For nearly 30 years, names like Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa, and Po have been ingrained in the minds of children and parents alike as the iconic Teletubbies. However, as the age of streaming has dawned upon us, the role of these beloved characters and their show has taken on a whole new significance in American media. In the past, the television landscape was simpler, with fewer options available for kids’ programming. The market was dominated by PBS, Disney, and the up-and-coming Nickelodeon. But with the rise of YouTube, TikTok, and numerous streaming platforms, children and parents now have an abundance of choices at their fingertips. As a result, streaming services are recognizing the importance of family-friendly content in attracting and retaining subscribers.
Kids represent a unique demographic in the entertainment industry. While companies are restricted from directly marketing to children due to age-specific advertising laws, their viewing habits make them highly valuable consumers. Children often exhibit strong loyalty to their favorite shows, favoring repetition and repeatedly consuming content they enjoy. This loyalty translates into long-term engagement for streaming services, as once kids are hooked on a show, they will do everything in their power to ensure their parents continue subscribing. This loyalty aspect is especially crucial for streaming services’ profitability, as consumers become increasingly cost-conscious and evaluate which subscriptions to keep and which ones to cancel. Therefore, having a hub for family-friendly content becomes a vital strategy for streaming services to maintain a loyal subscriber base.
Legacy media companies such as Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, Universal, and Paramount have been compelled to enter the streaming realm to compete with Netflix. Initially, Wall Street was content with high subscriber growth and the promise of future profitability. However, as ad revenue from linear TV declined significantly, investors pivoted their demand towards immediate earnings growth. This shift in expectations puts streaming platforms under pressure to adapt their content strategies to remain profitable.
The unique aspect of kids’ content is that it doesn’t require vast libraries to keep young viewers engaged. According to Dean Koocher, a seasoned television expert and founder of Kidstream, young children don’t mind repetition. Unlike adults who may move on to new shows, kids are notorious for obsessing over their favorite franchises, characters, and movies. As a result, streamers don’t need to license or create copious amounts of content to retain children’s interest. Surprisingly, a study conducted by the Parents Television and Media Council revealed that less than 15% of titles on major streaming platforms are family-friendly. This suggests that many streamers fail to fully embrace the potential of franchise family-friendly content and thus miss out on a significant demographic.
To cater to the demands of children and parents, many major streaming services have created dedicated sections for kids’ programming and produced their proprietary children’s shows. Simultaneously, they have tapped into international production companies to license content, recognizing that children across the globe share similar tastes. Shows like “Bluey” from Australia, “Peppa Pig” from the UK, “Masha and the Bear” from Russia, and “Miraculous: Tales of Lady Bug and Cat Noir” from France have successfully captured the hearts of children worldwide. Interestingly, classic shows like “Barney,” “Thomas the Tank Engine,” “Madeline,” and “Wallace and Gromit” are still beloved by kids today and are available on platforms like Kidstream.
As parents seek even more content and educational options for their children, the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) in the animation process holds great promise. AI not only has the potential to expedite animation production but also democratizes access to the animation space. Peter Csathy, founder and chair of advisory firm Creative Media, believes that generative AI will enable streamers to produce new kid programming faster and cheaper. However, Csathy also acknowledges that originality and quality may suffer, with the streamers relying on the hope that children won’t notice the difference.
In a landscape where major streaming platforms reign, Kidstream takes a different approach by prioritizing quality over quantity. According to Koocher, the focus remains on ensuring the satisfaction of parents, who are the primary subscribers. Kidstream has garnered over 25,000 subscribers since its launch in 2017, a fraction compared to the major players in the industry. Nevertheless, the platform thrives by offering curated content without the need for extravagant spending on new productions. Koocher envisions a future where niche channels, catering to specific audiences, emerge to deliver content that super-serves their customers, be it parents of young children or fans of European crime dramas.
The landscape of kids streaming has undergone significant transformations in recent years. The vast array of streaming options and the changing preferences of children and parents have compelled streaming services to prioritize family-friendly content. The power of kids’ viewing habits and their ability to influence subscriber retention cannot be underestimated. As streaming platforms adapt to the demands of this unique demographic, the integration of AI and a shift towards quality over quantity will shape the future of kids streaming. Whether it’s the iconic characters of Teletubbies or the latest international imports, the world of kids streaming promises to delight children and provide a much-needed respite for parents.