Note: The following is based upon content from Variety Intelligence Platform’s special report devoted to exploring Free Ad-Supported Streaming TV (FAST), available exclusively to subscribers.
Just as it once did for cable TV and SVOD services, children’s content is emerging as a key way for some FAST services to differentiate themselves amidst the mass of platforms competing for viewership.
As of July 2022, there are 82 channels dedicated to general entertainment kids channels for episodic content that was formerly on TV or digital platforms such as YouTube. There is one solitary channel solely for kid-friendly movies, which is available on Pluto TV.
Pluto is one of the FAST services leaning into kids content. It’s a smart play, as it means offering diverse content that can appeal to myriad audiences and content need states. In Pluto’s case, this also means leaning upon the corporate synergy available to it as part of Paramount Global and kids content giant Nickelodeon.
But not all FASTs have deep reserves of kids content upon which to lean. The likes of Roku Channel — the service with the most kids channels — LG Channels+ and Vizio WatchFree+ all rely on a mixture of licensing out channels from Pluto blended with content from independent studios and digital distributors.
It’s clear that kids content is growing. VIP+ analysis on channel lineups for services tracked both in July 2020 and 2022 shows that for all but Xumo, which has been somewhat in stasis since Comcast’s acquisition, the number of kids channels available increased — and significantly so for Pluto and Roku Channel.
As noted, many FAST services are turning to content providers aside from traditional media. The list of the most distributed kids channels on FAST is dominated by companies many haven’t heard of. PocketWatch’s signature channel, “Pocket.watch,” is the most broadly available kids network and can be viewed on nine services, followed by NEW ID’s “Pinkfong Baby Shark” channel, Pocket.watch’s “Ryan and Friends”, Lego Group’s “The Lego Channel” and ToonGoggle’s “ToonGoggle.”
The fact that the majority of channels are only available on three or four services or fewer suggests a great diversity in FAST offerings. It certainly isn’t like kids' cable TV, where the same networks are available regardless of provider. This may change in coming years as consolidation creeps into FAST, but it is also a strength of the format, allowing for platforms and providers to experiment in real time and see what sticks.
Note the fact that the list of most distributed networks is dominated by digital brands, with Paramount the only traditional force in kids TV embracing FAST. There are no Warner Bros. Discovery, no Disney and no NBCUniversal offerings.
The former two are due to the various companies having a strange reticence about the FAST market, but NBCU’s absence is puzzling considering it operates Peacock and corporate parent Comcast also owns the Xumo service. Perhaps this will change in coming months as Peacock looks to lean more into parents in the run-up to Christmas.
Also striking from the list considering their wide YouTube presence are branded channels from toy manufacturers such as Mattel and Hasbro. Seeing a “Hot Wheels” or “Play-Doh” channel in the future would certainly not be a surprise, as FAST would allow for new ways to reach consumers with content. That the kids space has yet to hit FAST maturity is clear, but expect it to continue to grow in the next 12 months.
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