Insights is a new weekly series featuring entertainment industry veteran David Bloom. It represents an experiment of sorts in digital-age journalism and audience engagement with a  focus on the intersection of entertainment and technology, an area that David has written about and thought about and been part of in various career incarnations for much of the past 25 years. David welcomes your thoughts, perspectives, calumnies, and kudos at david@tubefilter.com, or on Twitter @DavidBloom.

This installment of Insights is brought to you by Beachfront RISE. RISE

The other day I had a minor epiphany while reading Tubefilter’s story about the person behind the current most-watched channel on YouTube. No, it wasn’t PewDiePie. And it wasn’t Justin Bieber. It was a four-year-old.

In July alone, toy-unboxing videos by Ryan_ToysReview attracted an astonishing 585.3 million views on YouTube. And here’s what really caught my attention. His parents/producers say his core audience is 3- to 7-year-olds. That’s a lot of toddlers taking to the tablets.

On the one hand, it makes perfect sense. Ryan is one of them, a diminutive stand-in for all their 4-year-old fantasies of opening new toys and playing with them. It’s Christmas every day! What kid doesn’t want to see that?

But then I thought back to my recent conversation with Seth Shapiro about how,  back in the early days of network TV, Leonard Goldenson triangulated struggling ABC away from the adult-focused content of powerhouses NBC and CBS. Goldenson cut a deal with Disney (which at the time was swimming in debt over Disneyland’s creation) to get access to its library of family-friendly animated movies, shorts, and nature documentaries. Goldenson knew the approach would draw not just the kids, but their parents too, and in turn, advertisers wanting to reach those families.

These days, the business model is very different, but the play is the same. Get the kids, you get the parents. Get the parents and you have a sustainable business.

Then, as is my wont, I started thinking about what this meant for children’s television as we’ve known it. If kids were watching (and watching and watching) Ryan_ToysReview, here’s what they weren’t watching: Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., the Disney Channel, Disney XD or Disney Junior, network cartoons on Saturday morning, ABC Afternoon Specials (do those even exist still?) and much else.

There’s a reason Netflix launched its dedicated Netflix Kids interface a couple of years back, and said this year it would create 600 hours of original children’s programming. Amazon Prime, not to be outdone, has also ordered at least six original children’s series in the past two years.

These changes are part of the reason why Disney’s ABC Family Network was renamed the formless Freeform, part of an effort to distance the channel from the limits of the “family” moniker Disney inherited when it bought the channel from Fox in 2001.

It’s also why HBO cut a deal last year with Sesame Workshop to carry Sesame Street, a deal that paid the workshop to double its annual episode production, grant exclusive rights to 150 older episodes and produce a new series.

HBO – home to family-unfriendly shows such as Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, and Sex in the City – may not be the most obvious distributor of children’s programming. But like other streaming powerhouses, HBO realized the sticky power of children’s programming and realized it needed to expand its offerings as it moved away from being just a premium cable network. And when you charge $15 a month for your standalone OTT app, you better provide something for everybody.

There are huge long-term implications here, too, as Netflix Kids, HBO Go, Amazon Prime, and YouTube Kids (yes, YouTube does have ads, except on YouTube Red, but otherwise is part of this) train a new generation of TV viewers. Those young viewers are getting used to a few key video-watching habits:

  • no commercials;
  • easy navigation on a handheld phone or tablet;
  • watch when you want, as long as Mom and/or Dad lets you;
  • watch exactly what you want, as often as you’d like, until Mom and/or Dad forcibly pries that tablet out your clutching, sob-wracked tiny hands.

But don’t take my word for it. Ask anyone with a toddler, including incredibly popular YouTube vlogger and filmmaker Casey Neistat.

Compare that to what Nick Jr. or Disney Junior has to offer:

  • lots of ads;
  • lack of choice and control;
  • no repeats;
  • on a big, immobile and touch-insensitive screen with a remote you can’t figure out because your parents can’t figure it out either.

