50 Years Prix Jeunesse
The “Oscar” of Children’s Television

Prix Jeunesse
Prix Jeunesse | Photo (detail): © Marco Orlando

Since 1964, the Prix Jeunesse International has been singling out the world’s best television shows for children and teenagers. But the award also seeks to bring together television producers and child development researchers.

What exactly is good TV for youngsters? This question is addressed by TV experts from all over the world every two years when they gather together in Munich for the Prix Jeunesse International. And 2014, the pre-eminent festival for children’s and teen TV is celebrating its 50th anniversary and inviting some 500 TV producers from roughly 70 different countries to select the very best shows.

Unlike other television awards, the “Oscar” of children’s TV is not decided by a jury deliberating behind closed doors: all the accredited festival participants have a say in evaluating and voting on the entries to the contest. The scripting and execution of the programmes are not the only criteria they take into consideration: “Besides that, the main question for us is whether the programmes are age-appropriate and how much innovative potential they hold”, explains Maya Götz, the director of the Prix Jeunesse.

“If you look back on the history of the festival, you can make out quantum leaps in terms of innovation and age-appropriate execution”, adds Götz. She cites Sesame Street as an example, the German children’s series launched in 1970, which came up with terrific ideas and which boldly defied conventions. “Even though you see the passage of time, of course, in old programmes, back in the 1960s they already had the idea of narrating from the children’s perspective – which has become a matter of course for us today”, Götz points out.

Producers and researchers join forces

The Prix Jeunesse was founded in 1964 by Bayerischer Rundfunk (Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation), the Free State of Bavaria and its capital, the City of Munich. It is also sponsored by the public network ZDF and the Bayerische Landeszentrale für neue Medien (BLM, Bavarian Central Office for New Media). Maya Götz has been directing the festival since 2006, though her main occupation has to do with children’s television as well: since 1999 she has served as director of the International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television (IZI), a department of the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation.

From professional experience, Götz knows how vital it is for producers and editors of programmes for children and teens to work together with researchers. Germany does not have a long tradition of research into children’s perceptions of what they watch on the tube, but this is vital to providing age-appropriate content. “Television can become a traumatic experience for children. Our current study shows that many children get nightmares from inappropriate programmes”, says Götz. So it’s all the more essential to include age-appropriate content as a criterion that Prix Jeunesse contestants have to meet.

One of the key advantages of the festival, Maya Götz emphasizes, is that the participants convening to discuss and vote on the strengths and weaknesses of the various programmes hail from 70-odd different countries: “Bringing together various notions of what good children’s television ought to be like provides an opportunity to gain a whole new perspective.”

“Good programmes strengthen kids”

The 2014 competition is particularly exciting: never before have there been so many contestants, including roughly 400 shows from over 60 different countries, 92 of which have made it into the finals. They run the gamut from cartoons for pre-schoolers to documentary formats for young teens up to 15 years old.

And the countries of origin are equally diverse, with productions from the US, Chile and Japan among the finalists. One nominee is an animated series from Pakistan called Burka Avenger about a teacher who disguises herself as a burka-wearing superheroine to fight for girls’ rights. Nine German programmes have been shortlisted, including a special episode of the series Die Sendung mit dem Elefanten (“The Show with the Elephant”) entitled “Gebärdenspecial”, co-written and featuring deaf children who dialogue entirely in sign language.

The theme of the 2014 festival is Feelings in Focus: Emotions in Children’s TV. The object is to gather useful information for TV producers and editors to work into their productions*? “How do children react to suspense? How should anger be conveyed in children’s television? We want to discuss questions like these with TV producers and editors”, says festival director. Ultimately, the point is to produce quality content that will have a beneficial impact on youngsters: “Good programmes fit kids out with strengthening symbols that help them cope with difficult situations.”

The best of 50 years

For its golden jubilee, however, the Prix Jeunesse is not only looking ahead at the future of children’s TV, but also looking back at its past history and awarding special prizes to outstanding programmes over the preceding 50 years. These honours will be conferred on the very best fiction and non-fiction programmes in the history of children’s TV, as well as the show that has had the most decisive influence on kids’ TV and the one that has given it the boldest dose of fresh impetus. A panel of 100 experts have viewed, discussed and assessed the entries. The best three in each category have now been selected, and they include two classics of German children’s TV: WDR’s Die Sendung mit der Maus (“The Show with the Mouse”) and ZDF’s Der Kleine und das Biest (“Little Boy and the Beast”) from the series Siebenstein.

Prizes will be awarded in three age-based categories: up to 6, 7 to 11, and 12 to 15 years of age. At the end of the week-long Prix Jeunesse Festival, all the prizes for this year’s competition as well as the special jubilee awards will be presented at Munich’s Gasteig cultural centre. At that point the participants will have decided not only which programmes really stand out in the history of children’s TV and which ones point towards its future, but also what high-quality TV content for children really should be like.

Prix Jeunesse Suitcase

The international television contest Prix Jeunesse is held every two years in Munich over several days. At the conclusion of the festival, in cooperation with the Prix Jeunesse Foundation, the Goethe-Institut “packs” the so called “Prix Jeunesse Suitcase,” containing the best and most interesting TV productions for children and young people, into DVDs. The aim, in the context of intercultural and media-based educational work, is to enable children and young people to discover cultures different from their own, familiarise themselves with diverse life environments and to acquire media competence.