that difficult. TRANSITIONING TO THE NEW APPROACH We recognise the importance of staying connected, especially when many organisations have no choice but to adapt an ever more remote-focused methodology, all while remaining cost- efficient and within budget. Our web-based clients support remote working and enable journalists to research, structure and plan
MICHAEL PFITZNER Vice-president for newsroom solutions at CGI
11 YOUR TAKE News
their deliveries in advance in order to optimise the broadcaster ’s efforts. To that end, our systems collect and aggregate content for stories in containers, so all departments have visibility into all of a news story’s assets in one place at the same time. This story-centric approach sits at the centre of the modern newsroom, with online, radio, television, social and more utilising those assets to produce material for cross-media delivery unhindered by geography. Automatic publication reduces effort, so stories can be taken online swiftly and securely. For our customers, the move to this way of producing news has, at times, been a challenge. The power structures of the newsroom have shifted, and the glossy TV formats and magazine shows have had to relinquish their position at the head of the pack. But the resultant workflow is much more responsive, which is benefiting broadcasters and journalists in a time when the eternal demand is to do more with less budget. That has meant newsrooms and individual journalists have had to become more efficient and utilise their resources carefully and with foresight. Journalist buy-in is rarely an issue, as it was in the early days of moving to non- linear systems. As long as jobs are being seen to be safeguarded, news teams are happy to be given tools that enable
AI is also having an impact. Not only is it starting to make inroads into fake news detection, which is an important factor in triaging ‘user-generated content,’ it is proving invaluable for automating some of the mundane tasks involved in producing broadcast video. You might even feed an AI program with video footage and have it quickly produce a branded video with background music ready for broadcast. This sort of assistance will be invaluable as the demand for content is only going one way – and that is upwards. Over the next decade, an even wider variety of social media platforms will continue to become established, as well as new OTT platforms, specifically in the news space as competition to existing broadcasters. There will be even more channels, as the use of techniques such as object-based media will allow news outlets to produce individually tailored broadcast programmes targeting more refined special interests. The news workflow of the future will be centred around producing stories. The platforms they are being produced for will become less important to the newsroom, and automated tools will widely assist the production process and immediately target to specific outlets. The modern newsroom has transitioned to becoming output agnostic – the newsroom of the future will be built that way from the ground up.
THE POWER STRUCTURES OF THE NEWSROOM HAVE SHIFTED them to be quicker and more responsive on a widening range of platforms. It can still sometimes be difficult to persuade a worker that a two-minute process for them can save three hours or more downstream for the organisation as a whole, but the benefits soon become obvious once people engage with the process. NEW OPPORTUNITIES There are more disruptors coming to the world’s newsrooms, too. The cloud is an obvious one, and its ability to allow people to work remotely with more power and efficiency than ever before promises to reshape newsrooms once again. We can see smaller production sites becoming much more central to many organisations as a result, and at some point in the future, the idea of the newsroom as a contiguous physical space dedicated to a sole task might end up disappearing, too.
12 SPONSORED CONTENT AWS
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is preserving rock music history with Amazon S3 Glacier Deep Archive
13 SPONSORED CONTENT AWS
he Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – aka Rock Hall – in Cleveland, Ohio is on a mission to engage, teach and inspire through the
S3 Glacier Deep Archive storage to preserve the museum’s digital media. “We needed something that could handle the sheer volume of our assets, as well as a rugged, expandable solution we weren’t going to outgrow, and one we could race into the future with,” says Parnin. Using Amazon S3 and S3 Glacier Deep Archive gave the Rock Hall confidence that its digital media would be preserved and easily accessible at an affordable price. COLD AS ICE The Rock Hall still needed to recover the data on the LTO tapes. Working with AWS, the project team ingested the files into S3 Glacier Deep Archive via six AWS Snowball Edge Storage Optimized devices. Using AWS Snowball Edge helped to address common challenges with large-scale data transfers including high network costs, long transfer times and security concerns. Tape Ark and its strategic partner Seagate are experts in tape-to-cloud migration and were brought in to help. “Tape-to-cloud projects are often complicated, not only by the need to read old tapes, but by the old formats that the tapes were originally written in,” says Tape Ark CEO and founder, Guy Holmes. “Tape Ark has designed a range of data format converters that allows all major back-up formats to be restored without the need to use the original software that created them.” With Tape Ark’s help, the Rock Hall restored all the data from the LTO