Future Today isn’t exactly a household name, but it’s been in the streaming business roughly as long as Netflix. The company started with a streaming cooking channel called iFood.tv, but is best known today for its kids platform HappyKids, which feature everything from P.J. Mask to Peppa Pig.
Behind the scenes, its technology powers the streaming apps from some of the most well known brands, from YouTube sensation Blippi to Lego. Between the network of its own channels and its partners, Future Today garners more than a million users per day.
Future Today Co-Founder Vikrant Mathur talked with Cord Cutters News about the challenges of programming for kids, the move from on-demand video to free, ad-supported services, and how those two can co-exist.
The following is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
Cord Cutters News: Tell me a bit about yourself and Future Today.
Mathur: We started the company 17 years ago in 2006. I have a background in software and computer science engineering. As we were going through the changing landscape within the media industry back then, which is when video online was just coming about, we felt video consumption online would fundamentally change the way people would consume content.
We thought about how we could leverage our technology background to build something in the media space.
We started off building iFood.tv. That was the first service. It was a video destination for food and cooking enthusiasts. As we were growing the service, we launched on Roku, Boxi and the original Google TV. It was about the same time Netflix was moving away from the DVD business, so we felt more and more that content would be streamed on the television as opposed to viewed through cable pipe or satellite dish. We felt that if you wanted to be in the video space, you needed to be on a connected TV.
Cord Cutters News: And what about Future Today?
Mathur: We have two lines of business. We have our (owned and operated) channels, HappyKids and Fawesome being the two flagship channels, one in the family space and the other in general entertainment. Both have been ad-supported since the very beginning.
We also have our technology and platform business, where we work with studios, media companies, distribution companies, and use the platform to help them with their owned and operated offerings across all major OEMs and services.
Cord Cutters News: Tell me more about HappyKids and Fawesome.
Mathur: Happy Kids is our flagship channel for kids and family. We sort of liken it to Disney+ offering. We have a lot of similar content, whether it’s Peppa Pig, P.J. Masks, Transformers, and Blippi, as well as influencer content.
We also have a vast selection of movies and TV shows that parents can co-watch with kids. On Friday evening, you want to spend time with your kids, you don’t want to sit through another episode of Paw Patrol, we have movies and TV shows you can watch and enjoy with your kids. It’s really a channel that offers content across the board. It’s wholesome family content for any age group.
Fawesome is a general entertainment channel focused on adults. We work with most major studios and license content from them. We have a library of over 12,000 movies now. Folks can enjoy them on demand in a free, ad-supported fashion.
Cord Cutters News: How big are those channels?
Mathur: Across the entire network, we do a million-plus users everyday.
Happy Kids is arguably the largest free ad supported service across all different major OEMs, whether its Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Samsung, we have Happy Kids available on all major platforms.
The same thing with Fawesome, which is available across all major platforms.
We’ve had over 120 million installs of our apps.
Fawesome and HappyKids make up a majority of the users.
Cord Cutters News: What about free, ad-supported services?
Mathur: FAST is an offering we’re working on right now. But right now it’s on ad-supported on-demand content.
Cord Cutters News: How do you see free-ad supported (FAST) channels co-existing with VOD?
Mathur: There is a time and place for FAST and a time and place for VOD. If I just want some background noise, I might turn on a FAST channel, like a CNN stream or Hell’s Kitchen, a show I’m very comfortable with, and I let it play in the background and I passively watch the content. Or it’s before bed and I’m channel surfing and not looking to commit. I might turn on the TV and flip through a bunch of FAST channels, watch something for 15 minutes and go to bed.
I’m not picky about what I’m watching, and not deeply engaged. The flexibility of tuning into something and channel surfing makes a lot of sense.
That is very different from a Friday evening where I’m sitting with a glass of wine and I want to deeply engage in a piece of content, whether it’s a movie or three episodes of Breaking Bad. I know the type of content I want to engage with and I would go to an on-demand service.
To me, it’s not a zero-sum game between FAST and VOD.
Cord Cutters News: There’s been a lot of buzz about FAST’s growth. Do you see it as potentially the primary way for us to view content going forward?
Mathur: There’s a place for both. I don’t think one competes with the other. The on-demand experience is a very different experience in terms of the user actively selecting the content, vs. the FAST experience, where you’re not quite actively engaged, and the content is pushed to you and you don’t have a lot of choice in terms of the episodes.
