TV, Movie Streaming Services Want To Grow With Kids

Twenty percent of Netflix's streaming is made up of content for kids. Amazon just ordered a bunch of pilots of kids' shows. TV critic Eric Deggans says subscription streaming services are going to lean on parents' desire for control of what their kids watch as they build their audiences.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Netflix offers children's programs, which can be streamed on computers or TVs. And it says streaming of those programs goes up over the summer - about 30 percent. It's not hard to figure out why. School's out; screens are on.

This month, we're focusing on media for kids, and our critic Eric Deggans says Netflix as well as its rival, Prime Instant Video from Amazon, are both trying to capture a big and growing market.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: There's a secret war brewing for the attention of children everywhere. And the soldiers in that conflict are the cutest characters you can imagine.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW MONTAGE)

TOM KENNY: (As announcer) Thus, the Powerpuff Girls were born!

RYAN REYNOLDS: (As Turbo) My name is Turbo.

KENNY: (As SpongeBob) (Singing) SpongeBob SquarePants! Ha-ha...

DEGGANS: The stars of TV's most popular kids' shows are all over Netflix and Amazon.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DORA THE EXPLORER")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Dora, come get me.

DEGGANS: On Monday, Netflix announced it will get 300 hours of programming from Dreamworks animation, the home of "Madagascar," "Shrek" and "Kung Fu Panda." It's an important move for Netflix because last month, rival Amazon picked up episodes of Nickelodeon shows such as "Dora the Explorer" and "SpongeBob SquarePants."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS")

KENNY: (As Spongebob) Order up.

DEGGANS: Turns out, TV series aimed at children are an important part of each online service's success strategy. And they're not just buying up old kids' shows. They're planning to make their own. That's why, when Amazon developed a batch of original shows, it selected just two adult comedies and three kids' shows.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMAZON SHOW, "CREATIVE GALAXY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) (singing) In a creative galaxy, creative galaxy...

DEGGANS: "Creative Galaxy" is a series from the producer of Nickelodeon's "Blue's Clues."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CREATIVE GALAXY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Pompoms make me feel excited. They light me up. And when we're lit up by something, we put it in our idea box.

DEGGANS: It's for preschoolers who love art projects. But it's also a chance for Amazon to build loyalty with kids, and create characters they will love for years to come. Now, I've been watching my 8-year-old daughter navigate kid shows on Netflix. And now, I understand why kids' and family shows fill 20 percent of all the hours their customers stream online.

Netflix has put some thought into this. Their kids' area features a strip with pictures of characters, so my girl can click on images to pick a show. On a desktop, laptop or tablet computer, the area's background is a light blue, so I can see from across the room where she's surfing. The upshot: Kids can control their own viewing, but in a controlled space.

And because small children like to watch the same thing over and over, they can do it on a laptop or tablet, or someplace where they're not holding the family TV hostage. Parents out there, you know what I mean. This week, Netflix also rolled out an online guide for parents. I'd love to get periodic emails on what my kids are watching. And Amazon could make it a little easier for kids to navigate on their own.

Still, my young one now draws zero distinction between calling up a "SpongeBob" episode online, or switching to Cartoon Network on cable; which offers an important lesson. The same way young people taught us graybeards to use social media - crowding onto Facebook, Twitter and tumblr before we had any clue what those names meant - today's kids might teach us to erase all of TV's technological boundaries, with a little help from a talking sponge and a wisecracking alien.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Eric Deggans is the TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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