Smart Move with Toys “R” Us Movies, but New Releases Aren't Enough

Toys "R" Us Movies

Recently, Toys “R” Us announced that it had launched, a streaming video service that lets you instantly watch “movies and TV shows kids love.” This is a logical and smart step for the toy seller as it expands its business into digital (e.g., the Tabeo tablet launched in September will have an app for Toys “R” Us Movies). Others like Amazon are testing the waters with the much-hyped kid’s entertainment platform Kindle FreeTime, an unlimited monthly service for children’s videos, books, and apps, and it is reasonable to imagine LeapFrog, Mattel (who now owns HIT Entertainment) and other companies branching into children’s streaming video. I’m pleased to see companies recognizing the value that incorporating video into their business models has for reach and growth. However, millions of people don’t flock to YouTube and other video portals to watch popular cable and broadcast TV shows. Audiences are heading there to watch video content that is relevant to their interests and not available on cable services. Video services need to realize that providing leading movies and TV shows is not the only factor to their success and then do more to offer a wider range of content.

Where are the shows from my childhood?

I’m a father of two young boys, and we enjoy our fair share of streaming video in our house. However, it seems every time we sit down to enjoy family programming on Netflix Just for Kids, Hulu, or Amazon Video on Demand, we have a spectrum of the latest popular children’s television shows to choose from, but extremely limited content beyond this. In fact, when I recently stumbled on Nick Jr.’s Bubble Guppies on Cox Communication’s FreeZone, my 3 year old acted as though he has been dying for a new show like this. He’s enjoyed and rewatched many episodes of Dora and Bob the Builder, but he’s reached the end of Netflix’s library for him. There are only so many times even a 3 year old can watch the same show before he gets bored. Where are the shows from my childhood, like Inspector Gadget and Batman?  If we really search, we can locate them on niche destinations, such as Jaroo, but OneScreen believes this content should be everywhere, especially at the portals audiences rely on most for entertainment. This is not to say that publishers shouldn’t have the popular kids’ content; they should. But to keep families from running out of things to watch, they need to expand the breadth of their libraries. And really, this statement can be applied broadly to all current or aspiring video publishers.

Valuable content isn't only what's new

The point that is being missed is that valuable content does not always have to be what’s popular or new on television or in movie theaters.  Having this type of content is important, but limiting your library to only this doesn’t provide enough to keep audiences satisfied. For instance, why would someone pay $3.99 to stream Rango from Toys “R” Us Movies when they can already watch it using their Netflix subscription? As for keeping existing subscribers, if there isn’t enough range of content for a user to explore, subscribers may end up switching to a new platform once they have reached the limits of their interests.  Even Netflix, which is now producing its own content and won the exclusive rights to air new Arrested Development episodes, isn’t immune to these challenges. The company recently lowered its growth forecast from 7 million to 4.7 – 5.4 million for 2012 due to slowing subscriber growth, which commentators are attributing to the simple fact that Netflix doesn’t have enough interesting content.   

Moving beyond the common denominator 

But here’s the catch – Toys “R” Us Movies is powered by Rovi, and it’s likely all the content is coming from Rovi’s content network (the Rovi Entertainment Store).  It sounds easier to just focus on a platform that stocks the latest movies and TV shows. However, doing so only limits Toys “R” Us Movies’ and other similar streaming services’ ability to build out a broader library and control the economic model (advertising vs payments). Why isn’t Toys “R” Us investing in children’s content that hasn’t even been licensed yet?  Finding this content would be as simple as attending a programming conference like MIPJunior or partnering with publications, such as Kidscreen, that specialize in showcasing up and coming children’s entertainers. Guru Studio is a good example of a production company that recently attended MIP Junior with plenty of original content not found on most streaming services. Their live action dance show Pop It! and preschool cartoon Mole Sisters are just a few examples of innovative entertainment that Toys “R” Us Movies could incorporate into its library.

And Toys “R” Us shouldn’t stop there. Wouldn’t it be logical for the company to add shorter form video content from the likes of Bonnier (Babytalk), Meredith (Family Circle, Parents), and Forbes (The Bump) that offer advice, how-tos, and more to their actual customers – new and expecting moms and dads.  And, once the distribution channel is open, Toys “R” Us can even begin to produce its own original content targeted to the families who frequent Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us. Geoffrey the Giraffe, the much-loved Toys “R” Us spokesanimal could have his own line of children’s educational videos and would probably be a success since his audience is already familiar with the personality. Babies “R” Us could even produce infant, baby, and toddler care content marketed through previews on out-of-home videos throughout the store.

If adapting with audiences’ needs and interests is kept in mind from the outset of developing a streaming service, layering on new content and new economic models will be much more feasible. Instead of building a service around one vendor’s feed, publishers should ask for a platform that can not only incorporate that vendor’s content, but also deliver videos from other distributors and your own organization. The right vendor will have the adaptable technology that meets a publisher’s short-term needs to fill out their library and industry foresight for long-term strategies. This type of flexibility will be pivotal to a streaming service’s success, as evidenced by Disney Movies Online’s recent demise. The service had been around since 2009, but the library was limited to Disney and Pixar offerings which could only be streamed through the browser. A Disney spokesperson openly admitted that it did not have the “flexibility that many users today demand.”  And with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu already dominating the marketplace, it’s clear that what’s simple is not always the best solution. New publishers need to work harder to stand out. Audiences have short attention spans, and if you can’t keep them engaged with interesting and fresh content, they’ll move on to another service that can.