Tony Havelka on the Launch of Ameba Productions

Tony Havelka, CEO of Ameba and Ameba Productions, talks to TV Kids about what’s in store for the brand-new production division.

The children’s streaming platform Ameba has just taken the wraps off its brand-new production division, Ameba Productions. The production arm will concentrate on bringing popular children’s books to life through video for young audiences. Ameba Productions has already completed its first set of productions, with read-along books from New York Times best-selling children’s author and illustrator Sandra Boynton.

***Image***TV KIDS: How has Ameba been working to serve little ones and caregivers at home amid coronavirus stay-at-home measures?
HAVELKA: We kept our subscription prices low at $3.99 per month, or $1.67 per month if you purchase for a full year. We introduced Ameba All Access, where we make about 1,000 episodes, 300 hours, available for free on a weekly rotating basis. Recently, we also introduced the Free Movie of the Weekend. Usually, movies are part of our premium, subscription service. Every week, we let members of our free audience vote on which movie they would like to watch. The movie with the most votes is available for free from Friday afternoon to Monday morning. Response and engagement on this have been phenomenal.

TV KIDS: What led to the launch of Ameba Productions?
HAVELKA: Ameba Productions makes quality read-alongs available to parents and children. We saw a need in the market for this type/genre of content. There are lots of people who pick up a book and read it on YouTube. We wanted to work with (as a joint endeavor) the author and publisher to license the work and bring it to life on video.

TV KIDS: What will this new endeavor entail?
HAVELKA: We are focused on taking great kids’ books and giving them an audience that uses video to read along. We digitize the work, add a quality voice-over and music. It is a simple process to describe but quite a lot of work to capture the creativity of the author and illustrator.

TV KIDS: How did the partnership with Sandra Boynton come about?
HAVELKA: The COVID-19 outbreak has many authors looking to help parents out in this time of need. Sandra Boynton’s team was quick to respond to the call, and the first four books have already been released.

TV KIDS: What’s next for Ameba Productions?
HAVELKA: We are continuing with more books from Sandra Boynton, then on to licensing more books from a variety of other publishers and authors. We have a few great titles in the pipeline.

TV KIDS: What is the wider focus for Ameba over the short term, 6 to 8 months, and long term, 12 to 24 months ahead?
HAVELKA: Ameba continues to focus on bringing quality content to children in the U.S. and Canada. We have been fine-tuning our business models and catalog for over the last 12 years to make sure our content providers are paid well during times like this while still remaining a great value for parents.

We have eliminated our reliance on ads to fund growth. Free streaming services are quite popular now, especially in the children’s space. Low friction for sign-up lets you build up an audience quite quickly—you can start watching immediately without a credit card. We started offering a full AVOD version of Ameba just over five years ago. We realized that to be a successful children’s AVOD, you have to come to terms with the fact that you are in the business of showing ads to children while they watch content. You are not in the streaming-content business, you are in the ad business because in AVOD, ads are the only way you make money. We could never get our head around that fact, for many reasons.

While we still work with top ad suppliers like SuperAwesome, we use ads in our no-time-limit free trial to drive subscriptions. This gives parents a no-risk way to check out our catalog before signing up for Ameba Premium. For those on a tight budget, it gives them a free way to watch great content with a very low ad load. This strategy has been working quite well for us, and our providers. Over the next 12 to 24 months, we will continue to refine this model to further reduce our reliance on third-party advertisements to fund our free offering.