Common Sense Networks launches Sensical, a free, hand-curated streaming service for kids

Common Sense Media has made a name for itself among parents as a useful resource for vetting entertainment and technology in terms of its age-appropriateness. Now, the organization’s for-profit affiliate, Common Sense Networks, is taking inspiration from those kid-friendly recommendations with the launch of new streaming service called Sensical. The service offers age-appropriate, entertaining, and educational videos for children ages 2 through 10.

At launch, the free, ad-supported service includes over 15,000 hand-curated videos and over 50 topic-based channels for children to explore. And unlike other platforms, like Netflix or YouTube, Sensical doesn’t use algorithms to make content recommendations. Instead, kids are encouraged to follow their own interests and passions across over 50 topic-based channels. This includes things like Adventures, Animals, Arts & Crafts, Music, Science, Sports, Video Games, and other sorts of kid-friendly topics.

Kids can star these channels, or individual videos or series, in order to keep up with their favorite content in a dedicated Favorites section within the app.

Kids will see a selection of these channels based on their age, but the company is working to expand the channel lineup so there will be even more specific categories in the future. For example, instead of just “sports,” there could be channels like “soccer” or “gymnastics.” Instead of “Arts,” there could be “drawing” or “origami.” Instead of just “science,” it could include channels like “geography” or “robotics,” and so on.

Image Credits: Common Sense Networks

The app also features a Live TV section, which is programmed throughout the day with kid-friendly content so kids don’t have to browse to find something to quickly watch.

While other streaming services on the market offer kid-friendly content — as that’s a huge selling point for subscribers — it’s not always organized in a way that makes sense. Sometimes, all the content gets lumped into a general “Kids” category where videos for little kids are mixed in with content for older children. Sensical, meanwhile, curates the content recommendations into three different experiences, including preschool (2-4), little kids (5-7), and big kids (8-10).

What the child sees is based on how parents configure their profile. Plus, parents can use the service’s ParentZone in-app dashboard to set screen time limits, extend limits as needed, and view daily reports on what the child has watched.

The service’s best feature, however, is that the content is assured to be age-appropriate — even the ads.

This is possible because the curation approach Sensical takes, which is very different from YouTube Kids. YouTube’s app for kids leans on algorithms to filter out adult content from YouTube’s broader library, but the company doesn’t manually review all the videos it includes. It warns parents that some inappropriate content could slip through. (And it has). Common Sense Networks, meanwhile, says dozens of trained child development experts view, vet, and rate “every single frame of video” that goes live on its service using its proprietary IP and patent pending process. This system involves tagging content with specific child developmental benefits, too.

Sensical also vets its advertising, which is how the service is supported, with similar direct oversight. Its experts review the sponsor’s content to ensure it’s appropriate for children — an area that’s often overlooked on other services.

Image Credits: Common Sense Networks

To fill its library, Common Sense Networks partnered with dozens of studios and distribution partners as well as digital-first creators.

Studio and distribution partners include CAKE (Poppy Cat), Cyber Group Studios (Leo The Wildlife Ranger), The Jim Henson Company (The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss, Jim Henson’s Animal Show with Stinky and Jake), Mattel (Kipper, Pingu, Max Steel), Raydar Media (Five Apples’ limited series, Apple Tree House), Superights (Bo Bear, Handico), WildBrain (Teletubbies, Rev & Roll), Xilam Animation (Learn and Play with Paprika, Moka’s Fabulous Adventures), ZDF Enterprises (Lexi & Lottie, School of Roars), Zodiak Kids (Mister Maker, Tee and Mo), ABC Commercial, CBC & Radio-Canada Distribution, Jetpack Distribution, Nelvana, 9 Story Distribution International, Sesame Workshop, Serious Lunch, and Studio 100.

Digital creators, meanwhile, include ABCMouse, Aaron’s Animals, Alphabet Rockers, batteryPOP, California Academy of Sciences, GoldieBlox, The Gotham Group’s Gotham Reads, Guggenheim Museum, Howdytoons, Kids’ Black History, MEL Science + Chemistry, N*Gen, Pinkfong, Penguin Random House’s Brightly Storytime, Studio71 (Parry Gripp, Maymo, Hyper Roblox), Tankee, Ubongo Kids, Vooks, Bounce Patrol, Hevesh5, Mother Goose Club, StacyPlays, Super Simple Songs and The Whistle.

The service abides by the U.S. children’s privacy laws (COPPA), and is certified by the kidSAFE Seal Program.

Image Credits: Common Sense Networks

Having briefly toyed around with the mobile app, it appears Sensical works as described. If I had any complaints personally, it would only be that the experience could be dismissed as “baby stuff” by older kids approaching their tween years, due to the cute pictures and youthful iconography used in the app’s design. Kids in older age groups take issue with being treated as if they’re younger — and they take particular notice of anything that does so. The same complaint goes for the Live TV programming, which was clearly aimed at littler kids when we checked it out, despite testing the app as child profile whose age was set to “10.”

I also think it would be nice if there was a better way to track Favorite channels and see when they’re updated with new videos, as kids moving to Sensical from YouTube will want to “feel” like they’re still connected to new and fresh content, not a library. But Sensical isn’t YouTube. There’s a trade-off between hand-curation and timeliness, and Sensical is favoring the former.

