Richard Goldsmith, the executive VP of global distribution at The Jim Henson Company, speaks with TV Kids about working with new digital platforms and adapting to the changing demands of traditional TV players.
“Given that there are so many different places to watch kids’ content now—ranging from traditional television to the SVOD platforms like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon, and even YouTube—I believe that everybody feels a great deal of pressure to differentiate their platform from others,” says Richard Goldsmith, the executive VP of global distribution at The Jim Henson Company. “Our discussions with the on-demand platforms are about looking at all-new formats of content and out-of-the-box thinking. Our discussions with traditional television networks are focused on big ideas and breakthrough shows or existing brands that already have some awareness and can be revived.”
The Jim Henson Company was an early mover in working with kids’ on-demand platforms. The initial conversations were mostly about the company’s catalogue titles, Goldsmith explains. “On a platform like Hulu, we have a huge selection of our catalogue titles and, in fact, we have our own menu tray that says ‘Jim Henson Family TV,’ which is the banner that we use across all of these platforms to brand our preschool and kids’ content,” he says. “A lot of our library content—for example, Fraggle Rock or The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss—continues to perform extremely well against new content on these platforms.”
From an original-programming standpoint, The Jim Henson Company was also at the forefront of discussions with these new platforms. “We made Hulu’s first original kids’ series, Doozers, an animated spin-off from Fraggle Rock, for preschoolers. We are now making Word Party, which is a series for Netflix for its youngest viewers. We’re talking to every major platform, including YouTube, about how we can make original content that fits their needs and serves our audience and our brand.”
The company has also made great strides in the digital space with its Jim Henson Family TV assets. It has its own channel on the YouTube Kids app, and has an OTT offering on Roku, among other platforms. “Our plan is to operate both the YouTube channel and the OTT separately, and each of them has a separate strategy with respect to content,” says Goldsmith. “They both include our library content as well as current series that are on TV.”
With all of the new content flowing into the marketplace, it can be difficult for a series to cut through the clutter and really stand out. Goldsmith says that for The Jim Henson Company, this hasn’t been difficult to do. “Because of the striking visual quality of our programming, mixed with the extraordinary storytelling talents that we have at The Jim Henson Company, our programming tends to bubble up more than other content. We always hear from platforms that have dozens, hundreds, thousands of episodes on their platforms that our content over-indexes for two reasons: one is because of the quality of the productions, and the other is because of the Henson name.”
Goldsmith says that The Jim Henson Company has also proven itself to be “a wonderful partner and very supportive of the platforms that air our content.” He says, “We work very closely with each platform on marketing and on interactive second-screen opportunities. We have a consumer-products group that also brings a lot of attention to our programming through retail initiatives and more. The content speaks for itself, but we also have an organization here at The Jim Henson Company that knows how to build global brands and can ensure broad awareness for our shows.”
Looking ahead, The Jim Henson Company is focusing on broadening its offering for other age demographics. “Right now, we are one of the global leaders in preschool content,” Goldsmith says. “Our opportunity now is about producing content for much younger kids, like Word Party for Netflix, and then we also have a lot of content in the pipeline for older kids and tweens. The younger and the older markets for kids are really where we see significant growth.”
At MIPCOM and MIPJunior, The Jim Henson Company will be launching the brand-new preschool series Splash!, alongside the returning preschool hits Doozers and Dinosaur Train. It is also planning to promote Word Party, aimed at the youngest viewers, as well as Dot., targeting kids 4 to 7.
“We feel that this is among the most exciting periods, not only for The Jim Henson Company, but for the kids’ television business in general,” says Goldsmith. “With all of these new platforms commissioning content, it has opened much broader opportunities for us than we had a few years ago. We feel that we are in the middle of an incredible renaissance of kids’ television, and the level of excitement here at The Jim Henson Company is really inspiring.”