Once, not too long ago, parents had to drag away their kids from the TV set or threaten them with “no TV” to get them to clean their rooms. That era is over.
Just as millennials are gravitating toward online platforms like Netflix and Amazon to keep up with TV shows and movies, the generation growing up behind them watches YouTube clips as naturally as it tunes into Saturday morning cartoons. Once-popular TV channels are struggling to hold on to young viewers (paywall).
Disney Channel, which had shows like That’s So Raven, Lizzie McGuire, and Hannah Montana in its 2000s heyday, has seen a 28% drop in live-plus-seven-day primetime US viewers this 2016-2017 TV season. And its teen-oriented sister network Freeform, formerly ABC Family, lost 17% of its TV audience. (This was after the network rebranded last January in an attempt to grow with its aging millennial audience.)
Children between the ages of 5 and 15 now spend more time on the internet than they do watching TV on a regular TV set, according to UK telecoms regulator Ofcom. Kids of that age are also more likely to watch TV shows and movies on a tablet, smartphone, or other device than on a TV set, the same Ofcom report showed.
And there’s no shortage of programming on those devices.
Netflix, for example, is launching new kids shows all the time.
Of the 400 or so original series, movies, and specials that the company has announced, 60 of them—about 15%—are kids programs, according to data on Netflix’s website analyzed by Quartz. Nearly 20 of those kids programs are newly launched or coming to the service soon. And, Netflix is experimenting with choose-your-own-adventure style video and other interactive programming to make the shows more exciting for kids and parents.
The company says more than half of its subscribers around the world watch kids and family programming on a monthly basis. Amazon, which started making its own kids shows in 2014, has also been loading up on kids content. Last year, it struck a deal to stream most of PBS’s popular kids shows like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Odd Squad.
That’s left traditional TV networks all over the world scrambling to figure out where they belong with today’s kids. In the UK, the BBC reportedly lost 7% of its TV viewers ages 16 to 34 in 2016 when it moved a youth-focused channel (BBC3) online. The BBC is now responding by boosting its budget for children’s programming.
The British broadcaster plans to spend an extra £34 million ($44 million) on kids shows over the next three years, according to its newly released annual budget. The additional funds would bring the broadcaster’s spending on kids programming up from £110 million to £124.4 million by the 2019-2020 TV season, BBC News reported.
A lot of the additional funding for kids programming will reportedly go online as well, toward web videos, live-streamed extensions to its TV shows, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, quizzes, guides, games, and app. With the strategy, the British network hopes to reach young people where they increasingly are.
In the US, HBO attempted to stand its ground by buying the first-run rights to new episodes of the iconic Sesame Street two years ago. The new episodes re-air on public broadcaster PBS months after they premiere on HBO. Sesame Workshop, the non-profit behind Sesame Street, told Quartz the show’s ratings on the public channel rose 10% in the first quarter of 2016, after premiering on HBO during the same period. It says ratings are up more than 12% this quarter. At HBO, the show garnered about 800,000 viewers per episode during its 46th season, the company said. That’s on par with Silicon Valley’s season four average.
But they are all swimming against the tide. In 2016, total primetime viewership at the top 10 US youth networks—including the aforementioned Disney-owned channels, Disney Junior, Disney XD; Viacom’s Nickelodeon Nick-at-Nite lineup, Nick Jr., Nicktoons, TeenNick; Boomerang; and Baby First TV—fell an average of 8% from 2015 to 2016, according to Nielsen data reported by IndieWire. The greatest losses were at the Disney-owned channels and Boomerang, which plays episodes of classic cartoons like Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry.
That said, as of June 25, Nickelodeon, which was hugely popular with kids in the 1990s and 2000s with shows like SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer, was also the third most-watched US cable-TV network of 2017, with 1.2 million average total day viewers. It came in behind popular cable-news networks Fox News, and CNN and HLN, which tied for second place. And its preschool-aged channel, Nick Jr., which did better in 2016 than did the previous year, also grew its viewership this year. So maybe there is hope.
Correction (11 am ET): This article previously misstated that the 10% rise in Sesame Street ratings was from the first quarter of 2017. The ratings information also came from Sesame Workshop, not PBS.