Something in the Water

I think we’re onto something, with TOTS.

TOTS. Turn on the Subtitles. Our mission to inspire and encourage broadcasters and tech companies in Britain and around the world to “turn on the subtitles”, by default, for children’s programmes.

Why? Because by turning on the subtitles, you can DOUBLE the literacy of the child.

“A Nielsen study of 13,000 children showed that 24% became good readers with schooling alone. But when exposed to 30 minutes a week of subtitled film songs, that proportion more than doubled to 56%.”

Inspired by the work of Brij Kothari and his colleagues at Planet Read, we think that the power of Same Language Subtitling is too good an insight to be kept in the coffee shops and pub conversations of a few of those “in the know.”

We’re partnering with the National Literacy Trust and we’re keen to speak to the decision makers at the world’s leading broadcasters and tech companies. One introduction, one share from you, reading this, could make all the difference.

Three of my favourite books are The Tipping PointFreakonomics, and Nudge. And TOTS makes me think of all three. The idea that “connectors” matter, that “small things” can make a big difference and that “default settings” can change lives.

I’m reminded of the fact that fluoride affects dental health. That by putting it into drinking water, you can improve the health of millions. The point is this – that just knowing about this connection isn’t enough. Somebody, somewhere, needs to join the dots. By 2012, about 378 million people worldwide were receiving artificially fluoridated water. By 2020, in theory, hundreds of millions of children could be having their literacy improved. Just by Turning on the Subtitles.

So why do I think we’re onto something? Because in a world of complexity, this is simplicity. By turning on the subtitles, by default, the magic can happen. A small group of people saying “let’s do this”. The flick of a switch. The push of a button. In a world where silver bullets are like unicorns, here’s a billion dollar idea which can fly.

Just imagine if, like a breath of fresh air, the BBC said “yes”. YouTube, “yes”. Sky, “yes”, Nickelodeon, “yes”. Facebook, “yes”. Millions of lives could be changed. And TOTS would be a tiny footnote in history.

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