The results are in: Children’s programming is a hit for video on demand. Since its launch last April, PBS Sprout’s on-demand service has generated 60 million views — reaching 7.5 million views in January alone — on Comcast Corp.
Nickelodeon reported it is generating about six million views per month from Comcast for its on-demand fare.
And Turner Broadcasting Systems Inc.’s Cartoon Network’s on-demand fare generated 7.2 million views in fourth-quarter 2005 across its entire cable universe, more than double the 3 million generated in fourth-quarter 2004.
“It has been a phenomenal response,” said Andrew Beecham, senior vice president of programming at PBS Sprout. “But I’m not surprised how successful it has been, the way we crafted the strategy how linear and VOD works.”
Coleman Breland, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Turner Network Sales, added: “VOD has a life of its own. We’re happy with how it’s performing.”
PBS Sprout, in which Comcast is an investor, debuted last April, with 50 hours of on-demand programming, ranging from Barney to Bob the Builder. Comcast and Cox Communications Inc. carry the on-demand content and the new PBS Sprout linear channel. DirecTV Inc. also carries the linear channel.
But Beecham has turned the linear/on-demand model on its head for kids programming by carrying short-form programming on the linear channel, and long-form programming on video on demand. “We flipped it,” he said.
For instance, Bob the Builder is scheduled in 10-minute episodes on the TV channel, but three episodes are packaged together in one on-demand package. “We split them into shorter form parts [for linear TV],” Beecham said.
“We know preschoolers have a short attention span, like 7 minutes,” he said. “The linear channel empowers the parent, who finds it easier to say: 'You can watch one more show.’ The VOD service provides a deeper experience.”
Beecham said the average home that accesses PBS Sprout on-demand programming watches nine to 10 shows per month, with the average viewing time 28 minutes, indicating users are watching programs all the way through.
Since its launch, Beecham said PBS Sprout has added a number of categories in its guide. While each program is listed under its own category, the service also has a seasonally-themed category, for holiday programming built around Thanksgiving or Christmas, for instance.
PBS Sprout replaces its 50 hours of on-demand programming by rotating 12 to 13 new hours into the schedule every two weeks, Beecham said. Other on-demand content typically gets replaced weekly, but Beecham said kids love to watch the same program over and over, so weekly program switchouts aren’t necessary. “They like to know what’s happening — Barney is going to do this next. Repetition is a really powerful idea for them.”
PBS Sprout does carry advertising on its TV channel — two minutes an hour with advertising directed at parents. There is one advertiser, Kimberly-Clark Corp., in the on-demand content, he said.
Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Insight Communications Co. and Bresnan Communications are carrying 20 hours of Cartoon Network, 15 hours of Adult Swim and four hours of Boomerang on-demand fare each month, according to Breland.
The shows that perform well on the linear network, such as Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Aquateen and Space Ghost, also work best on demand, Breland said. “From a branding point of view, it makes perfect sense.”
Breland said usage patterns can vary by month, with on-demand usage dropping in the summer since kids are outdoors. “Video on demand dips during the summer months, but during colder months it seems to be better,” he said. Turner is considering adding more content in the colder months to meet higher demand.
“Adult Swim had a huge month in December,” he said, probably because college students were home.
Like PBS Sprout, Breland finds it hard to promote on demand on the linear channel because not every subscriber has access to Cartoon Network on demand. “If you don’t have [on demand], it’s confusing to the viewer,” he said.
Advertisers seemed pleased with the results. “The fact that we were sold out [in ad space] in the second quarter speaks to how well great branded content can do in this space,” Breland said.
Nickelodeon offers 15 hours of programming, including the preschool Nick Jr. service, plus 17 hours combined from Noggin and the N, said Nick vice president of affiliate sales Juliet Morris.
The positive relationship between on demand and the linear channel was borne out late last year, when Nick premiered pre-school show Go, Diego, Go! on video on demand, Morris said.
“In a short period of time, it became the No. 1 pre-school show [on the network],” Morris said. “The multiplatform strategy is part and parcel of that success. We view it as very successful. It was watched at a very high level.”
The on-demand premieres will continue with Wonder Pets this month, Morris said. And the Kids Choice Awards, scheduled for Nick April 1, will be available for on-demand viewing the next day.
Currently, Comcast, Charter Communications Inc., Cablevision Systems Corp. and Verizon Communications are carrying Nick’s on demand fare. Morris said the average Nickelodeon on-demand user watches six programs per month. About 11% of all digital set-tops in Nick on-demand homes watch the network’s programming each month, she added.
Nick replaces half its on-demand fare each month. Half of the content on Noggin and the N is replaced every two weeks.
“Nickelodeon has a very clear understanding of what kids like and when they like to watch it,” Morris said. “We constantly program the favorites as well as new shows. We get new shows on video on demand quickly to make sure kids have an opportunity to sample and enjoy it.”