Kids Mimic Their Parents; That's Why Nickelodeon Is Jumping Online

A couple years ago at a department store, I saw a young mom with a stroller approaching, and as they did, I saw the little one was holding a Golden Book.

Awwww, I thought... and at that moment, the kid starting jabbing his finger at the cover.

He thought the book was a tablet.

That very young children are enthusiastic tablet and smartphone users is something Nickelodeon noticed, too. The percentage of kids from babies up to 8-year-olds who have used mobile devices has nearly doubled from 38% to 72% since 2011, according to Common Sense Media.

The Viacom unit announced Thursday that it would start a standalone Nickelodeon OTT service this year, with details to come next month. It’s simply taking its business where its customers are.

Last year, The NPD Group reported that 71% of households with a child between the ages of 4 to 14 own a smartphone, (up from 55% in 2012), a stat that doesn’t mean much to me because smartphones are fairly universal by now, and that must be true with parent-age consumers.  

But NPD says among those families with kids, 35% said their child uses a smartphone (up from 21% in 2012) and 31% of them use tablets, up from 13% in 2012. And anecdotally, you don’t have to go to department stores with me to know that very young children are very proficient on tablets and phones.

Obviously, Nickelodeon has seen that trend, too. It’s the top-rated network for children 2-11 (though it fights with the Disney Channel) and the stock research firm Trefis says Nickelodeon brings in $700 million in annual ad revenues from its cable and satellite exposure and has about 100 million subscribers. But those ratings and revenues have declined, and obviously and blatantly, competition from Netflix and Amazon, each with their own growing list of children’s shows, is having an effect.

In this case, what the very young are doing is certainly the result of what they see at home.

It’s hard to separate all the cord-nevers and cutters fact from fiction, but lots viewers of parenting age are watching less conventional TV and more online, on tablets and on phones. Their kids are too, or will be.

This is the marketing fact of life for Nickelodeon and others; it’s also cause for concern. How much does online stuff help a young child learn, for example, how to get along with others?

As one of the biggest name in children’s television and the first branded one to jump into connected TV, Nickelodeon must be prepared to slammed—or at least challenged—by educators.

Indeed, among the conclusions from one study from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center last year was the finding that children spend “far more time” with educational TV (and average 42 minutes a day) than they do with educational content from other platforms computers (five minutes), video games (three minutes)—or mobile devices (five minutes).

Beyond academia, the popular press is getting into the act, too. Searching around, I happened to find two local newscasts, one in Albuquerque, the other in Philadelphia, that this week did feature stories on the lurking danger of the use, or over-use of iPhones and tablets by toddlers. The story on Philadelphia’s Channel 6 reported about a new Taiwanese law that bans parents from letting children under 2 use a smartphone or tablet, and this story says government officials there compare it to “smoking, drinking or using drugs.”
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