Interview with John P. Roberts, Vice President, New Media
by Elaine Morris Palmer November, 1999
Greenwich Connecticut -based online market research firm, NFO Interactive reported in June, 1999, that parents are being besieged with requests by their children to, “BUY ME THAT THING I SAW ONLINE”! When parents and children were surveyed, 52% of all children between the ages of 5 and 17 report they have asked their parents to purchase an item that they have seen on the Web. And the effect is being felt by parents, as 46% of all parents report they have been asked to purchase an item their children have seen on the web.
Kids shop online too. The NFO Interactive Kids Online survey reports that today, one out of six children is allowed to purchase items online, and one out of seven have actually done so.
John P. Roberts knows these statistics cold. Since re-launching the Fox Kids website in the fall of ’98, Roberts has seen an increase in traffic of over 400 % and witnessed FoxKids.com rise on the Media Metrix kids 2-12 scale from 66th most visited website in July, to 17th in September. He supervises all the website development for Fox Family Channel, Fox Kids Network, boyzChannel [www.bchannel.com] and girlzChannel [www.gchannel.com] — Fox Family’s new digital networks on television.
Now, the focus of Fox Family’s new media strategy is on its own core competency — entertaining kids on the Web.
Digitrends: What’s the FoxKids.com strategy going into the year 2000?
JPR: Our strategy is to put all our energy on one domain now — and that’s Fox Kids.com. FoxFamilyChannel.com will still exist but much more as a promotional site for the Fox Family network.
Digitrends: Then, what’s in the works right now for FoxKids.com?
JPR: We want to create the #1 portal for boys and girls 4 – 12. It will be the ultimate online destination that kids will want to visit again and again. It will
be their place on the Web.
Digitrends: How does this integrate with television?
JPR: Fox Kids only has 14 hours of air time on the Fox Family Channel a week. But, we have the opportunity to launch original shows or games on the FoxKids.com website to fit within the Fox Kids experience and to extend the brand. We launched the Boyz and Girlz networks on October 31, 1999, six months after the websites. We reversed the norm — looking to the Web to find out what our audience was about and then using that information to steer the direction for the networks. Those are digital networks for kids by kids.
Digitrends: How did that actually work?
JPR: For example, kids used Digibricks online to pilot how our logo looked on air. Kids helped determine content by talking to us on the Web about what problems they are having — like body image and conversational ice breakers. The Web has given kids a voice. And when you ask them to tell you what they think about a show and go to the network with what they tell you, it changes things.
Digitrends: What’s that like for a programmer?
JPR: When you’ve listened to an audience since they were young children, as they grow, you have loyal followers. This adds longevity to your programming because you have users who care.
Digitrends: How do you feel Television and the Internet differ?
JPR: The Internet won’t replace television, at least not for a long time. The Internet is a two-way street. It’s interactive. Sometimes people forget that. I believe in “made for the medium.” For example, I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of what games can do. At Fox Kids, we’re launching original games, characters and activities that have the mantra of the Network brand: “action-adventure-prankster-comedy”. But on the Web, the audience gets a much more in-depth experience of what Fox Kids really is.
Digitrends: A famous hockey player, Wayne Gretsky, once said he attributed his success not to skating to where the puck was but to skating to where the puck will be. This important principle can be applied to Internet use as well — the puck is definitely moving when it comes to industry adoption of e-commerce. Where do you see the puck going?
JPR: In looking at the big picture, not just for kids, but for everybody, I believe marketers will look more and more to the Web for what customers want and what they are looking for from a brand or brand extension. Plus, I see the Internet as a very interactive, fully multi-tasked experience. Sites will have to have that do-it-again factor and reward people for participating.
Longer term — no one thought broadband would happen as fast as it is. It’s going to change everything. While we’re still programming for 28.8K modems, we can’t ignore the future today. As marketers, we must be mindful of where our audience is going to be five years from now.
Digitrends: It is said that players in the Internet space must take advantage of two or three of these opportunities to stay in the game: support 24/7 online business, lower maintenance costs, integrate the real world and the virtual world, increase yield by turning visitors into buyers, internationalize products and provide global support. Which does Fox Family Worldwide take advantage of now and plan to take advantage of in the future?
