Inside the Making of Cocomelon, the Children’s Entertainment Juggernaut

The toddler’s face is glowing green from the tablet in her hands, This cartoon shows a boy dancing with dinosaurs and singing a nursery rhyme. The toddler doesn’t know what dinosaurs are or what the lyrics mean, but she’s so entranced that she doesn’t blink when her mother calls her name. “It’s literally like crack for her,” says her mom Meng Zhou at their home in Redwood City, Calif.

“It” is Cocomelon, which may be the most streamed children’s entertainment program in the world. Last year the show was watched 33 billion times, which is far more than Netflix’s hits. Squid Game Bridgerton combined, According to Nielsen, a market measurement firm. CocomelonHad 3.6 million views According to Tubular (a social-video measurement firm), YouTube was viewed by nearly three quarters of users in January. Tubular also stated that YouTube’s visitors were mostly from other countries. CocomelonIt was one of the Top 10 shows on Netflix for over 100 consecutive days in 2021. The music can be streamed on Spotify 1.3 Million times per day.

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CocomelonIt’s not just a ratings success story. It’s also a model for a new approach to children’s TV. These educators were the ones who created hits such as Sesame Street SpongeBob SquarePants Their shows were not allowed to air without their consent. One concept could be so important that it helped children learn valuable ideas. find out viewers weren’t interested. CocomelonIt is part of a larger effort to remove such guesswork. Its parent company, Moonbug Entertainment, scours digital platforms like YouTube for popular kids’ programming, buys them, and then tries to build them into even bigger phenomena, drawing on data from YouTube to figure out what resonates with audiences. “Data is really at the heart of everything we do,” says Richard Hickey, Moonbug’s head of creative. “With YouTube, you’ve got an audience there that literally tells you whether they want to watch something or not, in real time.”

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It’s not entirely clear how much of Cocomelon’s runaway popularity stems from this formula and how much it owes to the pandemic, which put more kids in front of screens. According to Parrot Analytics data, the demand for kiddie content soared by 52% as parents tried to juggle childcare with remote work. The success of the series is earning big money, regardless. Moonbug was purchased by two former Disney employees and Blackstone, a private equity firm. The company has since launched a number of new products. CocomelonA Spotify podcast and live tour. You can also find just about all merchandise from throw pillows to bubble machines.

Programming executives and parents agree there is something unique about this hold. CocomelonIt is especially harmful to toddlers and babies. The proof is evident in TikTok videos containing TikTok clips showing children who hear its theme song’s marimba tones and run. Zhou’s daughter’s third word, after Mama Dada,This was Coco. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like it when it comes to generating kids’ streaming audiences,” says Brian Fuhrer, senior vice president at Nielsen.

As the show and others like it become inescapable, parents are going to have to grapple with whether this type of children’s programming works for their families. Sure, their kids may love it—but does that mean it’s any good for them?

In a Los Angeles conference room, CocomelonThe executives discuss a pacifier. Seated around a white table strewn with open MacBooks, they’re reviewing a soon-to-be-released episode focused on a character named Cody, a classmate and best friend of JJ, the show’s cartoon protagonist.

This episode focuses on a childhood rite: the birth of a younger brother or sister. Cody’s parents haven’t told him they’re having a baby. But as Cody and JJ sleuth around Cody’s home—singing an original song about solving an mystery, to the tune of “Teddy Bears’ Picnic”—they find a onesie, a rattle, and finally a pacifier, All objects Cody has outgrown. An earlier version of the episode had Cody scorning the pacifier, saying it was “for babies.” Katie Nahab, creative executive and a producer, clarified to her fellow employees that this show wasn’t geared toward children younger than 1. “Babies watch Cocomelon, and they’re going to be looking at this and thinking, Oh, I shouldn’t want a pacifier, Cody doesn’t want a pacifier,” Nahab says. It was changed.

Cocomelon revolves around the adventures of
Panther Media GmbH / AlamyCocomelon is about JJ (center) and YoYo (left), and TomTom (right).

Considering the needs of babies is a new thing in kids’ TV. Before screens were ubiquitous, most families had just a television or two, and children’s shows were geared toward a broad age group. (Sesame Street,For instance, it was intended for children aged 3 to 5, but could be viewed by any number of children as well as parents. Entrepreneurs emerged when parents had phones in their pocket. They realized that they could create shows for smaller children and still attract millions of viewers.

CocomelonJay Jeon (a father of two from Southern California) founded the company in 2005. Jeon had previously been a teacher. Directed some commercials on TV, and tried to teach his sons the ABCs. He started working with his wife, a children’s-book author, to make videos to accompany the nursery rhymes they sang to their sons. Under the brand ABC Kid TV, they began posting the cartoons on YouTube in the following year.

Jeon quit his job in order to devote himself to the show and the YouTube advertising revenue allowed him to do so over time. Two key changes were made in 2017: a show built around JJ, an adorable toddler who has a single blonde curl. And, the 3-D format was changed from 2-D animation. Tubular reports that YouTube’s monthly viewership nearly doubled within two months to 238,000,000 views in December 2017. In December 2018, CocomelonAveraging 2 billion visits per month.

Jeon sold Treasure Studio to Moonbug in July 2020. The company had been established just two years prior. Moonbug reached out to European, South Korean, Chinese, and South Korean platforms, expanding the reach of the show. The company’s other big acquisitions include Baby Bum!A YouTube channel that is centered around nursery rhymes was started by a British couple. Blippi,Youtube live-action show. Moonbug is always on the lookout for new sensations. Moonbug, acquired by the company in February Little Angel,A network of YouTube channels that features 3-D animated cartoons featuring Baby John the toddler, singing along with his family while colorful subtitles scroll down the bottom.

