Since we formed Kids Listen in the summer of 2016, public awareness of, interest in, and support for kids podcasts has skyrocketed. How did we get from an impressively uninformed Atlantic article wondering “why aren’t there more podcasts for kids” to a renaissance of content creation and consumption at the dawn of 2018?
Here’s a brief history of the ways kids podcasting grew up in 2017:
1.PEABODY AWARDS RECOGNIZES QUALITY IN KIDS PODCASTING
Joining This American Life as only podcast to ever do so, Gen-Z’s The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mara Patel wins a Peabody. Whether you know what a Peabody Award is or not, you know it means prestige. Mars Patel is an outlier for kids podcasting in many respects — Gen-Z broke the story in a profesional writer’s room setting, directed professional child actors, created original score with professional film composers — and the property has been optioned for a TV series by Paramount. But it also demonstrates the power of immersive audio storytelling and how the imagination of children today can be piqued not only by nifty touchscreen graphics but by the magic of radio plays as well.
2. THE NEW YORK TIMES SEES A TREND
“The New Bedtime Story is a Podcast” is perhaps not an entirely true claim, but it sure brought the concept of kids podcasts to (despite what certain tweeters assert) a huge new audience. We think the ways parents are integrating podcasts into their family’s routines are extraordinary, are we’re ecstatic the Old Gray Lady thought it was fit to print. Now if only people who read newspapers knew how to operate podcast apps…
3. KIDS TV INVESTS IN AUDIO
Not to miss out, three major brand titans in children’s entertainment (Disney, Nickelodeon, & Sesame Workshop) all invest in podcast versions of their programming. This isn’t terribly exciting or innovative content-wise — visual stories need to be carefully adapted to be successful as radio plays — but it does signal the growing audience seeking audio content for their kids. Leave it to Viacom and ABC to leave no marketing opportunity unexplored.
4. NPR GETS IN THE GAME
Unlike television people, the world of public radio is well-steeped in podcast creation and marketing. A handful of NPR affiliates have been creating kids content for a while now — The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified (WHYY) and But Why? (Vermont Public Radio) launched in 2016 and OG progenitors Brains On! (APM vis MPR and KPCC) has been kicking around since 2012. But 2017 saw NPR central launch powerhouse Wow in the World that debuted at #5 on all of Apple Podcasts, the highest ranked kids podcast to date. WNYC got in the game this fall with original productions This Podcast Has Fleas (written by Blues Clues creator Adam Peltzman) and adapting Australian ethics show Pickle. WBUR also launched Circle Round, a storytelling podcast narrated by the likes of Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander.
5. PREMIUM PODCAST NETWORKS ADD SHOWS FOR KIDS
Two primetime podcast companies add kids content to their rosters: The Panoply Network touts programs such as aforementioned Peabody-winning Mars Patel and The Show About Science. Gimlet Media picked up the rights to distribute Story Pirates, a long-running musical comedy podcast that draws it’s scripts verbatim from very young authors around the country. When Gimlet and Panoply aren’t too cool for kids podcasts, you know they’ve arrived.
6. DEDICATED LISTENING APPS LAUNCHED
Don’t feel like sifting through iTunes/Apple Podcasts’ “Kids & Family” category to find something that’s actually for (not about) kids? There’s an app for that! Our organization Kids Listen launched a dedicated listening app featuring playlists curated by podcast creators themselves, Lela Kids also has an app sorting content into age range and subject matter, and Panoply launched Pinna, a paid subscription app kids can use themselves. No more excuses people, you can now find kids podcasts if you so desire. And you should, because…
7. FIRST KIDS LISTENING DATA PUBLISHED
Before 2017, any potential subscriber or sponsor of kids content would be well within their rights to skepticism about this whole proposition. “Anecdote about kids not listening to radio!” they would say. Our organization offered the first data-based antidote to these anecdotal naysayers by surveying over 400 families from our collective audiences about their listening habits. The results of our survey confirmed what advocates for this content already know — kids listen, repeatedly. Kids retain what they hear, sometimes months later. Kids start conversations and activities based on what they hear. And perhaps most importantly, they listen differently than grown-ups. I’ll let you examine the findings yourself (summarized nicely by Kids Listen co-founder Lindsay Patterson in this Current article), but we’ve found the visualization of even this relatively small and unscientific poll to be very persuasive to organizations considering creating or sponsoring audio content for kids. It’s listen end to by many ears, many times, and it sticks.
8. COMMON SENSE COVERS KIDS PODCASTS
Common Sense Media is a trusted organization that helps parents evaluate the developmental appropriateness of the media their kids might consume. Common Sense had shied away from writing about podcasts until they published a comprehensive run-down of kids podcasting for parents. Other parenting outlets have followed suit, but we’re particularly fond of how keyed in Common Sense is to the developmental benefits audio storytelling can have.
9.NSF GRANT FOR KIDS PODCAST RESEARCH
APM’s Brains On! was awarded a National Science Foundation grant last summer to study the effect kids podcasts have on learning. In conjunction with the second round of research Kids Listen will conduct in the summer of 2018, this research will further solidify the value kids audio creators are providing to educational institutions and families around the world.
What’s the most important investment we can make in the next 50 years of public media? The Knight Foundation makes a strong case that kids media is the answer. The future of children’s programming is grounded in a sound business model and integral to the public good.
Despite these fantastic indicators of growth, mainstream awareness and support for this important medium are still a ways off. Many radio and podcast professionals still underestimate how much work goes into audio content for kids. Advertising and underwriting in an ethical way is still a tough nut to crack, yet an essential one considering how much kids are listening. And the lack of a dedicated discovery category in iTunes/Apple Podcasts remains a disappointing barrier for podcasters and parents trying to find each other. But that’s another article…