As school closures began to hit countries on a rolling basis in the first few months of 2020, networks and digital platforms hustled to ramp up their offerings to cater to kids stuck inside (and to give beleaguered parents juggling work from home and home-schooling a bit of a break). Nickelodeon unveiled a global multiplatform prosocial initiative that used popular characters and talent to share tips for staying healthy and ideas for activities for the whole family. Stars from various Disney Channel shows participated in a series of new interstitial messages entitled We’re All in This Together. Cartoon Network launched an initiative to help kids stay safe, creative and entertained during the pandemic. Public broadcasters, among them BBC, Rai and CBC, offered up a variety of resources and expanded their lineups. Amazon made a selection of kids’ and family content available for free to watch on Prime Video for all Amazon customers. A Parent Media Co., owner of Kidoodle.TV, added resources to the platform to help parents during the crisis.
In terms of new content, animation was able to continue uninterrupted, with studios quickly switching to remote work—for example, a Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood special was created in response to the pandemic. Some live-action shows were also able to get made remotely, such as the YouTube original Lockdown and Nickelodeon’s Group Chat.
Much like the overall streaming space, the kids’ OTT landscape intensified in 2020, with CBS All Access (soon to be Paramount+) upping its children’s offering—including landing the rights to The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, which is skipping a theatrical run in 2021. In a sign of what could be to come, Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior were taken off the air in the U.K. at the end of September, with the content instead having its exclusive home on Disney+. Peacock and HBO Max both launched with kids’ content as a key part of their offerings. The BBC and Pact agreed to a new terms of trade deal for children’s programming, allowing young viewers to access their favorite programs in a complete box-set on BBC iPlayer for at least four years. There was further expansion of Hopster and Noggin. On the heels of a surge in usage, Kidoodle.TV expanded into original programming. Rakuten launched a new kids’ AVOD channel. Playground TV rolled out a multilingual streaming service for children aged 2 to 9.
As the competitive landscape intensifies, the rush to secure properties based on known IP was as intense as ever in 2020. CBBC announced the return of Crackerjack! PBS Kids set Donkey Hodie, inspired by the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood character. Disney+ ordered a revival of The Proud Family and a series from Lucasfilm, Star Wars: The Bad Batch. Netflix and CAKE, in partnership with Rovio Entertainment, announced Angry Birds: Summer Madness, based on the world of the Angry Birds. Nickelodeon greenlit Baby Shark’s Big Show!, based on the eponymous pop culture phenomenon, and signed a deal with Scooter Braun’s SB Projects to bring the musical stylings of The BeatBuds to TV in an animated series. HBO Max ordered Young Love, based on the characters introduced in the Academy Award-winning short film Hair Love from Matthew A. Cherry. WildBrain is collaborating with Kevin Smith to develop an original animated series based on the classic Green Hornet superhero franchise. Drew and Jonathan Scott, known as the Property Brothers, are getting the animated treatment in Builder Brothers’ Dream Factory. Apple entered into a new partnership with The Jim Henson Company to reboot the classic series Fraggle Rock and became the home of all Peanuts content. Karma’s World, a series created by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and based on the interactive educational website of the same name, is headed to Netflix. Basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal is to star in and executive produce a new kids’ show for Genius Brands International.
Numerous series were ordered based on books or comics. Among them, Taika Waititi is working on two animated series inspired by Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for Netflix. Rai Ragazzi and Sergio Bonelli Editore teamed for a new series based on the comic Dragonero. There’s a new live-action Goosebumps series based on the best-selling books by R.L. Stine in the works. Cyber Group Studios sealed a deal with Scholastic to adapt Press Start!, Thomas Flintham’s internationally acclaimed book series. Sky commissioned The Brilliant World of Tom Gates based on the books by Liz Pichon. Apple TV+ ordered an animated adaptation of Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy and inked a multiyear deal with The Maurice Sendak Foundation. Doc McStuffins creator Chris Nee and Higher Ground Productions are working on the animated preschool series Ada Twist, Scientist for Netflix, based on the book series by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts.
In terms of M&A activity, 2020 began with the closing of Hasbro’s acquisition of Entertainment One. Azoomee acquired Da Vinci Media, Xilam Animation finalized its Cube Creative investment, Riki Group acquired Aeroplane Productions, Skydance Media bought the animation unit of Madrid-based Ilion Studios, Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed to become a significant investor in Genius Brands International, which last year acquired North American marketing and media agency ChizComm. Hopster bought the preschool learning app Curious World.
A key development to watch this year will be the fallout in Australia from the government’s policy shift in quota requirements. In October, a coalition of the children’s content producers in Australia urged the government to reconsider, arguing the move would result in the sector losing thousands of jobs. “In abolishing the free-to-air quotas for children’s content, with no corresponding legislation in place for the streamers or other adjustments, the federal government has left the sector stranded.” Without local commissions, producers will not be able to access the tax offsets that have long made Australia a key co-pro partner in the kids’ sector. “The change will also impact on the production of programs through the Australian Government’s co-production treaty arrangements, as the license fees and broadcaster commissions were an essential element in producers reaching the minimum finance requirements of these treaties. If we can’t bring that finance to the table, we can’t finance and produce Australian intellectual property at a viable volume for worldwide distribution.”