Sandbox Group’s Ben Pugh

Last month, Sandbox Group launched a new FAST channel, catering to kids, in the U.K. and Ireland. PlayKids TV offers families educational entertainment with curated videos organized around key moments of the day, such as morning routines, afternoon play and bedtime. Sandbox brings together a range of fun learning content, including videos, music, podcasts and games, under a PlayKids 360 strategy that diversifies how people can access this. Ben Pugh, head of partnerships at Sandbox Group, tells TV Kids about having a tiered approach for reaching kids wherever they are, from free entry points like FAST and AVOD through to games, SVOD channels on partner platforms and its premium PlayKids+ app.

TV KIDS: What led Sandbox Group into the FAST arena for kids?
PUGH: We felt there was a need for us to engage with our audience through an emerging distribution model that would give them greater choice in how to watch learning-based content with their kids. For us, FAST is about taking our 10-plus years of expertise in curation and making it easy to discover.

TV KIDS: What are some of the opportunities and challenges facing the kids’ segment for FAST?
PUGH: The biggest challenges come from monetization, distribution and the latest trends in channel-building. When it comes to ad revenue, it’s clear that there is work to be done in bringing traditional media buyers who would ordinarily invest in pay TV into the FAST space. The benefit to advertising on FAST is the advanced targeting you can achieve but also the ability to place your ads on the most relevant channels.

In regard to distribution, there are more platforms emerging as FAST; some are completely new, and others are diversifying their offering to include these types of channels, like Virgin Media in the U.K. The challenge is that as a channel, you want to secure the widest possible distribution because, at scale, you can deliver an advertising opportunity that interests buyers, but the platforms themselves are trying to differentiate themselves in terms of which channels they offer, so securing distribution is becoming increasingly difficult.

This leads to a high churn rate of emergent trends in FAST. Right now, there is a lot of focus on single-IP channels, but long-term, this is not sustainable because it’s difficult to retain viewers once they have had their fill on your particular brand or show. Where we’ve decided to focus on PlayKids TV is on delivering a highly curated experience that allows us to program a wider variety of shows that have been vetted by our content team but also be flexible to leverage which shows and times of day are driving viewership and lean into that in the future.

TV KIDS: Talk to me about the wider PlayKids 360 programming strategy.
PUGH: We have a very experienced content team who are bringing together their editorial expertise from our other products, such as Hopster, PlayKids, Kidomi and Curious World, into what we call PlayKids 360, which is our way of diversifying how people access our content. Essentially, we have a tiered approach from free entry points like FAST and AVOD through to games, SVOD channels on partners like Prime Video, STC and others to our premium application PlayKids+. All of our shows and games are selected to teach kids from preschool through to 12 years old about the world and their place in it and help them with their development. Our content may vary between FAST and PlayKids+, but we take the same approach to make quality services that can really engage parents and their kids.

TV KIDS: What sets the PlayKids+ app apart in the marketplace?
PUGH: With PlayKids+, we have the ability to bring in more content from across Sandbox Group, particularly our games, which we are adding from some of our services like Edujoy and Cool Math Games.

We also have the ability to add up to five profiles, where the content available will reflect the age of the user. This enables us to be a very compelling value proposition for families with multiple children in the household without sacrificing the safe environment that particularly younger users benefit from.

Lastly, we’re building a product roadmap that will allow users to access the app in their preferred place, whether that’s mobile or tablet, web, connected TV or streaming stick.

TV KIDS: What’s the strategy for partnerships to grow the PlayKids brand globally?
PUGH: We have very strong partnerships with the content licensors we currently work with, but we can definitely go further in leveraging the variety of products we have across the group. With our distribution partners, we’re looking at how we can add even more value with bundles and offers for our other products. Whether it’s with FAST or SVOD, we put a lot of emphasis on being good partners to work with, by bringing thematic or event content to the services, price promotions and working with them to grow our audience using every opportunity we can.

TV KIDS: What are the greatest opportunities the kids’ sector should tap into looking toward the future to overcome what is a challenging time at present?
PUGH: Diversification is key, whether that’s in emerging distribution models like FAST or in developing for platforms such as Roblox. However, there is still value in offering a highly curated platform or destination for kids’ content, and I think parents, in particular, are becoming more aware of the leading platforms where kids are spending the majority of their time consuming content and are looking for alternatives.