Craig Hunter may have only started at YouTube a few weeks ago, but he has already been thrust into working on a busy slate and mapped out plans for where he’s going to take the AVOD giant’s preschool content in the future.
The global head of preschool for YouTube Originals kids & families hasn’t moved to LA yet (that will hopefully happen in June, COVID willing), but that hasn’t stopped him from hitting the ground running while still in London. YouTube Originals recently announced that it was picking up nine shows and putting 25 more into development as part of its US$100-million kids content fund. And preschool played a big part in this content bonanza.
“YouTube is fully committed to the kids space, and there’s a certain amount of attention you need to pay to preschool,” says Hunter. “Preschool is very different to any of the other kids demos because there is more of a family emphasis. That separation gets wider as kids get older.”
Some of the new preschool programming includes Lottie Dottie Mini (pictured right), Blue Zoo Animation’s Millie and Lou, Kukua’s Super Sema (pictured left) and BBC Studios’ The Workout Badges, featuring YouTube’s Joe Wicks and the BBC’s Hey Duggee.
While Hunter will be working on all of these shows, they were commissioned before he arrived. He’s excited to make his own mark by leveraging his previous experience at Sony as director of kids networks. In this role, Hunter says he spent a lot of time thinking about where the weak spots were at other networks and streaming platforms. He then used that data to carve out a successful niche for Sony’s Pop channels.
He plans to use that same strategy at YouTube. The AVOD’s biggest advantage, according to Hunter, is its wealth of creators. “Working with YouTube creators and collaborating with them on projects is something I couldn’t have done anywhere else, not in the same way or to the same scale,” he says. “It presents a new challenge that really appealed to me. I like challenges.”
YouTube creators are feeding so much of the slate, in fact, that Hunter suggests they should send pitches in through their individual channel managers. But he stresses that all creators need to be safe and appropriate—crazy drama channels need not apply.
“Kid-friendly is an absolute must; we take that very seriously so we have to make sure that we’re working with creators who are not going to say or do anything that puts that relationship at risk,” says Hunter.
Beyond identifying gaps in the overall marketplace, Hunter is also looking for holes in YouTube’s own slate. The platform hasn’t spent its whole US$100-million fund yet, and he is part of the team deciding how to invest the rest of that money.
The best way to be part of that effort if you’re an outside producer, he explains, is to look at the kids and family framework. The top line is that all content put out by the kids and family originals team needs to support and empower kids, and help them uncover their strengths and passions. This then breaks down into four goals: pursuing your dreams, self-care and well-being, culture and diversity, and in your community (which includes themes like citizenship, social intelligence and environmental awareness).
“It’s not similar at all to the type of content that I used to pick up, which was a lot more commercial and based around consumer products,” says Hunter. “It’s a different thing here, and we’re very much playing to the strengths of YouTube as a platform.”
Once a producer and the kids and family originals team have a show concept nailed down, YouTube has a variety of options for funding it. The money needs to last for three years (starting in 2020), and according to Hunter, the AVOD prefers more of a co-pro funding approach. It will, however, fund up to the pilot stage in some cases, but there’s no set structure.
The next step for YouTube preschool, and for Hunter, is to “crack on with all of these shows in development.”
“I’ve joined at a really exciting time, and I’m looking forward to being part of the process to get all of this great stuff out to our kids and family audience.”