Big Bird

Most of video site’s 53 subscription-only channels are narrowly focused

With big media congloms absent from YouTube’s lineup of 53 Internet pay channels, children’s programming could be the sole category in the bunch that has any chance of ringing the cash register.

For starters, consumers say they would be most interested in paying for YouTube channels from mainstream networks and studios, said IBB Consulting partner Jonathan Weitz, whose media clients include cablers, broadcasters, studios and digital firms.

“Consumers want to continue paying for the kinds of high-quality content they’ve come to expect on TV,” Weitz said. IBB surveyed 250 U.S. online users in April to gauge perceptions of YouTube’s subscription-video plans.

If that’s the main indicator of success, then the kids’ content in YouTube’s pay-channel initial batch may be the only group to fit the bill — especially with families looking to economize by canceling cable or satellite TV service.

Sesame Workshop, one of the biggest and most-trusted TV programming providers for younger children, has signed on for the YouTube initiative. However, the nonprofit org hasn’t launched its pay channel on the site, which is set to include full episodes of “Sesame Street” and other skeins.

Other partners in the kid sector with a TV pedigree include National Geographic’s NatGeo Kids ($3.99 per month), which features nature programming and animated fare, and DHX Media, whose library includes such popular shows as “Caillou,” “Inspector Gadget” and “Yo Gabba Gabba!” and has a distribution deal to supply CBS’s Cookie Jar TV weekend morning block.

Canadian studio Nelvana Enterprises, a supplier to Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and other nets, is offering the Treehouse Direct channel on YouTube ($3.99 per month), with animated series including “Babar,” “Little Bear,” “Franklin & Friends” and “Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends.”

The Jim Henson Co.’s family channel ($2.99 monthly) will provide skeins including “Fraggle Rock,” “Sid the Science Kid” and “Pajanimals.” And Baby First TV — which is carried as linear network on DirecTV and Dish Network — is going direct on YouTube for $1.99 monthly for a slate of programming aimed at babies and toddlers.

Malik Ducard, YouTube’s director of content partnerships, called out the kids’ category when he was asked on a call with reporters which genre was best positioned to do well in the model. “I think it’s a great category,” he said. “As a parent, I’m excited about it.”

Of the non-kid channels, YouTube’s lineup is filled with special-interest video selections, including horror films, how-to videos, obscure indie movies, gay and lesbian lifestyle and British TV shows.

The premium channel from Ultimate Fighting Championship, a provider of mixed-martial arts pay-per-view events through cable and satellite providers and has a deal with Fox to carry live matches, could prove to be popular with its relatively big fan base. YouTube had pursued WWE, the wrestling entertainment giant, for the pay-channel launch, but WWE opted to refrain for now; instead, the YouTube lineup includes TNA’s Impact Wrestling channel.

Other reasons YouTube’s pay channels for children could actually work: The channels are all ad-free, an important concern for parents. In addition, younger kids don’t particularly care if a show they’re watching is older — as long as it captures their interest.

“Animation generally is evergreen — it doesn’t date itself,” said Michael Hirsh, exec chairman of DHX, which is launching three channels.

DHX’s three channels under the YouTube paid subscriber model, each priced at $2.99 per month, are: DHX Junior, a preschool channel with shows including “Doodlebops” and “Busytown Mysteries”; DHX Kids, aimed at kids 2 to 12, featuring “Sabrina” the animated series, “Trollz,” and “Horseland”; and DHX Retro, aimed at a crossover aud of both kids and adults, with “Inspector Gadget,” “Paddington Bears,” “Super Mario Bros.” and “Sonic the Hedgehog.”

In addition to its CBS deal, DHX also provides programming  to Netflix. Hirsh said the company’s off-TV deals don’t conflict with its arrangement with the Eye. “It’s another choice consumers will have,” he said.

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