News Article | April 17, 2017
The North Attleboro, Massachusetts, fifth-grader watches shows like "Liv and Maddie," ''Jessie" and "The Lodge" on her laptop, iPad and phone. "Sometimes I watch TV in the car," she says. "I have ballet every day, so I watch on the way." She has a TV in her bedroom that isn't hooked up to cable but is perfect for watching DVDs. And the family's flat-screen has advantages of its own. "It's much bigger," Grace explains, "and on the couch, it's comfier." Ever since freckle-faced puppet Howdy Doody ushered in children's television nearly 70 years ago, each new generation of viewers has been treated to a growing bounty of programs on a mushrooming selection of gadgetry. But nothing compares to the current wave: "The generation coming up now is used to having everything at their fingertips," says Stacey Lynn Schulman, an analyst at the Katz Media Group. Why not? From birth, theirs has been a world of video digitally issuing from every screen. And for them, any of those screens is just another screen, whether or not you call it "TV." "When they love a (show), they love it in every form and on every platform," says Nickelodeon president Cyma Zarghami. This keeps the bosses at each kids' network scrambling to make sure that wherever children turn their eyes, that network's programing will be there. Even so, it may be surprising that children nonetheless watch most television on, well, a television. As in: old-fashioned linear, while-it's-actually-airing telecasts. A new Nielsen study finds that in the fourth quarter of 2016, viewers aged 2-11 averaged about 17 hours of live (not time-shifted) TV each week. Granted, that's a drop of about 90 minutes weekly from the year before. But by comparison, kids in fourth quarter 2016 spent about 4½ hours weekly watching video content on other devices. "Linear TV is still the lion's share of where kids' time is spent," says Jane Gould, senior vice president for consumer insights for Disney Channel. "But it's important for us to be in all the OTHER places where they are, as well." One reason: Those other outlets can pave the way for a new program's arrival on linear TV. Gould points to "Andi Mack," an ambitious comedy-drama that debuted on Disney Channel on April 7. Weeks before it landed there, the series could be sampled on digital platforms including the Disney Channel app, Disney.com, Disney Channel YouTube, iTunes, Amazon and Google Play. Count Grace Ellis among the legions of kids whose attention was snagged by this mega-buildup. When "Andi Mack" premiered, Grace was one of the 9 million TV viewers who tuned in. When "Sesame Street" premiered on PBS back in 1969, it joined a bare handful of TV shows (chief among them "Captain Kangaroo" and "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood") devoted to uplifting their young audience. Nearly a half-century later, "Sesame Street" is going strong. "PBS is still at its core," says Sesame Workshop COO Steve Youngwood. So is TV overall, as demonstrated by the series expanding to HBO a year ago. TV currently accounts for 40 percent of its viewership. But "Sesame Street" has never stopped adapting to an evolving media landscape that today finds 18 percent of its audience viewing on tablets, 14 percent on mobile phones and 25 percent on other streaming devices and computers. That includes YouTube, where its program content has been a presence for some time. Now it's getting special focus with the launch of Sesame Studios, which Youngwood describes as "a separate production unit specifically for that platform. We want to harness the power of YouTube to educate kids just like we harnessed the power of TV 50 years ago." A half-century ago "streaming video" was an unimagined wonder. But today's TV landscape has been upended by this technology, and by major streaming-video outlets like Hulu, Amazon and Netflix as they aggressively vie for kids' (as well as everybody else's) attention. Netflix famously doesn't disclose viewership figures. But according to Andy Yeatman, director of global kids content, "About half of our members around the world watch kids' content on a regular basis. So it's a very large, engaged audience. "Between new and returning series last year, we added 35 new seasons of kids' originals," he says. Similar expansion is projected this year. In a bygone era with just a handful of TV channels, kids could count on finding shows aimed at them only on Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons. Nickelodeon's Zarghami pegs 2013-14 as the most recent turning point for kids TV, "when