J Milligan talks Toca TV’s programming plans

J Milligan, the man behind Toca Boca's brand-new SVOD, dishes on the service's content acquisition strategy, MIPCOM plans and the importance of play.
October 13, 2016

Considering that children’s appmaker Toca Boca has generated 140 million downloads by embracing an open-ended fun mentality, it’s not surprising that the Spin Master-owned Swedish developer’s first foray into subscription video is taking a page from a similar playbook.

Newly launched in more than 150 countries, Toca TV is an ad-free subscription video streaming service for iOS mobile devices. (Android is coming soon.) It has been 18 months in the making at the company’s new Brooklyn-based video division, led by former Sesame Workshop creative director J Milligan.

Despite being the newest kids SVOD service on the block, Toca TV has been quick to secure third-party deals with leading MCNs including DreamWorksTV and BroadbandTV. It has also partnered with 100 indie creators, and now boasts 100 originals and 1,000-plus curated pieces of acquired content for kids ages five to nine.

And while streaming giants Netflix and Amazon continue to make larger investments in third-party and original kids programming for their grid-based platforms, Toca TV is taking a markedly different approach, beginning with an interface that lets kids pick videos by flipping through a stack in the middle of the screen.

In addition, its interactive capabilities let kids make, record and share their own videos that can be customized with animated filters and stickers á la Snapand in the DIY spirit of Toca’s own 35 digital apps.

Toca TV is also using the machinima production method (which uses real-time computer graphics engines for live-capture purposes) in its brand new app-based original series What’s Going On. Toca TV assigns characters to improv actors, who act out storyboarded plots while playing the top-rated app Toca Life. Their on-screen playtime is recorded, edited and re-animated through the app before Toca TV gets the video upload.

Kidscreen caught up with Toca TV’s Milligan to get the lowdown on what’s working for the service so far, as well as its plans for growth.

What was the inspiration behind Toca TV?

From a product standpoint, it all started with play. The one question we constantly asked ourselves was, “How do we make video playful?” We’re paying attention to how kids watch short-form video on the web and thinking about the ways kids are often inspired to do things. This could be in the form of a DIY video, a play-through game video or a Lego-building video. We asked ourselves, “How could we bring together a universe of content that would both entertain and inspire kids?”

How are kids responding to Toca TV’s DIY video-making tools?

The response we’re getting is kids want more filters, controls and flexibility. It’s empowering for them. Any tablet or phone lets you record video with a camera, but no one had quite integrated that into the same platform in which you’re watching video. We know filters and stickers on other platforms are popular with kids, but those platforms are not made for children, so it wasn’t hard to figure out that we needed to add these tools.

Who’s in charge of programming, and what’s the content development and acquisition strategy?

Our content team in New York is led by Toca Boca content director Dave Glauber. We don’t have a formula for percentages of acquired and original content, but we’re treating our originals almost like pilots. We’re making a range of content and seeing how our audience responds to it through analytics. Currently, we’re posting 50 new acquired videos and two originals every week, which is more than double what we started with when we soft launched in Canada in June, and in Australia and New Zealand in August.

How is the platform monetized?

We are not exclusive with the acquired content and we use rev-share arrangements, so the better we do the more we all succeed. It’s not like Vessel or something where we have to window something first to make it valid for our audience. Our content has to be entertaining and focused on the things kids are interested in.

What are some of your top-performing shows?

Our original content has performed really well so far, and that probably speaks to a lot of Toca fans adopting the platform early. Our original machinima-based series, in particular, is doing well so we make it constantly in-house. It’s no surprise, but kids in the five-to-nine age category love our Minecraft videos, too, along with DIY videos and shows like Life Hacks for Kids.

Are app launch strategies going to change at all now that Toca TV has arrived?

Over the summer, Toca Life: Vacation was our biggest release ever. So even though it is no secret that the paid app market is not growing the way it once was, Toca Boca is still able to do really well selling paid apps with no in-app purchases. But, no matter what type of business you’re in, having just one distribution channel or market is risky. So it’s great to have finally developed another business model with subscription video.

What are your goals for MIPCOM?

Being new on the scene, we’re interested in taking it all in and also meeting with potential content partners. We’re not Hopster, Sky, Netflix or Verizon. We’re not throwing money around like that. But for the right partners, we’re super-interesting because of our brand and our audience, which is millions of kids on our apps every day. Lots of production companies and distributors are trying to understand digital, and that is where we live.

About The Author
Jeremy is the Features Editor of Kidscreen specializing in the content production, broadcasting and distribution aspects of the global children's entertainment industry. Contact Jeremy at



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