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.
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.”