By Liz Shannon Miller
I didn’t learn to swim for a long time growing up, because of “She-Ra: Princess of Power.” See, I was born in the 1980s, and when I was five, my parents signed me up for swim lessons. But those classes meant I had to skip my favorite animated princess adventure at least once a week, and I threw a temper tantrum so epic that my parents basically gave up on the idea until I was older and more reasonable. (Sorry I was a brat, Mom and Dad.)
That story won’t make any sense to the generation currently in diapers, because between DVR, DVD, and VOD, they will have little-to-no concept of television programming that can’t be time-shifted. And that’s just what Netflix and Amazon are banking on.
One of the more interesting battles over the last six months has been between the two companies and that most precious of commodities — quality children’s television. Not only are both companies committing huge resources to developing original content for kids — Netflix in partnership with DreamWorks, Amazon through its Amazon Studios project — but they are also exclusively licensing more and more mainstreaming kids shows.
Amazon, as it seeks to build its Prime Instant Video offering, is leaning especially hard on this approach, most recently striking an exclusive deal with Viacom for children’s programming.
This proves to be extremely smart, because while the battles involve big companies like Disney and Viacom, the real chess pieces in play are beloved characters such as Twilight Sparkle, Mickey Mouse, and Dora the Explorer.
And that turns out to be huge. This is because an adult — who’s hopefully learned how to process disappointment — can handle “Downton Abbey” being unavailable on Netflix (there are plenty of other British costume dramas available on the service, after all).
But when you’re a child and already feeling pretty powerless, being told that there’s no more “Dora” has been documented by parents as heart-breaking.
It’s a natural side effect of growing up with the expectation of instant access to this content, not to mention the blurring of the line between what you watch and where you watch it.
I have a young cousin who’s grown up with both cable TV and web video access, and she makes no distinction between Disney Channel on TV and DisneyChannel.com on the computer — to her, it’s all the same.
Aiming young and encouraging these habits isn’t just a smart move right now — it’s an approach that should in theory help both Netflix and Amazon thrive in the future. The important thing is the content available; both sites have strong offerings (I didn’t even realize how much Disney content Netflix was currently hosting until I dug into their Netflix for Kids interface) but the more exclusive each side gets, the more parents will either have to pick between them — or subscribe to both.
Because when a kid wants something, it’s hard for a parent to say no.
“She-Ra: Princess of Power,” by the way, is currently available on Netflix. (But it doesn’t really hold up.)