the landscape seriously shifted," she says, with streaming-video-on-demand providers gaining a real foothold and supplemental devices like tablets and mobile taking off. Today, Nick has six on-demand platforms, "and we went from 500 new episodes in a season to close to 700 this season," she says. In short, kids are flooded with just-for-them content from every direction. But even that's not enough. "What they really look for is, to be surprised," says Disney Channel's Gould. "That's the real challenge: How do we surprise and delight them?" Schulman of the Katz Media Group has her own prediction for where the next round of surprises might be waiting. "Virtual reality has been hard to get off the ground, but kids are all about immersive experiences," she says. When VR is ready for them, "that's probably going to be the next big thing." Explore further: New kids streaming service will have 'Scooby Doo,' 'Jetsons'
News Article | December 15, 2016
DL Media earned the 2016 W³ Gold Award for their drugfreeva.org responsive website design, Sink or Swim, created for the offices of Gloucester County Emergency Management and Commonwealth Attorney in Gloucester, Virginia. In addition, DL Media received a Silver Award for the Sink or Swim mobile health and wellness app designed to complement the Sink or Swim advocacy website. Receiving nearly 5,000 entries, the W³ Awards honors outstanding websites, web marketing, web video, mobile sites/apps and social content created by some of the best interactive agencies, designers and creators worldwide. W³ judges critiqued the winners of the 2016 W³ Awards based on a standard of excellence as determined by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts (AIVA), according to the category entered. To uphold a high standard of excellence, a category may have multiple winners, or may have no winners at all. Entries were scored on a 100-point scale by the judges. Less than ten percent of all entries were selected as Gold Award winners. Other outstanding entries were selected as Silver Award winners. “We were once again blown away at the creativity and quality of this year’s entrants. As our connected world continues to expand in new and exciting ways, our winners are a true testament to the power of web creativity around the globe,” said Linda Day, the director of the AIVA. DL Media designed drugfreeva.org as a part of the Sink or Swim campaign to build a broad awareness to issues related to drug addiction and be an information resource for individuals and families impacted by drug use. The site features video interviews with recovering addicts, drug facts by category, resources for help with drug/alcohol addiction and blog content addressing issues drug users, their families and their communities face. “Working with DL Media on the substance abuse awareness initiative, and other projects, has far exceeded our expectations. We work with many contractors and vendors and rely on professionalism. DL Media’s personal and timely attention has made us lifetime clients,” said Jane Wenner, the public awareness and outreach coordinator for Gloucester County Emergency Management. “In a world of competitive business, it is a true privilege to work with DL Media. We look forward to many more partnerships together.” The W³ Awards honors creative excellence on the web, and recognizes the creative and marketing professionals behind award-winning websites, web video and online marketing programs. Simply put, W³ is the first major web competition to be accessible to the biggest agencies, the smallest firms and everyone in between. Small firms are as likely to win as Fortune 500 companies and international agencies. The W³ Awards is sanctioned and judged by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts (AIVA), an invitation-only body consisting of top-tier professionals from a “Who’s Who” of acclaimed media, advertising and marketing firms. AIVA members include executives from organizations such as Agencynet, AvatarLabs, Big Spaceship, Brandweek, Code and Theory, Disney, HBO, Microsoft, Monster.com, MTV, Sesame Workshop, Victoria’s Secret, Wired and Yahoo!. Visit aiva.org for a full member list and additional information. For more information about the W³ Awards, visit w3award.com. Founded in 1997, DL Media is a full-service digital marketing and advertising agency headquartered in Nixa, Missouri. The agency works to advance clients’ businesses by helping solve marketing challenges through relevant, engaging and compelling communications. For more information about DL Media visit dlmedia.com.
