The new year is well and truly upon us, and every other tech blog ready to impart their digital predictions for 2017 if they haven’t already. Whilst generally you can expect a lot of the same old – ‘this will be the year for VR’, etc. – we wanted to examine some of the things that we expect to see more specifically in the kids’ entertainment space this year.

Augmented and virtual reality

The underlying issues of accessibility and refinement prevented VR from slipping comfortably into the mainstream in 2016, while the Pokémon Go craze of the summer teased AR potential. While we might not have seen the ‘year for VR’ that we had hoped for, what we did see was a string of brands getting involved with VR just to say they’re in the VR game – regardless of whether they actually have something valuable to offer to the space. Ideally, this year we’ll see more companies offering valuable uses of the technology, rather than the ‘VR for VR’s sake’ that is born out of the fear of being left behind.

Furthermore, we’re hoping to see more defined areas for the use of virtual and augmented reality, be it gaming, education, or even live events – and we’re especially interested in how this will come to fruition in kids’ entertainment and education. However, while developers of VR work towards a tech-accessible, cost-friendly product, it’s likely that we’ll be looking more closely at AR for the time being. The challenge, we suspect, will be creating AR that outlives the initial gimmick, which means content is more important than ever.

There are a few great examples of recent children’s AR that we’d love to see more of. TILT Textiles weave their technology with animated stories in their Enchanted Duvet and Jungle Rug to create an interactive storytelling experience for youngsters, while Curiscope’s Virtuali-Tee (which got a mention in our post on augmented reality last year) is a strong example of the ways in which augmented reality might be integrated into the classroom as a tool for learning.

Web TV

As early as 2010 we’ve seen reports surfacing to indicate the shift from cable/satellite television to online show providers. Over the past few years in particular, web based TV has gained a lot of traction, but this area has been largely dominated by Netflix and Amazon Video, whose online exclusive shows (think Netflix’s recent A Series of Unfortunate Events and Amazon’s The Grand Tour) are able to pull more and more people into subscriptions. Newer or more niche services (Mubi, Twitch, Animax, Hulu) tend to be overshadowed by the bigger names and app versions of existing TV channels.

We’re excited to see what this shift could mean for kids’ TV this year, especially with the recent prototype demonstration of Disney’s own TV product at CES 2017. With tablet sales in decline, we could be looking at a resurgence of television that favours web-based, ‘watch anytime’ content. An expansion of the children’s web TV space is on the horizon.

We’re also anticipating further crossover between television and gaming in 2017. SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand) platforms like Azoomee, Sky, and Hopster currently operate as two separate services: a classic TV service, and then gaming. We’re hoping to see the lines between these two services begin to blur, as more crossover content is created. Interactivity is especially appealing to kids. So there’s no reason this can’t be geared towards younger viewers.

Live Video

As Facebook continued its attempt to undercut YouTube’s dominance in the video space, live video was everywhere in 2016. We’re seeing many kids turning away from traditional television and towards their favourite YouTube stars – the interactivity of the platform means that the viewing experience is more personal, intimate, and therefore valuable.

Web TV is allowing kids to watch what they want to, exactly when and where they want to watch it, but the appeal of the interactivity of YouTube has encouraged a flood of online video creators to start aiming their content at younger audiences. Live videos build on this to create a more ‘immediate’ interactive experience, so kids are especially engaged when consuming content from their favourite YouTubers (MirandaSings is a great example) this way.

As our Facebook and YouTube subscription feeds become more and more infiltrated with live video content, we’re anticipating an emergence of live video in the kids’ entertainment space – and we’re especially interested to see which broadcaster will be the first to truly capitalise on this demand.

AI and chat bots

While we blogged about the rise of the internet bot last year, we’re excited to see how this space will be refined in 2017, and how (if at all) the chatbot will find and secure its space in kids’ entertainment and education.

We saw the beginnings of this exploration in 2016; Unilever, for example, have used a chatbot campaign on Facebook Messenger called ‘Little Brush, Big Brush’ to create an interactive storytelling platform that encourages children to look after their teeth. Then there’s Oyoty, a bot app described as a ‘personal safety assistant’, that’s designed to connect with children’s social accounts, detect potential problems, and help them learn to stay safe online. 

The trick, however, will be finding the line between being helpful/educational, and not stepping on parents’ toes.

Our CEO Jon Mason also indicates that we could see an increase in the use of bots outside of the sales and service bots that were everywhere in 2016. We’re looking, he suggests, towards, 

“Bots as entertainment, branching narratives, and stories – low cost ways of providing immersive brand extensions for entertainment companies”. 

We’re ready to see interactive children’s storytelling secure a place in the chatbot game.

Fitness and educational tech

Despite the apparent need for “quality research and evidence” to support the claims of the negative impact of “increasingly screen-based lifestyles”, the media continues to be hot to report on the negative physical effects of children’s preoccupation with digital entertainment. To combat the negative association between digital entertainment and childhood obesity, we’ve seen toy companies invest in technical toys that incorporate gamification to encourage tech savvy children to take part in physical activity.

Fisher Price’s Think & Learn Cycle, for example, attempts to entice three to six years olds to exercise whilst playing screen-based games. It’s essentially a children’s exercise bike in disguise, that maintains the brand’s educational focus. This is just one example of how toy companies are shifting focus from toys that function purely as entertainment, to technical toys that provide longer-term value in the form of fitter and smarter kids. These attractive benefits could result in a surge in the production and popularity of fitness based toys this year – even the AR Jungle Rug that we mentioned encourages physical activity in the form of yoga.

We’ll also be seeing kids’ entertainment pay more attention to the development of emotional intelligence. Our upcoming game for The Next Step, for example, focuses on relationships; the player must figure out the best way to communicate with a variety of personalities to successfully navigate the story. We’re interested to see what other projects surface this year in kids’ entertainment to perpetuate values of empathy and good communication.

Overall?

In 2016 we saw a lot of digital trends extensively explored, but very few refined. This year, we’re hoping to see these trends consolidate, establishing their relevance and overall suitability to a young demographic.

Our game for The Next Step, “Take it to the Top” is now available to play here

Posted January 16th 2017
Steph Rathbone
Steph is Jollywise's Content Coordinator and resident bookworm.