What we think we know about platforms

During Sandbox Summit at MIT last month, PlayScience released a study that revealed some surprising findings about parents' perceptions regarding their children's play platforms. Wendy Smolen asks Dr. Alison Bryant, co-CEO of PlayScience, to explain some of the study's implications and why developers need to rethink platform strategies.
April 1, 2015

PlayScience, an innovation and development company focused on play and learning, and the parent company of Sandbox Summit, released a new study at the recent Sandbox at MIT, revealing some surprising findings about parents’ perceptions regarding their children’s play platforms. I asked Dr. Alison Bryant, Co-CEO of PlayScience to explain some of the implications and tell us why we need to rethink some of our platform strategies.

The study was conducted with a national survey of 501 parents of children between the ages of 2 and 9.

WS: Give a quick overview of why you decided to conduct this study and what you “expected” to find.

AB: At PlayScience, we are driven to understand how kids and parents engage with and learn from all kinds of experiences and media.  We are systematically approaching this large landscape of questions through our PlayMatrix – a set of six primary factors that combine in different ways to define and distinguish kid-centric development.

One of the intersections of that matrix that hasn’t been addressed in research to date is that of parents’ perceptions of the various platforms and how that changes based on content and context.  This study was a first dive into understanding this fundamental question, which underpins how parents select media for their kids.  We honestly went into the study without any preconceptions of what we would find, which made some of our findings even more surprising!


WS: Tablets were named as the platform of choice by parents (and kids), while smartphones were ranked lowest.  Why do you think this so? And what should developers take away from that finding?

AB: Even though they are incredibly similar from a form factor standpoint, it is clear that parents consider tablets and smartphones to be completely different platforms when it comes to their kids. Smartphones are seen more as communication platforms (to be used by older kids and adults), and tablets are more activity platforms.

From a development standpoint, this should be a strong sign that if you are developing for mobile, you should prioritize tablet development in the kid space.  In addition, the idea of developing both platforms with the same (or very similar) build should be called into question.



WS: The study revealed that parents have different tech attitudes based on their child’s gender. They are more likely to want their tech for girls to be child-friendly (i.e., safe and easy to use), and to value boys’ platform preferences. Was this surprising?

AB: Our findings surrounding the impact of a child’s gender on parental preferences and choices for their media were by far the biggest “aha” (and, to be honest, a big “aww, man!”) for us from this study.  Parents are clearly being more protective of their daughters when it comes to media and technology – and that isn’t just about content, but about even basic access to platforms.  On the other hand, they are more likely to use media to “manage” their boys in difficult situations, such as getting them to go to bed or calm them.

We think this speaks to a need for parents to a) reflect on their own perceptions and choices for their children’s technology use, and b) actively avoid gender bias in those decisions.  Especially because we were looking at such a young age range of kids (2-9), these parental judgments can have a strong impact on technology use and media self-efficacy in later years. We know that we have issues engaging girls in STEM fields, for example, so we need to make sure that we’re not hindering their interest inadvertently early on by the choices we make as parents for their technology access and use.



WS: Television got high marks for family time, yet many Millennials don’t even own a big screen. How do you think this will play out going forward?

AB: The key seems to be that it’s about the big screen for “together time.”  I would imagine that as Millennials begin to have families (which they already are), we’ll see big screen use increase in the home.  It might be a projector hooked to a tablet, or a SmartTV with app-based video content instead of cable, but large screen viewing will continue to be a critical place for family togetherness.

WS: Any predictions based on your data?

AB: We’re already seeing large-screen family viewing in the uptake of subscription video-on-demand by families with young kids (which are likely to be Millennial-head households). Our latest data, which will be available in an upcoming report on VOD and OTT video, is showing families with kids adopting SVOD services at twice the rate of the national average.  That speaks a lot to the continued power of longer form video content, which is more likely to be viewed on bigger screens.

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