Sensical had been first introduced this spring during a closed beta, but is now publicly available to stream across web and mobile on iOS, Android, Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV. This summer, it will expand to more distribution platforms, including VIZIO.

Egypt’s Minly raises $3.6M to connect celebrities and fans through personalized experiences

In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a growing trend of creators adopting digital and social media, not just as a supplement to their media presence but also as a cornerstone of their personal brand.

The pandemic has surely accelerated creator economy trends. Many popular artists and figures have had to postpone concerts and live events, subsequently using social media to carry out these activities and engage their fans. Proliferating through Western and far East markets, the creator economy bug, which has made platforms like Cameo and Patreon unicorns, is beginning to take center stage in MENA.

Today, Minly, an Egypt-based creator economy platform, is announcing that it has closed a $3.6 million seed round to allow stars across the MENA region to create authentic, personalized connections with their fans.

The round, which Minly says was oversubscribed, was co-led by 4DX Ventures, B&Y Venture Partners and Global Ventures. It also included participation from unnamed regional funds and angel investors like Scooter Braun, founder of SB Projects, and Jason Finger, co-founder of Seamless and GrubHub. 

Experts say time spent viewing social media surpassed time spent viewing TV within the MENA region. But one shortcoming with social media is that its content often feels mass-produced. When creators make posts, it’s most times void of personalization. In a way, this dilutes the fan experience and limits the extent and number of ways the creator can monetize.

This is where Minly, founded last year by Mohamed El-Shinnawy, Tarek Hosny, Tarek ElGanainy, Ahmed Abbas, and Bassel El-Toukhy, comes in. It provides tools for creators to craft what it calls ‘authentic connections’ with their superfans and audience at scale. “In short, our goal is to eventually deliver tens of millions of unique, unforgettable experiences to fans each year,” El-Shinnawy told TechCrunch.

Shinnawy, who brings more than 15 years of media and technology experience to the table, is the chief technology officer at Minly. He sold his first company, Emerge Technology, to a U.S.-based media company. He has also delivered work for Hollywood’s top studios, such as Sony Pictures, Universal, Disney, Fox and Warner Brothers, while playing a role in the global expansion of Apple TV+, Disney+, and Netflix to the MENA region.

Minly

Mohamed El-Shinnawy (co-founder and CTO, Minly)

Minly has experienced rapid growth since launching late last year. It has more than 50,000 users and an impressive list of popular regional celebrities ranging from actors and athletes like Fifi Abdou and Mahmoud Trezeguet to musicians and internet influencers like Assala Nasri and Tamer Hosny.

On the platform, users can buy personalized video messages and shoutouts from these celebrities, and they, in turn, connect with their fans on a more personal level.

We think that we have already differentiated ourselves from other creator economy platforms in the region. We do this by offering the best catalogue of stars and user experience. And our entire team is working hard to grow this gap even further,” said El-Shinnawy on the crop of celebrities Minly has onboarded to the platform. 

Some of the instances where celebrities connected with their fans on Minly include when actress and dancer Fifi Abdou sent a personal message to one of her biggest fans who has Down syndrome and when Egyptian singer Tamer Hosny made a surprise appearance at two fans’ engagement party in March.

Minly takes a small commission on transactions made through its platform. However, the majority of the transaction price, a figure Minly didn’t disclose, goes directly to creators. And at the same time, Minly urges celebrities to automatically donate a portion of their earnings to partner charities on the platform.

Minly’s knack for creating a personalized experience is why Pan-African VC firm 4DX Ventures invested. The firm’s co-founder and general partner Peter Orth, who will be joining Minly’s board, said the company is fundamentally changing the relationship between celebrities and fans in the MENA region. “The team has both the ambition and the expertise to build a full-stack digital interaction platform that could change the way digital content is created and consumed in the region,” he added. 

The creator economy market surpassed $100 billion in value this year and is still growing at an impressive rate. The pace of content creation will only speed up since surveys suggest that being a YouTuber or TikTokker or the most common term, vlogger, is one the most desirable careers among Gen Zs. VC heavyweights like Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Partners, and Tiger Global have also heralded this growth considerably, contributing to the more than $2 billion invested in creator economy platforms this year.

In MENA, there’s a huge opportunity for Minly. The region has over 450 million people, of which 30% are between the ages of 18 to 30. This demographic is known to have a deep connection with social media, and El-Shinnawy believes MENA will soon contribute to a large part of the total creator economy.

For Minly, the goal is to capture a huge portion of that spend and become a multibillion-dollar, category-leading company. The creator platform has a case to do so. As it stands, the opportunity to build a creator economy one-stop-shop in MENA is huge compared to other regions that already have multiple entrenched incumbents. Also, Minly is one of the few platforms in the region with meaningful venture funding.

“The creator economy is in its infancy and growing at lightning speed. We have the opportunity to build this category’s first unicorn in MENA,” the CTO remarked.

With this investment, Minly is doubling down on building local celebrity acquisition teams in Egypt and other parts across MENA and the GCC, where it has seen significant traction. The company will also scale its engineering team to churn out more products to build a horizontal creator platform.