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HBO Max is ordering way more kids’ content to compete with Netflix and Disney Plus

Infinity Train, Ben 10, Teen Titans Go!, and more

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With orders for new shows, specials, and movies from some of Cartoon Network’s biggest franchises — including Ben 10, Teen Titans Go!, and The Amazing World of Gumball — HBO Max is leaning hard into kids’ and family content in an effort to compete with top players like Netflix and Disney Plus.

At the center of WarnerMedia’s plans to make HBO Max a must-have streaming service for families in the way that Disney Plus and Netflix have is “unveiling” Cartoon Network as the core family brand at WarnerMedia. The new series and specials ordered for HBO Max will join a library of shows and movies that make up 3,000 hours of content. Branding is important — and hard — but it’s what works for a studio like Disney. Disney Plus is built around its biggest franchises, including Pixar, which makes it an easy sell for families. By leaning into Cartoon Network, which already has a dedicated hub on HBO Max’s homepage, and producing more content, WarnerMedia is likely hoping that some families will spend more time on HBO Max instead of Disney Plus.

Kids’ content is a hot commodity, and it’s not difficult to see why. A Morning Consult study from August 2020 found that YouTube and Netflix ranked as the top two platforms on which kids aged five to 12 spend time. Roughly 65 percent of kids pick YouTube as their go-to entertainment source, while 55 percent pick Netflix. At the same time, cable networks like Nickelodeon are losing large swaths of their audience — seeing a drop of nearly 50 percent of its viewership between 2015 and 2020, according to Forbes. While viewership on cable is down, the time kids spend on screens is way, way up. They’re just getting it directly from streaming platforms and apps like YouTube or TikTok.

Another study found that about 55 percent of households are interested in having two subscription-based streaming services (think two premium subscription services like Netflix and HBO Max). If companies are trying to figure out how to scale their streaming platforms, and then keeping said subscribers, giving families everything they need in one place is crucial. Streaming platforms have to be something for everyone when everyone is looking for something. That’s especially true right now when people are stuck at home looking to keep themselves and their family members entertained.

For HBO Max, a platform that is most associated with adult-oriented TV shows and films, it’s tougher to get the “family” message across. AT&T CEO John Stankey told a virtual audience during a Wall Street Journal conference that part of HBO and HBO Max content head Casey Bloys’ new job was figuring out a way to allocate content spending, which will “hit that entire breadth of the family.” While HBO orders teen-centric shows, like Euphoria and the upcoming Generation, Cartoon Network (and shows like Sesame Street) will likely have a bigger presence on HBO Max.

WarnerMedia isn’t the only company trying to figure it out, either. Today, Apple announced a multiyear deal with Skydance Animation, which will include feature films and shows targeted at families. YouTube announced that its YouTube Kids app has more than 35 million weekly viewers, and it’s giving parents more customization power to let kids watch even more within the app. Netflix has a Wednesday Addams series from Tim Burton that will likely find a tween and teen audience. Finally, next week ViacomCBS will unveil its Paramount Plus streaming service, including talking about how Nickelodeon and family content fits into the company’s strategy.

WarnerMedia has the right tools to be a leader in the kids’ and family space, too. Cartoon Network is a treasure trove of IP. Add in Sesame Street, Looney Toons, and streaming rights to the Studio Ghibli collection in the United States, and there’s a lot for kids and families to watch. That’s on top of Warner Bros. films, HBO shows, and more. The only issue WarnerMedia still faces with HBO Max is getting that message out. Again, families know what they’re getting with Netflix and Disney Plus — what they get with HBO Max isn’t always as obvious.