New Generations, New Technologies - Multichannel

New Generations, New Technologies

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Programmers of kids and family fare view broadband and wireless platforms as increasingly key for reaching younger demos.

“This audience is very multiplatform,” Nickelodeon Digital Television executive vice president and general manager Tom Ascheim said.

For some networks, linear and on-demand efforts take a back seat to the Web and wireless.

“When I look at where Biography for Kids is going to have maximum impact, No. 1 is going to be online,” A&E executive vice president and general manager Bob Debitetto said. For Debitetto, the Web can allow Biography for Kids to expand its reach beyond its Saturday morning block on The Biography Channel.

Although programmers agree that emerging platforms are important for reaching younger demos, they aren’t worried about them siphoning viewers from their cable networks and VOD.

“There’s a significant amount of data to suggest that television viewing isn’t being impacted by these activities,” said John Roos, senior vice president of corporate communications and research at The Inspiration Networks, whose youth-oriented fare includes BedBug Bible Gang and Steelroots. “What’s happening is an increase in multitasking. It doesn’t mean that TV viewing is down. It means that there’s another layer to it.”

One of those layers is interactivity, including games.

“Online is mostly a 'doing’ mechanism,” said Nick’s Ascheim. “Our audience doesn’t tend to watch lots of episodes on computers, but they tend to play a lot of games.”

One of PBS Kids Sprout’s owners, HIT Entertainment, began working with TVHead last June on interactive games. Currently in development, the project’s initial offering will be a games-on-demand TV network, featuring educational fare for preschoolers based on HIT characters such as Barney and Bob the Builder.

“HIT has seen a trend in video gaming, aging down to the pre-school market through age-appropriate gaming and console systems,” said Claudia Scott-Hansen, vice president for U.S. rights syndication at HIT.

Over the past six months, PBS Kids Sprout also expanded its Web offerings to include streaming video and interactive content. “The Web is a unique opportunity to contribute to Sprout and not be just a passive viewer,” network president Sandy Wax said.

Viewers of the network’s Sprout Diner cooking program, for instance, can watch video, get recipes and submit their own online. Sprout is also filming viewers and their families cooking. “We’ll probably stream those on the Web,” Wax said.

The Walt Disney Co. sees the Web as a way to target specific demographics, such as pre-schoolers, Playhouse Disney’s target demo. “It has a whole bunch of educational activities that parents can subscribe to,” Disney-ABC Cable Networks Group vice president of digital media K.C. Estenson said.

Wireless is another growth area. There are at least three reasons why programmers see wireless as increasingly important:

  • Cell phones with the basic data capabilities — such as text messaging — to support content are free under many family calling plans. Also, the cost of smartphones is declining even as they add streaming capabilities. As a result, the number of handsets that programmers can target is expanding.
  • While adults may balk at the idea of watching video on a cell phone, children aren’t necessarily as put off. “Kids are even more open to watching shows on a small screen,” said Paul Condolora, vice president and general manager of Cartoon Network New Media. “It’s sort of seamless for them to move from one screen to another.”
  • Kids increasingly expect access to entertainment when they’re on the go. “Many people have DVD players in their minivans, so you can see the way it’s going,” said Sprout’s Wax.

Also fueling expectations are next-generation broadband cellular technologies that are better suited to carrying bandwidth-intensive multimedia services.

Not that there isn’t room for improvement. “The take rates have been good, but video streaming over mobile phones isn’t quite at a point where the quality is where it needs to be,” Estenson said. “We want our content wherever you are, but we don’t want you to be frustrated by it.”

The value of wireless also varies depending on a network’s target market segment. Networks that cater to very young viewers, such as pre-schoolers, generally don’t have a wireless play.

“We’re cognizant of the fact that many moms and dads won’t want to put their $400 phone in hands that are covered with peanut butter,” Wax said.

“The age break is around 10,” Cartoon Network executive vice president and general manager Jim Samples said.

Disney has been particularly aggressive in wireless, where it launched Disney Mobile in summer 2006. It also licenses content to other wireless providers.

“We are constantly researching and looking towards the future of where kids are going in terms of digital platforms. They multitask using an array of different devices, so our focus is not necessarily based on a specific platform but on our key consumers and their needs, as well as what is appropriate for our brands,” said Disney Channel spokeswoman Karen Hobson.

For operators, serving kids on the go means using a strong mobile lineup to prevent them from straying to other providers.

“We’d like to see the programming on different screens,” said Tricia Lynch, director of FiOS TV programming at Verizon Communications. “Kids don’t see the boundaries like adults do.”