Curious Pictures, Producers Of Popular Disney, Nick & PBS Children’s Television, Invests In Kids’ App Maker PlaySquare, A Startup Building “Touchable TV”

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PlaySquare, a startup founded by a team of Emmy-winning children’s television producers interested in bringing “touchable TV” to the iPad, has found a new home and partner in its efforts thanks to an investment from Curious Pictures. The NYC-based production company, known for popular children’s programming like Disney’s “Little Einsteins,” Nick Jr.’s “Team Umizoomi,” HBO’s “A Little Curious,” as well as more adult-oriented films and games (including RockBand), has invested $660,000 into PlaySquare, and will fund up to an additional $1.5 million over the course of the next two years.

As a result of the funding, PlaySquare will relocate to Curious’s New York offices, where their now seven-person team will be able to take advantage of the pool of knowledge, talent and infrastructure in the larger organization. At any given point, depending on what property it’s working on at the time, Curious Pictures may have up to 150 people it calls on to help design, develop and produce its programs.

Startups in the kids’ apps space are often finding homes within larger companies these days, or licensing content with bigger-name kids brands to drawn in their audience. For example, well-known kids’ app maker Toca Boca actually operates as a startup within the 200-year-old Swedish publishing company Bonnier, and is now growing through acquisitions. Meanwhile, another kids app firm, Callaway Digital, teamed up with Hasbro late last year, and FingerPrint, founded by a former LeapFrog exec, partnered with UK’s MindShapes and also licensed content from third-party brands like VeggieTales.

Like many, PlaySquare is also betting on the power of a built-in audience to help it gain traction. In this startup’s case, it has the rights to use the assets from the three-time Emmy-award-winning PBS TV show WordWorld, which it has been transforming into interactive, “touchable” television, engaging children not just with stories to watch passively, but also with “in-TV” activities that progress the story. This is more than an interactive storybook and it’s different from a child’s game with an accompanying narrative. It’s truly interactive television – something children’s TV producers have long sought after, but which hasn’t really been possible until the iPad.

CEO Alex Kay, who founded WordWorld back in the day, explains that longer-term the company would love to get into more original content like competitor Kidaptive is doing. But he thinks that going after those who already know about WordWorld is a better way to start.

“The business model is really tough in this app world,” he says. “It’s difficult to rise above the fray.”

And yet, even with the brand-name recognition of an award-winning PBS show, it’s still hard to compete with hundreds of thousands of apps in the iTunes App Store. Today, PlaySquare has close to 100,000 downloads – which in the grand scheme of things is small. Though it’s notable that PlaySquare has earned those eyeballs despite not having done any promotion for the app, it still has a way to go.

That being said, children are highly engaged with PlaySquare content, and have spent over 13 million minutes in the app since its launch last summer, averaging more than five minutes per session, and returning to play over and over again.

And with the new resources at its disposal via Curious’s investment, PlaySquare has the chance to grow. It plans to release two more episodes of WordWorld this fall ($2.99 each via in-app purchase) and has signed up a second, still undisclosed property that will go into production this fall.

Though Curious has relationships with folks like Disney and Nickelodeon, for example, Kay explains that PlaySquare won’t be beholden to only working with those who have contracted with Curious – it’s going after its own deals, as is the case with the new, unnamed addition. Longer-term, he feels that PlaySquare can become a great partner for bigger TV brands that push out hundreds of episodes of traditional programming.

“Most of these – Nick, Disney and PBS – are focused on getting television content out, rather than licensing these other revenue streams and creating a whole second production studio for these apps,” says Kay. “We’d like to be the studio that helps them get this stuff to market,” he adds. “If they’re producing a hundred episodes, we can take ten episodes and turn that into touchable television.”

PlaySquare, a personal favorite in our home I might add, is a free download here in the App Store.