Sesame Street’s Digital Transition: Apps For The Juicebox Set

While most children, like their parents, still encounter Sesame Street primarily on their TV, the 43-year-old nonprofit brand now attracts 16.5 million kids and parents across its digital platforms every quarter. 35 percent of children ages 0 through 8 now experience Sesame Street exclusively on non-TV platforms, and 85 percent of Sesame Street’s digital users (whether they’re tweens or adults) are former or lapsed viewers of the TV show.
The Sesame Street e-bookstore contains 160 e-books, many of which are also available as print books. The target audience is 2- to 6-year-olds. The company has also published 40 standalone e-books and 25 paid and free iOS apps, 13 of which are based on existing print books. Those book-based apps account for 52 percent of unit sales for all Sesame Street iOS apps.
All of the apps are English-language, and they’ve been purchased by customers in over 75 countries. This year, Sesame Workshop aims to translate its English apps and create localized content — which can be challenging because Sesame Street characters are different around the world.
Sesame Workshop’s Jennifer Perry shared the company’s best practices for reaching preschoolers on digital platforms at Publishers Launch Conferences’ “Children’s Publishing Goes Digital” this afternoon. Here are a few highlights of what the company has learned from the research it conducts in partnership with the CUNY Center.
Usability (Or, Design For Small Hands)
»  Easy access to all key features at all times is essential. Individual pages, activities, parent tips, settings, etc. should never be more than one or two taps away, via an on-screen menu or index.
»  Make it easy to turn off extras (like narration, parent tips and music) and skip introductions and instructions after the first use. “Parents don’t want to sit through it again, and neither does a four-year-old,” Perry said.
»  Research shows that preschoolers don’t understand instructions if they’re simply told, so audio prompts should be accompanied by visual enhancements (an arrow with a “turn the page” prompt, for instance).
»  Preschoolers have a hard time holding iPhones and iPads vertically, so design in a landscape mode. Position icons away from the bottom of the screen, where a preschooler is resting his or her wrists.
Comprehension: “Errorless Learning”
»  Provide a demo, especially for parents, so they’re aware of all the app’s features as they’re using it with their kid.
»  Relate any game or enhancement directly to the storyline. Parents “respond negatively” when enhancements are thrown in just as extras.
»  Repeat hints, especially on story pages where a kid might be distracted by a storyline. Add a “subtle glow” around a hot spot, for instance.
»  The app shouldn’t linger on one activity indefinitely. Move to another “round” after three to five gameplays. “Five rounds of a game is the maximum that a child finds engaging,” Perry said, “and definitely the max for parents.”
»  Provide audio or visual rewards for completion of activities.
Add-Ons for Parents:
»  Sesame has found that parents are open to cross-sells and promotions within an app, but don’t want their child to run across them. Promotional stuff should go in the “Parents’ Tips” or “About” section of the app.
»  Parents like “extension activities” — related projects they can do with their kids outside the app.
And a few ongoing questions — Sesame is still researching the answers to these:
»  Which platforms will become the most commonly used for preschoolers?
»  How do parent-child interactions differ when reading a print book versus reading an e-book?
»  Which design features prompt more parent-child interaction?
»  Which designs hold children’s attention best? Which designs and platforms best improve comprehension?
Children’s Publishing Goes Digital is a special session at the Digital Book World conference, which is taking place in New York this week. See all our Digital Book World coverage here.