All posts in “children”

Amazon’s chat fiction app Rapids ties up with Amazon Studios with launch of ‘Signature Stories’

Today’s kids aren’t just reading books. They’re also tapping and playing with interactive stories on tablets as preschoolers, then delving into instant messaging-like chat fiction apps as teens. Amazon’s entry in this space, Amazon Rapids, was announced late last year as a way to bring this style of interactive fiction to readers in the 5 to 12 age range.

The company more recently introduced a new program called “Signature Stories” that aims to make its stories more appealing by integrating characters from TV shows kids already know and love.

The move could help Amazon gain ground in today’s increasingly competitive ‘chat fiction’ app market.

Adults may not have heard of them, but chat reading apps are hugely popular on the App Store, across age ranges. For example, the number one free app in App Store’s “Books” category at present is chat stories app Hooked, which is closely followed by rival Yarn in spot #2, as well as Wattpad’s newer entry in the space, Tap, at #9. Other chat readers can also be found in the top 20.

Amazon Rapids doesn’t appear in this section’s top charts, however, because the company introduced its chat reading app in the “Education” section on the App Store instead. Likely, this was done with the hopes that Rapids would better stand out if it didn’t have to compete directly with the other chat readers; plus, it helps to better target parents looking for apps that don’t just entertain, but also teach.

The Rapids subscription service allows kids to read along with its stories with optional audio, and tap on words for help with pronunciation or definitions, in addition to tapping to reveal each new line of character dialog.

Rolled out just ahead of Comic-Con International last week, Amazon Rapids’ new Signature Stories program isn’t just leveraging kids TV IP – like kids’ characters themselves – from its participating partners; it’s also bringing in celebrity voice talent to narrate the new stories.

However, the program at launch is only rolling out with support from Amazon Studios, making the entire effort more of a cross-promotion between Amazon properties, for the time being. But Amazon is leaving the door open to future partners who want to find new ways to reach children in today’s digital age, where traditional book-reading now has to compete with apps, games and other mobile content.

Amazon Studios’s new original stories on Amazon Rapids feature characters from Amazon’s kids’ TV shows, including “Danger & Eggs,” and “Niko and the Sword of Light.” The former includes the celebrity voice talent of Aidy Bryant of Saturday Night Live, while the latter brings in Tom Kenny, who voices SpongeBob Squarepants.

These shows may not be the big-name kids’ brands that parents are familiar with – like Sesame Street, for example, or Disney – but assuming your household has Amazon Prime Video, there’s a good chance your kids will know of them. (I know we do.)

The stories themselves are also authored by the shows’ writers, extending the universe introduced by the series in a natural way.

While popular kids’ TV shows have historically translated into other merchandise like dolls, toys, books, and more, chat stories are something of a new frontier for studios and programmers.

Despite chat fiction apps’ current popularity, it’s unclear whether interaction stories will be a fad, or if it represents a new way kids of the digital age will read for fun, in the longer term.

Amazon Rapids is a subscription service, which also includes a parent dashboard where mom or dad can check in on kids’ progress, as well as find information that will help them start conversations about what kids are reading. The service is available on iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire devices for $2.99 per month to start.

Kids app maker Toca Boca debuts its first consumer product collection at Target

Toca Boca, a hugely popular kids’ app maker, has grown to over 170 million downloads across its line of 38 apps, which 13 million children use every month. Now, the company is transitioning its brand beyond the digital space to become a maker of real-world products, as well. In an exclusive deal with Target, announced today, Toca Boca will launch its own collection of apparel, accessories, sleepwear, backpacks, lunch bags, bedding and activity books, aimed at kids ages 5 to 9.

The collection will feature Toca Boca’s iconic characters and style, and will adhere to the same design principles that has made its apps – which the company refers to as “digital toys” – so well-liked.

If you’re a parent, it’s nearly impossible to miss out on the Toca Boca craze. The Stockholm-based app maker dominates today’s App Store, thanks to its clever and thoughtfully designed suite of apps. To give you an idea of its market traction, the company currently has 23 percent market share among the paid kid apps on the App Store – that’s a huge chunk of the pie.

The U.S., in particular, is a key market for Toca Boca, accounting for nearly a third of its total user base across both Android and iOS.

What makes Toca Boca so appealing to children is that the apps are designed to inspire more open-ended play. Unlike most games, there are levels to beat or scores to top; instead, Toca Boca lets kids just have fun with apps – whether that’s cutting and styling characters’ hair, hosting a tea party, putting together a band and making music, creating robots, or even designing or playing within virtual worlds, as with its Toca Life series (e.g. Toca Life: City, Toca Life: Farm, etc.), Toca Nature, and more.

The company grew out of the 200-year-old Swedish publishing firm Bonnier, where it had operated like a startup. It was sold in 2016 to children’s entertainment company Spin Master, which produces kids TV “Paw Patrol” and others, and makes a number of toys, like the Flutterbye Fairies and Kinetic Sand, for example.