tapes. “We ordered AWS Snowball Edge devices and shipped them straight to Tape Ark, who were able to extract the data from the LTO tapes for us,” says Alex DeCamillo, software developer at the Rock Hall. “Tape Ark then sent the Snowball devices loaded with data back to AWS and our data went right into our Amazon S3 bucket.” The Seagate Powered by Tape Ark team achieved 0% data loss, recovering all located 2000 preservation files and locating an additional 109 preservation-level videos. Once the digital media was in Amazon S3 in the AWS Cloud, Amazon S3 life cycle policies were set up to automatically move the files from Amazon S3 into S3 Glacier Deep Archive to lower storage costs. DON’T STOP ME NOW The Rock Hall has now recovered and preserved more than 2000 files and 280TB of data to ensure future generations have access to rock and roll history. Amazon S3 and S3 Glacier Deep Archive have also helped improve efficiency. “Before, we would have to download a preservation file overnight and hope it
WE HAD PRICELESS FILES ON MEDIA THAT WE COULDN’T ACCESS ANYMORE prone to failure. Additionally, hardware and software failures, as well as on-site storage limitations, made the LTO tapes increasingly hard to access. “As the tech landscape progressed from the non-digital to digital, our archival storage system had become unmanageable and unsustainable,” says Tim Parnin, VP of digital technology at the Rock Hall. “We had unique and priceless files on media that we couldn’t access anymore. We wanted to get our digital files sitting in a singular location that could be searchable and discoverable by our internal team, and shared with the public.” In 2018, Rock Hall leaders evaluated the organisation’s technical infrastructure and decided to adopt Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and, subsequently, Amazon power of ROCK! The Rock Hall contains thousands of items of memorabilia from every era and genre of rock and roll, and millions of documents, audio recordings, photographs and video files. The Rock Hall wanted to make this treasure trove more widely available to fans and scholars, so it established a Library & Archives Department, which includes an on-site digitisation and conservation lab. The department’s main aim is to collect, preserve and provide access to the Rock Hall’s archival material, including master files of induction ceremonies, B roll, oral histories, artist interviews, symposiums on music and original concerts, in a centralised digital media repository. When the Rock Hall was established in 1995, LTO tape storage was a good solution for managing large files. But in the intervening years, the LTO infrastructure has become expensive to maintain and
worked by the time we came back in the morning,” says Jennie Thomas, director of
archives at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “Now we can download that same file in about 15 minutes. “In addition to having all our assets in S3 Glacier Deep Archive, knowing that AWS is making duplicate copies and has disaster planning and recovery taken care of is a huge load off my mind,” she continues. “The fact that we were able to realise all of these benefits and still save significant costs with S3 Glacier Deep Archive compared to the cost and overhead of managing our own tape library was an added bonus.” GIMME SHELTER With the Rock Hall’s assets safe, the next step was to allow employees to easily access them in their daily work. “The files we created over the years didn’t have embedded metadata,” says Thomas. “If you didn’t have institutional memory to know what the file name meant and what collection it tied to in the archives, it would be difficult to find the assets you needed.” Rock Hall partnered with digital asset migration specialist, GrayMeta. Using GrayMeta’s AI-enabled platform, including facial recognition, unlocked a wealth of metadata in the archive, allowing the Rock Hall team to understand their assets and instantly search through a load of images, audio and video. With the project complete, the Rock Hall can now digitise, preserve and enjoy easy access to a mass of content. “We now have the reassurance we needed to know our archives are protected and future generations from around the world can enjoy the history of rock and roll,” concludes Parnin.
14 SPONSORED CONTENT AWS
Qumulo harnesses the power of the public cloud to provide easy remote work and rapid scalability to top effects house, Cinesite
here is an explosion happening in the media and entertainment industry right now, according to Barry Russell, SVP & GM, Cloud of Qumulo. “There used to be a constrained pipeline that took content right to consumers, but now with so many people suddenly spending more time at home with streaming services, there’s a greater need for content,” he says. “But that content is getting more bottlenecked up the chain. Having a scalable, burstable cloud solution is where we see a lot more opportunity.” Seattle-based Qumulo offers a software- defined data platform for providing rich analytics and content for workloads that use file APIs. Its scalable, distributed system can run in just about any environment, from on-premises infrastructure to cloud, and is built to meet metadata and workload needs across many industries, including media and entertainment. The media and entertainment industry has always had the challenge of how to store large amounts of data. In building movies or TV shows, there is a great deal of file data that has to be managed, moved quickly and manipulated in real time, for everything from rendering to colour correction to ingesting raw footage.
