From the inescapable cultural phenomenon that is ‘Baby Shark’ to Peppa Pig releasing her first album, the kids music market is booming. Eamonn Forde takes a look at how labels, publishers, DSPs and more are taking advantage of this increasingly powerful demographic.
A few decades ago, the idea of children + music might have meant the saccharine overload of St Winifred’s School Choir, the toothy Little Jimmy Osmond or the genuine disquiet of the Mini Pops. And for those more drawn to outsider art and esoterica, there was the Langley Schools Music Project. Children were rarely pop performers and equally rarely considered a worthy and important audience.
The reason why kids often got a rum deal here was in a large part because they didn’t have much, if any, disposable income of their own and therefore the music industry, outside of lullabies and sporadic novelty hits, rarely considered or acknowledged their existence. The point when the music industry really got interested was when they became old enough to get pocket money or Saturday jobs. That’s why music marketing began to be aimed at those 12 and above from the 1950s onwards, tied to the rise of the teenager and the emergence of the phenomenon of “pester power”.
In the streaming age, disposable income is increasingly irrelevant in terms of recorded music consumption. What is more important is time. Kids have plenty of that; and they love repetition. Which is why streaming and voice-control are beginning to shift the music power centre in the home. What was once an invisible grouping (the under 12s) is arguably becoming music’s most important demographic.
“Streaming and voice-control are beginning to shift the music power centre in the home. What was once an invisible grouping (the under 12s) is arguably becoming music’s most important demographic.”
The population of the UK is skewing older as people live longer. In 1976, with a population of 56.2m people, the ONS reports that 24.5% of the UK were under the age of 16 and just 14.2% were over 65; fast forward to 2016 where, with a population of 65.5m, 18.9% were under 16 and 18% were over 65. But those aged 15 and below should not be ignored as they are now more powerful and have more say in terms of home entertainment, of which music is a huge part, than they ever had before. Yes, there are lullabies and educational songs, but there is so much more happening than that.
The BPI in its All About The Music 2019 market report starts counting consumers from the age of 16 upwards. There are data and privacy issues tied to this, with strict rules governing what age children can respond to surveys. Those aged 12-16 can only be involved in surveys with parental consent as they are minors. In effect, the under-16s have historically been invisible in terms of the industry’s understanding of its own consumers.
But the under-12s in particular now represent a new power category in music. And this is affecting how labels are thinking about marketing and how DSPs are organising themselves.
“The under-12s in particular now represent a new power category in music. And this is affecting how labels are thinking about marketing and how DSPs are organising themselves.”
The music industry might not always be great at spotting trends but it is exceptionally good at capitalising on them. One need only look at the intense period of activity around the arrival of a new technology, a new digital platform or a musical genre to see this in action. And if we look at what labels have been doing around kids’ music in the past few years we can see that this is being treated as nothing less than a gold rush.
Perhaps more than any of the other majors, Warner Music Group has been leading the charge here. In November last year, its Arts Music division partnered with Sesame Workshop to reactivate Sesame Street Records in North America to release both catalogue and new recordings.
In June this year, Warner’s Arts Music created an imprint with TV producer Cloudco Entertainment to release music from Hulu show Holly Hobbie. Then in July, it acquired Slovakian company Forza Music, in part due to its focus on children’s repertoire.
Also in July, Build-A-Bear Workshop set up Build-A-Bear Records in partnership with Warner Music where original albums and singles are being planned alongside dedicated playlists and soundtracks from imminent TV shows/films/digital shorts. The Warner deal is for both recorded rights and publishing, with the emphasis on new compositions being part of the appeal. “This inventive project, which our sync and admin teams helped bring to fruition, is a great example of what we are focused on at Warner/Chappell Music– working together to build opportunities that super-serve our songwriters,” said Ashley Winton, Warner/Chappell’s SVP of creative services, on the deal.
Warner/Atlantic signing Jason Mraz was also named Build-A-Bear’s 2019 Hug AmBEARsador which saw the issuing of a tie-in album where Build-A-Bear Kids sing his songs while a $25 Jason Mraz bear was produced alongside a variety of accessories like a guitar ($7), high tops ($8) and a fedora ($7).
Sony, however, arguably spotted this recent market trend and opportunity earliest. Back in 2016, it partnered with Genius Brands International (GBI), the company behind Baby Genius and Thomas Edison’s Secret Lab, to create a new kids’ label. “Music has more and more become the universal language of kids,” said GBI chairman and CEO Andy Heyward on the deal. “It is simply not possible to effectively launch a kids brand today without music playing an integral role.” In January the following year, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment had taken an equity stake in GBI, where music was the stepping stone into a broader entertainment strategy.
