Old-school shows have never been so popular. Paddington’s been made into a movie and Thunderbirds has made a recent ITV comeback while, as well as Clangers, the BBC is giving Danger Mouse and the Teletubbies a new lease of life later this year.
Many children will watch them on computer screens, tablets or mobiles whenever they want. “The idea that kids are waiting for anything to be scheduled on a channel is increasingly a piece of history,” says CBBC and former Blue Peter producer Richard Marson, who measures the popularity of his programmes by the number of downloads on iPlayer.
That’s why on-demand services Netflix and Amazon are on a crusade to recruit young viewers. Netflix is licensing popular shows such as BBC favourites Charlie and Lola and MI High (Danger Mouse has already been snapped up for US subscribers). It’s also brokered one deal with DreamWorks to make 300 hours of film spin-offs and another — estimated to cost $300 million — to premiere Disney movies from 2016.
Amazon has bagged Nickelodeon’s wares and ordered half a dozen pilots following the success of its first four kids shows, including Tumble Leaf. And Sky is investing millions to increase its online library six-fold to around 4,000 episodes — accessible to its youngest customers via an on-demand service.
Children happily embrace on demand and mums and dads like it because their young ones aren’t stumbling across anything unsavoury as they might on YouTube. But the real winner is the online broadcasters.
“If you can get into the hearts and minds of children, then they become your loyal customers for life, whether you’re the BBC or Amazon,” adds Marson. But he worries that this is another blow for British kids’ TV: “What’s most under threat are the grassroots shows that reflect the contemporary lives of children in this country and are not designed tobe recycled for ten years.”
The BBC now has to lure kids away from providers offering what was its USP: advert-free entertainment.