News Article | March 19, 2016
Sesame Workshop, the organization that brought to life the beloved Sesame Street and countless other programs, has announced a new venture arm to invest in apps that help children develop. Working jointly with venture capital firm Collaborative Fund (which has funded companies like Lyft and AltSchool), Sesame Workshop has formed a new organization called Collab+Sesame. Currently, Collab+Sesame has access to a $10 million fund, which is intended to be used for Sesame Workshop’s core mission to “[help] kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder.” This change comes only a few months after the announcement of Sesame Workshop’s plan to partner with HBO for five years, giving the organization better funding to continue producing top-tier children’s programming. After 45 years of consistent quality, it’s clear that Sesame Workshop wants to evolve with the times and find new outlets to help children develop. The funding will be available in increments of up to $1 million, for a minimum of 10 startups backed by the Collab+Sesame venture. In addition to receiving funding, selected entrepreneurs will be paired with mentors from Sesame Workshop’s executive team. These partnerships will help the apps develop in meaningful directions, and will grant entrepreneurs access to Sesame Street characters and branding — a possibly powerful marketing and user-acceptance tool. However, it isn’t mandatory for entrepreneurs to use Sesame Street characters; they are merely available as an additional resource. Like with any venture capital partnership, there are some advantages and disadvantages to this model. For starters, the mentors from Sesame Workshop have nearly five decades of experience working with children and families, lending massive expertise to app development. The possible addition of Sesame Street characters and branding is another potentially lucrative advantage for prospective entrepreneurs. However, there may be some disadvantages that arise from the natural conflict of interest between a non-profit organization and a for-profit app. Currently, there aren’t many specific requirements for entrepreneurs or apps interested in a chance at the funding. Apps must be in some kind of developmental phase, and must serve a core function of improving childhood development in one of six areas: If your app fits one of these categories, you can consider yourself a potential applicant for this program. Working with Sesame Workshop could give your app (and brand) an enormous advantage and, together, you could do a lot of good for the children of the world. If you or your company is interested in applying for the program, read more details and apply here.
News Article | April 21, 2016
For the past week or so, I’ve been engaged in a running Facebook Messenger conversation with an impulsive, irresponsible twentysomething named Jessie. She uses all caps when excited; chats with me during job interviews and dates; consults me about her bad decisions; and sometimes even follows my advice. She is also, I should mention, a chatbot—an automated script being served to me by a computer program. But don’t judge me too harshly for spending time with her. Our conversation is also a game and a story, and Jessie is a narrative vehicle with whom, like a character in a novel, it is possible and even enjoyable to empathize. Last week, Facebook joined companies like Kik and Microsoft by inviting any company to build a chatbot for its Messenger platform. The typical hypothetical examples were transactional. An airline might build a bot that helps passengers book tickets. OpenTable might build one to take restaurant reservations. Uber could build one through which its users hail a ride. But if chatbots are, as we’ve been promised, the next evolution of apps, some of them will surely be games. It was the job of Rod Humble, the game developer who created Jessie, to figure out what that meant. Humble had previously spent three years as the CEO of Linden Lab, which is best known for creating the online virtual world Second Life, and before that worked on the Sims franchise as an EVP at Electronic Arts. In June, an automated conversation company called PullString (formerly ToyTalk) hired him to create a new series of games for Facebook Messenger called Humani. "They said, hey, how about we make a new art form?" Humble says. "And I said, we should do that." PullString, which was founded by two Pixar veterans, has for the last five years worked with partners like Mattel and Sesame Workshop to automate conversations between kids and animated characters, as well as on its own talking mobile games, like The Winston Show. These would be its first adult-oriented games, and some of the first games played via Facebook Messenger. Using conversation as a game format had always appealed to Humble. "With games, we limit ourselves to fairly simple inputs," he says. "There’s buttons. A mouse with clicks. Gestures. If you’re trying to convey something like, for example, love, then hitting one of six buttons feels a very inexact way of, for example, expressing