The Future of Kids Audio – a chat with the BBC, Sony Music, & Penguin

Written by


Published on

July 10, 2019
Time to read: 6 minutes
CMC 2019 - Hook Research - Kids Audio

Last week we here at Hook Research headed to the Children’s Media Conference 2019 to host a panel that explored the impact of kids audio content – podcasts, smart speakers and audio books – on the youth media space with experts from across the industry.

Our expert panel consisted of:

  • Laura Bijelic (Head of Audience Insight at Penguin Random House)
  • Will Speer (Head of Sony Wonder at Sony Music Entertainment, Kids & Family)
  • Jack Melton Bradley (Senior Audience Research Executive at BBC Children’s)
  • Debbie Bray (Hook Research, Co-Founder) moderated the session

So, what did we learn from our chat with these audio experts? Here’s a recap of some of the things we talked about:

Kids Audio is a safe, trusted space

Over the course of our discussion all of our participants made clear that they felt that Kids Audio was a ‘safe space’ that could serve as an ‘antidote’ to prolific screen-based forms of entertainment.

But why do they view the youth audio space as safe?

Speer believes kids are ‘empowered by audio’ because audio content is focused on nurturing young minds. It also gives children autonomy, offering them the opportunity to choose for themselves what they want to listen to or do next via voice command before they may even be able to read or write.

I don’t think there is anything negative about audio. It can be leaning forward, it can be passive and I think the one skill parents are looking for from their children is the ability to listen. If audio can teach them this skill I think that’s a really strong feature.”

Will Speer, Head of Sony Wonder at Sony Music Entertainment, Kids & Family

Children also trust smart speakers, often seeing these little robots (Alexa et al) as knowledgeable ‘friends or companions’ that are willing to play endless games, answer questions and teach them new skills.

Beyond kids, new audio tech also inspires a level of trust from parents (something that’s missing from other forms of digital entertainment, such as game consoles). This trust is not simply a by-product of parents being able to hear what their kids are up to – although that helps – but also down to an increasing understanding of how voice activated speakers work. Stats shared by the BBC suggest that 32% of UK homes now have one or more smart speakers, and this increasing ubiquity means that parents are more willing to place their trust in these little devices.

Ultimately audio feels safe because it offers familiarity. Mediums like audiobooks and podcasts retain a comforting quality for children and parents, whilst smart speakers are household appliances that can double as a live-in child entertainer.

Lots of safe and positive imagery but we know what you’re thinking – what are the challenges for brands?

CMC 2019 - Hook Research - Kids Audio

Discover-ability is an issue for brands and consumers

It is undeniable that interest in the youth audio landscape has grown dramatically in the last few years. According to the BBC, 60% of children now want to listen to podcasts and the majority of kids with smart speakers at home say they use them every day – but how easy are users finding it to navigate this space?

Alarmingly, according to that same data, while 60% of children are interested in the world of podcasts only 10% are actually listening to them. Our panelists felt that the reason for this dramatic drop off in numbers can be put down to two things: the content these children want to see is not there or they simply can’t find it.

“There needs to be real retail and behavioural changes to make the discovery of kids audio content easier.”

Laura Bijelic, Head of Audience Insight at Penguin Random House

The discoverability of kids audio content is a problem experienced across the board. While brands like Apple – with their recent re-categorisation effort – are making moves in the right direction, our panelist Laura Bijelic felt that there is still a ‘lack of digital shelf space’ when it comes to kids’ audio. Moving forward, panelists felt that to better connect with a wider range of consumers, providers will ultimately need to make retail changes that make discovery easier.

This issue of discoverability is not only tied to podcasts and audiobooks but is an issue many owners of smart speakers face as well (even if they don’t realise it).

Although it is widely accepted that ‘voice recognition objects’ (devices that use voice commands, like Alexa or Google Home) will soon be an intrinsic part of our lives, many users don’t realise that the full capabilities of smart speakers stretch well beyond ‘Alexa, what is the weather forecast for Saturday?’ According to recent research from the BBC, many smart speaker owners are completely unaware of the hundreds of ‘Skills’ their devices can potentially download, including interactive storytelling, exercises, maths practice and group games.

So why aren’t brands pushing these skills harder?

