The TV choice for children and pre-adolescents in Italy in the Digital era

The TV choice for children and pre-adolescents in Italy in the Digital era

Recently, The Catholic University of the Holy Heart in Milan presented the first report by Focus in Media, the Observatory of the Foundation for Subsidiarity. It was promoted in collaboration with Sky Italia, edited by OssCom, an active research centre on media and communication and directed by Piermarco Aroldi of the Catholic University.

The first chapter is about the triennial project “Television and Childhood”, and describes what TV offers to children and pre-adolescents aged between 0-14 years old in Italy in the Digital Terrestrial and Satellite era. The report gives a critical analysis and general proposals with significant educational and socio-cultural implications, in consideration of anthropological needs of our time.

Boom Offer – TV programmes for children and pre-adolescents have almost disappeared from the general networks of the Rai (the National TV network) and Mediaset (commercial network) as both networks have operated a policy of disinvestment and as a consequence collocate these programmes in residual viewing time slots. Kids and pre-adolescent TV programmes have landed into the rich world of thematic channels on digital technology wings, thanks initially to Satellite and then to Digital Terrestrial TV. There are twenty-two channels for the 0-14 age target, which do not include the time-shifted versions +1 and +2. Italy, today, can boast a wide variety of programmes just like The United Kingdom, Spain and Germany. I briefly mentioned earlier, there are two main systems of distribution: Digital Terrestrial TV, which works on a pay or free platform with universally accessible (either National TV network or commercial networks). The second system is the Satellite TV, which works on a pay platform and operates mainly with trans-national players. Seven of the twenty-two channels are freely accessible on Digital Terrestrial TV and fifteen channels are available on payment between Satellite and Digital Terrestrial TV. A total quota of free access, which is equal to the modest 19%, which is a figure superior to the even more modest European level, calculated at 16,3% where 245 channels out of 300 are payment channels. From the basis of this data, TV programmes for the youngest are a real and proper driver in the pay market especially in Digital Terrestrial TV.

National and Transnational players – Amongst the national operators, the Rai and Mediaset are the most prominent and have always influenced TV in Italy. Alongside these two are the DeAgostini group and Switchover Media editor (recently joined the Discovery group) which are already present on Satellite TV (Sky Italia Pay TV reigns indisputed in this sector). If we look closely at the Italian choice of Rupert Murdoch’s Sat Pay TV (30 channels, of which 18 prime channels) the American players emerge which dominate the international market: Disney, Viacom and Turner. In addition to the DeAgostini group and Switchover media, there are the British channels Chellozone, Fox group and last of all Planet Kids with its multi-cultural programmes in two languages. On Sat Free there are also two Al Jazeera channels which are appealing to young viewers in Arabic. The researchers of OssCom make a particular mention to the Rai player for its two channels aimed at the pre-school and school age groups, which rank high Italy in an ideal mini European classification of public service broadcasting where the BBC’s model for quality and service to the audience is exemplary. However, it might be said that the Rai in some aspects is a long way off from reaching this standard. The report also states that the Rai spends only a fifth of what the BBC spends on kids-tweens TV programmes.

Target – The sex of the viewers and above all the age influences the strategies of positioning within the competitive scenario. The latter has been consolidated on an international level and Italian TV reflects this pattern: fourteen channels for 7-14 age group, seven for 3-6 age group, one for 0-3 (toddlers) age group. Disney has given an excellent example of TV programmes aimed more specifically for the sexes i.e. Disney XD for boys and Disney Channel for girls and pursue precise niche policies. This kind of strategy has been adopted and works mainly boys and girls of school age.

Between educational and entertainment – In the Italian TV scenario for children and pre-adolescents, there lacks variety on all levels and gives rise to some criticism. There are, however, some positive signs along the educational-entertainment axis. The Pre-school age group has a strong educational input where interactive and participation components directly involve the viewer. For example, in “Missione cuccioli” (Mission Puppy), by DeAKids, children learn to take care of their dog with the help of a dog-trainer. The situation for the older age group is more complex because it is less specific and more open to a wider range of public and tends to lead frequently into a fusion of programmes for both the young and adults. This has lead to a real adolescentization of supply. The need to capture the attention of various below-targets pushes Digital TV and Sat TV to draw on the experience of the general TV networks and their entertainment based on programmes, titles and stars from transnational blockbusters. It is a form of entertainment which can be considered “safe” in some cases, as it is based on a trust pact and guaranteed by a brand and is usually available through subscription. In other cases, it is pure entertainment with talent shows, realities, sitcoms and teen soaps (set in schools or homes). There is also a more factual format which covers day-to-day aspects with a tutorial approach such as how to choose the right dress, how to cook and so on which were originally aimed at adults but have been re-tailored ad hoc for the new target.

Marketing 2.0 – As a whole, a television programme schedule with a high number of viewers, supported by celebrity appearances, created (in many cases) by the infinite source of (endless) talent and reality shows, and appreciated by the “young” are certainly determining factors in credit or identification strategies promoted by the networks. Networks are supported more and more by Institutional Websites which allow players to increase further the value of their own TV package by adopting strategies to involve the spectator through services and exclusive content. Furthermore, it helps them to multiply the possibilities of marketing for their own products. All things considered, marketing 2.0 strategies, which have formidable allies in the evolution of the web and in multimedia logic, and which, are more generally found taking root in commercialization policies associated with licensing and royalties. In 2011, in Italy alone, more than 300 million Euros were made from royalties. Character licensing is also interesting because it is something which rotates round the idea of a character such as the timeless Disney characters. These are able to raise a high level of licenses in sectors ranging from clothing to stationery and as a result they constitute a real brand to exploit in the sector of integrated projects in merchandising.

Lights and shades – From the statistics Children’s TV will have no obstacles the day after switch-off but there are certainly some points to consider regarding investments, originality and quality of content which cannot be compared with the extraordinary growth recorded on a quantitative level. The reason being for this is a small and fragmented market which is incapable of making sufficient revenue to sustain the costs of production. It is also a system which does not encourage variety through instruments to sustain production and distribution and which sets out indications for planning in the public license sector only. As a result, this segment of TV becomes prevalently commercial and thus a lowering of supply which in concrete terms means that TV programmes are repeated and recycled from channel to channel and are somewhat dated (used to appeal to adults, parents in particular), they resort to foreign products which are mainly from the US. The result is that only 5% of programmes are made in Italy compared to the United Kingdom and France who average between 19% and 17%. The most preoccupying aspect which has emerged from the research is the result of the massive presence of Pay TV which could create a economic-cultural divide between those who can afford to watch premium content by transnational broadcasters on Sat Pay TV and those who have to be content with the choice of Digital Terrestrial TV.

Italian TV, as a whole, finds itself in great difficulty as it suffers from the economic crisis in general. It has also seen a notable fall in returns and a decrease in commercial profits of 17,9% (data by Agcom). The market is also becoming crammed, as there is a continual arrival of new players ready to compete on all the available platforms. Consequently, it is necessary for regulating and supporting mechanisms to be adopted. There is also a need for entrepreneurs to make long-term plans and take courageous decisions to improve the quality of content and the productive investments, particularly in the choice regarding the youngest viewers. If we go beyond the data given, it would seem that this is in short the final message of the research and the challenge of the future. There is clearly a need for a television able to respond to the requests made by agencies and educational institutions. Not only this, it should be able to propose unique products, tailor made to suit the users in respect to the variety of voices and cultural models. Ultimately, it should be able to use multimedia devices to keep up with the times in order to exploit better the opportunities given by the Internet and network technologies.