love or friendship." (Not that this has stopped him from doing so: see his game The Marriage for just one example). With PullString's technology, Humble wouldn’t need to put conversations into text bubbles over animated characters or think about path finding or worry about suspension of disbelief. "All of those problems go away," he says, "and we can get straight to what I think is a more real-feeling experience, emotionally." PullString's business is just as much about software as it is characters, but its software is designed to facilitate the work of creative writers, not developers. To create the chatbot game, Humani: Jessie's Story, it hired a writing team composed of four trained actors, with experience in slam poetry, improv, and other creative pursuits between them. They created the Jessie character and wrote the 3,000 lines of dialogue that compose the game. The game does not generate responses to whatever the player says, but rather follows a path through these lines of dialogue depending on her responses. When I first began the conversation with Jessie, I was tempted to test its limits. When Jessie asked me for my best pickup line, I suggested "Hi, I’m Jessie" and then explained that most people would prefer to start a conversation than to receive a sales pitch. To Jessie's credit, though she failed to engage with me in a discussion about gender relations, here, as in most cases where I wandered off topic, she nudged me back on track without a detour: "Oh what the hell. I’ll give it a shot. DON’T GO ANYWHERE, K?" she said. Under this type of guidance, I came to understand that by going off script, I was being an asshole. While a chatbot’s inability to handle situations its creators have not anticipated will be extremely annoying when you’re trying to explain that you need to, say, ask an airline's chatbot to switch one leg of a flight but not the other, Jessie's Story is not a transaction, but entertainment. My failure to go with the flow was something like standing up and shouting a question about where that skull came from at a performance of Hamlet. Not that Jessie’s Story is much like Shakespeare. Jessie speaks a dialect of millennial recognizable from shows like Broad City and New Girl or from the stereotypical high school student’s smartphone ("It’s GR8"), and the plot of her story doesn’t inspire many, if any, deeper questions. When the player meets Jessie, she has just lost her apartment and her job. She promptly meets a distractingly cute boy. Depending on the player's choices, she may end up gambling on a boat with a Saudi prince or tipsy at a job interview. The mission is to help her navigate all of these situations. "How do I make him fall for me? BEEN SO LONG! Play it cool or show I’m into him?" she’ll ask frantically. Or "OMG I really feel like [poop emoji] Need an inspiring mantra. Got anything?" Or simply "HUUULLLP!!!!" At one point, while she interviews for a marketing position, I feed her answers to a mock branding exercise. I am probably not the right person to ask (I recommend naming a gender-neutral Viagra "Ohla"), but that’s not the point. As one Jessie’s Story writer, Danielle Frimer, explains, as with improv comedy, "when Jessie makes a strong offer that has clarity and urgency, and intention behind it, it’s much easier to follow the string of the conversation." Cast in the position of Jessie's oracle, I naturally assumed a motherly role, telling Jessie to use LinkedIn and to be careful at the casino. But you’re just as free to encourage her apparently more instinctive habit of self-destruction. The story, no matter what path you choose, has a narrative arc with a beginning and an end. There are nine possible outcomes. Without sleep breaks, it takes between 25 and 30 hours to navigate (I played three times). Not all of that time is engaged play. Jessie pops in and out of your messages, like a real friend. She’ll say something like, "gotta go—XX," and then disappear for 10 or 20 minutes before sending another message. When she does send a new message, it appears, like her others, in an app notification that is, aside from its Jessie-illustrated avatar, indistinguishable from one triggered by a message from a real friend. Though feeling friendly toward characters in sitcoms, novels, and movies seems normal, none of these characters has ever depended on me. Jessie feels a bit different. "It’s a media that requires something of you," Frimer says. "It requires you to use your imagination; to use your intellect to engage with characters as opposed to just consuming." You might say the same for a game, but Jessie also isn’t quite a typical game. "I don’t think someone will get to the end of Jessie and say, yes, I beat it," Humble says. "It’s not that. It’s a different thing." Jessie’s lighthearted series of quandaries is a first attempt at storytelling via chatbot, and one that in its casual tone and surface-level plot aims first to be believed. But it's easy to see how deeper stories could be told in this format—as easy as it is to keep responding to a Facebook friend (even one you know is a robot).