Those are two very different unique experiences. I choose a FAST channel when I have time to kill. I want it to play without actively thinking about it. I also joke that FAST is where time goes to die.
With VOD, you’re leaning in. You’re going through a list of shows. You’re consuming it for its entire duration.
Cord Cutters News: You said you were working on a free, ad-supported experience. How do you stand out in this crowded field?
Mathur: We want FAST to be complementary to VOD. Thinking about how we can use it for content discovery, as an example. Or thinking about what are some of those unique content opportunities we can present in a FAST fashion that’s complementary to the VOD library. How we can use FAST to increase retention and engagement with our existing users, giving them a reason to come back over and over again.
Unlike the traditional cable model, where you have the exact lineup of channels on every single cable operator service, you have a situation where every service is looking at their user base and how they’re interacting with that content, and really creating a channel lineup that works for them.
We are not going to have that similar (cable) experience. The curation of these channels is happening to maximize viewership, and viewership is different for each service.
We’re trying to figure out the channel line up experience that works for us. We won’t create 500-800-1000 channels. That’s too much. It’s better to have five good channels on a specific topic or theme vs. 200 channels. It’s really about having a sharper lineup, but really content that we think will work for us.
Cord Cutters News: What are some of the differences when programming for kids vs. a general audience?
Mathur: What’s unique, especially when kids are driving the selection of shows, what we’ve seen is kids in many cases are impatient. A lot of their selection is driven by word of mouth or brand recognition. We’re trying to really put the content in front of kids so they can find it and use it as quickly as they can.
A lot of it is about having the visuals, the thumbnails done in a way where they can find the characters they’re looking for and identify the show as quickly as they can.
From a curation standpoint, we have to look at these subtle differences between the different user groups we have, and lay out the apps according to that.
Cord Cutters News: What do you have to consider when looking at the different kinds of kids programming?
Mathur: If you look at HappyKids, we have close to 70,000 episodes of content. Given search is a little clunky on a TV, and discovery is limited on the remote, what we did was took the library and broke it down by age groups and thematic groups.
If you launch it, you have to make a selection of the grouping of content you want to dive in. We’ll ask if the child is a toddler, or a boy 6+ or girl 6+. We curate the content differently. If you’re a parent that wants to consume family content, there’s a separate section for that.
For each one of those categories, we think about how we create a balance of content that you’re familiar with and comfortable with. Are there brands and IP that you recognize? All while giving you new and interesting content to explore.
At the end of the day, let the user provide feedback. Looking at data, what’s working, what’s not working, and having deep analytics and reports into the performance of these shows and their placement, which gives our team ammunition to optimize.
Cord Cutters News: As a tired parent of two young kids who burn through content quickly, what advice do you have for me?
Mathur: That’s why we have the library we have. It’s not just about having the 15 shows parents and kids recognize. It’s about having those 15 shows, but then supplementing it with other content. There’s other amazing content, and it’s really surfacing and trusting kids to give it a chance.
It’s different by age group. For a 3 or 4 year old, it’s usually the parent in charge. For us as programmers, we have to not only think about the child, but also the parent as that customer who is finding the shows they want to watch. You need to address the needs of both.
For a 7 year old, they’re actively choosing the shows. They’re more heavily influenced by friends, or games they’re playing. Gaming is a huge category for us. We have a lot of content we license and produce in that category.
Our goal is to provide all types of options for parents and kids and make it easier to discover.
Cord Cutters News: What excites you most about the streaming world and where it’s headed?
Mathur: When we started, we felt like we were 4 to 5 years ahead of the curve, and that by 2014, 2015, the cable networks would be dead, and everyone would be streaming content. It’s taken us about 13 years and a pandemic to get to where we are.
What excites me the most is that the time has finally come. We’ve been waiting for this moment for 13 years in terms of broad mainstream adoption from the consumer side and broad mainstream adoption on the advertiser side.
That moment of realization, what we’ve been working for, has finally happened, that’s been the most pleasing and gratifying. The industry is going through so many changes. You really don’t know how things are going to look in the next five to 10 years. Who will still be alive? The story is yet to be written. What excites us is the possible opportunity of playing in this space so we can be a meaningful part of it.
Correction: The story previously said Mathur was the CEO of the company.