We welcome back Emily Horgan, a now regular contributor on Netflix to talk about Netflix’s often underreported success on YouTube. Below, you’ll hopefully understand how well Netflix is doing on YouTube in the kids space and how there’s room left to grow.
Netflix’s social media strategy saw an interesting inflection point towards the end of 2017. The active decision was made to strategically segment out audiences, including geeks (NX), LGBTQ+ (The Most), Latinx (Con Todo), and Strong Black Lead. Content was placed front and center. Looking back, this rowed in line with their evolution from a tech company to a true entertainment company.
Kids and families were a part of this shake-up too. Dealing with this target on social is tricky, there’s a messy line between where kids should be and where they actually are. Netflix Family was set up as a parent-facing presence on Twitter and Instagram.
How Netflix set its strategy for kids on YouTube
YouTube would also, naturally, need a place for this audience. It was universally acknowledged as the biggest media platform for kids at that stage (even if Google were still trying to avoid admitting that). Channels like Little Baby Bum were household names with their own consumer product lines. Netflix Futures was set up to cover older-skewing animation and live-action. Setting up a YouTube channel from scratch is a tough grind, even for an established media company. It takes perseverance and consistency before you see results. Cutting through with pre-school is harder again due to the crowded landscape. Higher-ups will undoubtedly compare any viewing numbers to behemoths like Little Baby Bum and CoComelon. That’s where it would seem, an interesting plan was hatched at Netflix for these valuable young viewers.
Overall, this was a change. Up until that point Netflix were known for putting high walls on their content garden where they could. DreamWorks was an exception; they had the clout to engineer carve-outs that facilitated a strong YouTube presence for their properties. Smaller production companies weren’t so lucky. The coveted global commission from Netflix could come at the price of an effective YouTube presence for their show. All’s fair in love and greenlights, but the long-term impact would be shutting their property away from the biggest, broadest kids’ audience, and the potential success that might bring.
Netflix takes over StoryBots YouTube Channel
In terms of preschool, another Netflix faithful property had originated on YouTube: StoryBots. This online first property was conceived by the Spiridellis brothers as a digitally native Sesame Street. They had a background in the animated eCard business, specifically the viral hit Elf Yourself, subsequently sold to Office Depot. The IP was developed as a suite of apps and a YouTube channel from 2012. It was music-led, fun, and engaging, with an underlying focus on learning. Individual series of episodes on YouTube looked at standard kids themes like letters, numbers, and colors. However, they also reached further, looking at concepts including time, feelings, parts of the body, and outer space.
Netflix commissioned an original StoryBots series which launched in 2016: Ask the StoryBots. It featured a strong cast including Judy Greer (Arrested Development). In ultimate Sesame Street homage, A-List talent such as Whoopi Goldberg and Jay Leno featured in each episode. The series has garnered multiple award nominations. Season 2 and 3 hit in 2017 and 2019 respectively, with stars such as Snoop Dog, Edward Norton, and John Legend appearing.
The original StoryBots YouTube channel continued alongside this. By 2017 the channel had over 200k subscribers and at least 300m views. Interestingly there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of the guest star scenes from Ask the StoryBots being lifted from the series to capitalize on search and virality.
The changeover begins….
The organized collaboration began to happen between StoryBots YouTube and Netflix at scale from the end of 2017. From 2016 the channel had taken the odd Netflix pre-school clip/trailer. By the end of 2017 uploads from across the Netflix bouquet of preschool content, both original and acquired, started gathering momentum. This continued to build throughout 2018, serving as the official YouTube presence for Super Monsters, Jim Henson’s Word Party, and Beat Bugs alongside StoryBots.
April 2019 saw the launch of Netflix’s first Indian kids original, Mighty Little Bheem. Though the YouTube channel had been performing with respectable consistency up until this point, clips from the non-dialogue pre-school show catapulted it to the next level. Videos were suddenly delivering tens of millions of views. Vijay’s SPICY Surprise, which is the most-watched video on the channel still, was at the forefront of this; alone it clocked over 80 million views that Summer.
Netflix acquired the company behind StoryBots in May 2019. It was their second acquisition after MillarWorld. The Spiridellis brothers were to stay on and work in the animation department. At this stage, the StoryBots YouTube channel had over 1 billion views. Branding officially flipped to Netflix Jr. in September 2019.
Mighty Little Bheem has gone on to be a mega force on Netflix Jr. YouTube. It currently occupies all 10 slots of the channel’s most popular videos. This top 10 alone accounts for over half of the channel’s 4 billion views. Being non-dialogue, global audiences can enjoy the show. Core awareness in India is also a likely driver. The series was derived from a previously successful, older-skewing, cartoon, Chhota Bheem.
What other properties feature on Netflix Jr.’s YouTube?
In addition to StoryBots and Mighty Little Bheem, the Netflix Jr. YouTube channel is also the official home of other originals like Chip & Potato, Go! Go! Cory Carson and Chico Bon Bon: Monkey with a Toolbelt. Another interesting development happened towards the end of last year as the channel started to experiment with full episodes of core series on YouTube. This was another shift for Netflix, who previously had a reputation for voracious exclusivity of their originals. The high walls of the content garden were starting to crumble.
The initial toe-dip was weekly, with new Halloween episodes for Star Beam and Go! Go! Cory Carson coming to YouTube just a few weeks after their premiere on Netflix. Activity quickly snowballed, soon seeing experimentation with 4-episode compilations, giving the true Netflix “play next episode” experience on YouTube.
Over the course of 2021, full episodes have become a core part of the Netflix Jr. YouTube strategy. Waffles + Mochi, the first TV series release from the Obama’s Higher Ground Productions, had full episodes on YouTube two months after the series premiere on Netflix; this is a smart strategy. YouTube is the number one global media platform for pre-schoolers. The opportunity for non-subscribers to sample a full show before signing up to the service is an obvious sales pitch, one Netflix have dabbled with before for adults. If a kid watches a show and loves it, you can bet a Netflix subscription represents a value proposition to the parent, if only to stop the same episodes from playing over and over and over again. For Waffles + Mochi, in particular, there will be broader interest, and hence search equity, for Michelle Obama who features in the show.
What is the Netflix Jr. YouTube strategy now?
So the garden walls have been truly felled between Netflix and YouTube and pre-school content. The ultimate genie out-of-the-box moment came last week when Netflix Jr. YouTube premiered the first episode of pre-school series Ridley Jones over a month in advance of its Netflix launch date. Ridley Jones is a high-profile property, the first Netflix show from showrunner Chris Nee. You can imagine there might be a modicum of pressure, given the Disney Junior hitmaker is known as the force behind Doc McStuffins and Vampirina.
YouTube remains the most established media platform for kids in the world; presence there is required if you want to build a successful kids brand. Netflix has gone beyond holding their nose and dealing with that, to jumping into the weeds and getting mucky. Could this help them finally unlock a major kids franchise hit for themselves? We’ll need to wait and see.