Having made it through the dot.com crash intact, U.K.-based web content producer Kidstime Entertainment is gearing up for a much-needed financial boost by partnering with broadband communications and media group Telewest. The London-based outfit will become the largest single shareholder in Kidstime and will finance its development slate over the next two years.
Kidstime was founded by Simon Vaughan and Decode’s Neil Court back during the dot.com boom, when market hype seemed to indicate that initial financing would be easy to get; in fact, the pair had already raised US$1.5 million. The duo’s plan was to develop a kids portal and then sell it off ‘for US$10 million to US$14 million,’ says Vaughan, laughing. When the bottom fell out of the web market, Vaughan and Court opted not to scrap the project because they couldn’t afford to write off the money they’d already invested. Instead, Kidstime continued to develop content deals, acquiring rights and refocusing for a post-crash rebirth.
Now fashioning itself as a specialist in the production and distribution of preschool and educational multimedia content, Kidstime.com officially launches this month. The company’s mission is to help broadcasters and producers package their existing and developing properties as multimedia products, with a particular focus on making programmers understand that multimedia offerings can do more than support their TV schedules. A basic website, a broadband website and interactive TV elements will help build an audience for a series that doesn’t sell, so it isn’t a wasted investment. It’s viable content that doesn’t rely on broadcast distribution.
Kidstime is also doing work for hire until folks glom onto the necessity of true multimedia content development. Flextech, the content arm of Telewest, is working with Kidstime to create an original preschool property for multiplatform distribution, the name and details of which were unavailable at press time. The BBC hired the company to create Tweenies on-line games for the kids portion of its website (www.bbc.co.uk/littlekids). Fetch and Spell debuted last month, and Kidstime content director Mark Osborne says it’s getting more traffic than any other branded game on the site. Rumpus signed up at the end of July for the development of 120 interactive games for its kid-targeted Sparklearning.com site. Kidstime also signed its first ISP deal last month with a U.K.-based company called Freeserve. ‘It’s a five-figure deal to develop 10 preschool games over six months,’ says Vaughan.
In its own property portfolio, Kidstime has exclusive interactive rights to Mr. Men (a franchise that brings in US$170 million a year in consumer product sales, says Vaughan), as well as non-exclusive rights to produce and syndicate interactive Noddy and Casper content. Vaughan is also initiating a club format to coincide with the website launch this month. Subscribers to the club will pay around US$20 a year for access to daily content updates. Essentially, the fare consists of games kids can play with their caregivers at the computer, but that can also be printed out (stories, coloring activities, etc.). Vaughan acknowledges that subscription as a revenue model for kids sites hasn’t had much success to date, but states that he’d rather have 1,000 paying customers than 100,000 free customers. ‘I’ll make the format work, or we’ll shut it down,’ he vows.