It’s the golden age of content! But with so many platforms and shows to watch, no one can find anything new. All week we’re breaking down different discoverability problems and how to beat them. If you haven’t seen yesterday’s introduction to discoverability and why it’s an issue facing creators today, then go back and check it out here.
Go for gimmicks
How do you get kids to press pause on their beloved Paw Patrol? Netflix has been busy testing strategies to introduce kids to new content. In 2018, Netflix piloted a feature that awarded young viewers with special patches after they watched select kids titles—though this effort was shelved after it was criticized for gamifying binge-watching.
Then, earlier this year, Netflix’s TV production innovation director Cameron Johnson showed off character-driven video previews, the most current discoverability feature the SVOD is testing in the kids section. Since young viewers are more likely to choose and connect with content through characters, Netflix displays rows of them at the top of its kids sections (which also helps younger preschool viewers who can’t read yet). To build on that model, instead of airing promos or trailers, characters from originals—including Hilda, The Dragon Prince and Next Gen—explain who they are and what the show is about as kids scroll past.
On a more micro level, producers of Netflix originals like Guru (True and the Rainbow Kingdom) are providing the streamer with several different visuals or “box art” that can be served to kids depending on their viewing preferences, based on feedback from Netflix.
“For example, we have an image with a lot of pink and sparkles, and boys will not click it,” says the prodco’s president and creative director Frank Falcone. “Instead, if there’s an image of the Rainbow King, [both] girls and boys click it because it doesn’t have a gender bias.”
But Falcone doesn’t expect Netflix to put all of its attention and discoverability efforts towards True—despite Guru being a long-time partner and the show heading into a fourth season. He knows Netflix, like any other SVOD, is looking at multiple ways to engage kids to get parents to keep paying.
“We’re not just waiting for the service to promote our show. I don’t think it’s wise for any producer to hand their show to a VOD platform and hope it gets promoted more than others,” says Falcone. “The platform’s job is to launch new content for its subscribers on a regular basis—not to favor one show over another.”
To differentiate themselves from the giants with massive carousels of content, kid-specific streamers are creating curated channels.
Austin, Texas-based on-demand video game content platform Tankee has set up its app so that the majority of the experience is created and driven by the internal team, rather than an algorithm. Available in English-speaking countries on iOS, Android and Kindle Fire Tablets, when a kid (ages six to 12) first opens Tankee, they see the “Featured Videos” section, followed by several categories the team chooses to highlight, including “Throwback Thursday”—which resurfaces older content—and sections like “Games,” “Gamers” and “Music Videos.”
Tankee has also made a point of being game- and franchise-agnostic, highlighting big titles it knows kids like (such as Minecraft and Roblox) next to lesser-known options (like Rocket League, Slime Rancher or Octodad).
“Since we’re not driven by a search algorithm, we can put that stuff front and center,” says Gerald Youngblood, CEO of Tankee. “We have the opportunity to expose kids to a variety of games just by presenting them all at the same level.”
Within each category, Tankee’s curation team puts the newest videos first, so repeat audiences can see how much new content is added to the platform (currently, it has more than 600 hours of gaming videos). When the company sees an influencer who may not have a very large following, but who the team thinks is interesting or talented, then that influencer can get a more prominent spot on the page. The featured and trending videos are also changed daily depending on top view counts—though the curators don’t let one piece of content linger for too long.
This curation approach doesn’t just benefit Tankee’s users—it also brings in new talent and creators to make videos for the platform that might not get seen elsewhere, says Youngblood. Since creators don’t need to only create videos they believe will succeed in the algorithm, they are free to experiment. When the team sits down with gaming creators to ask them to make videos for the platform, often the first thing the team asks is, “What are the games that you love to play that aren’t on your other channels because they don’t fit the algorithm?” All of those discussions drive Tankee’s original content.
“We believe curation is a huge opportunity to give that creativity, experimentation and freedom to content creators, and it also gives kids a way to discover something new,” says Youngblood. “We curate [Tankee] like a mom-and-pop video store.
Back in the day, they would have different sections of videos to watch and you would learn from the staff, so we try to build that into our platform.”
