At the start of the pandemic, children’s screen time nearly doubled as classes switched to Zoom and parents struggled to manage babysitting duties on top of their jobs. Many moms and dads have turned to kids’ podcasts as a screen-free form of edutainment to keep kids stimulated, engaged, and out of their hair.
Even though pandemic restrictions are easing, the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Podcasts in the kids and family category have seen a 20% increase in viewership since 2019, according to the 2021 Spoken Word Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research. Podcast adaptations of hit children’s shows are proliferating, while, conversely, film and TV studios are getting involved earlier than ever to grab the intellectual property of kids’ podcasts.
Over the past two months, Spotify has released a slate of exclusive children’s programming, including a spin-off of Moonbug Entertainment’s hit TV series. CoComelon, which targets preschool children aged 2 to 5 years. GBH Kids, meanwhile, is adapting the PBS cartoon arthurwhich aired its final episode on February 21 after a 25-year run, in a podcast with Gen-Z Media that will feature new storylines and games for the beloved character.
Some studios jump in before a podcast is even released. Warner Bros. opted for TV rights for an upcoming 2023 podcast titled 20 million views. The series was produced by Gen-Z Media, whose broadcasts Delighted to meet you and The big belly were nominated for Best Ambie Kids Podcast, a new category this year. “Everyone is looking for great IP, especially great family IP, which we rely on,” said Ben Strouse, CEO of Gen-Z Media.
Major streaming networks are also getting involved. Amazon’s Wondery podcast network has signed exclusive advertising and licensing deals with Gen-Z Media and Tinkercast in addition to rolling out a subscription tier just for kids’ podcasts. In August, Netflix and Sony Pictures Animation adapted their 2021 film Long live in the podcast The Vivo songbook, which earned an Ambie nomination for Best Children’s Podcast. Apple Podcasts also launched a partnership with Common Sense Media in 2021 to curate and recommend a collection of family-friendly podcasts.
“When we got into podcasting in 2017, there was very little [kids’] podcasts there,” says Meredith Halpern-Ranzer, CEO of Tinkercast. In May 2017, the science show produced by Tinkercast Wow in the worldhosted by Guy Raz and Mindy Thomas, became the first kids and family podcast distributed by NPR.
Tinkercast’s library has since grown to include Flip & Mozi’s guide to being an earthling, an intergalactic musical podcast that promotes environmental stewardship, and Who, When, Wow!a show that introduces listeners to unsung heroes like Alicia Alonso, the partially blind Cuban ballet dancer.
“People didn’t really consider whether there was any audio content available for kids,” says Halpern-Ranzer. “It’s absolutely exploded since then, and a lot of big companies are looking at it and seeing it as white space that has a lot more potential.”
That’s not to say there weren’t growing pains. The podcast industry is expected to top $2 billion in ad revenue in 2023. That’s partly thanks to dynamic ad insertion, which allows marketers to target listeners individually (or by demographic group) on a network’s entire podcast slate, rather than buying spots on an individual show. But advertising in the kids’ podcast space can be trickier given the constraints of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires parental consent to collect or use children’s personal data. under the age of 13 in the United States. As a result, advertisements on children’s shows typically target parents and guardians who listen. Platforms like Wondery set up separate servers so that appropriate sponsorships are placed on kids’ podcasts.
“It’s definitely more of a challenge,” Strouse says. “[But] the amount of advertising on children’s tv shows is really big, so i can’t believe we won’t be able to figure that out too.
The evolution of kids’ podcasting may also move away from trends seen in the broader podcasting industry, such as experimentation with audio and video formats, especially on Spotify and YouTube. Halpern-Ranzer says she would be hesitant to add a video component to kids’ podcasts: “We don’t want to take away the beautiful thing that happens when kids are really deeply engaged in listening.”
This story first appeared in the March 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.