It’s hard to underestimate how much kids drive the newest video tech advances but it’s been true since the time when UHF television was something more akin to radio than video.
That’s where kids who are now in their 50s or so found cartoons and wrestling and reruns of old, old TV shows. UHF was built on kids, so when Rupert Murdoch started the Fox Network in 1985 and gathered together all those high-numbered channels then known as independents, they delivered bushels of kids and young adults who grew up watching channels their parents never did. It’s probably no mistake that “The Simpsons,” a cartoon, was one of Fox’s first big successes.
On cable, for years Nickelodeon had audiences most competitors couldn’t match, and in fact larger than Saturday morning audiences over on the broadcast networks.
Now, as a New York Times story points out, the youngest viewers are so accustomed to the on-demand nature of Netflix or other online video services that some of them don’t understand the idea of a TV schedule, when programs appear for the first time, on a certain day, on a certain channel.
In that article, Tara Sorensen, head of original programming at Amazon, told Brian Stelter, “Kids today don’t know a world where they had to wait for a program.”
Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and what I will rudely call all the rest, need to grab young viewers, because unless a very radical thing happens, all of them will get older and continue to subscribe, and continue to go away from TV, which has had a 60-year lock on the youth demo, where toys and bikes and McDonald’s and other kids’ movies are sold.
Recent stats already indicate a surprising number of young—very young—children use tablets and smartphones. Last Christmas at a discount store, I saw a kid in a stroller punching his finger at the cover of an illustrated children’s book. He thought it was a touch screen.
At the pay services, they’ve learned that their biggest customers may be those little tykes, and their slightly older siblings. That’s what drives deals like DreamWorks’ acquisition of YouTube’s AwesomenessTV, and other deals Scholastic and PBS make with online content providers, and apps Disney and Nickelodeon are creating to supply a very young market. It’s not like those creators are learning much that is so new. They’ve known for quite a while that young viewers are loyal and don’t demand too much—even over-the-air cartoon shows don’t create too many episodes because kids will watch the same thing time and time again. Best of all, as McDonald’s and every toymaker in the world learned a long time ago, kids are one market that has something better than expendable income: They have no idea of what income even means, so retailers, and pay services, have a relatively easy time making the sale. Tantrums are, well, priceless.