HBO’s quest to more directly compete with streaming service rivals like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu is kicking off this week, with the company’s launch of a new “Kids” section in its mobile application and the rollout of new children’s programming on its TV network. At launch, the Kids section will feature popular kids shows like “Sesame Street,” “The Electric Company,” and “Pinky Dinky Doo” – titles HBO scored access to as part of a wide-ranging deal with Sesame Workshop, announced last year.
The partnership effectively saved “Sesame Street,” which had traditionally relied on DVD sales to bring in revenues. Sales, which, of course, had been declining. Going forward, Sesame Workshop will be able to increase production of its kids programming, with 35 new episodes of “Sesame Street” released per year, up from the 18 it produced previously. After the shows run for nine months only on HBO, they’ll then be made freely available to PBS, the program’s home for the past 45 years.
The deal is one of the more prominent examples of the changes underway in today’s media industry, where fewer consumers are watching live television or buying DVDs, instead relying on streaming services for much of their TV consumption.
And for HBO, it’s a notable step toward becoming a broader, more mainstream consumer brand.
Today, HBO is still known best as the premium cable network that offers adult-friendly fare, including popular original programs like “Game of Thrones,” along with movies, documentaries, comedy specials, and sports programming. Its critically acclaimed content is addictive and perfect for binge watching, but it’s definitely not for kids. Rather, it’s what parents reward themselves with after their kids are tucked away in bed for the night.
Though HBO typically offers a selection of family programming – for example, today, its service includes animated movies like “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “Bee Movie” – that content isn’t usually heavily featured or promoted within its mobile application, in favor of showcasing HBO originals and movies instead. And it’s not the kind of content that’s associated with the HBO brand name.
That’s now changing.
If HBO hopes to compete in the rapidly growing streaming video market, and rake in top dollar for its over-the-top application, HBO NOW, which is a pricey $15 per month, it has to attract a wider audience. That means expanding to include more family and children’s programming. After all, that’s a lesson other competitors learned early on – Netflix launched its own “Kids” section back in 2011, and added support for user profiles a couple of years later. Hulu, meanwhile, debuted its own “Kids” area back in 2012.
The problem HBO faces is one where there’s now a multitude of streaming services to choose from, with virtually every network trying its hand at getting a piece of consumers’ spend on streaming video – whether that’s online services like Netflix, Hulu, or YouTube, or those from the old guard – like NBCU which just launched its “Seeso” comedy streaming service, or CBS which runs “CBS All Access” and is now rumored to be doing something similar with the CW Network, which it owns with Warner Bros.
That means HBO’s growing audience of over-the-top subscribers may drop its service when their favorite show, like “Game of Thrones,” wraps, instead of seeing HBO as something that has value year-round. However, with an ongoing selection of top kids’ programming, parents may choose to keep the service in their cord-cutting mix indefinitely.
The HBO GO application is the first to be updated with access to the new Kids’ section, though the HBO NOW app should soon mirror these changes. In addition to featuring the newly added shows including “Sesame Street” and others, parents can also employ a “Kids Lock” which will keep their child restricted to the content in the Kids section, and will be able to utilize Parental Controls to further limit access.
HBO itself is heavily promoting its expanded content on HBOKids.com, which touts the newly added “Sesame Street,” and its larger kids’ catalog that includes ad-free access to “hundreds” of children’s programs.
The new content will be released on Saturday, Jan. 16, starting at 9 AM, in the HBO app and on HBO’s TV network. “Sesame Street” will also air daily at 8 AM on HBO Family, as part of the morning Kids block beginning on Sunday, Jan. 17.