Toca Boca says it already had plans to expand beyond digital before Spin Master acquired it, but its new parent has been a helpful partner on this initiative.

“Toca Boca’s vision is to be a category-independent brand, to be a beacon in the world for kids. The move into physical products and licensing began nearly two years ago, before the acquisition, and marks a major milestone toward that goal,” explains Toca Boca COO, Caroline Ingeborn.

“However, working with Spin Master since the acquisition has been great as we have very complementary skill sets. They’ve been able to support us and offer a helpful perspective and we are looking forward to continuing to work with them in the future,” she says.

The debut collection at Target will include 38 individual SKUs, which will launch this month ahead of the back-to-school shopping season on both and in retail stores. The clothing will be available in sizes 4 to 16, and will be available for both boys and girls – as the apps themselves have a cross-gender appeal. In addition, the collection will be merchandized between the boys’ and girls’ aisles in many Target stores, the company also notes.

Like its apps, the products follow the same design principles – clean lines, bright color palettes, and a bit of quirkiness – notes Toca Boca.

“The collection features some of kids’ favorite elements from Toca Life in a way we hope empowers kids and helps them express who they are,” notes Ingeborn. “We tried to inject the fun details we are known for in digital toys into everyday items — making playthings out of everything,” she adds.

The products, at a glance, are obviously from Toca Boca – and it’s likely kids who see them in Target’s aisles will immediately make the connection.

While this is the first time Toca Boca will have its own consumer products, the company’s subsidiary Sago Mini, aimed the  preschool set, already has a line of books, plush toys, figurines, playsets, bedding, t-shirts, books, and more, which are sold online today. Its product line, first launched with toys in 2015, takes a different approach, however. Its primary focus is toys and it designs everything in-house.

Toca Boca, meanwhile, worked with licensees to create its debut line, including FABNY, The Foundery, Franco Manufacturing and Random House Children’s Books. The decision allowed it to bring its products to market more quickly, says Ingeborn. And its initial collection does not include toys.

What’s interesting about Toca Boca’s consumer product launch, too, is that it’s tying the physical goods to the apps in a unique way. Its Toca Life: City app is going free for the first time, and is being updated with a new feature and location where kids can unlock in-app gifts using a free code found inside Target’s stores.

The unlocked content will be some of the same items Toca Boca is selling at Target – effectively turning the app into a promotional mechanism for the real-world products.

Toca Boca’s collection hits Target on July 17.

Why banning the sale of smartphones to kids is a bad idea

Kids and their smartphones … amirite? 

Parents around the world are acutely aware that once a child gets his or her tiny hands on a cellphone, it’s practically impossible to pry those sticky little fingers free. And, we’re told, this is unhealthy and bad. 

So what if we made it illegal?

This is the thinking behind the Colorado nonprofit  Parents Against Underage Smartphones, which is pushing a proposed 2018 state ballot measure that would ban the sale of smartphones to children 12 and under. What’s more, reports the Coloradoan, if successfully placed on the ballot and voted into law, the measure would require phone retailers to ask their customers who the primary user of a smartphone will be. If the answer is a kid, the company would be required to decline the sale. 

Sellers found in repeated violation would be fined. 

But while the idea of keeping smartphones out of the hands of young humans is intuitively appealing for all sorts of reasons, PAUS’s measure has one glaring flaw: It completely misses the point. 

Sure, it’s a problem

The image of kids glued to smartphones — oblivious to the world around them — is a powerful kick to our collective guts for all the right reasons. We want children to engage with their fellow humans, develop problem-solving and language skills, and have a childhood free from the numerous pitfalls of social media. Unfettered access to a smartphone can impede all of these things, argue the members of PAUS. As such, those same members have no problem capitalizing on parents’ innate revulsion to plugged-in zombie children in order to push their agenda. 

Because when it comes down to it, claims PAUS founder Dr. Tim Farnum, smartphones and children just don’t mix. 

“Years from now parents will look back on our time and shake their heads and wonder how we allowed this atrocity,” the organization semi-coherently explains on its website. “Allowing our children to be robbed of their carefree days of wonder, laughter, and normal natural development. Yes, they will wonder, didn’t they see it?, didn’t they see their children stop achieving, stop playing, stop laughing, ceasing to be free?”

Tap... tap... tap...

Tap… tap… tap…

Image: Thanasis Zovoilis/Getty Images

Sound familiar? It should. It’s a version of the same argument used in the past to advocate for regulating video games, comics, movies, and, yes, rap music. And just like with those four horsemen of the lost-innocence apocalypse, some smartphone content is probably not appropriate for those under the age of 13. After all, there’s an entire ecosystem of freemium apps that are specifically designed to be addictive. If adults can’t handle that, the argument goes, how can we expect children to?

