TV Kids recaps the biggest stories in kids’ content in 2019.
The $170 million fine levied on YouTube (and parent company Google) in September of last year reignited the debate around children’s content in the wild west of online platforms. Ahead of its settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, YouTube Kids was launched as a dedicated website (previously it was only available as a mobile app) with new age-group filters. The company also set up a $100 million fund dedicated to the creation of “thoughtful, original” children’s content for its platforms globally. And it instituted new policies to block data collection on any videos targeted at children—moves it said would have a “significant business impact on family and kids’ creators who have been building both wonderful content and thriving businesses.”
Indeed, as the on-demand kids’ space gets more crowded, platform operators and content producers alike will have to come to grips with how to entertain kids online while keeping them safe. And the streaming space is booming. Hopster continues to expand across the globe. Kidoodle.TV has carved out a niche as a “safe-streaming” AVOD service for kids. Last year saw the much-awaited arrival of Disney+ and continued expansion of Nick+ and Noggin. Other new platforms emerged, including WildBrain’s Kids Room, the Spanish-language Edye and VOOT Kids in India. Canada’s CBC vowed to double the amount of programming it offers for kids on CBC Gem. Amazon Prime Video continues to target young viewers even as it scales back on its original programming efforts. CBS All Access added kids’ content to its offering, which now also includes series from sister company Nickelodeon. The AVOD service Tubi also added a kids’ section. And, of course, Netflix remained a huge investor, ramping up its original series investments across the globe. This year will see the arrival of HBO Max, which has a dedicated animation and kids’ and family team in place and has already announced an animated prequel to the Gremlins movie franchise, a significant deal with Sesame Workshop and much more ahead of its May launch. (Meanwhile, traditional kids’ channels still found some room for expansion last year, with networks like ZooMoo, DreamWorks and BabyFirst landing carriage deals in Asia and Latin America.)
The other major theme of 2019 was consolidation. Hasbro closed its nearly $4 billion deal for Entertainment One this week. M6 completed its deal to acquire Gulli, Canal J and Tiji, among other assets, from Lagardère Active. Viacom, pre-CBS merger, bought Paws, Inc., the entity holding global IP rights to Garfield, and took full ownership of the Italian free-to-air kids’ network Super! Sony Pictures Television took control of Octonauts producer Silvergate Media. Other M&A activity in the year included 9 Story Media Group acquiring BASE in Indonesia; Nickelodeon acquiring the childhood learning technology platform Sparkler; Toonz Media Group investing in the Emmy-winning Irish production house Telegael; and Hopster closing a multi-million-pound equity investment round from Sandbox & Co. and Venture Founders. In addition, Netflix acquired the StoryBots property, the children’s media brand created by Gregg and Evan Spiridellis; and Blue Ant Media purchased the Jelly Jamm brand from Vodka Capital.
Kids’ content owners also stepped up their efforts to align with big-name talent in the quest for top-notch IP. Genius Brands International partnered with the late Stan Lee and Arnold Schwarzenegger for a new preschool show. Disney+ tapped Gina Rodriguez and her production company, I Can & I Will Productions, for an upcoming ten-part scripted series. Nickelodeon and Tyler Perry Studios partnered to develop and produce a new live-action series with 10-year-old rapper Young Dylan. Studio 100 Group contracted the international acrobatic dance act Baba Yega to be one of its new family entertainment brands. Nickelodeon Latin America aligned with YouTube personality Isabella de la Torre.
Book, game and comic-book adaptations and reboots continued to abound in 2019 as producers sought out known IP. Of note, Nickelodeon (which revived All That) secured a global deal with STUDIOCANAL and award-winning producer David Heyman for a brand-new Paddington series for preschoolers and is working with CBS Television Studios on a Star Trek series. It also premiered a brand-new Blue’s Clues. BBC said it was reviving Crackerjack. Billy Crystal and John Goodman are reprising their Monsters, Inc. voice roles for Monsters at Work on Disney+. Belvision and Dupuis Edition & Audiovisuel are developing a new 3D series adapted from the Marsupilami universe. Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers is being adapted for CBBC and Family Channel. Edward Stratemeyer’s best-selling classic children’s books The Hardy Boys are being turned into a live-action series that will debut on YTV in Canada and Hulu in the U.S. in 2020. MRC secured the rights to the celebrated children’s IP Eloise. Netflix and Mattel Television are reimagining He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.
Content owners were also busy building out the experiential space for key brands. This included Mattel constructing its first multibranded family entertainment centers featuring Barbie, Hot Wheels and Mega Construx brands, and Meridian Berhad entering into a memorandum of understanding to develop the world’s first-ever Hasbro-themed water park.
The year also saw some significant senior leadership changes, among them Eric Ellenbogen taking over as CEO at WildBrain (rebranded from DHX Media last October) and the exits of Alice Webb at BBC Children’s, Christina Miller at Cartoon Network and Deirdre Brennan at Universal Kids.
The kids’ business also saw several new players in 2019. Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment launched a new kids’ and family unit, as did Lime Pictures. Ulli Stoef exited Studio 100 and m4e and launched Toon2Tango. Discovery Kids Media was created at Discovery International to develop, commission, co-produce and distribute kids’ animated and live-action content. Licensing veterans Trudi Hayward and Jean-Philippe Randisi unveiled bRAND-WARD, a new company that aims to provide support to IP owners and creators in the kids’ entertainment business.
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