Bird says he’s working on licensing deals with content companies from the U.S. and Canada, but won’t say which. Viddiverse is talking to YouTube and various record companies about hosting some kid-friendly fare, including music videos. Viddiverse will also feature four hours of live video featuring D.J. Rick Adams, host of a kids radio show for KOL.
But the heart of the site will be its social and creative elements. For example, kids will be encouraged to make their own videos, around which Viddiverse will host daily “studio challenges” (think: “Make the best video lip-synching to this Taylor Swift song”).
Such events are ripe for sponsorship opportunities, contends David Link, co-founder and creative director of design firm The Wonder Factory, which intentionally created Viddiverse to not look like a kiddie site. As Link explains, “We designed this almost like a mobile app rather than a website.”
This kind of thing has been tried before. In 2007, Disney launched Disney Xtreme Digital, also known as Disney XD—its answer to MySpace at the time. It didn’t last, eventually morphing into a linear TV channel.
That same year, Condé Nast rolled out Flip, a social network for teen girls that may have been ahead of its time. The site incorporated Tumblr-esque elements but was swept aside with the explosion of Facebook—not to mention the cost of hosting such a site in the mid-2000s. “If you look at Flip now, it was a good idea that was poorly executed and designed,” notes Sarah Chubb, who oversaw Flip and is now president of daily deals site Gilt City.
Chubb cautions that anyone trying to build a tween or teen site outside one of the big platforms like YouTube or Facebook will have a tough time scaling. But she does offer this bit of hope: “Brands loved Flip.”
Fred Seibert, a veteran children’s media exec who helped make Nickelodeon what it is today, deliberately stayed away from building a kids-targeted channel on YouTube, citing the uphill regulatory environment. Seibert agrees achieving scale is a challenge, but he believes the kids networks’ flat-footing and fear provide an opening. “Viacom's at war with YouTube, so Nick has no official relationship. They do some back door kinds of things. Disney, Cartoon, they take a variety of approaches. I don't know if they consider themselves successful online. I think they’ve all said to themselves, ‘We’ve avoided understanding how this works for our audience—we can’t anymore,” he says. “How can we get our hands around this?’”
“The traditional kids cable networks are sort of damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” adds Todd Juenger, senior analyst, U.S. media at Sanford Bernstein. “They’ve had this great closed system, but they have lost a lot of GRPs. And in my opinion, Viacom has too much to encoruage viewers to move.” … I understand the conundrum. Do you want to encourage kids to migrate off of this highly profitable platform to something that is less profitable?”
YouTube, meanwhile, is looking to cater to kids in different ways—experimenting with Sesame Street on a paid subscription channel, for example. YouTube networks like The Collective have had success selling individual kid-friendly channels like Fred and The Annoying Orange to some brands.
YouTube also has AwesomenessTV, the teen-targeted network that DreamWorks Animation acquired earlier this year for $33 million. But AwesomenessTV primarily makes Web programming for a teen audience.
Bird’s vision is as much about kids creating their own content and becoming stars in their own world. Consider Lillian Powers, a 12-year-old who amassed 130,000 followers on Vine before getting kicked off the service for being too young. “There are thousands of kids out there ages 8 to 9 using Vine and things like this,” says her mom, Bajah Malmquist-Powers, who is all for the idea behind Viddiverse. “I think it’s a fabulous idea,” she says.
Bird will need more endorsements like hers, as he aims to get some 2 million kids using Viddiverse before going after advertisers. He’s confident he will get there. “I’m not in any way trying to take YouTube out,” he says. “But much like they’ve created stars of tomorrow, we want to create Viddiverse stars. If cable hadn’t been invented, this is what kids’ entertainment would be.”