The ubiquity of digital distribution makes the very idea of children’s ‘television’ seem almost antiquated. We are repeatedly told that children are deserting television for other forms of entertainment distributed online. Yet the truth is more nuanced, not only in terms of differences between various parts of the world, but also in the nature of distribution itself. Debates today, for example, focus on discoverability, since children’s content is distributed both to broadcast and online platforms ranging from subscription video-on-demand (Amazon, Netflix) to free and user-generated content (YouTube, Snapchat etc). Does the new distribution landscape change everything in the children’s market or are there some fundamental continuities? This chapter addresses those questions, drawing evidence from comparing between multilingual Europe with its tradition of public service media and the Arab region, where a shared language opens up a regionwide market and public service provision is rare.
The chapter compares levels of change and continuity along three axes. The first deals with particularities of the market for children’s screen content, including audience size and significant differentiation by age and gender. A twelve-year old girl is unlikely to be attracted to the same content as a four-year old boy. This level of segmentation often renders local production uneconomic, making the motivation to maximise the scale and scope of distribution especially strong, as demonstrated earlier by the dominance of global players such as Disney and Nickelodeon, and now repeated in online distribution through Netflix and Amazon. Second is the convergence between professionally-produced storytelling by adults and children’s own self-published content on social media platforms. What political and economic issues are emerging as professional producers find novel ways to engage children more directly? Thirdly, distribution is the point at which payment for screen media is decided: funding mechanisms are required to sustain the distribution system itself in addition to those required to produce content. What policies and rules, if any, are in place to control rights ownership and distribution agreements? This chapter finds that changes in children’s consumption of screen content are having an impact on the underlying economics, resource allocation and sustainability of professionally distributed content for children, with implications for the viability of investment in local production both regions.