Put that all together, and we start to understand that the decline of Viacom’s youth-oriented channels the past five years weren’t just the incompetence of finally displaced CEO Philippe Dauman (though his reign of wrong deserves lots of blame too).

The site Exstreamist.com has done a series of studies looking at streaming-media use by adults and children both. The site estimates that the average child between 2 and 18 years old watches 1.8 hours of streaming video a day, or about 650 hours a year of streamed programming. In turn, they estimated that watching streaming shows instead of traditional TV saved those kids from watching about 150 hours of advertising a year. If you’re a parent still reeling from your own childhood’s endless viewing of ads to buy Cap’n Crunch cereal and Barbie’s Malibu Dream House, sparing your child a similar bombardment may be high on your list of Very Good Things. Just as importantly, this has huge implications not just for the networks but for the brands advertising with them.

So what’s next? We’re successfully training the post-Millennial generation to hate everything that television is. So who’s building for the future? Is Netflix Kids setting that company up for long-term lock-in with kids and their parents? Yes. Who else is positioned to thrive? Ask yourself that the next time you happen to watch a four-year-old videotaping his or her latest toy-unboxing video.

A Note On The Interactive Emmys

I want to take a moment to congratulate winners of interactive Emmys awarded in the past week (the Primetime Emmys are this Sunday night, but a lot of Emmys were handed out for other categories already). The TV Academy’s Interactive Media Peer Group, one of 29 in the organization, has blossomed in recent years (despite that clunky name) and now has more than 900 members.

The TV Academy also has expanded its embrace of digital creators with more awards, too, though winners and finalists tend to be either part of or directly derived from prominent traditional TV programming. As an example, finalists for Outstanding Interactive Program, the one Emmy awarded on the Big Night, are:

  • Conan, from Team Coco, the digital team giving Conan O’Brien’s late-night show a much larger audience than they’d otherwise have.
  • Game of Thrones Main Titles 360 Experience, allowing fans to immerse themselves even further in their favorite HBO obsession.
  • Talking Dead Interactive Experience, a spinoff of the talk-show spinoff of the huge AMC cable hit.
  • Saturday Night Live Interactive Experience, from the venerable NBC late-night comedy stalwart.
  • The Late, Late Show with James Corden.

You’ll notice the plethora of late-night players here; it’s a reflection of late-night TV as the biggest battlefield out there for eyeballs beyond the main screen. The late-night shows are well-suited for digital, too. They generate lots of snackable bits of comedy, perfect for sharing across YouTube, Facebook, and beyond.

And the smart shows are investing heavily in their digital teams, pumping out viral content all over the place. Corden’s Car Pool Karaoke got so big (attracting superstar participants such as Michelle Obama and Adele) that Apple bought the format to create one of its first original shows.

In an event last week at the TV Academy’s gorgeously rebuilt HQ, the Peer Group spotlighted the finalists and also honored Rob Hayes, head of NBC’s digital unit, with its Lucy Hood Digerati Award. Hayes gets a lot of credit for the Peacock Network’s digital forays tied to programs such as “SNL” and “The Voice.”

The IMPG also announced winners of four juried categories during the TV Academy event (as opposed to a vote by a random subset of academy members). To be frank, the juried approach means a bit more, because specialists are judging the best of these categories. Winners include:

  • Multiplatform Storytelling: “Archer Scavenger Hunt.”
  • Original Interactive Program: “Henry,” created and distributed on the Oculus virtual-reality platform.
  • Social TV Experience: “@Midnight with Chris Hardwick.”
  • User Experience and Visual Design: Cartoon Network App Experience.

Congrats to all the winners, and especially to long-time Nerdist and digital omnipresence Chris Hardwick, who won for Social TV Experience and is a finalist for Outstanding Interactive Program with ‘Talking Dead.’ He’s having a very good year.

Photo of kids engrossed in a tablet by Jim Bauer.

RISEThis installment of Insights is brought to you by Beachfront RISE, the premier app building company that houses all of your content in one place for any device, and monetizes it automatically with their built in programmatic video advertising platform.

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