Launching three years ago makes Hopster an old hand in digital terms. The preschool streaming service has just launched on Android and is about to roll out a local-language service in France.
The business case for Hopster has crystallised in recent months, says founder and former Nickelodeon executive Nick Walters (pictured). “If you’ve been going to industry events and conferences over the last ten years,” he says, “you will have heard an awful lot about the shift to digital, people asking whether channels cease to exist, or if everything be on-demand. In the last six months I’d say that day has got a lot closer.”
“There has been a real explosion in the on-demand and app space.,” he adds. “When we said in 2012 that the future of TV channels will be apps, people raised their eyebrows. Now [Apple CEO] Tim Cook has said, in 128-point type in a presentation, the same thing.”
Having started out in the UK, Hopster has now expanded to numerous international territories. On its home turf it charges parents £3.99 (US$6.09) a month and is the number one grossing app for kids on the UK iTunes store.
As mentioned, Hopster got into the market early. It no longer, however, has the space to itself, as others wake up to the kids SVOD opportunity, and the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video bolster their kids line-ups. In the UK, Sky is about to launch a kids app, having added thousand of hours to its on-demand service.
Walters says it is a mixed ecology and its subs are also likely to have Netflix separately. He adds that three years’ worth of data and experience put it at an advantage over kids SVOD newcomers, adding that Hopster sees itself as a tech, not a content, company.
“People can think ‘we have great content, we can go and launch an app’, but it doesn’t work like that,” says Walters. “You also need to know how the technology works, about customer acquisition, and how to fuse the interactive elements,” he says. “On-demand and apps are the future of consuming content, but content is not enough in itself.”
The Hopster founder says he always envisaged the service as multi-territory. “If you are in this space, you have to plan to be global,” he says. This year the service has rolled out on Apple TV in more than 100 territories. The next stage is localising Hopster in key markets, starting with France. “France has a big App Store and App Store revenues, and a great original content community,” Walters says. “In some places it is important to be in the local language. In others, English is naturally a second language, and parents like that.” Hopster will have Peppa Pig on its French service (in French) and local shows including Didou.
As debates rage about how to fund traditional kids TV, Walters issues a challenge to the production community to change their thought processes, and engage with what digital platforms want. “It takes a long time to get a TV show made,” he says. “You need a lot of broadcasters on board and it can take years. We’re not interested in that model, and investing at that level. It is important for the content and creative community to realise you do not have to do that any more to get your show made.”
He cites YouTube series Baby Bum as an example of how a digital brand can move into L&M and become a viable proposition. “The TV production community can learn a lot from the YouTube creators,” he says. “I know this is scary for TV producers, but there are real opportunities out there: you can keep your rights, manage your distribution and your destiny, if you are bold enough to take that opportunity.”