The pandemic has changed the way that we all have lived our lives over the past year. In many instances, it has accelerated our adoption of digital technologies. In others, it has made us embrace technology in different ways, sometimes using technology to return back to the way we lived prior to the digital advancements of the past two decades or so.
One space that has benefitted greatly during these COVID-19 times, as you’d expect, is the video-on-demand (VOD) space. With this growth, there has been a shift back to families sitting down in front of the TV and enjoying shows and movies together.
On YouTube, for instance, mobile viewership decreased by nine per cent between Q4 2019 and Q3 2020, but their TV app viewership increased by seven per cent in the same period.
“We saw that increase pretty significantly across our network too,” says Charles Gabriel, Head of Advertising US at WildBrain Spark. “We provide a lot of kids and family content and a lot of full episode content, so it made a lot of sense that you started to see that that shift. Consumers tend to get the larger screen in the living room and sit back and watch longer, more episodic content.
“For us, with the type of programming that we offer, we saw a lot more co-viewing. I think parents of kids under the age of 13 probably tried to make efforts to curate some of the watching, as opposed to their kids being left to their own devices for a significant amount of time during the pandemic.”
WildBrain Spark (WBS) is the Advertising-based video-on-demand (AVOD) division of WildBrain, a Canadian media and production company with the largest independent library of children’s TV programming. The company has produced content for Mattel properties including Bob the Builder, Fireman Sam, and Polly Pocket, while owning the IP of classic children’s programming such as Teletubbies, Peanuts, Yo Gabba Gabba!, Strawberry Shortcake, Inspector Gadget, and many more.
WBS conducted research at the end of 2020 and found that – amongst 2,500 parents with kids under 13 – parents believe that co-viewing sessions will continue as a way for them to spend time with their families beyond the pandemic. In fact, 83 per cent of parents said they thought their overall viewing would remain above pre-pandemic levels.
“The data overwhelmingly suggested that co-viewing would continue at some of these levels just because people found it to be a nice activity to get together again and choose content to watch,” explains Gabriel. “And I think that often is driven by the programming that's available that can appeal to kids and their parents in that scenario.
“You see teens and other audiences co-viewing as well now but whether that remains the same, I'm not sure,” continues Gabriel. “I think levels of viewing probably will normalise as activities increase around the world and people are moving about more. I certainly think that will shift back to some individual watch time and mobile usage. I always like to say a ‘screen is a screen’. So, it really is about what people are watching, where they're watching, and when they're watching.”
As consumers continue to watch more and more content and the number of platforms available for them to watch this content continues to grow, they are increasingly being forced to consider where they find their content.
Subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) platforms like Netflix offer consumers an alternative to AVOD, enabling them to pay a fee in order to watch content without ads. However, there are now so many SVOD platforms to choose from.
“You're also starting to see, as each individual service opens up, that a premium AVOD offering is becoming more and more important,” says Gabriel. “Certainly, in the kids and family sector, but in other categories as well, you're starting to see more premium content being placed on YouTube. Sometimes it’s in clip form, but we're definitely seeing more and more longer form content. And I think that, from an AVOD perspective, is likely due to the device access and the fact that people are watching longer content on mobile devices many times, as well as the connected TV.
“The major difference between AVOD and SVOD is the overall need for the accessibility to content for families that can't afford every single SVOD subscription that's out there, as things start to break apart and have all the individual services,” continues Gabriel. “There’s also the fact that cost is going up on some other services as well. Netflix Premium is $17.99 in the US now. Most consumers have to think about what they’re paying between their internet access and your SVOD services. At some point, they have to make choices, which makes AVOD really important for families that cannot afford every premium choice that's out there.”
Of course, there are an array of issues that advertisers have to contend with when advertising to kids. Most notably on the issues of brand safety and ethics.
Brands will be looking to guarantee that their ads are running against “quality, produced content” that shows awareness, a positive message, and has a big reach, according to Gabriel.
“Most brands today need to be pretty sensitive to their own message to consumers and to how they are being viewed by consumers finding out where their ad is being placed,” he says. “That's still going to hold true, no matter whether people consume more on a mobile or CTV or in a continued fragmented environment. That brand safety piece is always going to be first and foremost for brands that want to reach kids.”
When it comes to ethics, the US has the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to ensure that anything directed at children on the internet is properly regulated. And then there’s YouTube’s ‘Made for Kids’ initiative, which makes sure content on its platform meets COPPA standards.
The measures in place ensure that no data is used to target children through ads so, in some ways, “it goes back to the former TV model predating user data usage” and places the emphasis on contextual alignment, states Gabriel.
Nonetheless, Gabriel still concedes that there is a grey area that exists when it comes to advertising to children in the form of branded content and through influencer marketing.
“On YouTube, for instance, you can't run a McDonald's ad and show food and you can't run a General Mills cereal ad in front of kids content, but a kid influencer can be seen interacting with that type of product or even eating that product in their content,” Gabriel points out. “I think that’s an area that likely needs some more oversight. It just seems to be a little bit odd that the brand can't run a message in front of content, but their food can be inserted into programming.”
With or without that grey area, advertisers still need to understand that attempting to influence children isn’t quite how it used to be, as children are not being brought up in the same way as they have in the past. And this presents further challenges.
“Modern day parenting has changed significantly, and kids have a much louder voice in the world than they've ever had. You see kids at an early age being activists,” says Gabriel. “From our perspective, kids are incredibly important in the home for decision-making. We've seen research around that. And I think brands need to make sure that they pay attention to that, so that they don't miss an entire generation that grow up not knowing their brands and wind-up choosing challenger brands that are across every single category that exist.”