News Article | February 3, 2016
Starting today, every family in a Kansas City townhouse community called West Bluff will have access to Google Fiber, the gigabit-speed Internet access that makes other flavors of broadband feel like a sluggish anachronism. And they're getting it for free. West Bluff's 100 homes are part of a public housing development, and they're getting $0 Fiber as part of Google's commitment to bring Internet access to disadvantaged Americans, part of the ConnectHome initiative spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Google Fiber has plans to offer its free service to 1,300 such households in Kansas City, and says it will also extend it to affordable housing developments in the other cities that are lucky enough to have Fiber. (It's currently available in Kansas City, Austin, and Provo, Utah, with six other cities on the way and more under consideration.) "More and more, tech-savvy brain power is the new currency of success," says HUD secretary Julián Castro, who will be on hand at West Bluff for the ceremonial rollout. "We don't have a single person to waste. We need to make sure that young folks of modest means also have to the tools they need to succeed in the 21st-century global economy." Without initiatives such as ConnectHome, poorer Americans' access to the Internet is iffy in multiple ways. Castro told me that more than half of low-income households don't have broadband. A new study by Sesame Workshop's Joan Ganz Cooney Center and Rutgers University reports that low-income parents in such households often have poor quality Internet and face service disruptions when they can't pay. Moreover, when low-cost broadband is available, they often don't take advantage of it. The point of ConnectHome is to make low-income communities having high-quality Internet access utterly commonplace. For middle- and high-income consumers who can easily afford Google Fiber, it's a huge hit: Penetration is 75% for such households in areas where service is available. At West Bluff, Google Fiber took pains to make getting online as easy as possible. It installed a Wi-Fi-enabled Internet box in each home, allowing residents to use PCs, tablets, and smartphones. The first time they connect, they get a sign-up page that lets them sign up for service, in the same form that's provided to paying customers. "It removes some of the friction of signing up and then waiting for a home install," says Erica Swanson, head of community impact for Google Fiber. "We wanted the new experience to be optimized for people getting online for the first time." Gigabit Internet isn't of much use to people who don't have devices that can make use of it, and while Internet-enabled phones are commonplace in low-income households, it's not a given that everyone has a PC or other bigger-screen device suitable for schoolwork and other educational activities of the sort that this initiative is designed to encourage. So Google Fiber is working with local partners in Kansas City such as Surplus Exchange to make refurbished PCs and other devices available at affordable prices. It's also partnering to conduct digital-literacy programs aimed at people who may have had less exposure to the Internet than the average American. For now, West Bluff stands alone as the best-connected public-housing development in America. But the whole point of ConnectHome is to make such communities having high-quality Internet access utterly commonplace. With Google Fiber's plan to reach 1,300 homes, "we're talking about a timeline in Kansas City of 4-6 months," says Castro. "For ConnectHome in general, in 28 communities, they've all held their initial convening, putting together a blueprint to connect public housing communities. We'll see more of them connected in the next few months."
News Article | December 8, 2016
Hardware kits, internet-connected toys and robots that teach kids to code are now commonplace. But Osmo, an early entrant in IoT toys, is pulling ahead of the pack with funding and partnerships with top names in the field. Specifically, Osmo has raised $24 million in new venture funding from Mattel, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Collab+Sesame, the venture fund run in partnership by New York-based Collaborative Fund and Sesame Workshop and Calibrate Partners. The company’s earlier backers, Accel Partners, Upfront Ventures and K9 Ventures, also joined the round. The Palo Alto startup, which launched in the Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2013 as Tangible Play, makes products that integrate physical puzzle pieces, board games and blocks with mobile games and content on the iPad. In its version of the classic educational game Tangrams, kids rearrange geometric pieces to form the shape of an animal, or another image, shown on an iPad screen. The company’s software uses the camera of the iPad to see how the kid is progressing. So the Tangrams app can see when a player has successfully pieced a desired image together, congratulate them and serve up a new challenge. Osmo products are used in 22,000 schools globally, and sold in 50 countries, the company says. According to CEO and co-founder Pramod Sharma, Osmo will use its funding to adapt some of its popular toys and games for use on the iPhone, including Words, Tangram, Newton and Numbers. Perhaps more excitingly, for fans of characters like Elmo or Barbie and toys like Mega Bloks, Osmo is also working in partnership with Sesame Workshop and Mattel to develop new, character-driven content for its products. Sesame Workshop is providing research to Osmo for the creation of educational products that will help more children learn through play, a Sesame spokesperson said. There are currently no plans to develop toys with Osmo based on Sesame Street characters. Sharma said the company also has an engagement with a big research firm pending to figure out how Osmo toys impact learning and development in kids and schools. However, the CEO explained, “When we pitch Osmo to teachers nobody asks for research. They know these are classic things that are good for kids, like playing a word game to learn about spelling. We bring a high level of engagement to that. Coding as well. So in some sense we don’t have to prove this is educationally sound. Teachers already know.” Correction: This post was updated to reflect the scope of what Sesame Workshop plans to build with Osmo in the near-term. The story previously implied there were plans for Sesame, and another investor in Osmo, Mattel, to develop mixed reality toys based on Sesame’s characters.