This formula is a winning combination for any company. Cocomelon was a “once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Andy Yeatman, a Netflix alum who is the managing director of Moonbug, tells me. This show has a very simple concept. Every episode is two- to three minute long and consists of a single song. Some of them are nursery rhymes like “Wheels on the Bus”; others are original earworms about the moments that make up a toddler’s life. The songs star JJ and his two siblings, older brother TomTom and older sister YoYo; their mom and dad; and JJ’s friends. There’s a lot of repetition and an inordinate amount of disembodied toddler giggles. Some of the lyrics feel as if they were written by a computer that doesn’t quite get rhyming. (A sample: “Good, good, carrots are good for you/ Yay, yay, yay, I love them, ooh.”)

Experts say there are very little details that appeal to children younger than ten. This is the world that’s shown CocomelonBright colors are used with no corners or sharp edges. It is shot from a low perspective, so the viewer sees the world from a toddler’s level. There is never any conflict between the characters. Cocomelon.The topics are universal. JJ is seen performing familiar tasks like putting on his shoes and potty training, as well as struggling with common challenges like sharing and getting sick. The show takes “every meaningful moment” in a toddler’s life and makes a song around it, says Patrick Reese, general manager of Moonbug.

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Every Monday CocomelonYouTube releases a new episode every day. They often experiment with characters, music and storylines. Within the next few days, Moonbug’s data-insights team in London has crunched the numbers to suss out what did or didn’t work. If an element is a hit, creative teams will keep trying it. If it doesn’t, they move on to something else. The upshot is that viewers of Moonbug’s programs on platforms like Netflix are getting content that has already proved successful with a large audience.

Iterative approaches have one advantage: CocomelonYou can do a variety of things in a short time. Its episodes take 12 to 14 weeks to make, Reese says, which allows the show to respond to current events in ways that typical children’s programming, with its longer lead times, cannot. The COVID-19 pandemic was in its early stages. CocomelonAn episode on handwashing was added; another segment was about going to the doctor.

In recent years, the show has introduced many characters of color. In addition to Cody, who is Black, there’s a Latina character named Nina Rodriguez, whose mom works as a firefighter. Diversity has made life easier CocomelonNew viewers are easy to find: According to Nielsen, 56% of its viewership is African American, Hispanic and Asian American.

There are some downsides. to a children’s show taking its programming cues from YouTube stats. If all content were driven by what YouTube viewers liked most, we’d be watching endless videos of dogs befriending cats. You might like Sesame StreetOder The Electric Company have curriculums developed by pediatricians, says Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. They rely on metrics that show whether a children’s series is educational. They also use metrics to show whether a children’s series is educational. Cocomelon may look that way to parents because it has words highlighted on the screen and tackles concepts like “left” and “right,” those ideas aren’t actually accessible to little kids in the process of learning language. “It’s one of those shows that is designed for parents to think they’re educational,” Christakis says, “but it doesn’t strike me as being high-quality at all.”

CocomelonProducers tell educational consultants that they submit scripts and ideas to them. They help determine if an episode is appropriate for their children, and also reassure them that the content will not be too complicated. So that parents and kids can model the behavior of a loving family, this show attempts to demonstrate good behaviour. “Developmentally, we want to make sure that we’re on point and that we’re hitting our core age demo” of 1 through 3, says Hickey, the Moonbug executive. It doesn’t matter that screen time is discouraged by the American Academy of Pediatrics for children below 3. 18 months, unless it’s video chatting with a parent or family member. Most families threw those recommendations out the window in the hardest days of the pandemic and haven’t looked back.

In late 2021, a mom and former preschool teacher named Jerrica Sannes, who has a master’s degree in early-childhood curriculum and instruction—and a website that helps parents wean their kids off TV—posted an Instagram story claiming that Cocomelon was “hyperstimulating” and made its young viewers experience symptoms of addiction and withdrawal. Parents were suspicious about the attraction of this show to their children’s attention. Numerous people left comments pledging to stop watching the show. CocomelonFor good. Other critics criticized Sannes as scaremongering.

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Child-development experts say Cocomelon is no more problematic than most other children’s TV shows. “It’s not that Cocomelon is addictive,” says Susan Linn, the author of Children Consuming. “It’s that just about everything on the web is designed to be addictive.” That design works; even before the pandemic, kids under 2 spent about 49 minutes a day on screens, according to Common Sense Media. “You’re setting up kids to start depending on screens for stimulation and soothing,” Linn says. “What we really want is for kids to be able to amuse and soothe themselves.”

Ultimately, the show’s success gets kids attached to an entity whose primary interest is selling them stuff. Moonbug was acquired Cocomelon,It has been translated into 10 other languages, and the content is now twice as large. Parents can also buy plush toys, sleepwear and other items. CocomelonYou can now buy branded booster seats, kitchen tools, xylophones and books. Moonbug has a book deal with Simon & Schuster and licensing agreements with dozens of toy brands.

Many products in this line will include JJ, a staple character. As the universe expands, so will these products. CocomelonAs the business grows, so do the possibilities for merchandising. The new episode in which Cody learns he’s going to be a big brother will be followed by others, executives say, in which he helps his parents set up a nursery, watches his mom’s baby bump grow, and then sees the baby coming home from the hospital. The Moonbug team will be waiting to see whether it’s a story line YouTube viewers want to watch—and will surely have Cody’s baby-sibling dolls ready to go if so. A CocomelonThe live broadcast is currently in progress to Boston; Rochester (N.Y.); and Akron, Ohio. Moonbug, true to its tradition, is asking the Internet where it should next go. —Reporting by Julia Zorthian □


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