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Living in a Digital World – June 2016

The June edition of Generation Head of Digital Martin Doyle’s monthly column Living in a Digital World. Originally published in ToyWorld, June 2016

As an 8 year old, watching an episode of my favourite TV shows like Fun House, Knightmare or Tom & Jerry was a straightforward task – tune in to BBC1 or ITV between 3.30pm and 5.30pm (pre-Neighbours, of course). We weren’t a Sky household and not yet internet connected, so my choice was ‘Channel 1’ or ‘Channel 3’ in a two hour window. A colleague of mine told me that she didn’t know CITV even existed until she visited a friend’s house; such was the ease that parents could dictate content access.  I wonder how many 8 year olds still hunt for content by choosing their favourite TV channel as I once did. Content is now much more likely to be selected by favourite show, character or 10 second highlight – many interactive factors from YouTube search to a TV’s EPG are set up to support the latter. Moreover, parents arguably have less say over content consumed when it is done so on YouTube via a tablet or smartphone outside of the family living room.

UK media outlets have reacted to this, and there has been an avalanche of VOD platforms for kids in the past 6 months or so. Children can now take their pick from bespoke VOD apps such as YouTube Kids, Disney Life, Sky Kids and iPlayer Kids from the BBC. Formats are straightforward – each are apps that allow youngsters to search for content in a walled garden. YouTube Kids for instance algorithmically sorts content from the main YouTube universe, and adds this to the YouTube Kids library. Closed libraries please parents in the wake of recent cyber-security concerns – indeed all apps above feature Parental Settings. Sky and BBC have added age-gating to ensure appropriateness. Each have their own unique features: Sky Kids allows live streaming of TV content for instance. Even better, all the new VOD apps are free with the exception of Disney Life which has a £9.99 per month subscription cost.

One area that has been notable by its absence has been advertising. With the Beeb the obvious exception, only YouTube Kids carries any advertising, and even here it is limited to a few brands. In previous columns I have been vocal about not advertising for advertising’s sake, or purely to fill online space – and I stand by that. But to play devil’s advocate, are the media owners missing a trick commercially by overlooking this revenue stream? Having said that, Facebook and Twitter are amongst many platforms that didn’t serve their first ad until they were established players in the online space and had brands practically begging for exposure to their loyal audience.

There’s also a second, deeper question: are these traditional TV players cannibalising their commercially viable offline audience by driving them online to a commercial free zone? The flipside to this particular coin is that the migration to VOD content will likely happen whether the traditional media owners like it or not: 82% of 7-10 year olds are watching YouTube content on a variety of devices, according to TGI. Consider also that outside of the kids’ space (but no doubt accessed by youngsters) platforms such as Spotify have launched video content, and we are looking at an incredibly noisy, crowded landscape.

A global media powerhouse such as Disney would probably argue that their brand retains enough of a halo effect to ensure that kids choose their other outlets and products, and that more touchpoints is a good thing. The challenge that brands face is choosing which of these touchpoints allows them to reach the right audience with the right content at the right time and all within the confines of their marketing spend – a challenge that Generation are meeting through constantly evolving insight and effective measurement that allows for optimal campaign management.

The kids VOD market could get very interesting over the next two to three years – it’s anyone’s guess as to which players and revenue models will come out on top at this stage. One thing is for sure – I bet today’s 8 year olds don’t have to run all the way home from school to catch the 4 o’clock showing of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles like I did. They don’t know how lucky they are!