MIPCOM: Talk of AppleTV, Disney+ Dominates Kids Conference

Disney+ Demo

"The situation won't be as polarized," said Serious Lunch Distribution CEO Genevieve Dexter of welcoming new streamers and ending Netflix's reign.

With new streamers about to become a deluge, talk of Disney+ dominated this weekend's MIPJr., the kids programming confab that precedes MIPCOM.

Missing were the headliner execs of years past as major keynotes from streamers and studios were notably absent. But the buyers and producers on hand were bullish about the upcoming launches of Disney+, Apple TV and NBC's Peacock, in part because they are expected to bring about an end to Netflix's domination.

“The situation won't be as polarized,” said Genevieve Dexter, CEO of Serious Lunch Distribution, which backs shows including cult hit The New Legends of Monkey. “Broadcasters say SVOD is fine — but not Netflix because we see them as our biggest competitor. But when HBO, Apple and all the other guys launch we'll be more relaxed.”

Not being on YouTube or other open platforms limits those moneymaking merch sales. “The terms being demanded by Netflix now and the incompatibility with the other networks means that if you've got licensing and marketing it's going to be hard if you are just on one streamer,” said WildBrain president Josh Scherba, who developed the new Peanuts property for AppleTV+. “You can't just put it up on a platform and cross your fingers and hope it gets discovered.”

Streaming simply doesn't develop the brand loyalty that defined cartoons for decades. “Linear always did an amazing job of reminding kids what they love, and as linear gets more and more fragmented that gets harder to do,” he added. “SVOD hasn't figured that out yet because they drop 10 episodes then wait a year.”

The needs of producers and streamers are sometimes at odds — both want to develop brand loyalty but it's the show, not the streamer, that keeps kids coming back. The mobile-first generation doesn't differentiate between screens or services.

“The market is so fragmented and cannibalized, the pie is divided into so many little slivers, the ability of one service to really get a big audience is so hard today that you have to be on multiple platforms and have all kinds of strategies, advertising your brand, and have a YouTube presence,” said Genius Brands CEO Andy Heyward. His company announced it is partnering with Chinese giant Alibaba's Youku to co-produce Stan Lee's Superhero Kindergarten.

Open platforms drive long-tail sales, and the streamers' big bucks don't make it worth it, said Dexter. “[To] have it just on Amazon or Netflix, it's just not going to drive the brand, even though the money in the short term is attractive,” she said. “Streamers don't necessarily want to commission [seasons] 3, 4 and 5; they want a new series that is going to drive subscriptions.”

With environmental advocate Greta Thunberg making global headlines and aware tweens staging school walkouts worldwide, one of the biggest trends is issue-driven animation. “At this moment, kids want to change the world and are very focused on this issue of climate change,” said France Televisions' Tiphaine de Raguenel. 

The public channel, which soon will be switching to online only, is in production on a show that addresses environmental issues and new projects will not be only character-driven, but also seek to answer questions. Unscripted and documentaries geared toward the youth demographic are also filling up pipelines at Italy's RAI.

“These are really globally savvy kids. There's a lot of things that matter to them and they are very vocal about it,” added Cartoon Network vp acquisitions and co-productions Adina Pitt. She said that kids programming has made a huge strides in diversity and representation across the board in the last year.

With kids watching tween-driven dramas developed for an older audience — Stranger Things comes to mind — serialized stories are set to make a comeback because they give a show staying power.

Streamers taking kids' screens seriously has been an overall boost for the business. “They're putting more resources into kids than we've ever seen, and we will continue to see that with all these new streaming services,” said Nickelodeon executive vp content and network strategy Jules Borkent. “There are challenges, but the industry is healthier than it's ever been.”