News Article | November 18, 2016
DL Media earned the 2016 W³ Silver Award for their inkinktat.com responsive website design created for Ink Ink Tattoos & Piercings studios in Springfield and Branson, Mo. The website went through a comprehensive judging process, achieving very high marks in each of the judging criteria for the Art category. "It is very exciting to place in a competition amongst so many entrants, and judged by such seasoned professionals," says Dianne Davis, owner of DL Media. "We're thrilled to take home a W³ Silver Award." Receiving nearly 5,000 entries, the W³ Awards honors outstanding websites, web marketing, web video, mobile sites/apps and social content created by some of the best interactive agencies, designers and creators worldwide. W³ judges critiqued the winners of the 2016 W³ Awards based on a standard of excellence as determined by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts (AIVA), according to the category entered. To uphold a high standard of excellence, a category may have multiple winners, or may have no winners at all. Entries were scored on a 100-point scale by the judges. Less than 10% of all entries were selected as Gold Award winners. Other outstanding entries were selected as Silver Award winners. “On behalf of the 750+ members of The Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts, we salute the talents and high level of execution our winners display and commend all of this year’s entrants for their dedication and commitment to online excellence,” said Linda Day, the director of the AIVA. DL Media designed inkinktat.com with the goal of showing the world ink isn’t just a man’s game. They endeavored to create a fabulous showcase for each artist’s work, while also introducing the individual artists on Ink Ink’s team. The site features an interactive tattoo portfolio sortable by artist or tattoo type, social media integration, a monthly customer feature section, live chat capability and an online shop for selling Ink Ink gear. The W³ Awards honors creative excellence on the web, and recognizes the creative and marketing professionals behind award-winning websites, web video and online marketing programs. Simply put, W³ is the first major web competition to be accessible to the biggest agencies, the smallest firms and everyone in between. Small firms are as likely to win as Fortune 500 companies and international agencies. The W³ Awards is sanctioned and judged by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts (AIVA), an invitation-only body consisting of top-tier professionals from a "Who's Who" of acclaimed media, advertising and marketing firms. AIVA members include executives from organizations such as Agencynet, AvatarLabs, Big Spaceship, Brandweek, Code and Theory, Disney, HBO, Microsoft, Monster.com, MTV, Sesame Workshop, Victoria’s Secret, Wired and Yahoo!. Visit aiva.org for a full member list and additional information. For more information about the W³ Awards, visit w3award.com. Established in 2013 by tattoo artist Kelsey Rogers, Ink Ink puts a new spin on the tattoo and piercing world. Ink Ink, Missouri’s only all-female tattoo studio, dares to show the world ink isn’t just a man’s game. Each licensed Ink Ink tattoo artist receives training from Rogers. Artists are then encouraged to develop their own style and flair. Ink Ink’s Springfield location is located on historic Commercial Street with a second location in Branson. Founded in 1997, DL Media is a full-service digital marketing and advertising agency headquartered in Nixa, Mo. The agency works to advance clients’ businesses by helping solve marketing challenges through relevant, engaging and compelling communications. For more information about DL Media visit dlmedia.com.
