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Amazon Banks on the Kids

AMAZON STUDIOS IS QUICKLY ramping up its kids-targeted original programming lineup with six pilots — animated shows The Adventures of Knickerbock Teetertop, Lost in Oz, Lily the Unicorn and Bear in Underwear and liveaction pilots A History of Radness and The Kicks — debuting on the Amazon Instant Video overt-he-top service June 26 for customers to sample and vote on for a potential full-series run.

With three new original kids-targeted series set to debut later this year and early next year — Wishenpoof!, Just Add Magic and The Stinky & Dirty Show — joining recently renewed kids shows Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street, Tumble Leaf, Creative Galaxy and Annedroids, Amazon is positioning itself to be a key player in reaching preschool and pre-teen kid viewers.

Amazon Studios head of kids programming Tara Sorensen recently spoke to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about Amazon’s kids-targeted, original programming strategy, as well as its plans to compete in the crowded kids’ TV marketplace.

NTV:Amazon is investing significant resources in the development of kids-targeted programming. Why is the category so important to Amazon Studios?

Tara Sorensen: Simply because our customer base is made up largely of families, so in getting into the original game, ‘kids’ was definitely going to be part of that strategy. I think our kids’ strategy is relatively simple: We’re trying to do smart programs that our kids will love.

NTV:Amazon has focused heavily on pre-school themed programming with shows such asCreative GalaxyandTumble Leaf. Was that a particular area that you felt was underserved in the marketplace?

TS: We really wanted to take a look at how to innovate on the curriculum side. All of our original shows are focused on strong characters and great stories that our customers love, but we wanted to take a slightly different approach to preschool programming with regard to an educational curriculum. We think that we are taking a little bit more of an innovative approach — we’re really focused on creativity and right-brain thinking. These soft skills are not being focused on as much as the teach-to-test philosophy. But in building lifelong learners we know that these soft skills — in terms of collaboration, creative, critical thinking, creativity — are going to be important to differentiate leaders of the future.

We started with Creative Galaxy, which was a show about creativity and the arts along with life skills, so we tried to match right brain and left brain in all of our shows. In Tumble Leaf you’ll see an emphasis on ‘play’ and how kids learn naturally and make scientific discoveries. In Annedroids, there’s more of an emphasis on STEM [science technology, engineering and mathematics].

NTV:A lot of Amazon’s new shows are targeted to kids 6-11. What are you looking to accomplish with those shows?

TS: Once we get into the 6-to-11-yearolds, we’re less-focused on curriculum, but what we wanted to do was to really infuse those characteristics that you saw in the pre-school shows, in terms of role models — basically show how kids think and showcase kids that are unafraid of failure and kids that are outside-the-box thinkers. Hopefully you see that in Gortimer and hopefully you see those types of behaviors in Just Add Magic, which is going to series.

We think we have an opportunity not only for kids to see themselves, but there are also opportunities for parents to sit around the screen with them.

NTV:Since Amazon is not rated, are you relying mostly on customer feedback to determine whether a show is a hit and connecting with viewers?

TS: Yes, we see it in the comments we get from customers. The first four shows that have launched have all been ordered to second season, so they’re definitely working for our customers. Also, all of our shows to date have been recognized by some award. Tumble Leaf won five Emmys; Gortimer and Annedroids were both nominated for Emmys and multiple Parents’ Choice awards; Annedroids just took the top prize at the Youth Media Alliance. In addition to the customer feedback, which has been overwhelmingly positive, we’re also seeing great industry recognition, which is nice.

NTV:The kids’ television market in general is very crowded. As an over-the-top service how do you break through the clutter and get your message out?

TS: We’re just trying to take a different approach with the shows. The shows will always sort of speak for themselves in terms of how we’ve tried to differentiate them from others in the landscape. We’re so focused on our customers; I’m not necessarily looking at what else is going on with other broadcasters.

We’re trying to utilize the service as we know it works, and by that I mean because we’re a streaming service, we can encourage kids to stop, rewind, replay the episodes. You’ll see serialized arcs more in our 6-11 series because of the streaming service. There’s no lead-in, lead-out; we can have kids and families watch at their leisure. Often times there are rewards for watching all of the episodes, or nuances that you might not get if you don’t watch all of them.

On the preschool side, we’re encouraging kids to go outside of the screen after they’re finished so they can reinforce the learning that was embedded within the episode. That’s how we differentiate ourselves.

NTV:You mentioned the pilot season that is coming up. Realistically, do you have a sense of how many of those shows will actually make it to series?

TS: You know, we really have to look at what’s working from a customer perspective. Typically, our ratio of development to pilot test and pilot test to series is about 2:1 right now, but there’s no hard and fast rule. It really is looking at what our customers are responding to and then trying to deliver a series based on those metrics.