“The challenges that media and entertainment has with data are really ahead of most industries,” notes Russell, “because data is key to how media companies generate content and revenue. It’s amazing to think of the phenomenal amounts of data and processing required. “I always look back to Jurassic Park , many years ago, pushing computing to the edge of what it was capable of. Whereas now, we have a completely different set of problems – how do we have flexibility with how we use and consume all that computing power to create the content?” VFX and animation house Cinesite has recently adopted Qumulo, running on AWS, to support the heavy lifting it needs for rendering. By connecting Cinesite’s in-house applications to Qumulo, the company can better supply video editing, animation and rendering resources to remote artists and staff without impacting production quality or timelines. It can also easily spin up render nodes in the cloud, which can reduce bottlenecks and help the company meet critical deadlines. Once a company has promised it will deliver content, it needs to meet that time frame. With finite on-premises infrastructure, this can mean late nights
WE’VE SEEN A LOT OF OUR CUSTOMERS WHO WERE NEVER THINKING OF CLOUD ARE ALL OF A SUDDEN LEADINGWITH IT
15 SPONSORED CONTENT AWS
and a lot of crossed fingers. But being able to spin up more resources in the cloud as you need them makes hitting those deadlines more readily and with less stress. Prior to Qumulo, Cinesite had a fixed set of on-premises cores, and a group of effects artists sometimes exceeding what the on-premises resources could manage. The company looked at how it could use the cloud as a new way to alleviate the delays of getting effects rendered and out the door, and to enable the creatives to keep working without having to wait for technology to become available. Cinesite employs the Qumulo solution across multiple AWS availability zones, which helps ensure consistent performance for its artists, regardless of their geography. In order to integrate seamlessly between Cinesite’s Qumulo-on-AWS deployment and the company’s on-premises Qumulo infrastructure, Qumulo software replicates the data between on-premises and AWS. Cinesite can use Qumulo to sync huge digital assets between AWS and the company’s on-premises environment. Cloud render nodes can produce frames and store them in the Qumulo system instantly. Qumulo then replicates the frames back to the cloud at speeds of over
SHOW MUST GO ON Cinesite worked on Rocketman (above), using the cloud to reduce bottlenecks and meet deadlines
20GB/s, according to Russell. Qumulo is also improving the ability of artists and technicians to work remotely, as the home office and off-site studio become a more familiar part of most companies’ workflows. Working with AWS and remote access technology supplier, Teradici, Qumulo has developed what it calls Cloud Studio. “Converting from a file to an object workflow is tough for a lot of applications,” says Russell. “Qumulo provides an API that is the same API on-premises that you would use in the cloud with a virtual Qumulo data service. That allows those workflows to be scalable to the cloud, so you can practically use them anywhere. “The change you’re seeing in new architectures around cloud is breaking through the idea of locality. We’ve always had an idea that we have to be close to our data or graphics processor or applications.
What we’re seeing is a trend toward cloudifying all of those things so that you can use any set of resources” Taking advantage of the cloud in this way enables all kinds of new solutions. In the case of Cinesite’s Montreal facility, while there is an AWS zone based in Canada, it was discovered to be more cost-effective to use other zones that were farther away. Using Qumulo’s data service, Cinesite was able to copy the data to whichever region was most cost effective at the moment to run renders without sacrificing latency. “We’ve seen a lot of our customers who were never thinking of cloud are all of a sudden leading with it and asking how they can enable users to work from anywhere,” adds Russell.
16 CONTENT FOR KIDS Video at Home
Words by Nicole Kobie
Video for children has gotten better during the coronavirus lockdown. Can we keep it up?