And yeah, there’s a good point there. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a host of recommended guidelines regarding children’s exposure to digital media. Unsurprisingly, none of that advice involves letting kids’ eyes glaze over as they crush candy for hours on end.    

Still, however, the question remains: Should Colorado ban the sale of smartphones intended for children? The answer, of course, is no. 

Just don’t give your kid a smartphone

Now, I know this is outlandish, but bear with me here: How many 12-year-olds do you know with sufficient freedom of movement and spending cash to be able to make their way to a cellphone shop and walk out the door with a brand new Android? 

As with so many things in life, the problem isn’t the kids. It’s the parents. 

Dr. Farnum inadvertently made this very point when, speaking of his own children, he attempted to explain the necessity of his proposed ballot measure

They would get the phone and lock themselves in their room and change who they were,” he told the Coloradoan

If exposure to smartphones is in your mind dangerous enough to warrant a law preventing it, maybe just don’t buy your kids smartphones? If safety is a concern, there are plenty of dumbphone options that will allow children to stay in touch with parents without providing those same kids unfettered access to the horrors of Dark Web assassination markets or whatever. 

And let’s be real: Kids locking themselves in their bedrooms is a time-honored tradition that existed long before smartphones came around. While this may come as a surprise to Farnum, his teenage kids would likely be closing those doors with or without a smartphone. 

Now, before this piece veers into the realm of Reagan-era parenting fanfic, we should be clear about one thing: The government absolutely has a vital role in keeping all of us, including our children, safe (even if our elected officials are often derelict in that duty). But what Farnum and PAUS miss is that, when it comes to smartphones, it’s both impossible and misguided for elected officials to micromanage how we spend our free time — even if we happen to be under the age of 13. 

Parents, on the other hand, have a long history of micromanaging their children. Maybe Farnum and those worried about the detrimental effects of technology should look to that storied past for inspiration and simply take their kids’ smartphones away. After all, it’d be a hell of a lot easier than getting a measure on the Colorado state ballot. 1c27 690d%2fthumb%2f00001

Nickelodeon revamps Noggin, its “Netflix for Kids,” with dozens of interactive, play-along videos

Nickelodeon’s Noggin is today taking a step to differentiate Noggin from being just another “Netflix for kids” type of subscription video service.  Alongside its existing lineup of TV shows and sing-alongs, Nick is introducing a series of what it calls “play along” videos. These new videos, which are also curriculum-based, are designed to be interactive in nature – asking kids to tap, touch, swipe or speak to move through their various storylines.

The idea of interactive children’s TV is an old one. From early shows like “Howdy Doody” and “Romper Room,” to classics like “Sesame Street” and “Mister Rogers,” shows have been breaking the fourth wall – meaning the show’s stars and characters would speak directly to viewers, and often encourage their participation.

Studies conducted over the years from Children’s Television Workshop later validated this format as a better way to educate kids via TV programming. They found that when kids participated by singing or talking, they retained most of what they learned when tested a month later. This research helped to standardize the practice, which is now prevalent in many shows aimed at preschoolers, including Nick’s “Go Diego Go,” “Dora the Explorer,” “Blue’s Clues,” and others.

Now, Nickelodeon is re-imaging how this format can help make its way to mobile devices, where kids may be less engaged than when they used to watch TV. On mobile, push notifications can interrupt the viewing experience, and there’s a world of other games and apps right on the homescreen, becoming kids the second they get bored.

With Nick’s play-along videos, the idea is to make the video content more engaging by requiring kids to interact with the content. Not only will this keep them in the app, it also gives the videos a game-like feel which makes for a better fit on mobile devices where gaming is one of the most popular activities.

At launch, there are over 30 of these interactive videos available from “Blaze and the Monster Machines,” “Bubble Guppies,” and “Team Umizoomi,” as well as short-form content from “Moose and Zee.”

The videos themselves were developed in partnership with curriculum and research consultants, with a focus on developing cognitive, social and emotional skills – much like kids’ TV does. In addition, the videos will promote subjects like science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) along with these softer skills.

Nickelodeon doesn’t see the launch of the videos as a one-off upgrade to Noggin. Instead, the company has invested in its own video authoring tool which the company says will kick off the launch of a new production model that will be used across Nick’s platforms going forward. This tool allows show creators, producers and animators to directly create interactive digital content through features like real-time scene editing and a live preview, where they can layer in the interactive elements.

That means they’ll be able to create both the linear version of the video at the same time as they’re building the interactive one. The play along video player has also been designed to integrate into Nick’s existing applications, like Noggin, instead of requiring a separate app download.

Nickelodeon’s owner, Viacom, hasn’t played well with streaming services over the years. The company previously downplayed the cord cutting trend in general, today keeps its new shows off streaming services, and generally fails to get deals done with streaming services. PlayStation Vue lost Viacom channels as a result, and Hulu couldn’t come to terms with Viacom in advance of launching its live TV offering, for example.

