David W. Kleeman & Emily Horgan on the Challenges of Discovery


David W. Kleeman, in conversation with Emily Horgan at the TV Kids Summer Festival today, showcased new data from Dubit on how kids aged 6 to 9 are discovering and engaging with content.

Kleeman is the senior VP of global trends at Dubit. Horgan is an independent consultant who covers developments in kids’ media via her newsletter, The Kids StreamerSphere, and podcast, Kids Media Club. You can watch their session here.

The session began with Horgan asking Kleeman about the importance of understanding the 6-to-9 set. “It’s the age when they’re starting to split off into peer groups, develop their own interests and when the parents cede control of the remote or the mobile device,” Kleeman said. “It’s where the audience fragments for the first time. Preschool is much easier to concentrate on and figure out what will work for a broad audience. You get to 6 to 9 and you’ve got your gamers, your TV kids, your YouTube kids, and they have different hobbies. It can be really hard to gain traction at that age. We talk about 6 to 9, and then a little bit of 9 to 12, as the ‘middle kingdom.’ A lot of times, if they are an older sibling, they’ve got control of the remote for the first time. If they’re a younger sibling, they have to struggle to watch what they want to watch. You’ll see that things not really for the 6-to-9 age group often come up as things that they like best.”

SpongeBob SquarePants is still attracting 6- to 9-year-olds, Kleeman said. “Many of the top programs for kids right now are old,” he said. “If the show itself hasn’t been around a long time, then at least the IP has. How do you break in a new IP? How do you break in a new franchise when it’s so dominated by long-running IPs and where there’s just very little appetite for risk these days?”

The makers of popular franchises “have done a good job of diversifying out into different platforms,” Kleeman noted, “re-creating themselves every couple of years, whether it’s taking themselves out to a new platform like a Roblox, Fortnite or Minecraft or just coming out with new takes on the series.”

Roblox is dominating in gaming, and Kleeman continued by presenting data on which games are most popular among kids. “So many kids between 6 and 9 are picking that up as maybe even their first game beyond, say, Candy Crush [Saga], which you see is number three. Once they get to Roblox, it’s really such a ‘do anything that you want’ platform. You’re likely to find your favorite content from television there, but as a means of new IP discovery, it really is still one of the great outlets.”

“Discovery in streaming is having a major crisis,” Horgan said. “Back on linear, we knew how to program; we knew how to do a nice lead-in, lead-out. We knew our time slots, we knew who our audience was, and we could program to that. Obviously, it didn’t always work, and the content has to rule. The content has to be king. But that discovery is the key. On streaming, there are a lot of question marks. Those streaming interfaces are built up from the EPGs of the past, and there’s nothing less engaging than an EPG. That discovery mechanism that streaming is based on doesn’t really service the audience. With platforms like YouTube and, to a certain extent, Roblox, the discovery algorithms are much more tactile. They can communicate much more seamlessly with a potential viewer of that content. I also think there’s an opportunity for that quality engagement. If you can have 100 people playing the game versus 1,000 people knowing it exists, the quality of what you’re getting is so different there. That’s where platforms like Roblox and YouTube have such an opportunity in this discovery question.”

Kleeman agreed, noting, “If you can get a small but really loyal fandom playing your games, watching your videos, sharing with their friends, making YouTube videos about their play experience, that’s a much more powerful thing than 100 kids who tune in because it’s there.”

Kleeman continued, “People talk a lot about attention span. I don’t think there’s any change in attention span for young people. They’ll sit and watch Frozen start to finish six times if they’re engaged by it. They will build in Minecraft for hours. It’s that they make decisions very quickly, and they know quite fast if something is not right for them.”

Kleeman then talked about the challenges of competing with the speed of the user-generated content economy. “It’s really hard to be immediate and relevant and timely for kids if it is taking that long to bring something new to air. Not to mention that if you are a hit and you’ve got a second season, then it’s another wait. How do you keep kids engaged with the content, the stories and the characters between those seasons? That, again, is where games come in, where YouTube especially comes in with outtakes, behind-the-scenes, anything you can do to sustain interest in between new content coming along.”

Roblox and YouTube “are hungry beasts that need to be fed,” Horgan said. “So, if you’re going to have your own Roblox experience or your own YouTube channel, you [have to] understand that it’s like a puppy. It’s not just for Christmas. It’s for life. It needs to be fed every day or at least a couple of times a week. Having that content roadmap is a key thing because you’re creating a platform where you want a return audience. You can’t just talk to them when you want to say something. You need to keep talking to them every day. Otherwise, they’re going to go somewhere else.”

Roblox doesn’t require a huge investment, Kleeman added. “We’ve been putting brands into existing popular games. You can build a little mini-game. That’s a great way to get attention if you are launching a movie or a new TV series, just to immerse them in that world for two minutes. In the gaming world, there are a lot of lower-cost, lower-time-investment ways of bringing an audience in.”

Having a well-thought-through strategy at the outset is crucial, Kleeman added. “We often advise people: don’t distribute yourself too thinly. Don’t immediately say, I’ve got to be on every platform at once. We used to have the term 360 commissioning, which was really the commissioners’ 360. It was their anxiety about not reaching every kid on every platform on every device. It was not the kids’ 360. It’s so important if you want to preserve your franchise to spend wisely at the beginning and figure out the most likely platform for discovery, engagement and fandom. You can grow out from there, and you should be planning for your next step. But you need to keep analyzing what’s working and then grow wisely.”

Kleeman and Horgan then discussed the general entertainment shows that are resonating with kids amid the move toward co-viewing sparked by the pandemic, including Netflix’s Wednesday. “Streaming creates shows that are very crowd-pleasing for all the family,” Horgan said.

Real-world touchpoints are also still vital, Kleeman said. “Creating these places where you can continue your engagement with your favorite stories is going to be very big.”

“Kids know it’s a big deal if they’re seeing it in the physical world,” Horgan added. “We talk a lot about digital, but let’s not forget that physical experiences are still a really important thing for kids and families to connect.”

Horgan is also keeping an eye on how Roblox develops as a source of new IPs that extend across multiple platforms, as YouTube has done. “In the next five to ten years, we’re going to see a Roblox-originated IP blowing out in that kind of a manner and seeing commercialization and franchising across lots of different touchpoints.”

As the session wrapped, Horgan asked Kleeman about the key things IP owners need to keep in mind when building awareness. “People still matter,” he said. “It’s so easy for us to talk about discovery through media, technology, games, but when you look at it, so many of the ways that young people find their way to something new is through their parents, siblings and peers. Beyond that, it does come down to some of the traditional methods used with television and advertising. Social media and YouTube are huge in terms of discovery. There are opportunities. You just have to be clever and not revert back to, ‘Well, we’ve always done it this way.’”