There’s deception in the air. Children’s series made specifically for online platforms may not be what they appear. At first look, many offer live-action or animated storytelling and gaming elements. Most also offer feedback sections, blogs or links to social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter. But look closer and you’ll see that a number of new original series, and series based on existing IP, have taken the idea of the immersive multi-platform experience and turned it on its head.
Adding more interactivity to web series is quickly becoming the norm given that online content creators now have serious competition from mobile apps. According to global app measurement company Flurry Analytics, so far in 2012, online video consumption has dropped by 10% while mobile app video consumption has shot up 52%. As kids’ entertainment habits change—with them placing greater emphasis on interactivity, mobility and gaming—content creators have had to rethink what makes suitable fodder for web series and reexamine the features that will command the attention of today’s on-the-go kids.
Lights, camera, live action!
New COPPA-compliant, digital platform KickinKitchen.TV, from Boston, Massachusetts-based multimedia company KidsCOOK Productions, features a scripted comedy web series aimed at tweens, teens and parents that promotes cooking, healthy eating and active lifestyles.
The series, which soft-launched on January 31, and is executive-produced by KidsCOOK’s founder and CEO Natasha Lance Rogoff (Sesame Street International), blends fun educational content, music and interactivity as it follows four teens making an online cooking show. Fans can play food-related games, learn nutrition facts, enter contests, follow step-by-step recipe instructions and connect through Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. The site also includes user-generated content, such as a recipe exchange section where kids can upload videos and pictures of their own kitchen creations.
To date, 13 x five-minute episodes have been shot and a partnership with the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment sees shorter two-minute episodes air on NYC Life (Channel 25) and in more than 13,000 NYC taxis. (Funding for the filming and production of the first set of webisodes and other website content came courtesy of a Phase 1 USDA-NIFA government grant in 2011.)
As KickinKitchen.TV looks to grow, its team is currently in discussions with several broadcasters for a half-hour TV series, and the platform is aiming to launch health-themed gaming apps.
“We think there are incredible opportunities to launch content of various lengths and formats that has smart, entertaining and educational interactive components,” says Lance Rogoff.
“The kinds of sites that have done well, like Club Penguin, have usually benefited from co-branding campaigns that promote interactivity.”
Besides KickinKitchen.TV, another live-action web series that launched recently is Totally Random from Mountain Road Productions in Ottawa, Canada.
The online sketch-comedy series and non-commercial social networking site of the same name aimed at kids seven to 13 is funded by the Canada Media Fund’s Experimental Stream. It lets users create and edit their own digital stories, choosing from a library of random animation and picture elements labelled “seeds.”
Once the stories, called SnowBalls, are saved on the site, kids can tag their favorite ones, and every two weeks the most innovative SnowBalls get incorporated into kid-hosted, bi-weekly webisodes. The first and second 12-minute eps launched on April 1 and 15, respectively, and the third ep of the 12-part series is slated to bow September 1.
Mountain Road claims it is the first web series of its kind to feature this type of user-generated content and the prodco’s president Tim Alp says getting kids to be more creative was a key goal.
“Parents are always looking for comfortable, safe places for their kids to go online that offer more than just mind-numbing games—somewhere they can be more creative, fun and get their minds working. That’s what we offer,” he says.
Plans for the series include the launch of a broader marketing campaign and an upgrade to the site’s online photo editor to incorporate video, as well as the creation of a mobile app based on the tool.
Go where the kids are
Aside from indie prodcos upping their game with new immersive experiences, larger entities are digging deeper to reach kids across platforms, too, especially on YouTube.
Disney Interactive’s new original live-action web series, Power Up, launched in March and provides an inside look at the world of video gaming.
Hosted by teen YouTube music sensation and avid gamer, Christina Grimmie, the series reaches a broad kids and family audience through distribution on YouTube, Disney.com and Xbox 360. In addition to offering reviews of popular mobile, console, casual and social games and original songs and music by Grimmie, the eight-episode series features unique comedic, game-based skits that star other popular YouTube stars.
“We’re always looking at how much we can play with interactivity and make sure that we’re immersing in a smart way, whether through Disney’s new YouTube channel, Facebook for our older audience or Twitter,” says Zadi Diaz, Disney Interactive’s head of content development.
To create new storylines from existing properties, Disney is also turning apps into webisodes with the launch of a 12-episode series based on its hit app Where’s My Water? later this year. A smart move considering its new Talking Friends app-based web series garnered more than 50 million views on Disney’s YouTube channel in less than two months after its June release.
On the animation front, Mattel launched the first season of its new 14-episode Barbie Life in the Dreamhouse “reality” series online and for smartphones and tablets in May.
The CGI-animated show features three-minute webisodes that air every Friday and star Barbie, her sisters and, of course, long-time boyfriend, Ken.
Along with features such as maps, avatars, games and rewards, a complementary Barbie social network for girls adds an extra layer of interactivity. B Friends is a COPPA-compliant network that offers the experience of having real-time conversations within Barbie’s circle. A team of 20 people monitors the network, which refreshes every time a new video launches.
Working with a large team of more than 200 professionals on the series, Mattel VP of marketing for Barbie, Lisa McKnight, says that although Barbie is an iconic IP, her personal story had never really been told, hence the creation of the web series.
“The series is a huge priority for us, and since May we’ve already had 48 million global views, which is phenomenal,” she says.
With the first season now available in 21 languages, Barbie Life in the Dreamhouse season two (pictured) is set to launch this October and Mattel plans to invest in third and fourth seasons into 2013. It’s also considering launching console games and apps based on the series.
Over at PBS Kids Go!, the Thirteen/WNET-produced Oh Noah! original web series for kids ages six to eight is currently the only public media IP designed to introduce kids to Spanish. This is done through games embedded in the free webisodes for seasons one and two.
Oh Noah! executive producers Sandra Sheppard and Jill Peters collaborated with writers Louise Gikow and David Matthew Feldman to develop the webisode scripts and the game concepts. The webisodes are designed and produced by Renegade Animation, with Bluemarker Design creating the website and games. According to Sheppard, the games are among the most unique features on the site.
Looking ahead, Oh Noah!‘s producers are hoping to secure funding for a third season, which would include a groundbreaking new adventure game—the first designed to immerse children in context-driven, interactive language learning. They also plan to explore mobile apps and interactive eBooks.