Myself and Eleanor Dare have been commissioned by the University of York’s XR Stories to explore what kids want from broadcast media in the future. This is the first out of two blog posts that I will share on the project, and focuses on the methodology we created for children to show us directly how they think heritage-brand story characters might be altered by emerging technologies. The remaining posts will focus on kids ideas in relation to world building and their thoughts on immersive and interactive future broadcasting prototypes.
The project is framed within the decline of children watching linear TV and the planned closure of traditional broadcasting of CBBC in 2025/6.
The BBC has announced that it plans to stop airing CBBC and BBC Four as traditional broadcast channels.
Director-general Tim Davie announced the content of these networks will continue to be produced and made available for online platforms. (BBC, 2022)
In relation to this, we are seeking to understand how children aged 7–11-years think brands might translate from TV to online platforms.
First, as a point of contrast and additional context, rewind to 2019 when I was involved in teaching that sought adult’s opinions on the future of broadcast media. Specifically, I taught a unit as part of an MA in Information Experience Design at the Royal College of Art, where students worked collaboratively with the BBC’s User Experience & Design / Cross-Reality team to explore what emerging technologies might mean for the established broadcasting institution.
In relation to this, small groups of students were asked to choose one emerging technology (Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Voice recognition etc.) and use speculative design practices, that is the process of producing designs that do not need to work practically (Dunne & Raby, 2013; Wargo & Alvarado, 2020), to explore how their chosen technology might be used for broadcast media in relation to a particular demographic of their choosing.
As an example, one team (Emma Aparchi, Georgia Grippa, Stella Papaioannou and Satya Naagesh) decided to focus on how ai and voice recognition technologies could enter into the lives of different demographics of people living in the same apartment block, and they created an interactive story to demonstrate this (Figure 1):
The team began by creating a list of key points they thought might shift as a result of increased use of ai and voice recognition technologies. They then used these on which to base their speculative designs. These are an interesting starting point and included: accessibility; voice-based games; increasing ad revenue; education; become more conversational/ companion-like; tracking emotions; predicting users choices; efficiency might become control; issues with data privacy; increased individual experiences. The team then translated these ideas into a physical prompt in the form of a die (Figure 2). Depending on the side of the die that landed face-up when rolled, one example from six was given of how voice recognition and ai fitted into the lives of one of the apartment block’s residents. This included ai and voice recognition technology being used as a companion for the lonely, and as an extended educator for a child.
I bring this up as a starting point to think about how this might differ from the ways children will approach the provocation to speculate on the future of broadcast media. It’s exciting to have the chance to explore children’s own predictions for how emerging technologies might affect the way they consume their favourite content as a juxtaposition to adults thoughts on the topic.
In relation to seeking children’s ideas on what comes next and what they imagine the future of traditional forms of media content, such as TV, to look Eleanor and I created a research methodology based around a series of public engagement workshops where children and families can opt in when visiting the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford. Here, we offer children the opportunity to explore their ideas on the future of broadcast media in relation to a series of new technologies such photogrammetry, Cardboard VR (age appropriate) and proto-metaverse platforms. Participants are introduced to emerging technologies and asked to think about what they might mean for the future of broadcast content aimed at them, through a series of practical prompts.
The practical prompts were created to tie in with the concept of using the Beano as a case study (Figure 3). The long history of the Beano made it an interesting choice for considering how the format of the stories have changed over time in relation to different platforms for their dissemination, and then to see how children think this might change in the future.
This links to theories of multimodality that suggest the modes and media by which we consume information or stories fundamentally alters the connection to the audience. For example, in the photograph below of a printing block for a page of the Beano comic shown at Somerset House’s exhibition “Beano : The Art of Breaking the Rules” (2021–2022), it is possible to see the constraints placed on the telling of the story. The printing plate is fixed and it is hard for the story to be added to afterwards (Figure 4):
Once printed the story must also be read from left to right (Figure 5):
This is almost the opposite of prototype metaverse spaces, such as the online gaming platform, Roblox, where the narrative of the story is changed by the very nature of it being a multiplayer game where the connection between these multiple players alters the story. Further, creative strands to such platforms such as Roblox Studio make it possible for children to entirely create, distribute and monetise their own stories, whether those be original or based on existing Intellectual Property.
The first two workshops focused on changing Beano characters into future broadcasting prototypes using photogrammetry. Children who attended the public engagement workshops were given a range of cultural probes (Wyeth & Diercke, 2006; Gaver et al 1999; Gaver et al, 2004), that is a collection of visual and physical materials that act as a prompt to engage non-design specialist participants in design processes. Specifically, for Workshops 1 & 2 children were provided with a range of stories and characters from the Beano (Figure 6) and asked to create models using Play-Doh or LEGO of those they would like to form part of interactive and immersive digital or virtual worlds (Figures 7 & 8).
The children’s creations were scanned using a photogrammetry app (Figure 9) to illustrate a simple way of producing 3D assets for virtual and digital spaces. Children who consented to take part in the research were informally interviewed about what they had created and why in order to collect dialogue on their decision-making processes.
Introducing children to photogrammetry was also seen as offering insight into emerging tools for storytelling that could form part of future broadcast media. In the next blog post I will show how we continued to research this topic with a focus on world building and virtual reality.
Our project is focused on 7–11-year-olds but it sits alongside two other work packages, one that looks at younger children and another at teenagers . More about how the three projects fit together can be found here.
BBC (2022) BBC to move CBBC and BBC Four online. Available online here
Dunne, A. & Raby, F. (2013) Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction and Social Dreaming. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Gaver, W., Boucher, A., Pennington, S. and Walker, B. (2004) Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty. Interactions, Vol.11(5), p.53–56.
Gaver, W., Dunne, T., & Pacenti, E. (1999) Cultural Probes. Interactions, Vol 6(1), p.21–29.
Wargo, J. M. & Alvarado, J. (2020) Making as worlding: Young children composing change through speculative design. Literacy, Vol.54, p.13– 21.
Wyeth, P. & Diercke, C. (2006) Designing Cultural Probes for Children. OZCHI 2006 Proceedings ISBN: 1–59593–545–2