Source: USA TODAY
For Netflix, kids’ programming is anything but child’s play.
A deal with DreamWorks Animation represents the streaming service’s largest push yet into original programming. Turbo F.A.S.T., a 26-episode series based on Turbo, a feature film about racing snails, will be released Dec. 24 to its 39 million worldwide subscribers, the first result of an agreement spanning 300 hours of programming to the streaming service.
While Netflix will get more attention from adult series such as House of Cards and Arrested Development, the kids arena “is incredibly strategic to us,” says chief content officer Ted Sarandos, and is the subject of a “very broad initiative” that eventually will give the service first dibs on DreamWorks Animation feature films and those released by Disney and its Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm labels.
Although Netflix rarely talks about its viewership, Sarandos says 30 kids’ series streamed exclusively by the network each draw more than 2 million viewers.
“Family viewing on Netflix platform is a gigantic part of the value, and driving continued customer growth for them,” says DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg. So making original kids shows, as opposed to licensing reruns from TV networks, made sense. Netflix’s first foray, Mako Mermaids — a spinoff of an Australian series that arrived earlier this year — has proved popular. Now it plans at least four more new shows by early 2015, based on characters from DreamWorks films or its recently acquired Classic Media library, which includes Underdog, Lassie and Rocky and Bullwinkle.
In a departure from its typical pattern of releasing entire seasons at once, five episodes will be posted, with subsequent “pods” programmed around holidays, when Netflix viewing activity spikes.
This is far from the company’s first foray into TV spinoffs: DreamWorks has produced small-screen versions of Madagascar, Monsters vs. Aliens, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon for Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, but the comparing them to Netflix is “like comparing apples and submarines,” Katzenberg says. With those series, “we were guns for hire,” subject to the whims of cancellation and a handful of episodes at a time. “They were creatively very rewarding, but financially not meaningful.” (Neither was Turbo, which earned just $83 million at the domestic box office, far less than most of the company’s other films.)
There’s a reason for Netflix’s commitment. Subscribers who watch kids’ shows on Netflix tend to use the service more often, Sarandos says, and presumably see a better return on the $7.99 monthly fee. And kids often watch the same episodes over and over, behavior that “lends itself to the on-demand model,” he says. So does a commercial-free environment that means parents “don’t have to contend with toy-nag ads.”
Netflix dropped its contract with Nickelodeon earlier this year, because the cost was too high for non-exclusive rights to SpongeBob SquarePants and other series.
But Katzenberg says kids are far less beholden to TV schedules than older relatives weaned on Saturday-morning cartoons. Even cable networks such as Disney Channel are experimenting with posting seasons or episodes of new shows on mobile apps before they air on TV.
“It’s a generational thing,” Katzenberg says. “More and more they’re growing up on their tablets and they’re about picking what they want to see when they want to see it,” he says.
Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.