The news leaked last week that Amazon was picking up Alpha House, its political comedy about lawmakers living together in a Washington building, created by Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau, making it the first of the company’s eight comedy pilots to get a full-series order after a period when they were available to the public for feedback. Now, the company’s announced the rest of its pickups, including Silicon Valley startup comedy Betas, and three children’s shows, Annebots, Creative Galaxy, and Tumbleaf. It might seem odd that, after all the hype given to its efforts to create sitcoms aimed at adults, Amazon picked up so few of them. But it actually makes sense that as Amazon seeks an independent identity as a content provider, that the company would focus more on programming for children than for adults.
It’s not as if children’s programming doesn’t exist, whether in commercial spaces like Nickelodeon, or on PBS affiliates. But there are far fewer children’s networks than adult ones. Netflix can revive something that broadcast television has cast off, like Arrested Development. But when Netflix and Amazon create new programming, they’re entering relatively crowded markets. It’s not as if there aren’t a fair number of ensemble workplace comedies with the kind of abrasive language that characterizes Betas, and with Alpha House , Amazon is making itself a relatively late addition to the current craze for political shows. But in the less-crowded children’s market, there’s a bit more room to innovate.
And it’s not just about creating distinctive content. Focusing on children’s programming is also a way for Netflix and Amazon to make themselves more appealing to consumers who might be cutting the cord not because intergenerational viewing patterns have changed, or because the cable bundle’s become attractive. Parents who want access to good-quality content for their children, but who either don’t value much of the other content on cable, or who are anxious about the kind of programming their children might find there, might have more incentives to ditch their cable subscriptions if Amazon or Netflix are providing enough children’s programming to make a difference, and enough adult-oriented content, whether syndicated or original, to seem worthwhile. Netflix made a similar calculation in December, when it struck a deal for the Disney catalogue. It might be a long time before Amazon or Netflix can make that case to consumers. Focusing on the things that get young cord-cutters and content consumers excited might make headlines like the ones about Arrested Development this week. But meeting the needs of parents, while a less flashy gambit, might be a smart long-term calculation in terms of locking in subscribers.