Sony, via Relentless, also partnered with Pinkfong – the company behind ‘Baby Shark’, arguably the definitive kid-centric viral sensation of recent times – in October last year, no doubt hoping that it could result in more tracks and videos that stream in the billions.
Then there was Quality Control Music and Motown (part of Universal) partnering with Marginal Mediaworks last month to collaborate on an animated franchise aimed at children aged 8-12 that will be built around the hip-hop scene in Atlanta. This is expected to result in original music as well as tie-in merchandise. Music, once again, is the engine powering a wider entertainment play.
Outside of the major record label and major music publisher world, there has also been a flurry of acquisition and merger activity as media companies and brands prepare themselves for an anticipated boom in the kids’ music market.
There was the move by the Kidz Bop brand into the UK in 2017 and the subsequent launch of the British version of the Kidz Bop group, with a focus on creating child-friendly version of current pop hits. The brand, owned by Concord, claims more than 20 million album sales and has just announced a debut UK headline tour in partnership with Live Nation.
From outside of the music business itself, there is one all-conquering brand that now regards music as a huge part of what it does next. Like a porcine Beatles, Peppa Pig and family is its own centre of gravity here. Last month US toy giant Hasbro paid $3.3bn to buy Entertainment One, the company behind Peppa Pig. The story was spun by The Guardian as part of a US raid on British companies at the precise moment the pound collapsed against the dollar due to a market panic over a no-deal Brexit. While the exchange rate was working massively in Hasbro’s favour, it still paid over three times what ITV was offering for Entertainment One back in 2016, showing how sharply the piggy power had grown in the intervening years.
It can surely be no coincidence that the Hasbro deal was sealed a mere month after the release of Peppa Pig: My First Album – perhaps the Please Please Me of the pre-school generation that could kickstart a new musical mania. The TV show had been running for 15 years but the market value of the company went through the roof just as it extended its brand into albums.
“It can surely be no coincidence that the Hasbro deal was sealed a mere month after the release of Peppa Pig: My First Album. The TV show had been running for 15 years but the market value of Entertainment One went through the roof just as it extended its brand into albums.”
There has also been a blast of activity around the DSPs where the changing dynamics of consumption and listening demographics are changing the most. Parents have long lobbied for songs to be marked as explicit so they can filter them out of family playlists lest their children become fluent in the profane. The major DSPs have had to comply since 2011, adding warning symbols to certain tracks and also allowing for family-friendly settings. (Oh, and the ability to set up private listening sessions so as to not knock the parents’ own recommendation algorithms off kilter.)
Rhapsody was leading the way back in 2015 with its Kids mode and a big selling point of Electric Jukebox’s Roxi on launch in 2017 was its family friendliness. YouTube started adding music to its YouTube Kids app, aimed at those aged 8-12, last September. So there has been a lot of movement here.
Of greater interest beyond existing DSPs trying to be more kid-appropriate in their functionality is perhaps the slow emergence of child-specific streaming services. Yoto has an educational thrust and has developed a dedicated player that uses physical cards, offering what it calls a “safe library of audio titles featuring music, stories, learning, radio and podcasts”. It is joined by Fruit Punch Music, a subscription-based app (charging $3.99 a month or $24.99 a year) that gives access to a range of themed ad-free stations aimed at 3-8-year-old children. It’s a niche, of course, but then again the Fisher-Price Music Box record player launched in 1971 as a niche product and it’s still selling today.
As with the rest of the music business, live is a potentially massive money spinner here, but it is still a relatively under-exploited market. Disney shows consistently do brisk business but that is more down to the enduring power of the Disney brand and characters rather than anything specifically tied to music (although any parents with a Frozen DVD might beg to differ).
“As with the rest of the music business, live is a potentially massive money spinner here, but it is still a relatively under-exploited market. This all makes the 100-date Baby Shark Live! tour of North America a fascinating development here and a sign of things to come.”
This all makes the 100-date Baby Shark Live! tour of North America, kicking off in Spartanburg on 3rd October, a fascinating development here and a sign of things to come, especially as it is selling tickets for not just the show (costing between $25.50 and $55.50 each) but also for a meet and greet ($40 each extra). The upsell potential here is massive. This is proof that, unlike the rest of pop music, the shelf-life of kids’ songs endures. ‘Baby Shark’ went viral in 2016 but still shows no sign of waning, hence the tie-in tour three years after its first impact.
For adults, memes are about rapid turnover, with an endless succession making earlier ones quickly redundant. Grown-ups are itching for the conveyor belt to bring along the next one. For kids, cutting through is the tricky part, but when things do land they can stick around for years.
This is arguably the point the music industry most needs to recalibrate its thinking around. Pop music has always run on the shock of the new and its business structure was set up to reflect and capitalise on that. Conversely, kids’ music runs on the shock of the same. And that’s a very important difference.