YouTube Red launches slate of original children’s programming

Animated series Fruit Ninja: Frenzy Force heads a range of new shows aimed at YouTube Red subscribers aged 12 and under – but Hong Kong youngsters will have to wait

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 5:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 February, 2017, 6:07pm

YouTube is taking a bold step to capitalise on its popularity among swipe-savvy kids – and become a bigger player in the entertainment industry.

The internet’s dominant video platform has announced that it will launch its own slate of original TV shows aimed at children and families in the coming months.

The new series expand the roster of original productions under the global streaming giant’s monthly subscription service, YouTube Red, which launched in October (though it is not yet available in Hong Kong). The first batch of programming – four shows, whose premieres will be spaced out – will start rolling out in April.

With rising competition for eyeballs, YouTube can no longer rely on amateur videos and user-generated content to generate traffic and advertising revenue. So the Google-owned video site has begun investing in and distributing original shows targeting young viewers – starting with teens and young adults – who are increasingly bypassing traditional television and movies. The push into children’s programming is an extension of that strategy.

The new shows, aimed at children aged 12 and under – including the animated series Fruit Ninja: Frenzy Force that is based on the smartphone game – will be available through the mobile app YouTube Kids, as long as pint-sized users (or their parents) subscribe to YouTube Red. The app launched two years ago and helped pave the way for the children’s programming.

“We’re now in a place where it really makes a lot of sense to have even more inspired and creative content to reach our audience,” says Malik Ducard, head of YouTube Family and Learning. “It’s been a storied evolution, and we’re happy it’s one of our next phases.”

YouTube executives would not disclose how much they’re investing in the new shows.

Analysts say YouTube’s latest move is a logical step, but the company also faces the difficulty of convincing younger users that they should pay for entertainment they used to get for free.

“YouTube is in a unique spot,” says Paul Verna, a senior analyst at digital media research firm eMarketer. “For so long, people looked at it as a place to get free content. I don’t know if this will help them overcome that challenge.”

One advantage for YouTube is that it already has the attention of youngsters – 81 per cent of 6- to 12-year-olds say they use YouTube, according to an annual study on children’s digital behaviour from market research firm Smarty Pants. What’s more, YouTube has unparalleled reach, with more than 1 billion unique visitors monthly.

And with many of the most popular channels on the platform already aimed at and consumed by children, the progression into original content was inevitable. Some might even say it’s overdue.

Phones and tablets play a big role in the lives of youngsters. And the battle to be the source of their continued attention has stretched beyond stalwarts such as Nickelodeon, PBS and the Disney Channel. The child and family space has become a key genre for digital services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, all of which have clamoured to acquire or create as many children’s and family-friendly television shows as possible in recent years, because such programming is a crucial draw for parents to subscribe.

“Our kids app has been out for two years, and that’s given us the time to make shows we’re very proud of,” says Nadine Zylstra, head of Family Entertainment and Learning for YouTube Originals. “I certainly don’t feel like we’re playing catch-up. We’re doing our thing and having a lot of fun doing it.”

YouTube Red, which costs US$9.99 a month, has thus far consisted of TV series, films and documentaries largely aimed at teens and young adults – in addition to access to YouTube videos offline and Google Play music.

“We’re really happy to be putting the kids and family lens on that,” Ducard says.