17 CONTENT FOR KIDS Video at Home
hen the coronavirus lockdown began, millions of children
abundance and children need educating and entertaining, so it’s the perfect time.” On the first day of lockdown, TV presenter Maddie Moate and science journalist Greg Foot launched Let’s Go Live , a livestreamed version of their family science show, offering 30-minute videos with educational activities. “When lockdown happened, we realised there was a cry from parents overwhelmed with the fact they would have to homeschool their children,” Moate says. “Science is a tough thing to teach at primary school, so at home it’s really daunting.”
were suddenly without anything to do: schools
gone dark, parents stuck at home but working and playgrounds taped off by authorities. Suddenly, online video became the classroom, the gym and entertainment all in one. Overall viewing figures skyrocketed. Netflix saw 16m sign- ups in the first month of lockdown, YouTube gaming streams climbed by 15%, one in five people in the UK signed up for a new online video subscription and Sky said demand for child-focused content was up by 40%. Even before lockdown, more than half of eight to 12 year olds were watching online video daily, according to Common Sense Media. As a generation of children turned their undivided attention to online video, so too did artists, athletes, educators and more, flooding digital platforms such as YouTube and Instagram with high-quality content, such as theatre performances like The Wind in the Willows or the now- famous PE classes with Joe Wicks. Illustrator and comedian Olaf Falafel set up a video series for children called Art Club with Olaf Falafel that’s had thousands of views on YouTube. “It seemed like an obvious thing to do,” he says. “I’ve had the idea for a comedy art club in my brain for ages but never had enough time. Now there is no more live comedy, time is in
IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE Maddie Moate and Greg Foot presenting their livestreamed family science show called Let’s Go Live
18 CONTENT FOR KIDS Video at Home
Having higher-quality materials helps parents with homeschooling, freeing up parents to focus on their day jobs for a few hours, secure in the knowledge their offspring are entertained and educated. “Parents really appreciate having something that is inspiring and slightly educational that their kids can sit in front of while they get on with their work,” Falafel says. “I’ve heard some parents can get up to three hours peace and quiet out of each episode.” That’s key, as research from the UK’s Institute for Fiscal Studies also suggests that children with wealthier parents are more likely to be in schools offering online classes than their less well off counterparts. Indeed, two thirds of students in the richest households have active help from schools, including online video classes, versus 47% for the poorest
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY But it isn’t easy sorting quality content from the dross. “My key concern is how are parents and children going to find it,” says Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics and co-author of Parenting for a Digital Future . “How are they to know what’s good? I’ve interviewed many parents who say they don’t know where to look.”
PIRATE PARROT AND IRATE CARROT A still taken from episode 9 of Art Club with Olaf Falafel, a YouTube art series for children
fifth of families, IFS says. That means families who are less well off financially may be more dependent on sourcing free, quality content, meaning many turn to YouTube, though alternatives such as Khan Academy Kids and TED-Ed do exist.
ARE THERE ALGORITHMIC WAYS OF PROMOTING CONTENT TO FAMILIES – UPRANKING EXCITING, CHALLENGING, STIMULATING CONTENT – OR ARE THEY JUST GOING TO LET IT FLOWAS IT DOES NOW?
20 CONTENT FOR KIDS Video at Home
21 CONTENT FOR KIDS Video at Home
For those making videos for children, Livingstone suggests they include prompts to encourage children to discuss what they’ve learned with their parents. “Maybe something that tells the kids to go and grab your mum and dad… Children love to tell their family what they’re enjoying,” she says. “Such conversation starters are helpful, because a lot of parents just don’t know how to break into that blank stare.” Moate suggests would- be video educators learn to speak to multiple age groups at once. “We would never want to patronise anybody, but we would never want to underestimate anyone, either,” she says. Will this renaissance in children’s video outlast the lockdown? There’s one big challenge: money. Moate and Foot don’t make very much revenue from their 130,000 subscribers for one main reason. “We choose to mark our videos as made for kids,” explains Moate. That limits the number and type of ads that can be shown. “That means we won’t make as much ad revenue on our videos, and that’s the way it is.” When lockdown ends, Moate has to go back to her day job to pay the bills, though the pair have set up a Patreon to help cover some costs. “We’ll have to stop doing the show five days a week, but we don’t want to stop doing it completely,” she explains. And hopefully they don’t need to — children will keep watching video whether there’s a lockdown or not, after all. CONVERSATION STARTERS ARE HELPFUL, BECAUSE A LOT OF PARENTS JUST DON’T KNOWHOW TO BREAK INTO THAT BLANK STARE
THE ART OF MAKING ART
Comedian and illustrator Olaf Falafel presenting Art Club, which encourages children’s creativity
Moate admits their videos used to get lost “among all the nonsense you can find online, and suddenly it was being sought after”. Foot says