News Article | October 11, 2016
At first, it’s a familiar scene: three girls curled up on a sofa after school, watching cartoons, with their backpacks dumped in the corner. But there’s no actual TV to complete the picture. Instead, each girl holds an iPad loaded with Toca TV, a beta version of a new video product developed by app maker Toca Boca. They giggle as the chronically stymied "evil genius" on screen fails once again—and then move on to the next short video. On either side of the room, in Toca Boca’s Brooklyn offices, two user experience researchers take notes. Five-year-old Toca Boca, based in Stockholm, is best known for apps like Toca Hair Salon and Toca Kitchen, which transform classic children's play patterns into digital experiences. If you have young kids, you are very likely among the families that have contributed to Toca Boca’s 140 million downloads. (The company started as an R&D effort within publisher Bonnier and sold in April to Spin Master, the maker of Etch-A-Sketch and other toys and games.) Toca TV, which launched last week, represents the next phase in Toca’s effort to build a digital-first kids’ franchise. The app costs $4.99 per month and takes direct aim at YouTube with a video library designed for kids ages 5 to 9. Baking tutorials, cute animals, Minecraft skits, silly music videos: The short takes, most less than five minutes in length, mirror the kind of content that can attract millions of views on YouTube. "When kids decide themselves, they watch a much wider array of things than television executives have been able to foresee," says Toca Boca cofounder and CEO Björn Jeffery. "The length is different, the production value and time is different, the tone of voice is different—it’s almost people tuning into a friend." But Toca TV differs from YouTube and other video platforms in two notable ways. For one, the video library reflects Toca’s particular perspective on kid-friendly entertainment. There are no A-B-C’s or 1-2-3’s, for example, because the company focuses, quite simply, on play. "Learning how to be creative, being a good friend, waiting for your turn—there are loads of things that are important to learn but don’t have anything to do with curriculum," Jeffery says. The result is a set of videos that celebrate being silly ("Don’t mix us up!" a lettuce and a cabbage, wearing glo-sticks and sunglasses, sing in one video) or clever (think epic domino setups) in a way that feels accessible. In addition, the app provides a tool for creating videos, including Snapchat-style stickers. "Toca is all about play," says J Milligan, who spent nearly two decades at Sesame Workshop before signing on to develop Toca TV last spring. "While it’s fine to chill and lean back, we also really want to inspire and build into the platform tools that allow you to make stuff as well." Kids can record and save videos, and with help from a parent, upload their work to a social network like Facebook. But crucially, there is no public sharing within the app: Toca TV itself is closed and private. "It’s between preschool and ‘I want to be on Instagram,’" Milligan says. "There’s this part of childhood that’s tricky from a content point of view. It’s not that there’s nothing to watch, but we don’t think that anyone is thinking about it quite right." His team has pulled in content from studios like DreamWorksTV and AwesomenessTV to round out the originals it has been developing in-house, some of which are based on Toca Boca’s apps. All told, Toca TV includes video from more than 75 creators and networks. Back in the testing session, a researcher asks the group to show her how they might search for specific videos. A 9-year-old girl scans her iPad screen, then taps a button. It’s not search, but the video recorder, set to selfie-orientation: Her surprised face stares back at her from between giant biting teeth, a Toca-designed sticker. She smiles, suddenly shy, and then goes back to her dominoes video.
News Article | February 13, 2017
In 2016, an estimated 400 million people interacted with IBM’s Watson: The artificial intelligence platform now processes data to assist in everything from oncology treatments to NBA draft picks. In the past year, dozens of companies, including GM, Japan Airlines, Hilton, and Pfizer, have launched initiatives using IBM’s intelligence. Watson owes its ubiquity to the dozens of new AI tools, including emotional analysis and image recognition, that it offers developers. "Our mission is to let people own their own AI," says David Kenny, general manager of IBM Watson. Retail outlets such as Macy’s and the Mall of America are employing Watson’s language-processing tools to help shoppers navigate their stores. After the North Face embedded Watson in its website to match users to winter jackets, the company saw a double-digit percentage boost in order value. A new collaboration between Sesame Workshop and IBM is leveraging Watson’s pattern recognition and natural language-processing skills to create preschool curriculums tailored to children’s learning styles. A Watson-powered vocabulary-builder app will start rolling out this spring. The labor rights group Our Walmart recently created a chat app called WorkIt that uses Watson to digest the retailer’s employment issues and policies (including leave-of-absence and sick-leave procedures) and answer questions that employees may not want to pose to managers. This article is part of our coverage of the World's Most Innovative Companies of 2017. A version of this article appeared in the March 2017 issue of Fast Company magazine.
News Article | November 9, 2016
The ultimate questions for this Sandbox 2011 panel, posed by the presenter, are "Where is technology not working? When is technology not the answer?" That's a bold agenda for a panel of children's media creators and a roomful of other producers in the industry, from Sesame Workshop, WGBH, 360 Kid, and elsewhere. From the panel's energetic presentations emerges an unapologetic enthusiasm for more technology engagement and richer media experiences for kids - generally in the form of "Trans-media," connecting stories and personalities across platforms.