What’s The Matter With Kids Today?

I probably should be a bigger fan of the ANKLER’s mysterious Entertainment Strategy Guy than I am.  He’s the de facto research guru of the snarky, smarmy, elitist counter to everything Penske, and he regularly drops literally tons of data points to make his cases for what and why decisions are made by streaming services that continue to confound the creatives and executives that tend to make up the ANKLER’s subscriber base.   What we know from his flimsy biography is that he’s apparently held positions where he made strategic decisions at least a couple of prominent platforms and/or suppliers.

And if nothing else, he’s thorough.  He not only will source Nielsen, he’ll source Samba, the Netflix Top 10, Luminate, TV Time, and even qualitative-based data from everyone from IMdB to Google trends.  He’ll provide exhaustive, multi-color line graphs chock full of any data point one could want.  If a number exists on a show or a platform, it’s probably in an Excel file on his computer.   If the unions are really looking for a starting point to get their hands on information they can use to get their members better paid, they could do way worse than to start with ESG.

As someone who champions the use of data and who regularly reminds that in its current form Nielsen alone is hopelessly insufficient, I admire ESG’s attention to detail.  But when he starts to make assumptions based exclusively on it, he reveals the side of us that I find most unfortunate.  Numbers don’t lie, but they also don’t necessarily tell the entire story.

ESG dropped a newsletter earlier this week which offered the titillating headline WHO SHOULD GET OUT OF KIDS’ TV.  He began with this sobering take:

Kids competition can be brutal; lots of players are fighting for a much smaller piece of the overall viewership pie because there are fewer kids than there are adults in America. Yes, yes, children are our future (thanks Whitney!), but when you limit things to 2-to-5 year-olds or 6-to-11 year-olds, you find that they only make up about 11 to 12 percent of the total U.S. population. The proof is in the quality (production costs) of these shows. Because kids shows mainly appeal only to kids, studios right-size their budgets to those smaller audiences.

By my count, Disney, Netflix, Paramount Global, Warner Bros Discovery, NBCUniversal, PBS, YouTube and Apple TV+ all vie for children’s attention in just the video space.  That’s too many competitors for too small a space.

Says you.

I was once part of another company that vied for kids’ eyeballs, unfortunately at a less successful time in its history that it had once had.  I suspect ESG may not be old enough to remember FOX Kids Network from any other perspective but as a viewer.  It was a 90s thing to be sure, and by the time I got involved it had become an extension of the empire of Haim Saban, and was being forced to do battle with the company that fueled a great deal of its early success, Warner Brothers . The connection between the two was a visionary named Jamie Kellner, who was the first president of FOX Broadcasting and was then recruited to start what was then known as The WB.  Jamie came from a sales background and the tenacity of a competitive boat racer.  Do everything you can to win, and make sure you start the race strong.   Jamie knew a lot about the “nudge” effect that kids had on parents and how much their vote impacted decision makers.  If the kids wanted to watch something that was off their parents’ radar, mom and dad would inevitably kowtow to their young ‘uns’ wishes.  It created the demand for the stations that would ultimately rise from obscurity or even nonexistence to become the backbone of those networks.

The ratings and relative popularity of kids’ shows was something that forever would fascinate and frustrate Saban.  When a large group of us would sit down on a Thursday afternoon with handmade sushi and fresh biscottis to parse weekly ratings of boys 6-11, we’d see fluctuations of 20-30 share points on some shows every other week.  At the ratings levels some were achieving and the small size of their Nielsen universes, these swings were sometimes the result of the behavior of two or three sample households.  When Saban would implore in his Jackie Mason-like way “What the f–k happened?”, I’d truthfully answer “Probably detention”.  A couple of misbehaving kids could really foul up our strategy meetings.

But whenever cooler heads would prevail—those trained by Kellner— we’d remind of the nudge effect and the fact the viewers we did have were becoming the foundation of future prime time viewing.

And if you’re a subscriber to Rick Ellis’ TOO MUCH TV, his Thursday newsletter was a reminder that, even in the parlance and priority of today’s TV, that’s still very much the case:

Apple TV+ has a new season of Camp Snoopy premiering tomorrow and I read another piece arguing that Apple is wasting money on kids programming. Because they don’t have a substantial library of kids shows – although what they have is generally quite good – and none of their kids programs have any “buzz.”

I don’t have any specific knowledge of Apple TV+’s bottom line, but I do know of two factors which might weigh heavily in the company’s decision to lean into creating more original children’s programming. First, I was told that account which regularly consumed kids programming were nearly twice as likely to continue to subscribe to the service for more than a year. They were also spending a higher-than-average amount on related services, including PVOD and other Apple digital services.

Which would make these viewers much more valuable than the average Apple TV+ subscriber. I have no idea if that difference is enough to make it financially worthwhile. But based on the decisions being made at the streamer, I would have to assume to answer might be “yes.”

Maybe it might be too much to expect from someone as vaunted as ESG to care about kids’ wars of long ago.  But I’d like to believe that for as someone as capable of mining and saving every number he can get his hands on, he might have remembered what he himself wrote about this subject a little more than a year ago:

Once again, we’re back to the debate over, “Should entertainment companies make popular TV shows?” debate. (I know, this sounds absurd to debate whether people should make TV shows and movies that regular people (not critics) want to watch, but that happens a lot these days.)

Now, with kids content, I’m actually kind of conflicted about catering to kids’ tastes versus making high quality, if niche, content. On the one hand, as a parent, I know what it’s like to see your kids fall in love with certain TV shows that feel like the visual equivalent of sugary cereal. I won’t name any names, but I can think of at least one TV show that, whenever my kids watch, they turn into maniacs. (And it involves JJ.)

On the other hand, like so much Hollywood content these days, well-meaning creators and critics sort of delude themselves into thinking that certain niche kids shows, especially critically acclaimed shows, are more popular than they actually are. Basically, they want the shows they like to be universally beloved, even if they aren’t. Or they believe that a promotional campaign would have convinced legions of children to watch shows that they don’t actually want to watch.

So what side of the aisle do you come out on, ESG?  The side that lives and dies by sometimes conflicting and consternating data as this Luddite once did?  Or the side that understands that as a strategy to keep folks around to watch anything, the presence of something kids want to watch is a necessary component of creating a successful business both today and tomorrow?

And speaking of Luddite behavior, enough with the pseudonym already, ESG.  That’s so outdated.  Preston Beckman has long since revealed he is the Masked Scheduler, and Mark Fell let people know he was Deep Throat.  Both in this century, might I add.

Perhaps it’s time for you to be as complete with the memory of your own expressed beliefs as you are about memorializing other people’s numbers.  And widen the narrow lens you seem to be seeing things through.

In other words, grow up.

Until next time…

 

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