For kids’ cable networks, the much-discussed millennial demographic is so yesterday.
Networks ranging from Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and The Hub to toddler-targeted services like Sprout are focusing their attention toward the post-millennial generation, a group which can barely tie its shoes and is still attending grammar school, but has access to more viewing screens than any preceding demographic category.
And these post-millenials are more involved in making home viewing decisions, leaving kid-targeted networks looking for ways to attract them to their multiscreen sandboxes.
“I think marketers and the world are looking at this age group because children at very young ages are influencing what’s happening in the family, whether it’s what movie you go to this weekend, where you go on vacation or even what car you drive,” Sprout president Sandy Wax said. “Younger and younger children are starting to play a role in how families think about the decisions they’re making — they’re a bigger part of the family dynamic.”
The exact definition of the post-millennial group varies: Some executives focus on kids younger than 11, while others define the category as kids born after 2005. Either way, the sweet spot of the demo for most networks is kids aged 4 to 8 — clearly not old enough to pay for cable TV, but of age to influence viewing choices in the home, or use a tablet or mobile phone to access their favorite shows.
They’re also more reserved and attached to their parents than their 12-to-34-year-old millennial predecessors, who were more independent and more responsive to flash and sizzle, according to Nickelodeon Group president Cyma Zarghami.
“If you look at the differences between the millennials and this new generation, millennials actually were very Hollywood and pop culture,” she said. “This next generation seems to be emerging different than that and, in many ways, [is] more sheltered and innocent.”
For Nick, that means post-millennials will respond to more feel-good comedy, animation and original programming targeted specifically toward them, rather than content that was created for their older siblings such as SpongeBob SquarePants and iCarly, according to Zarghami. After struggling with its ratings in 2012 — a year in which the network lost its hold on the kids 2 to 11 ratings crown to Disney Channel for the first time in 17 years — Nickelodeon is refocusing its creative efforts on creating original comedy series.
To better reach this new generation of viewers, the network has green-lighted such series as Sanjay & Craig — about a boy and his best friend, a snake — and Breadwinners, which follows two ducks who operate a van-based, bread-delivery service.
“There was a generational shift and some of our hits crossed the generational divide, and I think that’s what happened to our audience,” Zarghami said. “They graduated, so the shows that were big hits with that audience also graduated. What will really be important is finding the kind of ideas that will speak to this class of 8-year-olds. … You have to understand everything about them to be able to entertain them.”
Cartoon Network is also targeting original comedy programming to its post-millennial or “plural” viewers, president and chief operating officer Stu Snyder said. The network has successfully developed animated shows that hit its sweet spot of viewers age 6 to 8, such as Adventure Time and The Regular Show.
“We can’t be successful without getting a lot of 6-to- 8-year-olds,” Snyder said. “That’s been very important for us. Reaching [tweens and teens] for us is gravy, as long we have our core demo to watch our shows.”
The post-millennial demo is also more likely to watch television and interact with their parents than the previous millennial generation. The Discovery Communications and Hasbro-owned The Hub, which targets 6-to-9-year-olds, has built much of itr primetime schedule with programming suited to co-viewing including original game show Family Game Night.
Co-viewing — when parents watch shows alongside their kids — is very prevalent among this generation, The Hub CEO Margaret Loesch said. Eighty-four percent of parents of kids age 6 to 12 surveyed said they want to watch programming together, she noted.
“It’s a truly changed world in this regard,” Loesch said. “Parents now want to watch with their kids and kids want to watch with them.”
That’s especially true for networks like Sprout, which targets the younger end of the age spectrum. Shows like Sprout’s original series The Good Night Show and The Chica Show provide important co-viewing opportunities for parents and children, particularly given the importance both place on spending time together, Sprout president Wax said.
Despite their young age, post-millennials are remarkably technologically savvy: 25% of kids under the age of eight have access to an iPad, according to Nickelodeon. Further, homes with kids under 12 over-index in ownership of iPads and other tablets, according to Nielsen.
“These preschoolers don’t even know the rules that are being broken,” Wax said. “We see kids three-, four- and five-years-old, walking up to a TV screen expecting to swipe the screen just like they do an iPad or iPhone. They don’t know what’s possible, so they expect everything — tablets are really commonplace with these kids.”
The best way to reach post-millennials is through a multiscreen, multiplatform TV Everywhere approach that takes into account all the ways kids interact with content, Disney Channel Worldwide senior vice president of programming strategy Paul Debenedittis said. Disney’s subscriber-authenticated “Watch” offerings for Disney Channel, toddler-targeted network Disney Jr. and boys-themed service Disney XD provide access to both live and on demand content for kids to access anytime.
“This is the way they’re living already, so I don’t deliberate over one platform or another — I just know that I have to make sure that I’m creating and distributing content that is available everywhere,” he said. “We have to have apps and games for them that we can distribute across all of our platforms.”
Networks must be cognizant that whatever content is offered on alternative platforms helps drive kids back to the linear channel, The Hub’s Loesch said. Spooksville, a new original mystery series, will include original webisodes meant to keep kids interested during the gap between on-air installments.
“We always have to be mindful of technology, but first and foremost, the television screen is what’s driving our business,” she said. “It’s incumbent on us to think about how we can extend our entertainment and make it customized for each of these devices.”
Networks are also creating targeted apps that extend the TV viewing experience to multiple platforms. Cartoon’s Snyder said the network’s Watch and Play App, which allows iPad users to watch content while simultaneously playing games, has been very successful. The app has been downloaded 5.5 million times since its launch.
“That type of innovation is very important if we’re going to continue to be focused and attract the next generation of kids,” Snyder said.
Nickelodeon’s new authenticated Nick App, released last month, is also an attempt to give kids “a Nickelodeon playground” to play in through games, show clips and other content, Zarghami said.
OVERSTIMULATING THE SENSES?
With so much multiscreen content being funneled to post-millennials, some executives are concerned about overloading kids’ senses. But children have always had choices with regard to how they spend their time, Sprout’s Wax said, and ultimately, they’ll choose what interests them the most.
“The Disneys and Nickleodeons have been making content for these demos for quite some time,” she said. “What’s new is all these other experiences these kids can get through Netflix, on-demand and on other platforms.
“There’s been a democratization of content because there’s many ways for kids to consume content, and it’s our job to make the most compelling, interesting learning experiences for kids,” she said.
Childrens’ programmers are shifting their programming focus beyond millenials to the first generation to grow up with multiplatform viewing.
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.