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Is free content worth the risk right now?

With 1.2 billion kids out of school, the industry is lifting its paywalls. The CEOs of Encantos and Big Bad Boo weigh in on why it's not just an altruistic move, but one that may pay dividends later.
March 24, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, more than 1.2 billion kids are home from school. In response, a lot of children’s media businesses have turned inwards to figure out how they can help. For a lot of content companies, the obvious solution is to make their content free.

Plenty of companies have lifted the paywall, including appmaker Dr. Panda, Age of Learning (its suite of products such as ReadingIQ are now available for free), and even Amazon Prime Video, which made all of its kids content available for free yesterday, when previously users would have had to pay for a Prime subscription.

“My main goal with free content is to provide resources to families, especially if they’re financially challenged and can’t afford those expensive education services,” says Shabnam Rezaei, the co-founder of Big Bad Boo and Oznoz. “Number two is [to provide a way] to calm people. This coronavirus is freaking everybody out. I want to be that calm voice, and part of being that voice is saying, ‘Calm down, you’re going to have content, it’s going to be okay. Even if you think you can’t afford it, you can.’”

Despite altruistic motives, the rush to free-up previously paid-for content may cause issues down the line. The production pipeline is being hit hard by the pandemic, and many producers are reporting a freeze from broadcasters right now. Several have told Kidscreen that they are worried about broadcast negotiations that were underway, with pitch meetings being put on hold.

What’s more, even though a lot of kids are at home watching content, and there’s been a rise in linear viewership (according to Nielsen) after years of declines, advertisers aren’t filling in those all-important ad-breaks. And the ad industry is preparing for a long downturn as advertisers back off their spending, according to Digiday.

Without that financing, and as the industry lays off employees ahead of a potential worldwide recession, it might seem like an odd time to lose out on potential revenue.

But Steven Wolfe Pereira, the CEO of Encantos says now is the perfect time for his company to launch its new learning hub (pictured).

“When we decided to launch the Encantos Learning Hub [on March 18], all we did was accelerate our plans, which were to announce this in the fall,” says Wolfe Pereira. “As a result, we have a few things that are still in development. But given everything that’s happening, UNESCO is saying over half of the world’s student population is out of school, we figured we had to do something to help and now we’re going to continue to update it with new content every day.”

Aimed at preschoolers, the Encantos Learning Hub includes resources under the Tiny Travelers and Canticos brands, created by teachers. Tiny Travelers includes geography, language, culture and history lessons, while Canticos is all about learning English and Spanish at a young age. Other resources include, sample daily schedules, tips for creating a learning environment, and printable activities for coloring with nursery rhymes. Encantos is still determining if some of the learning hub will be a paid-product in the future.

Ultimately, losing out on a bit of revenue from the learning platform doesn’t have a huge impact short-term, since the direct-to-consumer brand makes most of its money through products, specifically its publishing lines. The new learning hub connects content back to existing brands that Encantos has complementary publishing products for. This free content will allow the company to reach more kids, help them during a crisis, and hopefully they’ll stick around for a few months and even buy a product or two.

Meanwhile, Rezaei wasn’t thinking about her business when she made her company’s Oznoz streaming platform free for subscribers—she just wanted to help kids around the world who are out of school. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a benefit to her business.

The streaming platform with content for preschoolers and six to nines is available for free now. At some point, Rezaei says it will go back to being a paid product. While right now it may be losing some revenue, ultimately it’s a good sampling strategy. New users may come to Oznoz for an opportunity to watch bilingual videos. Once the pandemic subsides, at least a handful will continue to see value in the platform moving forward.

“The people that are going to have access to this content right now, maybe some will stick around,” says Rezaei. “You can’t keep your content free forever. I’m also a producer and I need to raise money to sell my shows.”

About The Author
Alexandra Whyte is Kidscreen's News & Social Media Editor. Contact her at awhyte@brunico.com

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