Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Connecting The Kids - Nickelodeon Talks About Dual Screen Content

From C21 Media:
Connecting the kids

Connected TVs are changing the way people access and engage with content, while tablets are opening up dual-screen options. But what will these changes mean for the kids TV market? Andrew McDonald reports.

Although web-connected TVs are still not the norm in most households, sales are increasing rapidly. According to GfK stats, roughly 12% of the 46 million TV sets bought in Western Europe last year included access to the web.

This figure has already increased to 19% of the 20.6 million sets sold in the first half of this year, and with Blu-ray players, set-top boxes and games consoles also offering ways for viewers to access the web, players from all areas of the TV market are increasingly looking to exploit the possibilities of the internet.

One firm on the cutting edge of these developments is Capablue, a company that specialises in video-on-demand and connected TV apps. The firm has already worked with some of the major UK broadcasters and head of business development Craig Chuter believes there are lots of opportunities for kids-focused content.

"While we have not created an application around kids' content, we are talking to various clients about developing in the connected TV space. There is a lot of excitement around the opportunity to combine video content and interactive services to enable both entertainment and learning," says Chuter.

"With the TV predominantly being a living-room experience it is ideal for shared and learning experiences such as parent and child – more so than the PC. An important element of developing for the 'large screen' is understanding that it is neither a website nor mobile app, but something completely different," he adds, claiming that as more "companion device apps evolve," the opportunities for inputting text, navigating pages, entering competitions and playing games will also improve.

Recent research by US non-profit organisation The Kaiser Family Foundation found that kids aged eight to 18 spend an average of seven hours and 38 minutes a day consuming media, through activities like watching TV and playing computer games. However, thanks to multi-tasking on devices such as mobile phones, they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes of media content into that time.

So how are kids' TV networks rising to the challenge of web-connected TV screens and the behaviour shift towards consuming content across more than one screen simultaneously? Japhet Asher, the executive producer of CBBC Online, says the channel's plans for connected TVs are still "pretty embryonic." However, its existing multi-platform strategy is already starting to bridge the divide between online content and linear TV.

The BBC has already developed a CBBC version of the iPlayer, while CBBC's brand content strategy also extends to online games and live programme interaction. Last year, for example, the corporation created a section on the website for its Saturday morning show Live 'n' Deadly to let kids connect to the series by sending messages through a real-time, Twitter-style service, which ran alongside a simulcast online stream of the programme.

"We had something around 70,000 unique users a week coming in to experience Live 'n' Deadly online, as well as on television – that's a lot," says Asher. "It had a lot to do with the popularity of (presenter) Steve Backshall and the Deadly brand. But it also showed us that when you let the audience have extra engagement, they come, and they're delighted to have had that opportunity to be part of that process."

"The value of being able to bring together what we're doing on the website with what's happening on-screen is huge, and that obviously will transfer to hand-held devices and IPTV over the coming year or two," adds Asher. However, with a core audience of 6-12s, he is also cautious that the channel doesn't "precede the marketplace and precede the audience" when it comes to developing dual-screen content.

Nickelodeon too is treating dual screen with some degree of trepidation. Philip O'Ferrall (left) is senior VP of digital for Viacom International and works across the kids' network and other channels in the portfolio like MTV. He claims that developing dual-screen content is currently more of a priority for adult audiences, but says Nickelodeon is not ruling it out, pinpointing tablet devices as a particular area of interest.

"For the kids' market, it will come later, because the device proliferation may take a bit more time to catch up," says O'Ferrall. However, he says it is only a matter of time before children have access to the best technology in their bedrooms. "When the devices are there, they will be the ones teaching the parents how to use them and that goes with any new technology. Connected home is coming, and it's very real in many households. The tablet is a good example where you'll see that being more commonplace," he adds.

O'Ferrall says Nickelodeon's engagement strategy is already "very 360-focused." The network promotes brands such as SpongeBob SquarePants online and also has a series of standalone multiplayer games, such as Monkey Quest and Neopet. However, the executive claims that TV remains its "lifeblood" and says the natural extension of web-connected TV and dual-screen content will be "strangely back to linear, where there is going to be some playalong and some interactivity."

A recent IHS Screen Digest study agrees. The research shows that the vast majority of TV viewing will remain real-time and linear for years to come, with DVR and on-demand viewing only expected to account for 15.8% of programmes watched in the US in 2015, and 12.7% in the UK in the same year. This is up only slightly from 9.9% in the US and 7.8% in the UK last year.

Samsung is a leading light in the internet-connected TV space and for content services manager Darren Petersen, the potential of Samsung's built-in app platform goes far beyond catch-up services. Games, subscription film rental and social networking services are already among the 90 apps available for the firm's connected TVs.

"You'll see a lot of services that have become available online through PC-type devices migrating back to the television, which is where they belong," says Petersen, predicting that connected kids-based content will also start to progress with the platform – especially given that Samsung's marketing efforts have now shifted from 3D TVs last year to smart TVs this year. He adds: "You'll see the services evolve to offer more children's content that will perhaps become a little bit more interactive as we move forward. We have a lot of games already, and a lot of kids' games, which are more education-focused."

Disney aims to meet this technological challenge head-on. VP for digital media distribution Chiara Cipriani says connected TV technology generates more opportunities for audiences to sample its content, feeding into its existing multi-platform franchise-led strategy. "In these environments, brands are increasingly important and as Disney we have an advantage in this space as viewers are drawn to brands they recognise and trust," says Cipriani.

The Mouse House recently signed its first film subscription on-demand deal in the UK with LoveFilm, which is available on a number of platforms. Meanwhile, in Belgium, Disney has been working with Telenet to pilot a multi-screen strategy that will make its content available on PC, iPhone and iPad through the cable network's TV Everywhere-style service Yelo. "We need to be wherever our audiences are, and among kids and younger people, that is undeniably in the multi-screen, multi-tasking world," adds Cipriani, pointing out that Disney's TV brands already exist across apps, games, music and e-books.

Another notable connected-screen initiative starting to take shape in the US is UltraViolet. Though Disney is not yet part of UltraViolet, the digital service is backed by a powerful consortium of 70 studios, technology firms and retailers, and is designed to introduce a common standard for buying and accessing video content across a number of different devices, including smartphones, tablets and connected TVs.

While this has the potential to shore up flagging DVD sales by bundling digital access rights with physical media, it could also have profound implications on how families access media at home – both through their TVs and other devices.

"An UltraViolet account can have customised log-ins for up to six different family or household members. What that means is you can let your kids have a log-in and be able to use and access your family's digital collection, but you have choices in how they do so," explains UltraViolet's general manager and executive director Mark Teitell. "Today, in many cases, families are faced with a more binary choice. Most services just have a user ID and a log-in that an account holder would have. So either you give that to your children or you don't. The idea behind UltraViolet is you shouldn't really be forced to make that choice."

Through this service, parents will be able to put locks on content, allowing their children to access only age-appropriate films. They will even be able to dictate whether they are allowed to download or simply stream programmes and films from given devices.

Although Screen Digest analyst Dan Cryan says it is still too early to say how UltraViolet will play out with consumers, in a rapidly moving digital space, where kids are increasingly accessing media through different devices and a range of online services, he believes that changes to the content delivery model are definitely afoot.

"There are concerns about extrapolating too far from the behaviour of teenagers; different life-stages lend themselves to different modes of behaviour. But at the same time, we may well be staring down the barrel of some quite significant changes in viewing behaviour," says Cryan. "By gut, you've got to say that viewing habits are changing. It's just a question of how fast."

2 Nov 2011
© C21 Media 2011

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