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The Children Are the Future (of Online Streaming Video)

Forget Arrested Development; maybe streaming-video services can become an alternative to regular TV by going after your children.

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Nickelodeon / PRNewsFoto / AP Images

The Backyardigans "Pirate Camp"

A lot of the coverage of streaming video lately (mine included) has been focused on big-ticket, high-profile original productions. If streaming becomes and alternative to the network model of channels and weekly schedules—or replaces it altogether—the thinking has been that it would be led by attention-getting projects like Netflix’s House of Cards and Arrested Development, which would elevate the medium the way HBO’s dramas did pay cable.

But there may be another way that streaming-video services turn themselves into a mainstream alternative to regular TV: by going after your children.

This is the significance of the deal Amazon just announced with Viacom, to begin offering its children’s programming (think Nickelodeon) through Amazon Prime Instant Video, after Netflix gave up the rights to it earlier in the year. If your kids want The Backyardigans streaming on demand, they’ll have to go through Jeff Bezos.

The deal suggests that, where Netflix is betting on big splashy projects to lead TV into the future, Amazon sees the way ahead as more of a bottom-up process: as in the bottom of the age-demographic range. Earlier this spring Amazon debuted a set of series pilots for viewers to rate, and while the adult shows got most of the attention, it also tested a half-dozen kids’ pilots. As I suggested in my post then, “the most distinctive thing Amazon does could be its kids’ shows, one of the first genres to bring streaming video into the home.” (Alyssa Rosenberg also had a good analysis of the same subject at ThinkProgress recently, noting that while there’s less flashy competition in that sector, there may be even greater demand.)

Childrens’ programming is a natural match for streaming video. To paraphrase the old Kix ad, kids like it and moms and dads like it. Kids are receptive to reruns, they’re especially platform-agnostic (born into a world where “TV” is something that comes out of computers and phones), and, if anecdotal experience says anything, they’re especially partial to video on portable devices. They’ve come to think of TV as more like books—something you can carry with you and choose from a library. Parents, meanwhile, like having access to on-demand, pacifying entertainment (think car trips) without commercials and with greater control over episode selection. And their kids will be the video-watching adults of the future.

It’s not as if Amazon and Netflix are totally parting ways in their strategy, though. Netflix now has a deal with Disney, with its own trove of children’s content, and Amazon recently picked up two of its adult sitcom pilots to full series.

All of which, naturally, means that while the future of TV may be more a la carte, on-demand, and option-heavy, it will not necessarily be cheap: for access to both Nick and Disney reruns, you’ll need two subscriptions to two services, at least while the current deal lasts. For frugal parents and their kids, then, the future of streaming media may be in the past. PBS Kids still has some commercial-free episodes online for free.

7 comments
twocee
twocee like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

With more and more streaming options every day, and more and more fracturing of the market (you can get X show on Netflix, X show on Amazon, and oh, X movie on Redbox), it seems to be getting harder and harder to track what is streaming, what is not streaming, and WHO is streaming it (and whether it's "free" or not).

I see this as being a growing problem as more options for streaming become available and as more content is made exclusive to one service.  Roku currently has the ability to search for a particular show across multiple services, which is definitely a great feature.  But I often run into the issue of not knowing something is streaming on one service or the other, or thinking that something is not streaming anywhere, when in fact I just didn't look in the right place.  Niche content often gets overlooked -- there are some great streaming programs from channels like Smithsonian or PBS, but because they are unavailable or unaffiliated with the big streaming services, it's hard to find out about them.

The streaming market needs some sort of comprehensive "TV Guide" that quickly allows people to see everything they have flagged in all of their different queues and that lists upcoming new streaming releases (regardless of provider/channel), and also lets you search for particular shows.

Is there anything out there like that?


TheHoobie
TheHoobie

@twoceeOh, heartily seconded! I'd love a streaming-TV guide. I've started to become used to the 15 minutes it usually takes, when I decide I'd like to watch a given show or movie, to determine "Okay, what's the easiest and most economical way for me to watch this? Is it streaming somewhere? Is it On Demand? Is it coming up on TV so that I can DVR it?" We need an app for this! Paging this awesome kid: http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/05/08/your-twitter-tv-spoiler-solution-brought-to-you-by-a-teenage-girl

TheHoobie
TheHoobie

Our two-year telecomm contract for TV recently expired, and we used the occasion to upgrade from our 16-year-old (!) standard-def TV to a hi-def Smart TV.* Partly to help offset that cost, I wound up choosing a cable package that was somewhat scaled down from what we had before. (We no longer have the "extra" kids' channels, like Nick Jr.) But I figured that that wasn't a big deal; we'd keep our Netflix streaming subscription (at least for now), and we could always watch the kids' shows from the cable channels we no longer had through Netflix on the Smart TV. I've been surprised to find, though, that for kids' fare, we really don't watch the cable channels directly at all any more. We watch PBS kids' shows live, and pretty much all other kids' fare through Netflix. It's great---we can more or less watch what we want when we want, there are no commercials, we have easy access to great older shows like "Avatar: The Last Airbender" and "The Busy World of Richard Scarry," and we can avoid those wretched live-action Disney sitcoms like the plague they are.** 

Our 3-year-old son noticed before I did that we no longer had access to Nickelodeon shows on Netflix: "Where's Umizoomi, Mommy?!" But sorry, kiddo; Mommy and Daddy ain't going to pony up for more than one streaming service a month.

