Just two years into its digital-centric kids programming drive, UK-based pay-TV giant Sky has reached a number of growth milestones. It has expanded its on-demand kids library from 700 to 4,500 episodes, racked up more than half a billion views for said on-demand content, and added 11 live channels.
Its Sky Kids app for three- to nine-year-olds, which launched in March 2016 for iOS and Android tablets, also continues to grow its mix of original commissions and acquisitions under the leadership of Sky’s first head of kids content, Lucy Murphy.
The former creative director for kids VOD platform Azoomee joined Sky in 2015 and has been responsible for the network’s on-demand kids content across every Sky platform, including Sky Kids and its standalone, no-contract streaming service, Now TV Kids Pass.
Her work with the customizable app, in particular, marked a new direction for Sky with the app-exclusive September 2016 debut of a reimagined version of Aardman’s iconic stop-motion series Morph. The short-form series was the broadcaster’s first foray into original kids content.
Since then, Sky Kids has grown its originals portfolio significantly, bowing kid-friendly versions of Sky 1 science panel show Duck Quacks Don’t Echo and wildlife documentary series Big Cats (renamed Big Cats: Wild Files). It also commissioned Aliens Love Underpants AND…, a 12 x two-minute toon co-produced with London’s Tiger Aspect based on the popular books by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort.
Other recently released short-form originals include Miniteve, an educational mini-doc series about animals, vehicles and playtime, and music-based animated series Big Block Singsong from Goddard/Brown.
Balance and flexibility
Adding exclusives to complement its library of third-party acquisitions and kids’ favorites from channel partners Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney has been an important part of Sky Kids’ strategy, according to Murphy.
“We increased our investment last year. We continue to invest. And so far, we’re really pleased with the performance of our first commissions, plus we have a lot of other shows in development,” says Murphy, who could not disclose budgetary numbers or ratings/measurement information on specific shows.
For new commissions, Sky recently greenlit a follow-up to Big Cats: Wild Files entitled Monkeys and Apes: Wild Files, and interestingly, mined American crowd-funding platform Kickstarter for Labuntina. The 12 x two-minute animated preschool series is based on Labuntina Sing-along from animator/songwriter Valentina Ventimiglia.
Backed by Creative England, and set to launch in April across Sky Kids’ on-demand platforms, Labuntina follows the song-based adventures of three anthropomorphic animal characters—Judi Bee, Kodi Fox and Lili Fish.
“Labuntina really demonstrates the type of content we’re looking for—distinctive, appealing and educational,” says Murphy.
“The beauty of an on-demand platform is you can be quite niche both in audience segmentation, as well as genre and format; whereas in the linear schedule, this kind of short-form content might get lost.”
While many Sky Kids originals are 12 x two minutes, the broadcaster is flexible when it comes to the formats it chooses to acquire. Its Big Cats and Monkeys and Apes programs are both nine x 12 minutes, and new sports series Fit In 5 comprises four five-minute eps adapted from a fitness routine show for adults.
When asked about the costs of producing a lot of short-form digital content versus more traditional TV shows, Murphy says there’s not a large difference.
“I wish digital shorts were cheaper to produce. In terms of developing the content, it’s as much work for short-form as it is for longer-form shows,” she says. “But short form is growing in popularity and goes hand-in-hand with the growth of on-demand services. If you think about on-demand, it offers really exciting ways to provide new formats and genres—and we’re exploring all of them.”
On the lookout
With industry markets MIP Jr. and MIPCOM fast approaching, Sky Kids will have its eye on a diverse range of content, according to Murphy.
“We’re looking for half-hour specials, and more music, sports and comedy shorts. The only reason we’re not specifically looking for longer-form series is because we get so many great series from our channel partners,” she says.
Among Sky Kids’ current lineup of hit third-party shows are Nickelodeon’s PAW Patrol, Boomerang’s Scooby-Doo, Octonauts, which airs on CBeebies, and Cartoon Network’s Ben 10.
It also has exclusive on-demand access to box sets of Cartoon Network’s The Amazing World of Gumball and Adventure Time.
When asked about the broader state of the kids industry—especially in the UK, where the BBC is undertaking its own multi-million-dollar digital drive and reducing the number of new shows it makes for television—Murphy chalks it up to changing times.
“I don’t think the BBC’s restructure will be detrimental to the overall UK kids entertainment business,” she says. “They are investing a lot of money, which is reflective of the way audiences are shifting how they consume content.”
“Two in three UK children ages five to 16 now have an iPad at home, so it’s important that everyone, not only the BBC, recognize these changes in behavior.”
Murphy adds that Sky Kids’ biggest challenge as it grows will be maintaining a proper balance of content.
“We need to ensure that we best manage the desire for volume alongside program visibility, meaning how we launch shows and keep them front and center,” she says.
“Audience segmentation is also a challenge, but an exciting one because it means we can offer entertainment quickly and easily to a very specific audience group that we know they’ll love.”