From fast food to toys, kids have always been a big target market in this commercial age. Film is no exception: 12A certificate movies accounted for 51.8 per cent of gross UK box office last year in the cinema, as studios seek the biggest bucks from a family audience.
At home, children are equally cherished by VOD services. Of course, the kids aren’t paying the bills, but VOD companies are aware that parents will do, if it means they can provide their littluns with something to watch outside of normal TV schedules – either as an educational exercise, a distraction or family entertainment.
You only have to look at the partnerships each service is lining up to see how important children’s content is. What kids TV shows are available on-demand? Answer: a lot of them.
It is telling that both UK Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video each have an agreement with Pixar and Disney, securing the most high-profile family animated flicks. But while they are neck-and-neck inside the House of Mouse, they are racing to get ahead of each other outside.
Last year, it was a big blow to Netflix US when its deal with Nickelodeon’s parent company, Viacom, (covering SpongeBob, Pingu and others) was snatched by its rival – a move that was echoed on this side of the Atlantic, when Prime Instant Video (then LOVEFiLM Instant) penned a contract with HIT Entertainment, Ludorum and DreamWorks Classics to give it access to Nickelodeon content and other titles, such as Chuggington and He-Man.
Now, Netflix UK has a DreamWorks Classic contract too, including Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob, plus a deal with HIT Entertainment to provide Fireman Sam, Thomas & Friends, Barney and Bob the Builder to users. Amazon, meanwhile, boasts all of the above plus Blue’s Clues – and a whole host of retro shows, from Round the Twist to Trap Door and Morph.
In June 2014, the online retailer signed another, exclusive deal with Aardman Animations to bolster its catalogue with Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep, Rex the Runt and new programmes from the British stop-motion legends.
Netflix UK, meanwhile, has just teamed up with Mattel for an Ever After High series, as well as secured the streaming rights to Horrid Henry. It also has an astonishingly big library of Pokemon episodes. But while the service may not have quite as many classic shows of teatimes past, the company is thinking even bigger with an exclusive partnership with DreamWorks Animation; in typical Netlix style, it will co-produce three new original series this year, including a spin-off for Madagascar’s King Julien, Puss in Boots and new episodes of Veggie Tales. These shows will join animated spin-off Turbo FAST on the service and will be followed by Dinotrux – a show about dinosaur/construction worker hybrids (yes, really) – and DreamWorks Dragons, a spin-off from How to Train Your Dragon.
To top it all off, Netflix has just announced a reboot of The Magic School Bus for 2016 in partnership with Scholastic, who already offer Clifford The Big Red Dog and Goosebumps to stream on the service.
Amazon, though, is not one to be left behind in the original stakes: after last year’s run of publicly-tested pilots, this year’s included raft of kids’ TV ideas as well. Three of them have been commissioned, with the first two cartoons – Tumble Leaf and Creative Galaxy – already made available to watch online. The third, a live-action series called Annedroid, will arrive later this year. (Our review of Creative Galaxy is here.)
With new deals announced almost every week for old kids’ series or new family content, the battle for the smaller eyes in the living room is heating up. Netflix even has a dedicated Kids version of its app and website, designed to woo younger viewers. (Expect Amazon to do the same soon.)
So why all the fuss? Not just because, as with cinemas, the pressure of offspring can get parents to part with their dosh, but because kids are Netflix’s future.
With a YouGov poll recently confirming that half of younger viewers feel online content should be free, getting kids on board early with the idea of a subscription VOD service is a way to ensure they are used to legal video rather than piracy. But while thinking years down the line is important, children aren’t waiting around to start streaming: 75 per cent of those between the age of zero and eight now have access to mobile devices, according to Common Sense Media – compared to 52 per cent just two years ago. 7 per cent of kids already have their own tablets, meanwhile, compared to 8 per cent of adults two years ago; a sign of just how connected this new generation of viewers are.
The two SVOD giants are well aware of that. This week, Netflix hired ex-Nickelodeon Exec Brian Wright to lead its kids content deals – a move that shows just how important the sector has become.
Today’s Pingu watchers will grow up to be tomorrow’s House of Cards fans. In the world of VOD, though, tomorrow is already upon us. The fight for your kid’s attention span continues.