For small indie startups with a hit kids app on a regional level, deciding when to scale up and introduce it to international markets is no easy task.
But if it has more than 265,000 downloads since launching in December 2013, and is currently the highest grossing kids app in the UK App Store, you might say it’s as good a time as any.
With those metrics in mind, plus a recent multi-million dollar investment round and new content deals with the likes of Corus Entertainment’s Nelvana, Millimages and CAKE in hand, London-based Hopster is ready to launch its preschool TV and learning platform in 100 territories.
The global English-language version roll out begins in May across Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa, India, Dubai and a range of countries across Europe, Asia and Africa. Key to the rollout are countries where English is either the first or a strong second language.
“I have a bunch of friends who grew up in those regions, and a lot of the time, the way they learned English was through the TV shows they watched,” notes Nick Walters, Hopster’s founder and CEO. “Hopster is about great TV shows and interactivity through objects or language learning. So we think even outside those places where English is a first language, there’s going to be a real pull for Hopster by parents who would like to get their kids exposure to the English language at an early age.”
Available for iOS devices, Hopster will offer more than 600 hand-picked kids TV shows, featuring global hits like Max & Ruby, Babar and Poppy Cat, alongside regional gems such as Mouk (France), Learn to Draw (Scandinavia) and Aesop’s Theatre (Korea). “We wanted to program a service that was going to handle well across the territories we’re launching in,” says Walter. “It’s fishing a little bit outside the conventional pool of where lots of other broadcasters would go, and something we thought had real global resonance.”
The other key component to Hopster’s platform is its suite of educational games developed by leading UK academics Annette Karmiloff-Smith, research fellow at the developmental neurocognition lab at Birkbeck, University of London, and Lydia Ploughman, chair in education and technology and dean of research for the college of humanities and social science, University of Edinburgh.
While pricing has not been finalized for each territory, the US$6.11 (UK£3.99) monthly subscription fee will be used as a general guideline. And keeping with its promise to parents, Hopster will remain ad-free and users can cancel anytime. “We’re a big believer in subscription,” emphasizes Walters. “That’s very important to our brand.”
There’s no question that the subscription model and the popularity of VOD platforms with this generation of digital native kids is having an impact on traditional TV viewing. In fact, a recent report from UK-based research firm Childwise looking at UK kids’ consumption habits over the past 20 years, found that online is poised to surpass linear TV in two years.
According to Walters, who can envision a future where digital networks have comparable scale to established traditional TV networks, digital models offer kids a more personal experience and a better range of content than linear TV. Digital has also reduced the barriers to entry and leveled the playing field for smaller companies like his. “One of the dynamics of digital, generally, is that it’s a lot easier to be a global player, even if you’re a relatively small startup as we are,” says Walters. For instance, being on a platform like the App Store eliminates the high six-figure costs associated with launching in a new territory though traditional pay-TV routes.
What the former Viacom and Nickelodeon executive believes will help Hopster stand out in the crowded kids SVOD space is its attention to detail on the interactive side, and its focus on not just being a content company, but also a product company. “I think there are many people playing in this space, who have the content piece well-established and who have great shows, but haven’t necessarily come to grips with all the other things required to be a successful product,” he says.
Hopster will look to carry its 2014 Q4 momentum, which saw it launch in Ireland and expand to smart TVs and set-top boxes through deals with Freesat, EE TV, Samsung and Panasonic, to its international rollout. In the coming months, Hopster plans on adding more TV content, launching new educational games and pushing the integration of video and interactivity further.
Although there aren’t any immediate plans to take Hopster across the pond to the North American market, it will be keeping a close eye on that part of the world. “In any territory in which we launch, we want to make sure that we get it right,” says Walters. “We would want to make sure before going into the US that we really had something very differentiated and very compelling.”