A Multilingual Success
Oznoz finds a growing niche in streaming children’s content in many languages from around the world. By Tom McLean.
Reaching a diverse, global marketplace is a goal for pretty much every media company there is, but few have shown the do-it-yourself pluck of Oznoz, an online service that is successfully delivering to families multilingual and ethnicity-specific children’s content.
Oznoz began life as the solution to a problem faced by Big Bad Boo, a Vancouver-based studio that produced the Persianthemed direct-to-video feature Babak and Friends — A First Norooz and the series Mixed Nutz and 1001 Nights.
Oznoz co-founder Shabnam Rezaei, who also co-founded Big Bad Boo with Aly Jetha, says it was the difficulties she encountered in trying to get distribution for Mixed Nutz that lead to Oznoz.
“We came across a lot of issues — one of them being there’s such a huge monopoly on the distribution network that’s out there,” says Rezaei. “So to reach an audience, you have to work with one of four or five networks and that’s it. And that just seemed ridiculous in an era where everyone has a cell phone or an iPad or tablet device and you can get to the customer directly.”
With her background in technology and software, Rezaei says it seemed like the best solution to reach customers directly would be by building an interface themselves.
Starting as a Shop
So Oznoz began small, as a online shop through which Big Bad Boo sold its titles as well as bilingual books with text in English as well as Persian, Chinese, French and German. That’s still part of the site, though it’s evolved to add the ability to buy streaming or downloadable animated video content in the language of your choice. Currently available in the United States and Canada, plans are to expand to Europe in the next year and then to the rest of the world in the third year.
Oznoz requires exclusivity in North America for its content and splits revenues with its partners 50-50. “Our pricing is market standard because we don’t want to in any way compete, and our revenue share is exactly what the other big guys are doing,” says Rezaei. “We typically will deal with three- or five-year contracts with our vendors.”
The company’s reach is so far small, Rezaei says, with about 5,000 customers actively buying from Oznoz. They also have a database with about 10,000 newsletter readers and 13,000 likes on Facebook.
Breaking through the clutter and getting attention for a service like this requires
The reception they received from Sesame Workshop was “ecstatic,” says Rezaei. “They told us they went to iTunes with this idea and iTunes said, ‘We don’t want it’ — because it’s too niche for iTunes, frankly.”
With Sesame Workshop on board, other companies also have signed on. “Most of the companies we work with are international, either producers or distributors, so they’re already selling into all these different territories,” says Rezaei. “And for the producer or distributor, it’s additional revenue that they wouldn’t be otherwise getting. So we’re capturing a whole new audience and a whole new revenue stream for our vendors.”
Among those vendors is Nelvana, from which Oznoz is getting some 2,000 hours of programming, and HIT Entertainment, bringing such familiar shows as Thomas the Tank Engine, Angelina Ballerina and Bob the Builder to the site.
Other channels that have shows on Oznoz include China Central Television, Japan’s NHK, South Korea’s EBS and Israel’s Hop! TV.
There also are small production outlets, like Little Dumpling, a preschool in New York whose owner created videos teaching children simple elements of Mandarin Chinese, like colors, shapes and numbers.
Oznoz also has provided a North American home for original programming from Cartoon Network India and Al Jazeera Children’s Network. “For example, Cartoon Network India has a great show called Chota Bheem, and it’s original programming.”
About a dozen preschool shows from Al Jazeera Children’s Channel that are produced in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are now available in Arabic in North America via Oznoz.
The reaction to Oznoz making those shows available is strong and supports the idea that immigrants raising their children in two cultures are appreciative of bilingual material.
“Our Arabic audience loves those shows,” says Rezaei. “A lot of times, the parents will know these shows or these brands from when they were kids, so there’s a nostalgic factor that we play into.”