YouTube. “I don’t understand why the online video industry doesn’t see it in their interest to curate things like ‘great videos for 12 year olds’ or ‘videos for sporty kids looking for something to do in lockdown,’” says Livingstone. The publishing industry already does just that, she adds. Go into any bookstore, and the shelves in the children’s section are organised by age group and by interest, such as the top books for five year olds or prize-winning books for girls. “The publishing industry does loads of it, but the video industry just doesn’t,” she points out. BACK TO THE FAMILY Another change Livingstone would like to see is the end of autoplay, when another algorithmically chosen video starts playing after the one you’ve just finished in order to keep us watching — but that’s not ideal for learning or expanding young minds. “We want the next thing, the thing that takes it a bit further,” she says. “That allows us to develop, and that’s not how the algorithms work.” Autoplay also sparks discord between parents and children, Livingstone continues. “It creates such a conflict, because parents then have to actively turn it off, when the child already has seen what’s coming next.” Instead, parents should be given the opportunity to discuss with their children what they liked about the previous video and decide actively what to look for next.
parent-to-parent networks and advice from schools helped spread the word. “Just before lockdown, our subscribers were
just under 80,000 — now we’re over 130,000.” Video platforms
need to find ways to highlight quality content for children, rather than using the same tricks used to keep adults watching as long as possible in order to serve more ads, leading to cheap,
addictive content such as clips of toy unboxings and poorly animated videos set to nursery songs that flood platforms such as YouTube. “Are there algorithmic ways of promoting content to families – upranking exciting, challenging, stimulating content – or are they just going to let it flow as it does now?” Livingstone asks. YouTube Kids, Google’s separate app for children, is designed to be family- friendly, with curated collections making it easier for parents to find relevant videos. But it’s targeted at younger viewers, aged three to 12, leaving teenagers to fend for themselves on the grown-up version of
22 CONTENT FOR KIDS Safeguarding and Wellbeing
Words by Neal Romanek
When every platform is desperately competing for eyeballs, how do you put kids’ wellbeing first?
he relationship between kids and screens – and parents trying to do right by their offspring – has always been an unsteady one,
US, Canada and Australia, as well as being localised in four languages. Hopster ’s video programming includes licensed popular kids programmes, as well as Hopster original content, like Clever Brenda , Two Minute Tales and Monster Math Squad . Its gaming and app content is developed entirely in-house. The company aims to make educational content for kids the cornerstone of its content strategy. “We are slightly different from the generalists, “ says Miki Chojnacka, Hopster ’s chief creative and content officer. “Everything we do is about learning.” Hopster has a head of learning on staff, a former primary school teacher, specialising in literacy and language. The company tries to have a holistic approach to learning, with a framework that embraces six areas. The basics of literacy and numeracy are there, but Hopster ’s content for kids also covers topics like mental health.
especially with advertisers and content makers trying to monetise the attention of young, impressionable audiences. In the OTT video world, the options for kids and parents have ballooned to the point where there is more content for kids now than could ever be watched in a human lifetime. Kids also have access to education resources that were sci-fi dreams a generation ago. Hopster was launched in the UK in 2013, initially as a mobile app. An early player in the streaming video world, it was also one of the first to cater solely for younger children. The subscription-only, ad-free platform offers a catalogue of shows, songs, books and educational games, and caters particularly to audiences in the UK,
DATA CAN TELL YOUWHAT WAS POPULAR YESTERDAY, BUT IT WON’T TELL YOU WHAT IS GOING TOBE POPULAR TOMORROW
23 CONTENT FOR KIDS Safeguarding and Wellbeing
24 CONTENT FOR KIDS Safeguarding and Wellbeing
CHILDREN MAKE DIFFERENT CHOICES TO PARENTS. KIDS DON’T NECESSARILY GO WITH THE BIGGEST BRANDS
“We are also very diverse and inclusive,” says Chojnacka. “That’s one of our missions, too – to make sure that the content comes from various sources and covers a variety of subjects.” With the company since its founding, Chojnacka and Hopster CEO Nick Walters understood early on that mobile devices are a key delivery mechanism for kids’ content and that the ability to make your own choices around content is the secret sauce to help it outpace linear TV. “There was this big revolution happening, and Nick thought the big media companies would be quite slow in grasping it. And you can see with the traditional linear TV channels that their ratings are declining, especially in the most developed markets, like the US. It was right to follow the technology, but also to make sure our technology provides a much better experience for the kids,” says Chojnacka. KIDS FIRST As a platform trying to put kids’ wellbeing first, Hopster is ad-free and also uses no in-app purchases. The company also has a measured approach to content autoplay.
