STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Netflix offers children's programs which can be screened on computers or TVs. And it says streaming of those programs goes up over the summer, about 30 percent. It's not hard to figure out why - school's out. Screens are on. This month we're focusing on media for kids, and our media critic Eric Deggans says that Netflix - as well as its rival, Prime Instant Video from Amazon - are both trying to capture a big and growing market.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: There's a secret war brewing for the attention of children everywhere. And the soldiers in that conflict are the cutest characters you can imagine.
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Thus the Power Puff Girls were born.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) My name is Turbo.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) SpongeBob SquarePants. Ha ha ha.
DEGGANS: The stars of TV's most popular kids shows are all over Netflix and Amazon.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DORA THE EXPLORER")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: (As character) Dora, come get me.
DEGGANS: On Monday, Netflix announced it will get 300 hours of programming from Dreamworks animation, the home of "Madagascar," "Shrek" and "Kung Fu Panda." It's an important move for Netflix, Because last month, rival Amazon picked up episodes of Nickelodeon shows such as "Dora the Explorer" and "SpongeBob SquarePants."
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TOM KENNY: (As Spongebob) Order up.
DEGGANS: Turns out, TV series aimed at children are an important part of each online service's success strategy. And they're not just buying up old kids shows, they're planning to make their own. That's why, when Amazon developed a batch of original shows, it selected just two adult comedies and three kids shows.
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) (singing) In a creative galaxy, creative galaxy...
DEGGANS: Creative Galaxy is a series from the producer of Nickelodeon's "Blue's Clues."
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: (As character) Pompoms make me feel excited. They light me up. And when we're lit up by something, we put it in our idea box.
DEGGANS: It's for preschoolers who love art projects. But it's also a chance for Amazon to build loyalty with kids and create characters they will love for years to come. Now, I've been watching my eight-year-old daughter navigate kid shows on Netflix. And now I understand why kid's and family shows fill 20 percent of all the hours their customers stream online.
Netflix has put some thought into this: their kids area features a strip with pictures of characters, so my girl can click on images to pick a show. On a desktop, laptop or tablet computer, the area's background is a light blue, so I can see from across the room where she's surfing. The upshot: Kids can control their own viewing, but in a controlled space.
And because small children like to watch the same thing over and over, they can do it on a laptop or tablet, or someplace where they're not holding the family TV hostage. Parents out there, you know what I mean. This week, Netflix also rolled out an online guide for parents. I'd love to get periodic emails on what my kids are watching.
And Amazon could make it a little easier for kids to navigate on their own. Still, my young one now draws zero distinction between calling up a "SpongeBob" episode online or switching to Cartoon Network on cable. Which offers an important lesson. The same way young people taught us graybeards to use social media - crowding onto Facebook, Twitter and tumblr before we had any clue what those names meant - today's kids might teach us to erase all of TV's technological boundaries - with a little help from a talking sponge and a wisecracking alien.
INSKEEP: Eric Deggans is the TV and Media Critic for the Tampa Bay Times.
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