*Getting used to HD after so many years of standard def has actually been kind of an adjustment! Watching, say, Mad Men in HD for the first time was totally trippy. Everything looks both more realistic and.... shinier, somehow. Everything's both flatter and more dimensional. We're still not quite used to it.

**Among Disney's live-action kids' sitcoms, "Good Luck Charlie" is actually not half-bad. Whereas "Jessie," last time I saw it, is/was a straight-up abomination in the face of God. (If I wanted my kids to watch mean, stupid people in a soulless race to the bottom to humorlessly belittle each other, I'd have them watch C-SPAN. At least with C-SPAN there'd be fewer fart jokes. Probably.)

jponiewozik
jponiewozik moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

@TheHoobie Umizoomi? Eh, just take him to Wisconsin Foodie sometime and that'll make it up to him.

TheHoobie
TheHoobie

@jponiewozik Hee! Next time we visit Grampa and Gramma in Wisconsin, we'll have to try to arrange a location visit with Wisconsin Foodie to introduce Kyle Cherek to his biggest/littlest fan! http://wisconsinfoodie.com/about/

Oh, dear: I just remembered yesterday that, duh, "Avatar: The Last Airbender" is a Nickelodeon show and hence now lives at Amazon!

Fortunately, we had decided that Avatar was something we wanted to own (precisely so that Netflix could never yank it away from us, as it just did!), so we purchased all three seasons (oof!) on iTunes a month or so ago. That's another interesting wrinkle in the new TV/media landscape: We don't buy DVDs anymore. In fact, we'd sprung for an Apple TV box just before buying Avatar because that's the only way we can watch Rubicon and Terriers (which I'd subscribed to in iTunes when they were airing, partly to show support for the shows).

We noticed yesterday that another favorite Netflix kids' offering, the Imagination Movers' "Rock-O-Matic" special, has also vanished. Bummer! I'm surprised by that, because the I-Movers work with Disney. Huh.

I'm sure that Netflix doesn't want to advertise that they're about to lose a given collection of shows to a competitor, but I really wish they'd be clearer and more forthcoming about the dates on which a show's going to disappear from their service. I think they do do that, but only on Netflix.com, not on the apps we actually use on the iPad and Smart TV. This is how it came to pass that I've only seen the first episode of Party Down. (One Saturday: "Look! Yay! Netflix has Party Down! Let's start watching!" The next Monday: "Hey, where'd Party Down go?!")

TheHoobie
TheHoobie

@twocee  We do tend to store media we've purchased on the computer itself (we have a 1-Tb hard drive that so far is half-full), but as the disk fills up, we may need to offload some stuff. But we also back everything up to a removable back-up hard drive (a 5 x 3-inch 1-Tb Seagate), just on GP. Currently I do that mainly out of concern that even iTunes (for crap's sake!) sometimes drops stuff that you've gotten through the iTunes store. (For example, I got the Battlestar Galactica "Face of the Enemy" webisodes---free, I think---from iTunes when they were broadcast, but then the iTunes store stopped carrying/supporting them. And then our old desktop just happened to melt down like the Hindenburg. So we would have lost those webisodes and some other iTunes stuff except for the fact that I had backed up the webisodes on the hard drive and was able to reimport them to my local iTunes on the new computer.) 

And I hadn't known this before we got the little Apple TV box, but one excellent thing it can do is "mirror" your local iTunes on the TV, which means we can watch/listen to anything that's in our iTunes on the TV, even if we didn't buy that media from Apple but imported it into iTunes from somewhere else. What a world!

twocee
twocee

@TheHoobie: I missed the last two eps of Party Down for that reason.  Since then I try to remember to log onto netflix.com every couple of weeks and do a super-quick scan of my queue to look for "Expiring [date]."  

Question for you -- are you planning on storing the shows you've purchased to a piece of physical media?  I have several shows I'd like to buy off of Amazon Instant, but since the files are so huge I don't necessarily want them sitting on my hard drive for all time (and I don't want them only in the cloud -- I'd never store my pictures or my purchased music ONLY in a cloud, why would I do that with purchased video?).  So I'm trying to reconcile my desire to own the shows without having to buy a packaged DVD/BluRay with my desire to have the shows on some sort of physical storage media.