In the start up world, you’ll hear a lot of people talk about operating ‘lean’. What they mean is making small investments, using data and analytics to figure out if those investments are working, killing those that aren’t, and doubling down on success. It’s a constant and rapid cycle of development, testing and iteration.

For a long time, content creation has been about as unlean as you could imagine. One year to develop a concept. A year to fund it (if you’re lucky….). A year in production. An initial run on TV. Struggling with the limitations of one-dimensional ratings data. And then, only then, beginning to figure out if a show was really going to work, and beginning to chase those elusive merchandising deals.

In total, maybe four years before you know if your initial investment of time and money was a good one, and guided most of the way by not much more than the subjective judgement of a few investors and commissioning execs. 

It’s a fax machine process in a broadband world. 

The future, however, is different.

Firstly, data. We’re already seeing data play more of a role at every stage. At Hopster, we create sample ads to test new content concepts before launch, so we know whether or not they’ll be effective in driving new users for us. After launch, we’re drilling into usage, impact on retention and conversion, and engagement on a minute-by-minute, user-by-user basis. Compared with TV ratings, it’s like turning on the light switch after years fumbling around a room with a broken torch. 

Secondly, speed. Digital creators can see what’s working, and what users are searching for — and change their programming mix to match — on a daily basis. Make small investments in content, see if it works, tweak, repeat. It’s enabling people like Little Baby Bum and Mother Goose Club (photo) to build massive brands and huge followings incredibly quickly, without risking millions on a gut feeling commissioning decision.  

And thirdly – yes, interactivity. Linear TV commissioning requires you to think video-first. We’re already seeing a much more fluid movement between video and interactive: videos embedded around games (Toons TV), games that customise around video (Hopster), apps that become shows (Toca, probably), and videos that respond to interaction (Plumzi / Spotlight Stories). This isn’t the same as ‘360 degree commissioning’ (which in practice normally means making the same show, accompanied by a couple of doing-it-just-so-we’ve-ticked-the-box apps). It’s about doing one thing at a time, really well, but using the right mix of tools.

The world’s getting leaner, and the pace is only going to accelerate. Time to hit the gym.


Nicholas Walters is founder and CEO of Hopster, the TV, play and learning platform for kids aged 2-6. He is also one of our pre-MIPJunior 2015 kids entertainment ambassadors.

These posts are coordinated by Debbie Macdonald, a children’s media consultant. She was formerly VP, programming director at Nickelodeon UK. You can find her on LinkedIn here.

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