Multichannel network operator BroadbandTV is upping its investment in kids’ programming and related intellectual property: As part of its effort to become a “digital-first Disney,” it’s working with YouTube to produce 52 episodes of original series “The Adventures of Annie & Ben.”
The move comes after BBTV’s acquisition earlier this year of YoBoHo, which runs HooplaKidz, a network of about 40 channels on YouTube. BroadbandTV now has launched a dedicated HooplaKidz Network website to expand distribution, and the company is pumping several million dollars into producing more content, launching new apps and reaching licensing deals for the brands.
The new “Adventures of Annie & Ben” series, which premiered Wednesday on YouTube, is about three friends (Annie the girl, Ben the dog, and Mango the monkey) who travel to destinations across the globe. Each of the seven-minute episodes is available in eight different languages.
“With the HooplaKidz Network, we’re building on some of the most popular content, taking the IP to license it, merchandise it, and even take it to linear (TV),” said BroadbandTV founder and CEO Shahrzad Rafati. “It’s important to build an ecosystem that scales to this digital-first audience.”
BroadbandTV, owned by European broadcast giant RTL Group, continues to operate YoBoHo as a separate entity run by CEO Hitendra Merchant. YoBoHo has 63 employees in Mumbai, Vancouver, L.A. and London.
All told, the HooplaKidz Network comprises a library of about 7,000 videos, with content spanning K-12 age ranges. It’s a key partner for the YouTube Kids apps designed for youngsters, which the video platform launched earlier this year.
In addition, HooplaKidz has launched 12 paid apps based on popular characters and shows, ranging from 99 cents to $4.99, and Rafati has set a goal of launching 25 new apps in the next 12 months. BBTV also is looking at licensing the characters for toys, games, food and books.
While BBTV wants to turn HooplaKidz into a kind of next-generation Disney, at the same time Disney has made its own $500 million-plus bet on digital-first entertainment with the acquisition of Maker Studios last year. The Mouse House has launched a talent-scouting program, Disney XD by Maker, aimed at YouTube creators that could include a cable TV deal.
“We feel the only competitors with all the components (as HooplaKidz) are Disney and Maker,” Rafati said.