Cummerbund

What’s next for kids podcasting?

As more companies mine the audio entertainment space for brand extensions, execs from Wonkybot, Tinkercast and Soundsington weigh in on whether it's primed to be the industry's next great franchise well.
May 25, 2022

Demand for screen-free, family-friendly podcasts exploded during the pandemic and the market continues to grow. Podcasts in the kids and family category have seen a 20% increase in audience size since 2019, according to a 2021 Spoken Word Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research. And the podcast industry as a whole is forecast to eclipse US$2 billion in advertising revenue by 2023, as per the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s latest US Podcast Advertising Revenue Study from May 2021.

But the faster the kids market grows, so too do the challenges. Discoverability is a huge concern both for creators and platforms, as is revenue generation since ads in kids media are limited. To meet these challenges, and future-proof their businesses, more kids podcast companies are beginning to build out select audio-first IPs into 360-degree brands encompassing TV, movies, publishing, gaming, consumer products and more.

A number of new partnerships demonstrate how kids podcasting is evolving in the post-pandemic landscape. Warner Bros. Television recently optioned the TV rights to a 2023 middle-grade musical podcast from producer Gen Z Media called 20 Million Views. And in a podcast-to-publishing deal, kids audio streaming service Pinna linked up with Macmillan Children’s imprint Farrar, Straus and Giroux to adapt its original preschool podcast series Quentin and Alfie’s ABC Adventures as a series of kids books.

On the platform side of things, Amazon podcast studio Wondery has launched subscription service Wondery+ Kids and Spotify US is looking to build out its pipeline with a first-ever focus on kids and family content in a new Sound Up training program for underrepresented creators.

Servicing these new opportunities are a select field of kids podcast production companies with brand strategies baked and ready for consumers.

A handful of companies leading the pack, including LA-based podcast producer Wonkybot, which recently revealed plans to expand its popular Tara Tremendous podcast into animated and live-action series and a book. Two spinoff podcasts have also been greenlit and a live-action musical movie is in development under the watchful eye of Katie McNicol, head of development at Marc Platt Productions (La La Land, Wicked).

“We want to continue building the audio universe, but we do see the company expanding into TV and movies,” says Wonkybot co-founder and Tara Tremendous creator Stewart St. John. “To sustain the strategy creatively, we’ll have to look at making the new shows similar to when I showran Power Rangers or Sabrina: The Animated Series, where we staffed up with a writer’s room and had a couple of head writers.”

Tremendous Universe

With TV series, movies, books, merch and other extensions planned, Wonkybot’s Tara Tremendous is transforming into a 360-degree franchise.

After delving into monetization models to fuel its ambitions, the company decided to launch subscription channel Wonkybot+ on Apple Podcasts in early 2021, offering all of its new Tara content and other IPs from its portfolio. It is also exploring Tara Tremendous video games and merchandising. A team is currently using sound bites and audio scenes from the podcasts to develop game content and early discussions are underway with a major retailer for Tara t-shirts. “We are crossing our fingers that the merch deal materializes because that would be enormous for us,” says St. John.

Another well-established kids podcast producer, Tinkercast, has also been exploring franchises, thanks to the massive success of its Wow in the World podcast. Since launching in 2017—the dawn of kids podcasting—the educational series has been downloaded 150 million times. The brand now includes books, live theater events and merchandising. Tinkercast also struck a key distribution deal with Wondery last year giving it exclusive distribution, merchandise and ad sales rights to Tinkercast’s new podcasts Who, When, Wow! and Flip and Mozi’s Guide to How to be an Earthling until 2023.

“We’ve figured out a lot of different extensions for Wow and we are taking it further this year with video, consumer products and ed-tech development, as well as international growth planning,” says Tinkercast co-founder and chief executive Meredith Halpern-Ranzer.

To support further brand expansion, Tinkercast launched a new division in January called Tinkerlab. “It’s our place to throw spaghetti at the wall and have day-long design sprints around different growth areas such as video and consumer products,” says Halpern-Ranzer.

If TV adaptations become a reality, her long run at Sesame Workshop and PBS KIDS Sprout, coupled with COO Jody Nussbaum’s Sesame TV experience, should give Tinkercast an edge. “We know how long TV development takes, so we are looking to partner with production companies that could handle the larger lift,” she says. “We would executive produce and oversee the creative to make sure it matches our brand values.”

Tinkercast is exploring video opps on YouTube and TikTok to market its podcasts. According to Halpern-Ranzer, YouTube has become the biggest platform for discovering podcasts. “To not have a presence or strategy there is a missed opportunity,” she says. During the pandemic, the company launched a special YouTube livestream to reveal the cover of its new podcast-based book, How and Wow: The Human Body, leading up to its presale.

Similar to Tinkerlab, Chicago-based Soundsington Media is also starting to build brand expansion into the DNA of its kids podcasts from the outset, according to its founder Nate DuFort. The company’s hit middle-grade podcast, REACH: A Space Podcast for Kids, is currently being developed for print and screen adaptations, with on-camera segment tests underway.

Literary agent Alex Slater is shopping the company’s first show, Unspookable, as a book, and Soundsington is entertaining a screen rights option. The company is also in talks to launch a subscription channel.

“We are only releasing episodes weekly at this point,” says DuFort. “The second we do more, that’s when having a channel would make the most sense for us. We are a small company with two shows and another three to four on the way this year. We are happy with our initial investment in these shows, but we have to look at sustainability.”

Boston-based company FableVision, on the other hand, is at the start of its audio-first content journey, recruiting kids industry vet Anne Richards in January 2022 to head up its new audiyo-yo podcast division.

Richards says she took the VP job in part because FableVision has a unique suite of assets for the space. Chiefly, as an animation/interactive service provider now operating an audio studio, it can adapt its own podcast IPs into TV series or video games and produce them in-house.

“Being an audio studio within a production studio that can do so many other things, brand extensions are at the foundation of how we think about the work,” she says. “We have a lot of capabilities here to get pretty far down the [expansion] road.”

Audiyo-yo is currently focused on its first kids podcast, Cummerbund (pictured), working to turn out a great audio show before taking it into animation, a cast album, publishing and other extensions. “We feel it has the legs to travel to other mediums, but we want to be respectful to the podcast medium first,” says Richards.

She adds that the company is content to let others test out the subscription waters before jumping in. “The good news is that by the time we are ready to do that, there will be a lot more information on the market about how those channels are working,” she says. “For us, reaching audiences through all the different podcast platforms is the first step.”

About The Author
Jeremy is the Features Editor of Kidscreen specializing in the content production, broadcasting and distribution aspects of the global children's entertainment industry. Contact Jeremy at jdickson@brunico.com.

Search

Menu

Brand Menu