Your iPad Is Now Your Kid’s TV

Talk about early adopters

Just call them the very early adopters. By now, everyone’s got a story about a kid who swipes at magazines, televisions and even windows because they’ve assimilated the iPad technique. Nielsen estimates put potential kids’ tablet viewership at 16.5 million, and while television deliveries via smartphones and tablets won’t be added to its national TV ratings until September 2014, networks are diving headfirst into this emerging market.

The Walt Disney Co. last week unveiled perhaps the most radical tablet-related development, saying that its new Disney Junior series, Sheriff Callie’s Wild West, will stream to tablets before it ever hits the linear feed. Beginning Nov. 24, verified subscribers can access the new program via the Watch Disney Junior app; the first Western for the footy-pajamas set won’t run on the network until early 2014.

By and large, the kids-targeted cable nets are developing apps with the tacit understanding that distribution and measurement will eventually catch up with them. Steve Youngwood, Nickelodeon’s evp and gm of digital, said advertisers have been “incredibly understanding” about having to accept guarantees made against internal data.

Thus far, the initial viewer-pattern data has been encouraging. “In the past year and a half, we’ve seen video viewing just skyrocket across mobile,” said Beau Teague, Cartoon Network’s senior director of user experience. “Our mobile viewing has surpassed even viewing on the desktop site.”

Some of that has to do with the weirdly obsessive way in which younger children (say, ages 2-8) tend to sample on-demand content.

“We definitely see a lot of repeat viewing,” Teague said. “Kids will return to favorite episodes and favorite clips. They’ll seek out whatever the catchphrase was from last night’s episode of Adventure Time.”

It’s also worth noting that mobile-access content can gently nudge operators who have dragged their feet over the adoption of authenticated streaming services. If subscribers are clamoring for cool tablet-only content that a Disney or a Nick or a Cartoon Net creates, MSOs may be more likely to acquiesce when those same programmers begin to agitate for a much more platform-agnostic approach.

Of course, targeting kids brings with it a host of specific regulatory issues, regardless of the device, said Albert Lai, chief technology officer, media and broadcast solutions, Brightcove.

“Any provider of content for kids needs to be wary of legal and federal regulation,” Lai said. “There’s opportunity, but everyone has to be very careful about the monetization.”

Lai also offered a personal anecdote: “I spent the weekend with my niece and nephew, and my sister was trying to understand how to provide appropriate content for kids who were 8 and 11, and how she could maintain control over the monetization piece.”

Why was that a priority at the moment? “They’d gotten an iTunes bill and it was $300,” Lai said. “She and her husband said, ‘I don’t think those are all app purchases.’”