Given the transformative impact that Netflix has had in the drama and documentary spheres, it’s no surprise that it’s doing the same in kids’ programming. The streaming giant wants every member of a subscribing home to have a favorite Netflix show. As such, it has been aligning with key talent in the U.S. and internationally to deliver high-end, innovative content for preschoolers and up. As director of global kids’ content, Andy Yeatman oversees a portfolio of licensed and originated programming. A keynote speaker at this MIPJunior, Yeatman tells TV Kids about his approach to catering to Netflix’s young audiences.
TV KIDS: When Netflix decided to ramp up its kids’ content offering, what was the strategy behind the initial slate
YEATMAN: We started by working with preexisting IP that had some awareness. Being an on-demand service, kids, parents and families have to click and choose what they’re watching, so programs or characters that have some awareness are an advantage. That was part of the strategy behind our relationship with DreamWorks Animation, where we have series based on very big, very well-known IP from their movies, such as Dragons: Race to the Edge or The Adventures of Puss in Boots or All Hail King Julien. We also always try to work with the best-in-class, world-class creators, like Guillermo del Toro for Trollhunters, another show from DreamWorks, and Avi Arad, who produces Kong: King of the Apes for us.
TV KIDS: What are some of the shows that have struck a particular chord with your users?
YEATMAN: I wish I could say that we knew exactly what the magic formula is! We like to work with creators who have a distinct vision, a unique point of view, and where the content is visually distinct, so it stands out on our service. I’ll cite a couple of examples across the programming spectrum. We want to have a favorite show for every member of the household. So for younger kids we recently launched True and the Rainbow Kingdom, which comes out of Guru Studios in Canada, that’s really resonating. It’s visually distinct and beautiful and has unique and compelling characters. Trollhunters is obviously another one that’s been a big huge hit for us all around the world. And then, just to one more, a show called The Worst Witch, which is a co-production with the BBC and ZDF and very visually distinct, with a universal concept. That’s worked well all around the world as well.
TV KIDS: With existing IP, how do you work with the producers to make sure that what made a property magical in the first place is retained, while also creating something fresh and relatable for a new generation of kids?
YEATMAN: As you can imagine we’re constantly being presented with heritage or legacy properties to reinvent. We look for something that hasn’t been reimagined in a while, so it doesn’t feel like, oh, not another version of that. It’s been maybe a generation or so, or maybe it was never a TV series or movie before, it was a book or a video game. The Magic School Bus and Carmen Sandiego are two good examples. They haven’t been around for basically a generation. The next thing we look for is something that still feels relevant and cool. You talk to parents of your target demo and they fondly remember Carmen Sandiego. Depending on how old they are, it could be the video game, or millennials might remember the game show. Magic School Bus fits the same criteria. And, is there a reason to redo it? In the case of Carmen Sandiego, it’s an iconic character that people know, she’s a mysterious super-thief, but they don’t know that much about her. So the new version we’re working on is an origin story. How did she become a world-famous super-thief? Why is she a super-thief? And, why would you root for this thief? In the case of Magic School Bus, it’s not necessarily reimagining all the characters, it’s more that science has progressed a lot in the 25 years since the show was last on air. We thought it was time for this show to come back. The old show still holds up, still gets a lot of viewing on Netflix all over the world, it still resonates with kids and parents, but there were only so many episodes, so many lessons, and science has progressed a lot since then. Pluto was a planet when the original Magic School Bus was made.
TV KIDS: Are you now seeing a greater willingness from creatives to experiment with formats beyond the traditional 11-minute or 22-minute episode length?
YEATMAN: We’re pushing hard for that. When you’ve spent your whole career producing content for a linear network that needs to have content in a certain format, it takes a little while to de-program that. For us, content doesn’t have to be exactly 11 minutes or 22 minutes, the episodes can be a few minutes shorter or longer, depending on the story in that particular episode. But pushing even further than that, if you think about a movie or series on Netflix, they’re the same thing; they’re just packaged differently in time formats. We are excited about blurring the lines of what is a movie versus what is a series.
TV KIDS: A lot of your original content initiatives have been focused on the U.S. Are you looking at working with creators in other markets as well?
YEATMAN: To date, our original efforts have mostly come from English-speaking countries, not just the U.S.—we have many shows out of Australia, the U.K., Canada. We’ve done one international kids’ original, Las Leyendas out of Mexico, we call it Legend Quest in English, and we’re absolutely expanding. I’m speaking at MIPJunior, and we’ll be announcing some new international kids’ originals from other parts of the world.
TV KIDS: Tell us about the thinking behind some of your programming stunts, like the New Year’s Eve Countdowns and releasing Trollhunters just before Christmas.
YEATMAN: Recently we did some birthday videos for some of our shows. The characters from the shows sing “Happy Birthday.” It’s 2-minute videos. Unlike the New Year’s Eve Countdowns, these will stay up all year round. So when it’s your kid’s birthday, one of their favorite characters can wish them a happy birthday. We know that Netflix plays such an important role in the lives of a lot of families. We’re trying to use some shows to highlight some specific moments, and particularly to take advantage of what makes Netflix different. You can watch something on-demand wherever you are, at any time, so that was the beauty of the New Year’s Eve campaign. It could be New Year’s for your kid whenever you wanted it to be! The birthday videos are a little different. But birthdays are one of the things that kids all over the world celebrate, and they love having characters as part of their birthday parties, so this can help parents add to their kid’s birthday in a small way.
TV KIDS: What are you doing in the interactive storytelling space?
YEATMAN: We’re looking again at the things that make Netflix different. We’re an on-demand platform, so we’re inherently interactive. Viewers are constantly interacting with Netflix by choosing what to watch, stopping, starting, rewinding, fast-forwarding. And we wanted to use that functionality to be able to tell richer, more compelling, more engaging stories. So we started this year with two branching-narratives specials, Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale and Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile. They’re both based on existing Netflix original series. We’ll be expanding next year to do not only more specials but different types of formats. We don’t have anything specific to announce yet, but we will be expanding and doing more.
TV KIDS: I’m sure you get pitched constantly! What’s your advice to content creators around the world who want to see their shows on Netflix?
YEATMAN: Do your homework. Get a sense of what we have already, and what we’ve talked about publicly is working well for us. Know the ecosystem. And have a specific point of view. We love it when a creator comes in and says, here’s a character, here’s what they’re going through, here’s what this show is about, and here’s what’s going to happen to those characters, not just in the first episode but over the course of a season or an entire series. Specificity, a unique point of view, is really important.
TV KIDS: Are there any particular things that you’re looking for?
YEATMAN: We don’t have a specific brand box of what a Netflix show has to be. We’re trying to program for having something great for everyone. That means you have an incredibly diverse slate for the tastes of kids and families all over the world. That said, comedy always works well. That’s very important for us, whether it’s live action or animation.
TV KIDS: I watch how my niece and nephew engage with content, and they’re always on Netflix, far more than on any linear network. Do you think the media habits of this generation will change, or will they always be streaming, on-demand viewers?
YEATMAN: We believe that internet TV is only going to become bigger and be a bigger part of people’s entertainment lives. We also think there will be lots of internet-TV services with different types of offerings. The concept of choosing when, what, where [to watch] and not having advertising is a compelling formula.
TV KIDS: What do you love most about your job?
YEATMAN: I love the variety, the fact that we’re working with content creators from Argentina and India and Korea, that we’re working on live-action comedies and animated epic adventures like Trollhunters. Every day, every project is different. That’s what makes it so interesting.