JPR: As part of our mission/vision of creating the ultimate destination for kids 4 -12, the educational pillar will be a large part of what we hope to do with FoxKids.com down the road. But we are also embracing the entertainment and the e-commerce aspects. Internationally, Fox Kids is in 40 different countries. We’ll be doing a big soccer promotion with kids and we’d like to develop an international pen-pal program so kids can learn about other cultures. These are opportunities we’ve never had with kids before.
Digitrends: How do broadband and other state-of-the-art delivery systems play a part in the future of entertainment?
JPR: My big passion is convergence. It’s about giving people one box that will contain a hard drive, Internet access, digital recording technologies and all your channels. The TIVO’s and the Replay’s will become the agents for what we like — our viewing habits — and start to record them for us. You’ll then have a template for your own network.
Digitrends: How does that effect the advertiser?
JPR: There are times when you’ll want to be passive and times you’ll want to get more involved with the product message. Advertisers will begin to work more with that. In the personal network world, commercials will have to cater much more to the audience. There’ll be more defined product placement. And they’ll have to reward you for watching or listening. Imagine downloading coupons right off of your printer which is hooked to your TV and hard drive. They’ll cater much more to the customer. For instance, if you want to test drive a car, you’ll say, “Here’s what time I’m available tomorrow, bring the car to my house.” There’s a lot more stress on service but that could turn us all into much more loyal customers.
Digitrends: As you described it, business here at FoxKids network is “growing up” with its audience. How have kids changed the way you view your challenge as a content provider?
JPR: What’s challenging about the kids audience is that a kid can sit at a coffee table watching TV, doing their homework, talking on the phone and having a Game Boy at their side when they need to take a little break. That’s multi-tasking at its fullest.
Digitrends: How do you maximize the brand and extend the entertainment value
while staying one step ahead of a kid’s fickle nature?
JPR: It’s that in-depth experience I talked about earlier. In the case of, let’s say, Power Rangers, they don’t want to see just a 30 second clip of something they already saw on TV. That’s a passive experience. Now, they want to play with the Power Rangers. They either want see a clip that never made it on the air or they want to play the Power Rangers Terra Venture Rescue game. Now they can be a Power Ranger themselves. That’s all part of it.
Digitrends: How does all this effect the way you advertise to kids?
JPR: One of my other passions is to change the way people have been advertising on the Web. For example, last year we created the Airheads Candy Game which fit that brand and the Fox Kids brand. We took the Airhead Candy balloon character mascots and created a game with them complete with the broken bridge to the candy shop, moving logs in the river, rock-dropping eagles, and Airhead airplanes. Kids interact with the Airhead brand for 8-12 minutes. It definitely had that all-important “do it again” factor. The game was the ad buy. And it didn’t link to their website. As a result of this, we created a game for Airhead candy which resides today on our games page. The stickiness of playing with the Airhead
brand for 10 minutes versus linking to a website kids may not have wanted to go to created a whole different dynamic.
Digitrends: I notice you said you didn’t link to the Airheads website. Is
that part of your child protection policy?
JPR: Yes, we have to be very, very careful. We’re pro-active in that area. We’re teaching kids to treat the Internet like you treat the real world. “If a stranger approaches you, you don’t speak to him or go with him.” We don’t link to other sites. If we decide to start linking down the road, we’ll have really specific guidelines of sites we link to and the sites they link to. We’re also going to start registering kids on our website. As part of that, we’ll be contacting the parents to get their permission. When we start adding chat rooms, they’ll be monitored. We’ll create alliances with other child safety organizations and make sure we’re following those guidelines as well.
Digitrends: Final thoughts?
JPR: The future of advertising isn’t an ad banner linking to a site. If I were an evangelist for anything it would be to create content made for the medium. Don’t just re-purpose.
We’re going to keep on pushing the envelope, embracing the new technologies and hope the audience runs with us.
Contact Elaine Morris Palmer – firstname.lastname@example.org