Managing the Tweenvolution: How Netflix is Chasing the Elusive Market

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managing the tweenvolution netflix kids strategy review

Pictured: Tall Girl, Alexa & Katie & Julie and the Phantoms

In part six of Emily Horgan’s review into Netflix’s strategy in the kids space, she takes a look at Netflix’s strategy in going after gen Z or the so-called tweens. Below, Horgan, an independent media consultant, takes a look at how they’re stealing a page out of Disney’s playbook (and perhaps more importantly their talent pool) to do so.

As mentioned in this series so far Netflix has made very concerted efforts in the kid’s animation space. Building on the success they have seen with films such as Klaus and Over the Moon, they currently have designs to build to six animated movies a year.  Although the future of their longstanding collaboration with DreamWorks animation is unsure, both parties have gained valuable understanding and insight from the deal.  Pre-school is an area in which they are making clear moves, strengthened by the acquisition of established YouTube animated IP.

All decisions in this area have been bolstered by deals signed with key creative talent.  It’s been well documented that a significant amount of these came from Disney, not least by Netflix themselves. Glen Keane and Chris Williams joined following careers at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Darla Anderson and Sanjay Patel came from Pixar. Chris Nee and Alex Hirsch cover animated TV series having created Doc McStuffins and Gravity Falls respectively.

What about live-action?

Importantly, the flow from Disney broadens to Live-Action also. Disney Channel creative exec Naketha Mattocks joined the company in March 2018. A deal with Kenny Ortega, creator of High School Musical and Descendants, was announced a year later. Mattock’s first film out of the gate was Tall Girl which saw performance strong enough, (41 million viewers in 28 days) to warrant a press release.

Name Known @ Disney for… Netflix Titles
Darla Anderson A Bug’s Life TBC animated and live-action projects
Monsters, Inc.
Toy Story 3
Alex Hirsch Gravity Falls Inside Job (adult animation with Shion Takeuchi)
Glen Keane The Little Mermaid Over the Moon (animated feature, Oct 2020)
Beauty and the Beast Trash Truck (pre-school series, Nov 2020
Naketha Mattocks Descendants Tall Girl (2019)
Descendants 2 Go Karts (2020)
The Sleepover (2020)
The Main Event (2020)
A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting (2020)
Feel the Beat (2020)
The Half of It (2020)
Chris Nee Doc McStuffins Vampirina Ada Twist Scientist (pre-school series due 2021)
Ridley Jones (pre-school series)
Spirit Rangers (pre-school series)
Dino Daycare (pre-school series)
Kenny Ortega High School Musical Franchise Julie and the Phantoms (live-action series Sep 2020)
Descendants Franchise Auntie Claus (live-action musical feature)
Sanjay Patel Sanjay’s Super Team short for Pixar Ghee Happy (pre-school series)
Other Pixar credits including Monsters, Inc, Cars, Toy Story 2 and The Incredibles
Chris Williams Bolt Jacob and the Sea Beast (animated feature)
Big Hero 6

In terms of on-screen creative talent, the film featured Sabrina Carpenter.  That name is probably not familiar unless you were a Disney Channel viewer in the noughties.  Carpenter played the main role in the reboot Girl Meets World. On Netflix, she joined fellow Disney alum Vanessa Hudgens, of High School Musical fame. Hudgens has enjoyed a regular Christmas movie slot on the platform for the past three years (The Princess Switch, The Knight Before Christmas, The Princess Switch: Switched Again).

When you look in more detail you can see a slew of other Disney Channel starlets hitting Netflix films, as outlined in the below handy table.  Their profiles perfectly serve the “clean teen” film strategy outlined by Mattocks in this Hollywood Reporter article.  These are teen movies, that speak to, and are suitable for, younger audiences too. Many of the featured talent bring a following that’s grown up with them to the platform, alongside important word of mouth.

Name Known @ Disney for… Netflix Titles
Paris Berelc Mighty Med (2013 – 2015) Alexa and Katie (2018 – 2020)
Lab Rats: Elite Force (2016) Tall Girl (2019)
Sabrina Carpenter Girl Meets World (tv series 2014 – 2017) Tall Girl (2019)
Work It (2020)
Sofia Carson Descendants Franchise (2015 – 2019) Feel the Beat (2020)
Vanessa Hudgens High School Musical Franchise (2006 – 2008) The Princess Switch (2018)
Polar (2019)
The Knight Before Christmas (2019)
The Princess Switch: Switched Again (2020)
Laura Marano Austin & Ally (tv series 2011 – 2016) The Perfect Date (2019)
Jenna Ortega Stuck in the Middle (tv series 2016 – 2018) The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020)
Sadie Stanley Kim Possible (film 2019) The Sleepover (2020)

What’s so special about this audience?

This strategy is a really smart move by Netflix. Longform content that has an appeal that covers this evolving audience has been tricky over recent years for a few reasons. Current box office economics favor broad audience event films, edging out budgets of this genre for some time. Social media provides a new and voluminous pipeline of competitive entertainment. It has also created a conversation space bringing brand risky subject matter to the forefront for these viewers. Racism, polarised politics, gun violence, gender fluidity, even sexual orientation. Traditional media companies have only gingerly engaged.

That’s not to say that every Netflix teen film has hard-hitting subject matter at its core, that wouldn’t make programming sense.  By nature, it’s common for the genre to simply be fun and whimsical. But as the films cover the spectrum from light to meaningful, Netflix successfully establishes itself as a core platform for this audience. They sit nicely alongside live-action tween series like Julie and the Phantoms and Alexa and Katie. Recent data provided by Kids Insights, part of The Insights People saw Netflix as the most important VOD platform for 13 – 18s in the UK and US.

julie and the phantoms netflix season 1

Why is this important?

What this brings to Netflix is a ready-made conveyor belt of audience segments across all demos.  Kids who start off in animated series, move onto live-action sitcoms like Julie and the Phantoms and then clean teen movies.  Eventually, they graduate onto marquee Netflix originals containing relatable characters like 13 Reasons Why, Stranger Things and The Umbrella Academy.

It’s a Netflix ambition to have something for everyone. The ability to deliver a viewer seamlessly through their content ecosystem will ensure that this ambition pays off in subscriber retention.

Written by

Emily is an independent media consultant. She has a background in television, driving content distribution strategies for kids IP that support success across businesses including consumer products, publishing and gaming. For What's on Netflix, Emily covers Netflix's kids library, content strategy, and recaps quarterly earnings reports.