NEW YORK: Makers of podcasts are starting to produce more content aimed at children, although the role of advertising in the business model remains contentious.

The view of the market has changed markedly over the past year, following the success of The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel, a scripted podcast for middle-grade kids, performed by middle-grade kids, which the New York Times described as “the Serial of children’s podcasts” – a reference to the adult podcast which kick-started the medium.

The company behind it, Gen-Z Media, is developing a range of podcasts for different age groups, starting as young as four, while podcast network Panopoly is launching Pinna, a subscription app for kids up to the age of 12.

The latter pitches its programming as “perfect for car time, quiet time, chore time, family time, bath time, bedtime, or anytime”. And a particular selling point for children’s podcasts is that they can help alleviate parental guilt about their offspring’s media consumption habits.

“It feels much more similar to reading to a child than it does sticking them in front of a screen,” said Emily Shapiro, Panoply’s director of children’s programming.

“With visual media, you can get these brain-dead kids who are just plugged in and being fed all of their entertainment.” But with podcasts, “they’re creating the world.”

Or as one seven-year-old put it: “It’s a little funner [than television]. My brain works better.”

But changing behaviour may prove tricky, as not only will parents have to persuade children to abandon the television or tablet, they will also, in the case of Pinna at least, have to pay $7.99 a month for the privilege of ad-free content.

The alternative of free, ad-funded content, however, is likely to face problems since the sort of native advertising common in podcasts may not be appropriate for children who are less able to distinguish between marketing and editorial content; nor is it likely to be the guilt-free experience parents would prefer.

“You just can’t shove as much advertising into a kids’ show as you can into a show for adults,” said Lindsay Patterson, co-chair of advocacy group of Kids Listen. “Too many ads will turn parents off.”

Sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff