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Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max fight YouTube and TikTok for kids

  • Streaming has sparked a boom in children’s programming as platforms seek to attract and retain subscribers.
  • There are indications that streamers’ investment in original series for children may not pay off.
  • Programs for kids are “not a silver bullet” for subscriber retention, Common Sense Networks CEO Eric Berger said.

When Hollywood made the leap to


streaming

, creators of children’s and family programs were the main beneficiaries. The executives chose youth-oriented shows, believing that luring kids to their platforms would not only attract parents with credit cards, but also protect streamers from quick cancellations, as the youngest entertainment consumers are known for re-watching.

Interest in children’s programming has also led to a wave of mergers and acquisitions in this area.


Netflix

acquisition of the Roald Dahl Story Company, and Blackstone-backed Candle Media acquires maker CoComelon Moonbug. Dr. Seuss Enterprises now reportedly I am also looking for a buyer.

But a series of recent moves in Hollywood signal that streaming’s investment in children’s content may not pay off.

In May, after a loss of subscribers sent stocks plummeting, Netflix canceled five planned children’s shows, including a series from Doc McStuffins creator Chris Nee and a high-profile project in development from Meghan Markle. While a person familiar with the cuts described them as part of a normal business, the kids and family space creator told Insider that they don’t see Netflix as fully committed to investing in and raising new kids and family franchises.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. Discovery, as part of its post-merger restructuring, eliminated the role of Tom Asheim, a veteran who oversaw all children’s and family programs during


HBO Max

.

Even Disney+, whose long legacy of cult programming for kids gives it a space advantage, has begun investing more in adult content, including fares like Dancing with the Stars. Last year, Disney CEO Bob Chapek revealed that only half of the streamer’s subscribers are families with children, allowing the company to “think a lot more broadly” about content, he said. For example, Disney+’s wishlist for new series has shows with extensive worldbuilding that don’t necessarily have child protagonists, according to an agency source.

Hollywood may be realizing that kids’ programming is “not a silver bullet” for acquiring or retaining subscribers, said Eric Berger, CEO of Common Sense Networks, the commercial arm of Common Sense Media, which launched Sensical, a streamer for kids last year.

“YouTube and TikTok have become Gen Alpha’s playground”

Netflix and Amazon can be commended for helping drive early demand for children’s programming streaming. In its first five years of original shows, Amazon Prime Video produced over a dozen children’s shows. But since 2019, children’s content has been prioritized, with the company’s studio division instead focusing on developing Prime Video “content for families, including but not exclusively for children,” a company spokesperson said. Los Angeles Times at that time.

Meanwhile, Netflix was looking to poach the best talent from rivals like Disney. In 2018, for example, the company signed a major deal with Ni, whose Ada Twist, Scientist debuted on the service in 2021. Last year, Melissa Cobb, Vice President of Animation at Netflix, said: USA Today that 60% of subscribers watch children’s and family content every month.

But a few children’s hits have been released on subscription streamers, as one kids and animation insider points out: “There’s not a lot of ‘moderate success’ in kids animation. It’s either a big success or a lack of it. network, but it’s a different medium to go to Netflix where they watch whatever they want on demand.”

And it may take time for young viewers to discover new characters and fall in love with them. “A real hit in the children’s field takes many years to build an audience. It takes 5, 6, 7 seasons to really get your sea legs and then be able to sell backpacks at Walmart,” said Saima Zargami, former president of Nickelodeon, who now runs media company MiMo Studios, aimed at kids. “The streaming model is at odds with the franchise-building model of the past because two seasons doesn’t make a franchise.”

Another problem, Berger noted, is that subscription streamers lag behind free video platforms like YouTube when it comes to getting the attention of kids. Common sense media for example, in 2020, children aged 8 and under were found to spend 37% of their time watching online video compared to 29% of their time on subscription streaming services.

“YouTube and TikTok have become a playground for Gen Alpha,” he said, explaining that kids can easily search for content of their interests and delve into, say, dinosaur videos on those platforms. Sensical’s strategy is to tap into these behaviors, he added, by curating a library of free, interest-based videos from the top kids’ programmers and digital creators.

“Each of the streamers has the opportunity to become the biggest platform for kids”

Streamers can compete in the children’s field with a show dedicated to well-known intellectual property. HBO Max, for example, launched a late-night talk show hosted by beloved Sesame Street character Elmo. He also made Tom and Jerry shows and series featuring Looney Tunes characters. At Netflix, the children’s program CoComelon, created on YouTube in 2006, regularly ranks among the top streamer shows.

That could explain why Netflix forked out in 2021 on the Roald Dahl Story Company, custodian of classic properties like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Or why he decided to scrap some of the original shows he developed, including Nee’s Dino Daycare and the South Asian animated series Boons and Curses by Jadeep Khasrajani and Jake Goldman.

Netflix remains committed to children’s and family programming, according to a source familiar with the company’s mindset. But lately, projects that have been greenlit have been noticeably filled with familiar franchise names: the Boss Baby series, the Jurassic World interactive special, the Ghostbusters cartoon, the Kung Fu Panda series, and five animated shows. and special editions of Dr. Seuss. .

No one who spoke to Insider believes that streamers will turn their backs on children’s content, which still represents a significant opportunity to capture market share. In the same way that Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel carved up the realm of linear TV, neither service has caught on in elementary school.

“Each of the streamers has the opportunity to become the biggest platform for kids,” Zargami said, “if they turn to it and make it their priority.”

But the market may need to calm down a bit, especially as streamers cut spending across all verticals as growth slows.

Berger said: “It’s a matter of size [the investment] the role it plays in people’s media consumption”.

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