What next for kids?:

In a bid to at­tract younger view­ers, TVNZ is launch­ing Hei­Hei, an ad­ver­tis­ing-free plat­form of mainly New Zealand con­tent aimed at five to nine year olds. Kerry Har­vey re­ports.

The TV Guide - - CONTENTS -

TVNZ’s new plat­form aimed at younger view­ers.

On a mis­sion to find out what Kiwi kids watch on screen, I went the ob­vi­ous route and asked one.

“YouTube and fam­ily movies,” says eight-year-old Ethan, with nary a men­tion of the many hours we once spent in front of Kid­zone wait­ing for his favourite shows.

It seems he is not alone. The huge num­ber of Kiwi kids tun­ing out and log­ging in was noted in a New Zealand On Air dis­cus­sion pa­per in 2016. To­day’s chil­dren are still spend­ing hours in front of a screen, but you don’t have to look far to re­alise it is as likely to be a smart­phone or a tablet as it is a TV.

Now, New Zealand On Air has com­mis­sioned TVNZ to pro­vide a home­grown al­ter­na­tive to YouTube and other stream­ing ser­vices.

Hei­hei (Maori for com­mo­tion or chicken) – aimed at five to nine year olds – is an ad­ver­tis­ing-free plat­form of mainly New Zealand­pro­duced con­tent. There’s a web­site (www.hei­hei.co.nz) plus free iOS and An­droid apps.

The tar­get age group is the re­sult of ex­ten­sive re­search with par­ents and chil­dren, says Amie Mills, TVNZ’s Dig­i­tal and Chil­dren’s Com­mis­sioner and soon-to-be NZ On Air head of fund­ing.

“Par­ents’ faces just light up when we talk about this project,” she says.

“There’s a group of par­ents who are prob­a­bly our tar­get group be­cause they fun­da­men­tally re­ally rate lo­cal con­tent and they want their chil­dren to have more of it.

“They’re wor­ried about their kids hav­ing Amer­i­can ac­cents and they care enor­mously about the se­cu­rity of their kids. They were wor­ried about what was hap­pen­ing on-line.”

She says Hei­hei is aimed at five to nine year olds be­cause “we think we haven’t quite lost them into the rab­bit hole of YouTube ... just yet”.

Hei­hei is ex­pected to have around 85 per cent lo­cal con­tent, in­clud­ing 24 new ti­tles – some still in pro­duc­tion – and will link to What Now and Fan­i­mals. It will also fea­ture ev­er­greens such as The Moe Show, Let’s Get In­vent­ing, My Ex­tra­or­di­nary Life, Bare­foot Ban­dits and sev­eral shows made for Maori Tele­vi­sion.

“The other cool thing about

Hei­hei is we have games avail­able which, for me, sets it apart from YouTube or Net­flix Kids or YouTube Kids,” Mills says. “What we were see­ing in a lot of the fo­cus groups was kids watch­ing Minecraft videos, play­ing the games ex­ces­sively and then they would go to the Minecraft plat­form to make and cre­ate them­selves so we thought a re­ally in­ter­est­ing propo­si­tion was to en­able a plat­form that al­lows story worlds to hap­pen.

“By that I mean go on to the Bare­foot Ban­dits page. There’s the trailer, there’s the episodes that you see and then be­neath that is a but­ton you can click that says play the Bare­foot Ban­dits game. And we’ve built a ba­sic web-based game.

“We’ve no idea if kids re­ally want that be­cause there isn’t re­ally an of­fer­ing like that here. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see if that keeps chil­dren in the plat­form.”

New Zealand On Air chief ex­ec­u­tive Jane Wright­son ac­knowl­edges that it is im­pos­si­ble to make chil­dren watch any­thing.

“But we can give them some at­trac­tive op­tions. We want them to be en­gaged and have fun and un­der­stand that this is dif­fer­ent to any­thing else they see.”

NZ On Air has long been work­ing on plug­ging what she views as a ma­jor gap in the lo­cal TV mar­ket.

“Chil­dren’s me­dia is ab­so­lutely core busi­ness for New Zealand On Air. It is such an im­por­tant au­di­ence to serve and there isn’t any­one else able to do it,” Wright­son says, adding the fund­ing author­ity has a lot in­vested in Hei­hei. “It cost $1.5 mil­lion just to build the site. Then there’s $12 mil­lion of con­tent on the site. It’s not a cheap ex­er­cise. It’s a big creative risk for us and that’s why we’ve done all this work around try­ing to make it as po­ten­tially suc­cess­ful as we can. “Most par­ents when you ask them say, ‘I would like a bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion of New Zealand and New Zealan­ders’. This is what we are pro­vid­ing. It’s not go­ing to be in­stead of YouTube or in­stead of any­thing else. It’s go­ing to add to the op­tions.” Un­like tra­di­tional TV, Hei­hei is ac­ces­si­ble 24/7. “They can binge all they want. They can watch the same thing 45 times over be­cause that’s what kids do but par­ents can rest as­sured that the con­tent on that site has been hand­picked – made in New Zealand for New Zealand val­ues or hand­picked for­eign con­tent.”

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