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Fun for the Kids

A new children’s podcast network has launched in the UK, growing out of Fun Kids, a national children’s radio station based in London. As well as the station’s own stable of podcasts, the network includes The Week Junior Show, an extension of Dennis Publishing’s The Week Junior magazine, and Storynory, a kids’ storytime podcast that has been in production since 2005.

Children’s media is a small but growing segment of on-demand audio in the UK — the growth of the sector being influenced in the past by, you guessed it, the BBC. Kids’ TV and other entertainment is a major plank of public service broadcasting, with provision funded by the licence fee and regulated by Ofcom.

However, the practical dominance of the BBC in the children’s TV space was one of the motivating factors behind the creation of the TV counterpart to that new Audio Content Fund I wrote about back in February, as a way for public money to find its way to smaller and more diverse providers. All of which is to say, things are starting to change in who makes content for kids and how it is paid for.

It’s difficult to work out quite how big children’s audio is at the moment, however. The under-10s aren’t measured by radio listenership survey RAJAR, and since Fun Kids is aimed at 6-12 year olds, it’s a little hard to gauge its audience size, but you can see figures for the teen and adult listenership in London here.

Given all of that deep background, I caught up with Fun Kids Station Manager Matt Deegan over email recently to find out a bit more about this new podcast network venture. The radio station and the podcast network are closely linked, he said, with the latter using the “infrastructure, team and relationships” of the radio station.

As to how the team is structured: “At the moment I’m working with content providers to onboard them to the network, we have four producers working on content and a sales team of four working to help monetise the network,” he said.

The focus at the moment is attracting existing shows, although there is some flexibility to add a production element to the relationship, according to Deegan. “If an existing children’s podcast want to join us, they’ll be hosted by us for free, we’ll sell and deliver their advertising for them and they’ll be cross-promoted by shows on the network. As we make our own kids content too, we’re particularly tuned to the sensitivities about advertising to children,” he said. They’re also open to exploring branded shows for kids as well.

Advertisers want scale, which in a kids’ audio space that is growing from a small start, isn’t always easy for shows to offer. This is something that Deegan and the team hope that the network can help with. At the moment, they’re seeing half a million downloads a month across the shows currently signed up. “For smaller podcasters, being part of the network means they have access to campaigns that could be harder for them to get themselves, that we’ll sell across the network. We’re also able to group together podcasts around certain topics — like stories.”

It’s fascinating to me that this development has come out of commercial radio (Fun Kids radio runs short ad breaks on its shows) rather than a grant-funded initiative or public broadcaster. A lot of children’s digital radio disappeared from the BBC in 2011, after it was found that very few kids actually listened to it, but Fun Kids and the like are showing that there is still a young audience out there for audio.

By moving early — as far as I’m aware, Fun Kids is the only formal children’s podcast network operating in the UK so far — Deegan hopes that they can reap the rewards as advertisers and other publishers realise the potential for children’s audio in the UK. Although Pinna, for instance, in the US has shown the viability there of a subscription based model, Fun Kids are pursuing an ad-supported model. They’re starting slow, going for growth while they educate the market.

“Our aim at the moment is to establish ourselves, and the product, in the advertising market whilst talking to new podcasts that are interested in joining,” he said. “Right now we’re also concentrating on using cross-promotion to grow each of the shows and the network’s total downloads. In 12 months we expect to have an even broader slate and be the obvious choice for advertisers in the US and UK to use if they want to reach children and families.”