The following interview features in the new report from Ampere Analysis—Where next for kids’ TV: Predicting the future of children’s content. Download the full exclusive report on MIPTrends!
WildBrain manages and creates preschool and children’s entertainment content on platforms such as YouTube, Amazon Video Direct and others. WildBrain’s branded YouTube network is one of the largest of its kind, featuring more than 65,000 videos for 600 kids’ brands in up to 22 languages. The WildBrain network generated over 55 billion minutes of watch time from July through December 2017.
Connecting kids’ content owners with advertisers in the Advertising Video-on-Demand (AVOD) space, the WildBrain network features popular third-party brands such as Bob the Builder, Fireman Sam, Shopkins and Lazy Town, as well as much of DHX Media’s world-renowned library of 13,000 half-hours of kids’ and family content, including Peanuts, Teletubbies, Strawberry Shortcake, Caillou, Inspector Gadget, Degrassi, Yo Gabba Gabba! and many others.
WildBrain Studios also specializes in the creation of new, original content for its network, such as animated and live-action shorts; toy-play and stop-motion videos; book readings; preschool counting and alphabet videos; nursery rhymes and more. WildBrain is a wholly owned subsidiary of DHX.
Guy Bisson: What new trends are you noticing in terms of the type of content that is being made for kids in the digital space?
Samreen Ghani: Based on the data we see across our network of YouTube channels, there continues to be growth in the consumption of animated content. Year-on-year (February 2017 – February 2018) views of animated videos have increased 40% on YouTube. There is also a lot of language-agnostic content, with high production values, which is rewarded on platforms such as YouTube because it appeals in many markets. In our experience, we work with content in this style with episodes ranging from as short as 1-2 minutes in length.
> Are you seeing any developments in terms of the way kids’ content is financed, what innovative or new ways are there to get kids’ content made?
We are increasingly seeing a trend of YouTube or digital-first content and are being approached to work with new partners who have built their brands using YouTube, to co-finance their next series. There are also new platforms emerging, including Amazon Video Direct, where premium original content is starting to see promising revenues.
> As a destination, how does YouTube differ from other outlets for kids’ content or is a distinction irrelevant to a child’s mind?
From our research and network figures, it is clear that YouTube and YouTube Kids app have become go-to entertainment options for parents, seeking to quickly and easily entertain their kids. In Q1 2018, 65% of our total watch time was from mobile and tablet, with 22% from Smart TVs. TV viewing via YouTube is on the increase. The huge depth and breadth of options is compelling for parents who appear to be willing to trade seeing ads vs paying for another subscription. Children growing up today are introduced to an ‘on-demand’ model much earlier, and screen time is now present throughout the day – from TV and gameplay to education and learning at school.
> What can you do with kids’ content on YouTube that perhaps isn’t so easy on more traditional platforms?
There are two distinct advantages to creating content for YouTube. First is the speed at which you can create. We can turn around short-form animation in as little as three months. The second is data. When we upload episodes, we can quickly monitor performance. The data we access on YouTube is anonymous but gives us an indication of where the content is working in which geographical location and with which demographic. We use our own proprietary tech and third-party services, to track particular trends that are attracting audiences. We can adapt our content production schedule to include these, refining creative ideas using this direction.
> What impact has YouTube and other social and digital-first platforms had on the way kids’ content is made in the wider market…has it, for example, impacted duration, the way stories are told or other characteristics?
For the owners of premium content and brands, there is now more interest in producing original content for YouTube and other digital-first platforms, and finding ways to leverage existing IP, in tandem with broadcast deals. YouTube especially is being considered as an important platform to launch new IP.
One area we see having great potential is producing new made-for-YouTube series, using classic brands from the DHX Media library. Key aspects of the brand are retained, but the stories are geared towards popular topics and role models for kids today. At WildBrain, we have perfected a 2D animation production model with YouTube economics in mind, which keeps down the production costs compared to traditional production routes, and enables us to produce the volume we need for YouTube success. For instance, reinventing one of the classic IPs, with a new webisode series of 20 episodes and a modern animation style, has delivered 260 million views to date. The new content has helped to grow the YouTube channel which now boasts one million subscribers.
> When developing a kids’ show or character, how do you think strategically about distribution and each type of platform (TV channel/YouTube/SVoD) and what is the interplay between them for a given kids’ property/franchise, particularly for content that begins its life on YouTube?
Primarily we are developing for YouTube, with the aim of growing awareness and sustainable revenues from the series we make. Increasingly we are looking at how to take successful live action formats and characters into the animated versions. We have successfully implemented this with one of the IPs that WildBrain acquired last year, KiddyZuzaa, and although it is early days we are seeing some promising results across both YouTube and Amazon. As these characters and worlds become more complex and popular, we would then consider opportunities with traditional broadcast. As a subsidiary of DHX Media, we work closely with our Studios and Distribution colleagues to identify where these properties might cross-over.
> How important is gender in young kids’ programming…have there been any moves to non-gendered content for younger kids and have social platforms influenced the way gender is approached?
This is such an important debate, and one we continually seek to address with new characters we devise. Looking at search and the popular keywords parents look for, these tend to be more neutral, e.g. ‘Cartoons for kids’. We don’t see a focus on ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ in the way audiences search for content.
> Thinking about all the changes in viewing behaviour/platforms and distribution, what sort of kids’ content will be getting made in five years’ time…is there a ‘next big thing’ for kids?
Five years is a long time in the digital space! Trusted brands and channels will become more important. As will the curation of quality content that is suitable for kids, and the brands that help parents filter the good from the bad. Many of the trends that spring up on YouTube are unpredictable, but share similar hallmarks of traditional toy trends: collectable, imitable and shareable. For example, Slime or Play-doh are not new toys, but making or playing videos where kids can show their own experiments and reactions serve to inspire others. I don’t think we’re going to see the end of a more UGC (User Generated) aesthetic, but content on YouTube continues to get better and better.