Brands are in a bind (particularly when it comes to smart speakers). The political challenges faced by creators of kids content that lives on devices they don’t own or manufacture are huge. As Melton Bradley points out, for PSBs (such as the BBC) that wish to remain neutral in the smart speaker space, the question is “how can you shout about what you can do on Alexa with out advertising Alexa?”

And no, it isn’t worth asking Alexa how to fix this one…

Authenticity – trying to keep it real

The last, but definitely not the least significant issue for brands in this space is authenticity (an issue that we’ve been exploring for a long time now)

‘Authenticity’ may be the buzziest of buzz words, but – in the minds of our panelists – it is a vital component when it comes to attracting ears to kids’ audio content. But what does ‘authenticity’ really mean in terms of youth audio?

From the consumer’s point of view, authenticity in this audio space is a compelling and immersive experience or story. Kids today are inundated with media content from an array of different providers, so it is important that the end result feels ‘natural’ while remaining interesting enough to keep them engaged.

And therein lies the challenge for brands: to create content that is relatable to a mass audience, in a space that is constantly changing, for a demographic whose preferences are notoriously difficult to pin down.

“When talking to kids about the kinds of podcasts they want it has to be things they are really interested in. Whether it’s games, beauty or activism they want to feel engaged with audio content.”
Jack Melton Bradley, Senior Audience Research Executive at BBC Children’s

One audio product that may have cracked this conundrum (at least according to Speer) is Paloma’s Bedtime: an Amazon skill in which Paloma Faith sings “popular lullabies, classic children’s stories, white noise sleep sounds, controlled crying timers, accapella versions of songs from her album The Architect, and gentle good night messages”. Our panelists felt this collection tapped into ‘that unknown core formula’ currently escaping the majority of brands – audio that feels like it fits, building effortlessly into our routine with a talent/subject combination that feels natural to the listener.

Although it is clearly difficult to obtain, this industry-wide focus on authentic content is sure to continue. Our panelists believe being recognised as producing authentic material is the first step in making money from the youth audio space.

Looking beyond these obstacles, our panelists ensured us that this ‘experimental stage’ in the youth audio space was an exciting one to be part of and promised many exciting developments in the near future.

Want to learn a bit more about youth media?

If you enjoyed our takeaways on the Youth Audio Space – check out our interview with Eric O’Keeffe, the host and producer of What If World Podcast, our blog on podcasts broke into the mainstream or sign up for our monthly newsletter!



Kung Fu Panda: The Ultimate Heros Journey

It’s been sixteen years since Kung Fu Panda initially graced our screens. Three films and three series have already been released, and with another film due out in March, it’s showing no signs of slowing down. Sixteen years of a franchise is impressive, especially...

Chicken Run: Dawn Of The Nugget

Three take-outs from Hook It’s been 23 years since Aardman released its first feature film Chicken Run. It remains the highest grossing stop-motion film of all time. The original Chicken Run mimicked The Great Escape, with a flock of chickens led by Ginger (Julia...

Trailblazing Trolls: Their Journey to 2023

DreamWorks Animations recently launched a third film in the Trolls franchise Trolls Band Together (2023)! Today’s star-studded Trolls have come a long way from their humble beginnings in 1950s Denmark. Which begs the question, how have Trolls managed to evolve and...

You should probably settle….

It’s Autumn which only means one thing – Married At First Sight (MAFS) UK on E4. Whilst undeniably entertaining, MAFS crystallises a point about dating and life made by Oliver Burkeman in his book Four Thousand Weeks. That point is that people should be more...

Spider-Man: The Ultimate Origin Story

In the vast universe of superheroes, one name stands out as an emblem of relatability, resilience, and redemptive power: Spider-Man. So, it makes sense that he's the cultural phenomenon we have chosen as this months Hook Top Trump! Since 1962, Peter Parker’s everyman...

A new era of Big Brother

When Big Brother launched last century it was totally new and authentic. Contestants had no idea that Big Brother would pull in huge audiences, and acted accordingly: some contestants were comfortingly humdrum feeding chickens and reading books; and some, like Nasty...

More posts in this category

get a digest of our latest thoughts delivered to your inbox

Don't Miss Out!
Each month, Hook's experts create a roundup of hot takes and insights into the Kids and Media industries...for free!
This information will never be shared with third parties