NEW YORK (AP) – New technology. Same furry faces.
When Apple was thinking about what kind of children’s TV programming it wanted on its new streaming service, it doubled down on two multi-generational crowd-pleasers – Snoopy and â€œSesame Street.â€
Apple TV Plus has carved out prominent roles for Charlie Brown’s floppy-eared beagle and for puppets from the famed Sesame Workshop in its slate of kid and family friendly programs.
â€œBoth Snoopy and Sesame Workshop are crown jewels of the last decades in what family entertainment looks like. Thereâ€™s a reason that we went proactively to those two entities,” said Zack Van Amburg, who is Appleâ€™s head of worldwide video alongside Jamie Erlicht.
The decision to use existing children’s icons as the bedrock for the fledgling platform is one shared by several other streaming services, often with one eye on looming Netflix, the world’s largest streamer with an arsenal of titles attracting kids and families.
The services are competing for kids’ eyeballs not only from each other but also from shows on YouTube and traditional broadcast channels. Often the safest way forward is piggybacking on established titles that parents already know from their childhood and leaning into the nostalgia.
Amazon Prime Video has rebooted â€œ Clifford the Big Red Dog â€ and has original shows featuring Kung-Fu Panda, Pete the Cat, and Rocky and Bullwinkle. CBS All Access has series built on the classic book â€œCloudy With a Chance of Meatballsâ€ and the classic ‘toon â€œDanger Mouse.â€
Disney Plus is offering shorts starring Forky from â€œToy Story 4â€ and a reboot of the Hilary Duff-led â€œLizzie McGuire,” another show built around Phineas & Ferb, plus a new series based on Marvel Comics’ â€œThe Falcon and the Winter Soldier.â€ And, yes, it, too, has Muppets – the unscripted series â€œMuppets Now.”
Netflix has embraced shows built around Captain Underpants, â€œLost in Space,â€ the book â€œGreen Eggs and Ham,â€ the comic book â€œRaising Dionâ€ and even a youth-orientated â€œFast and Furiousâ€ series.
â€œOur intention is to offer a lot of choice. When we think about kids or we think about a family audience, one of the things we think about is thereâ€™s no two kids that are the same and there are no two families that are the same,” said Melissa Cobb, Netflix’s vice president of kids and family.
Brian Wright, vice president of original series at Netflix, said its creators are hoping to craft content that allows a family to have a shared experience and a shared conversation – wherever that family is.
â€œWe really want to be in the space of building really appealing worlds that have something for everybody,â€ he said. â€œOne thing that we talk a lot about is reflecting the world back at itself. We want to break down the barriers of who gets to be seen and represented.”
Apple TV Plus subscribers may not get as many shows as Netflix but executives are building a carefully curated list, including a dozen 8-minute â€œSnoopy in Spaceâ€ animated shorts, as well as episodes of â€œThe Snoopy Show,â€ with each installment featuring three seven-minute cartoons starring the Peanuts crew.
They’ll also get two series from Sesame: the live-action preschool-aimed â€œHelpsters,â€ which mixes human actors and puppets, including Cody, a new puppet that loves computer coding. And there’s â€œGhostwriter,â€ a live-action fantasy series that re-imagines the Sesame Workshopâ€™s 1992 series.
The streamer will also have the original animated series â€œHere We Areâ€ based on lauded author Oliver Jeffers’ book, the animated series â€œWolfboy and the Everything Factory,â€ the live-action animated hybrid â€œLovely Little Farmâ€ and a pair of animated series based on children’s books â€œDoug Unpluggedâ€ and “Zen Shorts.”
â€œWhen you look at the breadth of programming, I think youâ€™ll see a mix of established book properties, reboots of television shows, but also new properties from diverse creators,â€ said Tara Sorensen, Appleâ€™s head of childrenâ€™s programming. â€œApple as a whole believes in great storytelling and so we want to make sure we represent that across our slate.â€
Van Amburg and Sorensen said that what makes Apple TV Plus distinctive from some of the others is a commitment to education and imparting lessons. â€œWe want to make sure parents feel good about watching these programs together as a family but also putting their kids in front of them solo,” said Sorensen.
â€œI think entertainment in kidsâ€™ programming can be purely that – it can be thoughtful and entertaining,” said Van Amburg. â€œBut we said, â€˜What if we pushed a little bit further? What if there was actually a message, what if there was a take-away? What if this was a really safe place for kids and families to come and be entertained but actually become somewhat enlightened?’â€
Still to come are plans for kids’ programming from NBC’s upcoming Peacock service, as well as HBO Max. But not everyone is watching the explosion in streaming content uncritically. The Center for Digital Democracy is as wary of streaming content as it is of the Wild West of YouTube videos aimed at kids.
â€œItâ€™s all about getting their attention so ads can be sold,” said Jeff Chester, the center’s executive director. â€œThe global brands, such as â€˜Sesame,â€™ â€˜Cliffordâ€™ and others, use YouTube as a way to promote licensed content to sell their own and sponsored videos and branded merchandise.â€
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits