"Mind the Gap" - Kids' Pathways to Content (Part 4)

David Kleeman

This is the final installment of Dubit’s “Data of Discoverability” series, on how young people find their way to content in today’s avalanche of media possibilities. We’ve covered the overall landscape, methods for promoting discovery, and how to tweak today’s reliance on algorithm to stand out from the crowd and sustain your audience.

This last bit will explore two trends that are shaping the children’s media universe while revealing opportunities for creators: the tween gap and the rise of generalist content.

Worldwide, we’re seeing a rise in kids and families choosing and co-viewing generalist content. While the tablet and smartphone are for watching what’s personal to the individual, the living room/lounge TV set is made for sharing by siblings, among friends, or with parents. We know that both children and parents tell us they want more time spent together, and with the sharp rise in smart TVs, the experience can include linear channels, VOD content, or even sharing the newest YouTube viral video.

In response, we’re seeing increasing broad-audience programming – talent shows, baking competitions, athletic reality series and more. Several of these franchises – The Voice, Dancing with the Stars, Ninja Warrior, Great British Bake-off have developed youth versions. These tamp down the interpersonal drama but have all the other appeal factors of the original: skill and mastery, rooting interest, anticipation and surprise. In some ways, this type of programming is akin to the “unboxing” videos pre-schoolers love: they’re predictable in format and how they’ll unspool, but always promise surprises. With the cooking shows, some families bring the contest home and have their own bake-offs.

At the same time, and perhaps related, tweens are moving earlier than ever to shows aimed at older youth. From eight years onward, we see “Riverdale,” “Thirteen Reasons Why,” “Stranger Things” and even “Game of Thrones” crop up in their favorites. In a nod to that age group’s ping-pong between childhood and onrushing maturity, US 8-11-year-olds’ top brands are Lego, Candy Crush and Snapchat, and their top TV series are “Spongebob,” “Big Bang Theory” and “Walking Dead.” The most extreme of these may be a reflection of the return to appointment co-viewing with parents on the big screen.

From a wider perspective, the engagement with generalist and age-inappropriate series reflects a big gap in the market. Across all platforms, there’s very little made uniquely for the tween and early teen audience that is substantive, challenging and deep enough to fuel super-fandom. Shows like the UK’s Grange Hill were appointment viewing for decades. Tweens still watch the sitcoms that have been kids channel fare forever, but they’re no longer as satisfying; once they’ve seen the full scope of content possible in the omni-media world, they want more. Netflix has stepped into this gap.

It’s a chaotic world out there, but young people are doing their best to seek order in the chaos, claiming as their own some of the techniques that used to be the broadcaster’s role. They choose blocks and playlists in order to make fewer decisions; they align their device, platform and content choices with the daypart; they have a seemingly-innate grasp of what will be emotionally satisfying at the particular moment; and they balance their media and technology lives between the personal and the shared.

Our role is to give them the tools to fulfill those needs and wishes.

This series of articles ran initially in C21 Kids.

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