25 CONTENT FOR KIDS Safeguarding and Wellbeing
After three or four episodes, video will pause and then offer the child a different activity, like playing one of Hopster ’s games or reading a book on its platform. Kids can also hand off from watching video on a main screen to engaging with other content on mobile devices. Hopster has also introduced a parent- controlled timer in its app, which shuts the app off after a predetermined amount of time after a friendly countdown. It’s one thing to create a great screen experience for kids, but there is still the question of how much kids – adults as well – should be interacting with screens. Famously, Silicon Valley execs have been reducing their kids’ screen time – or banning screens for kids altogether – for some time. Chojnacka believes that Hopster ’s emphasis on giving kids multiple content options can have a beneficial effect. “Part of preschool education is to allow preschoolers to make their own choices,” says Chojnacka. “The interesting thing we learned is that children make different choices to their parents. Kids don’t necessarily go with the biggest brands. A lot of the shows that performed well on
Hopster are completely unknown on the major channels. “If parents are making the content choices, they will go with the stuff they know. Whereas kids are braver with their choices. They’ll make a choice based on the characters and story.” One of the big successes on Hopster is Punky , an Irish animated series about a girl with Down’s syndrome. The creators initially had problems selling the show, but its storytelling and characters have been a hit with subscribers. “We saw a lot of content that wouldn’t necessarily be picked up by the big players, but kids actually love,” adds Chojnacka. HUMANS OVER DATA Hopster is a digital media company, so naturally data-gathering is in its DNA. Chojnacka says that the company strives to keep its data use transparent and in the service of the families who subscribe. The company is GDPR compliant and kidSAFE certified, and Hopster doesn’t use the data for marketing or selling to kids, which its subscription-only, ad-free model goes a long way towards allowing. Data is used to provide personalised
26 CONTENT FOR KIDS Safeguarding and Wellbeing
recommendations, as well as a monthly report emailed to parents on their child’s use of the platform and what educational material they were exposed to. Hopster uses both algorithms and human curation to drive its content recommendation. “We always make sure that we have a human content team. The data doesn’t make the final decisions, because the data can tell you what was popular yesterday, but it won’t tell you what is going to be popular tomorrow.” Hopster ’s data has revealed that its short-form content works best, as well as shorter content seasons. “We would not commission a series that has 52 episodes. That’s not what we need. We commission shorter series. The data informs our strategy. I don’t think even the big players have solved the content recommendation purely with data.” Hopster also includes playlists, which are built around time of viewing as well as a content theme. Netgem TV is one of Hopster ’s distribution partners. It is a UK-based OTT TV service, offering a range of free-to-air and subscription channels. With loads of
content for kids available on its on-demand channels, from the BBC to YouTube Kids – and Hopster – getting Netgem viewers the right content requires some care. “Content recommendation is slightly different for kids than for adults,” says Shan Eisenberg, chief commercial officer at Netgem TV. “We use a combination of AI or automated recommendation algorithms and editorial for adults. When you download our app for the first time, you get a swipe-right, swipe-left interface that helps create a profile that works behind the scenes. But it’s clear that automatically triggered content recommendations for kids is a bit of a minefield. We thought, if even Google has backtracked on it, we should be humble and not think we can be smarter than them.” As a result, Netgem’s content recommendations for kids are purely human-curated, with themed carousels on the UI linking to the appropriate kids’ content available on its various channels, including Hopster. “It is about holding the hand of the consumer in the face of the enormous number of options they have today.”
IT’S CLEAR THAT AUTOMATICALLY
TRIGGERED CONTENT RECOMMENDATIONS FOR KIDS IS A BIT OF AMINEFIELD
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