With Noggin, Viacom has its own streaming service of sorts, however. Though mostly a collection of back catalog content from the Noggin TV network (which later rebranded to Nick Jr.), the $5.99 per month subscription offering has plenty for kids to watch. In addition to the new play-along shows, there are hundreds of episodes from “Blue’s Clues,” “The Backyardigans,” “Yo Gabba Gabba,” “Teletubbies,” and more.

Surprisingly, Noggin may not be the only streaming service that adopts the interactive video format. Netflix is rumored to be working on a “choose your own adventure” format for adult programming, that lets viewers control key plot decisions.

Noggin’s new play along videos will first hit iOS devices, starting June 1st, before rolling out to other platforms. (It appears the U.S. App Store already has them.)

KidPass raises $5.1 million for its children’s activity subscription service

KidPass, a monthly membership program that gives parents access to a variety of kid-friendly activities across their city, has raised $5.1 million in Series A funding, the startup reported this week. Currently live in New York, the new funds will allow the service to expand to new markets including L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Chicago.

The round was led by Javelin Venture Partners, with participation from new and existing investors, including CoVenture, Y Combinator, TIA Ventures, Bionic Fund, Cocoon Ignite Ventures, and FJ Labs among others.

Jed Katz, Managing Director at Javelin, and Rachel Jarrett, President of Zola, will join KidPass’s Board of Directors as a result of this funding.

The idea for KidPass is similar to ClassPass – a subscription service for adults looking to try different fitness classes around town, like yoga, cycling, Pilates, dance, and others. Though KidPass has a similar name, the two companies are not related.

However, KidPass works a lot like ClassPass does. Customers pay one monthly fee then can try classes all over town.

KidPass co-founder Solomon Liou explains he and his fellow founders, Aaron Kaufman, Chhay Chhun, and Olivia Ballvé, decided to start the company after becoming parents themselves and became frustrated with how difficult and time-consuming it was to find great activities for their kids.

“While there were mobile apps to instantly book restaurants, doctors, and taxis on-demand, there wasn’t anything like that for kids’ activities,” says Liou. “In fact, the main way that parents discover kids classes today is still through word of mouth from talking to other parents, or using Google Search and going through page after page of results. It’s time consuming and difficult to navigate, with many businesses not even having a presence online,” he adds.

Plus, even when you found a class, many providers only took in-person registrations, or required you to book upfront payments for semester-long programs – all before you know if your child will even like the course, Liou notes.

To use KidPass today, parents choose from one of three membership options which start at $49 per month. These subscriptions offer credits that can be used to pay for the various activities, like dance classes, arts and crafts activities, sports, museum classes and camps, science and technology classes, swimming classes, kids cooking classes, fitness classes, academic classes and many more.

At present, there are over 900 activity providers using the platform, like Gymboree, Kidville, Music Together, Super Soccer Stars, Physique Swimming, The Craft Studio, Chocolate Works, the Museum of Modern Art, YMCA, JCC, and others.

Since its launch in January 2016, 20,000 families have signed up for the service and have booked over 100,000 activities. There are today over 3,000 subscribers in NYC, and the KidPass is growing at 20 to 30 percent nearly every month, Liou says.

The service works by offering parents a certain number of credits that can be used per month to book activities. The basic tier includes 10 credits and supports up to 2 children. The middle tier supports up to 5 kids and includes 25 credits. And the highest tier supports unlimited kids and 50 credits.

Some activities only take one or two credits, but other premium activities and camps could take 10 or more. Any unused credits will roll over for three months, in case parents get busy and can’t use the credits right away.

This credits-based system could help KidPass avoid the problems that plagued ClassPass – that company eventually had to raise prices and ditch its unlimited tier in order to stay afloat.

“[The use of credits] allows us to charge varying prices to the parents depending on the activity’s cost to make sure that parents get a great deal, while ensuring that the unit economics work well for us as a marketplace supporting both businesses and families,” explains Liou. “We have had positive gross margins as a business because of our business model, and we intentionally avoided any unlimited plans that could be highly unprofitable,” he says.

There are a few reasons why parents would want to pay for a service like this instead of booking directly with a class provider.

Most importantly, however, is that KidPass provides a means of discovery for children’s activities. In the large markets KidPass serves, there are so many activities available that parents may not know of all their available options. They also might not want to commit to booking multiple sessions with an activity provider before being able to try out the class or camp first.

KidPass isn’t the only startup tackling this space. It competes with others like Sawyer and Pearachute, for example.

In addition to expanding to new markets, KidPass is developing software for activity providers that helps with class management, online registrations scheduling and payments. This software is in private beta with some KidPass partners.

Featured Image: Catherine Nicole Will / EyeEm/Getty Images