Russell Dever, founder and managing director of U.K. agency Those Licensing People, talks to TV Kids about the company’s recently launched children’s app KidsCast, which he created.
The “entertainment-on-demand” platform offers a selection of original and third-party series, including classics from yesteryear, as well as downloadable games that can be played offline, digital books and a variety of activities. The ad-free online destination, which launched in April, was certified by the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. It is currently available for iOS and Android devices in the U.K. and Ireland.
TV KIDS: How did the idea for KidsCast first come about?
DEVER: KidsCast was a discussion with my cousin, who works with me, about three years ago. We were just chatting about all the old shows that we liked when we were kids and what happens to them. As a consequence of that, we began thinking, there may well be quite a lot of shows out there that just never see the light of day anymore, but yet would still be recognized and have been loved by generations of people. Initially, we weren’t really thinking in terms of an app, but we put some feelers out into the marketplace and sure enough, we did find that there was something of an appetite to revive older shows. And that’s where it sort of began. But it’s grown enormously since then and it’s now a much broader concept and project than we had initially envisaged. So we built a small app and we were very fortunate that we were able to locate some older children’s shows. Initially, I suppose, it was really to demonstrate that we could do it. But then we talked to some other larger content providers who said, We’re quite interested in this and we’d like to give you some support.
From our point of view, we felt that we needed to have a broad offering if we were going to be taken seriously by the consumer marketplace. So we did our first rebuild of the app and created the KidsCast world, which grew in sections. TV shows remain in the middle of that world—that’s the backbone—but we also then introduced online games and then we introduced the idea of a digital magazine, which is provided every month to subscribers. The [Imagine] magazine is very important, we feel, to the structure and growth of the app moving forward. There’s no advertising on the app at all, but through the magazine, we do run sponsored competitions from well-known companies like K’NEX, Feber and Disney. So we’re reaching out through the magazine directly to our audience, and they are really engaging with us.
Then we thought we should include digital books, so we built a library including a music catalog. Within the next three months, we will be launching a virtual-reality section in the app, so kids will be able to watch shows in a VR environment. We’re also adding a radio station.
TV KIDS: What are some of the plans for original content on the app?
DEVER: Because as a company I’m also a producer as well as a licensing agency, [KidsCast] became an opportunity for us to bring completely new content online direct to the marketplace without necessarily having to go through the process of a sale to a free-to-air broadcaster or satellite or whatever. So suddenly we’re in a position where, because we have very high-profile TV shows on the app already, we’re attracting more and more of those types of shows and at the same time, we’re also now creating exclusively for our own app.
We have three new shows in production, which will go onto the app next year. There’s Boys vs Girls, which is a space adventure show. We have Boy and the Dinosaur, which has been an ongoing project for us for some time now and that will be going live next year. Then we also have the Worldeez show. Worldeez is a toy product that just hit the market. We are the global licensing agency for Worldeez, which has really done well throughout the summer. The sell through of the collectible has been so successful, selling out on launch within 48 hours and something like 10 million YouTube hits in the space of four months. Worldeez is now launching in other markets around the world. So we’re creating some webisodes specifically for them and those will be exclusive to KidsCast. And all of that work is done in our own studio here in the North of England.
TV KIDS: Tell us about KidsCast’s promise to provide a “secure entertainment hub” for children.
DEVER: Having worked in television and licensing for about 30 years, the safety of kids online is a real hot potato. One of the things that we’ve been able to do with KidsCast is to ensure that children are safe online in a way that they’re not safe on YouTube or Amazon or even, for that matter, Netflix, because it’s easy for kids to access inappropriate material if parents fail to set up the correct protocols. So [safety] is something that’s really important to us and very close to my heart. KidsCast is an enclosed app, so kids can’t skip out into something else. Parents can choose to lock their kids into the app so they can’t get from there onto other parts of the internet.
TV KIDS: Will the app be launching in other countries and languages?
DEVER: Indeed, that is our intention. So in 2018 we will be starting work on a Spanish version of the app targeting mainland Spain and South America. There is a long tradition of extremely good children’s programming from Spain and in South America, so that will be our first language. Then in 2019 or toward the end of 2018, we’ll start work on a version for the Chinese market and also for India. I’m not necessarily looking at German or French or Italian [versions] at this point in time. I think that we need to have access to bigger emerging markets. India and China are high on my list of priorities.
TV KIDS: What else is in store for the future of KidsCast?
DEVER: The next stage of development of the app into 2018 will be an online store where parents and kids will be able to purchase licensed merchandise on a bespoke basis based on the shows that they like to watch. That’s something quite unique; nobody’s doing anything like that at all. So if a kid likes to watch, let’s say, Rainbow, Mum will be able to design a Rainbow T-shirt online with a child’s name on it and maybe a message or a good wish or whatever, and that will then be delivered within 14 days direct to the client.
We’re now in this really interesting position of still being a licensing agency, still working in a B2B environment, licensing intellectual property that is either third-party or our own, but also having now developed an arm of the business which is a B2C (business-to-consumer), and it’s working really, really well! I’ve targeted by the end of December this year, we should have achieved around 50,000 subscribers. I expect next year to double that. I hope by the end of 2018 it will be up somewhere around 100,000 to 120,000 subscribers. And then into 2019, we’re looking at something like a quarter of a million subscribers. So it’s an exciting project.
It seems that we’ve found a very interesting way of bringing back some really well known shows, and some of them are very old. I’ve just taken delivery of a British show called Noggin the Nog. Noggin was first shown in 1959. There were a lot of series over many years, and later series, which have been created for the BBC by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, who are extremely well known in the world of animation in the U.K. Oliver Postgate is sadly no longer with us, but I’m working with his son Daniel. The later series were created in color and it’s quite basic animation, but beautiful and brilliant, clever and witty storytelling. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about, telling a story, and we choose with great care the material that we put up onto the app. We don’t just take anything that’s given to us; it’s properly curated for balance, for entertainment, for education and for the needs of a growing mind.
The app should be—and I hope it is—challenging, it should be interesting and it should be entertaining. [Another] great thing about it is that it’s castable, which means that it will work from any WiFi device to any smart television. So if you happen to own a smart TV, you can cast it directly from a mobile phone to the big screen, which is really cool. All of the games on the app will work offline as well, so you can still use the app even if you don’t have a connection to the internet. So KidsCast has an awful lot going for it, both in terms of the future of where broadcasting is and where the marketplace is going. It is an absolute fact that increasingly, children are not watching TV in a traditional way; they’re using multiplatform devices and they’re choosing to watch TV or engage with games when they want. They’re not interested in scheduling and all that kind of malarkey.
I’d like to feel that we will become the leading children’s app over the next two or three years. We have huge ambition and if we are lucky enough to be able to build up to 100,000 subscribers, at that point the app will go in a stratospherically different direction because we will have built a whole virtual world, which kids will be able to discover and interact with.