Hollywood Scrambles to Meet Surging Demand for Animation, Children’s Content During Coronavirus

“The demand for children’s content has increased exponentially as a result of families staying home,” Thanda Belker, of Pocket.watch, tells TheWrap

With stay-at-home orders affecting most of the country, demand is surging for content that can keep children entertained –driving a newfound demand for animated and other series that can be developed despite the industry shutdown, say industry executives.

In just the last week, new animated kids’ series have been green lit. On Thursday, Nickelodeon and music mogul Scooter Braun announced they would be teaming up for a preschool animated series titled “The BeatBuds,” based on the popular duo of the same name. On April 7, Netflix picked up a new animated kids’ series called “Sharkdog,” from ViacomCBS International Studios.

Thanda Belker, SVP of Global Distribution for digital kids network Pocket.watch told TheWrap that viewing of children’s content has almost tripled due to increased demand during the pandemic.

“The demand for children’s content has increased exponentially as a result of families staying home during this time,” Belker said, noting that the views on the company’s YouTube channels reached 1.7 billion in the last week alone and jumped 30% between the first and last weeks of March.

“Children need safe, engaging content aside from their distance learning school schedules,” she added. “As parents work remotely in the same space as their kids, they want to know that enriching and entertaining content options are readily available…   While so many other live productions are temporarily on hold, Pocket.watch and its creators are able to serve kids with more of what they love.”

Belker would not say whether Pocket.watch is green lighting anything new as a result of the jump in viewership among its most popular YouTube stars.  

“It’s too early to reveal,” she said. “Pocket.watch is able to tap into our YouTube creators and are able to accommodate more flexible production demands.”

Freeform President Tom Ascheim said last week that he would be leaving Freeform to lead children’s and young adults programming for Warner Bros. This is fitting because Warner Bros. Animation, which is known for pumping out content with characters from the DC Comics and Hanna-Barbera Productions, has also seen an uptick in animated content, with one insider citing more than 30 projects in various stages of production, with additional deals in the works.

“We are in active production on more than 30 projects in various stages of production,” said an individual with knowledge of Warner Bros. Animation. “This is the most ever for WBA.”

Similarly, one Netflix showrunner told TheWrap that demand for children’s content has always been high, but with kids shut inside their homes, away from their friends, producers may have found a golden opportunity.

“I think there’s an appetite for these things because we’re all home… There’s always a demand for animation and children’s content, and in the streaming age, there’s so much of it, and it’s everywhere,” said F.J. DeSanto, showrunner for Netflix’s upcoming “Transformers: War For Cybertron” series. “It’s hard to tell how demand has changed because we’re still in the middle of this… [We] still need a little more distance to see what [kids] are watching and how they’re watching it.”

While there may be a desire to step up production on animated content, DeSanto observed that industry professionals are still assessing how production will be affected as the coronavirus pandemic rages on — but that simply moving up an animated show isn’t as easy as it sounds.

“When this first happened, I saw the articles that animation would be one of the things that survives because it’s easier, and sure in some respects, but it really depends,” DeSanto said. “It’s when you get into the technical aspects of actually animating is when you get into a tricky situation, [because] they need to be around big servers.”

He said that he has been asked by fans whether he would be able to move up the ‘Transformers’ show “but it’s really not that easy.”

On Friday, Michael Sugar’s creative company Sugar23 invested in animation company Mindshow with hopes that Mindshow will deliver animated content at 3 times the speed of any other animation studio out there.

For Pocket.watch, ramping up animated content is a little easier, given that the company has a vast library of content that can be curated into many different ideas. And they’ve used the pandemic as an opportunity to create more content in the development stage to fit the times we are living in.

“We just created and brought an Enrichment Package to market that has a fun, learning focus from a variety of our creators,” Belker said. “You will see it shortly in the marketplace. Additionally, given the flexibility of working with YouTube creators, we can create new, relevant content quickly and we are seeing great engagement. Our ‘MarMar Land’ hand washing video, for example, which was launched during this time, quickly garnered over 1.5 million views.”

Belker credited Pocket.watch’s content model to the rise in viewership as well. Pocket.watch’s creators are kids, so this way, content creators are in the same situation as their targeted viewers.

“Kids want more content from their ‘digital best friends’ – the YouTube creators they know and relate to. The pocket.watch creators are kids too, so they are going through all the same things their fans are – distance learning, quarantining with parents and siblings, missing out on activities, etc,” she explained. “Our mobile game, ‘Tag with Ryan’s’ daily active users are up 38% for the month and has over 10 million downloads. Our console game sales for ‘Race with Ryan’ are up 68% for the month of March. The strategy at pocket.watch has always been to be everywhere kids are. Right now kids are home all time consuming on multiple platforms – and pocket.watch is there with them.”

Tim Baysinger contributed to this report.

Umberto Gonzalez

Umberto Gonzalez

Film Reporter ◘umberto@thewrap.com◘Twitter: @elmayimbe

Trey Williams

Trey Williams

Film Reporter covering the biz • trey.williams@thewrap.com • Twitter: @trey3williams



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