First things first. A confession.
As parenting skills go, occasionally plonking my daughter in front of an iPad in return for a brief bit of time to think might not be the greatest things I’ve done for the development of my four year old cherub. However, I feel I can justify my actions in two ways. For one, her understanding of technology is already paying dividends; she’s far politer to both Siri and Alexa than I am. Second, as any good media consultant might tell you, seeing the world of content through her eyes offers a great insight into how future audiences will consume what we now refer to as TV. And if I can convince you, reader, I’m going some way to convincing myself.
I’m fascinated, but not entirely surprised, about how young audiences have become such a battleground for VoD subscriptions. In many ways, nothing has changed in twenty years or so; in the UK, Sky offered satellite subscribers access to the Disney Channel for free on all packages. Why? The same reason McDonald’s kindly give away cheap plastic toys with its nutritious fast food. As a parent you might think you have ultimate decision-making power in your household, but sadly, the reality is far from it.
The plethora of SVoD platforms available has introduced a great deal more competition into the market, particularly for audiences. No longer restricted to the schedules, or to a relatively limited package of Pay-TV options provided by cable or satellite operators, we have all become accustomed to having vast amount of choice when planning our viewing. Further, subscription pricing for SVoDs is typically far lower than subscriptions for the aforementioned Pay-TV services, meaning that as consumers, we can create our own ‘bundle’ of services that reflect our own tastes…and those of our families.
For the big on-demand operators, the need to provide a strong line-up of kids’ shows bears all the hallmarks of a subscriber retention exercise; for the same reasons Sky UK gave away the Disney Channel during the mid-90s, the likes of Netflix and Amazon have invested heavily in both acquisition of much-loved kids shows. Having binged on The Crown, or revved our way through the entire series of The Grand Tour, us parents may begin wavering over whether we can justify the recurring monthly fees. Try relating your decision to the little ones in your life. Threatening to take away untapped access to Max, Ruby, Ben, Holly, Paw Patrol and The Wiggles will manifest itself in expensive therapy sessions later in their lives. It may be best to cut your losses now, the longer terms costs may be far greater.
Whilst buying in gives kids the shows they already know and love, Netflix and Amazon are sinking serious cash into developing original programming. With the right breakout hit, exclusivity to a platform becomes a powerful thing. Arguably, we’ve yet to see a stand-out kids show emerge from the SVoDs, but it will come: just look at how those platforms are producing great shows in the scripted space. Netflix’s Beat Bugs, a lush CGI series that follows the adventures of a bunch of insect chums set to a soundtrack of parent-friendly Beatles tunes, comes close. That the show has already had a second season commissions gives us a strong indication it is performing well.
Of course, it’s not just the main-streamers that are vying to extract cash from well-meaning parents on a monthly basis. At £9.99 DisneyLife - a UK platform that gives kids access to pretty much the entire catalogue of Disney movies, shows, music and books - might seem expensive, but a Frozen DVD here and a Lion King album there soon mount up. For Disney, it’s a great experiment, opening up its huge catalogue in return for regular subscriptions is a model they’re doubtless testing in the UK ahead of an international roll-out, should the numbers stack up. And for parents with kids going through a ‘Disney stage’, the numbers certainly do. Trust me, I have one.
With so much interest in the kids SVoD space, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing new entrants on the scene. Hopster - which Sony has a stake in - packages toddler friendly titles such as Teletubbies and Fireman Sam with nursery rhymes and games, and has its own educational curriculum which steers the content available through the platform.
Meanwhile the Toca TV platform includes characters developed in Toca’s popular range of apps alongside other game-related franchises like Minecraft and Pacman. The characters featured in Toca Boca cute pre-school apps are just rife for getting the cartoon treatment, so it’s no surprise that the canny folk at Spinmaster acquired the brand. What’s particularly interesting here how the characters have made the leap from apps into animation; less and less, kids will see the difference between games and video, between what they watch and what they play.
For those solely targeting kids with SVoD offerings, subscriber churn must be a concern. Let’s face it, as they grow, the type of shows and brands that children love change on a whim. With month-in, month-out subscriptions, parents can quickly ditch a platform that no longer appeals to their little-ones. Keeping the user numbers up, and therefore the investors happy, will surely need constant and highly targeted marketing muscle.
Whatever the long-term business models, it’s clear that the rise of on-demand platforms has without doubt renewed the focus and investment for great kids programming. Competition to create the next original hit - the SVoD equivalent of Peppa Pig - should set the bar high for years to come.
By Phil Birchenall, projects director, K7 Media