To increase subscriber engagement and help viewers find what they want amid a plethora of live TV, streaming and on-demand options, US cable giant Comcast launched a new series in December called Xfinity Hangouts, which put the content decision-makers in front of the camera to interview talent. Part of the initiative also lets the content editors offer up TV, music and movie recommendations on their personal X1 pages. Xfinity TV’s director of kids and music editorial Rose Farrales is one of seven editors involved in the program, which also aims to supplement Comcast’s data-driven content recommendations. Though it is not the first platform to leverage human curators—Netflix is currently testing a team-led recommendation feature called Collections, and Disney+ is curated by a combination of people and machine learning algorithms—Comcast is arguably taking the lead on a more personalized path to discovery for kids and families.
The initiative comes as Comcast expands its cross-platform kids content offerings. In January, the company became the first multichannel video programming distributor to announce plans to launch the CBS All Access app, and it recently acquired Xumo, a free ad-supported streaming service that provides kids channels including Ameba, pocket.watch and HooplaKidz.
More importantly, the activity comes as Comcast prepares to launch NBCUniversal’s SVOD service Peacock on April 15, and continues to evolve its walled-off Kids Zone on the Xfinity X1 platform. Aimed at kids ages 12 and under and their parents, Kids Zone aggregates in-house library and third-party children’s content from all Comcast platforms including live TV, Xfinity On Demand’s free and paid VOD catalogue, and any saved programming on Comcast’s DVR.
Kidscreen spoke with Farrales and Comcast’s VP of editorial and programming, Brynn Lev about the cable provider’s discoverability efforts and OTT evolution.
Why put a human face on recommended content?
Brynn Lev: An actual editor personality is another way for us to speak to our customers. It could be that we create a stunt for kids to vote for their favorite SpongeBob character, which we did with our voice-activated Pineapple Poll, or it could be Rose helping a customer navigate content through her lens and expertise as a mom. We know our curation and algorithms may not be for everyone, but a combination should work to satisfy some need a customer has in terms of content discovery.
What does that look like for kids?
Rose Farrales: Kids really respond to image-rich guides, and they love characters and faces. They also love speaking into the X1 remote. So we infuse all of these elements across the kids section. Because kids love the voice remote, we work with our partners so kids can get shout-outs from their favorite characters or personalities—like we did with Joshua Dela Cruz, the host of Blue’s Clues & You. As a human curator, we want to put this front and center to ensure kids can find their new favorite show or character easily.
[According to Comcast, the top kids voice commands for 2019, in order, were SpongeBob, PAW Patrol, Free Kids Movies, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Henry Danger. Voice usage by all demos continues to grow year over year—percentage undisclosed—and Comcast hit 7.5 billion hours of VOD viewing in 2019, a 20% lift over 2018.]
How is Comcast choosing its OTT partners?
BL: The company took a big leap a few years ago with the inclusion of the Netflixes and YouTubes of the world. But I wouldn’t say there are major differences in how we partner with a Netflix, an HBO or a Viacom, versus how we’ve been partnering with NBC for years. The blanket statement is, we are open to anyone that wants to be on our platform, but we are also being very strategic about who actually makes it onto the platform. Quality over quantity definitely comes into play because we aren’t interested in being the land of 5,000 apps. We’d rather be strategic and help round out the customer’s entertainment offering.
Do you plan to develop original content for Kids Zone?
BL: We have a whole entertainment division with NBC that is really the engine for original content and that type of licensing. For us, we will continue to focus on content engagement and ensure that customers are met with a unique, differentiated content discovery experience.