YouTube may be a popular destination for kids, but parents know that it’s not a kid-friendly one. One innocent video of Elmo singing leads to others of him cursing and slinging racial slurs. That’s why two Nickelodeon vets have created batteryPOP – an online and mobile destination where children ages six to eleven can safely browse through cartoons, comedy, music videos and more, sending their favorites to the top of the heap by “popping” them – a mechanism which could one day pave the way to make batteryPOP a farm league for the major networks, like Nick or the Cartoon Channel, for example.
The idea for batteryPOP comes from Greg Alkalay and Taso Mastorakis, who spent years at Nickelodeon on a variety of projects, including writing on-air promos, handling creative advertising, and working with content creators, among other things. The two met several years ago, when they were both tasked with “Nick Extras,” a team that worked to fill breaks in between shows with “bumpers” – original content like animations or other low-budget videos with real kids, or kids and graphics combined.
“What we were seeing is that there was a lot of interest from viewers to watch these little bumpers. They were getting a lot of buzz on messages boards. We were seeing retention over commercial breaks go up,” says Alkalay. “Our taste for short-form content started there, and when Nickelodeon stopped doing them, we wanted to do more.”
The two discussed the idea for some time, earnestly beginning in 2011. By the next year, Alkalay was ready to take the leap. The two had gotten to the point where there were so many ideas, so many content creators struggling to find traction on YouTube, and so many who were stuck in the development process with networks, that it made sense to help them by building a service that could connect an audience of children with that unseen content. An audience which they understand very well, in fact. Alkalay spent 12 years at Nick, and Mastorakis was at Nick owner Viacom for seven.
On batteryPOP’s website, which launched a little over a month ago, kids are the arbiters of what’s good, says Alkalay. As they browse through the various channels and shows – most content is short-form, under five minutes – they have the ability to “pop” the videos they like, which is the equivalent of a “thumbs up” recommendation. These “pops” show on a kid’s profile page, where their friends can see them, too.
There are currently around 30 creators on batteryPOP, and 50 or 60 hours’ worth of content.
Kids can also “charge” a video which will allow them to follow that show, in order to receive updates on their profile, and even interact with the show’s creators, in terms of giving feedback.
On mobile, the company has partnered with Weeblets on a pair of mobile apps for iOS and Android, but these, the founders explain, don’t offer the full experience of the batteryPOP website. They do, however, plan to release their own mobile and tablet apps in early 2014, built in-house.
Unlike some other “curated” video collections aimed at children, like Happly or Totlol, only around half of batteryPOP’s content is sourced from sites like YouTube or VEVO. The other half is original content batteryPOP hosts itself, and sourced through the founders’ long-established industry connections.
“Through popping – sharing [videos] on their personal page – we hope to help creators build an audience around their content, so we can kind of act like a minor league for the networks,” explains Alkalay. “You saw it happen with that web series Fred that got popular on YouTube, and then Nickelodeon picked it up. I think that’s really just the beginning of what’s going to start happening,” he says.
Longer-term, batteryPOP would like to take a small percentage of any deals they help establish between TV networks and videos that “pop” on its network. But in the immediate future, the company is working on production projects for brands to generate revenue. These videos will also be added to batteryPOP’s site, and marked as sponsored. They may also later activate advertising, after reaching a certain level of users.
BatteryPOP won’t be the only online network of sorts competing for projects that aren’t making it to TV for whatever reason, though. Other “networks” like Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Instant Video are also moving into original programming, some of it aimed at children – like Netflix with its new Marvel superhero deal, or Amazon with its own kids’ pilots, greenlit by viewers. But batteryPOP’s advantage is not only its singular focus and content pipeline – it’s also free.
New York-based BatteryPOP is currently bootstrapped, with some friends and family funding in tow. Next year, the company may raise a round of outside funding.