In a crowded and highly competitive children’s media environment, how and why kids do engage with video content (think linear, streaming, YouTube, Netflix, etc.)? What frustrates kids’ search for content and what helps them navigate?
Dubit Trends - the world’s largest kids media and entertainment tracker - reveals interesting patterns in the choices children are making, and at C21 Kids Content Futures, Adam Woodgate (Dubit SVP Media Insights) and I presented data and insights from this survey that covers 18,000 2-15 year olds and their parents, in 17 countries.
We know that linear video is in a decline that is accelerating among younger audiences. Channels (e.g., Disney Channel, Nickelodeon) are becoming less and less important as a TV content destination, as kids navigate toward ‘platforms’ to find their next favourite show. When they know the specific piece of content they want, where they get it and how they get there become less important. We tend to think of the new platforms as a commodity more than a brand because they are, in the simplest form, pathways to content
From the chart, we see linear (blue line) decline across all age groups, and streaming (green line) accelerating. Amongst UK 2-4 year olds, streaming has overtaken linear and this trend is set to continue across all ages.
20 years ago, you might have found a TV in the majority of kids’ bedrooms. Now, you’re only likely to find one or two television sets in a household, generally in communal spaces like the lounge or family room. Children younger than 8 are more likely to own a tablet than any other connected device and, today, getting your own tablet is the rite-of-passage equivalent to getting a bedroom TV in the 1980s and 90s. Still, whilst children have access to games, video, apps and more on a tablet, they still enjoy watching television.
Not only do kids often prefer the high-fidelity experience of the larger screen for their own favourite shows, the TV is also bringing families together. In particular, generations come together in the lounge for live transmissions (I’m a Celebrity), so-called ‘shiny floor’ shows (X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing) and events (the World Cup).
Netflix, as well, is starting to claim a share of ‘family time,’ by licensing nostalgia shows familiar to parents from their formative years (Sabrina The Teenage Witch) and iconic heritage titles like the Roald Dahl stories.
On the other hand, if a kid wants to watch something different from the rest of the family, the tablet comes out again, and they’ll find somewhere quiet to watch it. We recently met an 11-year-old girl who, after school, retreats to her bedroom, under her duvet, to watch her favourite YouTubers. She allows these YouTubers into this deeply personal and safe space because of how personal and relevant they feel to her. TV once filled that spot with shows like Clarissa Explains It All, but today it’s unlikely that a more traditional TV show would be invited into that space..
Before kids can watch your content, they have to find it. The chart below shows primary word-of-mouth sources from which kids hear about new entertainment. Parents and friends are the key influencers, shifting with age.
Offline media is losing influence as YouTubers and pre-roll ads rise in importance for kids hearing about new content. Among older kids, YouTubers are now as influential as parents.
Trust is hard to win and easily lost, though!
On the above chart, we’ve highlighted declining trust amongst 2-7 year olds in YouTubers (green line). It’s possible that this is due to parents reacting to bad press around advertising on the YouTube platform, viral articles such as James Bridle’s ‘How Peppa Pig became a video nightmare for children’, and behaviours of PewdiePie and Logan Paul, amongst others.
Without control over content, YouTube needs to worry that its Relatable Influencers will become Replaceable. If that happens, YouTube may quickly lose its sizeable role in how kids discover content.
The chart below shows the proportion of kids (or below age 8, their parents) who say they ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ struggle to find something new that they are looking for to watch.
It’s not that platform UI doesn’t work - there are many good ways of surfacing content.
- On Sky (TV), the viewer can enter a known channel number then use the remote to surf up and down, or can navigate via the on-screen menu.
- On YouTube, discovery varies by device used: recommendation drives viewing on tablets, whereas search is used to surface content on smartphones; and many kids use their history to pick up where they left a previous journey.
- On Netflix, beyond recommendations based on previously-watched videos, kids can search by show name and scroll through seasons to find the desired episode.
The simple fact is that kids are overwhelmed by the many access points through which they can now get content, but content is only licensed to certain platforms. The link between a show brand and a platform brand isn’t the same today as it used to be. This can add to the frustration of young viewers struggling to find what they are looking for.
Kids aren’t simply confronted with more platforms, but also with more brands than ever, across TV, film, books, comics, apps, toys, and so on. We’ve discovered a paradox, though: the more brands they encounter, the bigger the top five “mega-brands” get.
Kids, traditionally, only have the time to devote themselves to three brands at once; to adopt a new passion, something else needs to be left behind. That hasn’t changed today, even in the face of multiplying options.
In fact, as app stores, YouTube and SVoD services cram more and more into their catalogues, surfacing new content gets harder and harder. Kids have to sift through, sort and decode content very quickly. It becomes harder work to build a relationship with a new brand than to stay with what’s familiar. So, kids end up sticking with the mega-brand favourites.
Every generation’s grown-ups talk about kids’ media habits as if they are vastly different from their own. When you look under the surface, though, this isn’t the case. Grown-ups and kids show many similarities in what they watch, beneath different executions:
- Like the big reveal? Kids watch unboxing videos; parents watch home-renovation shows.
- Feeling creative and want mastery? Kids (and a lot of adults!) learn new Minecraft builds from YouTube videos; parents (and a lot of kids!) get cooking inspiration from Great British Baking Show and its ilk.
- Want to feel personally connected? Clarissa and Boy Meets World were “they get me” shows for today’s parents in the 90s; today, their kids feel kinship with YouTubers like Zoella and Ali-A.
- Need a mindful moment? ASMR videos are drawing in all age ranges.
- Seeking distraction? Parents scan their social media feeds, while their kids are scrolling YouTube.
Now more than ever, it’s crucial that traditional broadcasters and producers think about how they can engage kids during their personal time, but also become part of the family/friend conversation dynamic that focuses on the social, living room TV. The key words are “placement” and “direction”: put the content where the audience is, already (considering platform and time of day), and signpost it for those seeking something new.
Adam Woodgate is SVP Media Insights and Stephanie Whitley is Planning and Brand Strategy Manager. Note, this article first appeared in C21.