Say sayonara to search
When a content platform is led by an algorithm, it’s often driven by search-based inquiries. However, many kids don’t know how to read or write well (or at all), and if they are hunting for something, they aren’t necessarily searching for a specific title. Rather, they’ll key in terms like “puppies” or “trucks,” and most meta-data on streaming platforms doesn’t come with those terms baked in.
“If you look at Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime—their recommendations are driven entirely by search and algorithms, and that tends to be a self-perpetuating cycle. If you search for the big stuff, the algorithm sees that the big stuff is popular, and the algorithm recommends more of the big stuff,” says Hopster CEO Nicholas Walters. “Those two effects can mean that it’s very difficult to surface content.”
Walters saw those issues, and shied away from search when building his preschool SVOD app back in 2012.
Instead, he and his team put together a platform organized and designed to be a world (technically, an island) kids can explore—even if they can’t read. Games are featured in a balloon; eBooks can be found on a boat; and shows live within a volcano, aptly called the Show-cano. Once kids are on the boat or visit the volcano, they are able to follow visual cues to discover new content.
There are also themed sections within the app, based on time of year (such as Christmas, Easter, back to school) and topics (like Pride, science, girl power). Sometimes Hopster will roll out an event around a specific new piece of content, like its original show Saturday Club. So far, the strategy has been effective: Whenever content is put in one of the themed areas, it sees a huge jump in traffic and viewership numbers, says Walters.
This focused, curated promotion of shows allows smaller titles to thrive on the app, he adds. For example, Geronimo Productions’ animated series Punky—about a young character with Down syndrome—hadn’t been picked up for distribution outside of Ireland until Hopster got a hold of it. Now the SVOD app has the exclusive rights to the show in several markets, and it’s one of the most popular series on the platform.
Even though Hopster doesn’t let kids search for specific titles, it still uses an applied preference-matching recommendation algorithm to help surface new content, showcasing shows that other kids who watched similar content also liked.
“I think people now need to think not just about how kids find their favorite show, but how they’re going to find their next favorite show as well,” Walters says.
Focus on familiar faces
Nickelodeon’s preschool SVOD app Noggin was experiencing similar issues with discoverability as some of the larger streamers. So when the app acquired childhood learning technology platform Sparkler and installed co-founder Kristen Kane as EVP, she set out to revamp Noggin to make it easier for kids to discover content.
Previously, the platform opened on a wheel of content, and the whole experience was guided by two characters unique to Noggin. Using lessons from the Nick Jr. app, this summer the SVOD rolled out a new interface focused instead on recognizable characters.
Now kids are greeted by well-known faces from PAW Patrol, Rusty Rivets, Dora the Explorer and Peppa Pig. These fan-favorites lead viewers into themed areas filled with episodes, play-along interactive videos and games inspired by select IPs.
“The character-first navigation is really expansive in that it covers our [entire] library,” says Kane. “We are thoughtful about which ones appear when you first open the screen, based on the data for what kids like most.”
There is also a lobby of content with featured videos curated by Noggin, highlighted in large, eye-catching rectangles. Kane’s team plans most of these featured boxes around specific programming or calendar events—such as the November premiere of Blue’s Clues and You—at least six months in advance.
But Noggin still has more than 1,500 episodes from 33 series, 470 short-form videos and 37 games on the app, which is a lot of content to wade through. So a focus moving forward will be on curating it.
“As we add new content and keep that library fresh, we are very comfortable removing things that aren’t performing well,” says Kane. “One advantage of this refresh is we can do a lot of A/B testing that we couldn’t do historically, which allows us to feature properties that have lower engagement and get an idea of whether changing the position impacts levels or not.”
Another change that Kane wants to add to Noggin in the next few months is an element of personalization. Her team is in development on technology that would allow kids to create profiles stocked with information provided by their parents on what content they like, as well as parental preferences. Through testing, Noggin has found that personalization ups the level of engagement for kids, and that’s really something all of these platforms are after…an engaged audience that keeps coming back for more.
Tune in tomorrow to find out how to game the YouTube algorithm.