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Hopster: ‘once in a generation’ opportunity in kids market

New entrants to the kids market face a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to ‘become global leaders’ as digital distribution consolidates around key apps and moves to a subscription model, according to kids ‘edutainment’ app provider Hopster’s founder and CEO Nick Walters.

Interviewed by Digital TV Europe editor Stuart Thomson for TV Connect’s video series ahead of the London event in March, Walters said that the “kids space is only going to grow” and that Sony’s recent investment in his company meant it was ideally placed to benefit.

“We believe there is a once in a generation opportunity to go out and build a global leader in this space. That takes some funding. There is a number of investment things we want to be pushing on, and we want to make sure we have the support to do that,” he said.

“One of the things we looked at last year was where was the support going to come from, and we were super pleased that Sony came in and got behind the vision.”

Walters also said that families’ evolving usage of interactive apps meant that the model of paying for apps and transactional in-app payments was on the way out. He said this was becoming a difficult model to sustain.

“Over the last year Apple and the developers have come together to ask what is the best model for kids, and the answer is that it is probably subscription, building destinations that families are gong to keep coming back to and are going to deliver value month on month and year on year,” he said. “If you look at the top grossing apps you have gone from a place where almost everything was a transactional app to a place where almost everything is a subscription app. I think the app store will continue to consolidate around a smaller number of hub apps for kids that play a big part in their lives and own and earn a slot on the homescreen of everyone’s devices. That’s where we want to be – a must have app for every family.”

Addressing Hopster’s mix of educational interactive games and apps and entertainment programming, Walters said he believed the service should ideally have a mix of “half video and half everything else”, with more games and other interactive content to come.

He said Hopster would develop more original content, building on its development of original games content, said Walters, and added that it is looking at doing more shorter-form video and developing more local content over the next 12 months.

“We will get behind projects that we think will deliver what we are all about,” he said. “For a platform like us it is not about being the next 20% financer of something like Thomas and Friends. What we want is short form content that really fits our curriculum and drives that unique point of difference.”

In relation to localisation, Walters said that pre-school content is “quite global” with titles that “travel very well”.  He said his company tries to be locally relevant for example by bringing Content TV for nursery rhymes and bringing content from Millimages. The service is also localised in Iceland in partnership with Vodafone.

Walters said that business-to-business and direct-to-consumer are “not completely separate things”. Addressing Hopster’s distribution model, Walters said there is a “spectrum” between “completely managing the user experience” and “doing a fully bundled deal” with “lots of staging posts.”

He cited the example of Hopster’s relationship with Apple as an intermediate model, where Apple takes payment through in-app billing but Hopster still retains a significant amount of control over the customer.

“You want to pick the model that is best for your partner and best for the market,” he said.

On the question of which devices it made sense to be on, Walters said that Hopster “really wants to be on big platforms that reach as many people as possible” like Apple and Roku. “We want it to be easy for subscribers to find us. It is better if they are not bouncing back and forth between the TV and a website for example.”

Devices capable of supporting the level of interactivity that Hopster wants to offer is also important, he said.