For Streamers, Kids Programming Has Never Been More Valuable Than During the Pandemic

With schools and activities closed, children are 'starved for entertainment'

Elmo hosts the upcoming HBO Max original, The Not Too Late Show.
HBO Max hopes that kids programming like its new Elmo talk show encourages families to subscribe.
WarnerMedia

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When HBO Max debuts this month, the service will feature late-night shows from HBO talent like John Oliver and Bill Maher. But it will also include a talk show aimed a different audience, given that the program is hosted by the furry red puppet Elmo from the children’s show Sesame Street.

The Not Too Late Show With Elmo, which will premiere when HBO Max debuts on May 27, is part of a hefty lineup of kids programming on the service that runs the gamut from Sesame Street to revamped Looney Tunes cartoons. It’s not anything like the mature programming HBO proper is known for, and that’s intentional: Executives hope to court viewers looking for shows that appeal to all ages.

“We think from our research that there are a lot of families out there who have been interested in HBO but haven’t pulled the trigger because there isn’t something for kids and teenagers,” Billy Wee, HBO Max’s svp of original animation, recently told Adweek. “So now we will have a very, very strong offering there.”

Subscription streamers and ad-supported services have long been bulking up their kids programming, but as children are out of school and parents find themselves without their traditional childcare arrangements during the pandemic, their investment in children’s content has been more valuable. As the shutdown continues, streamers are intensifying their efforts to expand family-friendly offerings and are looking for new ways to encourage kids to tune in.

The programming’s value is clear: “Kids are enormous influencers of their parents’ budgets, but also during this Covid time they’re starved for entertainment,” said Steve Nason, research director at the market research firm Parks Associates.

Since lockdowns began around the country, television and streaming viewership has shot up across the board, but the biggest gains have been among kids and teens. Among kids 6-11 and teens 12-17, midday viewership grew more than 300%, with kids outpacing all other demographics when it comes to streaming viewership gains, according to recent figures from Nielsen.

That surge in demand has meant some streamers have released educational and family-friendly programming to attract housebound kids. Ad-supported free streamer Crackle in April pushed out Homeschool Channel, a free channel featuring educational programming from various brands like Baby Einstein, with the goal of creating a “trusted resource” for caregivers looking for educational programming, according to Crackle Plus president Philippe Guelton. Amazon Prime Video opted to move a number of kids shows in front of its paywall.

“If parents can keep their children occupied with content that is both entertaining and educational, it’s a win-win for everybody,” said Kevin Hunt, svp of global marketing at the video advertising platform SpotX, which works with streamers like ViacomCBS-owned Pluto TV. “Parents are also tuning into these streaming services, which is where the opportunity herein lies for advertisers.”

Subscription services and ad-supported streamers alike have made strides to build out kids’ offerings for good reason: Parents are more likely to subscribe to over-the-top video services and are more likely to have more services than households without, Adweek previously reported. For that reason, services that had already begun laying the groundwork with hefty investments in kids programming are breathing a sigh of relief.

“The bets that we’ve previously made have really been paying off,” said Adam Lewinson, chief content officer of the ad-supported streamer Tubi, which debuted a Tubi Kids section in October that has seen soaring growth in recent months.

Kids can be fickle customers, so streamers are tasked with building out program offerings that appeal to a wide variety of tastes and ages. Programming aimed at very young children is often designed closely to reflect educational lessons, while programming for older children focuses more on adventure and comedy elements. Some streamers targeted only to kids, like Noggin and PBS Kids, bank on the fact that there will always be young kids to appeal to, while others offer programming that appeals to kids even as they grow up.

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