Opinion: How the under-sixes are leading the digital charge

Tiny Pop is home to shows such as ‘Masha And The Bear’

As kids’ broadcasters expand beyond traditional TV, Francesca Newington, channel director at Narrative Entertainment, says that even the youngest viewers are following their older siblings by watching content in different ways, and reveals how the industry is adapting.

Children’s TV viewing habits are ever evolving, and yet another significant step-change for children’s broadcast media is underway, this time amongst our youngest and usually most loyal demographic – the under sixes. With the recent OFCOM report highlighting the rise in digital content consumption among this age-group, the landscape of kids’ media is now undergoing a profound paradigm shift.

Francesca Newington (Source: Narrative Entertainment)

Investing in digital

Within the kids’ industry, it’s been widely recognised that kids aged six and over are moving away from traditional linear TV channels and finding their content elsewhere. However, at Narrative Entertainment we’ve taken the decision to close our youngest linear TV channel Tiny Pop, aimed at 4-6-year-olds, due to the decline we’ve seen in viewing amongst that audience. We are now focusing on the brand in the digital space, via the Tiny Pop FAST channel and the POP Player (AVOD) app.

The reasons behind this are backed up by BARB data. Children aged 4-6 have halved their TV viewing in the last five years, with more than 90% now watching videos online. In response, the children’s TV industry should be agile and reactive to the ever-changing habits of its most digitally tuned-in consumers, and guide them to safe, carefully curated new spaces parents can trust.

As the media landscape becomes more matrixed, brand discovery is also a hot topic. Fortunately, non-exclusivity on rights sharing is now far more commonplace, as it’s beneficial for brands to be across multiple platforms to thrive. And as we all know, kids are loyal to their favourite shows, not to the outlets that serve them. Content creators and platforms have much more to think about now when it comes to serving kids, and although a challenge, it’s also a golden opportunity for smaller brands to shine. So there is an upside! But cutting through the dirge to discover these gems is a tricky business. It’s why for us at Narrative, we see a real opportunity in presenting a completely free, compliant, and safe digital experience with recognisable IP that parents can present to their child via any device.

Tiny Pop isn’t the first channel to switch to a fully digital platform. CITV merged into ITVX Kids in 2023, and CBBC also made the decision to close its linear channel soon to focus on iPlayer, both with good reason. Fifty-two percent of 4-15-year-olds watched broadcast TV on a TV set at least once a week on average in 2023. Compare this to five years ago when the figure was almost eighty percent.

Linear is still important

As a commercial free-to-air broadcaster, we understand how important linear TV channels are for co-viewing, with traditional linear TV being the number one destination for families watching TV together. We’re also a shop window for commercial franchises. We still have two thriving children’s channels, and we have increased our share of kids’ commercial impacts YoY.

At the same time, we are diversifying our revenue streams to mitigate the unpredictable ad market on linear. FAST is still relatively new in the UK, but for us it was the next logical step, given we already had the rights and specialist programming teams in place. Moving to FAST early ensures we can drive up the audience in this space with our familiar commercial IP, trusted by parents, and uphold the high quality and diversity of the content that viewers expect and deserve. This is something that shouldn’t be reserved only for traditional broadcast channels. And our strategy so far is working; kids are following our franchises and tuning in to our top series across FAST channels and the POP Player just as they do on linear.

The under sixes have more power over what they watch than we think, and the choices they make without parental guidance shouldn’t be underestimated. As a busy parent I can testify to that! It’s a minefield out there, so the migration we’re seeing needs to be addressed. By embracing new platforms alongside the traditional, and trialling new formats and types of content, the kids’ broadcast industry can still play a critical role in serving its youngest viewers across digital platforms, within a safe and carefully curated environment, so parents can rest that little bit easier.

Francesca Newington is the director of POP Channels at Narrative Entertainment in the UK – overseeing content acquisitions, programming and development strategy across linear OTA and FAST channels POP, Tiny Pop & POP Max, and the digital AVOD service POP Player.

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