Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Hopster Promises Netflix for Kids, and No One Else

If you’re a certain kind of parent, then you know that Netflix is a pretty excellent babysitter.*

But Netflix, and rival services like Amazon’s Instant Prime, have lots of movies and TV shows that aren’t aimed at kids. What about a subscription video service that only caters to children?

That’s what Hopster promises.

We won’t be able to see what the company delivers until November, when it is scheduled to launch in the U.K.

For now, the company is happy to talk about its pitch, at least in general terms: It says it will offer an app for Apple’s iOS operating system that provides kids’ shows, as well as interactive games. It will sell access to all of that stuff, without ads, for a monthly subscription fee that it says will be competitive with Netflix and Amazon’s LoveFilm prices, which hover in the $8- to $10-a-month range.

Hopster is run by Nick Walters, a former Viacom executive who helped launch kids’ channels for the cable giant in Europe. He says he’s raised “a little over” a million dollars from angels to get the company off the ground, and will have more than 800 episodes of shows like “Babar” and “Paddington Bear” and “SuperWhy” when he launches.

It’s hard to imagine how Walters could have built a decent iOS app with compelling games and had enough money left over to strike any kind of content deals on that kind of budget. But, again, we’ll see (or people in the U.K. will, at least).

In the meantime, it’s interesting to wonder why people haven’t launched a kids-only video service/app already. In the U.S., both Disney and Viacom, the two biggest players in kids’ TV, have been content to sell their shows on pay TV, along with bundles of other cable networks. When they do sell off their reruns, they package them to digital aggregators like Netflix and Amazon.

I’m sure there are plenty of smart people at both programmers who have run the numbers and concluded they are better off selling their stuff through retailers than putting their own subscription apps together.

On the other hand, if you’re a certain kind of parent, you will always be happy to spend a few more bucks a month to educate/entertain/pacify your brood. So it seems like someone’s leaving some money on the table: If either Disney or Viacom pulled some of their stuff off of the resellers’ services and sold it themselves, I bet they would do well.

And if you pull back even farther, it’s fun to noodle about the notion of subscription video apps dedicated to a single genre or theme. Conventional wisdom , after all, says that’s the future.

But, right now, most video apps are either extensions of the TV ecosystem — “TV Everywhere” apps that let you watch shows that you’ve already paid to watch on TV — or generalists like Netflix. Perhaps, if Hopster works, we’ll see other sort-of-narrowcasters follow in its footsteps.

*Don’t judge! I mean, go ahead and judge. I don’t care. A lot.

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I’m a giant vat of creative juices.

— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo